Ethical Jealousy Of Others’ Happiness

Anonymous Asked: How do I deal with jealousy regarding other people’s happiness? It always feels like everyone around me is happier, more alive, and generally *living* better than I do. I know being the bitter Old Man staring between the blinds at the happy kids on the street isn’t good for me or anyone, but I can’t shake these feelings off.

Marshall Rosenberg expressed once, “At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.” I don’t recommend Rosenberg for all your life, but he’s got a good handle on a theory of how a lot of toxic masculinity disconnects us from our feelings. And I mean, look at the guy:

Continue reading

Unintentional Optimisation

Let me complain about a problem I’m having.

One of my games, currently titled under the genius name Boat Game is about shipping containers. I’m very proud of it, I did the art myself, I’m liking seeing the bits come together etcetera, and I have a lot of system stuff done for it, but it’s not in that turbo-get-it-done stage that led to games like Winston’s Archive being blurred through.

What’s holding me up is that question I vented about earlier of procedurality. I’ve made a bunch of procedural games, where everything that exists exists in a specific set. You know, n hands of cards, or cards exist in these two-part combinations.

For Boat Game, I was trying to avoid that. Which means that while there are a bunch of shipping container cards that show two containers, I don’t think I want it to be as simple as ‘every combination of containers shows up the same amount of time.’ This then puts me in the next challenge.

How do I divide this up?

What I’m afraid of, at core, is the idea that by distributing these things unevenly I’m going to create a scenario that’s unfair. This is a card game – shuffling cards tends to increase variance, so if the distribution of cards has an unfairness in it, it won’t show up readily or easily. That means if I do create an unfair game state, it’s entirely possible I won’t catch it in the game development and playtesting.

I’m paralysed.

I am writing this to exorcise this, to some extent. After all: These things are distributed on markets and player behaviour. If there are some things super expensive or super valuable and rare, then the odds are good that players will still scrabble on it. The question is about whether or not things get too desperate, if things become too high-stakes.

m hoping by the time this publishes, the game is out, but hey.

MTG: Pet Cards XIX, Amonkhet Block

I guess… this is the end?

The most recent set to cycle out, the most recent set I can think of as having ‘gone’ from Standard. A set I played a lot, with my fistful of change, a set I watched streamers drafting. A set that I really did like.

I might go back and look at Odyssey block again, because, I mean surely I should? But I’m going to enjoy digging into Amonkhet in the coming weeks, to play with it out of standard, to see what casual modern feels like in the MTGO playrooms.

Continue reading

Minecraft, MMOs and Word Counts

I write every day.

Well, okay.

I wrote every day. I write every day, most every day. Sometimes things will interfere with that. These past two weeks, the thing that’s interfered has been being sick.

Oh don’t worry, it’s not now now. This is back in September. September I got a flu so serious it knocked me flat out and resulted in a giant pile of just forgotten paperwork. I got things done, but there were all these small things I was on top of that I’m not on top of right now, as I write this – in October.

During this time I did climb back into feeling okay, and started looking at my dwindling backlog of writing. It sit usually somewhere around 30 to 40 posts. As I write this, it’s dipped down to 27 – but I was really riding high when I got sick, nearly 45 posts, all on schedule. I’m very happy with my blog productivity, and I’m happy with how often I write.

While I was sick, I reinstalled Minecraft. And that resulted in something… interesting.

See, back in 2017, I thought that I had to stop playing MMO-like games because they were sapping my creativity. I’d spend a lot of time on grinding and building and learning lore and all those things to roleplay in these spaces, and that work was, in general, pulling me away from my blog. I kept anxiously shifting to writing tasks or creative work, because I was afraid of all the time I was losing to playing the MMOs, and I found myself in this awful loop of just refreshing two or three websites endlessly in a loop for hours at a time, to make sure I didn’t miss opportunities to RP that I might enjoy.

Right now, I have Minecraft open and I have basically been running around in a small loop for most of the afternoon. It’s 3AM now. That’s not sensible. That’s not healthy. And part of it is that I kept breaking my attention from the tasks I wanted to do to run around in Minecraft, move near a farm or set up a thing or check what I was doing, and that, that’s where I put a handle to the problem I was having with MMOs. The problem I was having with my blog.

