The Three Buu Solution

The Buu arc of Dragonball Z is generally agreed to be the weakest of the bunch. The arc contains several beloved plot beats, like the relationship between Mr Satan and Fat Buu and Vegeta’s excellent character arc, and also contains many interesting concepts like fusion, Gohan’s relationship with Videl, and even Majin Buu himself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t gel together at all. Many of the most interesting additions to the story are totally extraneous, and the relentless focus on the rivalry between Goku and Vegeta undermines the conclusion of the Android/Cell arc where Gohan is supposed to be taking up the mantle of Earth’s defender from Goku, who is falling behind the rising power of his son. That passing of the torch lasted all of one fight before Goku shows up, having far exceeded Gohan once more.

Arthuriana thrived on its ability to discard or rewrite bad stories while keeping good ones word for word. I think losing this ability, in part because of copyright and in part because cinema means that cutting together films shot in different eras makes the seams extremely obvious, makes modern storytelling weaker. Given a chance to reboot Dragonball Z, I’d make only minor edits to the Saiyan/Freeza arc, and while I’d revise the early Android/Cell arc (the androids themselves are wasted as villains), I’d want the conclusion to be mostly a shot-for-shot recreation. For the Buu arc, however, I’d go with a total reconstruction with the goal of salvaging the good bits while reframing the context such that they actually matter. In the existing Buu arc, all fusions and every action taken by both Gohan and Mr Satan could both be completely excised and it would change nothing about the ultimate conclusion.

Given the opportunity to rewrite the arc, I’d implement what I call the Three Buu Solution: Having not one, but three pink demon genies, each of Buu’s three different forms being different characters altogether, who appear right alongside one another. This allows for three coterminous plots that can emphasize three different sets of characters without reducing some of them to a sideshow in which a heroic effort is made to defeat Buu and it just doesn’t work, so everyone ultimately may as well have just waited for Goku to do it. Again.

Continue reading “The Three Buu Solution”

Kickstarter: Not Exactly Hitting The Ground Running

$1,021 is not a small amount of money and my Kickstarter is reasonably likely to succeed based on current momentum. It’s a lot less than $1,312, however, which is how much Strangers in Ramshorn had on day 5. Only a tiny fraction of my previous backers have shown up so far, with the as many people backing the current project at $25, for copies of both the original and the sequel, rather than $15, for only a copy of the new .pdf.

Now, RPG campaigns are big and unwieldy things, and it’s possible that the reason people haven’t responded well enough to Petals and Thorns to want to buy the sequel is because they haven’t actually run it. There could be delayed success here where, in a year or two when people have actually played Petals and Thorns, they find they really like it. MailChimp also indicates that two-thirds of my audience haven’t even downloaded the .pdf link I sent them for Strangers in Ramshorn, which would indicate either that they decided they didn’t want to read the adventure after already paying for it, or else that a huge proportion of my audience prefers the VTT version, which I decided not to promise for Heroes of Ramshorn on account of Roll20 having atrocious distribution capabilities. It’s even possible that people liked Petals and Thorns on first reading, and simply haven’t heard about the sequel – the email I sent out to existing backers was a Kickstarter update, which is frequently ignored once people already have their rewards. Certainly every time I’ve run the game, it’s been very popular. Plus, it’s still possible that the Kickstarter will be saved by sudden surges in popularity towards the middle – it was always impossible to predict when things would suddenly leap up several hundred dollars for the first one, and it’s possible (though not likely) that these unpredictable leaps will occur more towards the middle of this campaign than they did for the first, where they mixed with the initial surge of backers to create continuous amazing fortune in the first week.

But I must also acknowledge the possibility that the reason people like the game when I am running is because I am running it, and that I simply will not be able to scale this whole tabletop RPGs thing up at all. It can still serve as seed income for other projects, but it may not be able to serve as the seed audience for anything.

Heroes of Ramshorn: Live!

Heroes of Ramshorn 2

Petals and Thorns II: Heroes of Ramshorn, an adventure about power and what you’ll do to keep it, is now live! The Lunatic Court, the Order of the Lion, and a menagerie of other factions are going to blows over the Eastern Coalition. How far are you willing to push your luck to get as much done as possible before taking a long rest and giving your enemies time to march? How many compromises are you willing to make to win the loyalty of enough allies to crush your enemy and install your regime? What do you believe in – and who are you willing to sacrifice to those beliefs?

