January 2024 Wrapup

One month down! 2024’s going to be easy, you’re going to see! We made it this far, we just have to do this again and I’m sure we’ll find a way. This month has seen a Games Done Quick event, a bunch of videos, five story piles!

Let’s get into it, looking at what you might have already seen and what you might have missed if you’re at all a fan of Things Talen makes!

an icon of a dice with question marks on the sides.
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For Love Of Novelty

There’s this idea in board game discourse of ‘the cult of the new.’ I’m sure it exists elsewhere, but I can see it very much in the culture of spaces like BoardgameGeek, and I always like making fun of that site, so I shall do so. The idea is that new things get more attention and are considered more worthy than old things, and this is true even if the old things aren’t actually all that old. At the time of writing, the oldest game in the BoardgameGeek top 10 is War of the Ring: Second Edition, which is from 2011. While sure, 2011 is 13 years ago, it is pretty interesting that this is a hobby with important representatives from the 1960s, 1920s, 1880s, and then we get into things like Chess and everything gets weird.

And it isn’t just that these older games like Uno and Scrabble aren’t considered part of the ranking system on BoardgameGeek, that the site is categorically unrelated. They absolutely are, and you can see their place in the rating system that they have. It’s a funny thing that I’ve spoken about called the tail of spite, and a smarter scientist than I have written about it.

An icon of a present in a box with a ribbon.
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Story Pile: Afterschool Dice Club

Hey this is a blog where I tell you stories about games so what if I told you about a story that tells you stories about games? Well, would you believe there’s an entire anime in the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things genre that’s just… about games?

No no no – not videogames. Nor making videogames. Not any of those anime about MMORPGs. Not even the ones that are tie-ins to games like the Atelier or Persona or Legend of Mana anime. I mean an anime about board games. Yeah, I found one of those!

It’s really mid! And I love it!

A screencap from the anime Afterschool Dice Club showing a blue haired girl looking at a board game.
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T-Shirt: Reading Ralts

This one might not be around for long. Consider it a ‘limited run’ design. Typically speaking, anything that’s too obvious and related to Pokemon, even if you draw the art yourself, gets bumped off the Redbuble store, eventually.

A shirt depicting a Ralts pokemon, sitting in a pile of cushions, reading a book, with the catchphrase around it reading 'Do What You Want To'

Point is, I drew artwork, back in 2023, of a Ralts having a chill time reading a book, with a message I personally think of as inspiring, and put them on a shirt. This design was made for someone in particular, inspired by them, but I don’t want you to be deprived of it. I have my copy now, so I don’t need to worry about it being, like, taken down too much…

But you might want a copy of it.

Here! Check it!

I Missed My Notebook

I have been bullet journaling now for several years. Longer, I think, than I’ve been doing daily blog posts – the blog posts were facilitated in part through a dedication to using a physical journal to record my daily efforts writing. Late last year, I also picked up a very cheap, not very good sketch pad, which I have been using to also do some sketching, separated from anything ‘important’ that I may want to reference later.

At the time I wrote my pledge in the front of the book: Nothing has to be any good. It’s true. I’m going to spend a lot of my time going forward making things for no purpose but for enjoying the making. I write because I want to write, I draw because I want to draw. Audiences are beautiful and validating and rewarding, I love you so much.

But I also have to act, sometimes like you’re not there.

I’m going to show you some sketches from my book, because they’re not very good and you should see that. You should be able to see how when I hand-draw something, even as someone who does a lot of graphic design work for computer art and games and stuff like that, my drawing looks pretty bad. I’m not practiced, I’m not familiar. Things I do I don’t do very well, and part of that is because I don’t do it enough.

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How To Be: Power (in 4e D&D)

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

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

I suppose, in addition to any of the other standard comments you see from me in a How To Be post, I’m going to be mentioning some details from late in the story of Part 1 of Chainsaw Man. To that end, consider a spoiler warning in effect. You’re going to learn some stuff about how Power’s story goes, in general. No point by point, and I will keep the details broad, and if you’re interested in Chainsaw Man I do recommend you check it out. You know, if you don’t mind an action horror manga where discussing the character requires a mandatory Spoiler Warning I suppose.