October has a theme of spooky games. I, as I write this, still haven’t got my final spooky game lined up and writte up. This is really late for me – I’m usually a whole month ahead of time, so I’m a bit bummed out that I haven’t done a good job there. Even as I sit here writing this I feel the urge to tab across and double check things, to see if I missed things, to see if there’s something important I need to do.

I realise that the problem isn’t that MMOs are failing me or that Minecraft is too addictive.

I’m just anxious.

And I’m so anxious I’m losing whole days on the same simple mental loop.

This sucks.

Term: Traitor Mechanics

With co-op and semi-cop already introduced, it sort of seems a natural flow from that point that there are traitor mechanics. Traitor mechanics are mechanics where one individual player can choose to change their allegiance to the rest of the group. Traitor mechanics are important to separate from semi-co-op, because a traitor needs to have had some reason to be in the cooperative group in the first place.

Utility

Usually, traitor mechanics are best deployed when there’s an incentive for players to succeed together, but also an incentive to succeed alone. This can be a challenging puzzle when you deal with it in a larger scale – you want to design things so the traitor is an option without it being a natural endgame. You can also use traitor mechanics as a way to introduce surprise and spice to an existing game structure (and it shows up in some co-op Legacy games, but I won’t mention which ones because that’d spoilery).

Note that a game with a traitor mechanic really isn’t too different from ‘a semi-co-op game.’ These arent pure descriptors of mechanical language as much as they are trying to be useful guides to what someone means when they mention a thing.

Limitations

I tend to think that traitor mechanics want to be part of larger games – games like Archipelago and Battlestar Galactica, where if one player is a traitor, deducing that they are and routing around them still has enough game to it. That’s not to say they’re totally necessary to make traitor mechanics work – after all, you can view poker as a game based around a traitor mechanic, and so to our small game Pie Crimes.

I think myself, I’d avoid using the term traitor mechanic too broadly. It isn’t just the idea of competing, unsure teams like The Resistance – it’s about giving a player a reason and a choice to prioritise themselves over others. Dead of Winter does this by giving players secret goals – stockpiling medicine, for example – without necessarily making it break the whole group at large.  This isn’t Betrayal At The House On The Hill either because it’s not like a player ever has to choose between competing rewards.

Examples

Mafia De Cuba and The Game Of Thrones board game.

Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Mary

Let’s get the bookkeeping out of the way. Here’s your spoiler warning, I discuss a character and their backstory and if you somehow wanted to go into Iron Fist for the surprise, then you want to skip out now. Mild content warning for mentioning traumagenic mental health issues.

Iron Fist has been cancelled, but I don’t really believe that. I think it’s much more likely that these shows have been shut down for a point of soft continuity with Netflix and Disney’s upcoming streaming service. There might not be any more of this Iron Fist but there almost certainly could be more if Disney decide it’s worth their return on investment.

The question that keeps coming up is why do this?

One might wonder why I feel the need, after consideration, to turn to the second Iron Fist season and engage with it critically. After all, the series has been cancelled; there will be no more of it. It’s gone, I’ve won. Right? That’s what critics do, they engage with media purely as part of a way of exerting their power on the object. Stop, stop, I won, it’s already dead! And what if someone out there really liked it? By criticising a thing they liked, am I not hurting them, am I not reflecting upon them and maybe making them feel bad, because my opinions and theirs disagree?

And here, I want to offer you comfort. Even if it was somehow meanspirited to kick this series while it was down, it is a multi-milion dollar project and everyone involved is doing fine. If you, personally, feel attacked by my talking about this series being bad, please, don’t read this article and go elsewhere. Live your life.

I want to talk about Iron Fist Season 2 because I like stories, I like this kind of story, and I want to talk about ways to do this kind of thing well. That means, when the time comes, recognising when something bad does something right. With that in mind, I want to talk about the best thing in Iron Fist, Season 2.

Continue reading

Working in Layers 2

A while back I wrote about working in layers for the design of a card, in Good Cop, Bear Cop. Thanks to the work of a friend, Vivienne, I got a nice 3d representation of this.

