Category: Making

Articles in this category are about tools and ideas about making things, and my belief that you can make things.

March Shirt: Big Mood

What do we have this month? Well, it wasn’t made to be any kind of trend chasing, I just felt like playing with a classic videogame logo, and now we have:

Here it is on a different supposedly unisex model over on Redbubble:

And here it is on the Teepublic ghost.

Like the shirt? Well, you would, wouldn’t you. You can go get it on Redbubble or Teepublic.

Unicorn Co-op

I’ve had this card game in progress now for far too long.

The idea is a game where you’re constructing unicorns with interesting names from two halves. Half the cards are unicorn forequarters, the other half are… well there’s no proper term for them (that I’m going to bother looking up) so we just have to call them what they are. They’re unicorn butts.

Once upon a time, this game started out as a simple, competitive game with two decks; you would play the cards, two at a time, either adding them to your herd of unicorns, or to an opponent’s herd of unicorns. The original idea was that they were just going to be math functions – so some unicorns would add some numbers, some would subtract some numbers. So you could put together a butt with a – and a head with a 4, and give it to your opponent, to give them -4. Honestly, that game is pretty doable and pretty easy – I might even hammer it out as a sort of pattern-puzzle matchy game for under-sixes sometime.

I wanted though to make this game cooperative, though, and since part of the reason to build a unicorn was to give it a funny/silly/goofy name, and if there were some cards with negative effects, that meant there’d be some unicorn name components that were always bad. Had to kick that one in the neck right away.

I’d also started by setting out 26 cards as butts and 26 cards as forequarters, and I know there’s a horse expert reading this and she’s so mad at my terminology. Anyway, in my attempts to redesign this game, I’ve tried to find a way to minimise that number, or maybe expand my options… and with that came a new idea.

The idea is that each unicorn card has a head, and a butt, on either side. At the start of the game, you put all the cards so the same face is up (say the butt, because butts are funny. You split that deck evenly in half, then flip it over, and shuffle them together. Now you have an even number of heads, and butts. This means that suddenly, my 26 head and 26 butt cards are 26 cards, meaning that the deck now has room for more unicorns (yay) and some other cards (which give me room to make a cooperative AI for the game).

This is a simple little mechanistic change of the game’s design, and now I’ve put it down somewhere I hopefully won’t fricking forget it.

Working Out Loud

Recently I was contacted by a blog reader – hi there! – who asked about how I got started, and what it entailed. How I built my following, that kind of stuff. What I told them at the time was that a lot of what I did was spend a large chunk of time trying things and watching as nothing happened.

It’s a real awkward thing to think about but as much as this blog readership isn’t large, it’s still much larger than it started. The economies of scale of blogging I learned about in university and examining Youtube suggest that attention needs to be in the order of thousands of people to be sustainable.

Back when Matt Lees started on Patreon, the Pivot To Video era was happening for gamer media, and that was when EuroGamer was doing videos in a lot of experimental ways. He said that the nature of that model relied on the idea that a video that got ten thousand positive reactions wasn’t good enough, wasn’t sustainable. That was always a thing that nagged at me, because that number was terrifying. I never had a problem with the thing I was making per se, as much as I had a problem with realising that even the best versions of the things I was making was simply never going to be interesting to ten thousand people.

As of right now, the most popular article I’ve ever written is Why Death Note Is Bad, which thanks to some people referencing it on forums, is high up on the list Google Hits for the phrase ‘is death note bad.’ Over six years, it has reached 8,000 views. My next most popular article is No Colour Is Transphobic, and then Amerimanga Covers. Those articles are much more recent, but they’re both sitting around 4,000 and 3,000 views. Now, one trend that’s promising there is that the more recent work is still capable of having high numbers of views!

What this means to me is that that number of ten thousand is simply not something I reach, or maybe ever can reach and that’s kind of okay? I’m alright with that (in part because I have to be). I’m also not saying that there aren’t ten thousand people interested in my kind of writing! I’m saying that my ability to find those people is pretty much just limited to randomly mentioning all the stuff I do.

This also queues into some predictable response things. Look, fact is, if you follow @FreyjaErlings, you’re more likely to click links she shares. That’s something about her audience that I just can’t replicate.

A few years ago I tried doing some Google Drive game development on a public document, where I sat down, and just wrote about things with complete strangers having the ability to comment on the doc as I worked on it. This scared the hell out of me because I was putting a google drive link on the open internet and was afraid that it was going to go weird or I’d wind up disclosing something that would go badly for me. Instead when I launched it, I worked on the doc for four hours and literally nobody ever looked at the document.

Similarly, my Long Live The Queen review scared me because I knew I was being exaggerated and silly (in a way I don’t really do well), and thought maybe it would become a meme and I’d feel humiliated by it. Instead I found that it’d been listened to twice – and by the way, in the intervening six years, it’s been listened to nineteen times.

This is a byproduct of how I try to think about working in public. There’s this idea that as an internet content creator, you’re looking for things you do that you can monetise. Alex Steacy has written about this – where for a lot of content creators, what they’re doing is trying to provide stuff they want to do that you can connect to and enjoy. That means that they play videogames as a job, and it changes the relationship to what they’re doing and that can sometimes mean that they’re left seeing game play as a very challenging task to get into emotionally.

I’m not sure I’m coming at this from the same place. In part because I don’t feel like what I do is in this same kind of attention driven, long engagement space – after all those beautiful people who are paying me to blog and make movies are doing it with no idea on what I’m going to do. Sometimes they get nine thousand words about how Magic The Gathering isn’t like Gacha and sometimes they get a shirt with a Shrek joke on it.

What I do, and what I think of myself as doing is working in public. I am doing things, making things, looking at things for my own benefit as a game designer and media critic, and trying to break down those elements to be workable and useful for me and for others. Oh sure, you might tune in for movie reviews (really? cool?), but largely what I’m doing here is thinking, and working out loud. I’m explaining to you things I’ve learned, and I’m trying to show you the process of how I develop things.

This is something that was important, to me, about working with this blogging space.

I want you to be able to learn from this, even if you are enjoying it.

That’s what works for me.

This isn’t to say that anyone else should be doing it! It’s just there’s this narrative that content creation is about turning love into work. It doesn’t have to be. Some of us, it’s a habit we keep up on as personal practice. Sometimes it’s journaling in private, sometimes it’s yeah, doing things for a sweet dopamine hit of approval!

There are lots of reasons to work out loud.

Two Player RPG Idea

Over on Reddit in February, someone asked about the idea of two player RPGs – the notion of a RPG system where players take turns in the Gamemaster role. That’s all I got – just the basic question of is this a thing?

And well, that was interesting. I thought about it.

The absolute first thought though, was that in the right pair of players, you don’t need anything new or different. Lots of games can be easily adjusted so the challenges can handle a solo character, players can play multiple characters, all those typical ways of dealing with absent players works fine. Barring for games that require voting (and those aren’t that common), there’s nothing that doesn’t already work.

