Monthly Archives: April 2023

April 2023 Wrapup

It’s a weird relief when a theme month end. Sometimes a theme month is so jammed that I’m glad to have the freedom to post any old stuff I want. Sometimes a theme is so challenging to work with (like, say, romance), that I kind feel like the last few posts are scraping off a very hard surface. Now, I thought that it’d be really easy to make make 30 posts that are mostly just about me, or special, deeply intense interests.

This month did not go as planned.

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Dredging Up Schmavenloft

In the maps of Cobrin’Seil, up and on the right someplace, there’s a place called Kryphaneos. Setting aside that that name is very close to The Kingdom Of Mal-Bad, Kryphaneos is definitely one of the signs of an unrefined worldbuilder’s ‘that’ll do.’ Kryphaneos was my all-purpose place for horror stuff, dark magic came from there, there was an ostensible kingdom with supposed capitals and places and purposes and that was all a thing but it was a thing that happened over there. Kryphaneos was very much a ripoff of Ravenloft, as written by someone who didn’t read any Ravenloft books — a kingdom of nothing but dark horror, divided up by foggy lines, where the most notable detail ever provided about it was that nobody wanted to be there.

As time goes on and I keep trying to refine these ideas I meant to write down someday, I figured it was time to confront this space of grim and dark horror, and write down what I wanted it to be. But this isn’t that, this isn’t a writeup of the place, as much as it is instead, a consideration of what I want that place for. What do I want to have in this part of the world, and why do I want it to be different to just any old existing space.

Basically, if I have an Evil Country, why do I have it? What’s it for? And why is it there, and most of all, does answering those questions make my world a place that sucks to exist in?

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3e: The Epic Level Handbook’s Monsters

I’ve spoken about the Epic Level Handbook in the past, as a sort of ‘pull the corpse open and look at its insides,’ sort of way. Y’know, look, here’s where the liver is all weird and this bone connects to that bone and now you can see how all these parts in a broad way relate to one another and also why the patient is stone dead. It’s a good article, I recommend you read it because it’s about big, overarching problems the book had. I also have written about the problems of challenge ratings, the black box of imbalance that 3rd edition D&D has going on, a black box that gets worse and worse over time, all building on the impossible fundamental error of D&D 3e’s design philosophy, in that it’s intentional for players to be able to be bad at it.

But I didn’t come here to talk about that.

That’s not why I busted out the Epic Level Handbook, to drag the ugliest system rolled with worst dice through the streets again. Nor is to delve into the misshapen balance parameters presented by treating a single level of a class as equal across all classes when representing characters built well and characters built badly. A level 21 fighter is meant to be an equal challenge for a party to a level 21 wizard, even though one of those is essentially a tough guy with a sword and the other is a tough guy with a sword and the power to stop time.

Instead, I want to talk about the monsters of the Epic Level Handbook.

Because I think a bunch of them are cool, even if their execution is stupid.

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Story Pile: Gideon The Ninth

Here’s the pitch; it’s a sci-fantasy magi-tech murder mystery story with sword fights and a ripped up muscle lesbian who wears makeup to look like a skull and mirrored sunglasses to look like a skull wearing mirrored sunglasses. Then with that kind of approach you’re left grappling with the question, okay, but how does it pull that off?

And the answer is with bombast and aplomb, two words that I think wouldn’t rate for this book’s love of linguistic particulars.

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We Don’t Need An Animorphs Reboot

It seems that every time a piece of nerd media comes out, other people in other nerd media spaces surface declaring that now, now is the time that our nerd media thing is ready to strike while the iron is hot. It doesn’t matter how unrelated it is. One of those spaces where I think I comfortably belong is the Animorphs fandom, even if I think I must come across as being so utterly negative all the time.

Whatever the current context, there’s always some reason that now, here, Animorphs is due a comeback. With the backlash against Hogwarts Legacy, there was a push that hey, now, now is a great time for us to make sure our Young Adult Fiction media property from the last millenium gets to take prominence and become the new thing everyone talks about with its own theme park! Then it was Goncharov, where the sudden thirst for creative element that encouraged people being able to make new Animorphs books and pretend they were always part of the canon as a great way to tap into that community! And then most recently, the fact there’s shapeshifting in the Dungeons & Dragons movie and an actor who’s a jerk —

Why, this movie is proof that we could totally have a great, successful, reboot movie for the Animorphs! You know, a movie! For that set of forty plus books!

