Dynasty Warriors 5

Every now and again, I find a video game that’s really good at breaking up chunks of work. It’s fun, challenging enough to keep my mind active but easy enough that it rarely frustrates or stonewalls me, and it’s got obvious stopping points that reliably come every 15-45 minutes, which is long enough that I feel rested when I come back to working on something but short enough that it doesn’t eat my whole day. It was Ace Combat Zero for a while, up until I completed that game so thoroughly that there was absolutely nothing left to accomplish, and for a little bit it was Reus, which is actually on a timer so one round of it will always be 15, 30, or 60 minutes, but unfortunately that last one is too long to be usable and you eventually hit a point where it’s basically impossible to make progress without using a 60-minute game length.

As you’ve likely gathered from the title of this post, my latest success in this regard has been Dynasty Warriors 5. I was in love with the Dynasty Warriors series for about 2-3 years as a kid/young teenager, right around the era of DW4 to DW6, but never wound up playing 6 because my parents never got me a PS3 and I wasn’t in a position to buy one for myself until some five years after DW6 was released, long after I’d forgotten the series. So DW5 was kind of a nostalgia trip.

At this point I’ve beaten most of not only DW5 but also its Xtreme Legends expansialone on Medium difficulty. I don’t know if I’m going to bother going for any higher difficulties, but probably not. While you certainly can win most missions in the game on pure skill, it’s not really fun to tackle a mission if you haven’t done enough grinding to get the character you’re using up to a higher stat level, since you end up ignoring most of the enemy army one way or another to sprint for objectives in order to complete them before your own forces are overrun, as your character’s attack power is far too low to fight through enemy forces at any reasonable pace. And each of 40+ characters has to be leveled up separately if you want to complete all of their story modes on the highest difficulty.

On the other hand, the way that I use these games does actually kind of lend itself towards grind without getting too tedious.

In any case, I’ve seen most of what Dynasty Warriors 5 has to offer at least on medium difficulty, and I feel confident in two things:

First, the Dynasty Warriors series shows a lot more of its fighting game roots than it might seem at first glance (the original DW was a Soul Calibur style weapon fighter, it was only DW2 that introduced the idea of massive combats). Different characters have different movesets and bizarre, often one-note personalities in the way that fighting game characters do, in order to have an interesting diversity of characters that can be communicated in very brief snippets of dialogue. I love how insane this makes some of the DW cast, and I’m sad to see more of the more recent additions to the cast following some fairly bland anime tropes rather than being as crazy as Zhang He the murder-dancer, Wei Yan the barely articulate rage berserker, and Zhou Tai the Chinese samurai.

In any case, the conclusion I take away from these fighting game roots is that the game desperately needs a guard breaking attack that’s common to all characters. The basic rock-paper-scissors of most fighting games is a strike that can be intercepted by a block, which can be overcome by some kind of grab or throw move, which can be interrupted by a quicker strike. Dynasty Warriors has the strike and the block but lacks any grab or throw or other means of getting past the block besides running around behind the enemy. This makes duels with enemy officers feel like a frustrating and slow fight against the not-totally-precise movement controls, which gets irritating if the enemy officer is a powerful enough enemy to require several minutes to defeat. The game really wants these to be climactic duels, but they always feel awkward and clunky unless you’re playing a character with a standard (not musou – musou attacks often get around blocks but are too infrequently available to be relied on in the kinds of duels that last long enough to get tedious anyway, and God help you if you’re playing a character like Zhang He whose musou is useless) attack that can get around blocks.

Second, Dynasty Warriors 5 is terrible at communicating the story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, despite being more character-focused than Dynasty Warriors 4. Each character has their own story mode which takes you through 4-6 battles and is supposed to tell the story of that character, sometimes expanded a bit to give them a satisfactory ending if their novel/historical self got bumped off through random chance because that is how history do and the novel added only occasional embellishments. You’d think this would be great at getting the story across, since it can focus on character moments to really get someone invested, but instead it tends to feel like you’re jumping around the timeline at random, especially for Shu characters who often start out in the Yellow Turban Rebellion or the Coalition Against Dong Zhuo and then skip ahead fifteen years to the battle of Chi Bi, completely ignoring the early shakeout period when lots of small warlords were fighting each other.

