How To Be: Tier Halibel (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 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 month, we’re going to dive into the world of the dead and look to the Queen of Hueco Mundo by the most powerful shounen anime right, the right of default, the underboob to Matsumoto’s cleavage well, Tier Harribel.


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The Tetris of Movies

A few years ago, in June, Rami Ismail brought up, and gently made fun of, the idea of the Tetris of movies. This was a joke, because typically, the conversation that compares movies to games goes the other way around. The cliche is The Citizen Kane of Games, and that comparison is deeply annoying for a host of reasons (for example, film started in 1895, and Citizen Kane came along in 1941, suggesting that the first home videogames still have another twenty years to get around to theirs). Rami pressed B on this question, and flipped the narrative around to look at it from the other side.

What movie did what Tetris did?

Now, I think this question is really interesting, not because I have the right answer to it, but because it does something actually interesting about the comparison between the two possible forms of media. When we talk about The Citizen Kane of Games, it often really means something like the game we’ll all eventually see as important, and that’s so stupid, because it doesn’t even really meaningfully identify what Citizen Kane is. It’s a shibboleth, a reference to the idea of ‘the important one.’

Dumb!

This is a form of intertextual examination. It’s not that it’s bad or even silly to do so – we often use media as tools for examining other media all the time, indeed we even invite it when we reference media within media. Think about how many times you’ve heard Shakespeare’s cliches quoted, or references made to the Bible. There’s nothing wrong about using media you know as a reference point to examine other media you know, and it makes everything easier (Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, and I can do that now because I’ve finally seen that show!).

I think, if I was going to describe ‘the tetris of movies,’ it reminds me of a few things. Tetris was Soviet-developed; it was revolutionary in its development of gameplay technology, and every game that came after it was, usually, influenced by someone who had played it, or learned techniques from it. That, then, put me in mind of Battleship Potemkin, which was a soviet-made movie that pioneered what we would wind up referring to as montage.

That, however, is just one comparison – a simple one, even. Point of origin and impact on the medium. You might look at it in terms of the influence of the polynimo – is there something so widespread in media of other forms? What about duration? Is there a movie that’s nearly endless in the same way?

It’s a simple little question, and it’s fun because we can talk about movies the way we talk about games.

The only reason we can’t is because we assign idiotic levels of prestige to movies, and our attempts to emulate that prestige is embarrassing.

Game Pile: Void Bastards

This here’s an experiment! This video was made with a strict time limit: Create something in half an hour. This means no script and minimal sound editing. There is one thing about it that bugs me – the game audio wasn’t being recorded and I didn’t check that until it was too late. I like this, and may do a few more like this if it continues to be this easy.

Who Eats Tide Pods?

Remember this?

If you go check out the ‘Tide Pod Controversy’ page on Wikipedia, you’ll find a report that’s long on reports on the meme, full of people talking about the meme, referencing videos that reference the meme, and surprisingly scant on incidents where people, referencing or creating content about the meme actually did the thing the meme is about.

In 2018, there was a fuss. Teenagers, the fuss went, were making videos about the ‘tide pod challenge.’ If you didn’t actually hang out with teenagers, you probably saw tide pods coming up in the context of political cartoons, which used them as a go-to hack’s form of identifying the folly of youth. The idea was that youths were daring one another to eat tide pods, and then, doing so, and we assume, getting hurt and hospitalised.

This demonstrates the kind of object permanence that you can usually rely on media targeted at boomers to do. Because it turns out that if someone makes a video of them putting a tide pod in their mouth, or making soup out of them, that they aren’t necessarily eating that thing after the next cut. The other thing is, we keep statistics about poisonings, so you could just look those things up.

In the United States, an under 20 every single day was hospitalised by tide pods, which made up about a third of all hospitalisations from their ingestion. Of course, that statistic sounds pretty damning about stupid teenagers until you check the data and find that ‘under 20’ could be brought down to under 5s, and that data was from 2012 to 2014.  And then if you’re paying attention you go ‘hang on, a third?’ and find out that for every child that eats soap and gets sick, about two elderly people do too.

Tide Pods were already dangerous when they were first introduced. They were dangerous particularly to infants and the undercared for elderly. They still are. There’s a really worthwhile conversation to be had about how the marketing techniques to make Tide Pods generally appealing do make them look like a foodstuff – that we merchandise these things with chemical construction and colour choices to tap into the parts of our brain that like things, and we tend to like things that we can have sex with or eat (sorry, asexuals, but it is a trend in aesthetics). This is really a thing worth addressing in general.

Pathetic, then, that the conversation only surfaced when people wanted to frame it as teenagers, people who we give the tiniest bit of agency and unsupervised time, doing something stupid that, broadly, they didn’t do.

Oh, one final thing.

That statistic up there about how elderly people and children are the primary people who consume Tide Pods? Yes, a child is hospitalised every day under that.

There were six deaths to this kind of poisoning in 2018.

The Difficulty Curve of Elite Beat Agents

I wrote earlier this year about Ouendan, a nintendo DS rhythm game, and mentioned in that article that the game had a western release, in the form of Elite Beat Agents. Elite Beat Agents takes the preposterous idea of Ouendan and reinvents it for a western context. In Ouendan, a wild, roaming gang of school tough cheerleaders find people across all walks of life, including shapeshifting Kaiju and outer space invasion, and help people overcome their problems through the power of cheering. In Elite Beat Agents, this nonsense is replaced by the much more serious idea of an extrajudicial government agency that’s constantly surveillancing the world and deploying suited cheerleaders to fix it.

That doesn’t sound great, hm.

Anyway, in Elite Beat Agents, the game has difficulty settings expressed by what agent you play. Let’s look at that.

First up we have Agent Spin. Spin is brand new to the agency. He has headphones, and clearly listens to music all the time. Spin has the easiest time in this game. It is not difficult for him to cheer people up, his moves are economical, and he gets the same results as every other agent, with much less difficulty than they do. Even his difficulty refers to how easy this is for him: it’s called cruising.

In The Games Black Girls Play, Kyra Gaunt forwards the idea that whiteness needs to see traits of black culture as inherent to black people, rather than the product of practice or skill, particularly in the way that black people are seen as having ‘natural rhythm.’ This rhythm, she notes, ties into singing games, clapping games, skip rope and time keeping techniques that black children do when very young, and share and reinforce in one another all the time, so what is an example of a lifetime of practice is reduced instead to ‘a thing about black people.’

Ostensibly, beating the game with Spin is not impressive: The player needs to do the least to get through the game. This presents the idea that Spin is ‘easy’ but it’s kind of the exact opposite: Spin is the best dancer of the lot, because the player requires the least work to make him excel.

Next up we have J. J is ostensibly an expert in all forms of dance including hiphop and ballet, and that bears out with our principle of work and investment. After all, he can be completely well trained in a lot of official capacities but that doesn’t necessarily mean he lives music the same way, or started at the same age and has the same extensive, ingrained practice that Spin has.

He’s almost as good as Spin! There’s a lot of flourish to his performance, but as Spin shows, it’s unnecessary flourish!

Then we have Chieftan. Now setting aside the awkwardness of a big white southern dude calling himself ‘Chieftan,’ he’s a big guy, and he is the game’s official ‘hard’ mode – the difficulty that starts unlocking things because it’s hard to get through them with this gigantic chunk of Texas Toast under your control.

Chieftan has even more flourish than Spin, and often needs sometimes as much as four times as many points of input as Spin does. This guy needs you to nearly constantly help him. If you slip up and miss a note, you’re probably out of the game entirely, showing he’s extremely sensitive and failure prone – his confidence in his ability to dance is extremely weak.

Then difficulty takes another enormous spike:

With the Elite Beat Divas.

Now, here’s where things get interesting, because the Divas don’t just represent a continuation of the existing difficulty. Part of what makes their levels in the game even harder is that they’re dealing with mostly the same notes as Chieftan, but they’re smaller targets and appear much closer to the window when you need to tap them.

