Where I’ve Been

I think this 2-3 week (depending how you count it) blackout is probably the longest period of inactivity this blog has had since launching in February 2017. Second year anniversary coming up, so I guess nearly letting it die is how we’re celebrating. It’s gotten so bad that I didn’t even notice that other blog I used to contribute to made a new post about struggling from underneath the burden of his loving wife, adorable children, prestigious university degree, and stable employment to get back to what really matters: Blogging. A post which went up like two weeks ago. Even though it’s one of like five blogs in my WordPress feed. It was still on my front page when I finally logged in, that’s how uncluttered that feed is, I just hadn’t logged in since forever.

The reason I’ve been so far behind is mainly because I really wanted to get the Pathfinder version of Petals and Thorns out to my backers before New Year’s, and once that didn’t happen, as soon as possible afterwards. Illness, freelancers of dubious quality, and a misestimation of my own ability to do lots of work in the dead of winter contributed to falling behind schedule, but now the Pathfinder version is out and I have no firm deadline for the Fantasy Grounds release. I’d like to keep to my January/February release window if possible, of course, but unlike the other versions, backers were warned up front that the release date was tenuous, so I don’t feel the need to obsessively prioritize that release should it fall behind schedule.

I don’t have any deadlines breathing down my neck anymore, so I’m going to try and get the Kartoss Gambit wrapped up. I’m also going to think about whether I want to continue LitRPG reviews right away when I do, though. I definitely don’t want to leave Kartoss hanging midway through, but I’m kind of getting to the point where I think I’ve said just about everything I have to say on the current state of the genre and it’s probably best to start looking at other things. Probably readthroughs of other books, but possibly TV shows or something instead. I’d like an excuse to get back into video editing, and while I probably don’t have time for it, a show where I hack together clips of an episode of [show] with reaction commentary is something I’d like to try doing sometime.

Also, at some point in the last couple of weeks WordPress decided that their creator-facing interface needed a hideous shade of dull pink instead of blues and oranges. It’s a lot less generic but it also looks awful. I don’t think it affects your actual experience at all, I just wanted to kvetch about it.

On a happier note, some numbers that I planned on posting about early in January before early in January became dedicated entirely to getting Kickstarter rewards out: 2018 saw this blog getting over 12,000 views from over 6,000 visitors, which is over double the numbers from 2017. That’s still not even close to Big Deal numbers, but at least they’re moving in the right direction, and fairly rapidly at that.

D&D Solar System Syncretism V: Second Pass

We’re taking a second pass on our solar system syncretism. Now that we’ve assigned planes to as many planets and moons as possible, it’s time to look at what’s left over and if we can fix it by adding any extra moons and planets. We’ve actually managed to assign most of the settings (except ones like Dragonstar, which were cut for being way too big to fit inside one solar system, and Stargate SG-1, which were cut for having nothing to do with D&D’s fantasy millieu to the point where it’s baffling they used D&D mechanics to make the tabletop RPG in the first place), and we’re also just about out of real estate, so we’ve really only got a few important considerations to make here in the second pass:

  1. We weren’t able to find room for Wheel of Time, Rokugan, Pathfinder, or Forgotten Realms. Those latter two are being held in reserve because one of them would make a good Earth, but we still need to figure out which one’s gonna get it and what to do with the other.
  2. We have no room at all left for new Magic: the Gathering planes. We’ve managed to get this far by sticking fairly close to analogies for the real world solar system which allows people to import their knowledge of real world science. If you know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the real world, you automatically know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, which means you don’t have to memorize a new fact. Bonus points: If you memorize how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, you have also memorized a real fact about actual science. The problem is, Magic is going to add new planes. If they don’t happen to fit onto an existing planet or moon that doesn’t already contain another Magic plane, we have nowhere in the system to put them. We can solve this by adding extra moons to Saturn, Neptune, or Uranus and thus intentionally break the consistency with the real world, and we can also keep the consistency with the real world and just hope that all of Magic’s new planes can be fit onto existing moons or planets. It’s also worth noting that Uranus and Neptune could either or both be used as ocean planets to host mostly-water settings like Theros, Ixalan, or the Council of Wyrms, freeing up some moons. The problem is, a major theme of the setting so far is that the moons of a gas (and water) giants have lots of interaction with moons of the same giant. We have to free up either all of a planet’s moons or none of them, because if only some of them are freed up, those blank moons can’t interact with the others.
  3. Krynn is in Pluto’s position. It has a cool thing where being past the reach of the gods explains why the Dragonlance gods keep falling in and out of contact with the plane, but the problem is that Krynn is not especially cold, and people expect Pluto to be cold. I think we can get away with the moons of Jupiter being temperate because, despite being quite a bit further from the sun than Earth, people don’t expect Jupiter to be cold. They do expect Pluto to be cold. Dragonlance, and especially other settings in the far system like Middle-Earth and Game of Thrones, really don’t want to be directly plugged into the greater solar community, though. Partly because having those settings included represents a level of gonzo that some people otherwise interested in the solar system syncretism will want to ignore, and partly because they’ll be changed unrecognizably by prolonged contact with the solar community, so the only way to meaningfully include settings like Middle-Earth is if players get to see the change as it happens.
  4. Mercury is still blank.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism V: Second Pass”