And sometimes a character’s story just compresses really poorly, like Guan Yu, who has a major role in both battles against Dong Zhuo, then skips ahead to suddenly he’s working for Cao Cao while his sworn brother Liu Bei is working for Cao Cao’s arch-nemesis Yuan Shao, and you get that Guan Yu and Liu Bei got separated somehow and accidentally wound up on opposite sides of the battle, but it’s totally unclear how, and then you have to flee from Cao Cao’s forces to meet up with Liu Bei again, but the point where you actually meet up with Liu Bei gets totally skipped and the very next battle is about chasing down Cao Cao after he flees a disastrous defeat against Liu Bei and Sun Quan at Chi Bi.

The only stage that seems to follow on from the last one is the very last stage, where after Cao Cao was defeated at Chi Bi, Guan Yu ends up in command of Liu Bei’s holdings in the nearby Jing Province, while Cao Cao’s cousin Cao Ren is in command of Fan Castle, which guards the approach deeper into Cao Cao’s territory. So, okay, after he won at Chi Bi, Liu Bei gained some territory, left Guan Yu in charge of it, and now Guan Yu is trying to expand it by pushing north into Cao Cao’s territory. It goes pretty well until Sun Quan betrays him (he has his reasons, but they’re not important here), and then, since Guan Yu is Player One in this version of the story, Guan Yu wins anyway, capturing Fan Castle. Cao Cao and Sun Quan are both at large, though, so the ending feels kind of abrupt?

You can start to piece together an idea of what’s going on after playing multiple characters’ stories, I guess, but I don’t know how easy it would be to put all those pieces together if I didn’t already know the plot. Dynasty Warriors 4 just had one story mode for each of the titular three kingdoms (plus some unlockable story modes for some of the minor warlords), and that worked way better.

Dynasty Warriors 5 also does a shockingly bad job of covering the entire sweep of the story compared to Dynasty Warriors 4, even if you ignore the Musou Mode and just play through with everything unlocked on Free Mode. For example, Dynasty Warriors 5 does not have any battle for Jing Province even in Xtreme Legends, where it seems like the obvious stage to add for Wei Yan and Huang Zhong, since Liu Bei’s conquest of Jing Province is the start of Wei Yan and Huang Zhong’s story (I almost wonder if Koei wants justice for Han Xian, who was a perfectly good governor that gets recast as a villain for the sake of this story?). Without this battle, Wei Yan and Huang Zhong just kind of appear in Liu Bei’s forces at the battle of Cheng Du. There’s no confrontation with Yuan Shu, Sun Ce’s primary rival, except in that he can show up as reinforcements in a battle between Cao Cao and Lu Bu, neither of whom are Sun Ce. There’s no assassination of Dong Zhuo by Lu Bu and Diao Chan, which is fine for the major characters’ plot arcs since you can just have Dong Zhuo be killed at Hu Lao Gate, but it’s pretty critical for Lu Bu’s story that he was the one who killed Dong Zhuo and was subsequently forced to strike out on his own. There’s no battle at Xu Province, which was the beginning of the rivalry between Liu Bei and Cao Cao which defines like 70% of the Three Kingdoms narrative. DW4 admittedly only added Xu Province in its own Xtreme Legends expansion, but still.

In exchange, DW5 gives us an extra battle in Zhuge Liang’s northern campaigns (Chen Cang Castle) and, in its Xtreme Legends expansion, Ou Xing’s rebellion. Emphasizing the enormity of the undertaking of Zhuge Liang’s northern expansions is definitely a good thing, as is filling out the years between the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the coalition against Dong Zhuo, but they’re not worth punching holes in the story of Cao Cao’s and Sun Ce’s rise to power, what Liu Bei was even doing during that time, and critical story beats for characters like Huang Zhong, Wei Yan, Lu Bu, and Diao Chan. In fact, Ou Xing’s rebellion isn’t even a particularly good way to fill in the years between the Yellow Turbans and Dong Zhuo (although it is an event of the novel), because what’s really needed is a version of the Ten Eunuchs plotline that actually tells the story rather than just referring to it. This is how Dong Zhuo seized power, so it should either be properly told or else Dong Zhuo should be depicted as already more-or-less in power as of the Yellow Turban Rebellion (which he did fight in, so it’s not like it’s a huge stretch to make him commander of the Han forces instead of He Jin, a character who is only important to the Ten Eunuchs plot arc and should absolutely be cut if you’re not going to tell that story properly).

