Monthly Archives: November 2023

November 2023 Wrapup

Ostensibly, this is the last article of the year that follows the ‘normal’ pattern of the rest of the year. There’s a whole month more after this, but this is kind of the last spot I have to put anything that doesn’t fit in Decemberween… … which is to say this is my last chance to be spiteful, mad, or cruel about something. Not that I spend a lot of time doing that, but it’s definitely the point at which I have to get any last minute spite out the door.

Oh, you don’t need to worry, you don’t need to worry about that at all. I’m not going to burst into vituperous rage over something, mind you. It doesn’t show up this month.

Much.

an icon of an orange slice
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The Gliscor In A Coal Mine

Gunna talk about Smogon here. Oh, you don’t know Smogon?

Weeeeell, deep breath.

Smogon is a Pokemon fangame played with the basic components of the videogame series Pokemon, which is itself, made by Game Freak and distributed by Nintendo, which you’ll probably recognise as one of the largest privately held companies in the world. Smogon, by contrast, are a forum and some emulators and a surprisingly dense little bubble of Youtube content.

‘Smogon’ in this context refers to a bunch of related games, that form a single fandom game, a folk game. They have, in the terminology I’m fond of using, made a game out of another game, which is a super cool practice I actively encourage. It’s how we get great things like, for example, the entire Legacy subgenre of games, from its dizzying heights of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 to the shocking lows of Pandemic Legacy Any Other Seasons. I like Smogon as a thing to observe through some sort of astrolabe or other technical device. I have no particular interest in engaging with the game itself, as they play it.

I don’t want to get into a play space with these people.

Not because they’re bad or anything, though they are overwhelmingly split between the still-thinks-he’s-on-4chan shithead vs autistic trans girl social binary of internet niches and you’re never sure what side that coin is landing on when you flip it. I don’t want to partake of Smogon because the game they’re playing looks unpleasant to me to play, and because part of Being Into Smogon means looking around at the game Smogon has made and thinking: Yeah, this works. This is a good system.

The current news out of Smogon, such as it is, is that in their OU format (short for ‘overused’), just banned the Pokemon Gliscor. Gliscor is redacted information that doesn’t matter, because you don’t need to know what Gliscor is to come to understand the problem that Gliscor highlights, and the lesson you can learn about making games and control over those games.

Smogon’s banning policy reflects a truth I espouse as a game designer: Players are great at identifying problems and terrible at solving them.

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Starting New Habits

I bought a sketchbook yesterday.

Not yesterday when you read this of course, but yesterday for me.

I bought the sketchbook at the Reject Shop. It was not a nice sketchbook. It was not an expensive sketchbook. It doesn’t have a nice cover. It doesn’t have a leather case to keep it in. It’s not like the leather cover my sister got me for my bullet journal. It cost me $3 and its brand name is ‘VISUAL ART DIARY.’

Today, I started drawing in it.

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Story Pile: Do It Yourself!!

If your particular thing was anime about cute girls with a special interest where you could very easily interpret pretty typical social engagement as in fact, boilingly obvious non-heterosexual romantic attachment, then this time last year, you were probably one of the many people extremely into the extremely good anime Bocchi The Rock. Funny, energetic, vibrant and extremely focused on its own particular aesthetic representations of a hyper-real relationship between the modern capitalist landscape and why we are people who are not suited to exist in it when there are far more important things you can do, relating to one another, and how difficult it is to say what you really mean when what you are really trying to do is to reach out to another person, someone you may have never met before or someone you may know deep as your own family and tell them hey, I want to be loved, by you.

And that obviously arch and highly poetic description of Bocchi that I’m using in a way that definitely elides some of the details and decentralises some of its more obvious themes is nonetheless also a summary of Do It Yourself!! an anime from the same season, same time slot, but a different channel, meaning that at least in the time when we make anime fight for our attention in capitalist landscapes, meant that Do It Yourself!! got to lose to Bocchi’s immense stardom, a fact that I am sure would leave Bocchi herself so overwhelmed she would hide in a box like a Metal Gear protagonist.

A box that could be made exquisitely well by the crew that make up Do It Yourself!!

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Do You Want Invincible Ink Stuff For Decemberween?

Decemberween is coming! Decembeween is oh so near! Decemberween is for giving! Decemberween is almost here! Decemberween, Decemberween, it’s fifty-five days after Halloween!

If you are at all interested in Stuff I’ve Made as products for presents for people in the coming months, I’d like to make this my official opportunity to tell you to go check them out now. It’s November, it’s near the end, if you’re in the Mainland USA or Canada (which my metrics indicate you are), and if you want something to arrive for you over there in order to give it to someone as a gift, now is a good time to set aside some coins and check out the stores for our stuff!

