Joker

I don’t have that much to say about this movie (although this will not stop me from stretching out my muddled thought process for the usual 2,000-ish words – this is gonna be one of those “probably better than missing an update completely” articles) and it’s basically all spoilers, so I’m going to put everything below the break except for a bottom-line review that Joker is good and you should watch it.

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Mythos: Celephais and From Beyond

Celephais

We’re back in the dream world today, and our protagonist dreams because there is nothing left for him in the waking world:

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper.

So I guess that’s the end of the story, then?

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Space Madness!

I was hoping to save this for Friday, but now there’s a limited time offer that I want to give people a chance to get on top of. Most people follow my blog for my chapter-by-chapter book reviews, not my RPG stuff, but for people who like both Lovecraft and rolling very large amounts of dice, I have good news for you: Space Madness now exists and you can get 20% off by clicking on this link right here. Provided that no more than 49 other people have already used that offer. Space Madness is an atompunk Lovecraftian RPG set in an era when humans have expanded out to the limits of the solar system. The party play as space rangers, bold heroes of the Federation who seek to explore the far reaches of the solar system braving not only the Federation’s arch-rivals in the Union-Republika, but also such horrors of the solar system as Venusian man-lizards, Moonbeasts, and Yuggothians.

Also, there’s a bunch of wands that you use to do stuff. The whole thing was written as part of a challenge to make an RPG based on three words selected at the whim of the challenge-issuer, and those words were atompunk, Mythos, and wands. You might think that the RPG is a half-assed weekend project, given that backstory, but no, designer Bobby Derie spent months (maybe over a year? I was on the forum where the challenge was issued, but I forget exactly how long ago it was) working on creating a complete and playable 268-page RPG. Bobby Derie used to write for Shadowrun and I would not be surprised to learn that he is one of the most knowledgeable Mythos scholars in the world, so he is probably the most qualified person in the world to write this very specific idea.

The link up above is for a softback version. You can also get a .pdf version for $5, which is practically nothing, although it’s also got no interlinking, which is annoying. The actual content is all there, though, and if you want an atompunk Lovecraft game set throughout the solar system, there’s not a whole lot of alternatives.

Yahtzee Made Video Games

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw is probably going to be “the Zero Punctuation guy” right up until generational turnover turns him into “who?” He’s already getting there. Zero Punctuation hasn’t been a big deal for like eight years, there’s gamers today who’ve never even seen one.

I was in his target demographic right when he became a big deal, though, and in addition to watching the complete ZP archive, I also went to Yahtzee’s site and dug up all his games. Yeah, turns out Yahtzee is an indie game dev in addition to being a game critic. There’s a reason you haven’t heard of his games, though. They’re not agonizingly bad or anything, many of them are a perfectly enjoyable way to spend two or three hours of your life, but not above replacement level. If you picked out another (completed, non-asset flip) indie game at random, then you’d probably get something about as good. None of them are really spectacular, but a few of them do rise above replacement-level, and I need a Tuesday article and don’t want to play a bunch of new games to get it, so we’ll be looking at each of Yahtzee’s games briefly, because I already played them all back in high school.

Also, Yahtzee’s currently doing a thing where he develops a video game every month for a whole year. I won’t be covering any of those right now because I stopped following Yahtzee by the time he made them, although I am leaving open the possibility that I’ll come around and look at those once the year is up and I have a full set of twelve to poke at.

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So Much For “The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play”

Twilight Struggle is considered by Board Game Geek to be one of the greatest board games of all time. It has a computer version, so I picked it up in order to play the AI, because my social life remains utterly devastated by my professional GMing gig. I’ve played a couple of games as both the USA and USSR, and so far I have lost every time by my opponent triggering a nuclear war that was technically my fault. Granted, this speaks to a serious weakness in my strategy, but really, the rules should consider that situation a much lesser victory and maybe even a stalemate compared to winning through victory points, and the AI should thus be less eager to take it.

