Boyfriend Material

I default to tabletop games when I make games. It’s the skillset I have and it doesn’t involve, typically, reaching into a new skill space to try and develop something. But it’s not the only system I’ve ever used, and there is a design that I’ve had kicking around in my head for an idea of a few different visual novels, or maybe even RPGmaker style games. One of them that I think has a perfect name to go with its concept is Boyfriend Material.

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Story Pile: There She Is!!

In internet culture times, there’s a timelessness and an immateriality that comes from being classic.

If you were on the internet in your teenage years in around 2004, you probably know something about a particular genre of animation that tends to get called ‘Flash’ animation. And there’s a lot to be said about how Flash animation worked, and the gates it left wildly open. Sometimes people get caught up on the techniques and what they permitted, and lose track of the compression, and how turning a long animation into vectors and math meant it could be more easily translated into an internet transmissable format. That format led to hosting sites, and those hosting sites led to communities and those communities led to trends and distribution, and that is how you get things that people knew, that seemingly everyone had seen, but couldn’t attribute to any kind of source.

Even if the thing everyone’s seen has source inside it, ‘cos it’s written in a different language.

Content Warning: Racism and a pet death

떳다 그녀!! There She Is!! complete HD :: SamBakZa official
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Keitaro Urashima

The conversation around representation is often a thing that involves talking about the very real ways in which the people who see themselves unrepresented in media, or only ever represented in a negative way, can have negative consequences, even to the extent of them inducing PTSD experiences in particularly long-exposure. The way that trans people, people of colour (and we’re going to go in on that when it comes to anime some day), ace people, and – you know, everyone outside of the rudimentary accepted dominant hierarchy get to be represented. But there’s another element of representation where the stories you absorb can often give you a symbiotic relationship to an image of who you are and who you can be, and this can show up in the way that a lot of guys, particularly guys in my general category of unremarkable basic dudes who like anime and felt lonely in their teenage years, thought that being a creepy drip was, y’know, understandable.

And there’s no patient zero here, this is all fluid exchanges of the gas that is culture, I’m not trying to pretend that this is one person’s fault, but there was definitely a person who I think I can point to as a very reasonable exemplar of a trend that kicked off and is still showing up in anime culture to this very day.

I refer to the crappy mediocre dude that is Keitaro Urashima.

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USP-01: January’s Custom Cards

Across Achresis, there are ruins of the great scourge, machines left scattered and broken with the heavy machines of a war made to strip the forests. The refusal of the dead to die seemingly foments ancient mythical spirits that want to punish those that try to live eternally. New forms of life take on famliiar shapes. Wherever you are, it seems, there’s always a reason for everyone to have a Best Friend.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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Game Pile: Love Letter

It used to be that Love Letter was a great start to a modern niche board game collection. Now, it is possible for Love Letter to be a modern niche board game collection. At this point, the boardgamegeek site lists over thirty four variant reimplementations, alternate boxes or art styles or licensed versions of Love Letter, with varying sizes and scales. So steep was this proliferation I was seriously tempted to do a gag of reviewing a different copy of Love Letter every month for a year only to realise I wouldn’t get through more than half of them doing that.

For the unfamiliar, Love Letter is a tiny card game — usually something like eighteen cards — originally developed by Seiji Kanai, and as burly as it is having thirty iterations of a game in your developer credits, Love Letter represents about half of Kanai’s work. And you might think in the same vein as heavily franchised movies or long-running soap opera TV shows, is there being a lot of something a signal that it’s potentially a bit bad, right?

But no.

I think Love Letter is great.

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January’s Game Project: Adventure Town!

Adventure Town is a roll-and-write game about running a town that adventurers pass through, a type of thing that I seem to find really fascinating.

Gunna level with you: I had a lot of writing to do this month. I work on it a little bit at a time, trying to find time to make pushes to finish it, especially since it seems to me to be a really easy project to just get finished, but tell you what: I haven’t had the time in January. This is life, and part of my life in January was a combination of helping someone move, a convention, and a lot of writing for the most important project of my life.

