Author Archives: Talen Lee

Tricks Month 2022!

The consensus reality is created by perception. Not that the reality of material objects is influenced by what you perceive, but humans do not act on reality of material objects, they act on their perceptions of the reality of material objects.

August is here, and with it brings our month’s theme. The theme is tricks, which I use to broadly refer to stage magic, con artistry, and in general, the way people are deceived.

This year more than most, I have been sitting seeing the theme of ‘tricks month,’ a time when I talk about goofy things brains do, lies, cons, scams and flimflam, and ‘dread month,’ a month where I feel free to talk about grim, fatalist, dreadful and terrible subjects, and those two things have been very rapidly growing their middle space in the venn diagram recently. Like early 2021, I wrote an article about the Human Mars Base That Definitely Exists Dude Just Trust Me thinking I had to explain what Qanon was in it, and oh lordy I did not expect things to get dumber.

I’ve got my subjects lined up this month and what I’m going to try and do is tell stories. Last year, I wrote about Henryk Orenstein which is still an absolute favourite bit of writing. But also I liked talking about Jasper Maskelyne, which way less popular as a post goes.

Don’t worry, though, my desire to keep things perky will keep the topics light. I hope. I’m going to tell you the story of one of my favourite conspiracy theories where the explanation is legit more interesting than the myth, about the murder mystery of the author, and one of the greatest liars of World War 2.

Story Pile: Psych

I almost did this as a Sherlock Holmes thing earlier in the year.

Psych is a TV series that is still? Kind of? Technically? Ongoing? It started in 2006, and in the first episode, Shawn is excited to maybe get his hand on some free CD Wallets, while in the most recent 2021 movie (This Is Gus), they suggest someone change her name from ‘Karen,’ because of the meme. It follows Shawn, a modern day Sherlock Holmes who has tuned the ‘easily bored smug dickhead’ dials all the way up, and sets him and his best friend Gus, a longsuffering niche pharmaceutical sales representative and probably iconic blerd?, in a new shared task of running a detective agency, which solves…? Crimes?

Oh and the gimmick is they pretend Shawn is a psychic.

Because that gives them a legitimacy that they don’t have by default.

You know, like real psychics.

Low key, this is the thing that I found the most interesting about the pitch of this series; it’s about how cops are so bad at being cops that they will turn to outside sources to help them solve things, and those things are nonsense. And the nature of power, and the way power is concentrated in our society, is such that The Police, a serious institution with the Serious Job of Seriously Engaging with Serious Crimes, have means to accept the help of psychics before they have means to accept the input of ordinary people who are just good at the things police think they shouldn’t be good at.

The whole series starts with that premise: Police are bad at their job, and when they encounter someone good at their job, they assume that must be for illegitimate reasons.

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July 2022 Wrapup

July draws to a close and with it, a new semester begins. It’s a non-theme month which means like the other odd months, you can see some truly weird grab-bag of stuff finally getting attention. If you don’t check my blog regularly, you might not have caught these, so I’m going to highlight some stuff that I did this month that I think is particularly cool!

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July Game Project — Corner Hustle

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


This month has been busy. Not in a fun way. Nonetheless, any work on an idea is work on the idea, so let’s talk about that.

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Game Pile: The Learning Company And Super Solvers Explained!

And now, the video that culminates the script you’ve seen formed over the past two weeks! I do hope that this is an interesting way to participate in the Game Pile and not an unsatisfying way for me to parcel out a project that’s too big, eh? Eh?~

A big perk of this process was that taking this much time meant that the video could account for a lot more than normal, and I could focus on some details I often don’t get to do. When I do a video largely unscripted, I don’t have a subtitle script – while this one does have a subtitle script, hooray hooray!

Mask: Rayearth Masks!

It’s another set of masks, which were originally made just as a test of the question ‘can I make these elements line up?’ This time I’m aiming at trying to evoke the lovely armour designs from classic 90s magical girl isekai anime, Magic Knights Rayearth, with designs in red,

Blue, and

green. I promise you this is meant to be green.

You can get these designs (red, blue, green) over on Redbubble.

Announcing: The Disney Animated Canonball, Season Six!

Oh thank god it’s over it’s over I have now watched all the Disney Animated Canon movies and I can have an opinion on them. We’re done! We watched them all! I edited them all! I scheduled them all!