This is a solved problem for players who want to just play D&D and can swap things back and forth with no problem. You could do it super episodic, too! Imagine a Scum & Villainy game that essentially worked like Star Trek: The Next Generation, where each week you swap storyteller to deal with a new thing.

Still, I do see a problem with this: Maintaining suspense and surprise. How do I make sure there are plot elements and narrative beats that handle the give and take of storytelling, and make for a long-term narrative where I can be surprised by things I put into the story without necessarily having stories I laid the groundwork for changed out from underneath me?

While I don’t have a system, I have an idea for a mechanic that can give the game some sinew.

And it involves playing cards.

Wait, wait, don’t go!

Okay, the idea is you start out with a deck of ordinary playing cards. This is important because you want something that’s reasonably replicable where it doesn’t matter if the object goes away. It can be destroyed, it can be damaged, and it can be written on.

This deck of cards is going to be the interaction of elements that each player can use in their section of the story they’re DMing. When you introduce something you want to make important, or when a player indicates in a session that they want to come back to something, the players take an unwritten-on card, write that on a card and put it back into the deck. Then, when the time comes to exchange control of the DMing role, the new DM draws a few cards and sees what stuff in the story is available to them.

This gives you a way to be surprised when things come back, and it takes some of the long term structure away from the players in a way that makes both players uncertain in an interesting way.

You can write more on each card as things happen; you can use this when a plot changes or transforms something, you can edit its card, and shuffle it back in. You can even do ‘trades’ – where a DM may want to ‘save’ something for later.

The cards can be used as action points too to smooth things over – take a few cards off the top of the deck, and the player can use that card to make rerolls, or abrogate special abilities, or survive things they wouldn’t – and then adding those cards to the DM’s pool of plot tools. So you might want to avoid letting a baddy get away so you spend a card to tackle them – but now that card gives another plot point to your DM for later.

Reproducing Pictionary

If you’ve played Pictionary in the past ten years, hold on, just, you know, hold on.


Okay, so I played Pictionary when I was a little kid visiting friends a thousand miles from our house. It was not a great game – I never was that into it, I wasn’t very good at it, and it had a board that you had to roll and move around, which meant there were often long periods where you were watching people do five or ten minute long ‘turns’ while they bickered and argued about the drawings and so on.

Similarly, one thing I try to do now as an adult is think about old games I played, and if I can improve on them. It’s very basic, methodical kind of work: What did or didn’t work about this game? What failed, what succeeded, what needs more attention, what was just always going to be bad? Can these mechanics represent something else? Crucially, when looking at older board games, I ask myself: What can be taken away?

With Pictionary, the idea I had was that the first thing to take away is the board.

Right?

You have a deck of cards, they give you secret information, that’s heaps, that’s all you need. You can even use the cards to do something random, but, you don’t even have to. You can make the game about rolling a dice and looking at a card, and right there, you’ve got a rudimentary design.

The idea I belted out was as follows:

  • The game is played with drawing paper and tools, a deck of cards, and a dice.
  • On your turn, you roll a dice, look at a card, and then that card presents you with a number of options, with your number roll giving you a priority.

Each card has seven options on it; one in each of the categories – let’s say they’re like:

  • Person
  • Place
  • Animal
  • Object
  • Action
  • Internet

With another category that says Bail.

You roll the dice, you pick one of the things to draw, and if you draw the thing that the number rolled, the card’s worth bonus points. This way you’re pushed towards an option but not screwed. There’s also the ‘bail’ option where if none of the options are good, you can offer this card to the whole table so everyone can try and draw the ‘bail’ option.

Just like that, I have the outlines for a card game. The timer becomes a problem! But a physical timer, a dice, and a bunch of cards takes up way less space than a big board would and you could fit the whole game in a tiny space, almost Oink Games style! Or you could make the game print-and-play, or even give out a template for people. And if you’re a teacher, you can just use a big ole list of random flash card words where they have to draw the thing, then write the name to show they get what it is! Teaching supplies probably feature whiteboards and markers, so you can repeatedly use the same drawing space over and over instead of paper and pencils!

Would I make this game? No, probably not. It’s not a terrible idea, and it certainly seems doable very easily, and may even sell a few copies, but the nature of it is that it’s just making a shelf filler.


Now.

The punchline.

Turns out the copy of Pictionary I played in the 1990s was from… 1985 or so. The great big box, the board, the roll and move? That stuff’s not really part of the game any more. In fact, if I’d looked at a copy of Pictionary from the last ten years, I’d find a game which is just cards, dice, timer, and whiteboards and whiteboard markers.

I choose to think of this as convergent evolution, of sorts, and that’s kind of good. It’s definitely for the best – it’s a way to show that Pictionary with a board can handle losing the board. What’s more, it also shows what I was considering and experimenting with: I wanted to deal with chokepoints and friction. That’s great, I can deal with that.

It doesn’t fix one of the biggest problems with Pictionary, even as it reduces the game design I’d made to a super-simple, tight version that I could probably sell for $15 with hundreds of possible game states (Which seems fair to me). What it doesn’t fix is that if you can’t draw, this game sucks.

Fortunately, Pictomania, by Vlaad Cvhatil, does solve that, by making the drawing and solving concurrent; you draw until you’re as good as you’re going to get, then you do your guessing – and guessing correctly first is more valuable than getting all your work guessed perfectly. This creates a tension for drawing ‘as well as you can’ but being okay when you stop.

Dicebuilder Diary and notes

Custom dice are cool! They’re also expensive to manufacture. They also let you do weird things like have uneven roll pools? That’s neat. If you’ve ever seen the dice in Betrayal At House On The Hill you might know it’s got dice that are numbered 0, 0, 0, 1, 1 and 2 – that’s really mean!

You can do a lot with dice rollers! There’s the town builder Machi Koro, for a famous one, and there’s the set collector Yahtzee, a familiar roll-and-write. You could look at our own Cafe Romantica, where you build a collection of cards that react to the dice you roll. The thing with those games is that even though ‘these cards react to these numbers,’ and it actually works a lot like just flipping cards, by using a dice you can have multiple things respond to the same cause. There’s stuff you can do, it’s all interconnected, all fractal.

I’ve been thinking about this mechanic. Making custom dice is a bit expensive, but exploring an alternate way to do it resulted in me making a thing that I like as a possible space:

In this case, you play the game with a starting d6, maybe one for each player. They roll dice, and, then the numbers rolled result in the cards in those slots firing. It can be set up so that lots of cards are piled up on each number, so you can get lots of effects on single rolls and so on.

I want the building element of the game to take priority over the rolling though. That means whatever the design is, I probably want it so winning and losing isn’t about what the numbers rolled do, but is much more that dice limit your opportunities. We want winning and losing to be about choices you make in the last few turns, not about whether or not you rolled the Dead Dice.

I’m looking at this design and thinking of different flavours and different game sizes.

  • if the game is very small, you probably will wind up with all the cards set up. This might make ‘victory’ about possibly picking a loser  you’re trying to make sure that whatever you roll, you’re not in trouble, and someone else might be. Each card is probably unique.
  • If the game is mid-sized there’s room for more permutations of cards. This might mean that you’re trying to roll combinations of things, possibly to build something else?
  • if the game is big, there’s room for things like faction decks, where each number rolled represents improvements on types of things, or progress or success for groups of enemies or gangs. This could be seen as a sort of economy or electoral game where players are responding to the random actions of an entity like a population or a city.

