Hello ladies, gays, enbys, and other pots-and-pans enthusiasts and welcome to the 2019 Hyperpop Rate! I'm your host, quenched, and am here to guide you through this month's rate full of boundary-pushing, experimental, over-the-top bubblegum bass, or as it is more commonly called, hyperpop. The genre has come a long way since it's humble PC Music beginnings and has grown to boast a large cult fanbase, majority of which is made of members of the LGBTQ+ community. Here are the cling clang bitches we will be rating: In case you're impatient like me and already know the drill... HERE is the link to the Spotify playlist HERE is the link to submit scores
Up first, we have Slayyyter, queen of high-budget-sounding-but-actually-low-budget Grindrcore music, with her self-titled debut mixtape. After releasing a string of singles starting in 2018 with BFF, featuring hyperpop legend Ayesha Erotica, she has held the attention of gays and hyperpop fans everywhere, propelled by her dominating stan-like presence on social media. While not every loose single made the cut for her mixtape, she still has a versatile discography with zero misses, whether making filthy, horny bangers on songs like "Candy" and "Daddy AF", braggadocious bops "Cha Ching" and "Celebrity", or glittery bubblegum pop such as fan-favorite "Mine". Warning: you will become slightly gayer upon album completion.
This rate marks the first time in Popheads rate history we have cut an album from a rate and replaced it with another. LIZ's album "Planet Y2K" was supposed to be in the rate initially, but it came to my attention that she is a transphobic Trump supporter with NO apology or backtrack ever given. So, I posted this comment one day in a Daily Discussion post, and after 72 votes, 65% of you wanted LIZ to be replaced with 100 gecs (which honestly is better anyways musically speaking). 100 gecs are definitely one of the more well known hyperpop acts. The critically acclaimed duo are one of the few hyperpop acts to reach well beyond the LGBTQ+ audience. Consisting of Dylan Brady and Laura Les (who is trans!!!), the duo's debut album, especially money machine, has gone semi-viral within the music sphere and TikTok alike. If you can say one thing about this album, it's that you never know what to expect or what crazy sounds you're going to hear next! They also released a phenomenal remix album called "1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues", reimagining every song on this album and featuring many Popheads favorites such as Charli XCX and Kero Kero Bonito. gecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgecgec
Challenging heteronormativity and the gender binary, Dorian exploded onto the scene with many loose singles, beginning with Clitopia in 2016. These singles led up to Flamboyant, an abrasive, electropop album that doesn't have a single skip! The album also features some production by Dylan Brady, who is one-half of 100 gecs, also present in this rate. Beyond the songs themselves all being bangers, lyrically Dorian explores different aspects of their sexuality and masculinity in songs such as "Emasculate", "Flamboyant", and Adam & Steve, a song which is sure to resonate which any religious gays participating in the rate. Dorian has already released their second album "My Agenda", which I also definitely recommend everyone streams after doing the rate! Note: Dorian uses they/them pronouns so I'm gonna be mad if I get any ballots using anything otherwise!
Lastly we have Hannah Diamond, who has been around the longest of the artists in this rate, releasing her first song in 2013. She was one of the first names in PC Music, taking her until 2019 to release her debut album (giving Sky Ferreira a run for her money as far as album waits go). Featuring A.G. Cook production and dreamy vocals from Hannah, this album was definitely worth the long wait!