HP Lovecraft Does Not Write Like HP Lovecraft, Apparently

I have noticed my writing becoming slightly more Lovecraftian as I have been reading his work. Is this a real thing, I asked myself, or am I just seeing tics I always had but only noticed now because Lovecraft is on my mind? There’s plenty of Lovecraft in sci-fi/fantasy, after all, plenty of vectors for me to have osmosed the ideas continuously long before I started reading multiple Lovecraft stories in a row. Plus, five-ish years ago when I read a few of the famous ones, it’s always possible that they permanently lodged something in my writing style that I just didn’t notice until now.

And hey, I thought to myself, wasn’t there an online tool that analyzes what famous author your writing style most resembles? My recollections were accurate, but I still wondered if the tool itself was accurate. I pasted in the thousand-ish words I had written the previous day, and apparently I write like Agatha Christie. “Neat,” I thought, “but how reliable is that, really? Does this tool accurately categorize writing style at all, or is it basically just noise?” I decided to test it by pasting in bits of the same story written considerably earlier. This website’s consistent opinion is that I write like Agatha Christie. “Seems solid,” I thought, but ever the skeptic, it also occurred to me: “What if this thing is just weighted strongly towards Agatha Christie for some reason?” So I dug up some of the writings that occasional commenter Longes had sent me, and the algorithm pretty consistently says that he writes like JK Rowling. I don’t really get that vibe from Longes’ writing, but while the algorithm may be picking up on different elements than humans care about, it does at least seem to consistently sort writers into different buckets.

So then I thought, “let’s see if this algorithm can correctly sort writings by the others in its own database.” So I confirmed that Lovecraft was in the database, copy/pasted Lovecraft’s Old Bugs into the page, since that’s the story I was reading and I had it open for quotation, and then double checked by also analyzing a few thousand words of the Shadow Over Innsmouth, just in case there was a style shift that would confuse the algorithm.

HP Lovecraft does not write like HP Lovecraft, apparently.

He writes like Agatha Christie.

Learning Board Games Is Hard

I love to play board games, but despite being able to buy new games for like $10 off of Tabletop Simulator on top of practically unlimited free mods in the Steam workshop, I find myself only playing occasionally. A major contributor to this is undoubtedly that I would rather be playing with people, but rarely get to, because my evenings are busy with my professional D&D, but that’s certainly not all of it. I love a good solitaire board game. Partly this is because I don’t like playing the same game over and over again after I’ve already beaten it, nor do I find it easy to muster up the willpower to try again soon after a defeat. But given the number of new (in the sense that I, personally, haven’t played them) games available, shouldn’t that just lead me to trying out new games, failing, rotating other new games in, and eventually coming back to the failed games for another crack at them until they are finally rotated into my “won” pile?

The reason why this doesn’t happen is because learning board games is hard. And I am undecided as to whether this is because rulebooks and YouTube channels are bad at explaining them or because I am bad at learning them. Rulebooks might be chained to some bad habits from the stone age of board games, sure, a poor rulebook will impact sales almost not at all because by the time someone even has the rulebook they’ve already spent $50 on the game and will undoubtedly take the trouble to learn how to play, even if the rulebook isn’t very clear. Fine. Why aren’t “how to play” explainer videos rapidly optimizing? That begs the question, of course, as to whether there are optimizations to make.

And I think there are. The best method of opening a board game explanation I’ve ever heard came from a board game group I was part of back when I wasn’t doing the D&D gig, and it went like this: “Start every explanation by explaining who the players are, what their goal is, and how they’ll accomplish it.” Arkham Horror LCG? “You are an investigator in 1920s Arkham, you’re trying to solve a Mythos mystery, and you do that by collecting enough clue tokens to advance through the act deck before enough doom tokens accumulate to advance through the doom deck.” Castaways? “You are stranded on a deserted island, you must signal a ship for rescue, and you do that by reaching the headland after retrieving and constructing enough items to successfully signal a ship.” Nemo’s War? “You are Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, you’re trying to accomplish one of the four objectives of exploring beneath the ocean, making scientific inventions, liberating oppressed people around the globe, or destroying shipping for revenge on the imperialist powers, and you do that by allocating actions that advance your chosen objective while managing limited resources in an ocean constantly filling up with more and more hostile ships.”

