Friday, December 14, 2018

Cave lions

As an aside; those American lion pictures reminded me that some recent papers that have done DNA research on the fossils of various specimens (as well as morphological studies, which work together and come to the same conclusion) suggest that the "primitive cave lion", Eurasian (and Berengian) cave lion, and the American cave lion are all sufficiently distinct that they are unique species not only from each other but more to the point, from the lion itself.  In other words; they're not lions.  They are very big cats, like super-sized jaguars or like tigers, but they are not lions.  The tendency to depict them as looking like wintry, grayish lions is probably not correct (the largest concentration of American lion fossils comes from La Brea in southern California where, even during the Ice Age, the climate was mild and Mediterranean-like, although somewhat more wooded and less sere than it is today.)

Another interesting find; there's no indication that the American "lion" made it further south than northern Mexico after all, and habitat differences seem to have kept it from overlapping in territories where the jaguar was extant.  What were believed to have been lion fossils in South America are now reinterpreted as exceptionally large jaguars.

And, of course, Asiatic lions, which are today isolated to a tiny strip of land in a national park in India, were once widespread across much of Asia and even eastern/southern Europe.  They may have been well-known to the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and it's not for nothing that the Greeks had loads of legends about lions; they probably knew them in person.  (Of course, the Greeks weren't confined to Greece either.  Magna Grecia had colonies all along the Black Sea, the southern half of the Italian peninsula, parts of coastal France and the Iberian peninsula and north Africa, and they probably traded not a small amount with the Carthiginians, and others on the Levant, and Egypt.)  I do wonder, sometimes, if maybe the cave lion didn't survive in Europe longer than people think, though. Like the aurochs, maybe it's an "Ice Age" animal that survived until just barely before the advent of recorded history in the area.

What does all this mean?  I don't know if it really means anything much other than that paleoartists should be careful not to model Panthera atrox, spelaea and fossilis too closely on the lion, since they weren't lions.  And, of course, more to miss.  Someday, in Heaven, I expect to really deep dive prehistoric life and learn all kinds of things about it that we can't know today, since clearly I was born with a natural affinity for it.

Friday Art Attack

I'm fascinated by the concept of Panthera atrox; or perhaps Panthera leo atrox.  In fact, the notion that we can't for sure figure out which is more accurate is part of the fascination.  The largest (or at least tied for that honor) cat that ever lived was the "American lion" which may not have actually been a lion.  Here it is, probably stealing this buffalo kill from the wolves who made it first.

An interesting D&D map.  Althogh you can't tell from the map, those islands are supposed to be floating in the air over the river, although having them simply be in the river is cool enough.

Some concept art for an Alien 5 movie that never got made (because we got Prometheus and Covenant instead.)

I don't really like the concept of "tough chick" warrior women who act like men, because it's very off-putting to both men and women.  Plus, biology proves that it's inherently unlikely anyway.  But speaking of aliens, it looks like her whip thingy is an alien queen's tail.

A gnoll captain, or something.  I don't really go in for cannon fodder races either, because every race has to have champions and heroes equivalent to the PCs, right?

Some Old Republic concept art.

Amazon boarding party.  Yeah, not bad, even if it is the problem I mentioned earlier.  Amazons are at least a mythological precedent.

Speaking of extinct megafauna again, here's Miracinonyx trumani, the "American cheetah" chasing a pronghorn.

And here two "American lions" in South America with a Toxodon.

Big, nasty dragons are the stuff of nightmares.  We tend to forget that and see them as a romanticized aspect of adventure, but they'd be terrible in real life.

Why not throw in some faux 80s synthwave art?  How often do you get to see that?

Wayne Reynold's anorexic take on Baphomet; who I otherwise see as a more muscular type dude.  Although to be fair, this does borrow a bit from Eliphas Levi and the Sabbatical Goat iconography which was the downfall of the Templars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

More thoughts on speed stat

Well, with a minimum of changes, (some of it fixing grammar and clarity more than actually changing anything) I've made sure that my chase rules are sufficiently functional in print right now today.  The way that this works is this:
  • I made sure that the monster section of the rulebook refers to using the monsters' HD for all skill stats required if any checks are made.  It does.  It did already, actually, but I had to double check that that was clearly integrated.
  • Second, I slightly modified the description of the chase rules to say that +10 for being mounted was a point of reference based on a standard horse.
  • Third, I added another sentence in the chase rules suggesting that GMs can use that point of reference to come up with other bonuses to the chase check as required to account for monster speed.
This is a stop-gap, though.  It works just fine, but realistically, if I think chase scenes are going to be a significant portion of the game, then monsters should have a chase bonus score, or speed stat, or something like that.  For a typical D&D-like game, chase scenes are relatively uncommon, so that's probably OK, and having the GM decide when one comes up if there's a bonus to one party, and what it is, is perfectly fine.  It can be done on the fly, without any significant workload or stress on the GM's part.

For Western Hack, and for any other game where being mounted, and running around chasing each other is likely to happen more frequently, a bonus for every monster is probably required.  And honestly; just because I don't need one for Fantasy Hack or Dark•Heritage 2 as it is, that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a nice addition to actually have a chase bonus score for every monster, actually.  It doesn't add any significant rules bloat, and if anything, maybe it encourages a different type of action scene to happen more often.  Sure, sure—everyone loves combat, but chases are just as common in action movies as fights for a reason; they're equally exciting!

But that means I need to go through both rules sets making sure that I add the same speed bonus or chase bonus (or speed category, or whatever it is that I end up settling on; probably an actual numeric score) is the same for all monsters which are in both sets, which is most of them.  Sigh.  That sounds a little bit tedious, so don't hold your breath that I'm going to hurry up and do it in the next day or two.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Updated Chase Rules (Fantasy Hack and Dark•Heritage 2.1) BETA

I'm a little concerned, especially as I've not got the monster list in two places, that I don't want to rewrite both of them with a new stat for each monster, and then make sure that I've replicated the entire list properly between the two games (I'm actually pretty sure that a handful of monsters aren't on both lists for various reasons, so I'd have to go through them line item by line item to figure out which.)  Plus, I don't really want to add a new stat.  I may end up going that way before I'm done, but I want this to first be a modular add-on that doesn't require any actual changes to the rules as written before it gets integrated into the main rules.  Future state probably has it integrated in, however.

Chase rules in my m20 games are pretty straightforward... an "action scene" normally means combat, but if one party elects to try to run away, he makes a Athletics + DEX check vs his opponent, and if he wins, he gets to run without taking a hit (if he loses, he still runs, but the opponent gets a free attack on him first.  Then, each round of chasing, they continue to make opposed Athletics + DEX checks.  In most situations, if one of the two wins the check by 10 or more, then he has won the chase; i.e., if he's the one running away, he manages to get away (unless circumstances preclude this, i.e., a chase across a featureless open prairie, or something; if the one chasing wins, the scene becomes a combat scene again, and the guy running will have to attempt to run away all over again.)  Either way, five rounds into this type of scene, you start to have to make DC 15 Athletics + DEX checks to avoid becoming fatigues at having a negative modifier (-5 to the chase; -2 to any subsequent combat, until the action scene is over and it resets.)

You can use the GM Ruling system to come up with modifiers based on player actions, i.e. trying to jump over something, knock over obstacles, etc. to hinder pursuit, or whatever.  And the rules refer to a flat +10 bonus to any participant in a chase that is mounted.  But this defaults to being mounted on a horse; not all animals would be equally fast.  And besides, mounted opponents might want to chase other monsters, or be chased by them.  See the terror bird entry earlier today, for example; they can chase you across the savanna, and they can even be mounts, sometimes.

So how do I see this playing out?  Monsters don't even have an Athletics score, because monsters don't have skill scores (the idea is that GMs, if they need one, can whip one up on the fly.  I have a few options:
  1. Give all monsters skill scores.  Faster monsters can be assumed to have a high Athletics score.
  2. Change the chase rules to have a Speed score or speed factor rather than an Athletics + DEX check.  
  3. Give each monster a generic speed rating, which creates a bonus or penalty to chase results.  This is similar to the horse +10 mentioned in the basic rules, but it would be a bit more nuances; horses might have different ratings, and other animals might have additional modifiers.  I'd probably go with broad categories rather than discrete numbers; something like:
    1. Very slow: penalty of -5 to -10 Anything slower than this automatically loses chase checks
    2. Slow: penalty of -2 to -4
    3. Average: no penalty, but for a bit of minor variation, I suppose you could give them a range of -1 to +1.
    4. Fast: +2 to +4
    5. Very fast: +5 to +10
    6. Extremely fast: Anything over +10
I probably like the last option best, and it's also easiest to implement without changing the way the game works too much.  GMs would still have to assign a speed to any monster, but I'd eventually update the file to include a chase modifier for all of them, because honestly, I probably should have from the get-go.  But with those categories, you'd have a benchmark to use when assigning chase scores.