Unfortunately for this rate, we couldn't include the queen of hyperpop, Emily Montes, as she did not debut until 2020, therefore not fitting the rate theme. At only 5 years old, she is already receiving fairly decent critical reception. She has two projects on Spotify, the self-titled debut album, Emily Montes and the also self-titled EP, Emily. Featuring experimental production, lyrics that touch on serious topics such as COVID-19 and BLM, and never-before-seen insight into a 5 year old's life, both projects are masterpieces. Despite the seemingly large amount of songs, the bonus rate only lasts 7 minutes and 47 seconds so I definitely recommend setting aside this short amount of time to participate and experience a true visionary. This part is completely optional and is just for fun. You may rate as many or as few songs as you'd like. No 0's or 11's, and and no minimum artist average. Here are the songs for the bonus rate:
No gods, no kings, only NOPE - or divining the future with options flows. [Part 3: Hedge Winding, Unwinding, and the NOPE]
Hello friends! We're on the last post of this series ("A Gentle Introduction to NOPE"), where we get to use all the Big Boy Concepts (TM) we've discussed in the prior posts and put them all together. Some words before we begin:
This post will be massively theoretical, in the sense that my own speculation and inferences will be largely peppered throughout the post. Are those speculations right? I think so, or I wouldn't be posting it, but they could also be incorrect.
I will briefly touch on using the NOPE this slide, but I will make a secondary post with much more interesting data and trends I've observed. This is primarily for explaining what NOPE is and why it potentially works, and what it potentially measures.
My advice before reading this is to glance at my prior posts, and either read those fully or at least make sure you understand the tl;drs: https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/collection/27dc72ad-4e78-44cd-a788-811cd666e32a Depending on popular demand, I will also make a last-last post called FAQ, where I'll tabulate interesting questions you guys ask me in the comments! --- So a brief recap before we begin. Market Maker ("Mr. MM"): An individual or firm who makes money off the exchange fees and bid-ask spread for an asset, while usually trying to stay neutral about the direction the asset moves. Delta-gamma hedging: The process Mr. MM uses to stay neutral when selling you shitty OTM options, by buying/selling shares (usually) of the underlying as the price moves. Law of Surprise [Lily-ism]: Effectively, the expected profit of an options trade is zero for both the seller and the buyer. Random Walk: A special case of a deeper probability probability called a martingale, which basically models stocks or similar phenomena randomly moving every step they take (for stocks, roughly every millisecond). This is one of the most popular views of how stock prices move, especially on short timescales. Future Expected Payoff Function [Lily-ism]: This is some hidden function that every market participant has about an asset, which more or less models all the possible future probabilities/values of the assets to arrive at a "fair market price". This is a more generalized case of a pricing model like Black-Scholes, or DCF. Counter-party: The opposite side of your trade (if you sell an option, they buy it; if you buy an option, they sell it). Price decoherence ]Lily-ism]: A more generalized notion of IV Crush, price decoherence happens when instead of the FEPF changing gradually over time (price formation), the FEPF rapidly changes, due usually to new information being added to the system (e.g. Vermin Supreme winning the 2020 election). --- One of the most popular gambling events for option traders to play is earnings announcements, and I do owe the concept of NOPE to hypothesizing specifically about the behavior of stock prices at earnings. Much like a black hole in quantum mechanics, most conventional theories about how price should work rapidly break down briefly before, during, and after ER, and generally experienced traders tend to shy away from playing earnings, given their similar unpredictability. Before we start: what is NOPE? NOPE is a funny backronym from Net Options Pricing Effect, which in its most basic sense, measures the impact option delta has on the underlying price, as compared to share price. When I first started investigating NOPE, I called it OPE (options pricing effect), but NOPE sounds funnier. The formula for it is dead simple, but I also have no idea how to do LaTeX on reddit, so this is the best I have: https://preview.redd.it/ais37icfkwt51.png?width=826&format=png&auto=webp&s=3feb6960f15a336fa678e945d93b399a8e59bb49 Since I've already encountered this, put delta in this case is the absolute value (50 delta) to represent a put. If you represent put delta as a negative (the conventional way), do not subtract it; add it. To keep this simple for the non-mathematically minded: the NOPE today is equal to the weighted sum (weighted by volume) of the delta of every call minus the delta of every put for all options chains extending from today to infinity. Finally, we then divide that number by the # of shares traded today in the market session (ignoring pre-market and post-market, since options cannot trade during those times). Effectively, NOPE is a rough and dirty way to approximate the impact of delta-gamma hedging as a function of share volume, with us hand-waving the following factors:
To keep calculations simple, we assume that all counter-parties are hedged. This is obviously not true, especially for idiots who believe theta ganging is safe, but holds largely true especially for highly liquid tickers, or tickers will designated market makers (e.g. any ticker in the NASDAQ, for instance).