That is to say: They’re doing the same stuff, but being held to a higher standard. This is true for how women are treated in almost all media spaces:

Then the question becomes: How much harder can it be? What’s the next step of difficulty up above that? If we’re suddenly seeing the way women are treated, the way demands are made of women that are already being held to higher standards (I mean, look at the way they dress compared to the men).

Then the next step is to see what happens when you ask a dude to try and meet those standards.

Anyway, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Inspiration and Privacy

One of the things that drives this blog is a direct pipeline from my day to day experience. Part of what has made scheduling blog posts in advance with a full plan such a great thing for me is that it means that if I have a single incident on one day, that inspires me to write something, that written work isn’t going to happen for weeks or in some times, months, meaning that I get to write about topics over the whole year, then they’ll come together in a particular period, looking like a coherent theme was sought out ahead of time.

It’s neat!

Here’s another thing, though: If I have a schedule it means that, by default, any immediate need to say something can be put on a page, and left alone for two weeks. It gives my thoughts time to breathe, and this becomes very important when I’m talking about things that upset me ore things that I find myself extremely excited about. I have deliberately slowed myself down so I don’t have to be the Hot Take Time Machine, and that means that my opinions don’t get the benefit of riding the Attention Cycle, but they also don’t have me locked into fast, quick impressions of things where I look like a dumbass a year later.

There’s this joke that pretty much all blogs start the same way with this dickbrain, who is a dickbrain, but in this case, the dickbrain is me, and the blog scheduling tool lets me keep a reign on my own dickbrainness.

This means that blogging periods are sometimes symptoms of what was inspiring me a month ago. You’ll see trends and streaks, if you can divine the tea leaves of my me-ness. Complicating this, though, is what my life is doing.

As I write this, I’m coming off a period where some of the things that normally fizz my brain and stimulate my writing aren’t happening. I don’t just mean isolation, though! I mean that normally, university semester means travel, reading, listening and looking at things around the place. What I’ve been left with instead is time spent on private projects – things that involve people who didn’t sign up to become part of my #internet #content #machine.

What follows then for me is a challenge of divining where I can draw a line between what was on my mind and what will seem was on my mind later. What I can’t share, and what I shouldn’t share, and what subjects can be said to be brought up by people in private spaces that aren’t necessarily going to be seen as big ole subtweets.

This is part of the path of managing this kind of writing: it matters enormously to me that if I’m writing something, it’s because it’s something I want to write and because it’s something I think you, the audience, will want to read.

There you go, some process stuff! How it all comes together! As of writing this, back in June, I have already a chunk of writing planning for later months done, some actual articles – and some things that are slowly brewing as I consider if it’s worth going into the topic, or holding back for another time.

… shhh…

ASMR looks fundamentally strange from the outside and I’m reconciled to that.

It’s a creative space which has a lot of what I personally consider gobbledeygook. I mean nothing but the best of intentions to most ASMRtists, but there are quite a lot of reiki healers, both sincere and simulated, Youtube Culture Fans, Beauty Culture fans, Crystal people, healing energies people, conspiracy theorists, and just in general, nonsense that it’s impossible to test for its sincerity, because ASMRt is fundamentally, a quiet and private space where I actively do not want to become heavily invested in the personal life and opinions of these people.

As someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural and whose opinion of the numinous is decidedly rational, this can be offsetting. Personally, I really like the ASMR space for its tangible effect helping me concentrate as I work. It can be an interesting avenue for science fiction and fantasy narrative, and indeed, good ASMR for me wants to do something surreal to make sure that I’m not thinking of it as ‘serious’ narrative. I definitely like stories told through this format, but I know full well the stories are being delivered in extremely stilted ways.

What I think, though, that matters to me a lot about ASMR, and one of the things I find about it so very comforting is the value that the format puts not just on quiet, but on the ambient and constant sounds of the world around us. I’ve talked about the idea of rhyparyography, the notion of artistic exploration of the unimportant, and how the bulk of videogame art exists in the space of artists making ten thousand mundane bookshelves.

ASMR often is drawn not out of exciting or mysterious devices, or elaborate and unique pieces of specialised hardware (though they are useful for the creation of the content). The things that derive sound for ASMR art are almost always definitively unimportant devices. Clacky keyboards. Tin roofs and rain. Pad and paper. Bottles of makeup and lotion.

As someone who surrounds himself with sound and stimuli, in a field that is so often about the quiet contemplation of the complicated, ASMR It encourages us to listen to ourselves

to our environments

and to the small and mundane devices in our life.

MTG: Otrimi, I Guess?

First things first, you should read this thread by Orion Black. And this other thread by them. You’ve already seen them? Good! Great! I don’t want anyone who is interested in or playing Magic: The Gathering to do so without at least some awareness of this problem, this persistent problem. I guess my main thinking here is that the least I can do is make sure Wizards has the reputation not as ‘one of the good ones’ but as ‘that one has fucked up a lot and needs to fucking address it.’

I haven’t been playing a lot of Magic: The Gathering. Just other things going on, plus any time a banning happens or a new set releases, prices on MODO get a little weird, in a way I don’t appreciate. Typically if I wait a month, all the things I want to play around with get a bit cheaper, and this few months in Magic’s history have been

weird.

The last time I was playing, I was playing, I kid you not, a budget standard Walls deck, using High Alert and Teyo, the Shieldmage. This means that I haven’t really been paying attention for two whole additions to standard, and I also missed the return of Commander – not 1v1 Commander, but Commander – to the MODO interface.

Let’s then talk about a card I’m kinda intrigued to play with in Commander, but can’t see the ways I’m going to make them work:

Otrimi, the Ever-Playful

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Game Pile: The Magical Land of Yeld

Here is a list of things you are going to find in the book The Magical Land of Yeld.

  • A Witch class whose first benefit is literally saying “No one understands me. But that’s fine! I understand myself!”
  • A christmas sweater you can give to an enemy at the start of combat and if they’re never attacked, they will become a friend
  • Rules for food that improve your dice, including vegan options
  • Comics that explain what happens with at least one funny talking dog telling you how to knife a baddy
  • Character creation bases that let you pick archetypes such as Princess, Big Sister, Know-It-All, Brat, Dog, and Liar
  • Chaining combat mechanics that require you to say ‘excuse me!’ to interrupt monsters
  • Death mechanics that let you haunt the baddies until your friends get back to an inn
  • A calendar tracking the holidays and festivals your characters will get to experience
  • A bunny postman
  • A Secret of Mana style job system that starts out basic and expands to Badass
  • A spell that lets you summon a horde of sheep
  • Beautiful, clean artwork illustrating everything
  • A basic adventure where you fight a person who is quite clearly a Messed Up Adult In A Fandom Space Being An Asshole To Kids
  • A Sweater Shop
  • A Battle Kite
  • Fumble systems for spells that lets your existing spell effects work, but also add on interesting disasters
  • An extensive discussion of structuring stories in terms of their stages and consequences to build anticipation
  • Folding character sheets
  • A monster called a bean whale
  • And I guess, if I was going to try and convince you to check this book out, it’d be with this:

So go buy it, jeeze.

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I Hurt My Foot

As I write this, I am recovering from having hurt my foot.

I hurt my foot a few days ago. It’s not a particularly big deal but it is a deal. I didn’t drive a nail through it, didn’t need medical attention, didn’t have to cut a portion of it off, didn’t have to walk a long distance on the already-injured foot, I didn’t have to unfold one of my toes and I didn’t have have a piece of earthmoving equipment roll over it, all of which are things that have, previously, happened to my foot.

My response to it the first day was to not really pay attention to it, and then it became unbearable and impossible to sleep with; the result was the next day, I had to stay at home and not do a grocery shop because my foot was hurt so badly and the pain had been exacerbated by my inattention. I sat on the sofa and watched Netflix and generally felt like a bit of a lump. Nothing in the queue got done that day. I was desperate to recover, because the next day (today, as I write this) I had to teach and I didn’t want to let my students down.