This also works well for difficult assessments.  Is a bear a fast animal, for instance?  The general consensus is that no, not really, but it can rush pretty darn fast over a short space.  If you confronted a grizzly in the wild and tried to run away from it, it would probably have a hefty bonus to the chase check result for the first few rounds, but if it didn't catch you in 3-4 rounds, it would quit and let you just go.  Well, this way I don't have to try and portray that in the monster profile; the GM just rules it as such.

m20 Terror Birds

I have to believe that everyone loves a good terror bird; extinct apex predators native to South America, and the only apex predator that moved into North America during the Great Faunal Interchange (on the other hand, various dogs and cats, including sabertooths, migrated the other direction.  And various herbivores, including ground sloths and more migrated north too).  The largest species would have been as much as 10 feet tall, weighed 400 to 500 lbs, and been speedy, deadly, hawk-beaked killers that would have had an almost dinosaurian aspect, especially now that we know most dinosaurian predator lineages (and in fact maybe the entire dinosaur clade) had feathered representatives.

Now, neither Fantasy Hack nor Dark•Heritage 2.1 has terror birds, but this is another great example to show how quick and easy it is to make modifications to monster stats.  My first thought was that I'd simply reskin some existing stats of some existing creature and call it a terror bird, and that can still be done, if desired.  My second thought was to modify the Dinosaur, Raptor stats to make them slightly unique.  So first, the raptor stats:
DINOSAUR, RAPTOR: AC: 15 HD: 4d8 (20 hp) AT: bite +4 (2d6), 2 claws +4 (2d8), STR: +5, DEX: +3, MND: -4
Smaller, cursorial hunting dinosaurs, that often group into packs for more efficient (and dangerous) hunting strategies.
Smaller being relative to carnosaurs, which are big predators like T. rex or Allosaurus.  Still up to relatively large-sized animals; comparable in many respects to a bear in terms of damage, AC, HP, etc.  (Bears have a bit more hit points, but that seems reasonable, given that they are sturdy animals that are well-known for their ability to shrug off shots from anything other than extremely high powered, high caliber weapons.)  The raptor stats obviously represent a bigger animal like Dakotaraptor or Utahraptor, not a smaller one like Troodon or Velociraptor.

Compared to a raptor, the terror bird has a much more powerful head and bite, but lacks the toe-claw attack which is the signature raptor hunting strategy.  Rather, the claws would probably be blunt and hoof-like, for running across the grasslands of South America, West Texas or Florida, where the fossils have been found.  It could no doubt deliver a nasty kick, but it doesn't have sharp claws.  I think lowering the claw damage, renaming it kick damage, and upping the bite damage is appropriate to make a more terror bird-like stat-line.  Keep the relatively high STR and DEX scores, and the very low MND score; that seems appropriate for a bird, which would probably look and behave much more like a raptor dinosaur than any kind of mammal anyway.
TERROR BIRD: AC: 15 HD: 4d8 (20 hp) AT: bite +4 (3d6), 2 kicks +4 (d8 each), STR: +5, DEX: +3, MND: -4
Apex predators of the prehistoric grasslands, these fast-moving, hard-biting birds are taller than a man, and very dangerous.
It seems to me that the major missing thing I need, especially as I migrate into having Western Hack, is some kind of speed.  If I have lots of mounted chases and whatnot, then all monsters should have a speed score too; otherwise, how do you compare running a Chase with a PC mounted on a horse (and for that matter, how do you distinguish between different breeds of horses, if desired) without having some kind of speed stat?  It would only come into play during chases, I think, but you can't have meaningful chases without it either.  Just using DEX as a substitute for speed is, I think, not optimal from any perspective other than keeping rules bloat from happening.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Hard trance

I'm back to making 12-track sets as a single mixed file, but I can't put them on my phone, because my micro-SD card is full (when I bought that 64 Gb card, it seemed impossible to think that I'd fill it.  Sigh.)  And even though they're cheap, I can't buy another one, because it's been hinted at to me that one is in my stocking, so I have to wait for it for three more weeks.

Anyway, I'm currently playing Lostsidon, which you can buy on Amazon as a digital download.  I slowed it down a bit to match the rest of the songs in the set; stuff from the mid-90s is often a bit hyper-sounding in its BPM compared to stuff from the early to mid 00s, and I prefer as close to a standard BPM of around 145-150 or so as possible.  Beautiful track, though, and a great example that you can still have stomping good acid bass-lines without it being dark and menacing.  I actually really like the dark and menacing vibe to a lot of this music, but because so much of it is dark and menacing, the ones that aren't tend to stand out more easily.

RDR2 - the future

From time to time we've had some remastered games; I just had the brilliant idea while commenting on someone's Youtube video of RDR2, and someone else was talking about playing RDR because it's awesome, even though it'll feel "primitive" after playing RDR2—unless it was remastered as a DLC!

Now, that's probably more work than all that; the legendary animals, for instance, will have to be redone because they were already a part of RDR2, etc.  But what if the story missions of the original RDR, the Nuevo Paraiso area, and a bunch of new legendary animals, bounties, stranger missions, and whatnot were added as a major DLC?  They've already done a ton of the work by adding most of the original map back into the game, transitioning during the epilogue from Arthur to John, moving the timeline up several years so that it's quite close to the timeline of the original RDR game, etc.  It even looks like much of the Nuevo Parasiso modeling is in place; it just needs to be detailed.

How cool would that be?

Turns out that after I thought of that idea, a lot of people have already found that there are reasons (they think) to believe that it's coming.

Because Rockstar needs to make money, it's likely that it'll be a DLC you have to buy rather than get for free; but that's still worth doing.  I'd pay for it.

Black death

Fascinating.  Now, it's suggested that prior to the post-Yamnaya and Corded Ware steppe culture spread across post-Neolithic Europe during the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic Age and Early Bronze Age, that the plague may have decimated the populations already there of Neolithic (EEF mixed with WHG) farmers.  This would explain the relative ease with which their cultures and societies were overthrown and replaced and why relatively less genetic inheritance and founder effect remains from them.  See here:

Let me quote a small portion.
Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, many Neolithic societies declined throughout western Eurasia due to a combination of factors that are still largely debated. Here, we report the discovery and genome reconstruction of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, in Neolithic farmers in Sweden, pre-dating and basal to all modern and ancient known strains of this pathogen. We investigated the history of this strain by combining phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses of the bacterial genome, detailed archaeological information, and genomic analyses from infected individuals and hundreds of ancient human samples across Eurasia. These analyses revealed that multiple and independent lineages of Y. pestis branched and expanded across Eurasia during the Neolithic decline, spreading most likely through early trade networks rather than massive human migrations. Our results are consistent with the existence of a prehistoric plague pandemic that likely contributed to the decay of Neolithic populations in Europe.
In this work, we report the discovery of plague infecting Neolithic farmers in Scandinavia, which not only pre-dates all known cases of plague, but is also basal to all known modern and ancient strains of Y. pestis. We identified a remarkable overlap between the estimated radiation times of early lineages of Y. pestis, toward Europe and the Eurasian Steppe, and the collapse of Trypillia mega-settlements in the Balkans/Eastern Europe.
This is an interesting parallel with the colonization of America by the British in particular, but also the Spanish in South and Central America.  It's estimated that up to 95% of the Injun population died out due to plague without ever seeing a white man.  Kinda puts an interesting spin on The Narrative™ that eebil old white men destroyed flourishing civilizations everywhere they went.  In reality, good white men built civilizations on the ashes of Mad Max-like post-Apocalyptic scenarios where the peoples who preceded them in the same territory were nearly wiped out and living in a savage existence partially caused by the collapse of their own societies.  Well, the plague and their own savagery and idolatry.  The collapse of the supposedly matriarchal, mega-settlements of Old Europe shouldn't be considered to have had one cause of its collapse, most likely.  Simplistic explanations tend to be, well... too simple to be credible.  Plague and climate change can work together, along with the "mop-up" of expanding steppe peoples who's own mobile pastoral economy had allowed them to flourish and experience a population boom, giving them the need to have more territory to expand to all jointly explain the total fall and collapse of their civilizations.

Of course, as a Christian, I believe that there's considerably more to it than that; the Lord wipes out the wicked to make room for the righteous, and white, Christian Western Civilization was one of the most righteous civilizations on earth following their Christianization up until, oh, I dunno.  Maybe the Progressive Era was the seeds of the decline, and the Sixties was when it fully metastasized. The same thing is all throughout the Old Testament with regards to the disposition of the Promised Land. As our own societies have turned away from Christianity, the same may happen to us, although I don't see that that which will replace us is any more righteous than we are, unless maybe we get replaced by Eastern Europe.  Maybe.  We live in a time when all the world is in commotion and righteousness is, in general, not easy to find.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

For RDR2 players...

I like open world games if they're sophisticated in terms of what you can do.  RDR2 has, so far, not disappointed me with options of things to do, and I haven't even started to explore the Online Beta yet (I may wait until it's not in Beta testing, actually.)  In our house, everyone except my wife is playing, so I have two sons and a daughter's game with which to compare my progress.  My daughter, who has more access time than the rest of us, is the furthest along, into Chapter 4.  My youngest son, who actually bought it, is about to finish Chapter 3, but he's admittedly distracted by murderizing random people and stuff like that.  My other son has the least amount of time logged both because he works a fair bit on the weekend, and because he'd prioritized playing Spiderman PS4 (including the two DLCs) first.