This here is a card from Sector 86. In this case, the card can have different names (under the ‘AKA’) and flavour text (italic at the bottom) with the same artwork and mechanical information. Now, this is a simplified version of the card, made out of parts, but here’s an example of how layering lets you make parts of the card art interact.

Work in layers is extremely basic advice, but it’s very good basic advice.

MTG: Karador and the Decisive Combo

Some Commanders create a robust structure around them, a sort of general-purpose space where you can use them to construct a solid but not unreasonable deck. Sometimes a Commander is a back-up plan, who can come in to bat clean-up after your deck has done its thing. Sometimes a commander enables a slow, grinding playstyle and sometimes they are the sword which you plunge into other players’ hearts.

Maybe we’ll talk about some of those soon.

Anyway, one of my favourite Commanders, a commander who helped really crystallise me as a Commander player on MTGO, is Karador, Ghost Chieftain.

I may just be a sucker for playing dudes with antlers.

Continue reading

Thanks vs Sorry

Other day at the store, I heard a parent disciplining their child. I only heard a tiny bit, but it echoed in real life of something that Marshall Rosenberg said. Rosenberg had this metaphor for language types, where he referred to giraffe language and jackal language. The idea behind giraffe language is a bit complex, and not necessary at this juncture. What’s important is jackal language, language Rosenberg argued is language for judging and imposing. The example he used in talks all the time about jackal language was of a parent teaching their child the most basic jackal words:

“Say you’re sorry!”
“I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t mean that. Say it like you mean it.”

I overheard this exchange, more or less, in the store. A parent, lecturing a child, and making them apologise. I don’t mean to judge that parent, it’s not my place to and I don’t know their context. It still put me in mind of  I thought about it, and I thought about how my friends and I interact.

I hear ‘I’m sorry’ a lot.

I hear it from people who are having some of the worst experiences of their lives. I hear it from people who are struggling with illness and with their minds. I hear it from people who are struggling with being oppressed by governments and abused by family members. I hear it from people who are afraid and I hear it from people who are angry. So often, I have to tell people, no, don’t apologise, because you haven’t done anything wrong. Sorry I’m broken, sorry I’m sad, sorry I keep leaning on you, sorry I’m late, sorry I’m a mess. I so often offer that push back, not because I misunderstand the feeling – but because I feel that if you apologise for something in your mind, it’s easier for you to think of it as a misdeed.

This is a hard habit to break. And I don’t mean to downplay you if you have that habit.

What I was hoping I could do is encourage you to say thank you.

Thank you for waiting for me. Thank you for your time. Thank you for listening. Thank you for treating my feelings with respect. Thank you for the thing you do for me, when you listen to me.

I don’t mean to recommend this like this is brilliant praxis or something. It’s not a unique idea. I’m not going to be mad at you if you don’t do things this way, too. It’s just an idea.

The reason I hope for this, though, is because sorry is about a past misdeed; thank you is about a present deed. If I am surrounded by people apologising to me, that language, that I will start to think in terms of things I can do to help rather than the paralysis of being asked a forgiveness I can’t give.

Game Pile: Sprawlopolis

I’ve talked about lawnmower language when it comes to talking about games. It’s the idea that sometimes we talk about games as if we’re talking about products for a task and sometimes we talk about them like they’re art for consideration. Normally, I don’t do that here – even the games I really love, I tend to love with caveats, big asterisks that tell you hey, I may like this game, but don’t go thinking you should. Sometimes, some game reviews are basically advertisements for the game.

In this case, I don’t mind advertising this game because it’s very easy for me to tell you how much you should want it. Hell.

Continue reading

The Origin of ‘Talen Lee’

Okay so here’s the sequence of events. This is a story I shared on my CuriousCat a while back, but that site is kind of a pain in the butt to search through if you’re not directly checking. Consider this more archiving.

When I got onto the internet, I bounced around trying to find places to be, mostly Christian Network places and Christian IRC channels and Local Christian websites (augh). Eventually, I found through newsgroups, the alt.fan.eddings group dedicated to the fantasy novels of David Eddings. I had read some David Eddings because a friend in church had already vetted it and thought I might like it.

