Monthly Archives: July 2023

Story Pile: Person Of Interest, Season 5

The story of Person of Interest has at this point transformed from season to season. From a cut price James Bond fantasy to a cyberpunk crime thriller to a conspiracy science fiction narrative, Season 5 had a lot of plates spinning and it had to get them down.

Does it stick the landing? Can it stick the landing? With a 26-episode season cut in half, increasing tensions around budgets and hanging story threads, and a global conspiracy to address in what was now a full-blown cyberpunk science fiction invasion story, does Person of Interest have an end I find satisfying?

Spoilers ahead!

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July 2023 Wrapup!

Do you know that the majority of people who read my blog are in fact, super great and cool? It’s true, I have the analytics. No, you can’t see them. Why would you want to? Don’t you trust me? I’m very trustworthy and can be relied upon to have normal thoughts in my normal brain. I had it certified.

Anyway, it’s the end of a month, and I think it’d be good if you checked through this list of links and suggestions and see if there’s cool content on this blog you’d care about that you missed!

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Filling Out Factions With Combinatorics And Colour

One of the three most important codified innovations of game design in Magic: The Gathering is the colour wheel system. It’s not that this is the first card game ever to have factions (after all, what are suits, really), but of having an uneven number of factions, who match up with one another in terms of alliances and opposition. It’s a prime number, so there’s no even way to divide them up to create coalitions, everyone works together and against one another, and also, notably, it gives players an immediate philosophical flavour onramp saying hey, does this work for you, and then you can act on that. They are five essential operating vibes.

A lesson you can use from the Magic: The Gathering colour wheel, and which you can use in your own worldbuilding or game design is creating matrices of combinatorics. Or rather, you can give your players colours to fly.

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When Eternity Is Your Strategy

Some cultures in Cobrin’Seil are nations. The Eresh Protectorate, with its connected string of city-states, boasts a half-billion souls across all its cities though if you believe the bookkeeping is another affair. Some cultures are very small — mostly homogenous little groupings like the Orcs or the Dio Baragh or the Gnolls. Even amongst those, there are large communities with thousands of members, from which adventurers can start their stories.

Some cultures are pretty small, though, and sometimes that size is a function of material concerns. The example today is the city of Torrent, nestled as it is around the Doval monastery. The material concerns are the town’s resilience against any kind of external authority, the city’s ready access to lightning powered magical technology, and of course, the way that a portion of the population are violently immortal.

It’s a bit of a conversation kick off.

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Reflecting In A Mirror (Writing Advice Stuff)

There’s a nonzero chance that this one is going to be really, really self-indulgent and kind of maudlin and maybe even preachy, in that particular way of a boy who turned forty yelling at young people when he hits a point and feels like he failed at something nobody was ever grading him on. I got a bad grade at being Talen Lee, a thing that’s possible to have and yet, somehow, I always expected.

This has been kicked off in part by reading The Locked Tomb books, and should therefore be seen as an absolute mark in their favour, even if I don’t think you’d ever be able to get out of them what I got out of them.

Here are the lessons in summary form, so you don’t have to read the rest of this mess:

  • Characterisation is story. The way characters approach things, what they look at and how they care about them is part of how you tell the story.
  • Embrace community. Building friendships with people who are interested in your work, and whose work you are interested in, will help you get better at making things.
  • Buy My Book (Don’t Buy My Book). You need to convince people to engage with what you’ve made and that means being willing to share it with them and even ask them to look at it.
  • You Have To Love your Work. The biggest failing all my work has is that I’m embarrassed of it, and horrified by the idea of putting stuff in it that I care about for fear of revolting people around me. Don’t do that, centre the things you care about.
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Story Pile: Person Of Interest, Season 4

By this stage, Person of Interest is a full-fledged science fiction cyberpunk series. It’s cyberpunk in that the story requires interactions between technology and class, it’s about waste and destruction, it’s about the ways that technology allows us to make human mistakes faster, and it’s very cyberpunk because there’s a creepy child that speaks for an evil supercomputer.

While previous seasons were divided into single episodes with an ongoing mytharc, the story of Season 4 is very much the mytharc, a narrative where episode to episode, there are continuity changes and shifts of different status quos mean that you can literally lose track of what’s happening if you jump only two or three episodes ahead. The episodic stuff is less episodic, and there are even episodes where the B plot is very minor. This is where the show feels a lot like a more modern bingeable Netflix kinda story, set in a paranoid conspiracy almost-now.

Spoilers ahead!

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What’s A Gold Piece in Cobrin’Seil

The economics of D&D worlds are weird, and silly, and silly-weird. Normally conversations that start like this start out with talking about the way that adventurers’ economic presence in a town or city’s space is much like a small moon springing into existence with roughly the same kind of public safety impact. That is a perfectly fun conversation to have! Go ahead, make fun of the way that D&D writers don’t have any sense of scale.

I don’t wanna do that though.