I actually was the least far along in terms of story progression (I just barely moved on into chapter 3) but a big part of that was because I was very distracted by side missions, challenges, and making stuff.  By this I mean the upgrades that you can get from Pearson and the trapper to your gear by hunting animals and bringing the pelts to them to make things.  A side effect of this is that I've got a lot of clothes compared to the rest of the crew, and I've become a bit of a fashionista in game.  You can save and store 4 outfits on your horse, and wear a 5th one, so I tend to do that, and change them out from time to time to keep it fresh.  You'll want at least one good cold weather outfit and one hot weather outfit, and the rest of them can kind of be whatever you want them to be.  I actually kind of like running around in weird outfits and prompting funny remarks from NPCs about my fashion choices.  So... what have I got stashed on my horse currently?  I really should find a way to get a screen cap (save a video, I guess, move it to a thumb drive, and grab it that way?  But without that, I'll just have to describe the outfits for you.  I may update this post, or make another one later.)

Outfit 1: The Indiana Jones: A white collared shirt, with the buttons opened to mid-chest, Arthur's regular hat, a brown scout jacket, the kind of orange/khaki everyday pants, and a good pair of plain brown boots (with the pants over the boots) completes this outfit.  For best results, get a lasso out too.

Outfit 2: Staying very warm: I dislike the denim and fleece normal cold weather coat, just because everyone has it and you start the game with it.  Plus, it's really bulky looking.  I have instead either a bison or a wolf fur lined coat (I actually have both, and they look very similar except for a subtle difference in color), a sheep-skin vest, fox-fur lined gloves, and some big furry chaps over my pants (I kind of prefer the ram chaps here, but I've also got bear and wolf ones that are darker brown instead, as well as the mottled sheep-skinned ones, and a couple of others.)  Putting the bandana up is cosmetic only, it doesn't actually keep your face warm, but I do it anyway when in the snow, and I top the outfit off with one of the big furry animal hats.  I've got lots of choices here, but the raccoon is kind of my favorite, because of the old Fess Parker Davey Crockett show, of course (by the way, did you know that guy was 6' 6"?)  Technically, I have two raccoon options, because I stole a raccoon hat from that irritating drunk guy in the saloon in Valentine, and then I crafted one at the trapper's too.  When I'm tired of the raccoon and want to mix it up, I've got beaver, fox, badger, and a few others to work with.  Sometimes I go with the ram hat, which looks very different, but also looks warm.

Outfit 3: The pirate!  And a good hot weather outfit in general; a simple light colored shirt, with the buttons opened and no vest, some simple pants, I run around barefoot for the heckuvit, and I have a long coat.  I've got loads of choices, and some of them do have a more Colonial rather than cowboy look to them, which works best with the pirate hat, but I mix it up with coats anyway.  Naturally, the pirate hat that you find near Clemens Point is what makes this outfit work.

Outfit 4: The Viking.  Don't wear this in the south, as it's rather warm, even though it doesn't look it with it's exposed arms.  A simple shirt (maybe even a union shirt with the buttons open and the sleeves rolled up) with one of the short, furry capes. I don't have the panther cape yet, because hunting panthers is tough and I haven't started it yet, so I use the sheep cape.  (As an aside, even though the cape doesn't look like a coat, it seems to count as one in terms of warmth.  With warm gloves, a warm vest, and warm furry chaps, this is a cold weather outfit.  It doesn't look like one, but it is.)  When I get the panther cape, it's darker, so will probably look better.  A crafted vest of some kind is optional—I've got a cougar skin one, I think, but loads of options would look good.  Some big furry, dark chaps (either the wolf chaps or the black bear chaps are best) round out the normal clothes, along with pretty much any set of relatively plain boots.  Naturally, what makes this work is the found Viking helmet and for extra authenticity, carry around the Viking hatchet with you too in your hand.

Extra outfit: The Hitman.  A white collared shirt with a red tie, a long black coat, black pants, black boots underneath the pants, and a pistol in each hand.  I haven't been willing to shave my head or my sweet gigantic mustache, which is what the outfit really needs to look like the Hitman, so my version of it isn't perfect.  Because of that, I stuck the Nevada hat and the presidential vest on, making it even less like the Hitman, but still a pretty awesome get-up, and at least I don't look like the Hitman who's not committed enough to shave my head and mustache.  Even though that's kinda what I am, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm always playing around with more options.  Like I said, because I have so many clothes, many of them crafted at the trappers from animals I've hunted, hats that I've found or stolen or made or bought, etc. I feel like it's fun to change out an outfit or two every time I'm at camp. Or at least tweak the outfits I have by making minor modifications to them; swapping out the pants or the hat or tucking or untucking the boots, etc. while still pursuing the same concept, maybe. Curiously, I've also accidentally discovered that you can get an instant "bath" by changing your outfits.  When you get dirty, bloody, muddy, or whatever, it sticks with you, but swimming, running around in the rain, or taking a bath cleans you up.  Also, if you switch outfits and then switch back again, you'll find out that Voila! Presto! You're as clean as new too.

Even when I'm going for the regular cowboy style look, I've been more fond of chaps than anyone else in the family.  I used the Nuevo Paraiso chaps because they came with the game thanks to the Deluxe Edition or Ultimate Edition or whatever version my son bought, but after finding the trapper and figuring out how to hunt successfully, I've greatly expanded my inventory of options here.  The ox fringe and bull fringe chaps are probably the best "cowboy" looking chaps, while the moose and deer pelt chaps work well too.  The furrier chaps I usually use with my cold weather outfits, or for some other unusual combination, plus they tend to be warm and my game is in the south right now.  And the half chaps—are those even a real thing?  I'd never heard of half chaps before.  (Looks of course like they are, but on Amazon all of the half-chaps I see aren't very cowboy-like; they're more like the equestrian sport uniform.  Maybe it's more of a British, fox hunting kind of thing.)

You'll notice that I have a lot of domestic animal-based gear.  Ox, bull, sheep, goat, etc.  You can't hunt these animals because there aren't any of them in the wild; you have to rustle them.  This is usually pretty easy to do, but it's best done late at night on as remote a farm as you can find (Emerald Ranch or nearby Parmody Dell and the also nearby goat farmer guy are your best bets for most domestic animals you need to steal.  They've got cows, bulls, sheep, and goats, and one of those remote farms nearby has pigs too.)  It's hard on your honor score, though.  Sigh.  You'll have to make up for it by doing extra chores around camp, or fishing and throwing it back, or just being the friendliest outlaw in the west by greeting almost every single person in the game that you pass that you're not trying to kill.

UPDATE: As an aside, my biggest frustration to date with the game, and this is a minor spoiler, is that the center of gravity for the game continually moves eastward, and the territory to the west and south of Blackwater is locked, until you get to the epilogue, which bridges this game to the first RDR.  It takes place several years after the main story, and you don't play Arthur, you play as John, which makes sense because it's halfway between the two games in chronology and helps set the stage for the John story from the earlier game to which RDR2 is the prequel.  However... this is a whole freakin' third of the territory, and several things (like hunting all of the legendary animals, for instance, or getting several types of animals that you need for crafting at the trapper's) can only be done there, which means that they can only be done after you've given up using Arthur and the camp, etc.  This is kind of frustrating.  Maybe it's surprising to Rockstar, since John Marston was a popular character in the first game, but people seem to prefer being Arthur, and having a whole third of the game as John and not Arthur sucks.  You can explore this territory in Online, but it's curiously empty, and that doesn't help you with stuff like legendary animal quests or whatnot.  They really should introduce a patch that allows you to pay off your Blackwater bounty (spoiler alert; maybe after Leviticus Cornwall is dead, which would maybe make some logical sense) and take Arthur to Blackwater, Tumbleweed, Armadillo and the rest of that territory.  I know, I know, it kind of interferes with whatever passes for pacing and whatnot in the narrative flow of an admittedly open-world game without much in the way of pacing.  A common theme of the storyline is that things continually get more and more desperate for the gang, not less, and that they're pushed further and further away from their ultimate goal, which is to recover their ill-gotten gains in Blackwater and settle down further west.  In that paradigm, it's no wonder that they decided to keep it locked until the epilogue, but at the same time, it's now just a frustration and irritant to players.  If it's supposed to be open-world, open the danged thing up and let us explore it.

Another option would be a prelude DLC that takes place before the Blackwater massacre that happens off-screen right before the game starts and lets you run around out there.  Granted, that might make less sense in some ways because your Arthur and his camp will be more and more equipped and built up, but who cares?  I think they may be overthinking and taking their story too seriously.  Just let us explore the whole open world with the character that we like, already.

For that matter, if we can customize a fair bit of Arthur's look by growing and cutting hair, beard, mustache, etc. as well as putting all kinds of crazy clothes on him as needed, why not let us actually customize his look from the get-go?  You can do this in Star Wars: the Old Republic, you can do this in Skyrim, you can even do it (somewhat) in RDR2 Online.  Why not give us the option of customizing Arthur's look?  The cut scenes are based on the models of the game anyway, to keep your haircut and clothes correct, so it shouldn't have been a hard feature to add.  Cosmetic and maybe ultimately not super important, but that's a minor thing that has relatively big dividends in customer satisfaction.