We assume that all hedging takes place via shares. For SPY and other products tracking the S&P, for instance, market makers can actually hedge via futures or other options. This has the benefit for large positions of not moving the underlying price, but still makes up a fairly small amount of hedges compared to shares.
Winding and Unwinding
I briefly touched on this in a past post, but two properties of NOPE seem to apply well to EER-like behavior (aka any binary catalyst event):
NOPE measures sentiment - In general, the options market is seen as better informed than share traders (e.g. insiders trade via options, because of leverage + easier to mask positions). Therefore, a heavy call/put skew is usually seen as a bullish sign, while the reverse is also true.
NOPE measures system stability
I'm not going to one-sentence explain #2, because why say in one sentence what I can write 1000 words on. In short, NOPE intends to measure sensitivity of the system (the ticker) to disruption. This makes sense, when you view it in the context of delta-gamma hedging. When we assume all counter-parties are hedged, this means an absolutely massive amount of shares get sold/purchased when the underlying price moves. This is because of the following: a) Assume I, Mr. MM sell 1000 call options for NKLA 25C 10/23 and 300 put options for NKLA 15p 10/23. I'm just going to make up deltas because it's too much effort to calculate them - 30 delta call, 20 delta put. This implies Mr. MM needs the following to delta hedge: (1000 call options * 30 shares to buy for each) [to balance out writing calls) - (300 put options * 20 shares to sell for each) = 24,000net shares Mr. MM needs to acquire to balance out his deltas/be fully neutral. b) This works well when NKLA is at $20. But what about when it hits $19 (because it only can go down, just like their trucks). Thanks to gamma, now we have to recompute the deltas, because they've changed for both the calls (they went down) and for the puts (they went up). Let's say to keep it simple that now my calls are 20 delta, and my puts are 30 delta. From the 24,000 net shares, Mr. MM has to now have: (1000 call options * 20 shares to have for each) - (300 put options * 30 shares to sell for each) = 11,000 shares. Therefore, with a $1 shift in price, now to hedge and be indifferent to direction, Mr. MM has to go from 24,000 shares to 11,000 shares, meaning he has to sell 13,000 shares ASAP, or take on increased risk. Now, you might be saying, "13,000 shares seems small. How would this disrupt the system?" (This process, by the way, is called hedge unwinding) It won't, in this example. But across thousands of MMs and millions of contracts, this can - especially in highly optioned tickers - make up a substantial fraction of the net flow of shares per day. And as we know from our desk example, the buying or selling of shares directly changes the price of the stock itself. This, by the way, is why the NOPE formula takes the shape it does. Some astute readers might notice it looks similar to GEX, which is not a coincidence. GEX however replaces daily volume with open interest, and measures gamma over delta, which I did not find good statistical evidence to support, especially for earnings. So, with our example above, why does NOPE measure system stability? We can assume for argument's sake that if someone buys a share of NKLA, they're fine with moderate price swings (+- $20 since it's NKLA, obviously), and in it for the long/medium haul. And in most cases this is fine - we can own stock and not worry about minor swings in price. But market makers can't* (they can, but it exposes them to risk), because of how delta works. In fact, for most institutional market makers, they have clearly defined delta limits by end of day, and even small price changes require them to rebalance their hedges. This over the whole market adds up to a lot shares moving, just to balance out your stupid Robinhood YOLOs. While there are some tricks (dark pools, block trades) to not impact the price of the underlying, the reality is that the more options contracts there are on a ticker, the more outsized influence it will have on the ticker's price. This can technically be exactly balanced, if option put delta is equal to option call delta, but never actually ends up being the case. And unlike shares traded, the shares representing the options are more unstable, meaning they will be sold/bought in response to small price shifts. And will end up magnifying those price shifts, accordingly.
