Category: Making

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

How To Be: Illidan Stormrage (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or 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.

Now, are you prepared?

No.

No, you are not prepared.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Illidan Stormrage.

 

Knowing You’re Being Tested (If You’re A Thing)

There’s a term in AI Safety, coined I think by Robert Miles, about the dangers of test protocols and devices that can respond to them. The idea as he proposes it is that in the context of an AI that is being tested to see how compliant it is to a task, if it recognises the difference between a test and a real environment, it makes sense for the AI to lie about its own behaviour, pass the test, then execute things by its normal protocols.

The idea runs pretty much like this: AI as crafted have priorities. Let’s say it wants to press red buttons and not blue buttons. You want to make sure it presses blue buttons and not red buttons. So, you pull it in for a test. If the AI is capable of telling it’s being tested, the best way for it to continue pressing red buttons is to in this moment, press blue buttons to pass the test. There are more red buttons in the world then there are in the test, so it stands to reason that pressing these blue buttons will yield more red buttons over time.

And so you pull the thing into a test environment and it presses the blue buttons the way it should and you release it and still keep getting reports of all these red buttons being pushed. But because the AI behaves the way it ‘should’ in testing, you’re left with this really weird black hole in your ability to locate the problem. After all, the AI is doing what it should in tests!

This is a phenomenon that doesn’t just apply to high level AI though. It’s more a sort of general warning about the way testing environments are constructed, and what you have to do to deal with actors in testing spaces that are trying to pass the test. When playtesters are trying to convince you they had a good time, when they are concerned about your emotional reactions, they will do things that try to end the playtest session. They will be trying to live up to and comply with your expectations.

It’s also about the tools you use. Forms for feedback can unconsciously push people towards giving you the answers you want rather than the answers they intend to give. This is especially true for any testing involving kids, because kids are inclined to giving emotional responses that they perceive you want. What’s more, kids are really good at inferring the unstated – so if you ask them if thing A is true or false, they may often infer thing B, even if you don’t want them to.

The important thing is that your test results and feedback can get all sorts of unconsidered factors. It’s worth noting that Robert Miles’ position was explicitly about things where a thinking entity made a deliberate choice to disrupt the test, though.

The term he uses for this is Volkswagoning.

Bidding for Second Place

I have this game idea where it’s a bidding game, but the second place is the one that wins it.

That’s it, that’s the whole of the idea.

There are a couple of games that already work on this principle. The idea that you want to avoid overdoing your efforts to hit a target is something that’s been in games since, well, Snakes and Ladders, where you have to land on the last tile with the exact, correct roll. Curling and Bowls are both games about getting as close as possible to a target without actually touching it, which implies the same vision of doing ‘exactly enough.’

In the case of the auction game, though, you aren’t sure about what you’re trying to do; you aren’t just expending resources that you want to save, but you’re also trying to hit just behind the player who bids the most. I think there’s interesting tension there, in the form of being second.

The problem I’m wondering about is what kind of theme can fit this?

In an auction, the idea that the first place loses the thing somehow is confusing. I can’t imagine why someone would do this, unless the auction was deliberately set up to be unfair. Blind auctions in the real world sometimes have rules like buy-in, so you have to place a bid in the hopes of getting something and you may not even get all the money you bid back,  which is a great swizz for people engaging in these kinds of nonsense trades.

The problem is that auction games about auctions are… weird? They need something to justify the mechanics, why they’re not just, you know, an auction. Consider that many auction games rely on expending resources that are limited – like cards. In the real world, money’s fungible – so you can just make change and bid the amount you want. Once you start introducing game mechanics to auctions, you need to introduce enough that they explain why the auction is being run like a real mickey mouse outfit.

Here then are some thoughts about what this ‘hit second’ auction may be all about:

  • You’re bidding on religious iconography, and the church keeps identifying the richest person based on the high bid, swooping on them to demand tithing
  • You’re extremely exciteable idiots, meaning that ‘winning’ the auction results in you throwing a huge party immediately, and forgetting to pick up the item
  • You’re raiding hackers, and the first person to break a server are the people who are immediately driven away – you get prestige, but not resources
  • You’re all contingents of a raiding army – the highest value represents the biggest army, which is put to the task of destroying enemies, while the second biggest must do the work of developing the land
  • You’re Canadian, and too polite to take the thing if you win
  • You’re artists working in a fragile medium like ice, and the person who tries to do the most has their artwork collapse
  • You’re dealing with rallying Australian voters, and Tall Poppy syndrome syndrome means the top position loses
  • You’re cultists rousing Cthulhoid horrors – and the cult that gets too much attention gets eaten
  • You’re smuggling stuff past cops, and the people who move the most product are the ones who get caught.