A How To Be cover title graphic. It shows a 4th edition book cover with Power on it. The top title is 'All That Power', the bottom title is 'wait there needs to be wo' spilling off the side of the book. Power is mispositioned in the page so the text covers her eyes. In the background is the Chainsaw Man logo.
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Story Pile: The Traitor, Baru Cormorant

The Traitor, Baru Cormorant is an exquisitely detailed book about a queer woman from a colonised people striking out to use her wits and her brains to try and topple that empire from within, and it is written very clearly and well to explore those ideas. You spend a lot of time with Baru herself, which means if she is a character that resonates with you you get to feel her emotional state very deep and true, the constant cleverness, the non-stop backbiting of things she wants to say but won’t because it’s not part of the plan, and her emotional depths when things go badly for her. She is a character who really writes in large letters the struggles of Designed Femininity, where society has mandated a way you can be, and she has to operate within those parameters, all while rankling against them. If you’ve heard me talk about living a life under surveillance, Baru Cormorant is a protagonist who lives that way and what she does to take command of her life. I need you to know this up front because that’s all I’m going to tell you before I start on the Spoiler Warning.

I’m not kidding. Yeah I know. I know! And I’m not even planning on spoiling much of the plot or anything. Yeah it’s that kinda book! Really! I’m going to discuss spoilers for the book, but not in the most specific of ways. Still, this is a book where being surprised is an important part of it, and if you’re the kind of person who wants to feel smarter than the book you’re reading by outwitting it, even knowing the kinds of spoilers can feel like I’m robbing you of some of your fun. I absolutely do not want to diminish the fun of anyone who aims to enjoy this book. And you might! It’s very raw, it’s very real, and it’s extremely high quality work that you should consider reading if any of that seems exciting to you.

I would really recommend reading the audio book, because a lot of the book is dialogue between two characters and I think a good audio book reader would be able to help differentiate those voices in a way that makes it easier to follow. No small part of The Traitor Baru Cormorant is people having important, ideologically loaded conversations with one another in reasonably similar character voice because they’ve almost all been trained to speak that way.

the book cover for The Traitor Baru Cormorant
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The Fastest Transformer

There are a bunch of episodes, across the entirety of Transformers media that care about being the fastest. Most series have at some point a race episode, and Transformers Animated – the best Transformers series – has two. Sometimes it’s outracing a train, sometimes it’s racing a virus, sometimes it’s just a race for a race’s sake, and sometimes it’s got an extra dose of time travel.

a screenshot from Transformers Animated episode Velocity. It shows Bumblbee racing with Blurr.

Presented with the question of it, though, I wondered: Who’s the fastest Transformer?

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Game Pile: Puzzmo

I was not at all prepared for the onslaught of time here.

Hey, have you heard of Puzzmo? It’s a website that does a bunch of engaging, carefully cultivated and constructed puzzle games, you know, like like the page from a newspaper, oh okay, okay, so a newspaper was, like, okay, back in the day, to inform you of things like mustache wax sales and the latest asbestos explosions, a company would take a tree, and, rice, slice it very thin, then press that flat, and then they’d roll it up and throw it at your house. At some point in this exchange, people made money doing this, and that the media ecosystem in which sample bridge hand games flourished, alongside crosswords and the entire Garfield media empire.

Anyway, Puzzmo is like that, as a reference frame, except, like, really good.

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Speedrunning the Hbomberguy Plagiarism Video

Plagiarism is bad. Plagiarism is Plagiarism. Plagiarism is mostly vibes.

A bunch of people you don’t need to know and may not have cared about before this conversation started all failed this vibe check.

Plagiarism is bad because it erases the work of a lot of people, who aren’t rich and successful and don’t have huge audiences.

You know about this now thanks to a guy who is successful and has a huge audience.

And Time.

A joking edit of a Hbomberguy Thumbnail from 2017 about when he and others were plagiarised on youtube. The text has been changed to read 'I definitely made this youtube thumbnail.'
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Speed of Words

Hey, how fast can you get a message to the nearest major settlement you don’t live in?

an icon of a love letter

I bring this up because I’m about to talk about fantasy worldbuilding, okay? We’re about to get into the cool dork stuff in a minute, but before we get going we’re going to wind up talking about a bunch of real world communication stuff that you may not have examined unless you’re like me and hang out with cool academics talking about it.

