Fun With Words

Words serve a purpose – they help us communicate ideas by transmitting thoughts from one person to another. In a way they are a kind of telepathy! Whether jeered over teamspeak, scrawled on a toilet wall, or merely thought really loudly, words can tell us something about your mum!

But words can be more than just the transmission of ideas – they can be fun. The ideas transmitted can inform, educate and entertain, there’s jokes, poems, stories, and best of all (in my opinion) role playing games (and yet I still don’t know whether that should be roleplaying role-playing or role playing. my spell checker thinks the latter, and that almost rhymes so I’ll go with that for now).

Choice of words matters. Different words have different connotations – Ali mentioned last week about the difficulty in choosing the correct word for those who go to a spa, so I’ll not retread that ground here. I could have said “cover that again”, but instead chose to go with a  metaphor because I found it more entertaining to do so, and one might literally tread ground at a spa. In that first paragraph I could have gone with “spoken, written or using sign language”, but I instead went for an old joke because it’s more entertaining and more arresting.

In the beginning language was entirely auditory – we spoke, we grunted, we howled (well, I did anyway). And the spoken language still has a special place. Some words are just fun to say, they’re make your mouth make interesting shapes, or your vocal cords produce unusual noises. Cassock, plinth, ullulate. Say all of these out loud slowly and recognise the weird things your mouth and voice are doing – the first starts and ends hard, but is soft in the middle, the second makes your tongue almost come out of your mouth, and the third, kind of goes everywhere. Even devoid of meaning these words can entertain – meaning is not necessary for communication as Noam Chomsky famously pointed out with the nonsense sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” (note the American spelling of colorless, that’s another topic entirely).

Tongue twisters rely on this idea. As the name implies, they are designed to confound your mouth and make you trip over sounds by using repetition with slight variations. “She sells sea shells by the sea shore”, and “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” being famous examples – look at the individual sounds, the phonemes, and you can see what is going on. Perhaps we can even create our own with some more fun words: “Ten trebuchets torment Trevor’s tray of toast” – try saying that fast!

And then there is semantic satiation. Semantic satiation is the process by which words such as semantic satiation cease to have any meaning because semantic satiation has been repeated so often. There is quite a bit of psychology and neurology behind the idea of semantic satiation, but I’ll leave that to the semantic satiation scientists scientists for now, and just say semantic satiation again. Semantic satiation. In essence if we repeat a word too often we get a sequence of nonsense noises which started out with meaning, and that in itself is fascinating:

Monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey…

[ed note: there are a few typographical errors in here – I’ve been told to leave them in…]

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New Monthly Post: Playtest Report

We’ve decided to add a bit more structure to the blog, and this is the first piece of it: Every month, on the 2nd monday, the Artemis Games blog will have a Playtest Report – talking about some playtesting we’ve done, and what modifications it has pushed into the games.

December/January Playtest Report

Over the past month we have been largely focused on playtesting Tinfoil Hat, our upcoming Conspiracy Theory game.

Overall the response has been positive, but there’s been some vital criticism.

The biggest of Tinfoil Hat’s problems is the beginning: at the start of the game, as it stood last week, you had to rant for 30 seconds on the connection between two pieces of a conspiracy. This didn’t really work – most of the 30 seconds was spent umming and ahhing as there simply wasn’t enough to go on.

Our first fix attempt was to make the 30 seconds timer only function as a maximum, not a minimum. But that resulted in a brand new problem: With no push to keep talking the ranter was a lot less likely to elaborate on their conspiracy in interesting ways, and to potentially back themselves into a corner.

We’ve worked on the problem again, and now have a working solution: In addition to the two cards played at the start by the judge, to start the rant, the first 30 seconds includes a completely random card from the top of the deck. The 30 second timer still functions as both minimum and maximum, but the game hits its stride far faster while allowing time for the players to make vital mistakes.