NOPE and Earnings
So we have a new shiny indicator, NOPE. What does it actually mean and do? There's much literature going back to the 1980s that options markets do have some level of predictiveness towards earnings, which makes sense intuitively. Unlike shares markets, where you can continue to hold your share even if it dips 5%, in options you get access to expanded opportunity to make riches... and losses. An options trader betting on earnings is making a risky and therefore informed bet that he or she knows the outcome, versus a share trader who might be comfortable bagholding in the worst case scenario. As I've mentioned largely in comments on my prior posts, earnings is a special case because, unlike popular misconceptions, stocks do not go up and down solely due to analyst expectations being meet, beat, or missed. In fact, stock prices move according to the consensus market expectation, which is a function of all the participants' FEPF on that ticker. This is why the price moves so dramatically - even if a stock beats, it might not beat enough to justify the high price tag (FSLY); even if a stock misses, it might have spectacular guidance or maybe the market just was assuming it would go bankrupt instead. To look at the impact of NOPE and why it may play a role in post-earnings-announcement immediate price moves, let's review the following cases:
Stock Meets/Exceeds Market Expectations (aka price goes up) - In the general case, we would anticipate post-ER market participants value the stock at a higher price, pushing it up rapidly. If there's a high absolute value of NOPE on said ticker, this should end up magnifying the positive move since:
a) If NOPE is high negative - This means a ton of put buying, which means a lot of those puts are now worthless (due to price decoherence). This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to close out their sold/shorted shares, buying them, and pushing the stock price up. b) If NOPE is high positive - This means a ton of call buying, which means a lot of puts are now worthless (see a) but also a lot of calls are now worth more. This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to close out their sold/shorted shares AND also buy more shares to cover their calls, pushing the stock price up. 2) Stock Meets/Misses Market Expectations (aka price goes down)- Inversely to what I mentioned above, this should push to the stock price down, fairly immediately. If there's a high absolute value of NOPE on said ticker, this should end up magnifying the negative move since: a) If NOPE is high negative - This means a ton of put buying, which means a lot of those puts are now worth more, and a lot of calls are now worth less/worth less (due to price decoherence). This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to sell/short more shares, pushing the stock price down. b) If NOPE is high positive - This means a ton of call buying, which means a lot of calls are now worthless (see a) but also a lot of puts are now worth more. This means that to stay delta neutral, market makers need to sell even more shares to keep their calls and puts neutral, pushing the stock price down. --- Based on the above two cases, it should be a bit more clear why NOPE is a measure of sensitivity to system perturbation. While we previously discussed it in the context of magnifying directional move, the truth is it also provides a directional bias to our "random" walk. This is because given a price move in the direction predicted by NOPE, we expect it to be magnified, especially in situations of price decoherence. If a stock price goes up right after an ER report drops, even based on one participant deciding to value the stock higher, this provides a runaway reaction which boosts the stock price (due to hedging factors as well as other participants' behavior) and inures it to drops.
NOPE and NOPE_MAD
I'm going to gloss over this section because this is more statistical methods than anything interesting. In general, if you have enough data, I recommend using NOPE_MAD over NOPE. While NOPE in theory represents a "real" quantity (net option delta over net share delta), NOPE_MAD (the median absolute deviation of NOPE) does not. NOPE_MAD simply answecompare the following:
How exceptional is today's NOPE versus historic baseline (30 days prior)?
How do I compare two tickers' NOPEs effectively (since some tickers, like TSLA, have a baseline positive NOPE, because Elon memes)? In the initial stages, we used just a straight numerical threshold (let's say NOPE >= 20), but that quickly broke down. NOPE_MAD aims to detect anomalies, because anomalies in general give you tendies.
