Monthly Archives: September 2023

September 2023 Wrapup

Spring has sprung and with it the first thirty degree day since February. Oh, that’s not a hot hot day, but it is a hot day. I sit on that evening and sweat slightly and wrinkle my nose as I consider the wrapup for this month, almost two weeks out from it. Let’s get into it.

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Game Concept — Lysen Co.

Welcome to your new position of Commisioned Human Resource Dispensation here at Lysen Co Food Technologies! We trust that you’re going to do your best for the betterment of all mankind as represented by the correct and accurate construction of optimal ‘tiger team’ panels for the full-time distribution of actualised test partners! Don’t worry, we know you’d never let us down – no member of our employment family ever has!

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Piton, Jura, Carpathia, Northumbria

You hear the term, in most any discussion of the nations of Cobrin’Seil. You’ll hear the phrase The Halfling Trade-Ships, or sometimes, Halfling Hulks. They’re a feature of the world and its politics, something so important that cities care about them, even though they aren’t, officially, part of that country at all.

The experience of the Hulks is pretty standard. Depending on which port you are in, wherever you are in the world, every few weeks or so, or perhaps once every few months, a single vessel cruises into the port, parks in the harbour in a space set aside for them, and spends a week completely unloading, then reloading up. These giant boxy vessels are often described as a totally different kind of ship to other vessels on the sea. They’re larger than even the largest naval ships, and they command small armies of people to manage and maintain, and all that money, all that profit they make just moving things from port to port, just sits in what, great and dreadful vaults, owned by ‘The Halfling Trade Houses.’

It’s more complicated than that.

Of course.

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4e: Strong Defenders

There’s a hole in the tanks.

That is, the defender characters you can play in 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. The classes in 4e have roles that come with standard packages so that the DM can reliably expect any given party to be able to handle threats in general. I’ve talked about how great roles are in the past, but also in that same article I was talking about the way roles and methods are intertwined, and how you defender shouldn’t be determined by that you defender.

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3e: Otyugh Signalling

There’s this type of monster, called an Otyugh.

The monster manual in 3rd edition describes them thus:

This creature looks like a bloated ovoid covered with a rocklike skin. A vinelike stalk about two feet long rises from the top of the disgusting body and bears the two eyes. Its mouth, little more than a wide gash filled with razor-sharp teeth – is in the center of the mass. The creature shuffles about on three thick, sturdy legs and has two long tentacles covered in rough, thorny, protusions. The tentacles end in leaflike appendages covered in more thorny growths.

Monster Manual, Page 204

Now, what does an Otyugh mean?

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Game Pile: Brew

Brew is a 2021 game made by Stevo Torres, and published by Pandasaurus Games, who you may recognise from other titles like Machi Koro, Dinosaur Island, The Mind, The Loop, Ctrl and – you know what, Pandasaurus just have a lot of great games in their catalogue. They also have Brew, which doesn’t tend to get that much attention, and that’s where I could do a great job of pivoting to rubbishing on this game, because hey, if they don’t promote it maybe it’s because it’s baaaad.

No, don’t worry about it, I like Brew a lot.

Brew has a really cool premise for its fiction. Something’s gone all messed up with nature, and day, night, and seasons are all happening at the same time and also at random. You represent one of four alchemists in this space, who’s going to travel into the surrounding forests where different seasons are happening, brew potions, tame animals, and get chunks of the forest to Settle The Hell Down for a bit, and all in the name of establishing some control. You can walk from one section of the forest where it’s winter across a line to blazing summer, while you try to find animals that are transformed by these chaotic magics. Along the way, you brew potions that let you perform transformative magics, channelling the energies of the land into safe, stable places.

The winner is the person who gets the most victory points.

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The Sporekin

The term ‘Sporekin’ refers to any of the number of humanoids who can symbiotically link with and connect to the forest known as the River of Madness from the nation of Mosetto. Officially, the efforts to contain this forest are absolutely successful and there’s no growth from the forest outside of the ravine, and there are no people living in there – only dangerous plant life and symbiotic living-seeming things from inside the forest.