This worked, I got a full night’s sleep, I taught all day, and then, because my foot felt so much better, I thoughtlessly flicked it out to stretch it, and immediately regretted my actions.

Now, through all this, I made my situation worse by consistently forgetting that painkillers are a thing; what’s more, these painkillers are anti-inflammatory, which means I forgot things that wouldn’t just help me immediately but also makes the process of recovery better and easier.

It’s just a bit of friction. I need to remember how long it’s been since I had one, then I need to negotiate with myself if I really need it, if the immediate pain is that bad.

This isn’t an interesting blog post, and as it goes up, I’ll probably be fine?

But I kinda use this blog for diary notes, and during the pandemic, being aware of my own dumbass behaviour that makes it harder to do things is important. Productivity is being diminished by every form of friction imaginable, after all.

BDG’s Commedia Del Anime Chart

Hey, did you like this video?

I liked it. I liked it and it gave me a list that was useful as a way to consider collections of characters (like roleplaying characters, or the cast of a book you’re working on), and that seemed a fun thing to play with. Problem is, the complicated system that BDG outlined here isn’t presented with something like a spreadsheet to copy and fill in on your own.

Sooo

I did that.

Here’s a link to a viewable chart, which you can Make a Copy of and fill in with your own characters. Have fun!

Top Five Pokemon Gym Leaders That Show This Game Is Incomprehensible For People Over Five

Pokemon, a game franchise for children, is a well-loved cultural fixture that we all share in as a group, has a recurrent feature of gyms. Gyms in the game are sort of like little tests that block your forward progress until you overcome the challenge they present, then they give you a signifier that you’ve beaten them so as a player, you can track which ones you’ve successfully beaten.

These gyms are also presented, in-universe, as a place that you, the player character are going to, and are set up with an actual person in charge of them, the Gym Leader. Presented then here are five of those Gym Leaders, in a list.

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Story Pile: Coconut Telegraph

Sure, we’re bumping at the edges of the month, but trust me: There’s no Jimmy Buffett album that’s got anything fun to say on Pride Month. And this is going to be the last of our Boats to Build articles – at least unless I really regret it and extend my examination one extra album, for later.

The albums of Jimmy’s I listened to were the albums my dad’s music collection; the records he owned, on vinyl, and when we moved and I grew up, they were just there. In the church environment, dad couldn’t readily add music to his collection – certainly not vinyl, with his new fangled, impressive CD player that lived in the corner of the living room like a big black box of impressive technical doom.

I try not to think too much about it. Dad didn’t buy more Jimmy Buffet albums after this one – and this album landed smack between my sister’s birth, and mine. It might be that dad felt there was a massive dip between this album and the next… or maybe, being a father of two and looking for work that could support that while trying to contribute to church meant that these were the first costs that got cut.

In a way this selection of albums that all predate my birth but were endlessly replayed as I grew up are part of the foundation of who I am, a reminder that no matter how millenial I am, I’m grappling with being a product of cultures of lies that give me conflicting, meaningless insights into who they think people can be. It’s up to me to pull these pieces together – or discarding them! – and seeing what I can find.

This album has both one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and one of my least liked Jimmy songs.

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Five More Bleach Songs That Were At The Start Of Episodes

I’ve said Tite Kubo is an artist who expertly renders a few seconds at a time. It means that when you ask him to try and create a splash page you’re going to get characters full of personality and aesthetic expression and maybe you’ll even get a vague hint of how those characters are strange to one another.

Ask him to resolve a plot and you’re going to get something that feels it got punched out of a template. And honestly, good. I don’t think he should have to try and pull of what he can’t do.

Know where this guy’s abilities excel?

They excel in media forms where you can depict maybe a split second of motion, a sense of character without necessary dialogue and maybe a single phrase or background image. Bleach is an entire anime universe constructed for AMVs, and you can tell, because of the opening and endings that already basically are.

I’ve already spoken about Shojo S, Asterisk, Alones, and Houki Boushi last time I did this, but the good news is that Bleach had forty five openings and endings, split unevently between either, so it’s not like I’m running out of material for this any time soon. I did do a stupid thing by mentioning Houki Boushi first because that ending kills and there are also thirteen versions of the ending, and if I put together a list of ‘all of the Bleach songs in order of best to worst’ Houki Boshi would fill an embarassingly high number of the top twenty.

Here then are another five.

5. D-tecnoLife

If you ever needed another testament to the complete cluelessness of this series, of the not knowing anything at all about what it was going to be, but being very sure about the methodologies of the story, behold the second opening. The song here is about being sad and tormented, but refusing to give up. It kind of frames the story it’s showing you as about a quest to go rescue Rukia as you fell into this world of strange and extremely cool characters who you are at odds with (but look how hot they are except the big fat one and weird puppet dude).

What we see is a montage of characters who are of varying importance to the plot overall (I mean, hi Chad, sorry Chad, hi Ganju, goodbye forever Ganju, jesus christ), but it still introduced you to a large chunk of the Gotei 13 characters that you wanted to know about. It didn’t do much to tell you about who they really were, but you did get some hints – like the way the opening shows you Hitsugaya dealing with being under Generic Attack from Ishida before trying to kill you, the viewer. I liked the way it showed a connection between Soi Fon and Yoruichi, with Soi Fon just trying to take Chad’s head off and Yoruichi wrecking her by taking the tip of her sword.

Which.

When you remember that sword is Soi Fon’s soul

And

You know what, let’s move on.

4. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight

A filler arc would normally be a perfect place to drop a mediocre opening, and you can sort of notice the way this opening saves its budget by using reused footage, still images, slow pans, empty spectacle, and an annoying focus on the god damn puppets. It also shows off a collection of Bounts, which are like slightly paper-jammed photocopies of designs you’ve kind of seen before elsewhere in the series.

This opening also has the bumper framing of Rukia jolting Ichigo into motion and then being his point of rest, at a picnic, together, where they fall asleep, because they are Good Friends, and Not Romantic Partners.

Man this series had no clue where it was trying to go.

Still, this is kind of how I feel like Anime Openings want to be, with this sort of smash-cut sequences of one or two actual things that happen in this story that are important to the story, and a chunk of character expression in a few short heartbeats. What really sets it apart is this song, by the Beat Crusaders fucking rules.

Apparently Phil Collins covered it at some point? Weird.

3. Rolling Star

The story is still in filler space, and that kind of shows in the way this opening shows you all the top-polling characters and almost nothing of the enemies this story is about dealing with – they’re represented just by bleak shadows and shimmering shapes. There’s some hint of Gin (remember Gin?), Aizen, and Hollow Ichigo, but make no mistake, this opening was rolled out while theywere still in the filler turf of the Bount arc. The opening is a sort of ‘hey, remember the cool stuff?’ that you could use in a filler spot to get people to look forward to the thing you’re definitely not giving them yet.

It does mean you get a sort of platonic ideal of Bleach at this point; cool characters in casual gear, looking great (I mean, how cool is Hitsugaya’s outfit here), and lots of symbolism and imagery that absolutely does not and will not happen as suggested, but crucially, which kinda feels like it would.

That’s the thing that honestly feels like the biggest cheat: The story presented in this opening is a story I want to see more of, and we don’t even get that.

Complicating this further is that the song is excellent, a sort of ascending punch to Houki Boshi‘s crashing descent.

2. Velonica

Mmm, can you taste that declining budget?

This opening is composed of a large number of still shots and the animation is stuff like dramatic fluttering of robes, which is one of the easiest kinds of animations to do. You don’t have to track the movement of the objects, you don’t have to be sure that they make sense in a single shot, because what matters is that they look about right in aggregate. There’s a lot to forgive in reusing frames, too!