Reminder that Kickstarter gives projects visibility based on the total number of backers, not the total amount pledged, so even a $1 pledge can be very helpful in getting the project in front of more people. If $1 is all you can or want to give, don’t be discouraged by thinking that it won’t make much a difference – it can make a bigger difference than it seems.

Inspirobot

Inspirobot is a website that automatically generates inpirational posters. Most of them are gibberish, but every four or five you get a good one. These are some of my favorites.

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You wouldn’t think a robot would need or want a sex cult, but here we are.
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Inspirobot attempting to break into YA dystopia fiction.
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The image is what makes this one perfect.
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After dabbling in YA dystopia, Inspirobot pivoted to the classic 1984-style.
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Inspirobot also writes for White Wolf, apparently.
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Are you okay, Inspirobot? Do you need help?

Heroes of Ramshorn: ‘Ere We Go

Back in September of 2018, I ran a Kickstarter for Petals and Thorns: Strangers in Ramshorn, a D&D adventure about power and politics in a small town caught in the jaws of imminent civil war. I’m now locking in final prices for maps, formatting, and illustrations for the sequel, Heroes of Ramshorn, so I can get the Kickstarter up and running. It’s looking like, in order to get the sequel up to the same level of quality as the original, I’ll probably need to raise something like $3,000, although that price isn’t final. The last one raised $4,000, so that should be doable.

However, the last one made me $24 off the Kickstarter itself and a little over $100 so far in sales post-Kickstarter, in exchange for like 80 hours of work. This was perfectly expected, and in fact much better than I initially expected (my original goal was $500, and initially I scarcely hoped to hit $1,000). My plan was always that I would have to accept minimal profits for the work put in early on in order to get the engine running, and that a greater backlog and growing awareness that I exist would bring in a larger customer base with each release. The question is, will I hit sustainable profits before I hit my ceiling? And the answer is: We’re about to find out. Well, maybe not. It’s entirely possible that I get more money, but still not enough to justify the time, thus stranding me for another four months in this limbo where maybe I’ve hit my ceiling or maybe the next one will continue the trend of increasing success.

Anyway, Kickstarter incoming. Just like the Magignosis Kickstarter, this one is probably not going to lead to any hiatuses in posting updates, although Tuesday/Friday articles may be focused on the Kickstarter.

How To Defeat Pixy In Ace Combat Zero

A couple weeks ago, one of the search results for my blog was “how to defeat pixy in ace combat zero hate the mission.” I doubt the guy found what he was looking for on my two posts referencing Pixy by name, because those posts didn’t explain how to beat Pixy, just why he sucks as a last boss. For all future travelers: Grind cash until you unlock the ADF-01 Falken. This crazy-broken laser plane’s secondary weapon is moderately long range, does tons of damage, and travels at the speed of light. The enemy doesn’t get any missile alerts, you don’t have to close in to stop them from getting away, you just point your plane at them, push the fire button, and they die.

Solo Dexterity Games

Dread is a tabletop RPG in which you build a Jenga tower, and whenever you want to do something risky, you pull some number of blocks from that Jenga tower. If it topples over, you are dead! This is of interest to me because it’s the kind of thing that can sustain solo play. Could you adapt an RPG’s combat system to work on Jenga blocks without simply rebuilding from the ground up? Doing so would replace tactics with dexterity, which is good for solo play, because dexterity can be tested against arbitrary goals, like “pull 20 Jenga blocks without knocking over the tower,” while tactics requires building some kind of AI.

