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DShomshak

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Everything posted by DShomshak

  1. In the far-future setting of my "Magozoic" campaign, Pluto and the rest of the Kuiper Belt Objects are collectively called the Palisade of Night. Mythically, the boundary between the sane and sunlit realm of mortals and the unknowable horrors of the Far Realms. The Palisade has its own spiritual realm in the mystical cosmology, and its own gods. Dean Shomshak
  2. The place names I liked most, though, were plain English. (Or perhaps slightly archaic English.) The valley of Doomfallen, in the Medusa Mountains, where once stood Effigy, the City of Statues. Druid colleges called the Song of Tomorrow, the Lake of the Willow's Daughter, Cauldrondale, the Stonegrave. The Mazewood. Wrecker's Rock and the Reef of Screams. Things like that. Dean Shomshak
  3. Oh, sorcerer: * One does not choose to be a saint; one accepts it. I doubt I could surrender my will to the necessary degree. * Putting the 'fluence on people might be cool, but bleeding is not my idea of fun. Also, I doubt I could perform the necessary sacrifice. * But having chatty imaginary friends in my head is my normal state. The magic might be fun, too. Especially for dealing with mosquitoes. Though I pity the person who inherited my demon and, with it, a copy of my personality. Having *me* for an imaginary friend would be dire. Dean Shomshak
  4. Ditto on Bujold's World of the Five Gods. I've read lots of second-rate fantasies that have gods in the setting; sometimes active gods. The World of the Five Gods has *religion,* it's real, and it matters. At one point in The Curse of Chalion, the protagonist regrets never having read any theology. He had thought it theoretical and impractical. Wow, so wrong. Dean Shomshak
  5. My observation is that a lot of game writers are frustrated novelists who can do the world-building for a novel, but can't actually write story, dialogue and character. Example: Me. Also describes a lot of the writers I dealt when freelancing on Exalted, but then it was my job as developer to keep them on track, producing stuff that might, just might, be useful in a campaign. "I'm sorry, [Name], these three pages you wrote about the Solar Deliberative in the First Age is all freaky cool, but completely irrelevant to what is happening in Wavecrest right now. I'm cutting it." Also, the people who wanted to give long descriptions of the cool, epic stuff that NPCs had done, instead of situations that GMs (excuse me, "Storytellers") could place PCs in right now. I expect there was learning all around. Dean Shomshak
  6. Apropos of this, my experience writing and developing for Exalted suggests to me that some game writers -- though quite bright in other ways -- have a dubious grasp of geography and scale. Like, one writer who was creating a new country described it both as "small" and "a thousand miles wide." I reminded him that 1,000 miles is the distance between Chicago and New Orleans. This may be "small" compared to some countries in the setting, but it's a bit large and spread-out for some of the institutions he wanted the country to have. Part of the problem, I think, is that Exalted started with a world map and design went down from there -- and when you start sketching borders on a mpa whose scale is 1 inch = 800 miles, you tend to get pretty big countries. Discussing this on White Wolf's forum, I came up with this comparison for people who think you need big places for big stories. On the Exalted map, Ireland would fit within a quarter-inch square. Ireland, with all its weight of history, from the Tuatha de Danaan to the Troubles. Is Ireland too small for a Fantasy epic? Okay, you say it is. Half an inch on the map can include most of the Ancient Greek world. Most of the Greek myths and epics happen within a half inch square, with a few excursions B eyond the Fields We Know such as the Argonautica or Odysseus sailing to the Underworld. The Biblical Middle East fits within a one inch square. And all of China fits within a two inch square. Now, Exalted campaigns are supposed to operate on a hyperbolic scale. Threats to the entire world are a thing. But that doesn't mean that everything needs to be gigantic. (And indeed, every place that isn't sprawling is a city-state, because then you just put a dot on the map.) I also suspect that some cases where settings have huge spans of time but not much seems to be happening within them derive from a similar top-down approach, and would benefit from more bottom-up design. Like, don't start with 6,000 years or whatever and try to fill it. Start with now, decide what incidents are absolutely needed to explain current conditions (or to plant as story seeds, ore just as bits of atmosphere to help show what kind of setting this is), and figure out how much time you actually need to fit it in. Like, if the kingdom's leaders seethe in anger for a past military defeat and want to start a new war to avenge it, does the defeat need to be from a thousand years ago? When 10 or 20 would work as well? Or if the defeats did happen centuries ago, is it a point of the adventure that someone is deliberately dragging up and inflaming old grievances because they really really want a war? Dean Shomshak
