Monthly Archives: February 2023

February Wrapup, 2023!

Smooch month draws to a close, and with it, I understand, the ending of Winter in America. That’s got to be rough, having a smoochy romantic-vibes event when you can’t go outside because the icicles are forming on the walruses, or whatever happens in places that are cold. My whole life, I’ve only ever seen Valentines day as a thing that happens when the sun is raging high and the beautiful botanical gardens are second only to Places with Air Conditioning to go do something special with someone you care about.

Where was I? oh yes, a roundup of articles I wrote this month and reasons you, you, you might want to check them out!

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Story Pile: Eat, Play, Love

Alright, we’ve talked about some anime and some interesting indie media, why not talk about the most tedious, boring, mainstream thing in the world? I recruited Fox to talk to me about the movie Eat, Play, Love, produced by the Hallmark channel.

Just so you know: It’s not a good movie.

Frost Fatales is Happening!

Or at least, it will in a few hours from when this gets posted.

Frame Fatales, if you’re not familiar, is a speedrunning marathon event run by the same crew who run Games Done Quick. It’s still a charity speedrunning event, it uses a lot of the same bumpers and plans, but it’s also designed to be a space to showcase and present runners who fit into the categories represented by the simple premise of ‘women.’ That is to say, anyone who’s a woman, whether trans or cis or gender nonconforming or nonbinary.

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4e: Group Flirts

Sure, let’s call it that, why not. That’s not going to be completely incomprehensible.

The skill challenge represents one of the many pieces of 4th Edition D&D technology that was underappreciated in its time and misunderstood in hindsight. The Skill Challenge was a tool that let the DM run a non-combat encounter with the same kind of group engagement that the game’s combat system normally demanded; it has a failure state represented by eventual failures, but it also serves to let players platform their own choices and express how they do things. Skill Challenges in the simplest form are ‘the group needs to succeed on X possible checks before they fail N possible checks.’ The system isn’t necessarily all that groundbreaking, but the Dungeon Master’s Guide bothered to explicate a bunch of useful, good ideas about their execution.

There are ideas you might realise are fiction first and fail forward in the 4th edition D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, but they’re not called that, and people don’t seem to remember what these books were like. What skill challenges let you do was explicitly call for a moment when many people are trying things at the same time, and get to negotiate the fiction of what that means, what kinds of things people are doing, and how their skillsets are expressed. It’s a great system, and I wish more people were familiar with skill challenges, especially in how they do something D&D does well (induce and encourage all players to engage with simple rules tools) and patches something it doesn’t tend to do well (encourage spaces of free creative expression).

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Shirt 23.02 – Steddie Things Shirt

First up, the design! On a shirt!

Second, the design on its own so you can look at it!

This design is something of a proof of concept. At first, the idea was that this was an idea I could port to a lot of different sets, where an identifying Ship Term (in this case ‘Steddie’, but I also considered Soriku) is surrounded by a love heart of phrases that are meant to relate to experiencing these characters in their lore space. And this is a design type I want to make more of (now I have this first one done), but at the moment, this design took a long enough time to make that my ambition to make a bunch of these ran into a wall.

The thing that may surprise you is how hard this list of text to add to this turned out to make. To make this kind of word clouding work well, I need a big variety of textwith different weights, and I had to construct this cloud myself. That meant that I also had to make the title in the middle the way I chose to. If I needed 300+ words with different appearances and weight, I was able to get to a whopping fifty.

I like this design! I like how much better I can make the next one, too.

If you want this design, it comes in three flavours, the mixed colour version, the pure red version, and a pure white version.

How To Be: Inu-Yasha (in 4e D&D)

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

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Smooch month has rolled around and that means it’s time to, once again, break out the rulebooks and try to find a way to make another Ranma 1/2 character in 4th edition D&D.

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CoX: Astray

This is an explanatory writeup of one of my Original Characters (OCs). Nothing here is necessarily related to a meaningful fiction you should recognise and is shared because I think my OCs are cool and it’s cool to talk about OCs you make.

Bryce Oxton was a biology nerd in the Kings Row Community College’s Access Program for supertech lab qualifications. After school, he volunteered his time at the Praetorian shelters as a social worker, using his niche expertise to help design containment and care for super science Powers Division problems. That’s why he was there in the lab that wasn’t his, dealing with the accident that wasn’t his fault. That’s how he wound up the host of the corrosive, toxic, aggressive STRAY symbiote.

He didn’t choose to be a tentacle catboy – tentacle catboy power was thrust upon him.

And, he has found, tentacle catboy powers bring tentacle catboy responsibilities.

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Story Pile: My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom!

This year has reminded me of something I truly, truly love about anime as a genre: You get a self-contained story idea, usually something with a bunch of familiar anchors, and then says ‘okay, now here’s the idea we’re working with in this space.’ You get useful, familiar tools for telling a story (so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to communicate ideas), and then that lets the story highlight what parts of it stand apart from the standard patterns.