The opening is also a testament to how this series just has no earthly clue about what, in it, is going to be important. It does spare a moment to give you a massive shot of Nemu’s thigh, which is something, I suppose, but there’s this direct flow from Unohana into Kenpachi – and imagine if you’d known ahead of time that those characters had literally anything to do with one another.

The song kicks ass, which is why it’s in this list, but it’s a symptom of how this show has no idea of where it’s going or what matters. There’s a suite of characters presented at the end, who, by the way, rule, and their character designs are great, expressed in that single last moment, but that’s all you get. More time is spent focusing on Ginryusai’s bloody eyebrows.

1. chAngE

First of all, I think this song rules, I like it a lot.

I also think that this opening is a sign of just how utterly far Bleach has come from having the faintest clue about what it was going to be about or where the story was going, and this came with the knowledge there were two more plot arcs and seventy episodes remaining for the show.

The opening is full of these wonderful signs of stylistically rendered completely confusing nothing. Why are we seeing Ichigo flying in a trenchcoat against a sky of crows? Why are we seeing it in these long paced out sections? Why did Orihime say change?

By the way, this is one of those things Bleach does to its immense detriment: Orihime and Rukia both get Kairi’d real hard. They’re characters with nothing to do but to sit still and be emperilled so the plot can advance up to them, and that’s it, it doesn’t change the nature of what’s going to happen when the rest of the heroes get there. Also, note that because Orihime was the one being Kairi’d most recently at the end of the story, she’s the one who wound up ‘winning’ Ichigo, despite having three other potential love interests, two of whom were women. You’ve heard of ‘First Girl Wins?’ This is the sadder defaulting finale of that, a sort of musical chairs of Wrap It Up when the budget runs out.

Then, you get a glimpse of what’s going to happen next: Ulquiorra and Ichigo are going to fight and Ulqiorra’s going to look awesome. And

that’s all this vision of the future can give you.

The Vizard are in this! They look cool! They have cool masks and personality! Just show us them flipping out!

Compare this to the opening of the Soul Society arc; you got glimpses of characters, there was action, they were shown interacting, there were hints of who they would be even if the anime wasn’t sure. Characters were shown expressing the way they would be in potential spaces. Song’s great, no lies, but it’s an example of how Bleach wound up being: Impressively crafted, clueless nothing.

4e D&D: Marks Are Great

A common criticism of 4th Edition D&D is that at its root, it was good at combat, and therefore, everything in the game, is in service of those combat rules. One example given, is that in 4th edition D&D, there’s the mark system, which turns any kind of player choices manipulating enemy behaviour is turned into a simple reliable mechanic and the player doesn’t need to think about it to engage it, and that this is bad.

This is of course, a stupid position because I introduced it up front so I could get you on my side with a comical twist. Of course I think marks are good, and that’s in part because I think the first half of that argument is kinda a bad faith argument. If you think 4th edition D&D is only combat mechanics, it tends to suggest you haven’t really cracked the books. I could talk about how the nature of the game is that good guides for the creation of narrative don’t need lots of space, and convenient reference text for combat entities does, and we’re back at talking about rainbow tables and storage versus process, but whatever.

The mark system in 4th edition D&D is a blatantly tactical gameplay mechanic.

And I love it.

If you’re not familiar, marks are a system that all the characters with the classification ‘defender’ – you might know it as ‘tank’ or ‘blocker’ or ‘guardian’ – get some ability or other that lets them impose the status of marked on enemies. Marks have a few standard rules; specifically, when you have the marked status, the person who did mark you matters. When you’re marked, you suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls on attacks that do not include the thing marking you. That’s it, at base.

This system is implemented in a lot of different ways; Wardens can mark everyone around them as a free action, but they have to choose when in their turn they do it, which can make for some tactical choices about where and how you position yourself. Fighters mark everyone they attack, whether or not they hit, which means they care about doing lots of incidental attacks, and view area effect or multi-target attacks as a form of control. Paladins have two different marks – one which happens on specific attacks, and one which requires them to remain near the subject. There are more of course, but just these three examples present the mark as a tool where the player can treat the battlefield in terms of their impact on it; monsters have a reason to want to avoid them, and they have a way of controlling monster behaviour. Marks don’t stack – the most recent mark over-writes the other ones.

It’s not just the defenders who can use marks themselves – because it’s a standard mechanic, you can then have other characters use them. For example, you can make a fragile character get a risky power that marks an enemy, which means that suddenly, you’re a high priority target and it makes it harder for the tank to keep that enemy on them. Another option is a support character who can make another character mark something – so you could play a psion, that says ‘hey, enemy, you are now marked by the tank.’ These are interesting options. And you can even use it on enemies – Sometimes a skeleton warrior may have the rules text ‘Deals 1d8+5 damage, and the target is marked.’ And that right there is a simple mechanic that suggests that the enemy is doing what it can to try and force you to focus on it.

Now why are they considered bad?

The idea seems to be that if marks just work, players don’t have to work to roleplay their characters being visibly fearsome or expressing themselves in the world around them so the DM will make monsters behave in a way players want to manipulate. That’s something that sounds compelling if you are, like me, an amazing roleplayer who’s great at commanding attention and capable of convincing DMs. But there are lots of players who want to play a showy, ostentatious asshole of a tank who isn’t actually that great at one-liners or showy, ostentatious violence in description.

This is a false idea, in my opinion. The whole point of Marks as a system is that it’s designed to make something in the game that should work work reliably, rather than make it prone to the whims of the player. It’s not as interesting if your character can or can’t maintain enemy attention based on your ability to say something rude or shocking or clever in another language, but it is interesting if you’re able to make choices about where you stand and what targets you care about.

It’s also something about being in fights. If you’ve never been in a fight, it might surprise you to know that there are ways to fight that make ‘disengaging’ from the fight actually hard, and it’s not because you can make fun of people, it’s because of stances and reach and position.

I think Marks are great, and part of why they’re great is because they reduce the friction of what the game play is directing to not determine whether or not a thing can happen, but rather the game rules dictate what will happen, and it’s up to you, the player, to explain how it happens.

Game Pile: Bit Rat Singularity

I have, in my time, played a lot of Pipe Dream.

It’s got other names. Runoff was one I played a lot in the MS Dos game days. There was also Oil Spill and Lava Flow. It became a Windows title, and had names like Pipe Mania or Pipes! and related games like Laser Squad, the same sort of general construction puzzle game where you had a source to flow from and you had to construct from that source to achieve some end. Usually, these games were timer based, sometimes they were limited components based. Perhaps most famously, Bioshock used the Pipe Dream mechanics to represent their hacking mini games.

These types of games are in my mind as path constructors. And you know, they’re an underexplored genre.

Bit Rat Singularity is meant to be a kind of teaser game. It’s a smaller game than you’d expect, with probably fewer levels than you might like if you’re a hardcore puzzler. I’m not, I’m not great at this kind of puzzle, but I still had fun playing it, exploring it, and listening to the story the game presented.

It’s a path constructor, but rather than connecting pipes so water can flow through it, you’re connecting nodes on a network. Great, a simple expansion, and an existing one we’ve seen in other games like Uplink. In this case, the network is simplified, all the rules are abstracted, and once you get the basics handled, it starts to introduce things like limitations on how many nodes you can maintain, how you can connect them to one another, managing different resources as you try to construct your path out of the level.

It’s a great execution and part of what I love about it is that the game is often about constructing destructive pathways. Sometimes, to get your path to the end to work, you have to wreck what you’ve made – sometimes risking marooning yourself while you work, using one or two temporary measures that you need to dismantle, step by step, in the right order, which makes the whole thing more interesting than just a linear ‘from A to B.’

There’s a narrative that ties into the idea of retrotech, that sort of ‘a past’s vision of a different future,’ where you’re dealing with big chunky server boxes that managed to create, and lose track of, a sentient AI. You’re that AI, and you’re making your way out of the space you’re in, with variable degrees of menace as you befriend the rats that live in the place. There are employees you may need to puppet a little bit, because, uh, they have chips in their head, and it’s all presented as a result of massive breakdown in the culture of the company.