  7. In my last D&D campaign, I came up with some basic naming patterns for people and places. Like, "Darod" meant any fortified place and could be used either as suffix or prefix, giving locations such as Sundarod or Darod Femoy. I tried to keep it common enough to show that it was a thing, but not so omnipresent as to become tedious. Then some more names ending in -thezor; again, just enough to show it's a thing. Also lots of place names based on landscape or occupational features, such as Lindy's Mill, Snakebridge, Shorseport, Thornhill. Pone's Crossing. Most proper names were one or two syllables. "=ion" could be used as a suffix for surnames, indication descent from a notable ancestor. Thus, the family of wizards descended from the great mage Sith Korosh where the House of Sithion. The evil overlord was named Bel Shanion. My current campaign is based in a fading empire loosely impired by the Byzantine Empire, so humans have Greek or Roman names, or from other languages that have been Latinized (as was often done in the Middle Ages, e.g., Baruch to Barocius, or Remy to Remigius). Such names are easy to find in quantity, such as from Kate Monk's Onomasticon website. In fact, I went through it and saved most of the name lists to draw upon for different cultures. Elves of course get Celtic/Irish/Welsh names because duh, and dwarves get Norse or Germanic names for the same reason. (Though for dwarves, I also went through the index for the Prose Edda which, naturally, names a lot of dwarves. Giants, too. Thank you, Snorri Sturlason.) For exotic names where context doesn't matter much, I often turn to the atlas. There's a lot of boring names, but with patience you can also pull out cool names such as Bagrash Kol, Ikerre, Mizratah, Osoom, or Saravane. (A fair number of the proper names I used in Doctor Strange-style spells for Ultimate Supermage/etc. came from the atlas in this way.) Dean Shomshak
  8. I'm sorry to say it, but... almost certainly not. Sales were piddling, both here and on DriveThruRPG. Not worth the work -- especially the illustration. I am not an artist. I can sort of fake it sometimes, but it's like pulling my own teeth. Taking care of my mother in her declining years has also been an impediment. It's a shame, because I do have more Shared Origins I'd like to complete. The Parallax Event for the Shared Accident: A bit of stolen alien technology goes kaboom, and the wave of hyperspacial energy gives random people super-powers -- especially the people nearest, who form a supervillain team called the Constellation. Or there's Wreck of Empire: Professor Proton was one of the world's most powerful villains, but his ruthlessness led to his death. Some of his lieutenants try to keep his criminal empire going, but many of his agents, bases and weapons are up for grabs, creating Spinoff Characters. And for a Power-Granting Artifact I have the Doomsday Cross created by the Warlock, which pulls various lesser demon lords out of Hell to possess unwitting mortals. A few more. But they are all stalled at various points. At least you've got the concepts now, to develop for yourself. And I see the attached file vanished at some point. Here it is again, I think. Dean Shomshak Gladiator6c.pdf
  9. The only published Fantasy setting I can ever imagine using is Exalted, because the setting of Creation is so tied to everything else in the game. But Creation has seen significant changes over the centuries. The history that matters starts with the Primordial War, when the Exalted were given power so they could overthrow the world's creators. Then came the millennia of the Old Realm, also called the High First Age. That ended with the Usurpation, when two kinds of Exalted overthrew two of the others, establishing the Shogunate of the Low First Age. The Shogunate sort of limped along for several centuries until the plague called the Great Contagion killed 90% of the world's population. It was not a natural disaster: It was created by the ghosts of some of the Exalted murdered in the Usurpation, who had gained new power from the ghosts of some of the world's slain creators. Then things got even worse when the Fair Folk invaded from the primal chaos outside the world in an attempt to unmake it all. Their literally infinite hordes were stopped only when a young officer somehow found a way to activate the ultimate weapon of the Old Realm. She then founded a new Scarlet Empire with herself as its Empress, beginning the Second Age. She has ruled most of the world, to varying degrees, for more than 700 years since then. Five years ago, she vanished. All the conflicts she kept in check are starting up again -- and the power of the Exalted slain long ago now seeks new mortal hosts. Though some of these new Exalted are different in ominous ways. The Time of Tumult is at hand. That's the history of the world as a whole. Every country has its own history too, in some cases reaching back to the Old Realm. The way to keep a setting from seeming static is to begin with the premise that things will change, and some of those changes and events will matter for current people. A lot. Dean Shomshak (Full disclosure: Though I was not part of the initial design for Exalted and Creation, I did a lot of work on the Second Edition. A few things, I even think I did well.)