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Wordsmith

I rarely describe myself as a writer. I sometimes use ‘Architect for castles in the clouds’, but these days that tends to make people think ‘engineer’ So most often I call myself a wordsmith

We’ve talked before about making names for places – and it applies similarly for people – Wright, Walker or Thatcher. Kwaku (Mr Snake) the Setite..Tours Prince the activist (derived from Martin Luther King)

More made up words come into play now we’ve got a Sci-fi range. One instinctively knows that promethium – the fuel used in Warhammer 40k –  is flammable. Not only is is a bit like petroleum, but it’s named for the Greek thief of fire, Prometheus. My favorite piece of pseudoscience is the Heisenberg compensator in Star Trek. Heisenberg tells us we cannot know where we are and how fast we’re going (he’s thinking on a subatomic scale) so in order to travel Faster Than Light we need something to compensate for the Uncertainty Principle. Totally plausible whilst being essentially rubbish.

But I want to talk about choosing words, rather than making them up. When we wrote the Sci Fi Concept Cards, one of the hardest to get right was the 7D of Locations – the Rainbow Echo Spa. What is the right word for people-who-attend-a-spa? Are they patients? Well, they do receive treatments. Customers? They pay for the service. Eventually we settled on ‘clients’ as a expression of a closer relationship with a therapist. Not just because it was shorter and didn’t spill over to the next line.

To relate this to you, think about the resonances you use when describing your character or when scene-setting as a GM. If a room is “big’ – that doesn’t evoke anything. Is it vast, towering, cathedral-like? Is it too big for its use – a dining room that could seat fifty set for four? Is it merely big compared to the characters – either physically as in Alice in Wonderland or the Borrowers, or mentally if viewing through the eyes of a tiny familiar – mouse or even ant.

Assuming you are talking to adults – make use of the shared vocabulary of experience. Try to avoid using words which are more suitable for reading ages of five – big, small, right; and never nice. That said, I’ll break that rule if it gets over the atmosphere I’m trying for. A villain lair which was only described in childlike adjectives took on the creepy clown aspect. My players have come to expect poetry – so when they got curtailed language, they noticed.

If you have a pre-written adventure, you can practice by rephrasing the opening paragraph. Try re-casting it as the opening of an 80s fantasy film “A long time ago in a land far far away …”. Now try as the start of a young adult novel.”Evelyn never really saw the rolling fields she’d grown up in … “ Changing language finds us demanding something different from the audience, and by choosing tone we can convey much more about the campaign than simply what it looks like.

Example: A recent Vampire campaign began with a meeting at the Palace Theatre, This is a real place, so most of the players are familiar with the outside, which is a Victorian marble edifice. Inside, it’s a theatre, ballroom, ballet school and bar that serves food. As the setup to a campaign that was meant to be political, layers on layers of intrigue and half truth – I described the foyer as ‘confections of scarlet and gold’ and included several doors throughout the building labelled ‘staff only’. These were all concealed behind curtains – implying that one couldn’t know at a glance where there were doors, and that much of the building remains concealed. Do you feel ready to step backstage and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes?

As for that last – remember, stealing from one person is plagiarism – stealing from many is called research. This post has stolen from – ahem, researched from – Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars, Star Trek,  Greek myth and hard science. At least. Don’t be afraid to use a turn of phrase coined by someone else if it says what you need it to. On that note, I’m going to go read something. Don’t know what yet. What do you recommend?

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Draconic Laziness

It’s new years eve, and the fifth monday of the month, so I’m going to practise the draconic virtue of resting and enjoying my treasures in my home.

No update today, but we will return next week; when we’ll be establishing a new pattern for the new year.

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Gifts for a Dragon

What can you give the beast that’s got everything?

More Shiny Stuff

No matter how large a dragon’s hoard, they always want more – dragons are greed personified. So even if they have everything, consider what they don’t have two of; and get them that.

Dragon Eggs

By gifting a dragon an egg you are providing them with one of three things: First it could be their own egg, in which case they will be grateful for its return, although unless you also provide the thief they may be somewhat suspicious.