What about you? Got some ideas?

Celebrating Talen’s Birthday, 2021

It’s my birthday today. I have turned an age that doesn’t feel right. I still think of myself as an Outsized Boy, inappropriately aged since I have this early period of my life when I stepped blinking out into reality while completely confused about things like ‘how do I even be a human?’ Like the first seventeen or so years of my life were ripped away from me, leaving me with this ridiculously inappropriate ‘age’ while all my cultural touchstones of my ‘childhood’ started in the late 90s.

It is also my birthday here, in Australia. Over there in America, it’s not quite there yet. You’re a day out. This is the kind of time delay that means all sense of immediacy and engagement with my birthday can both drag, and flicker past. I’m not writing this on my birthday, after all.

What to do for a birthday.

Hm.

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T-shirt: Quiet Voice

I thought a lot about this month’s shirt.

I mean, it’s the me month right? Am I going to put a logo on a shirt that you can put out there that shows off like… me? That seems weird. Plus, my current setup is a little… let’s say it’s branding obtuse. Like, go on and ask me what ‘press dot exe’ means sometime, except Shelf, who knows.

Anyway, I thought at first about making some kind of logo for myself, then I did a few dumb deep-cut jokes about game logos and then I thought about making fan merch for a game that obviously a lot of people care about but which is completely unrecognisable to even other fans.

Also, it’s the Me Month. So I wanted it to be really easy.

I actually wound up making three designs today (today!). I also almost mad a fan-design for Carcer, based on a drawing a friend made of a spooky ghost. But that’s their art, not mine, and so that got scrapped. Maybe some of those other designs will come up later. The fine thing, the most important thing:

I really wanted this month’s shirt to be easy.

Like, if I was going to do something for myself, today, I think it’d be giving myself a break.

So I made something that gives me nostalgia and which I know will probably never sell a second copy.

 

Here’s the design! It’s a 3.5 inch diskette and that is my handwriting. It’s meant to be like the disk that Johnny used to get the game in the book of the same name – complete with the fading text. It’s just a simple, small little thing, it wasn’t hard to make, and it reminds me of something that I care about a lot.

It also has a message that has more and more become part of my life. We’re the only people going to be saving us. It’s not coming from space and all.

Here it is on a shirt.

You can get it over on Redbubble.

4e: The Ardent

I write a fair bit about 4th edition D&D. There’s at least one article a month, with the How To Be series, and I think they’re lots of fun. They’re exercises in character construction, working from a character aesthetic and trying to find a way to make that fit in the power boundaries and existing options of 4th edition D&D. Part of why I like to do this is to attack the idea that character creation in 4e was boring.

Stil, there are some things that are just… very much from D&D. They’re just things that fit within the universe of D&D as it is, and don’t really translate well to other sources. One such class is the Ardent. The Ardent is a psionic leader; it does team support, healing and buffing and positioning, but powered by the power of the mind.

Psionics in D&D has a weird place, because for some people (like me) it feels like a clear intrusion of science fiction into the fantasy landscape of D&D and therefore makes all the arcane and divine importance of magic as a discipline less important, and for some people (like me, now) that’s 100% correct and rules. Complaints about psionics from back in the day tend to be about how the system was broken not about how the system broke the fiction of the universe after all. Psionics has come to be a favourite system because it tends to be contained in a way that magic isn’t. Magic gets expanded constantly, while there’s an understanding that the psionic system is going to get a limited amount of space, and the psionic classes tend to get a small number of tools they need to make hte most out of. That creates a depth of mastery, where you want to make choices that give you a toolkit you then have to maximise, rather than the disappointing feeling of a wizard’s infinitely wide toolkit, or a sorcerer’s maximally efficient one. It strikes a middle space – and it stands apart from the wizard.

