Monthly Archives: August 2023

August 2023 Wrapup

Kinda flew by there, or maybe it’s just that when a semester is firing, then I start breaking my weeks into more and more tightly managed little snippets. I think I’m going to have to change when I have snacks, any way, it’s time to get talking about all the great articles I wrote this week and youuuuu didn’t read yet!

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Breaking Bad’s Crowded Fandom

There is a lot of media participation media about Breaking Bad and its related franchises, Better Call Saul and I guess El Camino is here, too, I suppose. This makes sense — Breaking Bad is a tall series with a long shadow, an influence on the culture around me that makes it perfect for people who like to talk about media to talk about it. It’s not just that Breaking Bad has become a spreading puffball of memes that land on every surface around it — I Am The One Who Knocks — but it’s also got its own subcultural bubble of hack media studies memes — this is the point where Walter White truly became Breaking Bad.

It’s something that means every time I’ve wanted to talk about any of these properties, I only did it if it was literally the most convenient thing. That’s why I wound up talking about El Camino a while back. It was the only thing I’d seen recently that fit the theme. That was a rumination on the same general idea — that Breaking Bad is kind of a crowded space to talk about.

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How To Be: Mystique (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.

Let’s look at the first* transgender* X-Men*!

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Game Pile: HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Did you know that one of the funniest English language authors in history wrote a bunch of videogames, and they’re really funny? Well, you probably did, because Terry Pratchett made that huge Oblivion mod, but also, his peer Douglas Adams also made stuff, though on earlier, clunkier, uglier hardware.

Yes, once more I delve into the infocom vaults to talk to you about a game that is, primarily, just text, almost as if I have some kind of bias towards that kind of media for some reason.

Anyway, I’m going to complain about Twine briefly.

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Werekin in Cobrin’Seil

Cobrin’Seil, being a magical setting of my own devising, has its own range of shape-shifting creatures known for various titles of ‘were-something.’ Werebears, weregoats, wereboars, all that kind of thing, grouped together under the community title of ‘werekin.’

The word ‘werekin’ comes from the Erd language, as do the phenomena of the werekin themselves. The actual condition is comparable to a kind of magical medical symbiosis; a bit like a long-term medical condition but not seen, generally, as a kind of illness.

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4e: The Were-With-All

Players love options. Players love the ability to differentiate their character. One of the problems that D&D character building has is that, certainly in the versions that are centralised like 3e, any given member of a class has a certain limited number of options that are worth taking. A wizard wouldn’t take Weapon Focus (Longsword), for example, even if the longsword is the best weapon of its type. This meant that there were a lot of options that were made to create or convey a mood about a character that weren’t worth spending one of your limited feat choices on.

In 4e, they added another dimension to each character, with the idea of character themes. Character themes were optional, and gave a character in the level range of 1-10 something class-independent that nonetheless let you expand the abilities of your character in a way that had a sort of, well, for lack of a better word, a vibe. By making these packages contained, it meant that the game mechanics for them could be balanced against one another —

Which unfortunately, they weren’t.

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3e D&D: The Werewolf, The Shifter

The promise of Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s a game system that lets you play with a wide variety of fantasy tropes to construct, generally, a fair game that also lets you experience a narrative. It is a deliberately broad system. In its earliest incarnations, it was narrow, and there used to a random whore table but no way to craft pants, and now, in the current days of 5e, the rules system handles all sorts of interesting rules attachments and modules that make the widely available, easily engaged game capable of doing even more stuff.

And this is, generally, seen as a bad thing, coincidentally by people who are heavily invested in other things.

But the promise of D&D, as a system that can include a lot of things, is sometimes at odds with the promise of D&D as a system that allows for a reasonably fair game. Such as in third edition, the period I want to talk about today, ‘fairness’ in what characters could do, in any reasonable estimation, was completely bananas. Absolutely troppo.

Anyway, let’s talk about werewolves.

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Story Pile: Lie To Me

A long time ago, I think discussing The Blacklist I used the term ‘crime wizards’ to refer to television programs that focus on characters who do crime in ways that are interesting and challenging to solve and create the tension or systems necessary to justify about an hour of television that can be solved by a specialised team of marketable weirdoes.

There are a lot of shows in the Crime Wizards genre, in different degrees of grittiness – like you can even point to older shows like CSI and NCIS… and along with them, in the transition between eras of Crime Wizard TV, we have this example, of a drama TV show with a compelling hook:

Fake crimes, but real wizardry.

At least, that’s the pitch.

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Okay But What Gimmicks Can I Make?

