Thursday 8 January 2015

A Green World of Lacerations

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hello I am a small tree covered in syringes 

I was replying to a post amount plants and started writing too much and now it is a blog post

PLANTS : one of the most distinctive things about plants is they don't move and if you make them monsters they generally have to move.

And if moves and it's a plant and you stab it , it doesn't have blood and organs to festoon everywhere and then it just doesn't feel like holiday season.

So that's a thing.

I like plants. They have a huge range of weird chemistrys and evolution tricks to them. Name a industrial chemical and there is prob a plant that makes it somewhere (gutta percha , camphor, turpentine , cyanide..) .

But I don't use them much in games, poss because if you have them just like monsters it just feels like a vegetation option.

(There was a whole thread on this on Zak's g+ and I didn't get around to reading it and possibly am going to be redundant here)

So what are distinctive things about plants that can be d&dable?

Joey already mentions the they are everywhere and maybe some of them will try and kill you but which ones??? problem. Which is a ongoing problem that you can't visually describe everything all the time so you will have to be describing the plants alot previously or it's just a blind ambush situation and if you do it too much the players will do the shuffle shuffle poke poke exploration which is tedious for everyone involved (possibly)

SO having tree and weird plants regular showing up as possible sources of magic, curses, healings and strangements will make it possible to mention a weird plant with out the players immediately setting fire to it.

I plan to do this in the on coming Island campaign with "natural" resources being the stand in for puzzley resourcey trappy things.
Let's do the rest of the ideas with bullet points

o> The disgusting pile of garbage that eats you:

Shambling mounds. If you can really sell this and bring up a visceral memory of disgusting compost or putrid fridge vegetables this will work.

Everyone prob has an experience with something rotten and disgusting that was edible and it's not too much of a jump to imagine it trying to kill you. Also will be too wet to burn , lack internal structure to stab and be immune to a lot other things so using it like the classic Minotaur or a shoggoth is best.

Like lots of foreboding, chances to get away and have it find you again etc

o>Worse living through chemistry:

A tree is poisoning everything around with fine seed, hooked airbourne hairs, or will cause horrible rashes or melt skin with its latex.

An okay stand it for a trap , and is auto maintaining unlike a mechanic trap, "pushing through this area causes sap to be sprayed on the party etc"

Might be more interesting if it's delayed or the plant itself starts growing from the infected area. Like most traps it needs careful information management.

Deliver mechanisms could include sap, fumes, thorns, stinging hairs, contact poison, airborne hairs or seed , sticky or hooked seeds, explosive seed pods, pollen

Effects could include (possibly delayed) welts, rashes , lacerations , flesh melting, paralysis, confusion or delirium , apathy , hallucinations, itchiness to the points of self mutilation , swellings, blindness, become a host to the plant, behaviour modification, nausea ; also vomiting , shitting possibly with blood from organ damage, cancer and choking or suffocation

The plant could benefit from this through protection, deterrence, area denial , fertilization of the soil via copses or dripped blood or pus, or transport of seed or pollen

Ways of using a plant or tree that infects an area and having it less of gotcha could be having everyone know about it and there is bodies with treasure there, (either because they were ignorant or they were deliberately sacrificed after ritual bejewelment) or some of the plants parts are medicine/magic/curse relievers

A range of shitty plants encounters than cause minor discomforts , wounds and ailments is a good way of making a wilderness area notorious

Example of something :

This looks like a mild generic green bush with pinnate compound leaves (kinda like a fern but with the tip most leaflets not reducing). Underneath each leaf is the seed pods which when brushed against spoik out in flesh and screw themselves in. Their corkscrew shape means they will work their way into the muscle with movement and if pulled will break off leaving the tip inside. 
While initially in the muscle it numbs the area only hours later later do they cause pain and discomfort and sleeplessness.
They can be dug out but it requires time and care to remove all of it. Field operations often leave the tip , which will be noticed much later when the anesthetic wears off and it starts causing pain, discomfort and agitation 
Because of this it is most often removed at night near a campfire or fire source. Because the seed pod is a fuckhead it will often be thrown in the fire. Unfortunately exposure to heat allows the seedpod to open and germinate faster than it would left alone. The bushes are thus often found around former campsites.
As well as using fire for germination they will germinate in reaction to lower amounts of salty fluid, ie blood , so the seedpods that have been ripped out of a leg and discarded will sprout and grow into a new Screw-Seed-Bushes too. So you also find them along trails.