Here, let me show you the kinds of things I make that you may want to spend some money on!

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T-Shirt: One Flesh One End

I didn’t start this year expecting to be profoundly affected by The Locked Tomb books. As I write this, I have only finished three of them BECAUSE THE FOURTH ONE ISN’T OUT YET, but sometimes, a design haunts the brain and wants to get out. Hey then, here’s a fanart design that I hope doesn’t violate a fanart policy.

And here it is being worn by a digitally stitched-on model

If you want to see this design on things, you can get it here! I would personally recommend, if you are in some way a giant jacked gay lady, that you should get a version of this shirt without sleeves, as it would make Gideon Nav proud (I think).

MtG: How To Un-Who The Rings

I really like Universes Within. Not Universes Beyond, the system whereby Wizards of the Coast make cards using other people’s IPs, I’m very conflicted about that. Like the idea of it doesn’t bother me, I don’t think there’s a ‘purity’ of Magic to defend, Magic is a corporate product and anyone who wants you to think that it somehow is above these things thinks differently of the game than I do. It’s a game about faeries and elves and ripping off fantasy licenses, using licenses for real isn’t that big a deal.

Uh, but Universes Within is when they do that kind of thing and then come back to make a version of the card with their own specific Magic: The Gathering flavour that’s meant to fit on a Magic: The Gathering set world. I think that rules, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.

I also have come to think that I might never see another Universes Within product ever again.

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How To Be: Sothe Pathofradiance (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.

Who are we looking at this month? Well, since this series was started off by Hilda from Three Houses, it seems positively rude on my part to not reach once more to the Fire Emblem well, with its wonderfully varied names and … embarrassingly limited mechanical scope.

Let’s look at a character from a Gamecube game about fighting a dragon, or a god, or the black knight, or something.

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Story Pile: Bocchi The Rock

Deep breath Delightful, charming, lovely anime, great, thought it was funny, songs are a banger, basic premise is really well iterated on, minimum of Anime Bullshit, characters are all well realised and have interesting dynamics that relate to one another and the story is satisfying as it covers a number of small distinct enjoyable story beats and yeah okay, good. Good! Great! I really liked Bocchi The Rock and I think that if you like anxious girls and music and anxious girls who make music, then you’ll probably find the series pretty enjoyable!

I want to get that out of the way first because I don’t think you’d be well-served in any interesting way to see me talk about what happens in Bocchi The Rock! or if you ‘should’ watch it because it is ‘good.’ Anyone can tell you that, and so far, we have yet to find a ‘good’ anime, in part because no anime is good, and in part because the idea of ‘good’ media is silly. Instead what I want to do is talk about the things that Bocchi The Rock made me think about as I watched it, and the ways it made me feel, and why.

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CoX: Dusted

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.


Who is she? Probably just some Monolith employee.

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Desert Bus ’23 Game Jam Game: The Coffee Question

Okay here’s a weird, non-standard thing.

See, I made my game jam game. I put it on this site. I hated it and brewed about it for a bit. But i believe in tracking my mistakes as well as my successes, so I figured it was better being done and moving on. But then a few days later, before the jam ended, I got a different idea and wanted to act on that, and so I did. What that means is this article has two distinct parts.

Part 1, here, before the fold, is me just showing you a game and linking to its itch page. After the fold is Part 2, the original version of the article, which is written by a more bummed out version of me.

The game I made is called The Coffee Question, and it’s based on the idea of trying to remember a complicated order for the whole staff when you run down to get people coffee. It’s a small game, only 27 cards, and it’s fully cooperative. You play it in two rounds, and have to try, collectively, to memorise an order of the food you’re there to get. Consider it a lesson about writing things down. It’s also built around a lot of different references to what I think of when I think of Desert Bus and food, though some concessions have been made to make the things hard to remember.

I think it’s fun! I recommend it! I like cooperative games for Desert Bus, feels more charitable. You can go get it over on itch.io. You can also get it here:

The rest of this article is preserved for archival purposes, and the other game is there for consideration, but really, don’t worry about it. The game is fine I guess, but I was really upset by the whole process. This one also had the same kind of upset but after writing about how you should route around those problems, not doing that in my followup shows how silly I can be.

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Game Pile: Here To Slay

Kickstarter has given rise to a particular genre of game which I think of as ‘crowdfundable.’ When you make games on kickstarter it’s very important to have an appealing hook that is communicated visually very distinctly; you simply need a sense of aesthetics to hold what you’re creating together. This means there’s a bunch of games on the market now, games that are pre-emptively successful, which are most notable for their aesthetics and the presence of important artists or setpiece gimmicks, that set precedent for a greater audience of designers to iterate on, and where the underlying game is maybe a bit deserving of a few more iterations of revision on the rules. Y’know, where just being good looking and being attached to an existing brand is enough to get units out the door so the actual game experience underneath it can be a bit ropy.