Anyway, in the Eddings fangroup, almost everyone, except gilmae, had handles based on the characters from the books, and when I arrived and hung out there, I didn’t have ‘a name’ yet. Also, this was back when you didn’t release your real name or real information on the internet, a thing I was … stunningly responsible about, now I think about it? Wow, hang on that’s weird. Anyway, point is, to fit in, the group discussed, in newsgroup posts, what my handle should be.

All they knew about me was that I was fourteen, and they… weren’t, and the only Eddings character who existed who was both male and young was ‘Talen,’ a thief who in the first books was like, ten, and in the second was fourteen. He was also often referred to as ‘Boy’ and they liked that. Anyway, so that’s where Talen came from, and it wasn’t usually taken anywhere on the internet, so I used it as I went around.

Eventually I hit on places where it was taken, particularly the Wizards of the Coast forums, where I needed something to add to the name to make it usable, but also where I really, really didn’t want to be that dickhole with numbers after his name, or something that would date it immediately like MewTwoCrusher (sorry MewTwoCrusher, I didn’t realise how long-term important Pokemon would be), and I wound up smacking on the surname ‘Mist.’ I’d like to say there was some story behind that but I really think it was just… kinda cool. I want to say this relates to a period in an #animorphs channel on the Chee Database, but I’m not sure and it may relate to a grand project to re-fanfic the entirety of Final Fantasy 6 (yes really).

Anyway, fasterforward to another forum, another shakeup, and I’ve been dating this stack of hairy trolls named Fox Lee for about two years, and this time, rather than ‘Talen Mist’ I used ‘Talen Lee’ instead. She’d recently asked me to marry her (we wouldn’t for another few years), and I thought it was, because it was something that mattered to me, worth making into part of my identity, because… I’m a huge dork and I didn’t expect to ever break up with Fox, which okay, turns out to have been a safe bet.

Anyway, at that point I had ‘Talen Lee’ and it is mostly never taken anywhere. But even more interesting is that it flies under ‘real name detector’ because it’s just real enough. It is an Asian name, which I am occasionally selfconscious about?

So there you go. That’s your lot. My name is shaped by my past, in a way the name I was given never was.

Story Pile: Something YOU Make

Hey, there was meant to be an article here and there wasn’t, and so now you get this, which is me flying by the seat of my goddamn pants because reasons. Hey, no, you don’t get a big important Story Pile about Meaningful Themes because it’s NOVEMBER, which means people are doing NanoWriMo, and I wanted to take a moment to take you, and encourage you to make something.

I write Story Pile posts because I like looking at and thinking about the things stories tell us about ourselves and other people when we partake in them. I like stories, a lot, and I like it when a story does a good job of expressing itself, where the things that the story cares about are shown to matter to that story. It’s one of the most jarring things to watch a story that preaches nonviolence and truth to an ideal decide to chicken out and use a rules loophole, ala Avatar: The Last Airbender, or for a story to build itself around a central character who’s a Very Important Person that Everyone Cares About but the story presents that character as a thoughtless unlikable dick, like in Iron Fist.

What I want to encourage you to try instead is something that is thematically resonant, much smaller, and expresses something you want to exist. And I want you to make it despite the fact that there isn’t a big important genre legacy for it. I want you to make it despite the fact there aren’t millions of people taking part and getting mad at it and being insufferable to their friends. I don’t want you to spend November writing 50,000 words.

If you want a writing project this November, I want you to try out writing about 8,000 to 20,000 words, in the form of a Lite Novel, for Light Novelember 2018. But this isn’t the only thing you can make. You can offer to make illustrations for someone else’s story idea. You can make fake covers for books you want to see get made, but don’t know how to make. You can make the story for someone else’s cover! The point is not to get hung up on word counts and the novel as it is to express yourself in a way that means something to you. Something fun. Something indulgent.

Here are three basic reasons to do this instead of NanoWriMo.

1. NanoWriMo Encourages Volume

Hey, I may just be talking as someone who just marked 50,000 words of essays but do you know what’s really hard? Conveying good stories in small spaces. Know what’s comparatively easy? Waffling on and creating lots of excessive words while you watch a word counter go up because you can at least construct a coherent sentence while you’re following around this little buzzing bee in the back of your head.