Adventure Town suffered. But it didn’t get nothing done. Particularly, what got done was a very important thing, in my mind: I stopped trying to make perfect mechanics, and managed to instead, get some good mechanics down.

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Smooch Month 2023 — Blending The Blandness

Here we are, in 2023 and our first! theme month! It’s February, the month of Valentines Day and my dead grandmother’s birthday, and since people are going to be selling chocolates at a discount at some point and TV will be screening romantic media, it’s of course, the best of times to focus on that, in our theme of Smooch Month!

And of course, when it’s Smooch Month, we get to see two particular types of article, which I’m going to try to get out of the way ahead of time: One, ‘here’s what I mean by Smooch Media,’ and two, ‘wow, it’s super hard to write Pile articles this month.’

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January Wrapup, 2023!

It’s not the end of the month just yet. I’m looking down the barrel of the end of the month, and seeing what’s coming in the last week or so, and phew. I better write this month’s wrapup now because at some point I’m going to be helping someone move house and that’s not fun at the best of times.

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Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 1

Nothing quite like striking after the iron’s gone.

This is the last year in which My Hero Academia will not be an anime that ‘has run for ten years.’ Seems a fine time to get into this superhero comic book anime for tweens. Behold, beyond the fold, I will be talking about the first season of the anime and that means some spoilering.

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What’s Changing On Patreon?

Chances are you don’t look at my Patreon (because most people don’t, not because I’m judging you). It gives me a little bit of anxiety, because it keeps telling me ‘hey, this person stopped paying you money’ (which makes me afraid I did something wrong) or worse, ‘this person started paying you more money’ (which makes me wonder what I did to fool them).

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Cancon 2023 Wrapup

As I write this, I have gotten home from Cancon 2023. The day started at around 7 AM, then started on the con floor at 8:30, and following that we had to pack down at 12:30 and finally got ourselves on the road at 1:30. It’s now many hours later than that and much of my time has been spent recovering from the drive and the weekend of standing on my two feet and shouting at people a lot. What follows is memories constructed, as best I can, from the notes I took of the time, and the information present to me now.

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Josh Lyman Sucks, Again

In award-winning prestige-drama television series The West Wing, season 4, Episode 10, Arctic Radar, there’s a story about the challenges of writing a 500 word speech for the President of the United States as two speechwriters clash in their own ways, old guard and new guard; Sam Seaborn’s Senatorial campaign picks up and CJ clashes with a reporter who dislikes their seating assignment, which you know, feels kind of like the jousting with Danny from earlier seasons but whatever, am I right.

In all of this political maneuvering, there’s a minor plot dotted throughout the episode where Josh Lyman, hero of the people and voice of a political generation of frustrated fighters who just wants to get into a brawl with the other guys, soul and heart of the series and lovable everyman, takes time out of his day to stop a government worker of some level of forgettableness from wearing a Star Trek pin.

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Fundamentalism Is A Grift

It’s not that fundamentalist christianity is itself fundamentally a grift, it’s just it’s a space that’s always, always, always going to feature some variety of grifters. I don’t have an explanation for why, this isn’t a scientifically researched position or anything, it’s just me noticing a pattern with the same thing, every single time, every single time I stumble into it anew.

It’d be easy to extrapolate that this is related to power dynamics. If a fundamentalist group are all people who defer to a specifically limited interpretation of some source text or ideological position, it almost always expresses as refusal to engage with, or accept, things outside that position. It’s not necessarily the same thing as being big on ‘fundamentals’ per se — I don’t imagine there are mechanics who refuse to fix brake pads because they’re too committed to the fundamental principles of the lever or anything. The basic idea I’m talking about here are ideological communities, usually ones like my fundamentalist evangelical christian background.

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Distributing Abilities in 4e

Ability scores in Dungeons & Dragons are one of the game’s many mechanical systems that float atop a liquid surface of questionable justifications. They’re a perfectly serviceable set of dials to use to define a character, they do a job and they create a lot of thematic hooks you can use, but also, under the hood, they are not sensible at all, and part of where they get unsensible is where you try to treat them as strictly representational depictions of a coherent measurable reality.