  10. Apropos of which, the Marketplace radio program yesterday said that Tesla Motors just filed its patent for using lasers as windshield wipers. <All together now> What could possibly go wrong? Especially with autonomous vehicles? Everyone loves robots with death rays! Dean Shomshak
  11. It's a question of multiple cultures more than area, and the metaphysics of your world. If you're doing, say, Celtic Twilight fantasy or a Mythic China riff, obviously there should be only one pantheon -- even though the former campaign might be set in Fantasy Wales that's geographically smaller than many American counties, while the latter covers a gigantic area but will still just use a version of the Chinese Pantheon. Either way, these are the gods of your world -- period. OTOH the prototypical Fantasy city of Lankhmar, from the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, has people worshiping many gods from diverse sources, because Lankhmar is a big trade city, crossroads of its world, and people from all over have brought their gods. What's more, mortals create gods by belief, so new gods can appear (this happens in one of the stories). Though that makes the concept of "pantheon" a little squishy. This does not seem consistent with various cultures I know about, that had multiple gods long before they were unified states or even had cities. But I am always willing to learn. Source, please? Dean Shomshak
  12. Aw shucks, I'm blushin.' Yes, it has been a lot of work. Fortunately, it's work I enjoy. A little of it has even come up in play! Moving on... I will say, two of my favorite Fantasy settings are distinguished by having only one pantheon -- though those pantheons are about as different as could be imagined. In Lois McMaster Bujold's "World of the Five Gods" there are, yep, only five gods: the Father, the Mother, the Daughter, the Son, and the Bastard. These are quite enough for the setting. Bujold not only makes the gods important to the setting, she makes religion and theology important, too. These gods are not just entities with Big Magic Powers: They are fundamental to the world and to how people live in it. And while the gods are transcendent and mysterious in many ways, there is no doubt about their existince and their power, or that they receive the souls of the dead. Or that there is both justice and mercy. At the other extreme, White Wolf's game Exalted has a pantheon of billions of gods. At the apex of power are the Celestial Incarnae -- the Unconquered Sun, Luna, the Five Maidens -- with Gaia, who is something quite differeent, and her five deputies the Elemental Dragons. Below them is a Celestial Bureacracy of gods in Heaven, encompassing five bureaus, and another host of terrestrial gods who live and work in Creation. Some gods are unique with personal portfolios, such as Amoth City-Smiter, God of Tumbled Ruins; Ahlat, Southern God of War and Cattle; or Grandmother Bright, god of a single city neighborhood. Other gods are common types, such as the dryads who are gods of individual trees, or the pattern spiders, little robot gods who operate the Loom of Fate. Many of these gods are petty and greedy, concerned more with extorting mortal prayer than doing their jobs maintaining Creation. But then, the Unconquered Sun did delegate the Creation-Ruling Mandate to his mortal champions, the Solar Exalted, who have been missing for quite some time. As Exalted (Solar and otherwise), restoring the proper administration of Creation is one of the potential challenges faced by PCs. The two settings have one thing in common: Mortal free will is central. In Bujold's world, the gods are just but require mortal hands. In Exalted, the gods have autonomous power but not much moral sense. Dean Shomshak
  13. Heard on All Things Considered the other day that the little helicopter has also performed well, scouting the route for Perseverance to take. NASA is already working on another exo-helicopter... to fly on Titan! Low gravity + dense atmosphere means this one can be the size of a small car. But I imagine that building something that can function in such a cold environment will be a challenge. Dean Shomshak
  14. ... Assuming this SCOTUS even cares how many precedents it overturns, or what legal cans of worms it opens, as long as it gets the desired result on this one issue. I would hope the five extremists would at least have the basic sanity to resist this. Dean Shomshak
  15. My "Magozoic" D&D setting has many pantheons, and only one. Theologians know there are 10 transcendent Godheads, called Archons, each associated with one of the celestial planes. However, mortals cannot interact directly with Archons -- only with avatars of the Archons, shaped by mortal imagination, whom mortals call gods. Gods seem to have distinct forms and personalities, can be born, die and reborn, get in fights, and generally behave like people with big magic powers. None of this affects the Archon, any more than a battle between two hand-puppets affects the puppeteer. A god can be forgotten for ages, but can be re-created if the ancient myths are rediscovered and the rites performed again. (One of the PCs just became the first cleric of such a long-forgotten god.) This permits an unlimited number of pantheons, which are all true and all false. Humans tend to have pantheons modeled on human royal families, because that's such a common human system of authority. * The Yidmiri pantheon (modeled rather obviously on the Greco-Roman pantheon) has a multiple generations, and many of the gods are children (legitimate or