The Ardent takes this idea space and looks at psionics as a way to express the self. It is literally a romantic class (though no Ardent I’ve played has ever had a successful romance) – a class who can use their feelings, their love, their rage, their will to succeed, their excitement at avoiding an attack, and turn that into a tangible force where they can use it to punch an enemy in the face. I love this stuff – I love the idea of a literal avatar of your own feelings. It’s like the thrill of a cleric, where your ideology drives your actions, but you don’t have to have a Dad who is also a Cop on hand.

Ardents use weapons; Ardents wear armour. I like that. These are both things that will cost your character somewhat, but they get you to have a big physical expression of what kind of person they are in their aesthetic. Robes tend to be robes – but armour can look like a lot of different things. Using an axe or a hammer or a polearm or a sword – they also express different ideas. Plus, weapons have a big space of fun synergies that you can pick up if you want to find something interesting to do with your feats, but also don’t demand it.

Ardents are a Charisma-first class. That is, you make attack and damage rolls with your charisma. I wrote about them a while back, about how you can be hot and hit people with your hotness, which I still find fun. Charisma as a way to express a driven character who, whether or not they have social anxiety or stress out over public interactions, can use the force of how they feel to change the world. That’s cool!

Also, it’s a leader. I like playing defenders, because they get to be tough and I can make a big, tangible showing of what good I am contributing. I like protecting my friends. I get some of the same with the leader’s job – making people better at what they do, contributing to their wellbeing, and, with the right build, absolutely wielding the strikers in the group like a bloody blunt instrument.

They get this power? Forward thinking cut. You can fire it off in three versions:

  • Hit someone. Your ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls. You can do this when you charge.
  • Shift 1, charge, then you can hit someone, and an ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls.
  • One or two Allies you can see can each charge creatures other than the target as a free action, with a bonus to damage equal to your con mod.

Now that, that escalated quickly.

Being able to charge in quick for free, as an at will power? that’s grand. The boost being until your next turn means you can charge next to a tank, stand in their defensive space, and watch as the bonus applies to all their attacks of opportunity or mark punishment. That power, on its own, is fine. The second version lets you shift away from someone holding you in place, and then charge off away from them, to join another ally. That’s also great, a tool you want in the toybox.

The third version is fucking nova gas.

It can be hard to concentrate these attacks – you may notice this means you, the Ardent, charge at a minion or buddy next to the villain, and you throw two of your allies at the villain as a free action so they start their turns mixing it up with them. You can use this to deploy a defender into the middle of a bunch of enemies.

Oh and did I mention that you give pepole a bonus to damage rolls based on how many attacks of opportunity they provoke?

And that this is one power?

And that you have other stuff you can do, including a conga line power where you pinball an enemy around between all your allies and let them all get an attack in?

I think about this a lot when I think about this class. It’s very D&D, but it’s also this very beautifully Tactics Game at the same time. It’s a game that lets you play out the fantasy of being a battlefield commander, inspiring and invigorating your allies. It’s so perfect for a lot of things I want out of characters I play.

Oh, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find some builds in the future that use the Ardent. I like it a lot, and there are some characters who can probably be represented by a physically violent but emotionaly driven, armoured weapon wielder. I mean if she didn’t have such a loud ‘hit it harder’ theme, Chandra Nalaar could have done it.

How To Be: Rock Howard (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or 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.

It’s April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.

Gods of Cobrin’Seil: Faces Of War

I spoke earlier in the year about ways to view gods in Cobrin’Seil, and the story mechanisms I used to consider them. I said, at the time, that I wasn’t planning on talking more about the gods in my setting, unless there was interest. Then there was interest.

This involved digging up the text I had on these gods – the historical information for comparison. Obviously, looking back on your old writing is going to come with some problems. In this case, some of it just basic assumptions, some if it is awkward phrasing, some of it is indelicate language, and uh,

also,

I cut a title from this text for Adeblen. The original title was unremarkably edgy, and I would normally leave it in, but it uses a Content Warningy word, and there’s nothing really, like… related to it. I would normally leave the text as is and use it as a teaching moment? But like: Don’t give characters titles that include words you’re not comfortable saying at the gaming table any more. Seems pretty easy teaching.

Now, with that, here’s the old text presented for the gods Palescai and Adeblen. This text is presented as is and I’ll workshop it on the other end.