Also, WordPress changed their editor a while ago and I don’t know where the “click to read more” line is in the new one, so this whole post is going on the front page.

Samurai Jack: The Time Portal Problem

I’ve recently been watching Samurai Jack, and because this is the future, I can watch all the episodes in whatever order I want at any time I want, and tend to get through two or three at a time going strictly in order. This is not the viewing experience Samurai Jack was originally intended for. Samurai Jack was originally intended for audiences who would catch an episode when it was on but would also miss episodes occasionally or even regularly. As such, Samurai Jack is extremely episodic and relies on continuity almost not at all. This doesn’t diminish the show at all. It knows exactly what it is, a story of a wandering samurai fighting the evil of Aku, shapeshifting master of darkness, in a distant future-fantasy world of robots, demons, and aliens.

Watching the whole thing all the way through, though, the sheer number of time portals Jack is able to find does get to be kind of ridiculous after a while. And this would not have been a difficult problem to solve! Explanations for the time portals, or minor rewrites to remove them so they’re not quite so dense, would have been easy to insert into early episodes without breaking the flow of either that episode’s self-contained plot. I’m only on season two right now, but here’s a couple of very minor tweaks I would’ve added to the first season to resolve the time portal problem. Although I have neither of the necessary skills and no intention to commission them, these tweaks are intended to be so small that a good copycat animator and impressionist voice actor would plausibly be able to insert them seamlessly into the show).

  1. Move episode 12, Jack And The Gangsters, back to episode 4. This places Jack still in the neighborhood of the city he first arrived in, presumably the same city where the gangsters hang out. This is presumably Aku’s capital (for now – it’s established in this episode that Aku can move his castle, and he does so after Jack’s failed assassination), so having Jack be able to show up to attempt an assassination makes it feel less like the world is so small that Aku’s castle is always within walking distance, and more like he flung Jack into his capital city when he was sending him to the future. This makes sense, since the capital would be Aku’s greatest stronghold and most likely to kill Jack more or less on arrival. It also makes sense that Jack would be seeking a means to finish his mission and slay Aku right now, since he hasn’t yet heard of any way to get back to the past.
  2. Move episode 5 (of the first season’s 13), Jack In Space, up to episode 8. This episode has faster-than-light time travel as a key plot point, and moving it deeper into the season helps make this kind of thing feel like it’s less typical.
  3. Move episode 6, Jack and the Warrior Woman, up to episode 12. In episode 4, Jack saves the Woolies from captivity, and in gratitude they tell him of a wish-granting oasis whose powers could send him back in time. This plot thread is tied off in episode 6. By moving Jack and the Warrior Woman up to the penultimate episode, the motivation of “I must get to the oasis the Woolies told me of” can replace “I must reach yet another time portal” as a MacGuffin.
  4. This means that episode 4, Jack, The Woolies, And The Chritchelites, is now episode 5, which will establish a “main plot” that most of the rest of the season will sort of follow, in that Jack’s presumed goal in other episodes is not to find a time portal which have apparently been left lying around like gravel, but rather is traveling in the direction of the wish-granting entity the Woolies told him about. Besides changing some expository dialogue near the beginning, this will not have any other impact on those episodes’ plots.
  5. Episode 7, Jack and the Three Blind Archers, is now episode 6. Establish in a throwaway line while Jack is talking to the pirate captain that he must pass by the Three Blind Archers’ tower because the only other routes north are too heavily guarded by Aku (if I expanded the thought experiment to allow for more drastic revisions, I would add an entire extra scene here that demonstrates how powerful Aku’s defenses are on the other routes north, which would be more in keeping with the show’s reliance on visual storytelling, but sticking to my “could plausibly be accomplished by a talented fan edit” restriction, a throwaway line will have to do). The well of the titular archers now grants martial prowess exclusively, which Jack could use to defeat Aku, but he instead destroys the well rather than risk whatever monkey’s paw curse would accompany the power up.
  6. In episode 9, Jack Under The Sea (now episode 7), the bait in the trap is not a time machine, but an underwater corridor that will allow Jack to bypass much of his journey (this is also something that can be established with a throwaway line, like “that tunnel would take me directly to the desert the Woolies told me of” – once again, if I allowed more substantial edits, I think giving Jack a map showing the path of his journey would help make this clear while relying even less on dialogue, especially since the destination can be marked with a swirly time-portal symbol). There is no tunnel, so the best Jack’s underwater allies can do at the end of the episode is deliver him to a convenient shore.
  7. Episodes 10 and 11 involve no time portal, just Jack traveling and happening across adventure. By coincidence, their numbering in the overall season isn’t even changed. Since the narrative of the season is now framed around reaching the desert that contains the magical oasis, however, Jack’s travel in these episodes now feels purposeful rather than like aimless wandering.
  8. Episode 13, Aku’s Fairy Tales, remains unchanged as well. The demonstration of the sense of hope that Jack is spreading amongst the populace and the hypothetical final confrontation between Jack and Aku at the end is a good way to end the season on a high note after the “main plot” ended in failure in episode 12.