Problem: This is completely unfeasible.

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MTG: Soundwave Superior

It’s weird given that I write about Magic: The Gathering and Transformers that I let the official printing of Magic: The Gathering Transformers cards. Oh and they’re all legendary and weird and Commander cares about legendary cards that shape the deck they belong in and are also weird. Oh and they’re all illustrated to look like screenshots from G1 Transformers, except they’re not, because of subtle hints like how Flamewar didn’t exist and Megatron is a tank and also they’re illustrated to look really good, and G1? Did you get this? It looks like ass.

There are fifteen of these cards. I’m not going to run through all of them, because there are fifteen of them and I need to think about how much time I spend talking about a card game full of elves (and now hobbits and cyber squid) especially when it crosses over with broken toys I got from the Salvos up the street from Woolies except I didn’t really, I’m pretty sure a bunch of those were Go-Bots, anyway.

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Pitch: Development Issues

You know for all that this blog is a space to put down my own creative work, it’s kind of shocking how ill-equipped it is to talk about things I can’t do. I do board games and card games and talk about RPGs and anime and media and a lot of being angry about fundamentalist christianity, but there are rare times when there’s other stuff that interests me as well. Remember that one time I presented some recipes? What about the occasional outbursts of flag threads?

Here’s something I don’t think I’d ever have the means to make, then: I’ve been thinking about web shows.

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CoX: Ironworks

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

How much work do you have to do to convince yourself that you’re normal?

He goes out at night wearing gauntlets he built, with knuckledusters designed to keep gangs down and send a message. He returns home to the mechanic shop and sleeps. And through it all, he tells himself he’s a normal guy, just fighting crime how he can.

Which doesn’t explain the flaming aura.

Or the unbreakable bones.

Or the way gods shudder at his presence.

Callum thinks he’s a normal guy, fighting evil with no greater purpose. And he couldn’t be more wrong.

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Story Pile: Summer Time Rendering

2022 was a kind of terrifying year for anime.

Terrifying in the scope, the variety and the general quality, mind you. It was still a year with a bunch of movies and continuations of things I don’t care about, and it was also a year in which the anime industry kept reeling after literal terrorism and the results of a pandemic slowdown. Still, the thing is, even when you take that into account and also the burnout and stress the anime producers are under, 2022 was a year with a selection of anime that would, in a less busy year, be considered the best anime released that year.

You doubt me? Well, consider that across 2022, we got heavy-hitter franchise installations Spy X Family, Demon Slayer, Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War, Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War, Ascendance Of A Bookworm and the final season of Attack On Titan. There were also some pretty remarkable releases in the queer media space, with a mainline yuri production The Executioner And Her Way Of Life pushing into the isekai franchise space and The Witch From Mercury taking the lead of probably the venerable anime franchise machine that is Gundam. Looking at the lighter, shorter series, things that didn’t need a big backing from a big studio to get out the door, we got shows all over the genre space like Ya Boy Kongming, Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie, My Dress Up Darling, Akiba Maid War, Fuuto PI, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Lycoris Recoil, Call Of The Night, Bocchi The Rock, Do It Yourself, Urusei Yatsuara, and oh yeah, did I mention Chainsaw Man up top because yeah, Chainsaw Man also came out in 2022.

That’s… one year. Any of those 21 series would be an all-star excellent show to be ‘the one great one’ of the year. For comparison, in 1993, when I think I can say I started really paying attention to anime (we called it Japanimation), there were twenty four anime series made at all.

And I bring this list to your attention, the scope, and the weight of that scope and hopefully also the number of highlighted links showing that hey, yeah, these aren’t just critically praised or noteworthy shows but shows I like, where I want to tell you about the anime that gets to be 22 on that list, and may, in my opinion, be the best one.