Secondly it could be the egg of another dragon they tolerate, in which case you have given them powerful leverage for diplomacy.

Thirdly it could be the egg of another dragon they either don’t know or don’t like, in which case you have provided them with a rare and delicious meal.

Tartare Sauce

It is a well-known fact that one should not interfere in the affairs of dragons – humanoids are crunchy and go well with ketchup. By buying a dragon Tartare Sauce you can spur them to enjoy seafood for some time, distracting them from kidnapping princesses and devouring knights.

Laxative Tablets

Dragons consume a very mineral-rich diet, high in iron, steel, silver and gold. Unfortunately it is also very low in fibre, meaning that dragons can easily become constipated, rather grumpy and overproducing methane – which leads to town-destroying rampages. Give your neighbourhood dragon some mild laxatives to help them stay regular and happy in their lair.

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Ungyzing

Caption: Ungyzing and Sausage and Chips guarding some books

 

Everyone has cuddly toys? People still have ones from childhood? It’s not just me? My oldest is a dragon by the name of Ungyzing. I’ve had him for somewhere over thirty years by this point, Sausage And Chips, the parrot next to him in  that picture, is not much younger. Yes, he’s called Sausage And Chips – don’t blame me, that’s what he told me he was called! I had toys who were older (such as Leopardy, the imaginatively names leopard, and The Whale, a knitted… uh… whale, which my mum used to sneak into my and my brothers’ PE kits!), but Ungyzing was the first who was actually mine!

Well, I say he is A dragon, more accurately he’s the king of the dragons, and his horde is the entire universe. Or so he says – don’t all dragons claim to be the king of the dragons and own everything? Regardless, Ungyzing is a kind, and caring soul who has protected me for many years.

Other than this being somewhat cute, what can you do with this information other than go “awww”? Maybe have a think about dragons. Last week Ali wrote about what we mean by dragons (and introduced you to Alfred, who is also very helpful).

Dragons are supposed to be highly intelligent and independent creatures, so no doubt they have many and varied personalities too. Yet in RPGs and stories they are more often than not arrogant and angry. If they’re not, their personality is mostly determined by the colour of their scales, with only the metallic ones being anything approaching “nice” (ref: D&D). And yet, many dragons in myth are very protective of what they consider “their” – notably the Red Dragon of Wales, who sits proudly on the flag. And as mentioned earlier dragons are wont to claim everything as theirs, so surely they would want to protect everything – at least until it proved uncontrollable.

If a dragon claims the  entire universe as their own then perhaps the only things they would attack on sight are things which are not of this universe – outsider things, daemons, maybe undead depending on your mythology.

Ungyzing, of course, would soundly beat the snot out of Cthulhu!

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Meeting Dragons

Write about dragons this month, says the Boss.That’s not as easy as it sounds, because nobody can agree on what we mean by dragons.

The Welsh Dragon has four legs, wings, and a tail. Her diet is unclear, but probably includes invading Seis (Seisneg is Cymric for the English) She stands for bravery and steadfastness, and her element is earth.

The Norse dragon stands on four legs, but tends not to have wings.. Guardian of gold, he represents greed and selfishness. He eats adventurers, and he might breathe fire

The Oriental Dragon is more worm-shaped, and has either four, many, or no legs at all. It might fly, but without wings. It’s element is water.

The Tibetan Dragon is the Thunder god, ancestor of kings, and guardian of mountain top lands. Physically resembling his Chinese neighbour, I can find no ready reference to what he might eat..

Not forgetting the Komodo Dragon, which exists in the mundane world.

Also included in the draconic mantle are wyverns (only two feet and wings), hydras (many headed serpents), wyrms (no or many legs) and probably a whole lot more fantastical beasties depending on who you ask.