UPDATE 2: Of course, the fact that there was a glitch that allowed you to explore an empty, yet present, Nuevo Paraiso suggests that it will play some role in an upcoming DLC or some other content addition.  Cool.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Remixing Middle-earth

It was probably foolish to think that it was a good idea to mess with the Middle-earth map for my Middle-earth remixed. Rather than think that there'd be some pastiche I could use, it's best to actually use real Middle-earth, just with a different tone; an alt-Middle-earth.  Indeed, that's the whole premise of the thing to begin with, so it's hardly surprising that any other approach is frustrating.  After several abortive attempts to draw a pastiche Middle-earth map, I've completely decided against it.

Of course, that also means that there isn't really much more to do with this other than run it someday, I suppose.  The setting map is already laid out, and quite familiar.  The characters are familiar; the only major differences are the ones that remake Middle-earth from High Fantasy into Sword & Sorcery.  As a last hurrah before I say that I'm done with MIDDLE-EARTH REVISITED, let me... erm... revisit those changes.

First off; alternate history version.  There's no Frodo.  There's no Fellowship of the Ring.  Bilbo may have found the Ring, but Gandalf ended up taking it and installing himself as a Dark Lord, enslaving Sauron as his advistor with the power of the Ring.  This is based on Tolkien's own small exploration of an alternative plot-line that he claims would have made the story more allegorical-like with regards to World War II (or I.  Not sure which he means, actually, as I think it's a poor allegory either way.  But a great plot.)
The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. 
So we've got Gandalf in Barad-dur, with Sauron as his unwilling flunkie, Saruman in Orthanc with a new rival Ring.  And, for the heckuvit, we've got the Witch-King reestablished in Angmar who's ultimate goal is actually the liberation of Sauron.  Although he's patient and slow, as undead tend to be.  This tripolar war; probably Cold War at this point, although threatening to tip over, actually doesn't much care about the Free Peoples of the West so much as they care about eliminating each other first.  Not to say that things are good for the Free Peoples (Gondor, sandwiched between Mordor and Orthanc in particular is not happy about this development), but the danger to them isn't imminent. 

What else?  Well, I've converted the setting into a more humano-centric, sword & sorcery one.  That means that elves and dwarves have to take on a more sinister cast as Goethe or Spencer-like beings from pagan Celtic and Germanic mythology.  And they're much more infrequent, even than in the stories as they are.  Rivendell isn't a stronghold of the Noldor, it's a stronghold of the Dunedain, for instance.  This also means that Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron aren't angelic beings; they're either undead or demonic, because nothing else explains their longevity.

Orcs and goblins are man-apes, basically.  If there were such a thing as temperate, sentient baboons and anthropomorphic apes, that's what they'd be—baboons playing the role of the snaga and apes the uruks.

There's also no such thing as hobbits; the role of the hobbits is just sturdy country-folk and yeomen living in independent communities.

Anyway, check out the tag to see what I've said about this in the past; the last couple of posts are still completely and totally valid and accurate with the exception that there's no longer any talk of creating a pastiche version of the setting.

Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic

Now, to be fair, linguistics and genetics are not the same thing (some of the text below addresses that) but there is a strong correlation between linguistics and genetics; i.e., the arrival of a new language naturally tends to come with the arrival of a new people.  While of course there are models where a language can spread through a population from a very small elite caste rather than significant population replacement (one thinks of the African countries that speak French or Portuguese, for instance, as a native language), the prehistoric (or perhaps para-historic, since records were starting to be kept in some regions and we do have some documentary clues from literate Aegean and Middle Eastern sources that help us get our bearings) cases almost always involve the arrival of a new people in significant enough numbers that they are genetically visible.

Anyway, with the exception of my Portuguese great grandfather Harry Henriques, my ancestry is almost entirely Germanic and Celtic, and the hybrid Germanic/Celtic culture of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands which became an integral part of the American landscape is the entirety of my cultural and linguistic ancestry. (On my mother's side, I'm more typically Yankee by genetics, but it contributes surprisingly little to my personality and culture.  In any case, the Yankees are also Germanic/Celtic hybrid anyway, as are the entirety of the British people and their diaspora descendants like the Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Australians.  Even the Scottish and Irish people had significant admixture from Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans.)

So, while I talk a lot about Indo-European here, because it's a particular and keen interest of mine personally, I'm also keenly interested in the processes by which a subset of the Proto-Indo-Europan community became Celtic and Germanic.  Sure, I think the Scythians are really interesting, and the Mycenean Greeks or Tocharians are fascinating, but my personal investment in their history is relatively lower, because they are not my actual ancestors, but the "cousins" of my ancestors.  They're my people too, but much more distantly related, and not directly formative to me personally (odd theories of Sarmatians with the Romans in Britain and whatnot notwithstanding.  Even if those speculative histories are true, they don't really matter too much as they contributed almost nothing genetically, culturally, or linguistically to the formation of the British people who later became the Americans.)  There are three major inputs necessary to create Western Civilization as we know it (and depending on exactly who you talk to, the inputs are slightly different, but these are the three that I consider most crucial): 1) the cultural legacy of Classical Antiquity, i.e., the Greeks and Romans, 2) Christianity, and 3) the traditions and culture of the Germanic tribes that overthrew the political power of Ancient Rome and ruled both the Holy Roman Empire as well as numerous petty kingdoms and chiefdoms over areas of the former Empire.  This includes the input of the Visigoths into Hispania, and much more thoroughly, the Franks in France, the Anglo-Saxons in England, the Lombards in Italy, and various Germanic tribes later consolidated by Frankish dynasties in what is now Germany and the Low Countries. The Scandinavian and northern Germanic people on the other hand, got their Greco-Roman and Christian history relatively late, and represent a higher admixture of cultural Germanic-ness than most; they didn't superimpose themselves over any lingering Celtic or Romanized culture.

These Germanic traditions which in the Middle Ages included and evolved into Salic law, assemblies of freemen (the Thing as it's sometimes called), feudalism and manorialism as an evolution of chieftain-king patronage, created Western Civilization as we know it.  Lack any of those inputs, and you get similar yet also very notably different civilizations, like that of Eastern or southern Europe, as an example.  I also prefer to see "real" Western civilization as requiring the outbreeding and manorialism which took place within the Hajnal Line, so I see peoples like the Spanish, Irish, southern Italians, etc. as "fringe" Western Civ at best, and just outside Western Civilization at worst, with their own civilization that parallels Western Civilization in many ways (because it had two of the three inputs the same) but not compatible in the same way as those within the Hajnal line.  Some people take exception to this, and want to see southern Europe as equally Western Civilizational as Northwestern and north Central Europe, but I don't buy it.  It's a different civilization with different values, different behaviors—and specifically, it lacks a very heavy dose of the input of number three in my list of three inputs necessary to create Western Civilization. UPDATE: As an aside; this coincides with Vox Day's third point, which is the European nations instead of the Germanic tribal traditions.  If you read hbd chick's seminal work on the Hajnal Line and it's impact on the people who grew up in it, you'll find that the Third Point requires the European nations.  The generations of behavior modification that manorialism and outbreeding created are what gives us the impact of the three pillars of Western Civilization; i.e., you can't adopt into Western Civilization (at least not in large numbers) because you will then cause it to drift from Western Civilization and only be some other civilization aping the superficial aspects of Western Civilization.  To get Western Civilization out of theory and applied to reality, you need, of course, the European peoples who have gone through a thousand year (or more) crucible of Christianisation, Germanic traditions of independence and freedom, and Greco-Roman tradition,

How does Celtic fit into this?  As a significant portion of my ancestry is Scottish, and even the British people are significantly Celtic, that's an interesting question, but curiously, it's not clear how much cultural debt we owe to the Celts, even if we do owe obvious mtDNA debt to them.  The Celts obviously spread widely across Europe prior to the expansion of the Germanic and western Slavic peoples, but before that happened they were pretty solidly Romanized culturally, if not genetically.  Only in the British Isles (and later places like Armorica/Brittany, which came from the British Isles) did they maintain their languages and some of their distinct culture well into historical times.  I do think that it's fair to say that even the Scottish people, however, are pretty thoroughly Anglicized culturally. Whatever inputs the Celts had into the later specifically Germanic societies that dominate Western and Northern Europe (and the diaspora nations, like America), it's probably impossible to recover specifically what it is.  But keep in mind that prior to the spread of Roman and Germanic culture to the areas that are today Western Civilization, they were Celtic, and especially in many of the core areas that were once the Hallstatt culture, Gaul, the British Isles, etc. the Celts never went away, they were merely absorbed culturally.