And if the rss feed doesn’t properly catch them all and I have to reset the entire podcast I may yell at people.

You can get the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and any other good podcasting service that’s checking the standard RSS feeds? And failing that, you can head to the website.

MTG: Building Grismold

It must suck to be the kind of commander content creator who has to think in terms of focusing on the next most immediate thing. Commander’s really interesting, as a format, and there are cards all over the place that you can wander over and explore in your own time at your own pace. Like me, where I found myself looking at another commander I never bothered to really consider in the past, with a theme of sweeping the board, controlling small creatures, and also reacting to death triggers.

Because I’m definitely branching out.

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How To Be: Scorpia

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.

One of my favourite things about media is the way that just because I don’t like a work or a show or a plot or whatever it doesn’t have to mean I don’t like or won’t have a reason to be interested in something in that. Moments, scenes, characters, dialogue, all sorts of small things can be extracted from their source and appreciated for what they are and what they could be even if they wouldn’t be that way in the work they’re from. I don’t have to like Rent to think that Out Tonight is a banger, that kind of thing.

So to with She-Ra and the Princess of Power. I didn’t like the show that much and I stopped watching it and that’s entirely okay, but while I watched it I did meet a character I liked, and it seems that lots of other people like. Let’s examine then how we’d go about making the good-natured princess himbo, Scorpia.

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Some Junked Drafts

Time to time it’s worth it to check the drafts folder and see if something’s been there for oh, say, a year and I don’t know when I’m doing it, to get rid of it. Presented here with minimal notes are some articles I’ve been meaning to do and have absolutely not done.

  • Windle Poons Says Trans Rights — looking at Reaper Man including a conversation about how a wizard was hoping to be reincarnated as a woman. This was going to include a whole conversation about the Dame and Panto and how in British media, there’s this sort of culture of ‘closeted trans character blurts it out at some point,’ and nothing comes of it.
  • Cooking Mama’s Interface — Back in 2020, because god damn everything was happening, a Cooking Mama game came out. The game had accusations of it being a bitcoin miner lined up, and then it got pulled from the store for muddy reasons. This made me think about the way that Cooking Mama’s interface, ala Wario Ware, was able to communicate an idea really efficiently.
  • Pride of Frankenstein — hey, there’s an overlap between horror and queerness. What have I got to say here that’s interesting?
  • Are Food Challenges Games? — This one feels kinda silly because at the most obvious level, yeah. Food challenges are games. They’re not necessarily widely accessible and they have their own demands, but it’s very obvious if you have a handle on the model of what makes a game, that food challenges are games, even with competitors. It’d be a rare chance to make an ilinx game that is also agonic — a measurable success you can compete over and also giving yourself over to voluptuous loss of control (whether or not you barf).
  • The NFT As Pre-Sold Soul — Thankfully, Dan Olsen’s Line Goes Up over on Youtube covers everything I was going to.
  • Ai Generation And Art Assets — This whole scene moves very fast, and seems to rely on somehow making something without copyright out of things that do have copyright, so I’m cautious about using the graphics here for card games without some way to say ‘I have an agreement that makes this okay.’

No intention to follow through on these, but it’s worth the time to clean out the drafts folder, just as much as it’s worth the time to throw things into the drafts folder.

Nations, States and Countries in Cobrin’Seil

To build a country is hard.

I’m not just referring to making maps, where I’m garbage. I have been writing Cobrin’Seil as a setting for twenty years and I have drawn three maps. There are some of y’all gifted with an ability to craft a visual representation of all the different things you could want to visit. Me, I get in a weird space where I worry if I don’t put things down on the map right, when I need to come up with a location for things, my players may go ‘well it wasn’t on the map.’

Which is dumb.

Anyway, I also don’t mean the way that it’s a very challenging thing to invent countries – which is part of what I’m doing, to fill out my world. That’s going through stages, which I’m not sure about yet. Mostly it’s things like ‘would this be a cool place?’ based on a picture, then struggle to come up with names.

What I’m thinking about right now is how, in universe, it must be challenging for countries to even get to exist.

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4e: Class Variance

Alright, so yeah, I may have talked about how terrible a bunch of the 3.5 D&D classes were, but that’s a little bit unfair, right? Rubbishing on bad design in a system I don’t play, that’s ammunition in the edition wars, what about the bad classes in 4th edition?