otherwise) of the ruling sky-and-storm god. * The Marolici pantehon (modeled on Norse) has two families, with some intermarriage, and a few oddballs of obscure origin. * The Drohashgi pantheon (modeled on Egyptian) has a primordial creator sun-god with several generations of descendants. But there are exceptions. The broad Macrine plain is a land of city-states who have spent millennia conquering each other. Each city had its own pantheon: the gods were nearly identical, but the names and relationships differed. When one city rose to dominate the rest, it declared its own gods the "real" versions and the gods of the conquered peoples were versions of them. After many millennia of this, the Macrine people stopped giving their gods names and just refer to them by the roles: the Thunderer, the Emperor and Empress, the Hierophant, the Overseer, the Priestess, the Charioteer, the Star-Maiden, the Fool, and so on. Nonhumans have different models of authroity and, consequently, different pantheons. * The region's dwarves seem to have a divine family -- but the other gods aren't the children of the dominant creator-god; they were made in the creator's forge. Dwarves take the artisan, rather than sexual reproduction, as their model of creative power. * The region's elves have a pantheon of deified heroes whose deeds made them living expressions of the Archons: for instance, the great general Ferrai became one of their war gods, while the mage Eboriax became their God of Magic by codifying the eight schools of wizardry. Most of their gods are deified elves because, well, obviously no one is more perfect than an elf (Admit it. In your heart you know it's true.) But not all. * The gods of the gnomes are also deified mortals, but they are gnomes who ascended to divinity through various comical or unlikely means; they are modeled on the Chinese Eight Immortals. And so on. Prophets are important in this system, because they shape mortal belief and so change the nature of the gods. This may result in radical re-interpretation. For instance, the cult of Jeduthon Soteira turned a randy and temperamental sun-god into a figure of mystic enlightenment. Many people worship Jeduthon Soteira who don't give a rat's ass about the rest of the Yidmiri pantheon. Another prophet re-interpreted the Drohashi sun-god Sorath (son of the primordial god Suzeratos; "active" ruler of Heaven to his passive authority) as the true and supreme god whom all must worship; and invented, basically, Jihadism. Conversely, there's also a lot of syncretism, as believers in Macrine gods assimilate gods from other pantheons to Macrine deities: as the Marolici storm-and-war god Talse and the Drohashi storm-and-war god Barakel are assimilated to the Thunderer. All this is in support of a campaign whose premise is one of mortals being responsible for the world they live in. There is no supernatural Big Bad, whether Satan, Sauron or Cthulhu, to blame troubles on. And if mortals get it wrong, there is no Daddy in the Sky to save them. Or even to tell them what the right course is. This is of course not suitable for every campaign. (And I threw out most of the bog-standard D&D cosmology.) Dean Shomshak
  16. I also note that all five of the justices who refused to block the Texas law pending review are Roman Catholics. For a long time, American Catholics faced the accusation that they were (or might be) more loyal to the Pope than they were to the US. This was raised against John F. Kennedy, IIRC. An ugly smear, but... Well, when Catholic bishops are calling for Catholic politicians to be excommunicated if they don't place Catholic dogma forbidding abortion above American law and court precedent that allows it, a person with a suspicious mind might suggest an appearance of conflict of interest on the part of those five conservative Catholic justices. Perhaps the Catholics on the court should have recused themselves. As a historical oddity, I have heard that the few justices who aren't Catholic are all Jewish. Currently, no Protestants on the SCOTUS (let alone other sects or faiths). The Court isn't all white men anymore, but in this other sense there still isn't much diversity. Dean Shomshak
  17. Or flip the script. A law permitting suit against doctors that refuse to perform abortions, or against pharmacists who fail to provide birth control or abortion drugs. I am no lawyer, but even I can tell it's just a very bad place to go, legally speaking. Dean Shomshak
  18. Undoubtedly. Vigilante lawsuits against "Critical Race Theory" as a way to prevent teachers from teaching any history or law that might challenge White Supremacy. Or block evolution from biology classes while mandating "Creation Science." Yep, it's the New Redemption, only carried out by lawsuits instead of lynchings. But -- as with the laws criminalizing even the tiniest error in restering as a voter -- the aim is still to terrify a targeted populace into compliance and so protect the privilege of a particular class. Dean Shomshak
  19. On the NYTimes podcast/radio program The Daily today, analyst Adam Liptak pointed out that if the SCOTUS accepts that the Texas law has found a hack to the Constitution that makes a law immune to judicial review, well, the Left can use it too as a way to pass unconstitutional laws. He suggests the example of a blue state legislature passing an incredibly restrictive gun control law that places enforcement on lawsuits by citizens, with bounties for successful suits. I dare say a clever person could think of other laws that would violate Constitutional provisions, but use the same hack. This is not a good place for American government to go. I cannot help but wonder if religious conservatives realize they could win the war over Roe v Wade but lose the Constitutional basis of law. Or if that isn't part of the goal as well. Dean Shomshak