Alright, I talked about gimmicks, which I find interesting, because, you know, they change the timing of a trick. They also unfortunately, change the economics of a trick, because in a lot of cases, there are some things you just can’t do, as a person, unless you’re absolutely amazingly good. Back in the day, the magicians had to work to be that good, but these days, there’s an economics to it that creates the category of, well, moneygicians.

whoah, authentically compression artifacted

I want to share a few short videos here, and let me tell you, magic as a community, with its particular kind of patter, can be really uncomfortable to share freely. Anything you look at here, the channels are probably okay, but also, don’t be surprised if like, one of these dudes is into NFTs or something. If you chase videos in this space you might wind up seeing someone doing old timey patter about dames and oh, take my wife, and yaw, ya see, and that sucks, especially to see people still doing it in like, 2019.

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Game Concept — Moonshiners!

Alright, alright, I know I’ve been thick on the ground for game ideas lately. This one’s even more frustrating than normal because I feel like I could convince a university colleague to pump out AI art and beta test it with me in a weekend but I feel like that would be an abuse of our limited time right now.

Here’s the core of it: You’re all Appalachian, redneck ass criminal booze makers and sellers, classic moonshiners. To maintain your business you’re travelling into town every month with a load of product, and while you’re there, you offload product, you recruit gangsters, and you make money through a series of auctions.

Also, you’re werewolves.

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Game Pile: Dangeresque: The Roomisode Triungulate

Fox and Talen play The Dangeresque Roomisode 1!

Fox and I got a whole new Dangeresque game to play, and that’s what we did! I don’t play the whole thing, I just play the first third, and I try not to play too thoroughly, so my commentary about things isn’t getting in the way of a proper long play, but this is really fun! I recommend it! Thumbnail belowa tha folda!

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Game Concept — Shaky Hands

This is going to be one of those ‘write up a game idea’ posts I do – if that’s not your jam, that’s okay! It’s just going to be me taking notes on an idea, and trying to explain it to a general audience. In this case, I’m not approaching a game aesthetic or art resources, but instead I’m approaching a purely mechanical idea to see what fictions can connect to it and what material components I’d need.

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Story Pile: Nona the Ninth

Spoiler Warning: I’m going to mention stuff in the book, and by dint of mentioning them it’s going to involve mentioning things in the previous two books that make up the first half of The Locked Tomb trilogy. That is to say, there’s very little talking about Nona The Ninth that isn’t spoilery. Also, I guess there’s a lot of content-warning stuff in this book and also all the others, but I suppose you don’t go into a book promoted as lesbian space necromancer murder mystery thinking you’re about to get something G-rated. Point is if you’re wondering if I liked these books but don’t want to know anything about them before you read them I liked them a lot and this is your warning, your chance to bail.

Let’s talk about girls.

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CoX: Juke

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.

…the police are the crime…

Dead drops and drunk tanks. A door left unlocked. A hole in the guard patrol schedule. An undersecured door, a familiar password, a moment of forgetfulness, or believable forgetfulness. In Praetoria, you could get a lot done by leaning on the way that everyone thought everyone else was corrupt.

Juke was one of them. Secret police, that is. You could only go along for so long, though, until it all went wrong. That’s when he found friends, found rebels, but not the resistance. Instead, it was dead drops and secret messages, and now, nobody knows anything he had to do with the revolution.

So that sucks.

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Game Pile: Hit The Silk

I like Hit The Silk. If you’re not familiar with Hit The Silk and also to extend the introduction a little bit, it’s a card game where the players are a bunch of crooks on a plane at the last part of a heist movie that has gone completely terrible. The characters of Hit The Silk are all riding a plane without a pilot, with a pile of money to divvy up, and there’s always not enough parachutes. You have two competing demands, then, as a player, one of which is a numeric value (how much money you get, and if you can get over a threshold), and one of which is a binary value (did you get out with a parachute or are you dead).

The plane is going down, and it goes down faster and faster as you go on – so there’s a clock on how many turns players can play and two competing failure states. Oh one of the other competing failure states is that you can kill people and lock them to one another with handcuffs but they can get out of handcuffs with keys but then those keys can’t be used to raid the plane’s lockbox and potentially get more money. You can attack people to take cards off them, and that means that now, you don’t want people to know too much about what’s in your hand, but your only way to get cards into your hand tends to be interacting with people in trades.

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T-Shirt: Support Your Local Things

I think at some point I just want to make sports logos of everything that isn’t really appropriate as a sports logo. Anyway, here’s a The Thing as if that’s a sports logo!

You can get this sticker or shirt design here! What’s more, because I made such a big file, it’s available to jam on a bunch of different designs I don’t normally get to use – like you can get a jigsaw of this reference to the 1982 movie The Thing. I don’t know why you would want it, but it’s an option!

I didn’t set up the microskirt option though that seemed… weird.

Feinting Couch

Ah, the age of adventure, of conquest, of nobility and of duels. Yes, the time when if someone defied you, you pulled off your glove and you threw it to the ground and demanded she meet you on the battlefield with god as your witnesses. Sublimated homosexuality and swords with reach, raucous adventure and getting out of town just ahead of the local law, it’s a question not about who did it first, but who did it best.