I might add the formula later in Mathenese, but simply put, to find NOPE_MAD you do the following:
Calculate today's NOPE score (this can be done end of day or intraday, with the true value being EOD of course)
Calculate the end of day NOPE scores on the ticker for the previous 30 trading days
Compute the median of the previous 30 trading days' NOPEs
Find today's deviation as compared to the MAD calculated by: [(today's NOPE) - (median NOPE of last 30 days)] / (median absolute deviation of last 30 days)
This is usually reported as sigma (σ), and has a few interesting properties:
The mean of NOPE_MAD for any ticker is almost exactly 0.
[Lily's Speculation's Speculation] NOPE_MAD acts like a spring, and has a tendency to reverse direction as a function of its magnitude. No proof on this yet, but exploring it!
Using the NOPE to predict ER
So the last section was a lot of words and theory, and a lot of what I'm mentioning here is empirically derived (aka I've tested it out, versus just blabbered). In general, the following holds true:
3 sigma NOPE_MAD tends to be "the threshold": For very low NOPE_MAD magnitudes (+- 1 sigma), it's effectively just noise, and directionality prediction is low, if not non-existent. It's not exactly like 3 sigma is a play and 2.9 sigma is not a play; NOPE_MAD accuracy increases as NOPE_MAD magnitude (either positive or negative) increases.
NOPE_MAD is only useful on highly optioned tickers: In general, I introduce another parameter for sifting through "candidate" ERs to play: option volume * 100/share volume. When this ends up over let's say 0.4, NOPE_MAD provides a fairly good window into predicting earnings behavior.
NOPE_MAD only predicts during the after-market/pre-market session: I also have no idea if this is true, but my hunch is that next day behavior is mostly random and driven by market movement versus earnings behavior. NOPE_MAD for now only predicts direction of price movements right between the release of the ER report (AH or PM) and the ending of that market session. This is why in general I recommend playing shares, not options for ER (since you can sell during the AH/PM).
NOPE_MAD only predicts direction of price movement: This isn't exactly true, but it's all I feel comfortable stating given the data I have. On observation of ~2700 data points of ER-ticker events since Mar 2019 (SPY 500), I only so far feel comfortable predicting whether stock price goes up (>0 percent difference) or down (<0 price difference). This is +1 for why I usually play with shares.
Some statistics: #0) As a baseline/null hypothesis, after ER on the SPY500 since Mar 2019, 50-51% price movements in the AH/PM are positive (>0) and ~46-47% are negative (<0). #1) For NOPE_MAD >= +3 sigma, roughly 68% of price movements are positive after earnings. #2) For NOPE_MAD <= -3 sigma, roughly 29% of price movements are positive after earnings. #3) When using a logistic model of only data including NOPE_MAD >= +3 sigma or NOPE_MAD <= -3 sigma, and option/share vol >= 0.4 (around 25% of all ERs observed), I was able to achieve 78% predictive accuracy on direction.
Like all models, NOPE is wrong, but perhaps useful. It's also fairly new (I started working on it around early August 2020), and in fact, my initial hypothesis was exactly incorrect (I thought the opposite would happen, actually). Similarly, as commenters have pointed out, the timeline of data I'm using is fairly compressed (since Mar 2019), and trends and models do change. In fact, I've noticed significantly lower accuracy since the coronavirus recession (when I measured it in early September), but I attribute this mostly to a smaller date range, more market volatility, and honestly, dumber option traders (~65% accuracy versus nearly 80%). My advice so far if you do play ER with the NOPE method is to use it as following:
Buy/short shares approximately right when the market closes before ER. Ideally even buying it right before the earnings report drops in the AH session is not a bad idea if you can.
Sell/buy to close said shares at the first sign of major weakness (e.g. if the NOPE predicted outcome is incorrect).
Sell/buy to close shares even if it is correct ideally before conference call, or by the end of the after-market/pre-market session.
Only play tickers with high NOPE as well as high option/share vol.