Oh hey, Here To Slay, what are you doing here?

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MTG: TransMoremers, Part 1

In my ongoing war on Universes Beyond I Personally Find Tedious, nobody has spoken to me. I have faced no backlash and contend with no enemies of my opinions. I am in no way called upon to defend myself because people, largely, seem to be okay with just, you know, having their own opinions on things and not being particularly bothered if they don’t agree with my opinions. Nonetheless, if I wanted to imagine some kind of straw opposition for this behaviour of mine, this bold and daring take that the huge pile of Dr Who cards make Dr Who look bad, then I might imagine them to say:

Well, what about the Transformers cards? You like those.

It’s true! I do! And I think they also have a real challenge to get made into Universes Within. Not that I don’t really look forward to it – I’m imagining haunted Kaladeshi machinery with a ghost inside them, because wouldn’t they look sick? Or maybe things like ghost trains from Innistrad? I suppose if you were into complete over used hack material, they could be from New Phyrexia, the rebirthing of a new life out of the remnants of a metal world.

The transformers logo

Point is, there’s a lot of interesting ways to make ‘vehicles with personalities that change shape.’ Could be really cool!

Anyway, these cards all excite me and invite me to make things that feel like they’re interesting game entities in the context of Magic: The Gathering and not just evocation of childhood nostalgia. Now part of that is that the cards are complicated and I don’t know if they’re actually good at what they do.  I intended to actually make deck article for each of them that struck me as interesting, but that’s a lot of time spent between articles about each deck. Instead of a full rundown for each one then, I want to provide a sort of first impression for how these cards work and what I think I’d use them for.

There are fifteen of these cards, and I’ve already talked about two – Starscream and Soundwave. Let’s talk about some of the rest, then!

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The Origin Of The Word ‘Orc’

The term for a cultural group, as a name, is its demonym. In Cobrin’Seil, demonyms are words from the culture in question. There are some political contentions there – the Eladrin consider themselves more legitimate Elves than Elves, but Elves are called Elves and Eladrin don’t call themselves Elves because they do not want to be considered the same thing as Elves. This is a long standing beef between the kind of people who own libraries older than most countries. But notably, these words are in the languages of the Elf and the Eladrin. Drow is a word from the same language group, a term that the Drow chose for themselves and use for themselves. The Kai of Shadar-Kai are named after their fortress home, which is, again, an Eladrin word, but they’re all from the same cultural group and choose the term.

The term ‘Beast’ in common comes from ‘Beastfolk,’ which is to say a generic term for a scary thing from the forest. But Beasts are named after Beastfolk, and Beastfolk, again, named themselves. The Beastfolk formed a coalition, made a common language, and then shared that language amongst themselves, developing the term bhehst which evolved over time to Beast, and when they needed a term to describe the coalition, Beastfolk was the result.

Common did not impose this name on them, it learned it from them.

Consider the word ‘Goblin’, a word from the Goblins, is notable because the way the word is used and structured, in language, it’s a possessive. Whose land is this? Goblin. Where are we? Goblin. Who are you? Goblin. What are your people? Goblin. This incredibly flexible term, with its overwhelming ubiquity, also plays into the way goblins are perceived as speaking a strange and confusing language. It’s more that they have multi-purpose words are build their language on trust and social intuition. This is why Goblins will often drop a conversation exactly when they know you’re getting frustrated, because they can tell you don’t actually care and need time to process what they said.

In Cobrin’seil, heritage names are largely entirely self-chosen demonyms. Oh sure, there are names for Orcs that Orcs don’t use, but those words are largely considered slurs, or are often inexact – Bugbears, Hobgoblins, Goblins and Orcs were all for a time treated as the same culture and named interchangeably by outsiders who did not interact with them (which means some of these ideas remain codified by the Eresh Protectorate and Dal Raeda histories). A proper cladistic chart can rejoice in how interesting it is that yes, Bugbears and Hobgoblins are extremely closely related, and yet Hobgoblins and Goblins are so distant as to be functionally alien to one another. Humans are closely related to Hobgoblins, but not to Goblins, and Orcs, while closely related to Humans, are extremely different to Hobgoblins, such that they don’t even recognise one another’s common cause.

And if you think Humans are racist against Orcs, you should hear what Hobgoblins think of them sometime.

But what is an Orc? Not culturally – linguistically, what is an Orc?

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Sonic Rushdown

Gotta go fast!

Sega as a company has what seems to be a pretty prosaic attitude towards fangames. You can use their art and sprites and characters in fan media, even fan media that makes a videogame, and as long as you’re not asking anyone to pay money for it, they seem to be fine with it. It’s not a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as much as it is a “Won’t ask, don’t sell” policy, and it’s a policy I might be stretching to its theoretical limits with this.