Medicinally it can harvested and used to make contact anesthetics and stimulants that cause wakefulness 

  o> Killing It With Fire

It's a common thing in rpgs that plant or wood enemies take more damage from fire than they would if they were meat. Which has also bugged me because you hold a lighter underneath a green tree branch and hold one under your arm and see which one gets fucked up quicker. Your arm is delicate layer of skin over a flammable substance (fat) that will needed a decent amount of heat to get going will burn. A tree , even dried , is no more vulnerable to fire than you are. Anyway the main reasons trees get fucked up by fire is they can't run away. Which is a problem with plant encounters. The party , if aware, will try and burn them.

Ways to increase the mayhem of this is a)making it difficult because green plants don't burn easily

b)smoke sucks. Poisonous plants burning often sucks much much worse and can be a delivery agent for the chemical effects cough 420 cough

c)If you start a fire big and hot enough to burn green material it maybe hot enough to keep burning and now you have a forest fire. Which involved disorinating and choking smoke, fire , weird localized weather, stampeding animals and intense heat. So good luck with that

d)If there was something you wanted on that plant you just burned it.

e)Some plants and trees bet on fire to germinate their seeds and will rapidly recover , often spreading further their original disputation. If a plant has evolved to fuck with people , it's evolved to incorporate their retaliation as well.

So if the players cleared a forest to get rid of patch of thorn slinging hate flowers they might find when they next pass through the area the patch now covers the entire former forest.

Conceivably their might be plants that deliberately fuck with people to get them to start fire.

Gum trees in Australia are known to produce large amount of dry branches and shed bark and if it's hot enough might ignite from the volatile materials in the sap. Gum tree seed germinates after fire and all the other trees have burnt leaving clear bush freshly fertilized with ash.
o> Friendship is ants
Ant shenanigans here

Some plants can have symbiotic relationships with other things that hate you. The classic is some acacia trees having special ant homes so messing with the tree means thorns and ants leaping at you.

Another example is a tree having little murder holes for ants to pop out grab limbs and pull things apart.

Image from Bogleech writing about ant

A wasp or bees nest makes a ranged attacker for a plant monster.

Human symbiotic relationships could include the use of the plant as a ritual poison, a barrier defense (Onga Onga pictured at the start was grown in trenches behind fort walls ), or a initiating toxin that leaves all members with a distinctive appearance and possibly increased fearlessness or pain resistance. Destroying the plant maybe the key to defeating a bastard group of bastards.

Other symbiotic relationships that want to murder you might be elephants growing trees from their skulls. The trees grow horrible acid fruit that the elephants will throw at people. In some seasons the tree makes the elephants more aggressive and belligerent to encourage more fruit to be thrown.

-Goats that binge eat a delicious flower. Later in the season this makes some of them swell up and violently explode if stabbed. This deters people from eating the goats so that's fair right?

-Corpse Lobsters feed on bones and transfer pollen from the bone flower that grows upon bodies. The Bone flower releases a toxin that makes people paranoid and violence prone in a invisible vapour over a wide area.

o> Reefer Madness

A plant (especially a newly introduced one) could be responsible for the new behaviour of monster , people or animals. Either because they are eating it and going nuts, or it releases chemical that make them nuts. Why do the cows attack here? Because plants. The plants might be benefiting or causing horrible transformations or it might just be a fucked up side effect.

The party might be subject to a complete false or altered environment because of a common plant that has been drugging them. Either have hallucinations run like real monsters until they suspect gnomes or do that thing where you describe normal things in too much detail or mention hearing detail so the players themselves act paranoid

Okay I meant to live the house hours ago and I haven't shower and I'm in my underwear because it is summer right now fuck you northern hemisphere

IN conclusion the fuck you ness of plants in 4 points:

Vast range of chemical arsenals

Getting other things to do the work for them / Using other creatures behaviour to their benefit include hostile actions

Can keep regrowing or taking up more and more space

Happy to stay in one place being a dick forever

Invulnerability to bunch of stuff that normally makes livings dies

Here are some further readings on bastard plants

Plant used for Ordeal justice

Plant that burns and causes blindness

Look here is the wiki link on poisonous plants

Friday 2 January 2015

I think I am going to talk about Video games right now in this post

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF Because I played these games and I liked them and people talk about video games alot and there is over lap with rpgs.

And some of them were interesting like a book or an art can be interesting. Like uneasy emotional response that is good but disquieting.

But mainly I think it's a good chance to talk about mediums , pacing, frustration, delayed gratification , and imprinting

Anyway this will prob go in some other direction and I might make reference to that scene in Watership Down where the fucked up rabbits who have internalized the fact that they are actually farm animals and because they can't confront this fact they make bullshit mosaics in their burrows about nothing, which is the most apt metaphor for modern life I know.