The drive for word counts is the same thing as the drive for an aggressive update schedule, which is why Instagram hasn’t got any novels on it but it does have lots of boobs, and why Fifty Shades of Grey has so many pointless arguments between two people over nothing in spaces that are pretty much meaningless to the conversation. Once you get past the basics of how to commit to a story structure of beginning-middle-end, padding that word count gets easier and easier. Just introduce a new character. How about a twist and now it’s cyberpunk. Oh but now there are zombies!

This won’t get you a story. It’ll usually get you six or seven stories which individually, could be polished up into something pretty good, if you allowed yourself to leave them as small stories.

2. Small Stories Teach You

You may have a big epic trying to get out of you and that’s good. I don’t want to dissuade you. But big epic stories take a lot of time to make, and if you’ve never made anything else you’re going to make mistakes, mistakes that you won’t notice until you’re well along, and that may be too late to fix them, or it may make the whole project fall apart.

Small stories can change a lot. They can fix themselves. They can even be released, with their mistakes, because they didn’t take up months of your life. They can be learning experiences, and what’s more, when you make a small story, and share it, you’re sharing it with other people who may be scared to try stories too. They’ll see what you did, and recognise that it’s not so hard, and maybe they’ll make something as well.

If you think the first step to being a writer is writing a novel, you’re going to falter so many times before you can get there.

3. Nobody Will Make What You Make

There aren’t going to be people telling the stories that sing to you the same way as you do. Your stories may appeal to others in ways they weren’t expecting, but if you want to tell a story about nagas or tonberries or sentient talking strawberries or whatever, the easiest way to see that story come into existence is to make it yourself.

And I wouldn’t have thought of it.

It’s true!

You might find common ideas with other people, you might find inspiration in common, but in this space, there’s room for all sorts of oddball ideas, for your specific wants, to give voice to your specific desires for a story.

And it’s okay, because we’re here to tell stories and have fun. Make a story about smooching, or about rayguns, or about the bold trans dude biologist who saves the day by deducing the way to communicate with dragons through the bone structures of their jaws. This is a time to write something indulgent and not worry about if it’s serious enough or good enough or important enough to be treated ‘seriously.’

I have written about how to write a Lite Novel in the past. Here’s the guide to that. If you want to talk to me about this on Twitter, please do. This here is an unscheduled, off the cuff announcement, so I probably missed something.

MTG: Pet Cards XVIII, Kaladesh Block

When I started this series, it was on a whim, and I did not map it out at all. I picked an arbitary start point (I mean, Odyssey was legal when I started, why not start there? I played Extended, why not reach back to the start of that? I play a lot of cards that predate myself, etc etc) and just kept going bi-weekly. I wasn’t aiming to be relevant or timely. I try to avoid that!

I didn’t realise Kaladesh and Amonkhet would have just rotated by the time I got to them.

Kaladesh is a bit too fresh, and it was in part something that edged me out of Standard, even as it pushed me into playing with my cube a lot. This set had one of the first mechanics I’ve ever seen that made Fox – Fox! – actively happy about the way a limited environment played. It had a huge cultural importance, I got to watch the rolling waves of cultural imposition, accusations of mistakes, cultural insensitivity and the fascinating question of what respect to faith in this context.

And also, a bunch of busted, busted cards.

Continue reading

October Wrapup!

October! The spookiest of months!

This month featured a strong theme through the Game Pile and Story Pile of spooky stuff. I mostly avoided horror videogames; I’m not really qualified to talk about the fundamental problems of games like Outlast and nobody is going to listen to me on things like Outlast 2. Instead, I looked at tabletop games and, then, because I’d tried to make a video about it, a tiny complaint about SOMA.

Note to self: Maybe do one on The Infernals sometime.

The articles I wrote this month that I was the most proud of were Your Worst Fan, which was about how even bad people who are stupid jerks will interpret media, Christopher Hitchens Was Just Good At Being A Dick, which is kinda self-explanatory, an article on Voice Acting I’ve had in the queue since July, and of course, my review of Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, a middling book of pish.