I made a Sonic the Hedgehog card game.

They exist already. Sonic the Hedgehog has a host of card games already. They’re almost universally terrible, games that rate somewhere around Snap. Now, the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog has shown up in a bunch of terrible games is unremarkable – both in that tie-in board games are often terrible, and statistically, Sonic the Hedgehog games are just as often terrible.  It’s rolling some loaded dice, is what I’m saying.

Wanna see what I came up with?

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Getting Sick And Noticing It

I haven’t gotten sick much lately. Not in the ways that I’m used to thinking of it as ‘getting sick.’ I know for a lot of people ‘getting sick’ can include things like hitting mental health limits, gender concerns, long-term conditions worsening, or just, y’know, suddenly your ears stop working the way you thought they did for literally no determined reason. What I mean though, isn’t that stuff, not because I have had those happen, but because what I meant by ‘getting sick’ is colds, flu, minor infections, things you pick up on the bus, and those other things, things like depression or being emotionally overwhelmed to the point where you’re vomiting or can’t get out of bed, those aren’t the kind of thing I think of as ‘getting sick.’

 And that’s screwed up, huh?

Content Warning: Pandemic! Illness! Religious abuse!

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4e: The Unmindful Monk

Normally when I write about 4e, I do so trying to talk about the game in a way that doesn’t involve or introduce any particular changes to the game. It’s not useful for me to advocate for a game in terms of ‘here’s how cool this game is, if you accept my houserules.’ Typically speaking, I try to talk about what’s in the rulebook, even if I’m gleeful about pointing out the ways that we didn’t play 3e by the rules and probably nobody else did.

But it’s a bit of a challenge to advocate for something when you’re actually advocating for a connected idea in your head. Like, at that point I might as well point out that part of why I like 4e D&D so much is I get to play it with my cool friends who are great, and at that point: Who am I fooling, of course that game kicks ass. If I present new content for 4e, it’s discretely new; it’s cultures from my own world, new class feats or whatnot, but it’s not asking you to change anything in the game that exists. That makes this something new, and something I am doing with so much more thought than it really needs.

Anyway, hey, what if the Monk was Martial, not Psionic?

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3e: Prestige Fantasy

In 3rd edition D&D, you started with a class. Then, in the DMG, they introduce the idea that as you level up, you could get access to a ‘prestige’ class, this idea of a special kind of class that let you create a different, interesting permutation of the base class. Based on the prestige classes in the DMG, it was pretty easy to see that these were meant to be interesting forks for the way a character’s life could change, as a way to ‘pick up’ a class in the middle of a game that didn’t lock you into starting something from scratch.

This interesting idea quickly fell by the wayside as instead of alternative classes you could introduce into the game in a later space that players could graduate into when their story became specific, prestige classes became the natural progression a whole bunch of players expected to graduate into, and they were the main reason to buy new splatbooks.

The problem, of course, is capitalism, but let’s look at the problem anyway.

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USP-10: October’s Custom Cards

The Usurper’s Palace’s doors hang open. The gates of death are but another place that determined souls and desperate damned can find their own way out. A soul extracted from its husk can struggle over the threshold. The very nature of death, with the Usurper holding the Palace as they do, leads to the sloshing life and the unnatural growth around the world. The Outcasts’ lands have hydras erupting from the ground, as death itself fails to take hold.

It is a world where death struggles to last.

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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What If You Were Better At Scrabble?

Didja know the French Scrabble Champion was, for a time, a guy who can’t speak French?

His name is Nigel Richards. He’s real good at Scrabble. In order to compete in French Scrabble, he memorised the French Scrabble Dictionary over nine weeks. He knows all the words that are valid moves, and doesn’t speak any French at all. And this might seem like a remarkable thing, at first, but I tell you this not to be awed by Nigel Richards — though I mean, you should be impressed, the dude is good at Scrabble — but rather to get you to think about Scrabble.

About what Scrabble’s not, and how to see how being good at Scrabble would change you.

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Game Concept — Bad Advisors

Did you hear what the king’s advisors were talking about? Well, I heard from one of them, that they think that the other advisors are too focused on their wine, or their parties, or their lovers, or enriching themselves. Why, you didn’t hear it from me

This is a concept writeup for a card game. The aim is a single-deck, form factor game which needs no sorting, you just shuffle it up and go. My aim is for a game that fits into our $20 range on Invincible Ink, so think like an ordinary deck of playing cards in terms of size.

As a setup note, this game imagines each player is pretty translatable to one another. You start the game by shuffling up a deck and dealing it out to everyone. The vibe here is something like Cockroach Poker.

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