I know I could certainly make bullshit mosaics because of my inability to contemplate the truth of eventual annihilation and complicity with life under captialism.
Or possible because I just like it.
It is a mystery

Anyway click the titles to go the relevant website. Most games are free or cheap because I have a piece of shit computer and am cheap so most of the games I play are weird little indie games or shit house flash games and the overlap between
Not from Anodyne from here


which means "not likely to cause offence or disagreement and somewhat dull" and "a painkilling drug or medicine."

Relevant? Prob not

I forget the name of it like all the time. And then mashing various combinations of syllables trying to find it .
Anyway it's basically Zelda. But sad and weird and possibly might need that crucial amount of imprinting on video games limited palette landscapes and the evocation of them despite or even because of there limitedness .

The medium is telling you that your emotion is for a place that doesn't exist. You are a Kākāpō
fucking the back of someones head
What does that have do with Anodyne? You play young who is an old man. A sage gives him the standard save the world script , cynically and routinely , and soon you find the broom that is to be your weapon and tool and you begin exploring a familiar landscape but one that seems empty and sad. Stones give unhelpful messages, there is a section of a highway that incongruously sits among the green fields and rivers and you fight the classic bats and blobs. Eventually you upgrade your broom to move dust around to make a raft and get rid of barriers and exploring looking for the dungeon entrances. SO it's that pokemon, zelda thing that shows up in my dreams still to this day. Trekking back and forth over a landscape looking at it carefully trying to open new path ways.

The games exploration gets to places that seem to be more in Young's head or someone else head anyway. A fleshy blood realm. A place haunted by dead acrobats. Other Dimensions of crystals. A memory of a fire. You are exploring someones something. Is it Youngs past? Is it a purgatory ? Some clump of psychospace Young has formed onto? It doesn't seem all about him anyway. Again the feeling like the medium is stating its fakeness. This time to itself. You never really understand what is happening

It surprises. It unsettles.

The two moments that most stick out for me are spoiler territory so highlight to read
You go to this black and white world with horrible static. There is people here. You've only seen one before, and she was nice. You go up to one and press the interact button. You stab them and they die bleeding.
Because they are coded as enemy pressing the attack button doesn't open a dialogue box. It attacks them with a knife which has replaced your broom. Though this area is implied to be more memory (glitched haunted and diseased) than others , it never reveals it all to be a dream or psychotic vision. It threats to but never settles there. There is not consequence or explanation. You just killed someone.

The other bit is after you have defeated the final boss and got the new game plus power. A ability to swap any 2 squares allowing you to dismantle the landscape and step beyond the borders of the levels. It feels like nonclip mode or using a level editor to explore what you couldn't before. Then you find new areas and more content and there was shock for me , that the game hadn't ended. Like watching a play, applauding, the curtains fall, and you walk back stage to compliment the performers and there is another play happening. 

It doesn't go as far with this as I would of liked but it still impressed me.

Other moments less striking are getting to climb a wind turbine or meeting someone you can talk to but seems tangential to the actual plot but more significant somehow because of this.

Gameplay wise it is solid. Like Zelda for Snes but less formalatic with the dungeon new weapon next dungeon thing. It moves well , the world holds surprises, the sound track is perfect. This one of my favourite games and I will play it again soon (if this computer lets me) and to a follow through review.

Relevance to RPG wise? The joy of exploration and a place unfolding slowly and in surprising ways. I want to run the next game on a single island or otherwise have it limited geographically but not in scope. Like an Island can have a mountain. The Mountian can have a cave. The cave can have a shaft that links up to a glass ceiling tomb at the bottom of the ocean. The ocean can lead back to coral reefs running the island and the sunken temples of the shallows. The west beach can be all broken statues and the east beach the dangerous mating ground of titanic King Crabs. The North is a cliff with ruins build in the side and graves added later. The south is peaceful and has remnants of a wharf built to trade with people who don't come anymore.

By having everything close it interconnects , it coshares a history , even when parts ignore or over write each other.