So far, it’s been season two where the time portal abundance has really taken off, with Jack trying and failing to reach a portal to the past being a fairly common throwaway intro. I don’t really have any idea where I’d even begin fixing the problem with that one. Maybe I’ll have an idea by the time I reach the end of the season.

Twelve Kickstarters In Twelve Months

Kickstarter Momentum

As Dark Lord was wrapping up its real content generation and entering the editing, proofing, printing, and shipping phase – all of which require some direction from me, but not a lot – I started thinking about what my next move should be, and I realized that I wasn’t really building any momentum. Almost nobody realized that the Petals and Thorns guy and the Dark Lord guy were the same person, because those Kickstarters were over a year apart and neither of them were so apocalyptically massive that anyone was still thinking about them after that much time had passed. Likewise, whatever new Kickstarter I was going to launch, even if I had it ready within a month, wouldn’t benefit much from the success of Dark Lord.

I needed projects small enough that I could launch a new one within six weeks of when the old one finished, so that people who’d been browsing the tabletop category on Kickstarter or who had seen it linked in a Discord or whatever would still remember the last one when they saw the new one. Due to the small scale of the projects and because the middle two weeks are often disappointing anyway, I decided to go with a fifteen-day schedule, and as per standard Kickstarter wisdom, I decided to make sure I was starting and ending in the same month, because having an end date in the same month as the current date makes the project seem more urgent and encourages people to back immediately, which helps build momentum in the early days.

What all of this added up to is that if I ran every other month, I’d be pushing the limits on the six week news cycle, the amount of time it takes for people to forget something’s relevant. The alternative was to run a Kickstarter for fifteen days out of every month, to be running a Kickstarter about as often as not. And the content I had was, when broken into the smallest reasonable chunk, a ‘zine-size sourcebook with about 30 minimum pages of content, plus wrappers (cover, table of contents, backer acknowledgements, etc. etc. – stuff that needs to be added but isn’t in my Google Docs draft). And it’s not like I’d have the whole month just two write the content. I’d also need to leave time for formatting in order to ensure that backers received the .pdf version of one book by the time the second one was launching, because no way would anyone back my second project if the first was still outstanding on even the digital version. Plus I’d need to assemble the actual Kickstarter campaign for the book on top of writing the content for it.

Is that rate of content generation even possible?


Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy started crowdfunding on February 12th, 2021, and finished on February 28th (this one was actually sixteen days, because I hadn’t totally sorted out the long term plan at this point). It was digitally fulfilled on March 13th, the print versions were sent out March 26th, and signed copies were sent out April 5th. The .pdf version was 39 pages long, although this includes wrapper content like the cover, table of contents, etc.

Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion started crowdfunding on March 16th, 2021, and finished on March 31st. It was digitally fulfilled on April 14th, and the print version was sent out April 30th. As of the writing (May 1st), I’m still waiting on copies to arrive for signing, but that part’s not hard, just time consuming. The .pdf version was 44 pages long.