The video this month was on Comstockery, an an effort to talk about some of the horror in media studies that has nothing to do with murders as we understand them. Lots of other media studies folk wanna talk about horror and the greater tools of storytelling as applied to it, after all. It seems to me that the horror experts are best served talking about horror in a big way – but I know me some messed up puritanical deviants.

October’s game is on the way, coming over the ocean in the form of a game that is still not quite properly named. There’s a print-and-play game up on my Patreon I made this month, which might get expanded (I hope) depending on playtesting and feedback.

The October shirts are these Eat Trash, Live Free shirts. You can get them on Redbubble (Raccoon and Ibis) and on Teepublic (Raccoon and Ibis).

October’s theme proved challenging. I had to coordinate what I was doing, which I recognised curtailed some of my common behaviours – pull open a window, dump text in it and throw it in the queue. It shaped my consumption habits for a month, and my horror game consumption just dropped off because all my attempts to play horror games got boring. I felt like I just didn’t have enough interesting things to say about horror, too. Horror’s a thing I feel you sort of need to build a corpus of expertise around to avoid saying anything pedestrian. You don’t need me to introduce the concept of The Final Girl, for example.

Also there are some horror games I played this year that I didn’t think to save my writing about until October. That would have been much smarter than what I did.

Anyway, onward!

Geanette, To Weebs

I’ve talked about Gerard Geanette, a French academic, who published books in the 1990s about a vision of media that we call structuralism. His idea was that you can divide media into different parts that all make up the experience, and the ways it change from person to person is a matter of changing parts of the structure while not necessarily changing parts of the text.

Also, Geanette? Looooved him some books.

Continue reading

Story Pile: Monster

I’ve talked about the challenge of talking about big work in the past. I sometimes use the term mile wide pie, where some experiences are so time consuming or have some single facet engaging enough that you can’t really judge the work as a whole. All I can do, really, is talk to you about my experience of the thing, but how can I do that without simply sitting by your side as I recount the whole thing? I don’t think there’s an interest in me doing a Manga Reread Podcast or something like that. Monster is a big series – eighteen volumes of manga, filled with short stories and diversions that reinforce the central theme of the story, things I could leave out of the retelling but which still matter to the story. Then there’s an anime, a rare example of an almost perfectly faithful adaptation that does as little as possible to change the original work, yet highlights just how tightly the manga is devised.

What I can offer instead then is a sort of snapshot. A handful of moments, things that stand out to me in a work that resonated with me powerfully. Before we go on, though, two warnings. One, I will talk about some of the events in this series.

Two, this series gets a lot of content warnings. It is not a light series, it is not a breezy read. Without comprehensive review, the book features child endangerment (and how), suicide, depression, repressed memories, child abuse, enfant terrible, actual literal real neo-Nazis, Hitler Stuff and good old fashioned violence, but really it’s quite sedate there. This is not gory, it is terrible. It is a horror story. It is an extremely horrifying horror story. It is also uplifting, and humanising, and helped me feel whole.

I want to talk to you about Monster.

Continue reading

3.5 Memories – Singh Rager

Sometimes playing Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition was like playing a game under a Mexican standoff. Part of it was our maturity as players and part of it was a very programmatic view of the game rules. There was a fairly widespread, commonly seen vision that there was a correct way to play the game, and you could use precedent and rules and various senior authorities to make your position the correct one. The thing is, these arguments weren’t fun and they’d eat all day and you’d get sick of them, so you wanted to avoid them.

What’s more, the game was so big that it wasn’t very easy for a DM to be sure about what their players could do, and it was often very awkward to roll with it when a player did something unexpected. If you were particularly strict about things, you’d sometimes watch as the game juddered to an almighty halt as you nerfed a player in-action, putting your foot down at the right moment to make a player feel bad. Especially bad when players had common goals, but you had to reign one in while leaving the other unrestrained. Rightness of it notwithstanding, it felt bad.

It wasn’t like the design didn’t encourage this kind of mindset, too – there were all sorts of monsters which were made explicitly to shut off particular abilities of player characters. Golems often were immune to magic in all but extremely specific ways, many monsters had totally unreasonable damage reduction or really weak saves in one category, and that was meant to represent a way that the players could prey on weak points, or, that you could punish players for their failings. DMs knew they had ‘the nasty stuff’ they could bust out, and it was stuff that almost never had any meaningful reason to be the way it was. You didn’t need to put Gricks anywhere, Gricks didn’t have powerful resonance. You didn’t need a Golem, representing a wizard’s hubris, you could just use all the other more interesting things wizards could do. Wizard players would never flipping bother with making a golem, too.