Yule Update: Red Taped

I had hoped to post an update on how Petals and Thorns did in its initial release on Roll20, but instead I am writing about why it has not yet been released on Roll20. Except the answer to that is “I don’t know,” so this is gonna be a short post. The adventure was finished back on Thanksgiving, and since then it’s been tons of database forms, and cropping my cover to fit a very specific format, and tax forms, and then…weird radio silence? So far as I know, everything’s good for my adventure, but a week and a half later, it’s still not in the marketplace, and I’m not getting answers to my emails as to what’s gone wrong. I don’t expect this blog post to affect the situation or anything – I’d just planned to write about how the adventure was doing and don’t know what else to write about except my confusion as to why it’s still caught in red tape.

D&D Solar System Syncretism IV: The Far System

We’ve discussed the inner planets of our syncretic solar system, and although Mercury and Earth aren’t getting filled in on our first pass, Eberron and Hyboria form the two pillars of the inner system’s trade routes alongside the Asteroid Belt, which contains innumerable city- and town-size asteroids which support dwarven citadels, giff mercenaries, neogi slavers, and all manner of other principally space-faring creatures pulled in from Spelljammer. We’ve discussed the outer gas giants, more self-contained as they’re further apart from one another and the inner system, especially the remote Uranus and Neptune, for whom regular trade to other planets is unknown, replaced instead by sporadic visitors who usually come for a specific purpose. Now we discuss the limits of the solar system, and dwarf planets that lie beyond them.

First, let’s talk about the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of asteroids and dwarf planets that starts at around Neptunian orbit at about 30 astronomical units from the sun and goes to about 50 AU. That is, the Kuiper Belt alone is nearly as far across as the entire rest of the solar system. It contains at least twenty times as much total material between its asteroids as the Asteroid Belt, although it’s hard to say for certain because we haven’t catalogued all of its objects. We do have a rough estimate of how much mass is out in the Kuiper Belt total, and it’s not nearly enough. There is not enough stuff out in the Kuiper Belt for the dwarf planets there to possibly have formed, given how far from the sun they are and thus how big their orbits are.

We’re giving this scientific mystery the obvious answer: Literal angels and demons used the vast majority of the Kuiper Belt’s asteroids as raw materials to create an unconscionably large ringworld at the limits of the solar system. Presumably, in our real solar system, this ringworld was subsequently dismantled or destroyed and its debris either ejected from the solar system completely or launched into the sun. In the D&D solar system we’re making, however, the ringworld is still there, at the limits of the system, just past Neptune’s orbit. Its circumference is 8 billion miles, which means even at just 100 miles across – a little longer than Hadrian’s Wall across the north bit of England near the Scottish border – it is nearly a trillion square miles. It has the surface area of five thousand Earths. Each individual godly plane described in every D&D and D&D spin-off product ever made could have an entire Earth surface area and the ringworld would still have room to spare.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism IV: The Far System”

D&D Solar System Syncretism III: Outer Planets

As it stands, we have the sun encompassing the elemental chaos with Sigil located above, a trade metropolis in the center of the solar system and just high enough above the orbital plane that you can sail directly to your destinations from there, never having to sail around a planet as their orbits will always take them below your path, not into it, until you reach your destination. In place of Mercury we have a “this space for rent” sign, and in place of Venus we have a slightly more poisonous version of Eberron, which is also home to Immoren, the setting of Iron Kingdoms (and by extension, WarmaHordes) Highpoint, the setting of MechDragon, and Kaladesh, the magepunk MtG plane. It’s a world recently hit by its own moon and which is almost entirely consumed by war, except for the continent of Khorvaire, which recently emerged from war and wants nothing to do with that any longer. Thus, naturally, people stopping over tend to come to Khorvaire. We’ve skipped over Terra for now, on account of that being hyper-valuable real estate that we’ll parcel out at the end, while giving Luna over to the Feywild for the light side and the Shadowfell for the dark side. Hyboria and the Young Kingdoms got their origin stories mushed together and deposited on Mars, and that was the end of the inner solar system. Today, we’re going to push further outwards to the gas giants and water worlds of the outer solar system.