Summer Time Rendering is a 2022 anime based on the Shonen Jump+ Digital Manga series written and illustrated by Yasuki Tanaka who at least according to wikipedia has done nothing else. The TV adaptation is by OLM, long-standing anime industry juggernauts responsible for, amongst everything else, Inazuma Eleven, Yo-Kai Watch, Beyblade, Cardfight Vanguard, and, of course, the entire run of the Pokemon anime, amongst other less kid-oriented fare like Komi Can’t Communicate and Life With An Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated Into A Total Fantasy Knockout so we can mention an isekai genderswap anime as well, for the full bingo. As to what Summer Time Rendering is at its heart, is a mystery story, which makes it kind of challenging to talk about in a way that can both illuminate its virtues without dispelling some of the tension that people like to discover themselves, especially since one major component of the story is a time loop,

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… The Paladin is Unleashed

Yesterday we broached the topic of what it means to be a Warlock, and yes, I am spending thousands of words arguing with a tweet, don’t at me, dad. But I can’t just leave it at what the Warlock is without talking about the very important characteristics of what the Paladin isn’t.

Art by Stu Harrington

Because there’s a big fat misconception about what Paladins are, implied by how people relate to flavour text.

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The Warlock is Contracted…

There’s this phrase you’ll hear: “The only difference between paladins and warlocks is that one’s got an employer and the other’s got a sugar daddy.” This is a funny tweet that went around, and like many funny tweets, it’s useful for interrogating an idea, presenting a useful handle and it starts an argument.

What’s the difference between Warlocks and Paladins, it asks? According to this, almost nothing. Except for the way one of them is physically powerful and heavily armoured, and the other smell like cloves, but you know, we’re being needlessly reductive here, right?

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Game Pile: Bioshock Infinite, Again

When I wrote about Bioshock Infinite back in May of 2013, I had just started university and had some fantasy in my mind about this blog being a bridge to working in the games industry. James journalism, I imagined, was waiting for me to present an example of what I could do, and so, I wrote about games with the energy of someone trying to reach that sweet spot of irreverent professionalism, discussing games in terms of pros and cons and the inevitable consideration of a consumer.

At the time I did call the game a modern classic, on par with Spec Ops: The Line. I cringe at that a little, because while it’s true, it’s true in the way that you could remove that description from context and leave with the impression that I think that makes it good. It’s absolutely a classic – you can look at it in the context of the games of its time and it serves as an iconic reduction of so many of the elements that make up what it was to be games in that time and that place.

I then spent several years familiarising myself further and further with Bioshock Infinite and realising how much worse a game it was than I appreciated at the time. I eventually came to refer to Bioshock Infinite as a ‘shallow game as high watermark.’ That’s reasonable, I think — It does deserve to be regarded as a classic because of it. It was very much a good example of what gaming, at the time, considered The Way Things Should Be, that it was an example of art as a game.

It’s 2023 now.

I resolved the idea that I should be kind with energy, and cruel with purpose. The purpose here, is to look at my own writing, ten years ago, about this game, and see what I think of it, what I think of who I am now.

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How To Be: Samus Aran (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.

Really gotta specify that ‘in 4e D&D’ on this one.

When we talk about How To Be, the point has always been to take characters that are interesting in some particular way then see how we can carry that vibe into the creative space of 4th Edition D&D. What we’ve seen, when we try and make things like a real-world-alike gangster or a robot dinosaur, is that there are some concepts that seem very easy to translate into the play space that really aren’t. Zelgadis is a D&D character and he was very challenging to translate to the game just because he’d already been filtered through another set of different game rules. Minfilia showed us that when a character leaves large parts of their method and ideology as blank slates, there’s a challenge creating something in the space that fulfills that character.

Extremely defined and extremely vague characters, in both directions, are hard.

Anyway, let’s look at Samus Aran.

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Shirt 23.04 — Can’t Lose

I need very little encouragement to make some things. Over on my Patreon (where you can sign up for as little as a buck to give my brain good chemicals), I suggested this shirt design as a potential one for this month. One person went ‘I like it,’ and so I went and did it.

I was aiming at evoking a university sports team logo (which I looked at a lot of) and the DOOM logo from 1993 (which I also looked at a lot of, but for different reasons). This design involved learning a lot of things about how to make 3d-looking shaped text, which is how I got this eventual ‘curving’ effect — it involves the Lens Distortion tool in GIMP.