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Game Pile: Small world

Ah, the clash of civilisations! The imposition of different species against one another, in the great and ongoing war for resources, informed by fantasy kingdom fiction! Small World, a board game that I just want to underscore here I like enough to play when I have the opportunity, but not like enough to own, is a game by Phillipe Keyaerts, and published by Days of Wonder.

It’s a delightful little game in that particular type of ‘fantasy cultures building out across a bunch of land,’ and works on the very specific intention of making sure there’s not quite enough space for anyone to just get along. It’s literally a game about a small world. Oh hey, that’s the name. You’re not going to be managing food or water supplies in Small World. It’s not quite that type of civilisation game. It’s much more abstracted, where you smack down little piles of tokens to represent who is where and how much of them there are.

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How To be: Altair Ibn La-Ahad (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.

Just looking at that name I wonder about if I’ve done a decent job with capitalising that name. Oh, it gets all-capsed by the formatting, but I had to type it in and wanted to get it right, and I don’t know if the ibn should be capitalised or – you know what, never mind, I’m showing a lot more respect to Ubisoft’s Slice Of Brand than I should.

Anyway, hi, remember Assassin’s Creed, that interesting game with a lot of potential? The thing that’s distinct from The Assassins Creed Franchise, a bloated multi-billion dollar proof case for the idea that videogames, maybe, aren’t art?

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Bonus Design: Time Loop Pins

The line goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Tonight, the picture is this:

It was inspired by a tumblr post I can’t find right now. That tumblr post suggested having multiples of a badge like this, which I find very, very funny.

It’s not really a proper t-shirt design but it was the only thing I was able to manage tonight that’s reasonably shareable while working on bloodwork and its emergent complexity.

If you want the pin, you can get it here. I do not know if you will or would.

This isn’t this month’s t-shirt design, mind you, it’s just something that I did tonight that I think is funny.

Story Pile: Person Of Interest, Season 3

Person of Interest is a show that started its existence talking about the hypothetical possibility of a mass surveillance state and the power that merely having your information in the control of a single consolidating source could represent. It started wanting to talk about the way that data aggregation, and even just the point of ‘here is where this data was collected’ was a powerful tool that could be used to extrapolate information you never meant to share. The world in which Person of Interest was conceived was one where the idea of imagine what a world with government surveillance would be like, and the terrors it could produce.

In 2013, Edward Snowden happened.

Spoilers ahead!

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23.07 — Shinigami, But The Cool Ones

There’s a particular genre of shirts I design to wear in front of my students that give them the subtle messages that I am a huge nerd and also they should check the subject outline. I have one, a Naruto shirt, which is consistent at getting students’ attention, but here’s the thing.

I’ve not watched Naruto.


When the Big Three came down, I didn’t wind up buying into Naruto. It didn’t connect to me, but Bleach, man, that series did. I think because I thought Rukia was cute and a boy. But point is, if I have a Naruto shirt, I owe it to myself, to my honest representaiton as a fan, to have a shirt that matches my own cringe, not just the cringe of others.

This design, which I do not imagine anyone but me wants, is available on my Redbubble store.

4e: When You Crit

I have never found feats or abilities that amplify the effect of critical hits to be exciting in 4th edition. There are plenty of them — almost every book features an effect that looks really cool and special, but it only fires off when you critically hit an opponent. You can have powerful effects on crits, mind you! Famously, D&D offers in its history, the Vorpal Sword, a weapon that decapitates on a crit – fight over, we are done. And the vorpal weapon is part of a powerful lineage of reasons to want to crit.

A while ago, a friend described for me the idea of a ‘raisins sentence’ where the excitement in the sentence increases every step, until suddenly dropping off a cliff, demonstrated with the phrase:

Would you like some chocolate covered raisins

The idea is that every part of this sentence is great but the raisins makes the whole thing disappointing. A lot of the crit-based feats, powers, and item rules are like that. Sure, crits are great! They can be very powerful, and making crits even better is even better still. But when a feat describes a strategy or a style of play that’s exciting that kicks in or triggers when you crit, all the air goes out of my enthusiasm.

Why, though?

Ehhh, a couple of reasons.

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In The Pocket Of Big Ball

A while back, a funny Tumblr post came across my dash. Fox doesn’t like Tumblr – like, for web design reasons. I tend to screenshot it and share it with her, or in some cases, read them aloud. This was a post I read as a dramatic reading, and it’s about the worldbuilding of Pokemon and the availability of Pokeballs.

That was fun, so we recorded more and I recruited another friend, Corey, to add another voice in the mix.



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.

There were two people he used to be. Once, he used to be a quiet, insular kid who wore hoodies all the time and grumped about being short and feminine but never dared to say anything. The other was a raging, loud, abusive asshole on the internet, winning the game and making everyone involved feel bad. Even himself.

He did lose once though. That loss came with it a dare and a bet and a crossplay and then that got him attention from another cosplayer, and that became a friendship. A friendship that wasn’t based on bullying and winning or on shame and shortness. Took some time, but he learned through it to bring who he was together; he could be a cute, short, prettyboi AND an apex gaming predator AND he could be a friend, all at once.