I got this game as part of the Bundle for Racial Justice and equality. It’s only $2. It’s a really good little game, and odds are good, you bought that bundle and didn’t really check everything in it out. I’m trying to make a project of checking games in this bundle, because it’s full of gems, and it’s worth it to look at them, and think about how all these games, all these products, are made by people, and those people wanted to sign up to give away something to try and help this problem we’re dealing with.

You’re not alone in the struggle. There are so many people who don’t want the world to be like this.

We just gotta find one another and make friends.

Gruuwar!

Back in the day there was a paper product called a magazine, like the thing that I will always call a clip in a gun because it tweaks the nose of people I enjoy lightly teasing. You got a tree and you hammered it flat, and then you like, carved into it? I think? It’s hard to say. Anyway, Dragon Magazine was a thing and you could get a little bit of D&D content, every month, developed (hah) and playtested (pfft) by expert professionals (BAHA HAHA).

One month, they did a feature on ‘wild races’ – different race options that were a bit more monstery, a bit less common. This set of ‘different ideas’ was a set that kind of feels standard now – there was an elemental rocky person, there was a spooky, gloomy one, and there was a cat person. This is kind of the three basic spaces that it seems that edition of the game had going on, the negative space that designers were overwhelmingly drawn to. Rock, cat, goth.

Also, mixed in amongst them, there was the throw-it-in, why-not creature of the Gruwaar.

Who I misread, and spent the intervening fifteen years referring to as the Gruuwar.

The Gruuwar as presented were almost immediately gone from my head. What I got to start with was that they were a race of rangy, secretive, skinny blue people covered in fur. Going back and consulting the magazine recently, I found that they sounded kind of like obnoxious jerks, and that my own take on the culture was so blatantly contrary as to be preposterous.

My Gruuwar are a race of slight, trouble-averse fey-based people, prone to mischief and theft, tied to henges and ancient stones, as gates and anchors for their teleporting powers. They had a war with the Shadar-Kai (which they lost), and their own little corners of the Feywild, made of over-large versions of common small plants. In my mind, they feel a bit more Welsh or Irish than the more British and French fairy folk of the Monster Manual, but a people that live in those spaces and still need to do things like get food and water and occasionally steal sausages and beer.

This got me thinking about wide races and pocket races. Wide races are those that you use all over a setting. My examples of half-elves, elves, and orcs all fit in that space already – creatures that exist in large enough quantities and over a diverse enough space that they have cultures that are separate from their own cultural stock. I think a setting wants a decent mix of these – after all you want room enough that humans can look reasonably like a variety of human cultures that already exist. Not to ripoff 1:1, but if I want to make an armoured knight who draws on say, French history as their general story source, that’s easy. Harder if I want to make something that’s like Saladin’s guard, or Admiral Yi’s crew. I don’t want to say ‘these cultural overtones belong exclusively to this race’ either – so if someone likes Korean style armour styles, and they want to play an Orc, that means that in the wide spaces where Korean-style stuff exists, there needs to be room for Orcs that can wear that gear without that gear being explicitly orcish.

Pocket races, on the other hand, are great for when you want a culture to be reasonably unified, often around a physical trait that’s hard to explore otherwise. Raptorans, for example, or Winged Elves like the Avariel – if they were widespread, they’d have a big impact in the world. To keep the world looking reasonably the way you want it to and not shaped by these elements, you need to keep this population small, and isolated (hence ‘pocket’).

The Gruuwar – my Gruuwar – are one of my favourite pocket races. They live up in the highlands, they hide behind cairns, and they mostly want to be left alone. One or two of them run around in the Realm of Iron, driven by a want for adventure, and they can be a player option – and even an avenue to introduce strange and mysterious stories, a bridge to the Fair Realm. Also, they can be cute and fun. It’s a culture of potential nightcrawlers, confused by player’s ways, but happy to learn and even more happy to swipe.

But they don’t need to be everywhere, and making them everywhere would disrupt the world to accommodate them.

Learn when to wield these two different ways to handle a culture.

Fat Guys With A Chain

Hey, here’s a thing that character designers do a lot.

In videogames, there is an archetype you’ll see when you look for a fat man. In fact, in fighting and action games it’s almost the only option for a fat man. It’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: The character is a fat man with a chain. There’s room for a lot of other details – like how fatness is also often coupled with gastric and oral details (fire breath and fart powers), or ‘non-masculine’ behaviour (so crybaby emotionality or flamboyance), but the character is still, foundationally, a fat man with a chain.  Three simple words:

Fat. The character is physically large and round, and that roundness is presented as part of the character’s body, not an outfit they sit in or wear around.

Man. The character is coded masculine and adult, unambiguously so.

Chain. The character carries around a weapon that is a large metal chain.

Before I go on, I am not an expert in fat characters or how to design them, I am not an expert in what fat characters should or should not be. I don’t think I’m part of that conversation nor should I be – not because I am not fat or related to fatness, but because I haven’t done the homework. I’m thinking about this game design and how form and function interact. The example characters I’m using here are Chang from King of Fighters, Birdie from Street Fighter, Road Hog from Overwatch and Pudge from Dota 2.

The games these Fat Dudes With Chains are all from may seem very different – but they are all games with a fundamental importance to the idea of controlling space. MOBAs, fight games and arena FPSes, they’re all about controlling your opponent’s access to a space. Most characters control this space in a variety of ways: ranged weapons are common, but so are traps, mezzes, pursuit powers (think like Jhanna in Heroes of the Storm), barriers, all that good stuff, but also crucially, just the ability to move in those spaces. Position yourself and you effect your opponent’s options.

Historically, I suspect animating a chain nicely is relatively easy these days. If you check out how Chang from King of Fighters worked, he used the BALL more, which, again, a bit easier to animate. Still, he has the chain, and he can use it to extend the ball at distance, and give himself some reach, to get around that problem of moving fast.

The fat dude with a chain idea is hypothetically interesting: he can use his fatness as a counterweight, and force you, the other, to deal with his fatness, turning his fatness into a tool that he can use. This is not an inherently bad idea! The chain can move fast, and gives him reach without necessarily meaning that he moves his body very fast through that space. The chain gets to be an extension of his physical power that isn’t ‘letting the fat guy move fast.’

Here’s the thing though, there’s a base assumption here about why the fat guy needs the chain: He can’t be fast. That’s basically it. The fat man with a chain isn’t allowed to move fast, and the question then becomes: Why can’t he, though?

The first answer tends to involve the word ‘realistic’ or ‘realism,’ and that’s stupid. Realism isn’t important, feeling real is – and these games feature gigantic dudes like Juzoh, who is just as big but very capable of moving fast and dodging out of the way of dangerous attacks at a moment’s notice. Also, these games have fireballs in them.

Then the question tends to settle around ‘metaphor’ or ‘meaning’ about the characters, and then you’re left squirming as to why you’re defining your world by what, in a space of impossible humans, a fat person can’t do.

I’m very sympathetic to the idea of the big fat dude with a chain as a character being a cool design. Honestly, I think those elements could be used in a rad way. I like chain fighters, and I haven’t seen many big fat guys in these games that feels like someone I could like. But look at how Fat Dudes with a Chain outnumber All Other Fat Characters Period, and then ask yourself why the fuck, with all the mechanics available to every other body type, the fat guys keep getting this.

Now, I think ‘fat guy with a chain in an area control game’ works, because like I said, it gives a slow character reach, it lets him turn his body into a problem for others who aren’t familiar/aware of how to deal with that, but why not literally any of the other choices?