What I’m thining, looking at this prototype is that I want every player to roll dice at the same time, and then players select a number of dice – so you can ‘leave’ someone with dice that may or may not be appropriate to what they want.

I think there are two games in this engine – a smaller one and a larger one. The smallest one is probably a game that wants to focus on the potential viciousness of rolled dice, a meanspirited thing like You Can’t Win. The larger one wants to have more of a solid theme.

Just some notes and thoughts.

Iron Angel

I tried, hard as I could, to not talk about this this month.

Media is very often, these days, replicable. If I liked Voltron I can tell you to go watch it and usually you’ll find the same show and be able to reference the same text even if you had wildly different responses to it. If I talk to you about D&D or tabletop games, I can talk to you about types of experiences the game makes possible. I’ll sometimes show you characters I built in those spaces, because I can provide you insight into how I did that and what that means.

Once, when writing about Saints Row 3, I remarked that whatever I thought of the game was hard to tease out when I’d had so much fun playing it with my friend Casey. I rated Casey five stars, and the game was just a way to connect there. You can’t download my friend Casey, though, though I’m sure she’d be happy to charge you $15 for the download code.

In this case, in smooch month, I kept circling around how fantastically hard it was to get good, interesting, engaging romantic media in games to talk about, because games do it badly. But if they do it so badly, why is my context seemingly aware of ‘good’ romance that these games aren’t hitting? What’s forming the foundation of my vision of good?

And well, that’s where we get to non-replicable media, and my friends. Specifically, the romance stories I’ve had in RP spaces, especiallythe stories in City of Heroes have been absolutely excellent, and one example of this I want to bring forward is the incredible character Zex, aka Iron Angel.

Zex is a character I’ve mentioned on the blog in the past; she was a neuroatypical character who told other characters she was a sociopath, which led to them assuming that was her neuroatypicality, including me. The last day the game was alive, the player stated that she wasn’t a sociopath – she was just neuroatypical in a different way, and impersonating sociopathy was a way to make other people respect her neuroatypicality rather than having to explain it every time.

Zex has been in a relationship with a character of mine, Cearmaid, pretty much since late 2011. They met, they flirted, they dated, they engaged, they had a breakup, they got back together again, they moved in together, they got married, and they took up careers as superheroes working together and apart to make the city they lived in a better place. Literally all those details are however, plot points worth explaining and expanding on their own, because for example, the breakup happened when a rogue AI created by Zex’s own paranoid internalised dissasociation turned into a global-threatening supervillain that used Cearmaid’s trust in Zex to launch him into space where he crashed into the moon, and that’s one of many plot points.

Zex is interesting. Zex is thoughtful. Zex is fantastically difficult to communicate with. Cearmaid carries around his phone so he can draw diagrams of his ideas. Zex, noticing that he responded to a pretty girl wearing a baseball cap just recently attempted to seduce her husband by wearing multiple hats, because hey, more is better, right? And all this is while she’s also doing her job as a former villain turned superhero in powered armour who flies around punching baddies, saving the day and rescuing people because she has deduced that doing good is the logical thing for her to want to do.

Zex is neuroatypical, has physical disabilities (she has no feet, amongst other problems), is full of anxiety, afraid of dogs and needs comfort, communication and reassurance on a regular basis and yet the relationship between her and Lock has always felt like a meeting of equals, engaging in different ways with a complicated world in which they live.

I love this character, and I am kinda sad that I can’t help you, random strangers, enjoy or appreciate romances – yes, even a het romance! – where the characters involved are interesting, and good, and fun and learning about them is interesting and every day they interact, they get to enjoy one another and engage with one another a little more.

I am blessed to have some truly fantastic RP partners around me, and in this smooch month, I wanted to just share with you an example of how great romance in games can be, when the game lets players create in shared, respectful, engaged spaces.

Smoochy Cardgame Thoughts

I want to play more games about smooches. I however, am not powerless to the whims of a games industry in this regard – I can just make my own, and therefore, I think I should. Through this month, I’ve just been jotting down some notes here about possible ideas in that space. Consider this a peek at process.

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How To Be: Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2 (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 for this kind of project 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 authoritive 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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of gender-flipping Martial Arts Death Machine Ranma Saotome from Ranma 1/2.

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January Shirt (And December Shirts): All Star Fandom!

I teach a class on memes. I make shirts. I watch as people spend real money on white t-shirts manufactured by a millionaire who has no reason to want to bilk people out of money beyond sheer ego. And I exist in a cultural space that wants to recognise the disposable pulp media as being as worthy of academic consideration as classics, and that’s why I sometimes put serious effort into things that I can only describe as silly.

I also have musical taste that we can at best described as ‘arrested 1999,’

Anyway, here are Decembers’ shirts, and January’s as well:

This is a design I’m taking to call a peer shirt, where someone needs to actively look at it to work out what it is. It’s great for logo designs like the loss shirts or other subtle joke signalling, the kind where someone has to ‘get’ it.

This started out asan attempt to make some text look superheroic, as a test of the method. Then I realised my test text, which was a joke, worked really well and I liked it.

And this one is a complicated, elaborate and colourful spiral that hopefully takes a good few moments to work out, but is rewarding once you do.

You can check these designs out on Redbubble or TeePublic, and remember when you buy shirts I made, you are helping me get pizza, and I’m hoping I help you get a big laugh.

Dubmissiveness

There’s a particular generation of Anime consumers for whom the sub vs dub argument was not a point of preference, it was a vision of quality. It is not just that dubs lost nuance or made mistakes, but that the voice acting of dub voice actors was sufficiently bad to make the entire prospect moot. Perfectly translation and nuanced writing aside, the argument goes, dub voices are just much, much worse.

It’s almost like a play or something:

SUB: You see, dub voice acting is simply much worse than sub voice acting.

DUB: Do you speak Japanese?

SUB: No

DUB: Then how do you know if the voice acting is better or worse? The sub voices could be dogshit

SUB: Ah, you see – the important thing is that I can’t tell.

I’m sympathetic to how facile this argument sounds but it’s also not completely impossible to grasp. See, even if you can’t appreciate the way language is structured, there’s an emotionality in the human voice that a good can convey just as easily through a language barrier. There are cultural wrinkles between them but broadly speaking, if someone shouts in Japanese you can tell that they’re shouting.

Now, I can’t speak globally for this, because ultimately my sample size for normal anime fans is to check in with Fox, who is an inhuman stack of extremely persnickety cartoon trolls in a bag with a face on it, but this impulse to see ‘Japanese voice acting’ as a superior version to the English version, language agnostic, seemed to be not entirely an isolated phenomenon. I spoke to a few people, then spoke to a few people more, and eventually, I saw someone I never asked volunteering this idea on the spot.