Which is a problem.

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Story Pile: Children of Time

I understand that when I talk about movies I’m asking you to engage with me on my thoughts about a thing that’s ninety minutes long; a TV series is often something you can whittle away at over time and isn’t necessarily designed for a scope of attention that covers a lot of time in its narrative or a long time in its experience. I’m kinda a pop culture boy, I do the wham-bam-thank-you style of things for having fun and maybe I’ll try and recommend series of books to you like the Tiffany Aching series, I’m going to do so mostly because every part of that series is a book that’s pretty great and can be finished reasonably quickly.

Not so for Adrian Tchaikovsky (it’s a pen name) and his epic science fiction story Children of Time. This book is a juggernaut – the audiobook is something like six hours, and those are not a breezy set of page turners. If I talk about a piece of media it’s often with the tone of someone who’s very confident that you can go get that media and check it out and then use that media to contextualise what I think and feel about it. In this case, I think that’s a pretty big lift, since we’re talking about a doorstopper of a book and I have an audience who exist on the spectrum between ‘oo shiny’ and ‘books bore me because I can’t use them to open thirty-five tabs on which digimon have been shown wearing shoes.’ Knowing that I’m going to start off by giving you a broad overview of what happens in the story, without giving away specifics.

If you know this book already, if you want to approach things without any awareness of the plot, or if you want a push to check out some big-S big-F Science Fiction and all you need is someone recommending it, I do recommend Children of Time! I liked how it handled the scope of its stories, I liked the kinds of things it saw as solutions to problems, and it did some things that appealed to me in very specific, niche ways. Particularly, it appealed to me with its culture of sentient, cooperative cat-sized spiders, and the war they wage on the last vestiges of humanity and how that gets solved.

That got your attention? The book’s full of spiders.

Spoilers ahead, but most importantly, content warning: Spiders.

Oh my word, so much, with the spiders.

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The 2022 Kickstarter Autopsy

Normally, this time of year, I’d do a rundown of what I got from kickstarter in the previous year, what I had expected to arrive and what hadn’t arrived yet. What I’d received and what I thought of them, as a sort of general demonstration of the kinds of projects I’d been backing. It is, in my opinion, a good idea to do this kind of reflection and in my case I want to do it to have a good, reasonable analysis of the kinds of games I’m backing. I can tell myself that I support kickstarter because I want to make sure small industry-excluded voices get a shot, but if I actually mostly just back Reaper minis and the latest We Like It million-dollar plastic-fest, then I’m probably not lining up my self-image and my actual behaviour.

A wrench, however, has been thrown into this project.

Late 2021, Kickstarter, during the flurry of stupid posts from idiots trying to take money from bigger idiots, decided that they would be looking into ways to pivot to the blockchain. This idea was dabbled with, experimented with, teased and tested and cajoled and flirted and then suddenly the CEO of Kickstarter was replaced, and the new one said – to me, personally, on twitter! – no, we’re not doing that. Weird. I’d like a more reliable source than that but whatever.

The thing is, I figured that if I didn’t want kickstarter to do something I should do something to divest of it; I made a point that I was avoiding kickstarter because of their consideration of blockchain and would continue to do so until I had a clear sign that they were going to stop. That means that in 2022, I backed no new kickstarters, and all I got to deal with there were the results of 2021’s kickstarters. What games did I get? What arrived?

And what did I miss, because of this choice to divest?

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How To Be: Cyclops (In 4e D&D)

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

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative 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.

I’m always left wondering, month to month if I can come up with an interesting example for How To Be, where I wonder when I’m going to feel like I’m running out of options. For GDQ I was considering a list of ‘speedrunning iconic characters considered, then rejected the entire list because I realised that, once again, I could imagine a way to represent that character, a way to capture the essence. Plus, there’s always different veins of narrative, different types of stories to consider like this.

A long time ago, when I first started playing RPGs, a friend (hi BigAngry) said to me, the thing with RPGs is that once you play in them you’ll notice the way that literally every single piece of fan media presents you a list of toys, things you can always look at, then point to and say ‘I want that.’