First up, we have Jupiter. At some point, we’ll have to rename this to something other than just “Jupiter” and we can’t do that by stealing an existing setting name because Jupiter has no surface and is home to no settings. For now, we’re just going to keep calling it Jupiter. What we’re really here for are the moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa. All of them are bigger than Pluto and Ganymede is bigger than Mercury. We can add additional moons if necessary because, unlike the order of planets, the number of decently large moons Jupiter has is not super common knowledge (although nerdy types do fairly regularly know about these big four, both because Galileo discovered them and because they’re relatively good candidates for colonization in the next few centuries), but in this phase we’re just going to plonk down what settings we have onto the moons available and see how many are still homeless when we reach the end of the solar system.

Jupiter has two moons that are all at interesting and two more that are super boring. Ganymede is the moon with subsurface oceans (although it’s not the moon that might have marine life on it – that’s Saturn’s moon Titan), and Io is the moon that’s a volcanic hellscape. Callisto and Europa are basically just moons. Callisto does have some ice on it as well as a stupendous number of craters, and Europa technically has an extremely thin atmosphere of oxygen, but so far as providing interesting terrain goes, they are both basically just the moon in slightly different colors. This means we are throwing the details out completely. The only thing we are retaining from real science is that Jupiter has four moons (and even that is subject to change further down the line) and they range in size from “about the size of Asia” to “twice as big as Asia,” but bear in mind that Asia is by definition purely land (and small inland bodies of water), whereas any temperate D&D setting we seek to offload onto one of these moons will be at least 60% water, so in practice these moons go from “about the size of Asia” on Ganymede’s end to “about the size of Europe” on Europa’s (I doubt “this would have about the same landmass as Europe if it happened to have the same land:water ratio as Earth” was the reason for naming the moon Europa). Still enough room to locate a single-continent setting – or more than one, if they for some reason do not have oceans.

In addition to sheer space, there’s theming. A lot of our worlds have some overlap, and I don’t want Jupiter to be “the ghost planet” whose moons are all slight variations on gothic horror (i.e. Innistrad, Ravenloft, Diablo, etc. etc.). These moons form a community but are entirely different celestial bodies, so just like the terrestrial planets, I want each one to be noticeably different from the others. Unlike Hyboria and Eberron, where we stitched together settings with similar premises (swords and sorcery with ancient precursor people and magepunk, respectively), here on Jupiter we’re situating different settings near to one another to create little planetary neighborhoods with some decent variety to them. Since the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus all have a significant number of sizable moons (though often they’re barely able to hold a single small continent once water is accounted for), each one can serve as a mini-solar system unto itself. Birthright and Greyhawk have a fair amount of overlap, but if Golarion is neighbors with Innistrad while Oerth is neighbors with Ravnica, that does a lot to help distinguish them.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism III: Outer Planets”

D&D Solar System Syncretism II: Inner Planets

We have our raw materials all sorted, so now we start with one end of the map (I’m going with the sun) and fill in everything that’s easy and obvious. Once the obvious stuff is filled in, we can see how much we have room for left over to try and save stuff from the chopping block.

We’re going to start with the sun. And the sun is the elemental chaos. Or maybe it’s not so chaotic anymore. What’s important is that the gods use this place as a reserve of raw materials with which to create the universe (or maybe one god – I’m actually importing this idea from another setting I made with one of my brothers, where it was just the one god who did the creation, but for the sake of syncretism I’m assuming no master creator deities and instead more of an Order of the Stick approach, where lots of different pantheons had to work together to make worlds). It is surrounded by a blindingly bright wall of pure radiant energy, not fire, and past that barrier are the standard earth, fire, air, and water planes as depicted by the 5e DMG (which is only a minor update on how they were depicted in most earlier editions).