The popped text above and below the logo was made first in a vector program and then also made 3d in GIMP, too. Honestly, looking at this piece I’m pretty proud of how many pieces of this involved developing or refining a new skill to do something, or built on a skill I’ve gotten so used to I didn’t even conspicuously think of it.

I kinda want to get a hoodie or coffee mug with this on it for my dad but I think he, a preacher, might balk at the actual pentagram.

Anyway, you can get this design in black star or white star versions.

KJV Supremacy And Antisemitism

If you ask an American Christian (in this case used to refer to the type of Christianity, not the type of American) about the conception of ‘Christianity’ you will usually see a definition of Christianity that is unconsciously structured around a set of concentric circles, where each layer in you progress, the more and more legitimately Christian the remainder is, depending on what the current threat is. If you’re looking at things where there being lots of Christians is a good thing, ‘Christian’ includes everyone who even says ‘god damn’ at some point, even if the last time they went to church was inhaling near a parson on the train. If it’s important to exclude people (because of, say, their disagreement with you on whether or not gay people should be burned alive), then suddenly, the mindset wants to pull back, across different boundaries of ‘really’ Christian.

Some of these boundaries are obvious and some of them are less obvious. People who never attend church, they’re not really Christian, even if they claim to be. People who attend church very rarely, they’re less Christian, but they are in a different layer to the first group. And you can go further and further into the layers of this horrible onion and find really specific nitpicky things that legitimise the American Christianity of a person, you’re going to find one particular boundary that’s been set up is about choice of Biblical translation. What’s more, amazingly, the translation that seems to centralise this mindset the most, and one of those dog-whistles that shows you’re dealing with the Shithead Brigade is a deference and reverence reserved for one, particular, correct translation of the Bible: The King James Version.

Man, America loves its kings.

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Story Pile: Lycoris Recoil

Lycoris Recoil is a 2022 action thriller anime about a pair of girls working to prevent terror attacks in Tokyo, while they get to know one another and become GOOD FRIENDS, while a plot happens around them. You know the type, right?

I am going to talk about things all through the series, I am going to spoil major twists, I am going to Talk About This Show. This serves as a spoiler warning, but also a content warning; this is a show that features guns, lots of guns, police shootings, medical tension, terrorism, bad dads, and dead probably-gays. It’s an action thriller anime set in a terrorism-wracked Japan, don’t imagine you’re getting something else just because there are girls on the posters.

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The Beastfolk, As People, Part 2

This is part three, effectively, of a long form examination of the political coalition of the Beastfolk of Cobrin’Seil – which is basically ‘how furry can I be in this setting, conveniently?’ The answer, broadly, is ‘pretty furry,’ with things like werewolves and werebears available, but also, this is where you get rats, monkeys, dinosaurs (I made mistakes googling ‘anthro raptors’ for this article) and of course, the vitally important presence of bnuy.

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The Beastfolk, As People, Part 1

I talked about the origin of the term beastfolk in Cobrin’Seil, and how it represented a political coalition of  different people whose shared commonality was the origin for the term beast. What I didn’t really talk about there, though, were the actual cultures that made up that grouping, and what kind of options you have presented to you as a player, nor really what those cultures meant in their place in the world. Plus, in the overview of the Beastfolk, I kind of gave a list and that got me thinking about the cultures as a whole.

And well, I like talking about the cultures in the world of Cobrin’Seil. I like talking about their peculiarities, and about ways to encourage players to see their place in the world, and about the spaces they create by what they imply.

So then:

The Beastfolk of Cobrin’Seil, more or less, as worldbuilding entities, with an important detail about how to consider them as a player.

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Horny vs Spite

When explaining creativity to newcomers, I express the idea that everyone who makes something makes it out of one of two possible motivating factors, when viewed broadly enough. The line is:

Everyone who ever made anything made it out of one of two possible motivators; horny, or spite.

This maxim serves to get the conversation started. You either wanted the thing to exist that didn’t exist yet, or they were mad at the thing for not existing the way they wanted it to. These two driving could also be seen both in terms of just ‘wants’ – but I think that when you simplify it that far, you leave the listener without a valuable handle, a way to grapple with the idea.