Perhaps a better question is why dragons are how they are. They represent to us the power of nature – whether that be the unpredictability of weather; the uncontrollability of fire; or the obnoxious nature of a greedy person – dragons are the ultimate in powerful monster. They might be benevolent – bestowing magic or material wealth – but they are more likely to eat you, as punishment for trying to control things beyond mankind’s ken.

As storytellers, we choose which kind of dragon fits our narrative. Anne McCaffrey chose a telepathic helpmate to help drive back the alien Thread; Weis and Hickman use both the fiery violence of Red and Black dragons and the helpful Metallics; and Tolkien uses the dragons as monsters, undefeatable by might, but perhaps confounded by guile.

I only keep the helpful varieties of dragon about. For example, here is Alfred, who job is to house treats for sharing, with some of his draconic friends.

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Dragonmeet Design Sparks

This weeks blog is slightly delayed, due to our trip to Dragonmeet in London over the weekend leaving us somewhat drained, and having met quite a lot of dragons! (We brought four with us too, so they could socialise with their scaly comrades)

Whenever we go to a convention there’s a good chance we’ll come back with more ideas than we went with. Dragonmeet was exceptional on this account, with 3 separate concepts crystallising, and a fourth flaring into existence.

First: 13th Age Southlands

The 13th age system suits our gaming styles, and our design ethos, very well indeed. So we’ve been working for a while on moving some of our system-neutral designs over to 13th age specific ones.

At Dragonmeet we actually met Rob Heinsoo and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, two major writers for 13th Age (Rob Heinsoo being one of the two primary voices) and got a chance for a brief chat about our work, which helped us feel more confident that we’re not going to be stepping on any toes.

So work has picked up the pace on The Southland’s Project – designing a region to go south of The Dragon Empire with something of a different theme – where the core setting has almost half its icons directly tied to Imperial Politics, our region has 5 icons that are tied to Nature in some way; from the Pack Mother – leader of all those who follow their instincts, whether they be red in tooth and claw or maternal caring – to the Lichen Lich who promises that life and death need not be so different after all.

Second: Mine Slayer

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of logic puzzles; and I’ve been considering what it would take to make a game in which one of the players can design a puzzle for others to solve. While I had been thinking of this purely as a co-operative endeavour, talking it over with the team during the hours-long car journey resulted in something rather different – one player laying a minefield and the others playing minesweepers trying to be the first to cross it without exploding.

We have playtests for this later this week – the mechanics are still quite open with a large number of valves in need of adjusting: how many mines the mine-slayer gets to place being the greatest conundrum.

Third: Aspect Cards

The Concept Cards line is great, but it’s only really useful for GMs and writers – not for those stuck in a single skin of their player character. Aspect Cards are our exploration of what would be useful to the player – each containing two tied aspects of a character: backstory, equipment, appearance, connections or anything else that works.

Even more modular than Concept Cards, with no card being an island, they should be perfect additions to an existing character concept; or with half a dozen supply the whole concept on their own.

Fourth: Tinfoil Hat

Inspired by a game we were playing on the card journey, Tinfoil Hat is an improvisational game in the style of “But Wait There’s More”:

How do the Illuminati explain the flouride in our water supply? How does Adolf Hitler’s twin brother relate to the moon landings?

In Tinfoil Hat you’re forced to add ever more unexpected curveballs to your conspiracy theory until it eventually falls apart under the weight of red string and mixed metaphors.

The mechanics of the game are still in alpha-0.0.1, but their simplicity means it likely won’t take long to polish them – the choice of conspiracy elements on the other hand may take a while.

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13th Age: Hanging Trees and Spellbound Soldiers

This week I’ve ended up working on two very different sets of monsters. The first is the Hanging Tree – a huge level 1 enemy that comes with a murder of crows to finish you off.

On a completely different track, I got caught up in the idea that mind controlled minions often seem a bit too similar to everything else. So, here are The Spellbound, soulless soldiers that are so weak willed they can even be swayed mid-fight.

As for why they might be lacking a soul? Why not ask Antonio

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