Now, I want to make it clear, I haven’t watched much recent dubbed anime. As an exercise, I watched all of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood dubbed, but that’s ten years old and change. I have not been listening to dubbed anime in the past few years at all, and therefore all this sentiment, all this idea comes from a historical position that may have no more bearing on it.

I’ve talked in the past, about how Haibane Renmei got to exist thanks to a culture of common shared creative media that shows respect and audience for fan work. And, look, this runs the risk of running into goofy orientalism of oh, the Japanese voice is a superior voice, even beyond language and no, that’s stupid. But consider this.

Japan generates about 60% of the animated media in the world.

In Japan, there are over 130 colleges that teach voice acting.

In Japan, voice actors are draws to the work they do.

In America, I could not find a single college with a dedicated voice acting course. And there was a lot of hits for voice training, but that’s all theatrical performances. Voice acting is seen as a subskill of existing media – and when we do high level professional voice acting in the west, it tends to be seen as something you teach existing actors to do. Oh there’s a cadre of excellent voice actors that we know (hi Frank Welker, Charlie Adler, Jennifer Hale) but knowing those names is inside baseball. Notice that Welker is in part in such demand because he can do so many different voices, where he can replace animal sound effects. That paints the fact that voice acting, in the west, is a work where you expect to maximise value out of a small number of workers!

Now, it was even worse back in the 1990s, where voice acting and dubbing was in some cases being done by literally whoever was on hand at the time, and that kind of thing (probably?) doesn’t happen any more. Last year, there was a big fuss about David Hayter doing a meme voice, reading a tweet aloud in the voice of Solid Snake, because people seemed to be blown away by the idea that someone might pay a voice actor to voice act. Like he’d have something better to do? Like it wasn’t his job?

It costs about $70 for you to get Solid Snake to send you a birthday wish!

And he’s one of the best known names in the business!

Time to time I’ll use the term media landscape. The notion is that you aren’t just looking at a single piece of media in isolation, but the place you live, the life you’ve lived, and the kinds of media that surround you form a context for the work you’re looking at. You can change your media landscape, but more than that, you can look at the media landscape of any particular work to put that in a context.

Are Japanese subs better than dubs? No. But the support and infrastructure for helping Japanese voice actors be the best they can be is so much better than the support and infrastructure helping western voice actors. But then, I’ve written about that before.

Taco T Shirt Cannon

it exists!

No really! 

I listen to a lot of Podcasts (I think, I haven’t checked what a normal amount of podcasts is, and I know that some Extremely Online people like me sometimes listen to a neverending wave of them and so maybe I don’t listen to that many but anyway) and that means that I bob along a flow of information like a discarded champagne cork cast into the ocean after a particularly enthusiastic ship launch. It’s possible that some things become a funny item on a particular podcast for one moment and then they’re gone and nobody ever mentions them again, which means that some amazing and ridiculous things can be lost to time.

One of those things is the knowledge that in 2013, in Philadelphia, the 76ers (who I assume are a team of number enthusiasts) unveiled their Taco T-Shirt Cannon at the Fun Fun Fun music festival and not, as I initially assumed, some kind of worship festival in the name of a dread god of excessive gun related preposterousness. That festival featured Run DMC, who I have heard of, which means the news story gets to be relevant to me, I guess.

At the core of it, a Taco t-shirt cannon operates on almost all principles of low-impact projectile toys; it has a launcher system that relies on building up CO2 gas in a tube rapidly, which results in propelling an object that’s about the same size as that tube out at a high speed. T-shirt cannons aren’t new, and gatling t-shirt cannons aren’t new either; the central principles were all worked outback in the 1850s. What’s more, hot dog cannons aren’t new either; the hot dog being a phallic food bullet already means that it seems pretty easy to wrap one in some paper, make it snug, then use the force of overengineered nonsense to huck it into a crowd at high speeds (but not too high speeds).

But it was in 2013, as far as I know, that some enterprising soul first got it in their head to ask how they could take this t-shirt cannon principle and take it to the next, extremely silly level, with the invention of a device that wants to be a t-shirt cannon that is also a taco cannon. I learned about this from British podcast The Bugle in its pre-2016 incarnation, which is noteworthy for being where John Oliver first really got work reading the news at you in ways that make you laugh at being depressed.

Okay okay, enough fannying about, you obviously want to see it.

A man in a black shirt stands next to an enormous chambered tube gun with each barrel about the size of his head.
Giant Noise | Adi Anand

This prodigious pile of pipes is not just the byproduct of what you get if the A-team were locked in a modern hardware store and the only way to defeat the smugglers this week was to construct a sky dick that would let them collectively fuck the moon, it is a fully operational t-shirt taco cannon.

What you get is a fresh, hot, soft-tortilla taco, wrapped tightly in paper, which is then wrapped in a t-shirt, which forms the sabot for the taco. You set it in the tube, which is then ratcheted into place, then discharged with the gas build up, into the crowd. It’s important that you angle the shot so that the taco-t-shirt mix is coming down rather than going up, so it’s effectively in the ‘slower’ half of its launch. These are important tips for the proper use of your taco-and-t-shirt cannon, a thing you’re going to definitely acquire.

All I’m really doing with this exchange is writing down something from my own history of podcasts, a long-lost shard of history that I find so funny that I don’t want it to go missing. I don’t think you’re going to listen to a seven year old podcast about ‘the news’ (literally now not true) to try and hear a funnier comedian than me share the same quotes from the original news story that I’m going to, so this is searchable and convenient and now you get to enjoy the quote that’s why I sometimes go: Oh yeah.

The taco and t-shirt cannon.

The quote, from Matt Mandrella, marketer and event manager for Fun Fun Fun, is about the first thing I worried about:

“We’ve actually had a couple of people hit in the head, and we know there’s been no pain involved. [The victims] were more like, ‘oh man, I got hit in the head by a taco. It was great!’”

About: Rift Girl

I’m a superhero fan, which is to say I’m someone with a lot of very firm opinions the way the superhero media industry is just ruining everything, and completely messing up. This is a natural part of the progression as you get older, but I at least am at the point where I can bring myself to acknowledge it’s much more I don’t like this rather than this is good or bad storytelling.

Comics love weirdo aliens that are human-mindset compatible (like M’gann M’orzz). Comics love alternate dimension characters that come from a different universe that’s somehow meaningfully mostly like ours (like Power Girl). And despite loving M’gann and Peej, I really dislike these two ideas. In a shared roleplaying space like City of Heroes, you don’t get the leeway to just tell people hey stop making characters I don’t like, though, and I’ve come to terms with that.

When presented with a problem like this, though, a good impulse is to work out why things are different, work out what you’d do to make the thing you don’t like work in a way you do. Which is why I wondered how I could make a Suspiciously Human Alien or Extradimensional Person in a way that didn’t make my brain flip sumersaults at the math involved.

What I got out of it is Rift Girl.