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Values of A Dollar — The Confederacy’s Currency

Hey, the Confederate States Of America were a racist slave state that was founded in the name of maintaining a white supremacist state forever, and its eventual fall was a moral good. But don’t worry, while that state existed, they also made a bunch of shitty, self-glorifying art that even when it’s technically well crafted, is all built out of a fascist, white supremacist ideology that was so bad and so obviously evil that even The United States was their moral superior. Whatever aesthetic value their culture has is, like the art of Rhodesia, entirely predicated on them being a nation whose significance in modern culture is entirely about clinging to an ideology of racism, and you do not, in fact, got to hand it to them.

Anyway, I think that sets the tone right.

I have said, many times, that your culture’s money is probably the most commonly reproduced piece of art your culture makes in your name. It is the ideology of a nation, in its most common piece of civic art, art that’s meant to represent who you are and what you value, and that’s why it’s meaningful to care about what it depicts. I’ve said that the United States currency is some of the worst, both in term of its accessibility, but also its devotion to depicting nothing but the institution of its own governance from a very narrow window of time. Basically, US money depicts nothing as much as it depicts the importance of a small handful of people who maintained and operated the mechanisms of creating the country of America.

They still have Andrew Jackson on a bill and they’ve had seven years to put Harriet Tubman on a bill, and that hasn’t moved past prototype stages, so you can see how important it is to the people making choices.

But that’s America America; what about America America America, the America that insists it’s even more America than America America? What did the Confederacy put on their money?

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Prototype 23.03 — Planetary

This month, for phd reasons, game development took a backseat. But don’t worry, I still have something I dedicated time to looking at, even if I didn’t get to get it to a playtesting table (and I may yet get it to the table in the next few weeks, thanks to uni work).

But most of all, I think this game presents a very exciting looking form factor:

Yeah, right? Like get a load of that. It’s a bunch of planets, made out of cards. Each turn, players are going to be laying cards that expand on the identities of these planets, and each time they do that, the cards change how players may value those planets. You may occupy a place that’s rich in gold and eggs, haha, but now you see, I have discovered this region of the planet that reveals it smells like dinosaur farts. Do you want to populate the planet that smells like dinosaur farts? I didn’t think so, farty.

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Story Pile: Unseen Academicals

When considering the Discworld series of books, it seems at times that it’d be almost boring for me to discuss them, because they’ve been so important to my personal history and interests that it’d be a bit like ‘oh, hey, this thing I like, but obviously I would, wouldn’t I, because I’m that basic that I kind of got my personality from a series of fantasy novels.’ Every single one of the books that I love, I can almost hold up and say ‘this book was basically written for me, as a person,’ given my interests. And if I could pick the one Discworld book to hold up as an example of me in a book, the things and ideas and experiences that all hold together for me, I think there are definitely books that I think of as cooler and better and having amazing moments and important lines in them. I could name Men at Arms with its maxim that a good man will kill you without a word. I could name Hogfather with its line you have to believe in the small things that don’t exist. I bet I could look stylish as hell if I could invoke Feet of Clay‘s maxim that all days are holy or none are or Monstrous Regiment and you are my little lambs, so many cool lines that would flatter my ego to talk about how this book is a good insight into me.

But there’s a Discworld book that kinda, without meaning, hits me with both barrels, reveals a second shotgun, fires another pair of barrels, and then reloads both of them again.


This is me, pretty much.

SPOILERS after the fold.

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USP-03: March’s Custom Cards

Whether at the behest of crown or land, there is war afoot. While the dead refuse to stay in their ends, the Palace’s open gates stream with painful memories, old wounds that refuse to close, injuries that have yet to face justice, and the great Palace boats make war on one another as a matter of sport. Weapons, hands, presence and pain, all are being prepared for the great clash that waits to begin anew.

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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Talen Month 2023!

Ah, tis April, and an even month and since I organise things in a particular way because of my particular brain in a particular stage, this is the month I dedicate to Talen Month. This is to say, the month where the only thing a topic needs to be deemed worthy is for me to say oh yeah I love talking about that. It’s a time for very specific silly niche interests, it’s a time to bring up old beeves, it’s a time to abandon what’s contemporary or current and instead reflect on the accumulated construction of mess and trauma and false memories that is me.

It’s really dumb that I need a reason for this!

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