There’s nothing in the River to worry about and the whole affair is contained.

What do you mean you’ve seen people coming out of it? You must be mistaken. The spores cause madness, after all. Do you need to sit down? We can take you in for medical examination. Anything in the name of containing the River, you know. No? Then you best stop with these rumours.

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Skyjacks and Sporekin

It’s a growing concern when I write about the world of Cobrin’Seil that I’m creating a vast and sprawling set of locational information that is not interesting for a player to engage with and not detailed enough for a world nerd to truly love. Part of it is really that I’m filling out a map, and each place I fill out, I want to be both a real enough place with an economy and a vision of everyday life, and yet I also want each country described to be its own place with a reason for it to be its own place. When there are multiple countries that are like one another in a reasonably close proximity, Europe style, I tend to think of them as ‘provinces’ of a larger body politic.

What’s more, I feel like I know what I like to see in a Nation writeup but I also know the things I need in a Nation writeup. A Nation writeup is a hook, a place to belong, and I want you to give me ideas like how my life as a person in that space might be a thing I can feel and inhabit. A Nation writeup is also a thing a DM needs to be able to check for useful data with signifiers quickly, because it’s a place to come from but also a place to go to. Basically, it is a dessert to consume but there are vegetables to have first.

Presented in a book, I know that I’d be presenting a big splash graphic, with sidebars, and mechanical references in nice formatted popouts. Not so here, where the only visual material I can generate is either icons, stock art, or morphed/warped pictures of similar locations from the inspirations. The rest, all I can do, is with words, words, words.

Come with me to learn of Motesso, the Skyjacks, the Sporekin, the Citadel Ironsky, and the River of Madness.

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Story Pile: Nobody

Y’know how Knives Out is one of those movies that I was concerned about discussing because I knew I was going to be repeating boring details rather than focusing on the movie’s message? That I was contributing to a noise complex because I loved it and I wanted to be able to love it in all angles and share that love for it and hopefully encourage you to love it too? Nobody is a movie in that same genre, but in this case the actual plot, sure, whatever, you’ve seen this, you know the kind of movie it is. It’s a physical stunt based action movie about a Dangerous Man Pushed Too Far. You don’t need spoilers for this, that’s how the movie’s trailer presents it.

And for a movie about physicality in stunts, its physicality is amazing. You can see best-of scenes on youtube, of moments of an entire movie’s worth of holy shit combat scenarios, and they’re the kind of scenarios where you’re meant to regard the world as full of physical objects that are by default stronger than a human’s body, more dangerous to a human than a human is to it. For a surprising number of desks and people using them, you are not tougher than your desk in a straight up fight. That means that when Nobody wants to represent a person engaging in violence with another person, the world around them matters in a wholly material way.

And that makes me think about how easy it is to make a movie like this. Or isn’t.

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Sprint: Four Characters Describe Brother Fratatelli

Know One Stone? No? Well, this might be hard to follow. I’m thinking about how badly the characters in that book are explained visually, how I don’t take opportunities to really go indepth with how characters look. Here then is a test text sample of how each of the major characters in One Stone would describe one of their own, Brother Fratarelli. He’s a priest, he’s nice, and he’s fat.

I am particularly keenly conscious of this last point because rereading the book I kind hammer on the fact he’s fat in some really pointless ways. Rafe in particular refers to his fatness in internal dialogue a lot, and I need to bore into why Rafe would do that.

Anyway, the simple idea I had at first was that of the four characters:

  • Rafe sees class signifiers
  • Aderyn sees weaknesses and objectively verifiable surrounding material
  • Kivis sees emotional boundaries
  • Fratarelli himself sees anxieties and fears

Here then!