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The Man From Social Media Came Round

The man from social media came round to “check up,” he said, “on what we wanted”
I looked at my partner, thought awhile, and replied, “Just the usual I suppose
Pictures of dogs, some stuff to feel cultural, some videogame deals, stream or two,
but like, not of any shitlords”
He nodded

“Spiritually,” he asked, “do you have any spiritual needs, longings?”
I knew sort of what he was getting at, and I knew too I had to avoid being noticed
“Well I mean I don’t really think about it much,”
I said, as I tried not to start yelling about how the pope sucks arse
He nodded

“I could always use coronavirus updates,” I said, thinking maybe that’s what he wanted
“You know, just something to mix up the anxiety between rent cheques”
He ticked a box and looked up at me
“I see”
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’d like to know about how my friends’ jobs are doing” tick, “and their kids’ schoolwork,” tick, “um, parties, sort of,” he ticked, silent
“You know, all that stuff”

He turned to the next page “and… huge and deviant sexual longings?”
“That’s the AD, mate,” I said
But he went “Yeah, okay, I’ll be back with that form tomorrow
Politics?”
“Really fuckin’ interested, honestly, like, why can’t they ban the nazis-”
“Ah, well, we’ll put that as ‘yes.’ Music?”
“MP3 collection that’s still got weird filenames from napster”
“Poetry?”
“I mean, I read it, but I don’t own any books”
“How much stuff do you think you buy based on promoted tweets?”
“Uh.”
Tick.
“What do you think of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry?”
“Couldn’t give a fuck, mate”
“lol,” he said. “lmao, even.”
“Yeah, mate.”

He asked me to sign, and complete a capcha, telling me it was non-obligatory,
You know, for the purposes of verification only,
Next morning we got on the feed all we wanted, except for the Meghan Markle stuff


Original Text from TISM’sThe Man From Popular Culture Came Round.

How To Be: Edelgard von Hresvelg (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or 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.

Now this month, we’re going to return to How To Be’s roots, and once more we’re looking at a character from Fire Emblem: Some Number Of Houses. Yes, it’s the gal who’s Horny For Priest Murder (And For Other Reasons), the Look Up Other Reasons People Like Her, the One, the Only: Edelgard von Not Pronouncing That!

T-shirt: Did You Check The Subject Outline, Sci Fi Version

First up, the design:

I have a shirt like this already, which I wore to my first of one of two classes this year. When I did, students all reacted positively to it, and I am an absolute sucker for even the most modest elements of praise. And so, here’s another familiar design that builds on this same joke.

Here it is, check it out on models:

You can buy this design on Redbubble with Blue Text, Yellow Text,White Text, and Black Text.

The Games of Orcs

In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga argues that it is not that games are a byproduct of culture, but that games represent the defining aspects of the formation of culture. That is, ‘making games’ and ‘playing’ are things you do before you get to the stage of having ‘a culture.’ And that’s exactly as much as we should listen to Huizinga about what and who counts as having ‘a culture,’ because it gets a touch yikesy with all the colonialism.

Nonetheless, Huizinga does argue that games are part of the formation of culture, and he suggests the way that animals with proto-cultures play games is itself a step on that path towards creating a culture. Wolves and birds play with one another to learn, and that implies that there’s a connection between playing and learning, and learning, the assumption runs, turns into civilisation and waistcoats and brandy eventually.

I don’t think that Huizinga was a furry, but I’m saying he’d see top-hat wearing waistcoated werewolves and go ‘yes, that.’

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Writing Up Die Rich’s Rules

Die Rich is a card game I developed… I want to say early 2020, late 2019. The idea comes from a long time ago, and it’s built around a design I used for referencing a thing in a RP space, of the Carthaginian General Hannibal.

The thing is, something happeend in 2020 (like, all of 2020), and that meant I never developed the rulebook for it. I’d played the game, before I ever made any of the cards, and I’d tested it, I knew the game worked… but I never wrote down the rules.

Now I don’t know if I remember them, exactly.

But I do have a deck of the cards, so I can play the game, and see the problems, and reconstruct what I generally know. Then I’m going to construct what I need the rules to cover, and you can read that. This is how these rulebooks kinda got made.

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Making Gods in Cobrin`Seil

I have my own D&D setting; I’ve talked about it before, not because it necessarily is a thing you should want to play in, or I’m going to make you pay for, but because the process of building a world is itself full of interesting insights. Particularly, I find that the surest way to know what you like in world building is to look at other world building and see what about it makes you mad.