Above the sun is the city of Sigil. It’s a torus, but the city is on the inside of the torus, so when you look up from Sigil, you see more Sigil above you. The exterior of Sigil is far too hot to sustain life, constantly bombarded by the heat and pure energy of that radiant shield encircling the elemental planes. It is, however, full of astral docks. The sun, you see, is goddamn enormous, which means that if you’re at the top of it, you are actually quite high above the orbital plane. From that perch, it is easy to see the rest of the solar system (if you have good telescopes – Sigil does) and plot a course to any orbit. Sometimes it’s easy to go from one planet straight to another because they happen to be at a similar point in their orbits, but other times the two are on opposite sides of the sun – and that means regardless of where your journey starts or ends, half the time it’s somewhere between a slight detour to right along the way to stop at Sigil.

Underneath Sigil is the spire that leads up to it. It is not infinitely tall – we’re going to make a lot of things previously called “infinite” merely “unimaginably large” – but it does reach from the center of the sun up to far above its surface where Sigil lies. In the center of that spire is a space elevator leading from Sigil down to the Outlands, which you might more properly call the Inlands, since they are the center of everything. The center of the elemental chaos, connected by teleportation gate to each of the outer planes, and directly below Sigil, the trade center of the solar system.

Next up, Mercury. As mentioned earlier, there is a bizarre paucity of volcano planets for us to use for not!Mercury. Mercury could also be used as a desert planet, but we’ve already got one of those in Mars, whose dusty red landscape is better known to the public than any other planet but Earth’s. Having a pale blue dot that’s all temperate and normal with a desert planet just beyond is the bare minimum for allowing people to import knowledge of our solar system to understand the super-setting faster (and I really don’t want to demand people learn a whole new solar system from scratch – if I can keep the number of sizable moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn the same, I’d like to, even though most people don’t have the first idea how many large-ish moons Saturn has).

Complicating matters, the one volcanic world we do have is Phyrexia, which needs to be in close proximity to its targets of invasion in Mirrodin and Dominaria, which means it needs to be a moon orbiting a gas giant so that those two planes are also moons, thus explaining why Phyrexians have targeted those two. If Phyrexia is Mercury while Mirrodin and Dominaria are orbiting Saturn, it’s super weird that Phyrexia skipped over the entire inner solar system on their way to invade not one, but two worlds. It works much better if they’re all in the same planetary neighborhood.

I’ll get to the outer planes from planescape later on, but suffice to say that I wanted them all in one place and have what I think is a pretty cool idea for them, so I don’t want to use Mercury as the Lower Planes planet with Baator and the Abyss and so on (although it’s not a completely unworkable idea – if you consider the sun’s gravity well to be the “bottom” of the solar system, Mercury is the lowest reach of the system except for the sun itself, though this is complicated somewhat with this “sun is an elemental supply depot” concept). As a side note, I also don’t want to combine Phyrexia with Baator over on Io. There’s definitely some overlap between the two, with Phyrexia even being referred to as “the Nine Hells,” but scratch the surface and Phyrexia’s got a lot of differences. They could definitely be stitched together if we didn’t have enough real estate for both of them, but again: Bizarre lack of volcano worlds leaves almost nothing to put in the Mercury slot.

I’d like to give each of the four inner planets a noticeably different climate, though – no doubling up on desert worlds, especially since Amunkhet and Dark Sun are the only desert settings to go around and neither comes close to filling up Mars by themselves. so I’m leaving Mercury blank for now. It’s a problem I’ll have to come back to and solve in the second pass. It may end up being an uninhabitable wasteland or the blasted remains of a setting I dislike. Fans of whatever setting ends up melted probably won’t approve, but if I end up going that route it’ll be using a setting I had no room for anyway, so they weren’t going to be happy to begin with.

Next, Venus. There are two routes to go with this one: Venus as tropical world on the basis that it’s closer to the sun than Earth but further than Mercury and also is colored green in the sky, and Venus as smoggy world on the basis that it’s a burning toxic hellscape in real life because the actual solar system is just no fun. We’re going with smoggy world, because giving Venus three settings is a good use of real estate, and we only have two mutually exclusive options for a tropical world: Ixalan and (sort of) Zendikar, which are separate Magic: the Gathering planes and therefore should be located on separate worlds if possible, since it’s explicitly only possible to reach one from the other with magic superpowers. Using just one (underdeveloped!) MtG world is a waste of Venus, which is nearly as big as Earth and can perfectly well host multiple different small-ish settings. Eberron, Kaladesh, the Iron Kingdoms, and DragonMech are located on Venus, which we’re calling “Eberron” as a world name. DragonMech is puny, having significant landmarks so few in number that they come across as barely the size of France, and Kaladesh is barely more than a city-state, with its major landmarks being limited to the city of Ghirapur and a handful of villages located in the prerequisite mountains, plains, swamps, forests, and islands nearby. The Iron Kingdoms can fit into a single continent, and while Eberron nominally has several continents, it doesn’t really need them to be Asia-size continents – Australia size is more than enough for many of them.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism II: Inner Planets”

D&D Solar System Syncretism I: How This Works

This post is pretty self-indulgent, but it’s also 36 hours past when I usually post the Friday article, so I think it’s pretty clear at this stage that it’s either a self-indulgent post most people will skip or a non-existent post that all people have no choice but to skip.