First up, here’s her in-game bio:

“But what are we doing here, at home, to fight the dreadful menace of The German Imperialism? Why, there’s some, like the top-secret RIFT project, storing away examples of the finest cities of the 20th century, in alternate dimensions where the people can grow and thrive, and become brilliant bosch-bashers! And as long as there’s funding, there’s no way to lose track of them, or see them fall to the work of the Hun! Stay tuned, for partial excitement!”
– Project RIFT explained, unreleased educational film, 1939

Madison Max came from a place that’s a bit retro, a bit far away, and plenty, plenty weird. But that doesn’t matter – what matters more, to her, is that she’s here, in Paragon, to be a hero, and contribute to the fight against fascism!

Alternate dimensions and alien cultures are great if you want to give a character a kind of contained metaphysics. You don’t have to explain how they relate to the things in our world or why they may have missed something or other, you can just say that those things don’t exist where they’re from. These are societies you have complete control over, and it means if you want a character to come from a place where things work differently and people just have to accept it, you can. Consider a lot of our societal ideas we have that can be just different in a different society. Ideas like marriage, gender, violence, heroics, education or capitalism can be wildly different if you control a different space.

Alternate dimensions bug me though when they’re just one of a million options because it opens up too many questions for me. After all, why this and not that. Why are these changes able to have such wild transformations? Alternate dimension are written in between the space where they’re not realistically similar (in this world, one flower evolved to be peach instead of purple, and everything else is the same) or realistically different (if the mass of earth’s trajectory was off by a meter a billion years ago, literally none of anything would be ‘there’ when you went to reach into the other dimension). How do I get an alternate dimension that’s meaningfully like what we have here?

My idea was to make the alternate dimension a dimension built out of this one, and that gave me the idea I wanted: Nonsense Wartime Propoganda Super Science!

Rift Girl’s world is a pocket dimension made in the 1940s as part of the War Effort against the Super Science Nazis of the superhero universe. We blame so much stuff on this era of science (just look up the weird stuff people believe about the Philadelphia Experiment), and that gave me an aesthetic to start from. Bonus, it let me talk about the natural followup to a good thing (fighting Nazis) and the way our cultures managed that project (not preventing more Nazis later).

Rift Girl is from a city that was built as a self-sustaining environment in the desert in the United States, then super-science blinked into its own little parallel dimension where they could set the rules enough to make sure that entropy wasn’t going to be a big problem. The idea was that these cities would work as both safeguards against Nazi invasions of countries, and places to recruit and train the best possible Nazi-fighters ever. Then, because of funding cuts, these entire cities were lost to paperwork and time, and the Rift Cities fell out of contact with the Primal Earth. Some were decommissioned properly after only a few years, and one, Maddie’s home, was forgotten, lost in the shuffle, or deemed ‘too hard’ to recover.

Fast forward Some Years, and Rift City contacts Primal Earth, opening a portal they developed on their own with their limited materials, and send through messages and an Emissary – Madison Max. Thanks to a delay on broadcasts arriving in Rift City, she thinks it’s Prime Material Year 1999, and party for the millenium, even made herself some of those party glasses, and oh yes, to beat the shit out of Nazis.

Rift Girl punching hitler in the face
edited panel from America #1

Madison was chosen for her task because she was basically a super over-achiever student, someone who was both obsessed with the Primal Earth broadcasts they were able to decipher and well-trained and disciplined. Smart, educated, extremely strong in a super-sciencey way, and given special, strange, rift-warping powers by having broken the ‘seal’ on the Rift City tunnel to Prime Earth, she’s ready to be a full blown superhero, punching Nazis and Saving the Day, just like all the TV shows she’s been bootlegging from Primal Earth have shown her.

Also, thanks to the way light worked in Rift City, she – and the rest of the Rift City people – have no idea that the time spent in the Rift has made them all green, or rather, that anyone is any colour other than green. She thought everyone she was on TV was green, just like her, and now she’s having to adjust to that. Also the twenty year time gap. Also discovering that contrary to how she was raised, Americans think Communists are bad, even though they fought Nazis so well. That’s weird.

Mechanically, Maddie is a Radiation Armour/Street Justice Tanker. In a way, she’s a pastiche together of Superboy and Miss Martian from Young Justice, a super-strong but visibly strange person from another world. The City of Heroes universe has four clear examples of actual honest-to-god fascists to fight and you know, that’s on my mind lately.

The Immaterial Material: D&D’s Stuff

You know for all that D&D is seen as a story of heroic fantasy it’s awfully bitsy. I don’t just mean the way that D&D is a game that encourages a truly remarkable amount of special acquisition of items for play – how many people do you know who have a miniature for their characters? – I mean that the story that plays out in the game winds up being about stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.

I’ve been writing about ‘stuff’ in games lately, reading about how we treat material objects, and while there’s definitely a different kind of materiality when you talk about a playing card, a dice and a meeple versus the text on a page that reads +3 longsword, there’s still something to be said about the way that D&D, 3.5 and 4e especially (because those are the editions I know) focus characters over an inevitable wardrobe full of stuff.

Now, there’s a reason for this, and it gets at one of the basic assumptions of the game that D&D wants to be. D&D ostensibly is a game about heroic fantasy, but connected to the idea of this heroic fantasy is a need for adventurers to be mostly, heroically empowered but still fundamentally scaled heroes that can be compared to normal people. It’s not the X-Men, it’s a place where your hero who swings a sword can’t be expected to cut through the bars of a prison, but if that sword was magical, then they could.

Now, this isn’t a bad thing per se, but it does tell you something of the basic assumptions of a world like Dungeons & Dragons and it’s a basic assumption that I’m used to seeing in a lot of, of all things, first person shooters. Yes, I’m probably going to talk about DOOM again, maybe.

When you start to talk about what stuff is used for in D&D, it’s pretty easy to see that stuff can do a lot more than people can do. People are limited, they’re made of meat, and they’re not capable of long-lasting, permanent effects. Even the wizard has to spend spell slots to fly, but a pair of winged boots will take you into the air as long as you like. The boots are expensive, and that’s another element (the relentless roll of capitalism).

One other thing is that items can be systematised, because objects, we believe, behave consistently and repeatedly. Despite the fact that the D&D world is typically represented as pre-industrial (except the good ones), these items are made and represented as if they are in their own ways kind of mass-produced; a jagged fullblade from one continent will work the same as a jagged fullblade from another.

This is another funny detail about this worldview: The items you’re building and examining are being treated as if they’re just making a thing that can exist; it’s not a matter of someone choosing to create something to overcome a task or have an effect (and indeed, if you approach a DM with a specific request for an item function that isn’t from the existing ruleset, that can be seen as asking for something ‘too specific’). It’s not that you made a weapon that does more damage when it hits an opponent in a vulnerable moment – it’s that you made a jagged or vorpal weapon, and those existing elements have math to them.

Stuff gets to be consistent! Stuff gets to work, and keep on working! We live in a world full of machines that work consistently until broken, and it seems that that plays into how we want magical devices to work in D&D. We don’t find that unrealistic, that a character can wander around in a small town’s economy’s worth of super-specialised consumer goods that literally nobody non-Adventurey could afford to meaningfully buy, we don’t find it unrealistic that these objects can be somehow mass produced and we don’t find it odd that these things can do much more than a person can do, because we accept that it’s okay for objects to do these things…

… and that it’s not acceptable for people.