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CoX: Poisonberry

This is an explanatory writeup of one of my Original Characters (OCs). Nothing here is necessarily related to a meaningful fiction you should recognise and is shared because I think my OCs are cool and it’s cool to talk about OCs you make.

A highly stylised and abstracted image of a white femme wearing a bodysuit and leather jacket, in a cityscape surrounded by leaves and roses. Across her is written the word Poisonberry written in a permanent marker font.

She goes by Risty, and her surname, well, you’re not going to find it on her ID, because you don’t get to see her ID, because what are you, a cop? But she’s got a hero identity – Poisonberry – that she carries over from her runaway days, a name you’ll see tagged on New England underpasses.

Girl’s a metronome, wildly swinging from withdrawn, sullen and snarling, to cocky, arrogant, and ten thousand percent. She may not think of herself as a superheroine, but she does know she’s sure as hell super.

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Story Pile: Appare-Ranman!

When you’re an anime fan you have the beautiful luxury of being able to talk about ridiculous ideas that most people in your normal media sphere turned into something pretty pedestrian or never really expanded on, given a level of seriousness and gravitas that allows for a truly adult-level presentation that then usually also has some banging music and maybe a great combat scene or two. Such is the case of Appare-Ranman, which is an anime that can best be summarised as ‘Wacky Racers if it was a serious crime action drama,’ and you may think they did that, it was called The Great Race and it came out in 1965, to you I must say, why are you killing my buzz here. There’s only so much room to get excited about this speedrun of an anime and by providing that example of how my opening joke isn’t actually that good you’re forcing me to present a blunt metaphor for the way that Appare-Ranman! is an anime that’s about exactly as good as this opening paragraph.

Like it starts fun. There’s definitely something fun happening here.

But wew.

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Iron Hearts And Minds

When I talk about Cobrin’Seil and the people who live there, I do it in the context of I guess a kind of worldbuilder who wants to present heritages as whole sapient people who exist in a world and relate to that world materially. ‘A Wizard did it’ does not satisfy me. I do not like entirely magically sustained cultures, and I do not like the idea of cultures that have a singular personalised focus. I treat the heritages as if they have cultural stereotypes, which are based on interactions and communities, but I try to approach them as if they are creatures that exist in a world and interact with that world.

an image of a wizard and a warforged standing side by side. Art from the cover of Exploring Eberron.

This approach is great when I’m starting out and filling out the broad spaces. What are humans? What are the things related to the humans? But the thing is, in D&D, character heritages aren’t just a worldbuilding entity, they’re also player pieces, mechanical objects that players want to interact with. They can range from important for entirely mechanical reasons (hi there, Dragonborn and Dwarf), or because of cultural prominence.

In this category fall today’s three examples: The Minotaur, the Warf*rged and the Giths. And I want to give a bit of a talk about what they are in Cobrin’Seil, but also, why players see them, and what that means for the world.

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Game Pile: Patreon and Channel Trailer Updates!

It’s a new year, so it’s time for two little updates to my video presence online: A new trailer for the Youtube channel, which is here:

Youtube Channel Trailer - 2024

And a new introduction video for my Patreon!

2024 Patreon Video

These are essentially packing peanuts for stuff I make, but I also have to make them. Leaving these things unchanged over a long time is a great way to leave old mistakes, old mindsets on things, and I think that every time I make something like this, I get a little bit better at making the next one.

There’s a script below the fold!

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3e: Monk Attacks

Have you ever encountered something where a system is evident but the language for discussing it isn’t?

Cast your mind back to the days of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. No, not 3.5, the one that forms the basis for Pathfinder that people generally claim is ‘the good one’ before 4th edition (the best edition) came along. 3rd edition, the edition before 3.5, which is what it definitely was, was notable for being ‘the things people like about 3.5 D&D, but all quite a bit more shit.’

an icon of a fist punching

Know what was really bad in 3rd edition? Well, a lot of things, including Paladins, Rangers, Fighters, Barbarians, Bards, Half-Orcs, Half-Elves, Halflings and all but two melee weapons, but, in particular for this conversation, one class that was quite bad was the monk.