My recent musings on setting syncretism came from a hobby project to combine as many D&D settings as possible into a single solar system, that you can travel between using some kind of Spelljammer-esque space magic. I’m dealing with copyrights held by like eighteen different companies here, so I could never actually release a finished product, but it’s a fun exercise anyway. Some things fit in, others not so much. I’m going to go through the construction of this setting before delivering the final result, so you can sort of look at this as an example of how to syncretize different settings. I’m doing this on a lark and not because I think it’s actually a good idea, which means I’m not applying the usual standards of “this setting is too lame, we’ll have to exclude it completely” that you’d want to get a really good syncretist super setting, but other than that, I stand by these methods.

First of all, let’s look at what we’ve got to deal with: The 5e DMG lists seven official D&D settings, those being Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Eberron, Mystara, Dark Sun, and Birthright. Not listed but officially supported is Ravenloft, the setting for the Curse of Strahd AP. Supported by previous editions but now not so much as mentioned are Ghostwalk and Council of Wyrms. Also the super-settings Planescape and Spelljammer, but those are obviously mutually exclusive to this single solar system idea, although we will be borrowing elements from them.

Right here we run into an immediate problem: Over half of these settings are very similar. Greyhawk and Mystara have a ton of overlap, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Birthright are politically and tonally distinct but culturally and climatologically similar, and even Eberron is more different in the civilization that occupies its landmass than in what that landmass actually is. They’re all temperate mostly-European settings with usually some jungles and deserts tossed in at the edges. Only Dark Sun and Council of Wyrms have an environment that immediately makes you think “yeah, this is a different planet,” although Ghostwalk and Ravenloft have enough weird weather stuff going on that they kind of work as different planets if you squint (and Ghostwalk isn’t anybody’s favorite setting, so if we make it super cold, no one will complain).

Luckily, we’ve got plenty of settings left to build our solar system from, so we can always use these climatologically similar settings as different continents on the same world or, especially for the smaller ones, moons orbiting other worlds. That still means we need to plumb other settings for what our major planets are going to be, however.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism I: How This Works”

Syncretism

“Syncretism” is the religious concept that two or more previously separate religions were secretly the same all along. Sometimes this is presented as “both religions contained part of the whole truth” and sometimes this is presented as “your religion is just my religion wearing a funny hat.” We’re not actually talking about religions, here, we’re talking about fictional settings (anyone who thinks adding a “what’s even the difference” joke is still edgy will be flogged), which means we are focusing mainly on that first one, the challenges of combining different settings together.

This comes up a lot in free form roleplay. All my examples are ten years out of date because I last did this kind of thing in high school, but while the specific settings that are popular have changed and the medium for creation has almost certainly moved away from the forums and chat rooms I used as a teenager, I expect the basic principles still apply to babby’s first crossover setting even today. Back before I reached my elderly twenties, the most common crossover setting was Kingdom Hearts. It was popular amongst the kinds of nerds who did freeform roleplay in the first place and had what appeared to be a built-in means of stitching any number of settings together. One example I remember in particular involved someone making a map of an expanded gummi map that included four different worlds from Star Wars (I remember Bespin and I think Coruscant, but the details don’t matter).

I bring up this example because it’s a good demonstration of how not to do syncretism. Method #1: Different settings are haphazardly jammed together without any means of influencing one another, and quick excuses are used to paper over why they have completely different tone, technology and even physics from one another. I’m sure there was some explanation for why the Millennium Falcon could travel to Bespin but not to Halloween Town, even if it was just “we never explored what lay beyond these four worlds because they seemed pretty sufficient,” but the seams between worlds are extremely obvious. The Final Fantasy style fire/lightning/blizzard magic has some overlap with the Force (Force lightning is a thing), but there’s no precedent for mind tricks and telekinesis is a very high-level trick in KH, usable only temporarily as part of a special super-transformation, while it’s one of the first tricks that Jedi learn. Star Wars ships are buckets of bolts clearly distinct from gummi ships, which, as the name implies, are made of some kind of gelatinous or play-doh-like cartoon substance. The fact that the Galactic Empire has a giant army of stormtroopers and star destroyers demonstrably capable of traveling between some worlds doesn’t lead them to become an immediate and overwhelming threat to all neighboring worlds because their inability to travel past the original Star Wars worlds is handwaved away.