This plays into the way that the worlds of D&D are made, by the way. Not only are places like the Realms and Eberron full of underground caches full of fantastically expensive and yet still practically useful antique hardware, they’re also places that mysteriously have investors and traders who can be bothered making these goods and trying to sell them on despite their fantastically obvious market problems.

This relationship to stuff is one of the things that breaks easily when you start trying to use D&D for other stuff. Infamously, the game D20 Modern tries to dispense with the relationship to stuff, making mose equipment mundane and focusing the game instead around the ‘wealth check’ that gave you a general idea of what you were capable of buying. The result was that your stuff suddenly didn’t feel like it mattered, but your character never mattered as much as their stuff – so you mostly spent your time piloting around a pair of guns and a skill list.

Flowers Can’t Bloom All Year

At this point, according to my very vague stats on the matter, I have been releasing a daily blog post for some time; in 2015, I blogged every day all year, it dropped off at some point in 2016, and I think from 2017 onwards, I just blogged daily and didn’t stop. I have remarked in the past about how I do things on this blog; I have backlogs and themes that help me keep producing. I’m one of those people who likes working on lists, so if I have a bunch of things that need to fit a theme, working on that theme can be very satisfying, and when I don’t find that engaging, I can work on another space afterwards. Part of just maintaining this blog well involves maintaining my engagement with the process.

But if I decide, tomorrow, that I don’t want to write, that’s okay and that needs to be okay.

A turn of phrase I’ve been using with friends who have achieved something then immediately found themselves lacking in satisfaction is – well, okay one thing I say is try gratitude journalling, which none of them have, but after that is flowers can’t bloom all year. Now, one of my friends, a botanist, helpfully pointed out that there are in fact some flowers that bloom all year, mostly in equatorial spaces, but then they went on to point out that one of them technically isn’t a flower, because flower has a fairly specific range of qualities.

We talk about creativity in a lot of numinous, wonderful ways. We describe it in terms of it being enriching and engaging and helping us grow and handle and process and develop and practice. What we sometimes avoid talking about with creativity is the urge, the need to stop.

You don’t need to be constantly creating. I seem to feel, right now, in my life, like I always want to be – I have dozens of creative projects ongoing and I find the task of organising them is lots of fun, and that means I keep wanting to keep cycling from one thing to another thing. But for some of my friends, they try out a creative effort, they make something…

And that’s it.

They’re done.

One day I’ll be done.

One day, I’ll not want to do anything more, and maybe I’ll take a break or maybe I’ll stop.

I don’t like bringing this up often because I think that our general condition is one where people are encouraged to never start, to never try, and to hate themselves for never completing. I hate hate hate it when I make some actionable, tangible advice about overcoming the mental roadblocks of making and realising your projects, some asshole comes along and says ‘or maybe I could repeat the advice everyone is already parrotting.’

Instaed what I want to make clear is it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to stop for a time and it’s okay to just stop.

You’re not bad because you’re not creating.

How To Be: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist (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 for this kind of project 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 authoritive 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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist: A Lot Of Different Things.

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Building A Character in City of Heroes

I love building characters in City of Heroes.

This is going to be mechanical, by the way, not narrative – I have lots of views about how to build a character in a shared roleplaying space. This is about how I prioritise stats when I’m building characters in this game.

For those not familiar, City of Heroes characters get a number of abilities that let you do things, and then they get ways to improve those things. This is typically divided into ‘powers’ and ‘slots.’ Slots can hold things that improve things the power do – accuracy, damage, the time it takes to recharge, the duration of effects like stuns or holds – and so powers you want to do lots of things, you’ll give them lots of slots. You can’t just fill them with the same effect because there’s diminishing returns after the first two, which means powers tend to get a little bit of one thing, a little bit of another.

Now, that’s probably all that you’re going to get out of this unless you’ve played the game, because this is a big, complex system. If you really have no idea about it, the rest of what’s coming is going to be gibberish, so I’ve put the useful conclusion to all that here up front:


What we can see then is that – perhaps accidentally – this great big confusing mess of a game, that when you have a lot of systems at work, even if you have a fairly simple, linear method of progression (defeating baddies), there’s still a lot you can do to make the individual choices of a player expressive. Players can build towards their priorities.

Now, you might not be making an MMO, but you might be making a tabletop RPG. If you’re building in the modded space of games like Pathfinder or 13th Age, you’re in a similar space, and that’s when the time comes to look at your own creative efforts rather than necessary in terms of perfect balance, as instead about competing balance. See if you’re presenting players with enough choices that character building is full of interesting choices.

Also, if there’s something players should just have, then just… give it to them.


Now, if you want to keep going, here we go:

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Practicing Making

I’ve talked about how everything you make is  a step towards making the next thing, which is a nice sounding aphorism but recently I’ve found a lot of people with big, ambitious projects. Big ambitious projects are fine if you’re the kind of person who likes doing it, but I find they tend to work against what I think of as good creative practices.

I’m going to use an example here and I know you’re reading this and I don’t want you to be called out, but let’s say your project is a three book series. It’s going to be big and epic and you have visions of these multiple titles and again I am not calling out you, person who is reading this. I am just using this as an example.

The point is, if your project is three books, then it gets really hard to practice. The three books need to be done before you can look at them as a ‘complete’ project, and the sheer time investment in that kind of thing is immense. This is true if your project is a Fire Emblem game or a plane simulator or a video series on the history of the circus. These are not bad things to want to make, but they are all big, and as a direct necessity it’s hard to practice them.

It’s especially hard to practice them if you only want to try doing them.

This is something we sometimes call ‘scope.’ It’s a term used somewhat generically to refer to how big a project is, a sort of idea for how far back you have to be from the project, metaphorically speaking, to get a look at all of it. A short story has a different scope to a short story compilation and a short story compilation a different scope to a novella and so on and so forth.

I recommend the first thing you try to do is make something small. And sometimes, when I recommend this on twitter, someone will try and step up and speak in defense of big projects, which is well-intentioned ‘both sidesing’ but I think it’s actively harmful, bad advice. If you want to work on a giant project and only a giant project, you’re setting yourself a task that’s very hard, possibly impossible, and that means any progress at all feels like no progress. That’s something that depression loves to encourage, a sort of deliberate pursuit of nihilistic failure. It’s numbing.

Sometimes you pursue the giant project because you believe in yourself that much. That’s cool, but it can also be hiding a fear of failure. After all, if you write a short story instead of a book, what if that short story isn’t good? What do you do if you write a short story and you don’t like what you wrote? Or worse, someone else doesn’t like what you wrote? To that I say, hey, were you in a gifted program in school?

Another reason for the giant project is because sometimes you don’t appreciate what’s involved. I can give some numbers out there but people with scope problems often don’t appreciate how to examine or understand scope. If your dream is to write an animated series, you should start by getting involved in animation.

“But I can’t draw!”