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Y’know What, I’m Fond of Donald Norman

Donald Norman is the author of a book called The Design Of Everyday Things, which came out in 1988, 2008, and 2013. It is a book that has been pored over and referenced and cited and reconsidered for all sorts of disciplines, many of which come up in my PhD literature review, which is why it’s on my mind, and one of the things that keeps coming up in that – two things, really – is that Donald Norman is pretty sweet and people don’t seem to do much to dilute that.

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Shirt 23.09 — Cui Bono Asked And Answered

If you’re not familiar with it, Cui Bono is a Latin aphorism that has become something of a loanphrase in English because there’s nothing quite like quoting an old dead dude to legitimise your complaint. It means ‘Who Benefits?’ and it’s used in conspiracy circles to encourage you to keep imagining more and more reasons for something to be the responsibility of those people. Thing is, almost always, the answer for ‘why would they do things this shitty way?’ is capitalism. And so:

No small irony in that I made this design on the second of May, back when I was ruminating on whether or not I stick with Redbubble at all. Still looking for alternatives, so maybe this gets edited later.

You can get this design in one of four colours, green, blue, pink or tan.

How To Be: Kaede Last Blade (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.

Hey, I left this introduction blank and nobody noticed. Anyway time to talk about a character I’ve already spent thousands of words describing in terms of the negative space created by fighting games that enable a lot of fun interpretation and also selling us the vast and valuable currency that is nothing.

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Who Rules You

I’m not trying to make every consideration of my fundamentalist history this year focus in some way on The Locked Tomb but it’s just very helpful, and since it’s what put it in my mind, I figure it’s what I’m going to be using as my lens. Particularly because as I engage with that fandom I hear people, totally normal and regular people, react to things in the book that reveal to me more ways in which my upbringing was in fact, completely and utterly horseradished.

Let me talk to you of John Gaius, the Emperor Eternal, God with a soft G, and his part in my upbringing.

John Gaius, Jod for short going forward, is a major character in the story of The Locked Tomb. It may constitute a spoiler to inform you that those books feature a character with that name and that title and that he’s, like, a dude who shows up in those books and is kinda a dick, but I don’t think that’s the kind of spoiler for a book series that merits a serious warning. However, in my effort to be nice to people who are big crybaby wenuses about this kind of thing, I will say, here and now, beyond this point, I’m going to talk about a character in a book. I’m going to imply that the guy who became the God-Emperor of Mankind and the Undying Necrolord may have done some fucked up shit.

You will cope.

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Game Pile: Ring Fit Adventures

Ah, the best of intentions.

I bought Ring Fit Adventure during the August 2020 lockdown. I bought it from a local business, so it could be delivered cheaply. When it arrived, I unboxed it, showed it to Elli and to Fox, and left it next to the TV for two weeks. I did this because Fox would go to bed at night, and take the Switch with her, meaning that I did not have a joycon-powered way to play the game. I did not check if I could use the spare joycons on my Switch Lite. I did not ask Fox to make space for me.

I just… ignored it for a little while. You know the thinking?

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’ll start.

I started using it on September the 4th, in 2020. I took notes, for my first twelve days. Twelve! I thought I’d have a lot more than that. And that was two years ago, with this article staying in draft form for oh so long.

I think that Ring Fit Adventures is pretty good. It’s remarkably nonjudgmental game which makes its particular focus of exercise interesting. I got it to get myself an outlet for exercise that I could maintain under lockdown conditions, when normally, I would be travelling around and doing things… and also, I know that I’m getting older and should have a more regular exercise schedule. It seems pretty good at what it’s doing and it didn’t make me feel bad.

I did, however, feel bad.

Content Warning: Under the fold is less of your typical ‘game review’ or critical engagement with the game text. It’s much more of a diary examining myself and my feelings about this game and how I struggled with it. There’s some reflections on my relationship to my body and I’m honestly embarrassed of it, but I think I need to fight that embarrassment and present a fair account of this game.

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Cox: Mu’Tant

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.