I have thought about that, about writing that, but part of the problem is that ‘the bad classes’ needs some asterisks and caveats. Because there are a lot of classes in 4e D&D, but not nearly as many as there were in 3rd edition, and what’s more, a lot of the ones in 4e… weren’t… different classes to one another.

Let me explain.

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Cox: Dead Beat

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.


Magic didn’t go away with industrialisation, it just had to catch up, and fast. It used to be that for a thing to become a magical signifier, it needed to be squirrelled away in an old book, a curse with a thousand days of practice, a single phrase empowered with the tragedy of a century, and all that jazz. Now you can print out the magic words a million times in a second, and the problem isn’t finding the magic, it’s drawing it out.

Inevitably, we have the new mages.

The MP3 – a way to treat performances of songs as replicable numbers – was developed in 1993, and at that exact moment of the first release, Cooper Owl was born. We all get into hobbies in high school, and his was magecraft, which he got into to impress hot goths.

He did find magic, woven in the songs that meant the most to people, the songs that lingered after the singers were gone, their dead beats.

Never impressed any hot goths.

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Dragons Got Hands

Hey, answer in your own heart, but: Can dragons shapeshift?

Odds are good you break down into three basic categories of answer:

  • Yes, of course
  • No, why does anyone think that?
  • No, they shouldn’t, and I’m mad at how many people think they do

And I guess, the fourth category

  • Why do adults have firm opinions on this?

If you remember my concept I proposed a few years ago, that in the context of a fantasy universe, a dragon is a government, incarnated as an individual entity. They control large areas, people are under their purview, their presence can replace the danger of other kinds of lawlessness, and they are typically only toppled by things the dominant paradigm see as legitimate extensions of state power. You don’t see dragons being toppled by peasant uprisings, but you do see them being slain by individual knights.

What you also see, commonly enough, in the space that delves further into Dragons as agents in the world, is that dragons commonly take the forms of humans.

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Choosing The Only Option

There’s this quote that I first heard on Mythbusters, which was framed as an ‘ancient Buddhist saying.’

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

It’s not. It’s not necessarily a new phrase, per se, but the quote as I was able to source it is from the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind from the author Shunryu Suzuki. I don’t know if Suzuki was a good dude or a bad dude, but he was very much writing about zen, a particular perspective, and not Buddhism in general. What’s more interesting to me is that in the section he presents this quote, he goes on to talk about how it is the aim of zen meditation to not lose the beginner’s mind. That is, this quote that is sometimes treated as a message in favour of the skill of the master. In the Mythbusters segment, it was invoked to suggest that the beginner, who would try everything to escape a sinking car, might try a lot of things that wouldn’t work, while a master who understood how to get out, would conserve their energy and make the best choices at the right time.

That means that this Mythbusters Segment invoked an ancient quote that wasn’t to speak well of the thing the quote was dismissing. That is, when you become a master, you see the world in less complicated ways. When you are a master, you imagine you know everything that could be, and do not look at what is.

That’s not what I came here to talk to you about, of course.

Came to you to talk about games.

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The Mildest Of Constraints

As you read this, I am many many weeks out from the event described. As I write it, it happened yesterday. There’s no need to be concerned about my foot, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I hurt my foot yesterday, just before a family gathering. Small biff, I think I knocked it against the bed or something or slept on it funny. A modest little bit of discomfort. Sure, I couldn’t walk on it for a long time, but also, it wasn’t swollen or discolored or bruised. A minor, unimportant, ache or pain that I could accommodate. It’s happened before, after all – and that’s why I have a cane in the house to walk with.

What I haven’t done before is bring this cane to a family gathering.

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PressING Unsubscribe

I spent about twenty minutes today following a thread of memories through my inbox to locate the many, many different mailing lists I was on that I did not realise, I had long since stopped reading.

I mean, we all have it in our heads that ‘spam’ is terrible and bad, and I know that, but for some reason I had, over time, slowly accumulated about ten different mailing lists, for different services I did actually use, and in the process created my own little menu of spam to ignore.