It’s not like big fat men can’t do things quickly. I’ve met big fat guys who can move their hands fast and can get themselves moving just as quick, and that’s reality, a place where gravity matters and nobody can jump twelve feet in the air at a dead stop. Why can’t a big fat dude be a dancer? And not a point of comedy dancer, but like actually just fast? Why can’t he be a teleporting ninja? Why can’t he be a mez-thrower trap-maker? Wrecking Ball from Overwatch could have been a big, fast moving fat guy. Also a joke, but it’s still a second fat guy and it isn’t a dude with a chain.

What you’re going to find is that there’s this desire to make the chain guy and the fat guy is the only natural home for that and they’re not going to make a second fat guy.

Overwatch has 29 characters. SNK’s character roster is preposterous and Chang is still the most obvious fat guy they have (and he has a chain). Street Fighter has Birdie and… god, anyone else? Heroes of the Storm has 85 characters. League of Legends has 143 characters. Again, in these spaces, there are a tiny number of fat characters, and those fat characters are more likely to have a chain than not.

The fat dude with a chain is a thing you can do. It’s just it’s really lazy, extremely basic, and tends to feed into an existing trope space where people aren’t doing enough to experiment and stretch their limits. You can do it, but may I suggest, instead, trying the tiniest bit harder.

(If you wholeheartedly love your Big Chainy Round Boys, let that love show)

Expanding Fighting Fantasy

Thinking about solo adventures.

Far be it from me to point at the everything right now, but you may not realise it, but a lot of normal avenues for me are cut off – I don’t have access to playtest groups right now. Despite this, people are still TTRPG’in it up, tabletop living in online forms like Magic: The Gathering’s camera systems or Tabletop Simulator and the like. Also, Discord is getting a workout as a RPG room for a lot of people, and I know that my booklet games have been selling well on DriveThru.

That got me thinking: What can I do with just a book, for people who don’t have a ton of room or time to play with other people right now?

I loved the Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, because I also didn’t have access to specialised equipment and I didn’t have any friends. These books were an adventure that I could play and share with only the single monopoly dice out of my second hand boardgame we kept in the cupboard. They also could be obtained from the libary and local book exchange and crucially, not paid for with money.

If the main thing of mine people are buying right now is a book, and I want to give people stories and adventures and settings to play around in, then what about a solo RPG gamebook? That seems an interesting idea to at least explore.

There’s going to be a linked question here, which is, “Well, why not do this in twine?” or “Why not make this as an actual video game?” or “Why does this have to use a deck of cards when this other thing could do the job?” and the answer to that, largely, is shut up.

Not to be entirely rude, but the reason to do things with this medium is to do things with this medium. I’m not trying to get into programming languages – I know how to design game, I know how to design a game narrative, and I know how to format a book. What’s more, when you start using a digital model, you introduce more tools that often will handle things you do better – things like tracking inventory and whatnot. If you’re dealing with a gamebook or a pdf reader, you can tell the reader they have to do something, if you’re non-confusing, the player will be able to make it work.

A few ideas for this!

1. Flow

The typical problem of a gamebook is that you can emulate a linear flow from point A to point B, but it’s often hard to make a book construct a space. This is because some elements are time-sensitive – the first time you enter a room, you may encounter a version of the room that’s got things in it, but once you deal with them, the book has no inherent way to track that.

Now, there is an option for this – to treat the narrative as an entirely linear flow. Lots of good tricks here; using it as a narrative story that works as part of a journey is pretty good when you deal with something like the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever. You could also make the narrative about being pursued – backtracking is inherently a problem.

There’s also the hamfisted way some of these narratives work by teleporting you places, or having you kidnapped or moved on. That’s a thing to bear in mind.

One idea for playing with memory is that your character sheet has a fold-over section, with a lot of out-of-context marks on it; when you do the thing the context mark indicates, you make a mark on the non-folded section, and that means that when you eventually flip that section out, you have a bunch of points that represent things you did, and they then send you to a story point that relates to that.

2. Adding Cards

A way to make the game remember – or forget – things is to use some cards. A deck of playing cards could be used to break up into a number of decks; you could have a final encounter represented by a few cards on a table, as a form of rudimentary AI. You could have treasure decks that mean you don’t find the same items in the same locations all the time.

You can also use cards to represent accomplishments – when successful, you can remove cards from a deck, so that later in the dungeon, they won’t show up. This can also be used to make the combat system more complicated in an interesting way.

I’m particularly interested in this because of how it relates to using a deck of cards to randomise encounters and add resistance without necessarily making the bulk of the book into repeating workhorse enemies and monsters.

3. Legacy Elements

Asking someone to physically write on the book is a bit sketchy, but you could have a legacy character sheet with a fold-out section that lets you draw on specific sections of the sheet to indicate things that have changed. Then you can use that section of the sheet to relate to the next (or all next sheets that follow, depending on how you feel about roguelikes).

This is particularly interesting because if entries are numbered, it’s entirely possible that you can make some entries go away with legacy rules; you have an entry that’s only accessible through the legacy elements, threads of story you can’t reach in the first play, but can in the second. That there’s hypertext.

August 2020 Wrapup

And just like that, poof, August disappears!

August, with its theme of magic – which I tend to expand to be about manipulating attention and tricks, so eventually we wind up talking about heists – is pretty hard for me to work with when it comes to games or movies, because I already did The Prestige and Ricky Jay’s TV special, but after that. It’s great (in my opinion) for the other articles of the month, because I can almost always find other stories about the wonderful weirdoes involved in magic, the techniques of magic, the tools magic gives you access to, and that means that I tend to wind up with a lot of articles I’m happy with while Story and Game Piles kinda suffer.

But that’s okay!

By expanding to heists and stealth like I did this year (the art of controlling attention), I got to talk about Logan Lucky, which is great. I got to talk about Breach, which I still really like even after finding out it’s basically copaganda for the cop’s cops. I also got to talk about Volume, a game that I really like, and has gotten a lot better in the five years since its release because the idea of a Britain fallen to classist fascism in an information economy really isn’t very farfetched.

I also wrote about some useful general principles for dealing with people. One of them was confabulation, the way your brain justifies dumb things it does, and that you may literally never realise you were doing, about slugs and loads, and about forces. The forces article even has my favourite line of the month:

The force is not there to set up the trick: The trick is there to hide the force.

This month also was when I slipped out some of the lore of a Scum & Villainy science-fiction setting, with The Synthetic Mystic and the Century Ship. These are going to become important later, but you’ll find out why. Basically, creative content for you to share and enjoy.

I also hammered in on the absolutely unforgiveable Tome of Magic from 3.5 D&D, which is not a good book and full of not good things, but still deserves a tiny star for trying. I did a How To Be about the amazing Sumireko from Touhou Project. I love when I get to do something meaningful about Touhou Project, because the Touhou fans mark out in just the best ways.

August, I made another pair of shirts (though like, technically, it’s four shirts), showing both a math puzzle that’s part of a magic trick (in white and black text), and a reference that’s not actually vague, but you know, you could pretend it’s vague (in white and black text).

This month’s video was a half hour attempt to get started on Jane Jensen’s Gray Matter, during which time I talked about trying to make Narrative Adventures work, and the ways that you can have problems if you’re just creating flag-based trigger messes, the Australian side of the Steam store, and

Teaching started up this month, and that’s been great fun to do. There’s been some concerns about managing workload, but I’ve also been trying to dedicate more time actually building and playing things, rather than trying to manage my life so I’m just getting by. Also, with some things opening up, I’m getting to see my family more often, which is nice.

3.5 Memories: Tome of Magic

Magic in D&D is…

Is…

Look.

Let’s try and be nice.

Magic in D&D, generally, is designed mechanics first. Spells are things that players do, and so, spells are designed to be player-facing, player-activated. They’re things that make sense when players have access to them, that follow predictable rules, and that players can coherently treat as game options. Sometimes those game options are a bit vague, with ideas like charm person that kind of try to dance around what they’re doing, and sometimes they’re extremely specific in terms of how much damage they’re doing and to what. There are tables.