Let's talk difficulty. I've played games that had a bit that was hard and at a certain point nothing that game will do past that point is worth me trying that bit some more. Other people get more of kick from beating a challenge than I do. I don't want a cake walk but I will flat out make a cost benefit analysis and walk away from a game.
Sometimes when I hear people talk about how good a challenge is because of how good it feels to beat it I think of a joke: A man is smashing his head against a brick wall. Someone comes up to him and asks him why he is doing that. He replies "oh because it feels so great when I stop"

But suffering is not enjoyable  because its immediate absence is noticeably pleasing. But in video game it is an antiflavour , a term that I used as an umbrella for any combination of boredom, frustration, and fear. You want to do a thing and you fail and so must keep doing the thing you don't want to do. Even though that thing may of been initially  fun . Like being forced to play a level again. Or try a jump again.
It's an antiflavour because its more about when it's not there or how it works with other flavours (immersion, story, skill mastery,progression and novelty off the top of my head but that's not a rigorous list.)

My taste for it is possibly why I hate level drain as a player , other just any mechanic fiddlyness.
It clashs with my sense of progress ( a flavour which I think I need to be prominent) , that what I have done previously has mattered.  It breaks some unspoken sense of fairness of mechanics. I can lose arms , eyes, all my stuff , but atleast I will keep my advancement mechanically.

Though body swapping, transmogrification or curses might render this progression irrelevant some how that is still mine.

 Even though I enjoyed being 1st level or whatever being made to play it again somehow is a bad taste of antiflavour.

Though I think it could be more down to the sense undead are just not cool enough for me to break the rules in such a way. I could deal with it more if it was built into the fabric of the setting like Anthonys Picaro's soul eating  or some setting in which you could lose levels if a rival people dug up and ate your ancestors.
There would be sense it is some cosmic transgression. A wight is an angry dead guy in world of medusas, astral travel , dragons, dimensional invaders , and fuck knows what else.
Zak has said that makes undead scary and scary is good. The trouble is fear only happens when you have internalized the worlds reality . Otherwise scary is annoying. IF you started playing a game and got told one player would decide if you had to stop playing , you would think that was bullshit and would not fear the possibility , more chafe under it.
Though d&d , while a litttle more complicated than that,  works that way. There is some consistency that is accepted that makes it when you character burns up in the lava, it's okay, because that is what happens because lava.

I digress and I'm losing my point.

Probability Zero is hard. It is a descending rogue-like platformer.
Rogue-like in the sense it is procedural generating, it has some form of exp , and it all goes back to square one when you die. And you will die. The game riffs of the "on a long enough time scale all survival rates have a probability of zero" or something similar. In-fact your health bar is a constantly changing message on your chance of returning home/seeing your children again/ etc , and lists a fluctuating X in XXXXX chances.

The number of tens serves as a rough guide. The numbers change but the size of the second one in decimals is basically  the amount of hits you can take. When it gets down to a 1 in 1 kinda thing your eyes will be red and you will take one more hit and then it's game over.
The game scrolls downward endlessly forcing you to quickly navigate its lose maze, getting caught off the screen (above or below) is instant death. A variety of enemies are present and killing them gives you stars. Get enough stars and a line will appear soon below and progress past it gives you a level up and a little bit of health. Each level up pauses the action and gives you a choose of powers , all are extremely useful and the game seems to enjoy the difficult of your choices. A projectile attack or the ability to not get hurt falling? Block breaking or being able to hurt enemies by landing on them? Spike immunity or one kill punchs?
Powers are on tiers that become available on progressive levels (note it's still continuing the same endless scrolling shaft) , one tier needing you to waste a level up to unlock it. Which I feel was a complete mistake.
Others are accessible only if the previous version of it is unlocked.

As you descend you need more stars from enemies to unlock level ups. The enemies are joined by tougher kinds with more complicated behaviour. Bosses occasionally show up , tearing up the place and fucking with you. The blockscape features more spikes and greater drops. There is a constant feeling that you just on the cusp of getting into a comfortable flow, with just one more level up so you can stop taking spike damage or get that one kill punch etc. But you fail and you die inevitable.
And though there is a lot to like here the antiflavour has just a sprinkle too much fuck you in it for me. I want their to be an easy mode (there is normal which shit on me, and hard which did it from a greater height) and another mode which is bascially bullshit as well from the amount of enemies it throws at you.
It's so very carefully calculated to never quite give you the break you need and I reached a point where I just could not be fucked. You should play it though. It's fast , it's great, I think there is more hidden content than I found (look for star block placed further in the walls than they should. I didn't test it but just noticed it in peoples lets play videos) .
The enemies behaviour is good , each bastard having distinctive movements and often additonally things you won't notice at first. Like monsters that eat your power ups or other monsters giving them a range attack, or parasites that cause an inflicted monsters to burst out more parasites or projectiles that destroy things that you wish they wouldn't .

There were some more games I was going to go on about but I'm done now.
Might do another post covering them as well.

But yeah play both these games.