  20. As I catch up on the Scientific American issues I missed while the library was closed due to covid, I was amused by the title of this article from the May 2020 issue: "Quantum Steampunk." It sounds like the title of an SF anthology. Oh, the article? It's about attempts to connect quantum mechanics, information theory, and thermodynamics. All three fields are linked by the concept of entropy; but exactly how they fit together is not yet clear. I did not understand the description of a hypothetical engine powered by quantum phenomena rather than heat, but the author says it could be built and could have practical uses. Dean Shomshak
  21. It makes me think of "Redemption," the White Southern aristocracy's campaign of political violence and violent politics to force Black people back into de facto slavery after Reconstruction ended. But this time aimed at women, or at least women outside of a particular class and ideology: As mentioned, white women of a certain income and social standing will still be able to do as they please. There have always been different rules for aristocrats and commoners. What continues to baffle me is how so many "commoners" approve of this, too. Dean Shomshak
  22. At firat I read that as "you took his dweomer" and was confused. Too much D&D, I guess. Dean Shomshak
  23. The cover story for the April, 2020 issue of Scientific American was "New View of the Milky Way Galaxy." Astronomers have long been pretty sure the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, but many details have been unknown -- notably, just how many spiral arms the galaxy has. The Bar and Spiral Legacy (BeSSeL) Survey attempted to answer that question by using radio astronomy to find the distance and direction of star-forming regions, where you find the hot, blue stars that define the spiral arms. (You can't see those regions throughout the galaxy: Dust obscures them. But those stars stimulate distinctive radio emissions that penetrate the dust... and by using a clever technique that turns a set of radio telescopes into a single telescope the size of the Earth, distance can be found directly by parallax.) BeSSel finds that the Milky Way has four major arms, plus the fragmentary Local Arm that holds the Sun, and the 3 Kpc Arm, a ring that surrounds the central bar. The Sun is 8,150 +/- 150 parsecs from the center, and very close to the central plane of the galaxy. Here's a,link to the BeSSel report: Results | The Bar and Spiral Structure Legacy Survey bessel.vlbi-astrometry.org/results This image of the Milky Way is based on 200 trigonometric parallaxes for masers in massive star forming regions from two large radio astronomy projects, the Bar and Spiral Structure Legacy (BeSSeL) Survey and the Japanese VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry (VERA) to survey the Milky Way from the inside out. It has a gorgeous illo of the Milky Way based on the results, but it exceeds the size limit for the forum software. Dean Shomshak
  24. An article in the August '21 Harper's may help. It's primarily about the recent fad for quoting Hannah Arendt re: fascism, totalitarianism, and lies by governments. (Summary: People quoting Arendt to condemn Donald Trump are mis-applying what she wrote.) But one subject is about the state of mind people often fall into when they have been lied to about something big, or lied to many times: a condition of all-encompassing disbelief and cynicism. Anything might be a lie, and probably is; the effort to sift truth from falsehood is futile; so while nothing is true, anything is possible. Though this goes beyond the article, it follows that the normal, sane standards of competent authority are turned upside down. The more the source of a claim is perceived as an established authority, the less it is believed -- because the Establishment, of whatever kind, must be lying to maintain its position of presumed power. Conversely, the suppressed message is more likely to be true, precisely because it is suppressed. Ad if you don't know anything about the subject, whether it's science, medicine, or what-have-you -- how are you to recognize deranged nonsense when you hear it? Why wouldn't a malaria drug, a deworming drug, or, heck, shooting up with bleach, be effective against Covid? (Or, getting back to Arendt, why wouldn't you believe a blustering madman who claims all your problems are caused by Jews? [Hitler] Or counterrevolutionary capitalists? [Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot] Or Communists? [McCarthy] Or gays, or Central American migrants, or witches. You are the perfect citizen for a totalitarian state and its world of ideological fantasy, because you will never break and say, "No, this isn't true.") Unfortunately... Between government, political provocateurs and advertising, we swim in lies. And I suspect we all know it. Is it any wonder that some people drown? Dean Shomshak
  25. Just as an aside, 5th ed D&D doesn't force paladins to be lawful good. Paladins are defined by their "oath," a transcendent cause that they serve. Not all of them are shiny happy niceness; for instance, the Oath of Conquest or the Oath of Vengeance. (There's still the Oath of Devotion for the "classic" LG paladin.) Dean Shomshak
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