Showing posts with label geekery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label geekery. Show all posts

No Thank You, Evil!

I consider the age suggestions on the sides of game boxes to be total lies. Boss Monster (13+) is one of my 9-year-olds' favorite games to play on their own. My 6-year-old daughter kills at Love Letter (10+). One of my sons, when faced with an inevitable loss at Star Wars Risk (10+), blew up his own planet so the rebels would either have to call the game or spend another hour of gameplay going around the long way. He wasn't pouting. It was a carefully thought-out tactic.

He was 7 at the time.

So of course I try to get these kids into role-playing. Unfortunately, most RPGs have a lot of rules which, although my kids are capable of learning them, make playing the game kinda like wrangling velociraptors.

"You can't cast fireball. You don't have any material components or enough 3rd-level slots to.... Fine, you cast the spell."

Numenera's story-focused rules are great for kids, but the Ninth World is kinda creepy, and homebrews, although fun, are a lot to keep track of.

So when Monte Cook Games announced they were doing a kid-focused RPG, based on the rules of Numenera, I knew I was in. No Thank You, Evil! is the perfect game for our family.

Part of that, admittedly, is that my kids are ridiculously amusing to GM. They're fearless to the point of idiocy (requiring me to come up with clever ways in which to not kill them). They have no in-game morals, so persuading, lying, and attacking are all perfectly valid options (and usually all suggested simultaneously). And most of all they're deviously clever.

Two days ago they were trying to convince a guard they were innocent and should be set free from prison. The guard said it wasn't his job to determine innocence, and that if they were in prison it was obviously because they were bad (the guard was aptly named "Justin Justice").

Later on, a mostly successful escape attempt resulted in the PCs being outside while Justin was trapped inside. "I told you you were criminals!" Justin shouted through the door.

"But you're the one in prison," said Joel. "That means you're bad."

As the GM, I didn't know what to say to that. I didn't say anything for several minutes because I was laughing. Justin eventually tried to argue, but Joel had a point. Justin is still trapped in that prison trying to work it out.

But as amusing as my kids are to GM, it works mainly because No Thank You, Evil! enables their creativity. The game's got rules -- even advanced rules for kids who grow beyond the simple version -- but it encourages players to try crazy things. For example, of the six characters my kids created, only two use corebook character classes, none of them have corebook weapons, and at least three try to use their self-defined abilities to slide past the rules at every opportunity.

Sometimes I even let them, because it's funny.

The thing is NTYE doesn't break when you do this. Everything players try to do boils down to one simple rule: roll a d6 to attempt it. They all get it (a little too well, actually -- I have to keep telling them their rolls don't count until I've told them the difficulty), and they all feel free to try anything at any time, knowing that something fun will happen no matter what.

There are some things I questioned about the game. I thought it was weird to ask my players to describe a character I just introduced, and sometimes I feel like the world is too whimsical for my boys who want quests and villains. But (1) I don't have to do any of that stuff -- I mean, I could make the world all Forgotten Realms if I wanted to -- and (2) it turns out my kids like this stuff.

Like, the whimsy keeps everything light, even though one of my boys threatens everybody he meets (and another doesn't waste his time with threats; he just goes straight to zapping them). The moment I described above with the prison guard occurred after they had befriended, and then betrayed, him to get out. Justin liked them, and they turned on him. It's a dark, almost villainous turn, but Joel found humor in it.

And it works perfectly well within that world.

My daughter hit Justin in the face with a sandwich. It did 1 damage, but he also lost his next turn because, honestly, the sandwich was pretty delicious.
As for asking them to describe people, what a time-saver! I'm starting to think I should do this with grownups, too. I didn't have time to detail a full adventure for our most recent session, so I asked them to describe the main villain and name several characters (hence the name Justin Justice). They love it, and it's less work for me!

When I GM adults, I feel like there's a lot of pressure to either have everything prepared or to think quick on my feet. I no longer have time for the former, and I'm terrible at the latter. But my kids don't care! If I stumble on a plot point, they start yelling out ideas. Sometimes I even run with them because they're so crazy I just want to see what happens. It's true collaborative storytelling -- the best part about role-playing.

So, hey, if you're a gaming parent who's been looking for a family-focused RPG, maybe check out No Thank You, Evil. You might be surprised what comes out of your kids' heads.