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The Unutterable Smugness Of Being

A complaint I heard a lot, about ten years ago, was that Online Atheists were ‘smug.’ This was seen as a major complaint about us, which didn’t really do anything to bring our attention to the very real problems we had with misogyny and racism and transphobia and islamophobia, but it also worked as a really good kind of social brush to tar a group with because even now, you’ll hear the word used like it’s an automatically necessary descriptor: ‘smug internet atheists.’

an icon of a fedora hat

Good news, I have no desire at all to ask you to change your mind on internet atheists, because there sure are a bunch of them who seem to be complete tools. Again, the ones I think of as tools, I would probably recommend that it’s much more important to confront them on, again, the racism and the misogyny and the transphobia and the islamophobia and then on the misogyny again because that… that sure is the actual problem, but I’m not seeking to claim unsmugness.

Just, like, what does ‘smug’ mean?

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MTG: The New Mechanics of 2023

2023 saw a lot of new Magic product, and of it, a lot of it I disliked. Since I don’t like the Phyrexians as a villain type, and I don’t like the implementation of D&D in Magic: The Gathering and I don’t like Urza, and I don’t like Lord of the Rings and I don’t like Dr Who, that meant that the release of Wilds of Eldraine marked a point where I finally had seen a release I didn’t actively hate for over a year. After getting Kamigawa Neon Dynasty and Streets of New Capenna I was so happy for how Wizards were handling new and old places, so you can imagine how irritated I was to watch them drive the flavour bus into the ditch of ‘eugenics grandpa’s sad feels’ again and park there.

But that doesn’t mean these sets with their terrible stories and annoying characters and embarrassing fandom sycophancy are necessarily bad. After all, they have individual cards I can appreciate and they can also have mechanics that I can poach and play with like legos. Setting aside my personal antipathy though, what about those sets yielded toys for me?

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Story Pile: Godzilla Vs Megalon

Godzilla is a venerable franchise of modern cinema, that serves in its own way as part of the spine of all cinema of the 20th century. An intense, thoughtful, iconic movie with exciting special effects and a grim, painful perspective that seems informed by its relationship to  a very real place and time in history about a cultural pain. I mean that’s what informs what I know about Godzilla, which is to say, I have studied the same 1954 movie everyone else has and read the same cultural critiques from non-Japanese authors.

Since then, Godzilla, as a character, is just an icon. Godzilla signifies Godzilla. Godzilla is used in so many different ways to signify so many different things that Godzilla is less of a character with its own distinct personality and values and more a sort of genre signifier of its own. ‘Godzilla shows up’ is a way an entire genre of media works now. Godzilla was special effects movie star in the 60s, a spectacle fighter in the 70s, a kid’s cartoon icon in the 80s, a gritty reboot in the 90s and a metatextual signifier throughout the 21st century. There is a wealth and a depth to every single one of the Godzilla movies that can be put into a greater and broader context of its appearances and what it means to be a Godzilla movie.

Anyway, nuts to all that, let’s talk about Godzilla vs Megalon.

A screencap from the movie 'Godzilla vs Megalon' showing the robot Jet Jaguar waving at something offscreen.

Godzilla Vs Megalon is a 1973 film, made out of scrap parts over what you would probably consider ‘the rush season’ of a retail work period. Three weeks of filming, with upwards of months of pre-planning, script-writing, character designing and buying props from the local toy store. The whole movie was designed to be a star vehicle for Jet Jaguar, the robot in the movie, who was not named Jet Jaguar when the child that made it designed it. When they realised they didn’t have the star power they wanted in this little robot, they decided to, in a way that reused stock footage, bring in two completely unrelated ringers from a previous movie, Gigan and Godzilla, and then, they fight.

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MTG: Introducing — Vox Maxima

It is 917. You are anxious about the news. You knew things were going to go badly, but you didn’t know they’d be this bad. You run through the streets of the city, trying to get the feelings out of your heart, feeling your fingertips numb, the swell in your throat and the agony of knowing, of knowing this.

The world is going to end. Sometime in the next few years. Sometime soon.