Anyway, after all that, here's some text from Eupedia on the formation of the Germanic people specifically.  Keep in mind that while this speaks of the "Afro-Asiatic substrate" as if it's a given, it's actually completely speculative.  Nobody knows what languages the EEF and WHG substrate population of Europe spoke before Indo-European languages replaced them, but given the very small number of data points that we do have; Etruscan, analysis (what we can) of Pelasgian, the Paleohispanic languages, Minoan, and the still extant Basque language suggests that it was not Afro-Asiatic at all.  When it says below that it's "known" that Celtic borrowed grammar from Afro-Asiatic, that's not true at all either.  We don't know that, it's one theory based on some similarities that may or may not be based on legitimate analysis.  Frankly, I find it unlikely.  There are loads and loads of theories and proposals linking Afro-Asiatic to everybody, and I think there is little reason to invoke them here.  But I should note that loads of people, especially people who don't specialize in answering that question, or in pre-Indo-European Europe in general, do tend to assume that Afro-Asiatic was associated with the Neolithic Revolution and that the EEF population spoke Afro-Asiatic. Even David Anthony made a brief off-hand reference to the idea in The Horse, The Wheel and Language. Since there's no trace of Afro-Asiatic in Europe that didn't come with much more recent MENA or Jewish immigration to the continent, that's almost impossible to take seriously, though.  Given that the EEF supposedly came from Anatolia, it's more likely that linguistically they were distant relatives of the Hattians or Kaskians than Afro-Asiatic anyway.  The logic that calls EEF linguistic Afro-Asiatics is shockingly weak.
The first major expansion of R1a took place with the westward propagation of the Corded Ware (or Battle Axe) culture (2800-1800 BCE) from the northern forest-steppe in the Yamna homeland. This was the first wave of R1a into Europe, the one that brought the Z283 subclade to Germany and the Netherlands, and Z284 to Scandinavia. The Corded Ware R1a people would have mixed with the pre-Germanic I1 and I2 aborigines, which resulted in the first Indo-European culture in Germany and Scandinavia, although that culture could not be considered Proto-Germanic - it was simply Proto-Indo-European at that stage, or perhaps or Proto-Balto-Slavic. (editor: That Y-DNA Haplogroup I1 and I2 aboriginal population represents the Scandinavian Hunter Gatherers, or SHG, a population that isn't exactly a hybrid necessarily, but does represent a cline of being related to WHG and EHG both.)
Germanic languages probably did not appear before the Nordic Bronze Age (1800-500 BCE). Proto-Germanic language probably developed as a blend of two branches of Indo-European languages, namely the Proto-Balto-Slavic language of the Corded-Ware culture (R1a-Z283) and the later arrival of Proto-Italo-Celto-Germanic people from the Unetice culture (R1b-L11). This is supported by the fact that Germanic people are a R1a-R1b hybrid, that these two haplogroups came via separate routes at different times, and that Proto-Germanic language is closest to Proto-Italo-Celtic, but also shares similarities with Proto-Slavic. 
The R1b branch of the Indo-Europeans is thought to have originated in the southern Yamna culture (northern shores of the Black Sea). It was the first one to migrate from the steppes to the west, invading the Danube delta around 4200 BCE, then making its way around the Balkans and the Hungarian plain in the 4th millennium BCE. It is likely that a minority of R1a people accompanied this migration of R1b tribes. Those R1a men would have belonged to the L664 subclade, the first to split from the Yamna core. These early steppe invaders were not a homogeneous group, but a cluster of tribes. It is possible that the R1a-L664 people were one or several separate tribes of their own, or that they mixed with some R1b tribes, notably R1b-U106, which would become the main Germanic lineage many centuries later. The R1b-R1a contingent moved up the Danube to the Panonian plain around 2800 BCE, brought to an end the local Bell Beaker culture (circa 2200 BCE) and Corded Ware culture (c. 2400 BCE) in Central Europe, and set up the Unetice culture (2300-1600 BCE) around Bohemia and eastern Germany. Unetice can be seen as the source of future Germanic, Celtic and Italic cultures, and is associated mainly with the L11 subclade of R1b. 
The late Unetice culture expanded to Scandinavia, founding the Nordic Bronze Age. R1a-L664 and R1b (L11 and U106) presumably reached Scandinavia at this time. The people of the Nordic Bronze Age probably spoke a Proto-Germanic language. For over a thousand years while this culture existed, the Proto-Germanic R1b et R1a-L664 tribes would have acquired vocabulary from the pre-existing Corded Ware population that they assimilated, which was itself a blend of Proto-Balto-Slavic languages (linked to haplogroup R1a-Z284) and languages of non-Indo-European origin (linked to haplogroups G2a, I1 and I2). The Nordic Bronze Age was a melting pot of these three populations, which intermingled both genetically and linguistically, little by little creating a new ethnicity and culture as time went by. 
The first genuinely Germanic language has been estimated by linguists to have come into existence around (or after) 500 BCE, just as the Nordic Bronze Age came to an end, giving way to the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The uniqueness of some of the Germanic vocabulary compared to other Indo-European languages suggests that borrowings from indigenous pre-Indo-European languages took place (Germanic substrate theory). The Celtic language itself is known to have borrowed words from Afro-Asiatic languages spoken by the descendants of Near-Eastern farmers who had settled in Central Europe. The fact that present-day Scandinavia is composed of roughly 40% of I1, 20% of R1a and 40% of R1b reinforces the idea that the Germanic ethnicity and language had acquired a tri-hybrid character by the Iron Age.
Of course, that definition is somewhat arbitrary.  Proto-Germanic is generally defined as the language that had undergone the Grimm's Law sound shift.  That isn't to suggest that prior to that sound shift the early Germanic wasn't already on its way towards becoming proto-Germanic and was already separated from every other Indo-European language, merely that it hadn't yet undergone a somewhat arbitrary degree of divergence from late Proto-Indo-European division.  The stage of the language after the split from Proto-Indo-European but prior to Grimm's Law and the stage called proto-Germanic is sometimes called the Germanic Parent Language.  Other workers divide the whole shebang into three stages; pre-Proto-Germanic, Early Proto-Germanic and Late Proto-Germanic.  Either way, this is the language of the Nordic Bronze Age, strictly defined proto-Germanic is the language of the pre-Roman Iron Age, and the break-up of Common Germanic into the various branches that later emerged as Norse, Gothic, English, Dutch, etc. is somewhat well documented in the historiography of the Romans and corresponds to the Migration Period.

And here's some really interesting commentary on the Bell Beaker phenomena which preceded the Unetice and overlayed the Corded Ware to some degree.  Guys like Carlos Quiles say that the Beaker was associated with R1b and the Corded Ware with R1a, which has led him down the rabbit hole that Corded Ware can't be Indo-European because the Bell Beaker has to be the spread of the Indo-European languages, but this makes no archaeological sense. (Although to be fair to him, he seems to realize that "Eastern" and "Western" Bell Beaker culture is not the same thing ethnically.) The Bell Beaker started on the Atlantic Coast and the British Isles long before the arrival and population replacement of genetic lineages that we do actually see, which are associated with Indo-European colonization.  Anyway, although I'm quoting this, it was a sloppily written forum post, so I've edited it somewhat for grammatical correctness.
I have noticed that Jean Manco mentioned in her new book Ancestral Journeys that the Bell Beaker culture represents the arrival of R1b people into Western Europe. I have explained before why it is extremely unlikely that R1b spread from southwest Iberia towards Central Europe. I would like to stress now that the Bell Beaker phenomenon was not an ethnic culture like most other cultures of the period, but rather represents a huge multicultural trade network inside which a variety of new artifacts, customs and ideas were exchanged and diffused.  
In my eyes, the Bell Beaker phenomenon was indeed caused by the contact between the Megalithic people of Western Europe (who were an ethnic fusion of Mesolithic inhabitants (WHG) and Neolithic immigrants from the Near East(EEF)) and the Indo-European cultures of Central Europe. What is striking about the Bell Beaker period is that it does not replace any anterior culture, but simply juxtaposes itself on top of pre-existing cultures and new cultures alike. The Bell Beaker phenomenon last from 2800 to 1800 BC and was contemporaneous with the following cultures:
A) The Megalithic culture which emerged in Western Europe (incl. Sardinia) as soon as the Neolithic reached the region, starting from c. 5500 BC and only came to an end with the arrival of Bronze Age cultures from Central Europe, starting c. 2200 BC in Britain and lasting as late as 1200 BC in isolated parts of Iberia. 
B) The Corded Ware culture which existed from 2900 to 2350 BC in Germany, Central Europe and the Baltic. It is associated with the partial replacement of Neolithic LBK- and TRB-related male lineages by R1a lineages. 
C) The Unetice culture, which replaced the Corded Ware culture in Germany, Bohemia and western Poland from 2300 BC and lasted until 1800 BC. It marks the fusion of R1b lineages with Corded Ware lineages, although some R1b tribes were already present around Hungary at least since 3000 BC, and arrived in Germany during the Corded Ware period. 
What is interesting is that we see the progressive disappearance of the Megalithic culture in the British Isles, Belgium, France and northern Italy between 2300 and 1800 BC, right in the middle of the Bell Beaker period. The Beaker phenomenon was present in these regions several centuries before the arrival of Bronze Age cultures, but survived for a while, unlike Megalithic cultures. In and around Germany, the Corded Ware culture (R1a Bronze Age) was replaced by another Indo-European Unetice culture (R1b Bronze Age) that was the result of the migration of different people (R1b) from the Danube region. And yet the Beaker phenomenon survived, because it was not directly associated with a particular ethnic group, but was an international trade network. 
Another evidence of the pluriculturality of the Bell Beaker phenomenon is that there were very distinct types of Beaker pottery in Indo-European Central Europe (the cord-impressed types, such as the "All Over Corded") and the Megalithic Western Europe (the "Maritime" type, decorated with bands filled with impressions made with a comb or cord).  
It is not a coincidence that the Beaker phenomenon has been divided by archaeologists into several groups. People who made Maritime beakers were simply not the same ethnic group as those who made or used beakers in Central Europe. This is obvious from mtDNA samples we have from this period. 
In German sites containing beakers we see clearly Indo-European lineages like H4a1, I1a1, T1a, U2e, U4c1 and W5a, mixed with earlier Neolithic of Mesolithic lineages (H1, H3, T2e, U5).  
But in Spain, all the mtDNA lineages are in clear continuity with earlier Neolithic samples. Iberian beakers samples tested to date include H1, H3, H14, H20 (or L3), J, K, L1b, L2, L3a, T2, U, V and X. 
The beaker trade network obviously involved some minor population movements across Western an Central Europe. I have no idea if the trade was dominated by people from one specific region, but I doubt it. Some R1a and R1b lineages from Central Europe might have ended up in Western Europe following trade routes during the early Beaker period. It is however unlikely that any large-scale migration or invasion of R1b people occurred before we see the archaeological replacement of Stone or Copper Age cultures using common Megalithic burial (e.g. passage graves) by Bronze Age cultures using single graves. This would have happened in the late Beaker period, hence the common, but mistaken assumption that the Beaker phenomenon itself represented the invasion of Western Europe by R1b people. Forget the bell beakers as an ethnic culture. It was more like a Silk Road than a culture of its own.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Happy hardtrance