The Best Dr. Strange Gif

Maybe there are better Dr. Strange gifs out there, but if so I have not seen them. (Also this was ridiculously hard to find for my sister, so I'm intentionally trying to increase its SEO a little).

Random SEO crap: Benedict Cumberbatch animated gif jumping leaping flying funny hopscotch harry potter anchorman avengers dirty dancing pokemon eaten by a shark SEO's a thing right I'm not just making this up? oh god what if i am what if people are reading this who am i and what have i done with my life oh look there's cake in the fridge!

Wells' Lair on The Flash is Braille?

I don't actually watch The Flash (lack of time rather than inclination), but my sister pointed out to me that the secret lair of Harrison Wells is covered in bumps that look a lot like Braille.

But is it really Braille? And if so, is there some secret message hidden in the walls? Since this aligns with my interests (i.e. ciphers, linguistics, Braille), I decided to investigate. There are some answers on the internet, but not enough to satisfy me or my sister. I'm fixing that now.

First, a little Braille primer. The Braille alphabet encodes the 26 English letters into 2x3 grids of dots, like so:

Braille also encodes numbers, punctuation, and other formatting marks (like capital and italics) in that same 2x3 grid. However, the only markings on Wells' wall that fit any of those Braille markings are the letters n and z.

But Braille also has a cool and ridiculous number of shorthands and contractions. The dots on Wells' wall match these. Specifically, every 2x3 grid of dots on Wells' wall is one of these orientations, rotated either vertically or horizontally:

So the answer to our first question is yes, this is definitely Braille. I didn't see a single screenshot that showed any markings that broke the 2x3 grid pattern, nor that represented any word but those above.

But does it say anything? I'm gonna say no.

That conclusion does come with a few caveats though:
  1. I only know the basics of Braille. It may be that a fluent Braille reader would be able to see a pattern that I'm missing.
  2. Because the characters are rotated, it's hard to tell what orientation they are meant to be read in. I assumed a specific orientation and stuck with that for the image above.
  3. My translations assume English Braille. A lot of other languages use these grids for their own characters too (e.g. here are the Thai consonants).
With those caveats in mind, I would call this "decorative Braille." It's possible that there's a secret message hidden in some other language or character orientations, but I doubt it.

Even if there was, I'd never find it. You start doing this long enough and Wells' face starts to look like this:

The Patch Man is up at

My latest short story, "The Patch Man," is up at (at least the first chapter is -- the rest will come soon). It takes place in the world of the Pathfinder RPG which, if you're not familiar with it, is very similar to D&D, but with a lot of its own twists. "The Patch Man" is about a half-fiend named Blit who makes a living cleaning up evidence for the less-reputable guilds in Pathfinder's largest city, until he starts getting in over his head.

This marks the second short story I've sold in *mumbles* years of writing. At this rate, you can expect a published novel from me by 2040. Oh well. In the meantime, I'll just get back to work on the most anticipated RPG of 2015.

Rough, right?

Anyway, enjoy the story. Did I mention it's free?

Jules Windu

  • The blog says drawing in the subheader.
  • The last drawing I posted was over a year ago.
  • I actually like this sketch.
  • I finished all my work, played games with the kids, and even wrote words today (read: I've earned a post).
  • It's Jedi week at Anthdrawlogy.
  • Samuel Leroy Jackson.

My Boys' First RPG

I've been wanting to try my boys out on an RPG for a while now, but I wasn't really sure how. I'd given away a lot of my sourcebooks, so all I had left was the d20 SRD which, while great, wasn't quite what I wanted.

Then I got this fancy schmancy Numenera corebook in the mail. This system is what I wanted: simple, flexible, and with a heck of a lot of leeway for a GM who wasn't sure how well his players would get things. But the Ninth World can be kinda . . . creepy, at least for 6- and 7-year-olds. I wanted something they could be excited about.

"Why don't you just make something up?" said my wife, ever supportive of even my geekliest dilemmas.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "Do you know how much work that would take? Even if I adapted what I have, I'd still have to make up a bunch of equipment and powers. Though the types would be pretty easy to adapt, I guess. Most of the esoteries are basically Force powers anyway. And the descriptors work okay. . ."

And then I couldn't stop thinking about it.

The next couple of days looked like this:

Now all I have to do is figure out the rules for lightsabers before they earn theirs. . .

Three Kickstarters I Would Throw All My Money At

1. A successor to Crusader: No Remorse. This game destroyed an entire quarter of my second year in college. Oh, man, but it was a good quarter.