Bianca’s Guide to Golems started crowdfunding on April 15th, 2021 and finished on April 30th. The .pdf should be delivered no later than May 22nd, due to a planned delay during which Megan Bennett-Burks, my formatter, is attending some kind of family function. Bianca’s Guide is easily the biggest book yet, and although I won’t know a final page count until it finishes formatting, it will likely strain to remain within the 64 page maximum I’ve imposed for shipping reasons.

The draft for Brac’s Guide to Piracy is completely written and edited, the Kickstarter is complete except for the intro and update videos, which have all been scripted and are waiting on cover art for recording and animation. I’ve intentionally kept it from bloating out as much as Bianca’s, to try and maintain a final page count of somewhere around 40-50 and avoid pushing up against my limits.

And Brac’s Guide to Piracy was on a subject I had mostly not even thought about until the project was already underway. None of my campaigns had done anything resembling piracy for years, and the one that did briefly flirted with the idea before giving up on it long before I had to actually do anything. The writing for Brac’s Guide to Piracy was finished over a week ahead of schedule, and it was easily the hardest book so far, and will probably be one of the hardest for the entire series. The future is always uncertain and it’s possible one of the other eight books I have planned will end up being the one that derails the series, but right now, the train looks unstoppable.

So I’m committing to the plan publicly. Twelve Kickstarters in twelve months, digitally fulfilled within 30 days, physical copies shipped within 60 days, and signed copies shipped within 90 days – and those are maximums, the standard plan is half that.


Since the goal of the Kickstarter marathon is to get people to remember who I am, the measure of success is backer count, not money. So let’s talk about how many backers is a decent amount. I’m Kickstarting a tabletop project, so we don’t care about non-tabletop projects, and I’m Kickstarting sourcebooks for the most popular system on the market right now, so my upper limit shouldn’t be any lower than the cap of what the category can accomplish (the top decile is usually dominated by first party releases from brands started in the 80s or 90s, but if MCDM (established 2018) can break through that, then in theory I can, too).

So let’s look at some data from 2019, because that’s the last time someone gathered it all up and sold it for like $10:

Bottom decile: 0-77 backers
Ninth decile: 79-115 backers
Eighth decile: 117-170 backers
Seventh decile: 173-234 backers
Sixth decile: 235-318 backers
Fifth decile: 323-448 backers
Fourth decile: 457-622 backers
Third decile: 625-858 backers
Second decile: 865-1273 backers
Top decile: 1281-21735 backers

From these numbers I derived some goals:

0-99: Total failure. Only niche projects should be getting numbers this low, otherwise either the project itself was bad or it was presented poorly.
100-199: Poor. Hovering around eighth decile, this is firmly under average. Broad appeal projects like 5e sourcebooks should not be getting numbers this low (except from first-time creators with no reputation, at least, but that’s not me anymore). If a single book in the series hit this low, that might just indicate that specific subject was unpopular, but if it two in a row hit it, that probably means the project has no momentum.
200-299: Mediocre. Covers seventh and sixth decile, this range starts mediocre and tops out fairly average, but I gave it the “mediocre” label because I don’t like to settle. I decided early on that if this was all I could sustain then that wasn’t great, but it might be something to work with, especially if the series wound up having a long tail – maybe the original Kickstarters would be only mildly successful, but I’d end up getting a lot of passive income once I had 10+ books on the market. This bracket was my initial goal for the first project.
300-449: Good. Mostly conforms to fifth decile, this is high-average and suggests a successful project. This is the highest bracket I’ve ever reached as of the writing, and it may theoretically be my limit.
450-599: Great. Mostly conforms to fourth decile, this is firmly above average. A single project spiking upwards to this number would probably just indicate luck with the Kickstarter algorithm or the memosphere, but if the series gets this high on a steady upward trendline, that would be definitive success for the momentum building plan.
600-899/900-1199: Amazing. Mostly conforms to third and second deciles, respectively, and has clearly broken away from the pack. Far enough ahead of where I am right now that I haven’t much thought about what their implications would be (the graphic I commissioned to mark progress doesn’t even have a divider between these two, though I’ll probably have one added if we ever threaten to actually reach it), but the ultimate goal of the series is to get at least one book to this level.
1200+: Crazypants. I’m rounding down to get the start of this bracket to be exactly twice 600, for the sake of the graphic I had commissioned to measure progress. At some point in this bracket things transition to absurd numbers where the success of the project is clearly built off of some other project, usually an existing RPG that’s been around for at least fifteen years and often thirty or more, but sometimes it’s something like the Root RPG based off of the fairly recent Root board game, or the MCDM Kickstarters that draw their success heavily from Matt Colville’s YouTube channel.