The main issue with using Jenga for these purposes is that once the tower has been knocked over, you’re done. A scheme to do something like convert the CR of enemies into a number of Jenga blocks to pull – in addition to totally removing all differences between builds of all characters – is inevitably a game of seeing how far you can go before you topple the tower and the game comes screeching to a halt. If you aren’t actually dead, you may as well be, because you probably won’t want to continue play if it requires resetting the tower. Not only that, but any kind of healing in this system is horribly laborious. What do you do, pull a block off the top and try to insert it back into the middle? That’s as likely to knock the tower over as taking damage. Just give yourself a number of free pulls, where you get the benefits of pulling a block without actually doing so? Then a major component of game strategy is to avoid actually playing the game as much as possible. And while resetting the tower when you take a long rest or equivalent isn’t terrible, because that’s probably a good time to unwind anyway, it’d still be better if you could make a system where resetting a Jenga tower wasn’t a necessary step of play mid-game.

The problem might get easier if we look at other dexterity games playable by one person. For example: Crokinole, highest rated dexterity game on all of Board Game Geek despite having been created in 1876, and that’s not just because the dexterity game category is barren – it’s not, and Crokinole is rated 77th overall. Crokinole is a dexterity game in which you can score either 20, 15, 10, 5, or 0 points on your turn, which maps well to a d20 roll, if we swap the 0 for a 1. Crokinole isn’t nearly as much fun with just one player, because you cannot attempt to hit opponent discs and knock them out of the scoring area if you have no opponent. You could begin with several opponent discs on the board instead (though probably best to waive the rule requiring you hit an opponent’s disc for a shot to count if you’re using the shot as a die roll), or you could just use an empty Crokinole board and simply use the shot to replace die rolls.

With a bit of creativity, Crokinole can do a surprising amount of heavy lifting. For example, add a new rule that you can flick your disc from any quadrant that isn’t occupied by an enemy disc, and that hitting enemy discs has some effect on them in addition to whatever the results of your score. Then you can have an enemy backline on the far side of the table guarded by discs on the two intermediate quadrants. Maybe enemies in the center gain some benefit, so knocking discs out of the middle denies the enemy powerful artillery. Combine this with Jenga and it takes away the biggest drawback of Jenga-as-health: If you use shielding or healing to avoid damage, that doesn’t mean you aren’t playing the game, it just means you’re playing more Crokinole and less Jenga.

Maybe modern games can provide more fodder? Dr. Eureka is pretty highly rated, a game in which you have three plastic beakers with two colored marbles each, two red, two green, and two purple. You draw a card that displays a different arrangement of the same marbles in the beakers, for example, one green and purple beaker, one purple and red beaker, one red and green beaker. Then you must rearrange the marbles in your beakers to match the cards without touching any of the marbles or letting any of them leave the beakers. In a regular game, you race against other players, but you can also race against an arbitrary time limit. You could use Dr. Eureka as your spellcasting system, with particularly fast mixtures allowing you to cast a spell as a bonus action instead of a standard, while running out of time might waste your turn and force you to choose next turn between attempting to finish the spell (picking up the game of Dr. Eureka where you left off with a reset timer) or letting the spell fizzle to do something else.

So how can all of these systems come together? I dunno. I just needed a Friday article and couldn’t think of a topic, so I slapped together some half-formed thoughts.

Spore Left Out So Much

The concept behind Spore is that it was a journey from the origins of life to an era of space exploration and interplanetary empires. What we got in practice is five disconnected mini-games, only one of which was actually good at what it was doing, and that’s because each of them felt like a simplified tutorial level that they forgot to build greater complexity on top of and only the Cell Stage was actually a tutorial level. Today I’m going to mourn the first great betrayal of my early teen years by talking about all the missed opportunities in Spore.

The Molecular Stage

I only bring this up to mention that cutting it was a good idea. The Cell Stage is already a straightforward tutorial game and playing Tetris for ten minutes to get into it would’ve only dragged out a start-to-finish playthrough. Life in general is about 4 billion years old on Earth whereas life reasonably similar to the microbial creatures seen in the Cell Stage only emerged about 1.5 billion years ago after plants and eukaryotes were invented, but those 2.5 billion years were interminably dull and it’s not a big deal that we skipped them.

The Cell Stage

I said earlier that the Cell Stage is actually good at what it does because it’s supposed to be an oversimplified tutorial stage. The only flaw in the Cell Stage is that you are required to play through it the first time. It should’ve been skippable from the beginning. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly acceptable 30-ish minute introduction to the game that has minimal customization before throwing you into some reasonably interesting gameplay, giving you some time to actually have some fun before you’re dumped into the Creature Stage and its far more complex customization and gameplay. The problem, of course, is that the Creature Stage didn’t really feature far more complex gameplay, in fact going from the positioning based gameplay of the Cell Stage to the hotbar gameplay of the Creature Stage is a lateral move at best.