--- In my next post, which may be in a few days, I'll talk about potential use cases for SPY and intraday trends, but I wanted to make sure this wasn't like 7000 words by itself. Cheers. - Lily
I'm reading every Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award winner. Here's my reviews of the up to 1980 (Vol 4)
It is that time once more, folks. Links to previous posts at the end, links to full length blog reviews are all in one comment. Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
Plot: A normal human could not survive on Mars... our only option? Cyborgs!
Page Count: 183
Award: 1976 Nebula
Worth a read: No... but consider it for a laugh.
Primary Driver: (?????????)
Bechdel Test: Pass... but a real weak pass.
Review: Imagine if you took subplots from a trashy romance, a political thriller, a horror flick, and a space travel story... and forgot to put in the main plot. Starts decently, spirals wildly out of control with astounding speed. Almost worth reading to experience the hilarious concluding deus ex machina. This one is probably in the "so bad it's good category" - but sweet skittles is it bad. Also, turn on safe search if you look this book up.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Plot: After a pandemic causes infertility (and every other apocalypse hits), the only way for humans to survive is through cloning. But are they really human?
Page Count: 251
Award: 1977 Hugo and 1977 Locus
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Disappointing and disjointed. There are a lot of messages here that just get blended together to nothingness. Cumbersome writing, uncompelling characters, bland dystopia, and just a dull story. Odd choices on where to discuss science at length and where to just skip over it. First third was its own story originally, and is the best part.
Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
Plot: There is no joy like dying to advance science, at least according to Doctor Rat.
Page Count: 243
Award: 1977 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: No... but worth a glance at a chapter or two.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: N/A
Technobabble: Frequent descriptions of animal experiments.
Review: This book is truly horrifying to read. It's about the gruesome nature of animal testing - and cruelty to animals in general - and is chock full of graphic animal gore. It's the child of The Jungle and Animal Farm but without subtext. Consider checking it out to read a couple of chapters - the grotesque fascination wears thin. Some might consider the unambiguous use of Nazi imagery for animal testing to be a step or three too far.
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Plot: The Heechee left behind technology so advanced that we cannot understand it; that doesn't stop us from using it to get rich or die trying.
Page Count: 313
Award: 1977 Nebula, 1978 Hugo, and 1978 Locus SF
Worth a read: Yes. Very yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Really good. Cleverly bounces between the story as it unfolds and therapy sessions afterwards - we know that our hero survives, but something terrible has happened. A bit too Freudian. Still, excellent job of making a complex protagonist, interesting world, compelling story. Wanting to know what went wrong kept me reading - and it pays off.
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Plot: Turns out Middle Earth had other jewelry too.
Page Count: 386
Award: 1978 Locus Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is epic fantasy in its purest form; it is myth and legend, at times obtuse, but absolutely riveting. Tolkien's world is fully immersive. Had the physical book to follow the story, the audiobook for pronunciation, and laptop for family trees. Absolutely worth it - even as a casual LoTR fan.
Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
Plot: Something sinister is haunting Franz Westen, and dealing with it involves unearthing answers that might be best left buried.
Page Count: 183
Award: World Fantasy Award 1978
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is a horror story. Atmosphere is excellent. Book begins with some truly unsettling images and world building. The narrative itself is slow and frequently self-indulgent, but atmosphere stays on point. A qualified recommendation; but some scenes from this will stick with me for quite a while.
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
Plot: Long after the end of the world as we know it, Snake wanders the world, healing those she meets to the best of her abilities.
Page Count: 288
Award: 1978 Nebula, 1979 Hugo, and 1979 Locus
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: Less-is-more world building with good execution. A lot of interesting tidbits to keep you wondering what the rules are, who the people are, and so on. Story itself can be slow and stakes are consistently low. "I'm going to a place, surprise! something comes up, I will go to another place along the way." Characters are well written though not particularly complex.
Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen by Michael Moorcock
Plot: In an alternate timeline, Queen Elizabeth I rules over the vast empire of Albion and must do her best to manage a corrupt and twisted court.