So what? Get involved in learning how animation works. Study the topic, look at how animation goes together, learn about things like frame rate and cells and the kind of work scope required for a large project like an animated series. Learn about what a script looks like. Look at storyboarding. Every big complicated project owes some of its origin to a smaller, less complicated version of itself; animation comes from storyboards that come from scripts that come from treatments.

Make the smallest things you can, because the smaller it is, the easier it is to do it again. To practice. To practice again. To keep practicing, because the process of making something big is to make many small parts and to make something good is to practice until you know what good is.

My method, the method I recommend, the method I teach, is to make the smallest possible thing you can consider ‘a thing.’ Then when you’ve made it, you’ll have insight into what you don’t want to do, or why you don’t want to do it that way. And then you make the next thing.

With that in mind, make the first thing something you can make easily enough to get to the next thing.

Blogging Tool – A Schedule!

Hey, do you want to write more?

I write a lot, and you may notice that if you frequent this blog and notice that for the past thousand days or more it’s pretty much always been updated with something new, that hovers around the 200-500 word mark, depending on how well I keep focused on my point aardvark. Well, part of how I keep a schedule of my blog going is having a chart for if I’ve got a post set up for the next day.

I also have ‘events’ each week; two posts that fit a schedule, Game Pile and Story Pile, and they happen on specific week days. I made something for that, which I used to do on my bullet journal, which was great, except for two things I learned the hard way:

  • Tracking one full year in a paper book can get pretty tatty.
  • Any time I misplace my bullet journal, I kind of get paralysed about what to work on next.

With that in mind, for my blog tracking, I decided it was time to set something up that I could access as conveniently as my blog itself, and so, I made a google sheets spreadsheet for this. And since it’s a handy tool, and you can just copy them if you use google sheets: Here!

It’s pretty simple. By giving each month a theme or notes, I can make sure that any articles that don’t necessarily fit a current month may go in a later one that fits it better. By having these trackers on hand I can make sure I don’t do four or five articles on a theme in a month and risk boring audiences that don’t like them. This lets me look at my work overall, for a whole year, and plan ahead.

Just a little tool! Hope it’s useful!

Decemberween – My Patrons!

I launched my Patreon early in 2018, after arguing myself around on it over and over again. There were some ideas I had for it, which did not pan out well, and this year I committed to a much simpler schedule: Micropodcasts for people who paid for them, my blog schedule as normal, one video every month, a major game each year, and as many minor games as I could make.

Largely, it’s seen as polite to keep Patreon stuff ‘in Patreon’ and behind the scenes, and I think I fall into that because it involves money. Also, I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who monitors who is and isn’t my patrons, and just accept at the most base level that anyone who is my patron on patreon is doing it because they like what I’m doing and they’re not doing it as part of a benefits package, and maybe because they want to be part of conversations about my commercial production and being included in the games I’m making as I make them.

That’s it, though, and I think this is important to mention: My patreon patrons are extremely, extremely hands off. I have never had anyone contact me to tell me they’re upset with the money they paid, I have never had anyone tell me ‘as a patreon supporter, I-‘ and I’ve never had the conversation space of my patreon turn into a serious fight over anything, ever.

Largely, the people who are supporting me on patreon, it seems, are doing it because they want to, and their doing so has allowed me to do some things this year I would not have been able to bring myself to do.

What kind of things?

Well, being able to purchase a large number of my own shirts for a gimmick at work where I wore a different Loss Shirt every day, which I’ve already covered. It’s not that I couldn’t afford that, but that I could not bring myself to spend ‘important’ money for what was basically a goofy joke only the internet could appreciate.

I spent over two hundred USD on other people’s creative efforts this year, and some of that did not result in anything getting made. I basically sent some people some stuff, and because my patreon patrons were supporting me, that was able to promote the creativity of others with a safety pad. Some vulnerable people who are shy and did not have a lot money were able to try out creative endeavours without the ability to fail, because my supporters were willing to trust me to distribute some money for that purpose.

Also I got to speak to a lot more artists with the confidence that I could drop some money right there on them, so the conversation didn’t feel like I was wasting their time. That was all really valuable.

My patrons have given me freedom and comfort, even if this project isn’t paying all my bills and I appreciate the way they aren’t making the things I do into this sort of tense, ‘monetise everything I do’ kind of heckscape.

Decemberween: Custom Card Making

I participate on the Custom Magic Subreddit, a place where amateur designers come together to make cards for Magic: The Gathering, and it is a place where, overall, people get the colour pie wrong. But that’s okay, because we’re all amateurs and we’re all having fun.

Now, if you look through my history you’ll see that largely, I am pretty negative, but I have seen cards that I liked and wanted people to see, and so, that’s what this post is about. I thought I’d get all the cards I liked in a year and put them in one master post, but uhhh, so that was a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, Reddit doesn’t archive your personal upvoting history that far (it only shows the most recent 1,000, it seems), and second, I have liked way more than ten or twenty cards this year, and third, some of the people who made those cards have deleted their accounts, which makes it really hard to properly credit them.

Hey, Wizards employees! Stop reading! This is going to start showing custom magic cards, as unsolicited designs! Thank you! I don’t want you or me getting in trouble!

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Decemberween: Amber!

As the year concludes, I thought hey, I should check out my friends’ stuff and show it off because it’s a perfect time for people to look for small weird specific things that they might not realise they wanted until hey, now, time to see it. Anyway, this has meant going to all my friends that I made this year or people I reconnected with (as say might happen thanks to City of Heroes coming back?) and being surprised by the cool things I wouldn’t have known or expected because hey, everyone keeps their business to themselves more or less.

Sometimes this means finding out that a friend is working on a tactical RPG they don’t want to talk too much about in public, and some are making microfiction and some of them are successful prop makers and cosplayers with over ten thousand instagram followers.

Yeah.

That was

That was a surprise.

It’s weird but in my little creative space I’m kind of used to being a microscopic fish surrounded by even smaller fish. Now, I still approached my friend with an attitude of ‘hey, I want to promote your work because I like you and is that okay’ and then found out that the reach I was extending to my friend is pretty much meaningless to her by the kind of numbers she can do just waking up of a morning.

Anyway, I met Amber this year, and we got to hang out and play superhero games and talk about our pets and her work schedule lines up well with mine and so, in a very natural, comfortable way, we just wound up hanging out a lot, and turns out, I think she’s super neat and she sure tolerates me. And if you want you can go check out her cosplay instagram and prop store, which I normally would then go on to tell you is great or cool because something or other, but uh, nope, turns out that I am way out of my depth here and she’s doing this as her main source of income.

So that’s cool! I made a cool friend! She’s helped me find my feet in some social spaces I’d normally withdraw from, we’ve punched Nazis together, and helped each other consider various logistical challenges of our workloads. Go check her stuff out!

Decemberween: Microfiction Experiments!

Okay, so what’s Microfiction? Microfiction is fiction, but smol, and oh hey we’re done. But seriously, Microfiction is fiction made using some inherently limited medium, stories that want to be able to fit in a tiny space, or in a medium that forces a smallness.