In 2ed, there was a book called the Tome of Magic that wanted to present advanced spellcasting rules, and in 3.5, as part of the eternal experimentation in getting money out of players (but also because hey, throw stuff at the wall), they released a new version. Rather than just More Spells, though, the Tome of Magic tried to present three alternative magic systems for you to weave into your game. They were treated as old and mysterious magic systems, systems that were by definition, a mystery to the rest of the magical schools, something that didn’t exist already.

They were also bad.

They were in fact, abysmally bad.

Now, if you’re of the old-school 3.5 playing, dig-through-the-paperwork type, you’re probably thinking but Zceryll – and yes. Yes, that’s a thing, a web expansion to one class that makes one of them pretty strong once they hit level 10. Okay, cool. That’s not in this book.

And what’s in the book? There’s three types of magic presented, each with their own framing and page templates; Vestige magic, Shadow magic, and Truename magic. Vestige magic is kind of like picking a kit of abilities and turning them on each day, with a skill check to see if you get a convenient or inconvenient version. Shadow magic is a magical system that wants to try and capture more of the ‘just do it’ magical style, rather than the thinky-learny-study-y magic of a wizard. It’s a lot like the Warlock, but more goth. Then there’s Truename magic.

None of these systems are good; the Binder is capable of doing the job of a solid rogue-like character, who can maybe mode switch a few times a day from rogue-type to fighter type or pinch healer. It’s really quite neat, and if you’re playing in a game where Zceryll is allowed (because Zceryll is quite strong), you can probably get this one out there to hang in the big leagues, if you don’t mind being the kind of player who comes to the table with a stack of reference documents. Imagine a swiss army knife with forty five attachments. Shadow Magic, on the other hand, wants to turn spellcasting into a talent tree, and the character you get out of it is a very weak spellcaster who’s even more limited than a sorcerer. Basically, the Shadowcaster wants to be an alternate wizard, but it’s kind of more like a Bard for non-combatants, or a Warlock for people afraid of being overpowered.

And there’s the Truenamer.

The idea at the heart of Tome of Magic‘s three different magic systems is to introduce some form of magical system that relates to the existing skill system, something that had been attempted with melee weapons in other supplemental works. This is something to bear in mind as it relates to Magic Month – when you tie your magic system to a skill system, you imply that getting better at magic is a process of practicing. That’s something D&D tends to not do, accidentally or otherwise, because most of the time, you get better at magic by levelling up, which is pretty vague, and often means that you improve at casting Rope Trick by killing lots of goblins. There’s a disconnect.

Binders use a skill check to commune with their vestiges. Vestiges that are harder to commune with will exert influence over you, often imposing on you particularly difficult limitations, like limiting the number of rounds you can partake in combat, or making you obey characters who are prettier than you. Also you can possibly grow sick-ass rams horns and headbutt people while you swing your sword.

Shadowcasters don’t relate to skills much. They also try to make their magical powers the result of practice; as you level up, your easiest magic tricks get easier and easier, until they’re eventually supernatural abilities you can use at will, which would be nice, if they weren’t comparing poorly to a fighter’s bow. Still, that’s something.

Thennnnn

Okay.

Time to pull off the bandaid.

The Truenamer is an incomplete class.

The Truenamer has spells (“Utterances”) that are formatted inconsistantly, meaning that some of them seem to literally not work as printed. It’s designed so that the first spell you cast each day is the easiest, and therefore, every time you use spells after it, it gets harder. It works by rolling skill checks to use your spells, and your spells are weaker versions of things that the other classes get at earlier levels, and more conveniently. There’s a lot of talk about the Truenamer as ‘the worst class of 3rd edition’ and I personally think that’s valid when you take into account that a player who intuitively takes to this class and tries to make it work the way it looks like it wants to work is going to have a very hard time doing the things the class suggests you want to do.

This is a class for whom one of your top tier feats is skill focus. This is a class that at level 20 can turn your Truenamer into Batman provided the one trick Batman wanted to do is summon fifteen hundred solars. The character gets to be both Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit.

The Tome Of Magic is trying to do some interesting things. It even gets to stumble, ass-backwards, into doing some broken stuff. It’s definitely not a forgotten jewel of 3.5, and in a way, it shows that being three mini-books jammed into one skin, that experimentation is valuable, but so is proper practice.

Game Pile: Gray Matter

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything happens so much, and there can be all kinds of complicated problems in the way of our plans and projects. While I talk about it a little bit in the video, this month (last year), I wanted to play the Jane Jensen game Gray Matter, and do a video on it. That became too hard to do as acquiring the game at first, and eventually, a whole year later, I finally got around to the game.

The plan for this month was always going to do a chill let’s play game. I was just going to play the game for a bit, hang out, and talk about it. I did so, and what I wound up with was a video that is definitely a bit disappointing, because I hit a wall in the game super early.

Don’t worry, I intend to return to this game, maybe even more thoroughly next Magic Month. I don’t think the game is a lost cause. Just this is sometimes, how these things go, and why you’re more likely to see me playing games I’ve played many times, and write about games I played for the first time.

August Shirt: Magic Nonsense!

I’ve really become way too into shirts that need explanation and nobody’s going to ask for it.

Here’s this month’s shirt designs:

This design relates to that 300 year old magic trick from a Scam Nation video I shared. here it is, on a shirt:

You can get this design as white text or black text!

But wait, there’s more!

And here’s this design on a shirt:

You can get this design in black text or white text!

PokeMagic

One of the weirdest things you can encounter in fantastic and magical settings is someone who doesn’t have to use sleight of hand, but does anyway. In Discworld, there’s a recurring gag that shows up the first time in Moving Pictures that Wizards, actual people capable of doing real fireballs-and-transformations magic, hate Magicians, people who do gloves-and-tails sleight of hand, and they hate them because people are impressed with Magicians and not with Wizards. After all, the reasoning goes, Wizards can do magical things and Magicians can’t, so Magicians seeming to do magical things is more impressive.

In Pokemon, magic is just bloody well everywhere, but strangely, most Pokemon aren’t magical. They’re just Pokemon – they do things that they do because they can do them, but very few of them really convey a magicality, even the ones that connect to magical themes. Gengars don’t cast spells, they just Do Ghost Stuff at people, and this tends to be conveyed in moves like poltergeist and lick.

There’s also the way that there’s a Pokemon that’s shown as really being able to do things that a famous fraudster and fake did using sleight of hand. Alakazam’s line of Pokemon invoke Uri Geller, a renowned fake real psychic, which is a sentence I guess I had to use. This is a sort of sleighting, where the Pokemon can really do things that the real-world asshole can’t do, but can fool people into thinking he can do.

Some Pokemon can inscrutably do magical stuff, with the Clefairy lines and a fairly dense collection of other Pokemon that can get the wish move, which makes sense, since they all have a mysticality. You can wish on the Absol you see on the hillside, but that doesn’t mean the Absol can summon you chicken nuggies if you’re standing next to it.

There was a lot going on in this look that I had to kind of dismantle myself, and uh, it’s not wise to try and google Hatterene with safe search off, because… yeah, it’s a lot like Gardevoir in that regard. Anyway, thing is Hatterene is a small little alien-like critter with a great big mop of hair that it holds around itself in a shape as if an adult human body; big head, big eyes, expresive features, and it has an arrangement that’s… kind of like a hat? But the tip of the hat is a long, droopy tentacle, with a barb on the end that Hatterene can use to mess people up.

Hatterene is, as far as its Pokedex description goes, a sort of living embodiment of the philosophy of Don’t. It has psychic and magical powers that let it mess with people’s heads, and crucially it has a unique move called magic powder, which sure as hell seems to suggest it literally and actually can do magic.

It uses these vast and terrible powers to make everyone go away.

That’s it.