For some reason, these summaries never seem to appear in rules explanations. The premise is often explained to hook an audience, y’know, the whole “this is who you are, this is what you’re trying to accomplish” thing, but rarely do they make it to “and you do that by [insert actual mechanical method of measuring win condition here].” Diving into the mechanics of set up and lists of actions you can take on your turn without establishing what the mechanical end goal is makes it difficult to see why various actions are relevant to victory, doubly so if the game is even slightly abstract.

Fighting in Five Foot Squares

Some HEMA types got together and made a gallery of fighters sparring in adjacent 5-foot squares: https://imgur.com/gallery/sT0EVJi

I think there’s two main takeaways from this:

#1: The average sword fight should expect to take place across at least a 2×2 area, and 3×3 is probably most reasonable. A five-foot square is a perfectly reasonable space for a single combatant to occupy. It’s small enough that they can easily prevent an enemy from passing through (unless that enemy is especially nimble, and there are class features and feats for this), but big enough that a friend can easily run through when no one’s trying to stop them, yet also too small for two people to stand in the same space and fight effectively, either with each other or with foes outside (with an exception for fighting back-to-back, which you can make a special rule for if you really feel it’s necessary).

But although a five-foot square is a reasonable amount of space for a combatant to occupy, it’s not nearly big enough for two of them to represent the space that a sword fight takes place in. The solution here is pretty straightforward: D&D really should have some more positioning mechanics built straight into its combat rules, not locked away in class powers.

#2: When you are five feet away from an opponent, you are not just squaring off with them. That happens 10 feet away. At five feet, you are actively in melee with them. I think D&D rules do a perfectly good job modeling this by having combatants who are adjacent to each other be unable to move away without provoking an attack of opportunity, but people often visualize this as one combatant turning to run and the other lunging for their unguarded back as they do so. The actual attack of opportunity comes because an enemy is disentangling themselves from a clash to get out, and you could make a strong argument that daggers (just like ranged weapons) shouldn’t get one.

The State of the Blog

So, what’s up with the blog? It’s had real spotty updating lately.

Partly, the problem here is that I am very tired. My Kickstarter ventures simply aren’t working, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next. Various video and novel projects are getting poked at, and I’m constantly haunted by the fear that whatever I pick next will also be a total flop, and I will spend another 6-12 months of my life chasing something that ultimately won’t work. It’s really hard to do something when it feels like it will ultimately amount to nothing.

But there’s another problem: I’ve largely lost interest in the easiest source of content for this blog, the chapter-by-chapter book reviews. I’ve lost interest because I’m no longer using it as a means to improve myself as a writer. Rather than investigating a specific genre and getting some blog posts out of the process, the focus is now exclusively on writing blog posts. When reviewing LitRPG and Conan, I was invested in the research, in sating my curiosity as to what the fundamental tropes of LitRPG and the overall shape of the Conan story was, respectively. When reviewing these Humble Bundle books, there’s no greater thread through the stories I’m pursuing. Having discovered that Scourge of the Betrayer kind of sucks, it’s not clear what value there is in pursuing it further. There’s no investigation to complete, here.

Someone did send me a free .pdf copy of their collection of fantasy short stories, which was neat. It’s probably not the kind of thing that’s going to happen again, but having received the .pdf, I am going to at least take a stab at reviewing it. After that, I’m going to figure out a research project of some kind to pursue, rather than aimlessly reading whatever comes to hand, because the aimless thing just hasn’t worked at all. If nothing else comes to mind, I can just go back to Conan. Plenty water left in that well.