DMs stayed away from these things unless the players got uppity, and the players, in order to avoid arguments, tried to avoid getting uppity. One of the easiest ways to get uppity was to show off that you could exceed the challenges presented by the DM – which really, in hindsight, is such a silly thing. If a fight’s over fast, just implement that knowledge for next time.

Anway.

What this meant is that if you wanted to min-max, you kind of wanted to min max within boundaries of what the DM could handle. Combat was a good place to stay, because even the nuttiest combat build still tended to be limited by where it could physically stand and how many actions you got in a turn. Wizards could sidestep entire combats with utility spells, or scry-and-die boss monsters. Clerics could make armies and take over dragons, and druids were all that on rocket skates. The Artificer and Archivist waited nervously in the wings, hoping nobody would notice them, because they were somehow more busted than the other spellcasters.

If you wanted to min-max a melee combat type, though?

Well, boy, you could go buck. wild. there and it wouldn’t really matter too much. The most broken melee combatant in the game you could make was probably a wizard or cleric, after all, so if you got there without doing any of that nonsense, you were usually seen as ‘playing fair.’

So let’s talk about the Singh Rager, a 3.0 orphan that got nerfed by 3.5, and was good enough even after the nerf.

Continue reading

Mad About Adam Jensen

I really don’t like Adam Jensen. The character from the Deus Ex franchise, and based on games’ count alone, the main thing the franchise is about. The guy who never asked for this. This guy.

Adam Jensen’s only limitations represented by his cybernetic augmentations are the moments when someone calls him out of a lineup to tell him that he, the cool looking super badass who doesn’t have conspicuous augs and has special privileges that keep him from being seriously detained, has been noticed. There’s inklings of his physiotherapy, of the recovery, shown in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it’s invisibled. It’s on his desk in his home and you never have to do it.

Adam Jensen isn’t in debt for his augs. He gets a super cool job that lets him do all the things he was doing beforehand, and the guy who could hypothetically charge him for the augs, repeatedly tells him that hey, no, it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re not in debt. The guy who gave him his augmentations basically is his dad, and that dadness carries through in how how kindand incredibly permissive that dad figure is. Cyberpunk stories are so often about alienation and destruction of conventional support networks through technology, but instead we have Adam with his beloved Dad taking care of him, even if he is doing shady stuff on the side.

Adam Jensen isn’t dealing with the medical disabilities of everyone else with those augs, and it’s because Adam Jensen is the human being this universe created to be the one person immune to those problems. Like, that’s the point. The reason augs can happen at all in a widespread fashion is because Adam Jensen is immune to glial build-up. And what he did for this is literally less than nothing.

In a cyberpunk universe, worlds defined by waste, corporate power being expressed through things like private police services, and the grinding complexity and difficulty of human interface with technology, Adam Jensen is the person who is exempted from these problems or benefits from them.

Adam Jensen is the least cyberpunk thing to ever be created for a cyberpunk universe.

Game Pile: Lords Of Madness

I rarely hold up Dungeons and Dragons books as being good books for general gaming purposes. They’re all very much books about Dungeons and Dragons, and even Elder Evils, last weeks’ offering for campaign-ending threats, was a book jammed full of systems for explaining weather, big dungeon designs and complex fight mechanics. When you bought a book for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, you were often getting a book that was some 30%-50% system information, information that’s dead weight if you’re not using that system. Some of my favourite books from that time, like The Tome of Battle and Races of Eberron are absolutely steeped in mechanical information, and if you’re not using it, you really aren’t getting enough book for your investment to be worth your time.

But let me show you a book that I want to recommend to anyone making or playing with horror even if you don’t want to use D&D or even fantasy settings, that also has the on-theme matter of being a spooky book about spooky stuff. I don’t mean Heroes of Horror, which devotes a lot of its space to trying to systemitise horrifying things, no. I want to talk to you about a book about putting things in your world that are horrible.