Happy hardtrance isn't a real genre, the way happy hardcore is, but if it were, this track by Pulsedriver and Rocco would probably exemplify it.  I actually quite like the uplifting, happy hard dance songs, partly because relatively speaking there's so few of them, which means that they have an easier time standing out.

That said, I'm not a huge fan of any hardcore; happy or otherwise (some early Scooter work excepted; although even then the best tracks by Scooter were Wave I hard trance), and tend to prefer the more trancey side of the EDM shop, with some hardstyle and hard house mixed in.  The hardstyle in particular is early, and the hard house is rare.  Not that there isn't some nü-style out there that I like quite a bit (because there is) but the earliest stuff is not only usually my favorite, but it also fits in better with the hardtrance sets.  Some hard house fits in well too, but much of it is too... I dunno, too R&B tinged or something for my taste.  I just don't like as much of it, and what I do like is fewer and farther between.  And even then, I don't want them popping up nearly as often.  I like the dark hoover sound well enough, although not as much as I like the 303 acid sound, but the "organ pedals" basslines and the "whoop, yeah!" vibe is just cheesy to me, even though it's "hard." (Regular house has no appeal to me whatsoever, and I don't know if I can think of a single song of that style in my collection except for some really old early 90s stuff like Plaza's "Yo-Yo." House-like remixes of my favorite New Wave or synthpop bands like the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode in the late 80s and early 90s mostly ruined the style for me forever.)

Anyway, here it is.  There are two additional mixes, but they're really just shorter versions of these two.  The rave mix is my favorite because it's a little bouncier, but they're both quite good.

Homebrewing and scale

I've long been fascinated by questions of scale when it comes to homebrewing.  If you look at settings like the Forgotten Realms, it's (depending on which version of them map you use) between the size of the entire North American continent and the entire African continent.

Then again, Robin Hood, one of my favorite movies of all time (the Errol Flynn version) and one of my favorite stories in general of all time (a close second would be Ivanhoe, which utilizes some of the same characters, and is set in the exact same time and place) takes place just in England, which is smaller than the US state of Alabama.  And it only takes place in a few nearby locations in England for that matter; Nottinghamshire is smaller than the state of Rhode Island.

So gigantic campaign settings aren't really necessary.  I tend to think that a functional maximum size for an explored and explorable area is about the size of Greenland, but of course, that's not a great point of reference even if it is a good sample, because most of Greenland is covered by glaciers, and so nobody goes there nor could they.  If you think about the notion that Greenland covers about as much square mileage as Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Arizona, you notice that that's a pretty darn big area, with a lot of different ecologies, cultures, and more.  More than enough for any campaign setting to cover, anyway.  And it's only a fraction (about 8.4% to be specific) of the total area of North America, which is on the small side of an estimate for the Forgotten Realms' area.

I've also been curious about how they've done it in Red Dead Redemption 2, which is meant to convey some of the vastness of America, but it's extremely compressed.  If you wanted to, you could get on your horse and gallop for about ten or fifteen minutes and have gone from somewhere in Arizona to Yellowstone, to western Appalachian Pennsylvannia, down through the mountains to New Orleans, through the plantation Deep South, back up to western Kansas or Nebraska, and from there through west Texas, and arrive back somewhere in the Joshua Tree bearing region of southern California, bordering on the same Grand Canyon scenery that you left fifteen minutes ago.  And while computer game players might think that just galloping around for fifteen minutes is frustrating (and it is; I wish there were more and better fast travel options in Red Dead 2) the idea that you can gallop the circumference (more or less) of a nation in ten or fifteen minutes certainly doesn't make it seem very big.

But computer games are one thing; for fiction and RPGs you can do the Raiders of the Lost Ark style red line travel, or compress and even delete as much of the travel dreariness as you like, whereas for computer games the best option is probably to offer a few fast travel options, but also just to compress the setting significantly so that you can gallop around, and it feels big, but it isn't really.

Anyway, I guess my real point is that big campaign settings are actually kind of pointless, unless you're trying to be all things to all people and offer lots of options for people to explore.  A small area the size of an English Shire or an American county is more than sufficient to provide a lifetime of adventure if you make it adventurous enough.  We just tend not to think so because the English and American countrysides have been pretty well-tamed for generations now.  But put a tyrant like the Sheriff of Nottingham in, and fill the place up with a few old haunted manors, dangerous wild animals, bandits or highwaymen, and a the judicious use of a few cool monsters, and you can go level after level without ever leaving a pretty geographically constrained area.

Belated Friday Art Attack

I ended up being extremely busy on Friday, so here's the Art Attack post I should have made but didn't.

This looks like some cover art, given the big area left blank for a title.  I don't know what it's for, but it's a book I'd probably read.

And this is almost certainly a wraparound book cover, by Ken Kelly.

I've said before that I don't like Foundation or the whole premise of it, and this "elfin" chick trying to look cool is a great example of why not.  But Michael Whelan was still a talented author, even when he was illustrating poor books.

Conan, although his "barbarian" characteristics are pretty exaggerated in this particular ilo.

Some 5e Orcus sketches.

An interesting cover for a Star Wars comic book miniseries about an Imperial Guard that took place after the death of the Emperor.  I always liked that series.  I can't remember what it's called, though.

I've always loved a good fantasy map, and I keep a fair number of them around.  This is Narnia, second only to Middle-earth (and maybe Hyborian Earth) in terms of general cachet.

Flying ships.  Always cool.

A third party take on the aboleth.

World War II and fantasy.  My views on WW2 have changed a lot since learning a bunch of stuff about it that isn't really taught in schools (much of which makes FDR look like the villain) but still; the era is an entertaining one from an aesthetic approach nonetheless.

Third Party Darth Maul ilo.

A somewhat cheesecakey Barsoom illustration.  Then again, c'mon.  One of the main attractions of Barsoom was the literary cheesecake.  Always has been.

Another book cover, or maybe two linked book covers.  Tad Williams, I think, although I never got around to reading that series.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

At this point in the edition...

Someone made an interesting point that I saw briefly on a discussion board that I don't go to anymore.  But let me see if I can more or less recreate it myself.  5e is coming up on 4½ years since its release in the next month or two.  Crazy, huh?  I still haven't even read it (although I've read or at least skimmed some of the campaign/module products, which have typically been quite nice.)  There doesn't seem to be any discussion at all about a 6e, and Mike Mearls has even been known to refer to 5e as "evergreen" on occasion (although I highly doubt that corporate will allow that to be true forever, even if it could be true from a strict product standpoint.)