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Explaining Sourcing

You ever noticed when someone says something in an article and the sentence ends with like (Mayonnaise, 2021)? That’s sourcing, and it’s a short-hand inline form made for a time of typesetters to say ‘check in the references list for the reference made at this time and this date.’ It’s a really remarkable system, not in how it works or what it does, but rather, in its application at scale.

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Game Pile: Golden Sky Stories

Even if you’ve no direct interest in helping heal the heart of the grumpy inner-city architect who moved out to your tiny pastoral Japanese town, you should spend some time looking at this game, purely because of what it means to tell a story with such different tools available to you.

If you’d like the thumbnail, it’s after the fold, to hopefully make it pop up in the twitter preview.

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3.5: The Misfit Children Of The Complete Books

Dungeons & Dragons is a beast of structures. One of those structures is a class, which gives you a collection of mechanical abilities to express how you operate in the world. One of the other structures is a book release schedule, which gives you a sequence of products that Wizards would be very happy to sell you, and would make your game better, no really, check it out, this will totally address problems you’ve mentioned and noticed. Back in 3.5, the first wave of these was the Complete books, the Complete Warrior, Complete Adventurer, Complete Arcane and Complete Divine, which I will note, did not in fact, complete those options. Blatant false advertising in my imho.

Each of these books had three classes in them, meaning that after the initial release of the Player’s Handbook, we were presented within the first six months with twelve more classes to select from, which makes sense. Binches love classes. I have a long-standing opinion that every Complete book that presents new classes presents one legitimately interesting class and at least one complete turkey. What you almost never got was a powerful class out of a Complete book.

Of these classes, I actually think I have to revise my assessment. Like, some books didn’t really have an option that managed to reach the high water mark of fine.

But that’s a list! We can look at a list!

Presented then, in an itemised list, are the twelve classes of the Complete Books, 3.5 edition’s misbegotten I Guess player options. We’re going to look at the worst book to the best book, in terms of whether or not the classes are powerful. This is non-scientific and you’re reading along because I’m charming, so don’t get too het up about it.

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Bad Maps And The Vast Forests of Corrindale

North of Dal Raeda, the first landmark most obviously seen is the vast, sprawling city of Eresh, the centre and capital of the Eresh Protectorates. The heart of the highway system that crisscrosses the continent of Bidestra, it serves as a gateway towards the dragon ruins of Amenti in the west and the dread realms of mist to the east. No highway leads directly north though –

For north of Eresh lies the forest of Corrindale.

The vast, spreading, deep and uncharted woods of Corrindale, reaching far enough north to encircle ancient mountain cities, to taste the snowy skies and paying host to its own mysterious community of druids and kobolds, host to cities of Orc and Elf and uh

and uh

stuff.

There’s lots of stuff in that there Corrindale forest. And it’s uh

It’s real big.

Right like just the top part of that map?

Yeah it’s all Corrindale Forest.

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Asset Brainstorm #7 — Graffiti Constructor (2?)

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


This month, as a brainstorm project, Fox wanted to know what I’d do with this toolkit available on Itch.io, by uh, Free Game Assets?

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Story Pile: Reaper Man

Man.

The Discworld is incredible.

There are 41 Discworld novels, and with one exception, each novel is a standalone piece that requires no background reading in any other novel to work as itself; some concepts may be explained more thoroughly when they’re more focal, but if a story is about or includes stuff like L-Space or the Auditors or the strange mythology of the Nac Mac Feegles, the story that includes them will include an explanation of what they are and why you should care about them. Once you understand that concept, or recognise that character, though, you can see them show up in other people’s stories, and their presence connects the books one to another. There’s a web throughout the story where some characters are fleshed out through cameo appearances in other stories. It’s one of the masteries of the writing; that many of these characters have such whole identities that when you see Fred Colon for a quick joke in a novel where he’s not advancing the plot, he’s still believably Fred Colon and all these characters are whole people with realised inner lives.

The character who shows up in almost every Discworld novel with only two exceptions I’m aware of, is Discworld’s version of Death. There are five ‘Death’ novels, where they focus on the specific character and characters in his orbit, counting in order Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather and finally Thief of Time. These books can be read in sequence to read the development of the character, his relationships, and his life – such as it is.

Reaper Man tells the story of when Death became a person for a while. A person who could live, a person who could die, and what it meant for Death to confront Death.

Spoilers below the fold. Also I guess content warning, because this is a book about Death.

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