You play an elite super-soldier, trained by a dystopian government that you spend the entire game betraying and fighting against. Technically, it's an action game, but it's a smart action game. You have to decide which weapons you will bring with you on each mission (of those you can afford). You can either sneak through missions or blast your way through them. And because what you bring with you is limited, you have to figure out how to conserve your ammo or find some more during the mission.

And the story is just cool. The government you served betrayed you, but the resistance you join in the beginning doesn't like you much either. So you have to prove yourself to them by undertaking increasingly dangerous missions. And then, of course, there's secret dystopian weapons projects, double agents, betrayal, and even a full-on dark night of the soul before you have to decide to get off your butt and save the world.

2. A successor to Chrono Trigger. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a fan of JRPGs (technically, I'm a fan of all RPGs, but JRPGs comprised most of my childhood, so...). And Chrono Trigger was probably the best. It had everything I loved about Final Fantasy (I), Crystalis, and Secret of Mana plus: time travel.

And not just time travel -- where you go to different eras the same way you take your airship to different islands -- but time travel that mattered. Plant a seed in the past, collect magic fruit in the future. Tell your robot companion to spend the next four hundred years restoring a forest, then travel forward to see the results. All the while trying to stop a giant alien parasite that crashed to Earth millions of years ago, awoke in 1999, and created a post-apocalyptic world for the remainder of time.

Or not. Cuz, you know, you can change things.

3. The reanimation of Tony Jay. Or, you know, at least his voice.

Obviously I'm not thinking about this very hard, because this is all nostalgia, but what would you Kickstart?

7 More Things You Never Wanted to Know

A follow-up to this post.

Cardboard people freak me out.

Most days, I sit down at the piano to plunk out the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Also, I cannot pull out my guitar without playing "The Ballad of Serenity" at least once.

When I count things slowly, I always end up saying "two-WHOOO" like that owl from the Tootsie Roll commercial.

In 6th grade, I spent an entire church service drawing the map of Bowser's Castle from Super Mario Bros 3.

I have seen every single episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

Surf Ninjas is awesome, and you cannot convince me otherwise.

I am pathetic when I get sick. If my wife is to be believed (and she's very smart, so I do), I am so pathetic that it makes the times I wasn't sick seem even more pathetic than they were at the time. So basically, my patheticness transcends the space-time continuum.

Tell me something about you.

8 Things That Are True

1. There is only one flavor of Pop Tart.

2. Firefly is still on the air. Wash is fine.

3. No one's ever made a live-action version of Avatar. Also I am an Earth Bender.

4. Bacon is good for me.

5. Eventually, my logical, well-supported arguments will convince people I am right.

6. There are only three Star Wars movies, but they might be making a fourth (WE'LL SEE, ABRAMS).

7. Rivendell is real. It looks exactly like this. It's in New Zealand, and I will visit Elrond there someday.

8. All comments that deny these truths will be deleted.

What else is true?

What I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging

I hate having only First Impact posts go up, but I am trying to make money at this writing thing, so. Anyway, here are some of the things I've been doing in the last few weeks instead of blogging.

Designing an alignment system. Basically codifying all of human experience and emotion into little boxes so we can tell the player things like, "You're Lawful Good." (Note: We're not using Lawful Good.) FUN LEVEL: High.

Thinking about what makes RPG combat interesting. There is quite a lot of debate in the hardcore CRPG world about whether combat should be turn-based or not. Part of my job has been to think about this a lot. FUN LEVEL: Medium (only because I'd rather get into specifics, but I can't yet).

Writing design docs. Fact: if we don't document it, it gets forgotten. FUN LEVEL: Tedious (but like our producer told me and Colin the other day, we don't get to do the fun stuff until we actually have money to do it).

(Anyway, tedious is a relative term. The most boring game design task is way cooler than anything I did for my Office Space job. I just want to think up cool stuff all day and have someone else write it down for me, is all.)

Writing Kickstarter copy. You'd be surprised how much work goes into a major crowd-funding campaign. I mean, look at a typical big-budget Kickstarter. Someone has to write all that stuff. FUN LEVEL: Tedious.

Planning Kickstarter videos. FUN LEVEL: High (until they start talking about my video update, then Abject Terror).