Anyway, the gist of the point being made was to look at each of the other editions of D&D and see where they were at the same point.  With some help from the Acaeum, I can do that too.
  • Chainmail—not really D&D, but this is proto-D&D, and Gygax and Arneson disagreed (probably for legal reasons, based on the infamous lawsuit) about how much this really is D&D under a prototype name.  First published in summer 1970 as a series of articles in a wargaming magazine, and published in 1971 as a standalone book, Chainmail was still published up through 1979, at least, although by 4½ years after it was published, OD&D was already out and had essentially replaced it in the marketplace.
  • OD&D—technically available Jan 1974, but realistically not until later in the year, 4½ years later, it had been superceded by the Holmes set over a year ago already, AD&D was due very shortly, and even Holmes was to be replaced by Moldvay soon.
  • BD&D—summer '77.  Four and a half years in, the Moldvay replacement was over a year old, and AD&D was overtaking D&D anyway.
  • B/X—1981.  This only lasted two years before BECMI replaced it.  In any case, let me turn to AD&D, because that's really where the action was after B/X anyway.
  • AD&D (1e)—It's not actually clear when this was released; you got the first printing of the first book in late 1977, but you don't get the actual full three-book set until well into 1979.  Either way, 4½ years puts us in mid 1982 or late 1984; so, we're in "peak" 1e at this point.  Unearthed Arcana, often unofficially called 1.5e came out in 1985 and is almost universally seen as 1e "jumping the shark" as the saying goes.
  • 2e—2e started development in 1987, but wasn't released until 1989.  If you consider "1.5e" an actual edition, then it's about 4½ years later that this is released.  To be fair, most players point out the very high degree of compatibility, and suggest that the change from 1e (or 1.5e if you will) is more a question of presentation and tone rather than actual significant changes to the rules themselves.  That came along later with the "Player's Options books, also known unofficially as... 2.5e!  In 1995, so a little longer than 4½ years.
  • 3e—came out in summer 2000; this brought me back to D&D.  Sadly, it didn't last very long before it was superceded by 3.5 in 2003; within the 4½ year window.  While 3.5 is... generally... seen as a truly improved version of 3e, it was also seen as unnecessary, even by the developers, who were pushed to do it by the suits at Hasbro, apparently.  By 4½ years, in, 4e was announced although it didn't come out until... well, wait for it below.
  • 4e—It wasn't until 2008 that this really was released.  Of all of the major editions of D&D, it has probably the shortest life-cycle.  D&D Essentials, widely seen as "4.5e" came out in 2010, and in 2012, 5e was out.  If 5e had been on 4e's schedule, we'd already be seeing 6e books on the shelves now.
  • I should probably point out that Pathfinder, also unofficially known as "3.75e" came out in 2009 and is in beta testing for a major revision change or reworking right now as we speak.
What's the point of all of this?  I guess I'm mostly just pointing out that with the exception of 1e and Pathfinder, 5e is exceeding (so far) expectations of product life.  On the other hand, if you combine 3e and 3.5e, which you could do given the high degree of compatibility between them (and if you combine Pathfinder into that product cycle given it's high degree of backwards compatibility, which is more iffy, but you could make that case) then you could suggest that that's had a much longer lifecycle.

Of course, if you're going to do that, then you can draw a line of broadly compatible products from probably BD&D to the end of 2e too, so it starts to get a bit difficult to make hard, bright lines here.  But, it's probably a good sign for 5e in general that it looks like it's outlasted many editions of the past without anyone suggesting that it be revised again, and is on track to continue without interruption into the foreseeable future.  A good enough sign, that I'm starting to wonder if my general disinterest in the game these last five years or so since it was announced is really warranted.  It's probably good enough that if I had looked at it, my attachment to 3e would have evaporated, even with the fairly massive investment that I've made into the game and supplements and whatnot for it.  I mean, let's be real.  I have spent all that money on 3e, sure.  But I don't do anything with most of those books anymore either.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Another discussion on Bounded Accuracy

Another discussion on one of my favorite topics; or rather, one of my favorite ideas from 5e.  Not that I spent a lot of time investigating exactly how it was implemented, but the concept is, I think, the first time that the the developers tried specifically to excise one of the main problems that I've always had with D&D of literally every edition ever.  Although to be fair, it only got worse as editions went up up through 4e.  For 3e and even moreso for 4e, the designers recognized the problem but rather than try to eliminate it, they embraced it and designed around it, deciding for reasons of "sacred cowedness" or something that it just wouldn't be D&D without it.  That lead to the debacle that is higher level 3e and 4e play.  There's a reason why hardly anyone plays at that level, and why for the most part it's seen as fundamentally broken, or at least highly undesirable.  Arguably in the case of 4e it's not broken so much as it's just stupid.

E6 was the solution to fix it in 3e, but that wasn't nearly as elegant a solution as the bounded accuracy model of 5e, because it essentially made large swaths of the Monster Manual unusable.  Even a continuously improving E6 character who's been around for a long time kind of tapers off and tops out at an effective CR of about 10 or so.  So, the really high CR monsters, like say a CR 20 balor or old red dragon are just not really usable at all, because an effective character level 10 party can't expect to ever really defeat them.

Which maybe isn't terrible, because it encourages players to do something to deal with them other than just charge in to standard combat.  But at the same time, it's not really the intention of anyone to design monsters that aren't really going to be usable to most players, so E6 had a rather steep cost, I think, associated with it.

With 5e, a system designed around the idea of bounded accuracy from the very beginning, on the other hand, we get a system that just works a lot better.  Sadly, however, it means that you need to start over.  So, let's have a quick discussion about it, and then let's have a quick discussion about how well Fantasy Hack and my other m20 offerings meet the design requirements that 5e spelled out.  I'm using the text here to define bounded accuracy.  If you follow that link, be sure and expand the box to see the original developer's text (from an article on Wizards' website that now is unavailable.)

And because I'm using that link, let me address some of the text there first; specifically the "What Bounded Accuracy Is Not bullet points.
BA has nothing to do with checks of any sort. The limits imposed upon ability modifiers thanks to BA alters the standard DC range, but this is an unintended side-effect.
Uh... no, that's not true.  Did the guy writing this not even read the text right above this point from the developer's own pen?  It may be a side effect, but it's not unintended.  This is a key component of bounded accuracy, and was discussed at length in the developer's notes.  Any system which doesn't address skills, saves, and other checks in addition to attack rolls is not a full bounded accuracy system.
BA has nothing to do with saves of any sort. Because saves are just a keyworded check variant in 5e, they are affected in exactly the same way.
No.  See my comments directly above.
BA has nothing to do with damage. It incidentally has implications for how damage winds up being delivered, because the same modifiers apply, and because it alters the hit frequency for attacks.
Again, it's not incidental.  It's integral.  Granted, the impact is less dramatic than it is for attack and AC comparisons.
BA is not about reducing the power of character level. Level is still king. It does increase how long a lower-level character or lower-CR monster will last against a character of a given level.
Yes, I suppose, but that's relative.  Level is "still king" in a relative sense, but character power by level is lower than it was in, say, 3e at the same level.  However, since the world doesn't "level up with you" as it rather dubiously does in 3e and even more overtly in 4e, that doesn't matter, because the whole concept of how powerful leveling is supposed to be and what kinds of threats you are expected to deal with and how is rejiggered in a bounded accuracy system.  Depending on how charitably you want to treat this statement, it's pedantically correct, but context makes it actually incorrect from the point of view of a player, or the whole thing is irrelevant.  In other words, in a strictly traditional sense, you can still face the same gamut of threats at the same levels in 5e under a bounded accuracy paradigm as you could during a non-bounded accuracy paradigm, but you also moved completely out of being threatened by things that were threatening to you at lower levels without bounded accuracy, which fundamentally changed the genre of the game from one of fantasy adventurers to one of fantasy superheroes.  Bounded accuracy, among other things, maintains the genre through the entire spectrum of levels.
BA is not about increasing the difficulty of lower CR enemies. Rather, it allows lower CR enemies to still produce some degree of actual threat- no matter how little- against a PC of any level, and the same for a PC against a high CR monster.
This is mostly true.  But it's not just enemies and CRs, it's also checks and DCs.
BA is not intended to alter the overall difficulty or risk of the game. Ultimately, how difficult the game is depends entirely on what the DM decides to throw at the players. BA just makes that job a lot easier, by giving them a wider range of options for how to achieve a given threat level.
Yes, and that's a great thing.  But after describing the things that the writer of the wiki entry (often incorrectly) believes that bounded accuracy is not, as well as a historical digression to discuss the nature of the problem that bounded accuracy is getting rid of, he lists four things that it is, and I think this is spot on.  So, let's discuss how bounded accuracy works in 5e and compare it to the situation in Fantasy Hack to see how well I meet the expectations of bounded accuracy.  If I'm a little off, will I want to make minor modifications to Fantasy Hack and it's derivatives?  Possibly.  Let me "talk" through this as I make this post.
First, they deserted the magic item economy. This was an effect generated by developers assuming players would have magic items providing a minimum bonus at given levels and preemptively building those bonuses into monster ACs to compete. It made magic items worthless, because players could only use them for a short time before being forced to upgrade, and also made magic items mandatory because you couldn't function without them. It forced DMs to plant a regular progression of magic gear as rewards during play, regardless how shoehorned-in it became. The magic item economy was the main driving force behind the treadmill. Instead, monsters would be built on the assumption that players do not have any magic items.
I disliked the magic item economy for aesthetic reasons that have little to do with the mechanical implications, but the fact that the magic item economy fundamentally forced us into the so-called "treadmill" means that it absolutely had to go.  Keep in mind that in Fantasy Hack, as in older versions of D&D, there is no CR, so I'm not trying to calibrate level vs CR the way 3e, 4e and 5e have done.