Here’s your standard template: an anime that tells the story that plays out in your typical otome game dating sim, where the characters are divided easily into ‘the ones you want to have sexy stories with’ and ‘the ones who are rivals or hindrances to your sexy stories,’ set in a magical mid-fantasy kingdom where you get fancy outfits, princesses and magical colleges, but also there’s no conspicuous mention of plague or weird pooping habits. Then, there’s the also-standard form of it being a story focusing on a single individual who is from our world, an isekai story, or if you’re familiar with the Christian media space, Narnia-likes.

Here’s your twist: The world she’s in now is the world of a videogame she played when she was in our world, she knows how this type of game works, like the things that signal you’re on the wrong track, but she’s not in the role of the hero of the story like when she played it.

She’s the villainess.

And the villainess, in all the routes of the games, is screwed.

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Ukyou And Tarou

Ranma 1/2, as may be expected of a gag sex comedy manga that ran for a decade, has a huge cast of characters. There are a host of characters who show up for exactly one story, such as some of my favourites, Herb, Shinnosuke and Ryuu Kumon, even if their appearance stretches across multiple issues. I guess I should mention Rakkyosai at this point because hey, remember Rakkyosai? No? Just me? Anyway. Technically, the near-final arc of the story, the Phoenix Mountain Arc, features a bunch of one-hit-wonder characters too like Kiima and Saffron, and oh, hey Pink and Link are in that basket too. If you haven’t read the manga, you must trust me this is a kind of impressive, like I’m doing some strange kind of wheelie on a type of vehicle you don’t understand.

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Game Pile: We Should Talk

We Should Talk is a 2020 conversational visual novel produced by Insatiable Cycle and released by Whitehorn games. The scenario is small, and simple, and intimate: You’re at a bar, your partner is at home, and you chat with some people face-to-face, and your partner via your phone, and… that’s it. You chat, then the story culminates in a decision point that starts with someone saying we should talk.

The game’s available on a bunch of platforms, particularly Steam and Itch, and if you’re in the right mood, right now, for a game that’s interesting, more than a game that tells a necessarily compelling story, or has specifically challenging gameplay, you should definitely consider checking it out. It’s been in a few bundles, you might even have it!

Now, if you want me to talk more about the game and how I feel about it, well, that’s spoiler territory, so let’s look at it after the fold.

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The Glimmering Spires of Visente

Cobrin’Seil is a place with culture, a place with languages, a place where people make books and exchange culture and share popular media just like in the real world. Places have their styles and preferences and they absolutely have their own trash. Trash novels, for example, cheaply made on pulpable paper, are traded around in bulk between different cities, and a surprising number of them, the really cheap ones about sleazy sex and dangerous romance? Chances are they deal in the stereotype of the glitzy and hedonistic lifestyles people imagine is common in one of the glimmering cities of Visente (pronounced vy-zent).

Art by Adam Paquette

This is going to be a nation write-up! If you want to read the structure, and how it’s to be used, here’s the link to the structure. I did use some resources to help me build this and get over the things I find the most difficult. Particularly, I punched ‘random city name generator’ into duckduckgo and got this link, and the art that informed the concept is from the Streets of New Capenna set from Magic: The Gathering.

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Chemistry and Catalysts

Chances are, if you know me, you know that I’m a person who isn’t particularly fond of the idea of reading characters as queer as if that makes a text queer. This comes out of a stubbornness, perhaps misplaced, that I grew up in a period where a lot of the ‘queer’ media I was seeing being touted was often just extremely standard heterosexual media where two characters of the same gender were friends. This kinda rubbed me the wrong way, at first because I wasn’t comfortable with queerness in media, and then later on because I and people I knew were making queer media with queer characters in them and they weren’t getting attention that I felt was being unduly given to, y’know, something like How I Met Your Mother for some goddamn reason.

I’ve been watching a lot of anime lately and part of that has been learning more about how anime gets made, the material conditions of it, and how the image I had of Japan in my mind growing up was always just that, an image. It means that I’ve come to terms with how and why these really queer-seeming series that aren’t queer keep getting made, often where in the middle of a series about boys’ friendships, the story jerks to a halt, looks out of the screen and says ‘this is where a romantic couple would kiss, and we are obviously not kissing, because that is what we are not.’ It’s stuff I’ve mentioned in the context of the idea of the unbeard, too.

And that brings with it a feeling of caution, and a little sting of hypocrisy, too. I mean, I’m shipping characters, and I used to talk about shipping as if people doing that were being an exploitable resource for the people who wouldn’t put actual queerness in their media. Look at me, the terrible fan, the terrible queer. Part of how I got over this was by being a bit less of a stick in the mud in general, but another part, and the more important part, was considering that I was looking at texts expecting declarations when what was interesting to me was the chemistry.

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The Mind And The Heart (but the card games)

If you don’t already know what it is, The Mind is a 2018 card game with a mechanical system so seemingly simple as to seem nonexistent. There’s a deck of cards that just show a bunch of numbers. You shuffle up the cards, deal some of them out, and then, without communicating, each player lays out the cards they have, into a stack, in order. And you may think ‘that sounds easy’ but it’s fiendishly engaging because you’re all playing into the same stack and the only information people are getting from one another is the timing of the playing of the cards. There’s more to it than that, but the core of the game is just that: playing cards from your hand based on your ability to determine that you think it’s the lowest available card, with only intuitive communication and timing to assist you.