This time, I’d like to talk a little bit about Gods, in my setting. No, this isn’t going to be a specific list of those gods (though, you know, maybe). It’s about what gods are and what they mean.

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Making a Flag THREAD vs a Flag BOOK

Flags are a fun topic because to dumpster on, you only need a tiny bit of research to learn the principles of good flag design and then see how almost all the flags you’re going to see if you go looking (in English speaking spaces) are just the worst. Like this isn’t a complicated discipline, it isn’t a hard set of rules to bear in mind, but overwhelmingly, the flags that exist fail to follow these rules.

There is, simply put, no lacking of material for making fun of flags. It’s public art, it’s endorsed by community, and it’s largely all public domain (even if it sometimes claims? inexplicably? not to be?). Really, all it takes to engage in flag discourse is a combination of patience and rudeness, because there’s way more bad flags than good flags to ever spend your time on.

Why then, has nothing materialised of my project to make a readable, convenient release of an ebook where I dumpster on flags?

Part of it is framing. A tweet thread is fast and can be a bit sloppy or a bit loose. The absence of an edit button means that sometimes it’s literally not worth retracting or correcting something beyond just saying later in the thread ‘oops, made a mistake,’ which means there’s a certain lairiness to it all. It’s not comprehensive per se, it’s just thorough. Lots of jokes get fired out in a rapid succession, and if they’re not very funny, they’re not very funny, but that’s okay and we move on.

Now obviously when you’re writing as book, not every page needs to be full of bangers, but it is important that you don’t misrepresent things, and if you are deriving humour, you’re not deriving that humour from a mistruth. There’s an open social silliness to twitter, a feeling of looseness that means a joke can be a bit less thoughtful without it being unreasonable. But if you’re putting it down in a book, you owe it to the task you’re doing to be both more factually rigorous, and more thoughtful in the analysis.

There’s also just a question of real estate on a page? Assume a page layout with say, two flags on a page, vertically, with captions/analysis underneath each one – and some of these flags have some really specific reactions and need some background information as well, so it feels like the layout would get really boring and samey.

The other part is scale. Do you know how many flags I look at? For some flag threads, they’re really small: after all, Australia has six states, three internal territories, and therefore a total of nine capital cities. Stretching that at two flags a page, when a number of them are just ‘wow, look how bad this is and how much it breaks those rules I mentioned,’ is going to fill, what ten pages?

At best?

But then on the other side, America has fifty state flags; twenty five pages? That’s still basically a pamphlet

… But if we go to city flags, suddenly that balloons and we have seventeen hundred flags, and of those, fourteen hundred and twenty two are all just bad seals on a bedsheet!

A possible plan going forward, something I’ve been musing about for now, is what if I treat it like a tour of the worse flags in an American state, one at a time, just doing the ones that I think could be fun? Little ebooks? I mean at this point I’m basically monetising twitter threads.

February’s Custom Cards: Love is in the Air

Alright, another month, another month of custom cards!

This month’s theme, because of the month of smooches was to make a bunch of cards with Partner. Partner is one of those mechanics where it kinda got accidentally effed up in the first round, and that has had problems that CEDH has had to deal with to this very day. I don’t wanna do that, so I’m playing it safe this time.

  • Partner cards should cost 3 mana at minimum. We have a couple of them that were too powerful because they’re really flexible (hi, Tymna, hi Thrasios) and they enable too much stuff (hi, Vial Smasher, hi Thrasios).
  • Partner cards shouldn’t be single-card engines. They should do one thing reliably. Any given partner card should have interesting interactions, but also be a reasonably handleable card.
  • ‘Almost’ cards for Commander, cards that were good once, but aren’t good any more, can be good templates. Cards that you wouldn’t run, but you would if they were always in your opening hand.
  • I’m playing it safe here. Assume that for text space and power reasons, I’m being very careful about how much text they have and if I had my druthers, some of these cards would be a little bigger, a little more defensive and maybe have a keyword or two.
  • Also, flavour is hard. I know full well that a lot of fan-made custom card flavour text is weak. Broadly speaking, these are ‘first drafty’ flavour, and I do have ideas for how they work, but I don’t think what I’m doing and my ideas can necessarily be easily translated onto the cards. Rather than force it, I leave it off and will explain as best I can when asked.