This method also has precedent in the “wormhole randomly opens up between Federation Space and the Galactic Empire” conceit that was popular in the 80s and 90s, and while that’s perfectly forgivable in the context of a Star Trek vs. Star Wars hypothetical situation, it’s not so forgivable in the context of actual Trek/Wars crossover fanfiction or roleplay, again because the seams are so obvious that it makes the setting very obviously artificial. It also means that the only thing you gain from the syncretism is the ability to take characters from one setting and put them in another. There’s no shared history.

Continue reading “Syncretism”

Still Alive

Just want to let everyone know that while yes, the blog has been distressingly fallow for a while, that’s just because I need to put together a Pathfinder conversion for my Kickstarter in a hurry, which, it turns out requires me to create about a hundred Pathfinder stat blocks. This is very time consuming and I’m committed to making my December ship date, so I’ve had precious little time and focus left over (it doesn’t help that Sew You Want To Be A Hero followed the same mediocre trajectory as Stuff and Nonsense rather than shedding its flaws to fulfill its full potential – in retrospect, it was foolish of me to gamble on a book that might end up bad while getting back in the saddle). The good news is that I’m something like two-thirds of the way done with the conversion.

Irrational Behavior Isn’t Random

Every now and again, someone will try to defend a fictional character’s incoherent actions by saying that it’s because of realism and that real people don’t always behave rationally. While it’s true that real people don’t always behave rationally, they still have some reason for doing things. It might not be a good reason, but there is reason, and it is the storyteller’s job to explain that reason. Characters can make dumb moves for no better reason than “it was the middle of a gunfight and they didn’t have time to think of something better” or “they’re unreasonably suspicious and think everyone is lying to them, so they don’t trust their partner even despite all the times their partner has come through for them,” or “they really want treasure and are willing to take absolutely suicidal risks to get some.”

Each of these three examples leads to predictably sub-optimal behavior. Someone who tends to lose their head in a fight will frequently make dumb mistakes when fists and/or bullets are flying, someone who’s unreasonably suspicious will be unreasonably suspicious of everyone, someone who’s suicidally greedy will be suicidally greedy for all treasure. And if these motives are set up in advance, no one but idiot pedants will try to nitpick their motives as not making sense.

Even actually diagnosably crazy people have reasons for taking non-optimal actions, even if that reason is “because I’m certain this Kwik-Mart manager is a pawn of the alien conspiracy spying on me.” If there really were an alien conspiracy spying on a plucky investigator through alien spies wearing Kwik-Mart manager skinsuits, it would make sense to avoid that Kwik-Mart’s whole block and maybe sneak there in the middle of the night and burn the whole place down. That’s an insane delusion, but the actions taken as a result of that insane delusion make sense.

The vague, ambiguous statement that “they’re crazy” or “people aren’t always rational” does not excuse characters behaving in a manner that’s contrary to their own goals without explanation. In order for irrational behavior to be used to explain character action, that behavior must emerge from character motivation, because everything used to explain character action must emerge from character motivation.

As one example, when people ask why the protagonists of A Quiet Place don’t just move to the waterfall, saying “people aren’t rational!” is not an explanation. Most people arrive at the “why not move to the waterfall” solution within weeks of watching that movie (if not hours), while the protagonists have had two years and a much stronger incentive to try and find a way to get safe from the monsters. The entire movie revolves around how people have developed methods to hide from these monsters, it is the driving conflict and motivation behind everything that every character does (I mean, except the one guy who gave up and screamed, but that reaction being unusual was the whole point of that scene), and this obvious solution has gone completely ignored. Real people would’ve figured that out and immediately pulled up stakes to get where it’s safe, because that’s what people facing life-threatening danger do. When the Abbotts fail to do that, it makes them less believable as characters and thus makes it harder to care about them. For some people, this problem doesn’t occur to them until after they’ve watched the movie once, in which case it will still impact repeat viewings. For others, it hits them within the space of the waterfall scene and damages the movie as it happens. That’s not a trivial nitpick. It’s a flaw. Characters need coherent motivations and their actions need to flow from those motivations. Just saying “sometimes people are irrational!” does not immediately excuse characters behaving contrary to their goals.