Then six months later, his friend came back to him and asked him to join her, to pilot a big, stomping, videogame-powered mecha, the realest cosplay possible.

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Story Pile: Person Of Interest, Season 2

Season one of Person of Interest introduces the core components of the story and the basic premise of a story-of-the-week set in a world with a government surveillance system designed to prevent terrorism and how that same system would by definition fail on two dimensions. It would fail at keeping people safe by having to ignore non-terrorism based crimes (and therefore, it’d help people more if it was more fascist) and it fails at keeping people free (by, you know, the endless surveillance). It demonstrates a half measure, something so perfectly cyberpunk in its incompleteness, and our protagonists operate in a space where the world looks almost just like now.


While Season One sets up the premise and introduces you to core players, Season 2 has to expand on that and create a different story than just repeating the first series. What we get then is a conversation about the world that the presence of the Machine implies.

Spoilers ahead.

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Game Concept — Goncharov Card Game Concepting

I am tired and my brain hurts and I am exhausted as I try try try to make graphic work for Bloodwork happen. The website is down and up and down again and that’s maddening as hell, and the dog is weird and the dishwasher’s replaced and aaaaaa so what I decided to was exorcise a brain worm about a Goncharov card game.

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I Got My Library Card!

And it made me feel silly!

I got my first library card so long ago that it actually referred to me as ‘Master Governmentname Familyname.’ Like, master, what a ridiculous thing. That, you might not realise, is an archaic term used for a young unmarried man, which means that if you’re one of those holdouts going ‘Ah, Talen is secretly trans, but the type of trans he is is a trans dude‘ there’s some contraindicating evidence. Anyway point is, when I was very young, I loved my library card.

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3e: The Excellence of the D&D Onramp

There’s a recurrent pattern of discourse in the TTRPG community, especially amongst indies, that, cooked down into its parodically simple position, goes:

D&D is hard to teach, and nobody plays it properly.

So let’s talk about D&D having one of the absolute best onramps of all time starting with when I started to play it, in 3rd edition D&D. I bring up this edition of the game because it is absolutely a pigs arse of a game, and I know that a lot of the systems of the rules are only attempted by extremely bold people who needed something systematised.

Lemme tell ya, you run one aerial combat in 3rd edition you quickly invest in every technique you can to ensure you don’t have to run another.

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Story Pile: Person Of Interest, Season 1

In my teenager years, I came to appreciate the block of TV shows I thought of as ‘good shows’ in the 7:30 to 8:30 bracket. This typically took the form of a pair of back-to-back sitcom episodes, or, as I got older and the options got better (and my bedtime crept back), an hour long dramedy TV series, often built around a single high-concept hook, or even taped from late-night TV. A lot of these shows were, to my mind, ‘American Shows’ (and therefore good shows), were typically high-concept shows with sci-fi ideas in them that could be executed on cheaply with a small special effects budget, and included things like Time Trax and Pointman and, strangely important in my mind, a series called Fortune Hunter. I liked to refer to Fortune Hunter as a sort of example of forgettable 90s TV ephemera, a low-budget story about a wannabe James Bond type who was relaying everything through super-technology contact lenses to a nerd in a chair who could instantly relay everything to him. I, at the time, thought that Fortune Hunter was a great reference to make, like Street Sharks, which would make people in the same age range as I go ‘oh, yeah, that show, I remember that, kinda.’

Turns out that this was a terrible idea because, at the time I did not know, that Fortune Hunter aired for all of one month in America and only played out the full run of its episodes here in Australia because we were a dumping ground for failed attempted TV series that relied on high-concept sci-fi ideas that could be executed on cheaply with a small special effects budget. But those shows had some common traits, like Time Trax with its decreasing list of villains to apprehend, or Pointman with the fantasy of a strange billionaire appearing out of nowhere to save ordinary people, or Fortune Hunter with its gimmick of a super-nerd teaming up with a terrifying badass super-spy to save the day for single individuals.

I bring up this meandering reference to 90s television because these different stories with their modest production budgets and mediocre executions through actors who never quite got the respect they deserved are presented their absolute apotheosis in the form of the 2011-2016 sci-fi action series Person Of Interest.

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The Increasing Presence of Anime On This Blog

Around early April, late March, I made a chart to check the distribution of material I was covering in Story Pile, and then the stuff I had planned to watch. I made this chart because I realised that there were anime I was looking to cover, but I already had covered an anime in that month. And then I realised that my initial idea to keep the distribution of content varied, which was to write anime articles starting in november and work towards the current now, had kinda hit a wall, because I had already watched more than twelve anime this year.

The anime had caught up with containment.

The anime had breached.

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USP-06: June’s Custom Cards

The Palace boats like to pretend they’re free from the concerns of lands. They like to imagine that the vampire estates are free and fluid and empowered by dangerous ideologies. They’re not subject to things like the weather and the mountains and the demands of forests and birds. But they’re not the only people in the world, and it seems that for all of their exclusion and demands, for all of their superiority and aloofness, there are always going to be people ready to reach out, and with fire and rage, bring them down to earth.

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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