Roughly one person in a thousand has enough Mu blood to get the attention of the primal forces that drove the magic of antedeluvian Oranbega. Roughly one person in a thousand had the rare linked genes that help the mind tap the process, and most of the Mu you see use intense concentration and sensory deprivation to maintain that mindspace, to use that power.

Tanner, however, got lucky. A simple mutation, a hiccup in his DNA, and that whisper of Oranbegan power is, to him, a shout. When these powers came into their own, the boy took to the streets of Paragon to use his powers, without the oversight of the Mu hierarchy or Arachnos.

At least that’s what he tells people.

And it’s not like they need to know.

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Justum Bellum Sidus: Making a Plan

One of the classes I teach is about the critical engagement with a videogame text (or paratext). One of the things we do in this subject is to engage with the class materials ourselves to show the students what’s involved. Basically, ‘hey, this is about engaging in something that interests us.’

I proposed, for my pitch, the idea of a video essay that examined the idea of just war in the videogame Starcraft 2. I picked Starcraft 2 as an example for a few reasons:

  • It’s more recent than a lot of my videogame interests. It’s more contemporary to my students’ age group.
  • It’s got a thriving esports scene, a real world paratextual surface, so there’s an element of the game to examine.
  • It’s not something immediately obvious to me, so I’m not just cheating and answering a question I already know.

With that in mind, here’s a little audio of me thinking through my process for how I’d work on this project, in the early days.

Story Pile: The Executioner And Her Way Of Life

Really? That’s what this is titled? That’s awful.

Originally, this anime was going to get released under the title of Virgin Road, which at the very least is a little less cumbersome. Long titles are common amongst light novel stories, but I think in this case it’s especially egregious because the entire secondary clause on the title is a long-form reading of the phrase ‘and such and such.’ This title, for this anime yada-yadas its way through its pitch, which is kinda frustrating. As far as first impressions go, when you bottle it on the title, you’re really not inspiring confidence to start with. First impressions are important! It’s like if the series is full of characters wearing outfits that look extremely silly.

Oh no.

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Nobody Speaks To the Captain No More

Today, I learned Jimmy Buffett died.

I said a long time ago that Jimmy Buffett’s death was going to mess me up, and I thought that was said in earnest. Jimmy Buffett, if you’re not familiar, is was an American singer-songwriter from Mobile, Alabama, renowned for his involvement in and then kind of codifying the musical genre known as gulf and western. The sound, as I someone who just listens to it a lot, had a lot in common with country music in terms of its production style – there’s not a lot of distortion, instruments tend towards the acoustic rather than the electric, and you usually have a single vocalist, who’s often the author of the song presenting music that’s about a personal experience, in a kind of storytelling way. On the other hand, the association with the Gulf of Mexico meant that the musical instruments are influenced more by, well


Black people?

Kettle drums, hymnal organs, a range of percussion instruments that I don’t know by name, that kind of thing? Things you’d hear in the Caribbean, and that’s not to simplify the many different musical styles in the gulf, but to indicate the things that Gulf and Western picked up from it.

I wrote about Jimmy Buffett’s music, as expressed in the albums my dad had when I was a kid, across a few years. Between that and my other online statements about the inevitable impact of his death, I had three people approach me about The Bad News, and what that meant, and to check if I was okay. It made sense to me – after all, I’d said that would happen, right?

But I’m okay?

At least right now, as far as I know.


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USP-08: August’s Custom Cards

The Masqued shed their old identities to become anyone; known mostly for masks they wear that distinguish them from normal partygoers on the Palace Boats. The Faceless have masks of wood, bone, and dirt, or create faces that look like animals just because they know it is hard, otherwise, to tell where to look when you talk to them. Some take on forms designed to express an identity that demonstrates their skill, their aesthetic sense. But then there are those, in these same magics, who have their identities shriven from them – people who need magical aid to restore themselves to being a person again, people who somehow are there, but not, manifested to the world but done so without an identity. It is a strange thing to have every name, and stranger still to have none.

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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