It’s called the Necrocalypse. The actual specifics are confusing – there’s a confluence of so many magical factors, and it seems to be directly tied to activities of spellcasters. The same people who made the world you live in, with the towering, safe, well-cared for and healthy hallmarks of the life you lived were all at the expense of something… coming. Something eventual. Something inevitable.

You take in a deep, helpless breath.

You close your eyes.

You open your eyes. It is 927.

You stand in the bazaar, surrounded by the noise and sound of the clink of coins and the lowing of the camels and the other animals here for trade. Everyone around you hesitates too – you can see it, the moment that happened to everyone else. You know where you are – a Kraivh Cremains Bazaar, here to trade with the bone dust that drives the heart of the Kraivh Assembly’s great industrial and military engine…

… but you have no idea what you did yesterday.

Or the day before that.

Ten years of your life, disappeared, and ten years of everyone’s life.

Ten years missing.

What happened?


You blinked, and ten years disappeared. The world is changed, with five factions grappling to contend with this new reality and its new crusades, rebuilding the missing time and what it means, in the great empire of the Kraivh Assembly.


One person in nine is gone. A whole Empire, spread across what were a host of countries, holds the world together, handling the tragedy. But as instantly as the Empire appeared, so to do its enemies – beset from without and within by threats to its tenuous stability. The machinery of war has been set in motion as everyone contends with the sudden, widespread loss of their time.

Planeswalkers are stranded, unable to Planeswalk away. The Emperor holds the Assembly together with both hands, turning to his daughters to quest to save the Empire. They travel the land, meeting its people, and trying to understand the words that destroyed a decade. They seek to express the Vox Maxima – the greatest voice.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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USP-12: December’s Custom Cards

The coldest winds blow across the old ocean. The boats turn towards that widening gyre. The spiralling waters underneath the Palace of the dead buck and roil, as the players in place similarly whirl and dance around one another. Ullaine’s curse, the fascination with Planeswalkers, has a reckless cadre of resistant planeswalkers returning to the plane. The Outlanders have brought their war to the docks. The Vast are rising and coming with them are the greatest and oldest things that hate the designs of Gansukh, and all while a small number of heroes run into the Palace, to try and convince the Usurper that it’s time to go – or else.

The centre cannot hold.

The logo for the Usurper's Palace, showing the title text overlaid on a six-pointed spiral vortext.

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains unsolicited designs of custom magic cards.

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Game Pile: Exploding Kittens

It’s easy to criticise extremely successful products. I know, I do it all the time because almost all the products I look at are the byproduct of some form of success, otherwise I wouldn’t know about them. I’m not some underground game developer showing up to the weirdest backroom board game conventions and seeing the dankest designs that everyone in the scene is buzzing about. I consume the mainstream slop everyone is seeing thanks to the same general apertures of distribution, and the only thing that differentiates that is that I can’t get a bunch of things that are unavailable because of international shipping rates. It is just the way of these things.

An image of the game box and cards, from Boardgamegeek.
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Don’t Forget Simple Tools

I started this list, the list that became this article, about three years ago now and just added to it over time. Then I’d remove things when I saw I wasn’t using them any more, and I’d always call into question if I was being silly, right? Like, notepaper and pens, duh, obviously you know you can use those.

But you do know that right?

Like, if you’re making a board game you can take a piece of printer paper and draw your board on it. You can use a circle stamp to make the spaces if you want them reasonably consistent. You can just make things with pens and paper and sticky tape like you’re a little kid and nobody can stop you.

Still, if I’ve had the draft for years I either need to finish it, or delete it, and thus, I want to present to you a handful of cheap tools I’ve bought from the supermarket for making things that I have found useful.

an icon of some scissors
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Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Critique

I did a podcast with Fox where we looked at every Disney Animated Canon movie and got to consider what I, a millenial adult with a lifetime of brain worms from an oppressive cult thought of the Disney Animated movies that define Disney Adults and Disney Magic and the Cultural Zeitgeist and if you’re not familiar with my opinion of these, almost all these movies are terrible. I dislike them often in terms of their ideologies, their moral and ethical positions – like, not just the invisible ink elements, but often, a lot of the things in them that they very clearly, explicitly want to be true.

The big one is The Lion King.

A crop of the Lion King poster
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