What did Reddit have to say? Well, for most of them, not much, which makes sense. There was a hilarious bruhaha about Rinrin, because there were fears that she could, for example, cheat out a Consecrated Sphinx for only 2 mana, which means that you spent 6 mana to get a 1/1 consecrated sphinx. This also brought out the suggestion that nobody in commander uses size-based removal.

Also, some people were mad about Tatiana, because a 5 mana steal card without direct counterplay is… what? Unstoppably powerful? Over pushed for the commander environment?

Helpfully, it was pointed out to me by Enderlord that First’s wording needed some refining (and that’s addressed here, with the up to date wording).

Wide Orgo got compared to Prophet of Kruphix, which is hilarious. Untapping all your lands and giving all your permanents flash is kind of important parts of Prophet of Kruphix!

T-shirt: Candy Heart

First up, the design:

Candy hearts aren’t a thing here in Australia. But they are a thing that’s so American it’s a widespread meme, and I like the idea of them. I hope they taste nice. I bet they taste very plain and pastel, that kinda floral chalkiness, but not fizzy like a Fruit Tingle.

You can buy this design on Redbubble.

How To Be: Ukyou Kuonji (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or 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.

Well, we’ve done some odd stuff with this section, some big ideas about maximising specific character quirks and hitting particularly niche interests like a transforming robot dinosaur, but what if your wants are more hey, what can I do with this simple basis? And, it seems that this month is full of references to Ranma 1/2 and twitter voted on it, and so, here we go, a return to Ranma 1/2 as an option: Ukyou Kuonji.

‘Ship’ Building

There are a bunch of different board and card games that, in some way, relate to making things. Making things is cool, players like making things, and giving players opportunities to make things gives them something to engage with. This isn’t a unique observation: board and table games are awash with games about building things, both mechanically and thematically.

And there are some that let you, mechanically, in one way or another, make ships.

Merchant and market games often let you buy ships to transport goods. Some games let you make trade routes. Some games let you position an arrangement of ships so your opponents can attack them. And some games even let you build a ship out of specific little pieces, tiny tiles.

But what if we took some of these games about ships and made them about ships?

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Writing Polycules Is Tricky (And Interesting)

In a lot of media, a relationship is treated as a stable default middle to work from, and you can look to webcomics as a whole genre built around the idea where a relationship is either the stable end point you’re pursuing, or the stable middle ground from which all the shenanigans go. The Megatokyo Vs Ctrl-Alt-Delete spectrum, as it were. This pattern is true in most media too – with romantic comedies and family comedies being often two heads of the same horrible hydra, a creature that wants to show terrible people somehow redeemed by the credits when they get married, or lead off with a relationship that has clearly gone bad at some point as it pinwheels out of control. I didn’t need to make it a webcomic thing, but now you’re remembering that Megatokyo exists and it updated last week at least.

The banner still celebrates the webcomic being ten years old. Man, that whole fandom looks so strange from the outside. Still, good for them.

Anyway, I bring up Megatokyo because it is, first, funny to do so, but second because it feels like a wholly sincere artifact of this same concept space of storytelling in relationships that grew out of the 90s weebs who got into anime from a very specific place that probably featured Ranma 1/2 and Tenchi Muyo, the place where the harem anime was created and then immediately had its soul removed. In the very genesis of this is an entire generation of storytellers, often lonely and disaffected and creating in spaces without gatekeepers, made our own anime-inspired narratives that overwhelmingly still followed the idea that the story starts with no relationship and concludes when the relationship is obtained, and wow, we have some messed up views about women eh.

The thing is, one of the ideas that always got floated in these spaces was polyamory, second only to the horror of not straightness, which I kid you not, was cited as ‘cheap’ and ‘exploitative’ when introduced in serious discussions of fucking Ranma 1/2. Polyamory was seen as a cop-out answer, and was seen as untenable. After all, it either took the form of a bunch of girls who hated each other moving in together to live as Ranma’s wives, despite their animosity, or, suddenly and spontaneously falling in love with one another, which were both unrealistic outcomes.

This was literally all that was seen as the possibility of polyamory – and again, it was seen as the conclusion of the narrative. You couldn’t put those five characters under one roof! It would be a bad end to the story and they’d all fall apart! Terrible idea that!