If the nature of the production pipeline didn’t demand I have the cover for Irena’s already paid for by the time the Kickstarter for Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy was finished, I might have quite foolishly called the whole project a failure after Natalia’s and called it off. Natalia’s made money, but not enough to justify the effort, and it only brought in 158 backers, a poor showing. I expected it would do better and at least get very close to 200 backers, but the final 48 hours were very disappointing compared to the standard explosion as Kickstarter sends out reminder emails to everyone watching the project (and also I think the algorithm boosts projects in their final 48 hours more maybe?). Since I already had Irena’s mostly ready, I decided I may as well put a bow on it and get some return for the investment and effort, even if the project was now perilously close to going no further than two books.

My hypothesis at the time was that there’s not very many people on the fence about a project whose core product is $5. If they’re not sure, they back $5 for the .pdf immediately rather than coming back later. Thus, no final 48 hours explosion.

This hypothesis has been pretty thoroughly falsified by the final 48 hour explosions for both Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion and Bianca’s Guide to Golems (the latter is just entering its final 24 hours, but there’s clearly been a boom already), so I have no idea what was up with the final 48 in Natalia’s.

Regardless, Irena’s scored 210 backers, mediocre in absolute terms but very promising in that it was 30% growth over Natalia’s, while Bianca’s ended with 278 backers, which was 30% growth over Irena’s. Recklessly extrapolating these three data points into a fundamental and inviolable law of the universe, I would reach the crazypants bracket by book nine. I figure I’m very likely to hit a saturation point sometime before then, but who knows when it will be.

Maybe necromancy is actually unpopular, and people are dying for content for the social pillar and magic item crafting. Maybe the plan to build momentum is working really well. I’d say by the fifth or sixth crowdfunding project, we’ll know.

The Future

At this point, I have Brac’s Guide to Piracy totally drafted and the Kickstarter set up and ready to launch as soon as the cover art is finished, which it mostly is, so that’ll be going off on May 16th as per the schedule. Piracy seems like it’ll probably be another popular subject, so if the growth so far has been driven mostly or completely by subject choice, this one might continue that trend even without indicating any long term growth at all.

I’m never committed to the next book in the series until I start fleshing it out properly, which I don’t do until I’m sure the previous book will be a success (usually about halfway through the crowdfunding), but right now the June book is probably going to be Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders. The last book I anticipated being a hard sell wasn’t, especially, but I’m even more confident that Thaemin’s is going to reveal how much people like the series as opposed to this one book, which I imagine would do pretty mediocre by itself. Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders is going to have some new classes like the Summoner and the Healer, but you can tell the second one is basically intended as a replacement for Clerics, and while I have an argument as to why the Cleric is bad and you should replace them, I doubt most people will want to hear it (both classes are still fully compatible with having a Cleric and the Healer is also way better for new players).

I have no firm plans for the other seven books in the series. I do have a list of probable subjects picked out – I wouldn’t be committing to twelve ‘zines if I hadn’t already picked out twelve subjects I’m confident I can write 30+ pages on – but I don’t have outlines or pagecount estimates or anything, so I don’t even have a particularly good guess as to what books past Thaemin’s will contain besides “something to do with fiends and warlocks” or “something to do with dragons” and so on. This makes it hard to guess what books might be more or less popular, but the data should be fairly clear by the time we get that far, and if it isn’t (if, for example, Brac’s follows the 30% trend but Thaemin’s does about as well as Brac’s – I’d be unable to tell if I’ve hit my limit or if Thaemin’s has an unpopular premise that’s canceling out growth) then I’ll have the next book or two outlined and hopefully at least one mostly outlined by then, which means I’ll be able to make new predictions.

Overall, the future remains uncertain, but current indications give reason to be optimistic.