Now, also keep in mind that this doesn't mean that there may not be threats out there that require magic items to deal with.  But having a panoply of magic items just to do the day to day is strictly forbidden as a concept.  Fantasy Hack already does this; in fact, I only added magic items in as an afterthought in Appendix I anyway.
Second, they sat down and decided that the total flat bonus a player could receive on a check could not exceed the value of one whole die. (Anything more than that, and you just have an eternal arbitrary arms race of increasing values; the "treadmill" of the past editions) In other words, +20 is the theoretical desired limit of all combined bonuses to an attack roll. There is some debate, but it appears as though, by core rules only, the highest check result possible is 47, a bonus of +27, and it requires a lot of fiddly build options which the developers probably hadn't anticipated, plus a good circumstantial situation, and is not applicable to attack rolls. In other words: they did a good job of staying in that limit. Generally, nobody will ever be able to roll higher than 31 for an attack, check, or save.
I didn't specifically plan for this, and I only achieve it, I believe, because I halved the number of levels.  Let's see for the sake of argument, how high my bonuses for To Hit can get with a character in Fantasy Hack?

If I create an orc fighter with maximum STR, he'll have +6 for his ability score, but an additional +3 can be added as he goes through the level progression to make for a total of +9 (!).  He also gets +1 as a Fighter bonus, which increases to +3.  He gets up to +10 as a bonus for his level at the top of the progression.  And if you customized the Fighter class to give you the Outdoorsman's weapon bonus, but applied to whatever weapon you use, you'd have an additional +1.  And let's say, just for the sake of argument, that he's also got a +3 weapon, which is the maximum bonus allowed by the magic item rules.

That gives him a to hit bonus that is higher than 20; 26 to be specific.  Now, granted, that's a character designed around one thing: getting the maximum to hit bonus.  It also requires a +3 magic item, and there's no guarantee that such a thing even exists in the Timischburg or DH5 settings anyway.

I think I squeak in under the definition, although not entirely by design.  I'm actually a little bit surprised how high you can get that bonus if you really trick your character out to get it, but then again, even if you don't, your 10th level human fighter is going to be; what, probably only about +5 less than that, especially if magic items aren't readily available.  Just about any fighter-style class will be.  And even non-fighter style classes will be probably over +10 at 10th level, unless they have a really weak STR score.
Third, they divided how that maximum bonus would be proportioned between standardized sources. In general, these sources are the only sources of bonuses to an attack, check, or save. The sources are: ability score modifier, (maximum of +5, attainable even from first level) proficiency bonus, (minimum of +2, maximum of +6, grows slowly with level) and magic gear bonus, (max of +3, but it's unlikely you'll ever even see +1). This gives, under optimal conditions, without feature intervention, a maximum roll result of 34 with magic.
Yeah, I blow that away, I'm afraid.  Theoretically there could be conditions that give situational bonuses already on top of my 10th level orc fighter, but ignoring those, I've got a maximum roll of 46 based on my calculations above, and heck; the average roll is still 37 at 10th level with that build.  If I'd use the optional wose race, I've be even a point higher.

I think I may have been too generous in allowing bonuses to stack without really seeing how far they could be pushed to potentially break the bounded accuracy paradigm.  Which, granted, I didn't specifically attempt to create a bounded accuracy system by the strict definitions of the 5e design team, but I did want to do so at a looser high level approach.
Fourth, they made sure that PC ACs could not exceed 21, and monster ACs do not exceed 31. (See how that 31 lines up perfectly with the maximum possible roll result without magic? Notice that the maximum PC AC is 10 less than the maximum monster AC, a full half-die lower.)
If I wanted to maximize AC, with the races I currently have, I could get a maximum ability bonus to AC from DEX of +8 (I could increase that maybe a point or two with a custom race). +5 for level bonus, +6 from armor, an additional +3 for magic armor, and +2 for a shield.  Total AC would be 10 +8+5+6+3+2, or 33.  That might have another point or two of wiggle room, but again—that's higher than I really envisioned.

I think that my problem was that even with only 10 levels instead of 20, I didn't really give a lot of thought to the concept of playing all the way to 10th level.

Sigh.  I'll probably have to do some work to keep those bonuses a bit flatter.  The highest AC any of my monsters has, Cthulhu, is only 35, and the players can theoretically hit that range if they really trick out their character specifically to do so.  My top ranges, compared to my most powerful monsters, are too high.  And too many foes would literally be unable to ever hit the characters at all.

I had thought that I had higher armor values impose a penalty on how much DEX bonus you could apply, but I guess I decided that that was too fiddly to work with and did away with it.  But even then, it gets out of control.  I actually think a big part of my problem is that ability scores can get too high.  I should probably put caps on those too.
Notice that most of this doesn't actually put limits on players. It actually puts limits on the developers when designing content the players can use. The standardization of player attack bonuses allows them to anticipate the bonus range any character can put out at a given level, regardless of class. This allows them to design monsters which have ACs which alter the probability of a hit based on PC level. Rather than probability being rapidly pushed to 0% or 100%, the monster becomes viable for use against a much wider range of PCs. By having limits to player AC that are not tied to level, they can change the hit rate for monsters by adjusting only their attack bonuses. Because the two things are no longer tied together, it is now possible to have monsters that always hit and always get hit, always hit but rarely get hit, rarely hit but always get hit, or rarely hit or get hit, as well as anything within those four extremes. Finally, the whole point of all of this was to make lesser enemies still useful in larger numbers at higher levels, and powerful enemies still survivable at lower levels. (Survivable is not the same as defeat-able. TPKs still happen.) That means you no longer need to have special tier-balanced versions of each monsters, or special minion monsters, you can just use a higher CR monster to present extra challenges, or throw a whole bunch of lower CR monsters to make up a total CR equal to one big monster.
This is what I need to actually spend a little bit of time on proper math to get accomplished for my m20 games.

The simplest way to address the higher To Hit and AC class scores are to do the following two things:
  • Cap ability score bonuses.  You can only ever get a maximum of +4 plus your racial bonus to your ability score, which you can get at 1st level.  Either eliminate the ability score increases as you level up, or say that if you're already at your max ability score in one ability, you have to apply it to another.  If you somehow have maxed ability scores in all abilities, you are not only one lucky bastard with your ability score rolls, but you lose your ability to increase them when you level up.  It's hardly like you need it.
  • For your AC, you can take either your DEX bonus or your Armor and shield bonuses, but not both.  Wearing armor makes you unable to dodge blows as effectively, and the whole point of armor anyway is to block blows that you can't get out of the way of.  This isn't simulationist realistic, but it does reduce the maximum AC that a player character can get, if tricked out, by about 8 (technically a little bit more if you consider the possibility of magical armor.)  That's still a little bit higher than the 5e bounded accuracy ideal, but it's now within a couple points of that ideal, and I did so with an elegant solution.
If I felt like more was still needed, I could halve the rates at which skill and To hit bonuses apply to characters; instead of adding your level, you add half your level rounded down.  I probably won't do this, but that would be the next step.  AC progression is already halved, but I'd make it apply only ever third level instead of every other level, and it would also reduce the maximum by a few more points.  It's not perfect; low level opponents like a goblin or human commoner still can't hit PCs past a certain level because they can't get an attack roll higher than a 21 or 20 respectively, but that only becomes an issue at very high levels (in the m20 scheme of things, where 10 is the cap.)  Any solution that addresses that needs to do so in a way that's elegant enough to not be fiddly and annoying; it may not be worth addressing at that point.  Either that or eliminate the 10 baseline, or change it to a lower number.  I'll have to think on how feasible that option may or may not be.

UPDATE: I have actually gone ahead and made both of those changes to the files, although not to the web versions of the rules.  They can be seen below, as Google docs:
UPDATE AGAIN: I've rethought the AC problem.  Rather than making you pick Armor Bonus or DEX bonus, how about we just get rid of the level based AC progression altogether?  Although I actually like the level-based AC progression in many ways, it was specifically implemented in the d20 games from which I borrowed it as an alternative solution to the magic item economy to keep your AC progressing as it needs to.  Therefore, my solution is becoming a new problem in the absence of the problem that it was originally designed to solve.  How ridiculous is it that I've still got it in there?  Sigh.  Now I've got to modify the documents again.  I also stuck a max DEX bonus on when wearing armor, which is a relatively simple solution, and already familiar from most D&D games anyway.

And eventually update the web pages and the blog post pages that have the rules on them too.  Work, work, work.  Maybe, to be honest with you, I should just get rid of the blog post and web page versions of the rules entirely and just refer to the PDF as the correct version of the rules that should be referenced.

Anyway, with these changes, my orc fighter would have a max To Hit of 23, but realistically 20 or 21 because I'm not in the habit of giving out +3 swords.  My super hard to hit halfling (or anyone else, for that matter) can't seem to get his AC over 19 without magical armor no matter what he does.

I think that solves my bounded accuracy problems.

For that matter, although I didn't discuss it, it keeps my skill and save checks down too; with a max bonus of +4 plus racial bonus (effective max +3) and level check, it never gets above 17 without some kind of magical or circumstantial bonus either.  This means that no matter your experience level, a 15 DC is difficult for novices but not experts, and a 30 DC is always fairly difficult for even the most advanced expert known to mankind; a 35 DC is an effective cap on difficulty for most intents and purposes.