Continue reading “Spore Left Out So Much”

What We’ve Learned About LitRPG

Reviewing LitRPG books turned out to be a great source of easy content, though apparently not so great a source that I wasn’t able to keep that up while traveling, nor, despite promises, immediately after traveling. I’m just super wiped out right now and I’m not sure why, but I’ll be bringing things back online over the course of the next week or two. Its actual purpose, however, was an investigation of the LitRPG market. By examining the books that were popular and the reviews left on them, I could figure out why people liked the books that were doing well (the reverse would also be helpful data, but unfortunately there is basically no such thing as a heavily-reviewed book that nobody likes – a book that nobody likes generally fails to find an audience and accumulates few reviews).

So now that I’ve read the books and also a decent spread of positive and negative reviews for them, what have I learned?

  1. The most consistent reason people read LitRPG is for a game that they wish was real. Even Threadbare, which has no (apparent) connection to the real world at all, has several reviews in which people talk about how the book spoke to their childhood fantasy of having a living toy to be their best friend. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Threadbare (and Everyone Loves Large Chests, a similarly vaguely Pratchett-esque LitRPG series starring a mimic) hasn’t done nearly as well as Awaken Online or even Dungeon Born (which features a recognizably human protagonist, though not one from our world). Having a protagonist who’s from the real world is important.
  2. Protagonists are always male, no exceptions.
  3. Nobody cares about craft. Although negative reviews frequently point out that the line-by-line writing of basically everything but Threadbare and Way of the Shaman is incredibly amateurish, this hasn’t stopped any of the books being successful.
  4. Properly integrating video game concepts is well regarded. Several of the negative reviews for the Skeleton in Space series (which I did not review for this blog, but did examine as part of my research) complain that the LitRPG elements seem tacked on, and Dungeon Born’s positive reviews frequently bring up its rune/incantation system. So, well-incorporated game elements is a plus, and also the bar is very low. Although reviews don’t mention it as often, it’s worth noting that every LitRPG I’ve reviewed has prominently featured build strategy (with varying degrees of competence).
  5. Length varies from Threadbare’s 240 pages to Awaken Online’s over 500, but somewhere in the 400s seems to be most common. Since word processor pages are significantly larger than printed pages, we really want word count. Novel pages have 250-300 words on them, so the 400-500 page range is 100,000 to 150,000. Series that pump out new books very rapidly are also common.
  6. The only book that isn’t priced at $4.99 is Survival Quest, priced $3.99, but whose sequels are $6.99, so that’s most likely a scheme to get people to look at a slightly more expensive series of books by offering the first one under the market average price.

A handful of ideas I’ve had have been chucked based on the research. I considered a book about the NPCs of a LitRPG world, where some other guy is the Chosen One from another world, but it fails on #1. I took a stab at writing a female protagonist based on some chatter on forums, but market research firmly indicates the people behind that chatter aren’t actually enough to sustain a book (and some number of them may be self-deluded about their willingness to read female protagonists).

Oddly enough, my biggest stumbling block has been something I’m ordinarily very good at: Worldbuilding. A lot of LitRPG worlds seem really underbuilt, and that seems like something the market would respond well to. Part of the appeal of an MMORPG is popping open the world map, seeing the level ranges on all the regions, finding the dark Mordorian wasteland labeled with the level cap, and thinking someday, I’ll wreck that place. Having such a map in the front of the book would help set me apart in a good way. But then I have to build the entire setting from the ground up, in at least enough of an outline to put labels on a map. Normally, this part isn’t even hard, but right now, most of my worldbuilding focus is dumped into Petals and Thorns, and I’m feeling weirdly drained trying to build a new setting while that one’s unfinished. I’m behind on the playable draft of Petals and Thorns II, plus the Fantasy Grounds version of the original (although that one never had a firm deadline) and that’s infecting my ability to work on other projects – blog included.