I find this system really interesting because it really does put paid to how simple a game system can be when there’s machinery holding onto the memory and the game state – the cards communicate for the players, they remember for the players and the game personalises itself really quickly. If I can play The Mind with my mum and sister that’s a different game with different invisible communication and timing than the game to the one I play with my niblings. It creates the phenomenon of people feeling psychic and feeling clever that they managed something, but also not at all feeling hard done by when they fail because the game is so hard when viewed outside of those moments of intuition.

Hearts, if you’re not familiar with it, is a trick-taking game, a few hundred years old, but differing from most of the well-known examples of the genre because it’s a trick evasion game. In Hearts, you do the standard trick taking game things, where you need to play out cards into a trick to folllow suit, but if you wind up winning a trick where hearts are the suit, you eat a penalty. This means strategically the best way to play the game is to try and avoid ever winning any tricks, because the penalties from the hearts overwhelm any points you could be getting by any other means.

And the two games just coincidentally are named while I think about simple card games about romance.

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Story Pile: Shikimori’s not Just A Cutie

2022 was a year for extensive arguing about different varieties of Best Girl, what with Yor Forger, Marin Kitagawa, Bridget and probably some more I’m not remembering right now. One of the dark horse entries, based almost entirely in my friendscape’s reaction to the thirteen seconds in a trailer where she pulls a mean face, is Shikimori-san from Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie.

People make fun of light novel anime titles having huge explanations for the entirety of the story you’re buying into but you know, I think that Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie is basically the same thing. It’s a romance anime from mostly the perspective of a tragically failure-prone boy dojikko (dojibro) who at the start of the series is dating Shikimori. She is a cutie, and also there’s a bit more to her.

Just a bit.

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3e: The Beauhort

Back in 3rd edition Dungeons And Dragons there were a lot of problems in character building, but I dedicate special attention to those that pushed players making reasonable, desireable choices into things that made the game strain. It was super easy to make an overpowered cleric or druid if you just looked at what they could do. It was easy to snap the game in half with the Spelldancer, just doing what the class suggested you do. It was easy to buy into a class fantasy that stranded you unable to confront the challenges the game had.

And if you wanted to pick up a boyfriend in-game, there was an obvious and available way that kinda made the game buckle a bit — just take the feat Leadership.

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Rewriting In Your Voice

Writing is a challenge. It takes a blank page and then it involves scrawling onto it whatever words you want to put there. It’s been addressed in a lot of different ways. One of my favourite ways to describe it is that the act of writing is a violent one; where violence is the curtailing of options through force, a writer takes a blank page of infinite possibility and reduces it down to just one. Another way to see writing described is as a form of agony; one merely stares at a blank page until your forehead starts bleeding, the line goes. I don’t think these descriptions are necessarily trying to describe a particular kind of pain, but it’s a sentiment that I think is easy to reflect. Fanfiction tumblr, I’ve seen in particular, is filled with people who wish to murmur of the dreadful agonies that come from a want to write and a lack of ability, time, focus, concentration or will to do so.

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The End of Tweets

Today, at some point after this post goes up, if I’ve timed this right, Twitter is going to close down the system that lets my blog freely create a tweet and post it, without me doing it personally. If you haven’t checked my twitter, which I haven’t been promoting since November 2022, the only thing posted there is links to my blog posts, and retrospring posts — which is also generated by that same system. This is an API – an Application Program Interface. APIs are complicated if you want to understand them but if you just want to be generally aware of what they are, APIs are ways that two programs can directly communicate with one another – the software running my blog and the software running twitter are both bumping into one another directly.

What this meant is that any time I made a post, I didn’t have to think about how to advertise and promote it, it just gets posted to twitter and tumblr (and it gets posted to tumblr in full, which is pretty sweet).

Tomorrow, at least assuming everything is going the way it’s going, that stops.

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Troll Romance (Oo ra oo ah ah)

In the webcomic Homestuck, there is a group of characters belonging to what we might call species known as Trolls. The Trolls are described repeatedly as experiencing romance and reproducing through a system that involves up to four different relationships of different types, known generally as ‘quadrants.’ These four types of relationship have their own specific titles and in so doing, help the audience consider ‘romantic’ relationships in a way that moves beyond the conventional way that characters may want to do a kiss on one another, involving a bucket.

In the context of Homestuck, every single thing I said in that sentence is attached to a web of lore and concepts that mean for any given idea, I am leaving out a lot of things that, if explained, would take multiple hours and add literally nothing to the conversation.

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Game Concept — Boyfriend Material

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

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Story Pile: There She Is!!

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

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

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

Content Warning: Racism and a pet death

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

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

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

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

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USP-01: January’s Custom Cards

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

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

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

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Game Pile: Love Letter

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

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

But no.

I think Love Letter is great.

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January’s Game Project: Adventure Town!

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

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

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

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Smooch Month 2023 — Blending The Blandness

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

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

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