Iterating. I get an e-mail asking what I think of a design doc. I critique said design doc. What do I think of the latest concept art? Review and reply with my thoughts. Music? Videos? Someone's possible response to a forum question? Review and respond. Oh, and also respond to all the critiques of my stuff. FUN LEVEL: Surprisingly High.

Waiting on Air Pirates. Submissions, man. FUN LEVEL: Zero.

Revising Post-Apoc Ninjas. FUN LEVEL: Really slow.

Playing chess online. Our producer, Kevin, saw this drawing and said he might challenge me sometime. I can't let him win. FUN LEVEL: High.

Playing games with the kids. We raise gamers. I can't imagine why. FUN LEVEL: High until their attention spans wear out (so about five minutes).

Fending off tiny tyrants. This one, in particular. She gets mad at me when I work. Or cook. Or read. Or do anything except give her 110% of my attention. FUN LEVEL: I don't like it when she screams at me.

Driving. Yeah. I'm basically a soccer dad. FUN LEVEL: Usually High (this is where I come up with ideas).

So... what are you all up to?

Making Up Fantasy Languages

It's impossible (perhaps illegal, and certainly blasphemous) to talk about fantasy languages without mentioning the Godfather of Fantasy Language: Mr. John Tolkien. The guy invented languages for fun since he was thirteen years old. He wrote the most epic novel of all time just so he had a place to use those languages.

If that's you, read no further. You're fine.

Most of us, however, did not specialize in graduate-level English philology. So most of us don't really understand how language evolves or what it takes to create an artificial language that has the feel and depth of a real one. That's why a lot of amateur fantasy languages sound silly or made-up.

So how do you create a language that FEELS real, without spending years determining morphology, grammar, and syntax? I'll show you what I do. It's the same thing I do with most world-building: steal from real life, then obscure my sources.

Let's take the phrase "thank you." It's a common phrase, often borrowed between languages (e.g. the Japanese say "sankyu" as borrowed English; in California we say "gracias" as borrowed Spanish, etc).

STEAL FROM REAL LIFE. First I need a source -- some existing, real-world language I can base my fantasy language on. I want it to be somewhat obscure, and I want to show you how you can do this without even knowing the source language (which means no Thai), so I'll pick Malay.

There's lots of ways to find foreign words in a chosen language. If I wanted to be accurate, I'd use 2-3 sites to verify, but I'm making up a language, so Google Translate it is. It translates "thank you" as "terima kasih."

Now that's pretty cool on its own. It's pretty, easy to read, and sounds totally foreign. But despite the odds, somebody who speaks Malay will probably read my novel at some point. That's why we obscure the source. Two ways I do that: (1) alter the letters/sounds/word order of the existing phrase and (2) mix it with some other language.

OBSCURE YOUR SOURCES. For my second source language, I'll pick something from the same family in the hopes it will make my made-up language sound more real. A little Wikipediage tells me Malay is an Austronesian language, and lists the major languages of that branch. I'll use Filipino (just because it's also in Google Translate) and get "salamat."

Then I mish-mash for prettiness and obfuscation. Salamat + terima = salima or salama or, slightly more obscure, sarama. For kasih, I already used the "sala" part of salamat, so I'll take mat + kasih = matak. "Sarama matak." But that feels a bit long for a thank you phrase, so I'll shorten it to "Sarama tak."

And there you go. It was a little work, but a lot less work than it took Tolkien to invent Quenya. If I'm really serious about this fantasy culture/language, I'll keep a glossary of the phrases I make up in my notes, along with a note of what the source languages are (so I can repeat the process to create more phrases that sound like they could be from the same language) and links to the translation sites I used.

If the glossary gets big enough, I might (because I am a bit of a language geek) start converting the phrases into their constituent parts: individual words, verbs, maybe even conjugations. But that's breaching into Tolkien territory where I said I wouldn't go.

Anyway, now you know my secret. Go forth and make cool-sounding languages.

(remixed from an older post)

The Reality of Dungeons & Dragons

As a kid, I was taught that D&D is of the devil, but the reality is much, much worse.

Yup. Good times. Good times.

I realize it's Christmas Eve, and you're probably not even reading this right now. If you are, then know the blog is going dark for the holidays. (And if you aren't reading this . . . weird). I'll be back with a First Impact post on January 2nd.

Have a good break!


I'm taking a week-long break from blogging for this reason. Things should return to their regular schedule next Monday.

Here's a picture of Batman riding an elephant.

What's Your Personality Type?