It’s something that you may not realise if you don’t spend your time examining mediums instead of media, but the size of a page changes the way stories on that page feel, and readers and twine games and webpages have got us re-examinign this whole space all over again. The format I’m focused on for here is twitter microfiction, where your natural unit of story is a single tweet. You can thread them together, like pages, but the breaks between tweets is part of the form that you use. There’s this whole thing here where if I was a better read narratologist I’d be able to say something like the narrative morpheme but hell with that.

Two of my friends are big into making Microfiction, with my friend Cae even compiling a book of Microfiction this year, while still releasing a bunch on twitter. My other friend Jade, and by other friend I mean she’s the other friend I brought up at first, not that I only have two friends, but if I did only have two friends, these two would be pretty good choices, point is, Jade also makes microfiction.

Microfiction is basically this whole way of telling a story that we normally reserve for something the size of a joke. It’s interesting and it’s challenging and it’s a really good way to get into the habit of telling small evocative stories that cut away every part of what they’re trying to do in as few words as possible.

Decemberween: Brinkwood

Okay, so around this time each year I and my friends sit around and discuss a weekend game of D&D that we’ll play when they come around. It’s a highlight of my year, even if it lands – typically – smack dab during GDQ, meaning I miss a bunch of the celebration at the end of that event. But that’s not what’s important.

A few years ago, I proposed for this event, to my friends, a game with the short pitch of Robin Hood vs Vampires. The idea got a bit of meat on it, and I served it to my friends, and we wound up playing something else.

But it got a name.

The name it got was Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants.

 

 

I threw this name out there on the internet at one point because I was happy with the logo I made for the game even though nobody was actually super interested in it. And then Leastwise saw it.

My friend Leastwise, aka Erik the Bearik (and he’ll come up again later this month), saw this pitch, and straight up asked if he could have it. Or more specifically, he had his own idea inspired by this idea, and he asked if he could use my logo.  What resulted is a game that’s been streamed, played by multiple groups, run at cons and may even get to be a major project from the San Janero Co-Op. It is amazing work, and it has all these great, thoughtful pieces at the root of it, like addressing the philosophical vision of what trauma means in Blades in the Dark. The game seems to have coined the term Castlepunk, the idea of ‘hey, that kind of mish-mash of medieval-seeming things we all associate with general fantasy without getting into a long argument about what really counts as medieval.’ It’s great and it’s cool, and you get to adorn these twisted wooden masks with fae blessings on them as you go out on missions to drink the rich.

Time to time when talking about the game, he’ll mention me, as it relates to this idea because I mean it kind of works as an origin story, it’s as good a place to get started. But I need to stamp a stake in the ground right here: This is Erik’s idea. It’s 100% his idea and all of this beautiful, thoughtful, engaging, exciting and creative writing about this idea is his. All I did was make a logo and a name and he went ‘oh, I would do X with it.’ Part of what excites me about this is it’s a kind of fanart? I had an idea, I put it out there and someone else who was inspired by it was able to create with it and make their own thing, and I get to see my little logo become something amazing.

You can go check out the playtest kit over here, on itch.io, and please, I recommend you do.

November Shirt: Do Not @ Me

Look, sometimes the most important thing you can offer, with your clothes, is clear messaging about what you feel and what you think about people messaging you. I made this shirt inspired by Dr Laevantine’s seminal pinned tweet of philosophy:

Welcome to my book of philosophy, “Maybe Don’t;” it has one doctrine, where you fucking don’t (Laevantine, Twitter, 2017)

Here’s the design: 

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How To Be Hilda From Fire Emblem Three Houses (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.

The rules for these posts are going to be standard and yes I am writing something that’s going to be the boilerplate that becomes the core of how all these posts are going to get made going forwards, but here we go anyway:

  • 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 authoritive 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, to give you a place to start.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s less 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.

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Reviewing My Own Loss Shirts

This year, as with last year, I got to teach a class at my Uni about making media, a class we define in part by being a class where part of your week to week homework is about making memes. It is a class about being Extremely Online, and I resolved, after last year’s completion, to make a plan out of managing my presence in this class this year.

This year, I wore a different shirt every day, and each shirt was a reference to the meme ‘Loss.’

Now, the class is only eleven tutorials, over thirteen weeks. I overdid it a little bit, so there are more than just eleven shirts, and let’s go over them.

Content Warning: If you haven’t worked it out yet, I am absolutely going to show you lots of variants on the meme Loss. Like you have to know that’s what this is.

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“It was as wide as it was long,”

Fanfiction is weird, and I don’t just mean fanfiction as the actual stories. Beating down on fanfiction is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because as a wide-open platform with lots of communal reference points means you’re going to get a lot of people creating fanfiction who aren’t familiar with what we consider to be the standard tools for storytelling. It’s fine, we’ve all been there, churning out two hundred word stories that don’t have a plot or a resolution but which are designed to let the character we like say or do a thing we think we’d like to see.

That’s not what about it is weird that I want to talk about for now.

What I want to talk about is the way that fanfiction is weird as cultural practice. Specifically, that fanfiction is a place where people are aware (or hopeful) that they are being read by other people. I have memories of extremely lengthy author’s notes, things that sought to put the story in a greater context, not by showing things in the story, but in the way the author wanted the story approached. It’s interesting, it’s the kind of thing that these days I’d see serious authors, authors writing books as saying, instead that the text should present for itself –

Hey, did you know in one of my first books my first idea for framing the monsters was to just use the Weird Al song your horoscope for today? Sure did.

– but there’s an enduring practice, often connected to tagging culture and content warning culture that suggests that fanfiction spaces are overwhelmingly full of people who don’t just want to create, but want you to know how they create, and want to make sure you approach their creation ‘the right way.’ That’s really interesting, and it also brings with it a sort of interesting exercise in brand building, of identity presentation.  It’s not just that fanfiction authors want to present their work to an audience, it’s that they also want to present themselves to the audience, and that means even if their fanfiction presents a narrative abotu X, they still feel some reasonable respect for the culture they’re part of. Much of the time this is because these authors came up in the same space, were affected by the presentations of other authors, and it helped to shape them and they’re aware of it.

Okay okay okay, but what brought this on?

Well, people whining about fanfiction authors including sex ed information at the end or middle of their stories about characters fuckin’. It’s pretty popular if you’re, say, a person who has comparatively got their shit together, to dunk on this, and by all means, whatever you want to do, but something I always want to remember is that there’s a lot of things about just the way sex worked that I learned from dirty fanfiction. Like basic mechanisms. It got me thinking about how many ideas I got that were really silly at that time, and how incredibly lucky I am that I never had a reason to act on them until after I had used that grounding to build outwards and overcome my ignorance.

It’s interesting, because in a lot of ways, it’s people while creating fanfiction about anime boys doin’ a butt-fuck still trying to be responsible community members. Which is pretty interesting and I don’t really have it in me to make fun of them for trying.

The title quote by the way, was a line I read in a gay fanfic when I was much younger, which made me realise I was reading fanfiction about dudes doing it that had been written by someone who probably didn’t have a penis to check on periodically for reference.