And I thought about another friend who doesn’t care about RPGs, and I thought: Yeah. Let’s do Cyclops.

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Shirt 23.01 – I’m Fine, And You?

First up, the design on a shirt.

Second, the design in a png so you can read it.

And third, the raw text of the shirt so you can read it even more clearly:

The text ‘I’m fine, and you’ interrupting a litany of text in the background struck through that reads:

In late November 2022, a misprinted label on a pair of bootlegged boots introduced the world to the name and credits for GONCHAROV, a ‘greatest Mafia movie ever made’ which then caught on for what was roughly one long weekend of Tumblr engaging in an extensive game of ‘yes and’ that involved improvising screencaps, scene summaries, movie posters, and a truly impressive amount of sapphic fanfiction that was derided then by non-tumblr users as ‘just tumblr’ even as the joke spread all the way to Martin Scorsese, its supposed director himself.

If you’d like this design you can check it out in black or white text!

CoX: Swivel

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


In all technicality, the man known once as Vice Swithin doesn’t exist. He never attended public school, never was recruited into the military at a young age, and was never court-martialed. Officially, he didn’t spend over a year in prison being constantly the subject of assault attempts due to his lean frame and youthful looks, being constantly upgraded in security due to his self-defense capability leading to injured inmates.

Such high-risk prisons were certainly not combed for inmates experiencing minimal deviance from a genetic mean to find strong candidates capable of surviving a protracted full-body implant and neuroconnective surgery. Medical records don’t exist for a process that wired him from heart to head, that upped his reaction time, accelerated his thought process and kept the young man wired on a personal basis alongside the firewalls and flamewars of wireless internet.

One life, redacted.

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The Circle Highway in Dal Raeda

Okay, hit the ground running fast: In Cobrin’Seil, I had a quandrary to solve. I knew that Dal Raeda (Big Irish-like Empire) has a section of the King’s Highway in it. This presented a problem, because Dal Raeda is a peninsula, and to have the highway in it would require that highway to connect two parts of the Eresh Protectorates. That meant the only options are:

  • The Eresh Protectorate don’t build their highways between their cities and might build one into Dal Raeda for convenience, which I didn’t like
  • There’s an Eresh Protectorate city inside Dal Raeda, which would be politically surprising
by Tyler Edlin

What follows here is the story that flows from addressing that question and thinking in terms of how pieces of infrastructure get built and maintained.

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Story Pile: Megatokyo

Throughout 2022 I made a bit of fun on social media by reminding people that Megatokyo, the webcomic, was still updating, and had through all 22 years of its existence, produced a plot that at this point spanned roughly a week. It’s one of those things that when you present it to people who remember reading it as literal children creates an interesting reaction that shows you what they remember.

But what of me? What did I remember? I thought that maybe I should go check it out, and see what I thought of Megatokyo, since after all, I’d stepped out well before the talking robot girl had made a schoolfriend who was also the avatar of female tragedy. What is Megatokyo now? And how has it changed? Is it what you remember? is it better? is it worse?

What would I answer to the question, What is Megatokyo?

Content Warning: Y’know, there’s a lot of pretty nasty misogyny in Megatokyo, though not anything I’d step up to the level of a content warning. What I would content warn, though, is the commonality with which they suggest an adult Piro date a fifteen year old.

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The Grasshopper’s Gotta Go Fast

One of the most common academic books you’re ever going to hear me mention, if you hang around me for any meaningful length of time, is going to be The Grasshopper: Life, Games and Utopia, and I’m not double checking the order of the terms in the title. It’s a book published first in 1978, by a guy called Bernard Suits, a lecturer from the University of Waterloo. The book is considered, now, fundamental to the philosophical consideration of games, and is the source of one of the most common definitions of games you’ll hear — indeed, the one I use to be maximally inclusive: A game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

If you’ve listened to me explaining games in any expansive way, you’ve absolutely heard me quote this. Maybe sometimes I’ll say consensual instead of voluntary and maybe you’ll see noncompulsory instead of unnecessary, or restructuring the sentence back to front in some other way. If you only learned one thing from the book, odds are good, it’s this definition, which is useful for a bunch of reasons. It gives you freedom, it’s very inclusive, and it also asserts that you can’t be forced to play, which I found very important to instill in those I teach, that if you’re not choosing to do it, you’re not playing.