I want to talk about Lords of Madness.

That said, I would issue a content warning, beyond the typical this is a book about spooky stuff. This book has a lot of humans being eaten, brain parasites, descriptions of people being seen as prey, but all that stuff is very passe for D&D monsters. Here be tentacles, goop, puppeteering and meat.

The other content warning is that if you’re Dissociative or plural or have DID or any of the related fields of mindset complication, Lords of Madness attempts to write numerous ‘alien’ psychologies that may look familiar to you, imagined as alien othered.

I’m personally reluctant to use the term ‘saneism’ because I don’t feel qualified to make that call, but there’s a lot of language in this book that assumes a very simple mental health binary and puts things like plurality or low-empathy living in the ‘bad’ bucket. Note that this doesn’t really take into account that most D&D adventuring parties are composed of homeless murderers.

Continue reading

Anatomy of Nsburg

Hey, remember me posting about my Craft-a-long project for Desert Bus 2018? I made a little card game about rearranging the inner city of the town of Nsburg, from the QWERPline podcast.

Now, I posted a bunch of this to twitter, as I was doing it, but twitter rolls past, and I wanted it to be both searchable, and I wanted to remind you this is a thing you can have. This is going to be (hopefully, as far as I know) available as a charity prize for donating to Desert Bus 2018. Here! Check it out! Get hype!

Here are some of the town cards of Nsburg so you can have a look, and a bit of a laff, and see how this game project went from Nothing to Something in as short an amount of time.

Ironically, this game was really hard to research, because Nsburg is definitively confusing. And of course, none of what this represents is canon – there’s no sign in the QWERP continuity that Lack Fixlakeindianname is its name. I still had a lot of fun doing this and sharing it with people and I hope you tune in to Desert Bus and we see how it goes!

Hackademia!

This is a term I heard for the first time today, and I was really lucky I heard it being said by someone I like and respect or I fear there’d have been a row. There’s this ugly impulse to hack- prefix everything, in the same way that Rush Limbaugh once coined ‘slacktivist’ and now a bunch of well-intentioned millenial dorks he was making fun of think that they’re addressing a real thing.

The notion was introduced to me by Olly Thorn, from PhilosophyTube, where he forwards the pretty simple thesis that in response to an increase in UK tuition fees, he’s putting his degree on Youtube, for free. This is a revolutionary feeling, but don’t get it too twisted – a university isn’t just here to tell you things. If that was the case, a library would do the same job, and if that was all a library did, you could get the same thing from a few specific old books. There’s a lot more to university than just the reading material!

Still it put me in mind of the question, what am I doing here? What am I trying to do here?

I don’t think I’m giving you, the reader, a University education. I’m not short-circuiting the very nature of all things educational. But what I do think I’m doing, what I’m trying to do, is provide a connection between academia and the media stuff I care about. Because I like game books and I like board games and I like the little failed CCGs and the board games we all made with paper and pen and didn’t get off the ground. I don’t think those things are beneath consideration, and I also don’t think academia is without value, which is a pair of propositions that sometimes feels a bit weird.

In videogames, there’s this sort of noisome harrumphing about how there isn’t a meaningful discourse about games, and there are some websites doing that, but my experiences writing for websites trying to offer same just pushed me back towards the same ingredients-list game conversation, and the websites doing This Kind Of Thing don’t seem to be answering my (admittedly rare) calls.

What that means is this blog is sort of one part writing praxis – that is to say, me taking my theories about creativity and human interface, and acting on them – and one part making a thing I want to see in the world. The features may rotate in and out – I mean, the Magic: The Gathering articles are getting a bit afield from the original idea of just ‘whatever deck I’m playing this week’ – but the general premise remains.

I want my blog to be a place to you can look to for advice on creating things, but also for my degree, digital media studies, brought to bear on stuff you care about in a way you understand. I want to use my tools to entertain and engage and encourage.

Does that make me a hackademic? I dunno. Maybe. It sounds like a cool title and maybe that’s a bit cooler than I deserve. But I know I’m doing this in an effort to interest and engage you. If I’m not appealing to an audience, I’m not doing what I want.