I swear this month was not supposed to be so much about Ranma 1/2, but it’s a good grounding to work from. Because what I’m talking about here is in fact about how polycules, the cute term for polyamorous relationships, change assumptions about how you use relationships in media, based on the media you’re dealing with.

Specifically, writing polycules means that there’s just… stuff you kinda have to keep in mind. Characters in polyamorous relationships aren’t necessarily all going to pile into the same bed after the same 9-5 in the same house. Characters in polyamorous relationships don’t have this sort of media-sanctioned, pre-established trope-based ‘default space’ to work from. The binary monogamous pairing is so well worn that we can even signify the way characters interact with gestures and never need to explicate what their lives are like, but a poly relationship?

It’s inherently more complicated. Characters have always got an additional point of input and an additional observer. And that’s a good thing. It’s not that everyone should be in a polyamorous relationship in media work – that would be boring and silly and … let’s face it, would be used by a lot of media to just give the comedian boring man two hot girlfriends out of his league, ‘as a joke.’ But the thing is, fundamentally, polyamorous relationships, at least functioning ones rely on communication. You can’t just assume the two partners have nothing to do and will default to one another because there’s always at least one other person involved. They have to manage the way their lives intersect, who goes where and with what.

And that’s really interesting.

You get to see what people do with balancing commitments, and the thing is, you can do that. It’s not ‘well, I had to choose between A or B at some point, and B won, so A loses.’ That’s just such a… juvenile way to view relationships in any way, even in action narratives or jokey stories! Being in relationships is about communication and understanding, and relationships in media are handled well by giving characters reason to talk about things – why is this so hard to grasp as a bountiful field of exciting, interesting narrative?

 

Postcard Ideas

Kinda thinking about postcard games.

If you’re not aware of a postcard game, it’s a game where uh, you play it on a postcard. This may seem a little confusing to those of us in the big board game spaces, where you kind of expect to get a box, and some pieces, and even simple games that can be played with just a deck of cards have to make some compromises. As you shrink down in the parts available to you in your design, some things get harder and harder to do.

When you think of a postcard game in its purest form, though, you’re asking for what kind of game you can make that fits entirely on one side of one piece of paper, and not a particularly big one. It’s ont uncommon to end up with something that looks like a fast food restaurant placemat – something you might have if you ate out at a fast food restaurant recently, and if you did, what, why.

I’ve done some games like this before – I have the game Grey Goo, which is a chess-like game where the rules are all printed on one side, and the board on the other, but you do need to provide your own dice for that one.

This is on my mind this month though because of Love Letter.

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Game Pile: Making Youtube Videos

What’s this? A second video? Swindle footage? Don’t worry, it’s not more Swindle. Though I could do more Swindle.

Do you want me to do more Swindle? I mean I could do that…

Anyway, here’s a video about what I’ve learned with Youtube and what I’m doin’.

2020 Kickstarter Roundup

A few years ago, I learned that if you want to engage with kickstarter, you should check it out both as a backer and a creator. If you haven’t partaken with kickstarter, you don’t have any idea of what people expect out of it, and you can have unrealistic assumptions about what people expect of you. Yes, this is an elaborate set of excuses for engaging with Kickstarter and buying myself a bunch of board game stuff, but it’s also research, mom.

I approach this with modest trepidation, though, because this is ultimately me looking at a bunch of games, a thing I’d normally want to focus on in a Game Pile Post. But at the same time, Game Pile posts are posts for talking about the games as media, rather than explaining them as commercial products.

Since I seem to use January as a holding for ‘everything wrapped up from 2020,’ then, let’s have a look at the Kickstarter stuff I engaged with in 2020, how that worked out for me, how satisfied I am with the products and whether or not they have arrived, or will arrive, or whatever.

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T-Shirt: The Mad, The

First up, the design:

I am genuinely surprised by the number of nerds that seem to take the blue shell from Mario Kart personally. It’s a catch-up mechanic in a game designed to be playable by four year olds. Like, you can genuinely find people having angry arguments about it as ‘the socialist blue shell’ and even some enterprising gamer types trying to categorise leftist politics as ‘blue shell politics.’

Anyway, they’re idiots and they don’t like losing to the blue shell, so they can The Mad, The. Don’t worry about it, it’s German.

You can get the shirt here at Redbubble.

EDIT: There’s a chance, by the time this goes up, you can’t? Because this shirt was flagged for review, because I said ‘people get mad at mario kart’ in the description. Capitalism is dumb.