Now the reason I bring up sleight here is that this Pokemon deliberately tries to sculpt itself to look a particular way when it doesn’t look that way; it uses its hair to give itself a particular shape, but it doesn’t really inhabit that shape. What’s more, it also primarily wants to be left alone and not looked at.  It’s also only available in femme forms, and it has a move that lets it transform another Pokemon into a Psychic type, and it’s colour scheme is pink, blue, and white, so

I dunno, Hatterene says trans rights.

 

MTG: Pick a Card, Any Card

Shuffling isn’t free.

In the world of the custom magic designer, there are some effects you wind up seeing a lot. One of them is the recurrent attempts to recreate the Power 9, another is to try and weasel around the Reserve List, and another is the attempt to fix the problem presented by the economic disparity of the fetchlands. The solution, the amateur designer thinks, is to create another, new, just as good fetchland that’s maybe a tiny bit worse.

The question that doesn’t get asked there, is: Why wouldn’t someone run both?

The problem that follows upon that is any fetchland good enough to run is going to be run by the people who also already have fetchlands (unless you do some ridiculous stuff to ensure the lands aren’t compatible, in which case you’re making the lands bad enough that they’re not runnable).

Really, the solution to fetchlands isn’t to make fetchlands more accessible. It’s to get rid of them entirely.

Set aside my existing complaints with the way fetchlands transform environments into sludgey nothingness. Set aside my complaints that the mana fixing presented by fetchlands and duals creates an environment with different aggressive pressures. Just look at fetchlands in terms of the pragmatic constraint they put on the game at a competitive level for the time spent not playing the game.

The tournament floor rules for shuffling present the idea that a deck must be reasonably randomised. This has led to a collection of best practices for what a shuffle is, which most tournament participants learn to practice and execute. But you don’t just shuffle yourself, you have to present the deck to your opponent, who then have the opportunity to shuffle your deck again, and then present it to you for a final cut. In a tournament environment, some of these shuffles are required.

Searching your deck once a game? Not a big deal, this shuffle-shuffle-cut procedure is a break from the conventional action of the game. Searching your deck then searching your opponent’s deck then searching your deck again then searching their deck again? You’ve added literally minutes to the game for mana smoothing.

This is also why any repeated tutor cards in custom magic need to be regarded with extreme distrust. Cards like Birthing Pod and Prime Speaker Vannifar are fundamentally dangerous, but it’s almost a grace that as used, they just win the game on the spot.

Custom magic loves repeated tutors, they love engine cards, they love trying to remake cards like Survival of the Fittest, or an exploration of Transmute and these designs are fine enough to play with, but when played with, they always present the same problem you get when this game of variance strives to destroy the variance that makes it interesting: The game slows down and gets more boring.

I’ve suggested, half seriously, from time to time, that you could make an interesting Commander format if every card that says ‘shuffle’ is banned. Out of the twenty thousand odd cards that exist, this would get rid of 783 – and a lot of them aren’t great.

Sure, you lose a lot of mana ramp and fixing, but you don’t lose all of it, and suddenly you have to look at colours in terms of all the redundant sorta-good copies that singleton formats promise. It’s a way to force the players to look at cards that they were ignoring, because they could always tutor the best ones.

It’s a way to make magic about controlling attention.

Sankey Magic

I don’t really want to spend this month showing you tutorials and stuff for Magic. It’s a discipline with a lot of different ways to learn, including numerous extremely technical books and documents and one-on-one demonstrations. What’s grown in popularity these days is jargon-light videos, where you’ll see someone show you how to do things, with simple terms used to describe them as opposed to the deliberately obscure and difficult form of our discipline. Between being a literal criminal subculture and the scholarship being spread across numerous countries, there’s a host of things magicians do that are described in a user-hostile language of unhelpful bullshit.

Youtube, however, has been pretty good at establishing new language for this stuff. Particularly, there are a few channels that mostly are just archives of tricks, demonstrated and given clear, specific explanations. There are, in essence, only about seven fundamental structures to a magic trick, but it’s not a discipline where knowing that unpacks anything for you; you may know that there’s been a ditch or a load at some point, but that doesn’t mean you have any idea which of the two it is. If you know your principles, though, Sankey does a great job of showing you a lot of different tricks that use the same small number of skills. What’s more, Sankey does something I see a lot of magicians avoid, which is that he’s inclined to use gimmicks, and he teaches you how to make them.

This makes sense: Sankey is trying to make money, and the ways he does this is with long-form instructionals and things like printable and digitally distributed gimmicks. This is not strange at all. It’s still a pleasant thing to see, because it’s often surprising how many magicians simply do not approach gimmicks these days – deck prep, sure, but things like ironing labels or creating fake gum wrappers, that’s its own discipline and it merits respect.

(Though uh, one of his recent tricks involves blowing air into a bag of food, which, you know, maybe don’t do that right now.)

Now, before I recommend this channel: Sankey is not, as far as I know, a dude who’d be considered ‘of my circles.’ I have no doubt given his style of patter and his general demeanour that he might drop some casually unpleasant or thoughtless joke, because the point of patter is to disrupt your attention, meaning that they always veer towards the racy and the rude even as they involve the self-deprecating. There’s going to be use of the word ‘insane’ and ‘crazy,’ in a lighthearted way, but it’s still a lot.

There is a nonzero chance that Sankey’s channel has, somewhere in its huge pile of videos, Jay saying something that’s pretty awful, and probably pretty awful in that thoughtless, ‘didn’t even think this was a thing to care about’ kind of way. I’d love to be surprised, but to be able to vouch for him I’d need to be able to watch every single video and then also be expert enough in all the ways he makes jokes to know for sure. I just want to make sure if you’re checking him out, that this guy is not carrying a Talen Seal of Approval.

Still, it’s a good resource for a wide variety of simple, approachable tricks, and over time you will see with a fairly random assortment of tricks that look interesting, the library of ideas that tricks like these are based on. You can check out his channel here.


There’s another added bit of weirdness here. Sankey was on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, which is a show that has a lot of weight in the magic community, and maybe I’ll talk a bit about it and what they ‘value’ in terms of magic tricks. But Sankey went on Fool Us, and he did a routine and they talked about it nicely, and he ceded, on stage, that he hadn’t succeeded at fooling them, then he left.

Then on the internet, he claimed that he had in fact, fooled them, because that was his plan all along. This … looks dumb. Penn and Teller didn’t really say anything about it, though on a podcast, Penn did cite Sankey  specifically for a type of magician who was doing very expected things, and how they had to winnow out acts that were like that, because they weren’t at risk of fooling them.

Now, lots of people who go on Fool Us are effectively just building brand. They’re making sure they get seen and they’re promoting themselves with the segment – and the praise from the magicians is important. Magicians are also extremely egotistical people, and often quite obnoxious.

Not that it matters, but if you want a ‘truth’ from me here, I’d say that Sankey almost certainly didn’t fool Penn and Teller; that the line once off-set was an attempt to build his own brand further; and that Penn and Teller do not care that much about his claims to have ‘double fooled’ them because they’re both millionaires and some of the greatest in their craft. Does this make him kind of an asshole? Kind of? But magic is, sadly, a place where most of the luminaries of the form are all Hatsune Miku.

How To Be: Sumireko Usami (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 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 month, we’re going to become a god damned Touhou.

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Game Pile: Volume

I remember really anticipating Volume when it was on the horizon after how much I loved Thomas Was Alone, which I wrote about seven years ago (gosh, seven years ago, amazing, and look at how the Game Pile posts have changed!). But strangely, when it did drop, I didn’t get it – maybe 2015 was just a bad year for me for handling new stuff. This one slipped me by, I bought it at some intervening sale with an idea of I’ll get to it.

And I didn’t.

And now I got to it, and I’m kicking myself, but also, kind of glad I took so long to get around to it? Because freed from the need to have a hard opinion about it early, free from the need to rush through it, to get it perfect to validate my opinion of it, I am free to just look at Volume and how it makes me feel and get a really stupid, goofy smile on my face.

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