You know the Myers-Briggs personality type, right? If you don't, take this (strictly non-scientific) test and look up your type here.

Me, I'm an INTJ.

From Urban Dictionary: "Otherwise known as the Mastermind. INTJ's are emotionless juggernauts that have no respect for you and don't care if you don't like them."

Also this via Wikipedia: "Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel ... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals ... Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense."

The really scary thing is I understand that diagram.

Now you know what you're dealing with.

What's your type?


I'm in a mountain village (this one), and far away from my computer. So here's a picture of a cat.

I love the internet.

World-Building and the Problem With Quidditch

On Friday, I talked about making up fictional games for your world: take a real-world game and alter it slightly: to suit your world, to make it unique, and (if you're like me) to make an actual game that might be fun to play.

Today we're looking at an example: Harry Potter's Quidditch.

Quidditch is essentially basketball on broomsticks -- with six goals instead of two, extra balls that hurt/distract the players, and the snitch to determine the end of the game. It's a good concept and it totally suits the world. And it's a testament to the books that even though this central game is fundamentally unbalanced, hardly anybody seems to notice.

But yes, it's unbalanced.

The problem is the point value of the snitch. Every goal in Quidditch is worth 10 points, but whoever grabs the snitch simultaneously ends the game and earns 150 points -- 15 goals. The overall effect is that regular goals don't matter.

Unless one team is down by more than 15 goals, right? Then they wouldn't want to get the snitch. There's tension!

Well, yeah, but when does that ever happen? Have you seen a professional soccer game go 16-0? An NFL game with a 112-point gap? Even in the NBA, all-time comeback records don't go much higher than a 16 goal gap. The best strategy to win Quidditch would be to make everyone a keeper until the snitch shows up. Nobody would do that (because it's boring), but any team that did would always win.*

So why does Quidditch work? For the following reasons:
  • The protagonist is the seeker. Can you imagine if Harry was the one making meaningless goals, while some minor character caught the snitch and won the game?
  • Quidditch wins and losses are not plot critical. If Harry had to win a Quidditch game to save his life, I would be a lot more mad at his team for not being smarter about gaming the system.
  • Something else is almost always going on -- like someone's trying to kill Harry or something, so we're invested in something other than the match.
These are good things to keep in mind if you're making your own fictional game. The more the plot focuses on the game, the more that game has to hold up under scrutiny.

And don't bother playing Quidditch in real life. It's not as interesting as it looks (unless you change the rules, of course).

* Though in the books, Quidditch teams are ranked by points scored, not games won. This fixes the brokenness for a tournament, but it makes individual games less interesting, and makes it almost impossible to have a true championship game.

The Reality of Time Travel

"Time travel is theoretically impossible, but I wouldn't want to give it up as a plot gimmick."

— Isaac Asimov

So. Back to the Future. You know, the scene in the third movie where Marty complains they can't get the time machine to 88 mph because they'll run into a movie theater, and Doc says, "You're not thinking 4th dimensionally, Marty! When you go back to 1885, none of this will be here."

It's clever, cuz see, even though you're traveling to a different time, you're still in the same place. So while there's a movie theater in 1955, it's all prairieland in 1885. Where a bridge is under construction, 100 years later it'll be finished and you can just sail across.

But if you think about it, that's ridiculously Earth-centric.

See, during the time you skip, the Earth will have moved. For one thing, it rotates constantly. California (where the movies take place) moves through space at about 700 mph. So unless you are arriving at the exact same time of day as you left, the Earth will have shifted underneath you.

Pic by JasonParis, cc
In the DeLorean's inaugural voyage, Ein would've crashed into a house 12 miles west of the mall.
Also the Earth is traveling around the sun at about 67,000 mph. So not only would you have to arrive at the exact same time of day, but also the exact same time of year (we won't talk about that quarter of a day that makes Leap Day). So Einstein would have appeared somewhere past the International Space Station.

"Was that . . . a DeLorean?"

But that's assuming the sun is our central reference point, which is just as arbitrary. Why not use the galactic center? Or the (impossible to define) center of the universe? By some measurements, Earth is shooting through the universe at over 1 million miles per hour.

Poor Ein would end up a tenth of the way to the moon. And that's just for traveling one minute in to the future. Marty's first jump would land him somewhere past Neptune. His final 100-year trip would shoot him out of the solar system entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I love time travel stories. But writing them gives me a headache.

Who's not thinking 4th dimensionally now, Doc?