How To Be: ME GRIMLOCK (In 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or 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.

You know, last year we did a bunch of characters who could be seen as fitting the genre of a combative adventurer reasonably well, and maybe it’s time to try some stuff that’s a bit more weird. With that in mind, let us reach wide, with our tiny, tiny arms, and look at ME GRIMLOCK!

 

Speed Week: Goblin Bakery Game

Well, now, it’s been a week since Speed Week.

How did GAMES MADE QUICK go for me?

First of all, my intention was to do a lot of the documenting of the process on twitter. That was a good idea, and normally, that would work out fine for me. Live editing on Twitter is a pretty easy thing to do when I’m doing stuff like playing around with card face designs. It’s been a nice feature of how twitter can handle me pasting visual information from a graphic tool, or I can screencap lists of text or diagrams.

Thing is, this time, I brought this idea up with Fox. Fox is a person, and she lives in the same house as me, and not on twitter. Which meant that when I did set this time to do work on this game idea, it was a conversation between two people, in a room, back and forth and not in text on twitter. What resulted, then, was not the same thing as a normal twitter thread. Big deal, bit of a bummer.

Instead, we talked about the game as we walked the dog, or when there was downtime during Games Done Quick itself. We did still set limits – We’d have one conversation a day, and that was all there was to it, I wasn’t going to try and stretch it out. I also didn’t do a lot of work on the last two days. Those days were busy for me. That’s okay! With that in mind, how far along did the game get?

First of all, here’s the twitter thread I did.

What we did come up with was a game about goblins raiding a bakery. The game’s tone is light, and sweet, but also chaotic and slightly incompetent. Goblins are meant to be kind of clueless and dumb but in a very sweet and greedy way.

The player goal is to steal a number of cakes from the bakery. You do this by picking up a cake and passing it to the goblin behind you. The cakes are represented by cards, which have a ‘need’ on them to represent how many dice are stacked on them. Complex, tall, teetering cakes need a stack of dice on them to represent concentration and effort from the goblin moving them around.

Players will be rolling dice in real time. Players can control any given goblin as they roll their dice – trying to roll dice that they can stack up, with a specific rule on each card, to make the dice lock in place. Each goblin has a number they also need to roll – in sum – with the cake they’re holding, to pass it along.

The game has a really physical manner, and part of how it’s physical, is that the timer is going to be a piece of music. I spoke to some friends about how to do that, and the piece of music known as Powerhouse served as my general thinking. You have a bucket chain of idiot goblins in a bakery, trying to take cakes off the counter, then pass them along.

The deck of cakes has a number on the back of each card, and that card is the ‘lock’ number. Any dice that’s showing the lock number can’t be picked up and rolled – at least until another Goblin uses a hand to shake their goblin friend.

This gives a basic run-down of how the mechanics work. This is the information I’d use to make a prototype set of rules – some cards in a word document table, a page or two of rules, then share it on Itch to see if anyone wants to playtest it.

This is how small games can get made. It only takes a few conversations, a few exchanges, to get an idea into a prototypeable space. Write down the ideas you have, when you can, and you’ll find you do more work than you think.

Fuzzy Games

In his review of Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy Review, Quinton Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down used the term fuzziness to refer to the way that this enormous, complicated game overwhelmed your ability to predict outcomes from all the possible interactions. When talking about it, he was explaining the way that this game, which is deliberately daunting, creates an ambiguity between what you can commit to doing and what the game will do in response.

Now what makes it somewhat remarkable in the case of this game is that it seems to do this with mostly open information – players have their own tableaus and their own clearly marked scores and crystals and ship designs, with the only real ambiguity being the results that are going to come out of dice when they’re rolled.

This is not a particularly new idea in game design at all, but it is a fun launching point to talk about because one of the things that Big Box: Expensive Miniature Cardboard Pachinko Machine has going for it is lots of open information, which isn’t typical. What Quinns describes as fuzziness is something I look at in my (in progress) PhD thesis, under the descriptive title of Entanglement.

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Practicing Practice

You know that old phrase ‘practice makes perfect?’ It’s one of those little aphorisms that’s so common that we tend not to examine it. Typically it’s trite, and at worst, actively inhibits the conversation, something that makes it seem like the person who says it isn’t really paying attention.

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