And the best… needs an audience.

En Garde!

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MtG: Oh How It Pains Me To Do This

I’m really liking the Transformers cards as commanders. I know, since I hate the Lord of the Rings so much what am I doing being okay with transformers? Well, I mean, for one, nobody pretends the Transformers aren’t dumb as shit, and also the central narrative of Transformers is bunches of idiots smashing their toy collections together, which makes a great fit for Magic: The Gathering commander games. But wait, you may wonder, what – what’s with this elaborate trap? You weren’t paying attention for a moment and now, I have seized power! It is time for a transgender icon, STARSCREAM to command!

Now, let’s you and them fight.

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Story Pile: Inside Job

I guess it’s hard to recommend Inside Job. I mean not in the broadest way, where I can just say ‘it’s a funny adult comedy that doesn’t seem to venerate being a selfish asshole, and it looks like a lot of them these days, with the same general level of competence.’ It’s you know, the way that Rick and Morty pissed on its aesthetic to mark its territory and now any animation that puts in too much effort or has lines that are too clean winds up being seen as ‘like that.’

I don’t know if Inside Job is like that, because I haven’t seen Rick and Morty past the opening of the first episode. Didn’t jam with it, and instead watched other stuff I found more engaging instead. Like Inside Job!

No, what makes it hard to recommend is, and, like, reader – can I call you reader? – sure, okay, reader, the thing is, this is a shortish TV series that draws on modern mythologies of the conspiracy theory griftscape in which I grew up. It uses the ongoing behaviour of an overachieving conspiracy theorist father who doesn’t respect his kid as a plot point. One character idolises toys and franchises from the 80s because it lets him pretend he has an idealised family life that was fun. Oh, and the main character, Reagan, feels like an export of one of my friend’s OCs so closely that she uses Reagan gifs for reactions.

The series doesn’t feature a long form sequence of a character beating a priest to death or a thesis about how game play lets us choose our identities, but like, it’s otherwise hits pretty close to me individually.

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The Dishonest Liar

It’s a maxim told in magical circles that the magician is the only honest entertainer; they say they are going to lie to you, then they do. I’ve talked about it in the past, with magicians selling access to their tricks (when obscured) then selling access to their tricks (when revealed), in the history of the discipline. Once, there was a purpose to explicating methods in courts, where magicians could be accused of consorting with dark powers, and needed to be able to prove and demonstrate what they were doing, actually. Books from the early days are full of explicated methods of magical tricks, and with the rise of the camera, luminaries of the pre-camera era did whole talks, whole lectures, explaining the language magicians used for just the entirely anodyne description of a technique, the sort of cladistic or medical language for academically explaining what an audience sees regardless of how a magician makes it happen.

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USP-07: July’s Custom Cards

While the Outlands rage at all sides, as the Vast’s people slowly gather themselves to respond to the Ice Palace and the open door of death in the Usurper’s Throne, what are the Palace boats doing? What of the culture of Vampires that scourged a whole mountain range and ruined forests of centuries of growth, how have they prepared for the obvious oncoming war?

They haven’t.

They’ve been busy.

They’ve been busy fighting with one another endlessly about who, exactly, is the most royal member of all these Royal bloodlines.

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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Jam Game: The Lost Voyage!

I jammed in the Kenney Jam 2023! Do you know Kenney? Kenney make some of the best creative commons games assets in the world, assets you can put all over the place and use in your game designs. The point of the Kenney Jam was to get people to engage with these assets and make a game quickly. It was fun!

At the moment, I think I’m the only participant in the jam who made a physical game, and if you just want to skip to check it out, the game I made is called The Lost Voyage and it’s over on itch! The game is a push-your-luck yahtzee style dice roller, and I was only able to do a small amount of playtesting, which was more ‘does this engine work’ and not ‘is this the most engaging version of this game.’ It’s free, it’s a print and play game, you’re going to have to put some work into it to play it. But I also want to talk about the process of making it, and, importantly, what I want to do next.

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Tricks Month 2023!

Ahah, it’s August and that means there’s nothing up my sleeve – nothing up my other sleeve – but here, on the table, under this hat that is hiding an enormous melon is the theme of tricks month. Tricks! Tricks, fun, chicanery, fooling and duping and the ways of the witty and wagering who ambiguated and disorientate with gesture and guile.

I love magic nonsense. I love magic philosophically and I love magic structurally, I love the way that magic can inform your mind and change the way you treat the world and I love it as a story element, as in, the way that a story can trick you into thinking the things the story wants you to think.

It’s not the same thing as lying.

It might not even involve any lying.

Tricks can be fun like that.

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