It isn’t the only idea in the book, though.

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Some Sick Speedruns To Check Out

As this article goes up, it’s Awesome Games Done Quick 2023. It’s going to go down in history as Another GDQ, but notable because this one pivoted from a physical event to an online event in response to a Floriday business deciding to Florida very hard and lean heavily into COVID denialism with the wishy-washy ‘well we can’t act like masks are a good idea’ bullshit that really is just a soft landing for ‘people who deny germ theory have enough money that we don’t care about public health and safety.’ Point is, that it’s GDQ, right now, as you’re reading this.

You might not care that much about speedrunning, despite everything I’ve said about how interesting and engaging it is (in general), but are curious about now, how the experience of the event might feel, and what you might want to watch. I’d like to recommend then, a list of five things that haven’t aired yet (as of publication date) that you can look out for, and which I think serve as solid, single experiences (based on, admittedly, only partial knowledge).

These should all be screening, at some point after this articles goes up, on the Games Done Quick channel.

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3e: Haste!

Oh boy you know what’s the most broken spell available in 3rd edition D&D well now you mention it it’s a contentious slot because there are a lot of spells that are really, really broken and third edition had a lot of them flying around but when it got broken you kind of had to start in the core rulebook and see the things that you’d wind up seeing used all the time and nothing was really ever going to wind up being as broken as this one it’s haste it’s haste look it’s obvious I’m talking about haste haste was so very goddamn broken in third edition D&D.

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How To Represent Speed?

When working with videogames, there’s a a lot of different ways to represent speed, and a lot of the challenges they present start out as technical. Infamously on the PC, getting fast scrolling on a room to create the impression of single large spaces the player could move through was a big technical hurdle; outrun used a camera trick and moving single silhouettes, and the VR push of a few years ago (is it reasonable to suggest that VR is now over?) featured a whole host of ways to grapple with the question of duping a human brain that’s very very good at recognising when it’s standing still and convincing it that it’s not.

But that’s videogames, an entire form of games that I don’t really make. I could try, that may be interesting, but anyway for now.

How do we get to represent speed in tabletop game places, with human interlocutors? Have some ideas! Go go go!

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Story Pile: The Rendezvous

In 1976, Claude Lelouch, a french filmmaker, released a short video, about eight minutes long, which showed a single take of an anonymous driver driving ten kilometers through the center of Paris, at an average speed of 80 kilometers/50 miles per hour. You don’t see the car. You don’t hear talking. You don’t get any framing at all for the experience; you start in the car, as it leaves a tunnel, and then you have nothing to do but sit, like a passenger, as the car’s tires squeal, the engine revs, and the driver proceeds to break quite a few laws.

It is a real recording of a real excursion that really broke real laws: speed limits were ignored, eighteen red lights were violated and one-way streets were driven up the wrong way. While there’s no obvious danger to the public on the path, the fact that this was a real thing that was really done, there’s some inherent unpredictability about the things that could have happened, even at 5:30 in the morning in summer, where there’s not a lot of people going through the streets of Paris.

Now obviously, me being me, you might assume I’m pretty okay on some laws being ignored, and there’s definitely a case, though also, rich french dude who could afford a sports car getting away with violating a bunch of car laws isn’t exactly anarchist praxis as much as it is just what we expect. There’s not a lot of Being Gay in this Doing Crimes video. There’s also a potential angle you can take on this video about the way it’s a bit of a magic trick; we only see this version because this is the version where nothing went wrong, and we don’t know how many other versions of it happened, how many other versions of it could have happened, where things were a little different. We know there was a walkie-talkie and a spotter involved, even if it didn’t wind up being a factor, and regardless of the realities of how this video got made, as a text, you don’t get to know anything about that. With such a small, generic diegesis, you could dig into what it means, what the miniscule scrap of text really does explain.

I’m not going to do that, though.

I think this is a speedrun.

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