Page Count: 368
Award: 1979 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Absolutely No.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This book is remarkable in that it combines shockingly dull and lengthy exposition with some truly awful and problematic ideas about sex. A whole lot of parallel world court intrigue that just does not matter at all. The actual plot starts developing halfway or later into the book - and is not interesting. The title addressing Gloriana's inability to orgasm is a big ol' red flag. A deeply unpleasant read. Really awful.
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
Plot: Humans have built many marvels, but nothing can compete with a space elevator.
Page Count: 317
Award: 1980 Hugo and 1979 Nebula
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Fail
Review: Overall enjoyable. Main narrative is about the space elevator, secondary is about an equally ambitious ancient building project - woven together in interesting ways. The science and vision offered are interesting, though characters are not and tension is infrequent. Marred somewhat by some truly bizarre (and underdeveloped) side plots and unnecessary epilogue.
The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
Plot: All the wizards left behind were riddles, and the only one who might be able to solve them is the biggest riddle of all.
Page Count: 578 (Full Trilogy)
Award:Harpist in the Wind (Book 3): 1980 Locus Fantasy
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: It's an epic fantasy trilogy. It's a good one. Kinda loved it. Heroes and villains are complex, magic is interesting and coherent. Excellent characters. Cool development of powers, though it is far more power sprint than power crawl. Pacing can be odd; a few long pauses followed by frenetic scenes. Very well written. A satisfying read.
Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Plot: The Southerners picked the wrong keep to invade; Ryke will do everything he can to get it back.
Page Count: 240
Award: World Fantasy Award 1980
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: The sweet, sweet taste of subpar writing. World building: "You people from the hot South are not used to how cold it is here up North!" Character Development: "You mean... I don't just need to indiscriminately murder people?!" and "You mean... women can fight too?!" Writing Quality (Verbatim): "He thought it might have ben a room in Tornor. The room was hot. He went to the window to open the shutters. They stuck. He had to force the latch. At last one opened."
Titan by John Varley
Plot: The intrepid crew of the Ringmaster crash in alien territory and must figure out how to survive.
Page Count: 309
Award: 1980 Locus SF
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: It is hard to find such a dumb book that takes itself so seriously. Some legitimately interesting exploration bits not enough to redeem this one. Extremely juvenile. Raises interesting questions and offers insultingly insipid answers. There are elements that are quite good - particularly some crisp dialogue - but it's just not worth it.
Any questions or comments? Fire away! A truly massive thank you to u/gremdelfor mailing me a bunch of books! People like you are what make this endeavor worth the effort. I’ve been using this spreadsheet, as well as a couple others that kind Redditors have sent. So a huge thanks to u/velzerat and u/BaltSHOWPLACE At the request of a number of you, I’ve written up extended reviews of everything and made a blog for them. I’ve included the links with the posts for individual books. I try to put up new reviews as fast as I read them. Take a look in the comments for that link! The Bechdel Test is a simple question: do two named female characters converse about something other than a man. Whether or not a book passes is not a condemnation so much as an observation; it provides an easy binary marker. Seems like a good way to see how writing has evolved over the years. At the suggestion of some folks, I’m loosening it to non-male identified characters to better capture some of the ways that science fiction tackles sex and gender. For a better explanation of why it’s useful, check out this comment from u/Gemmabeta
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
A thorough evaluation of the 9/18 PTS update and base changes, as well as almost everything else coming up.
Hello, here’s another round of Esamir Rework reviews. I’ll also cover the Indar base changes, the storm, vehicle balance changes and new infantry gear. I’m not going to touch on outfit resource changes here, since this post is long enough already. I’d like to give shoutouts to aln-isolator , [NWYT]Praefectus, the pilots of [SACA] and everyone else who helped give feedback. Here’s the image gallery. This time around the bases listed in the document match the order in which they appear in the gallery. https://imgur.com/a/5pd5VFj Esamir has a new skybox which is much less bright. I can now see vehicle weapon tracers when shooting. This is a long asked for change. Andvari: 3 points now, 12 min cap with 2 points, 4 mins with 3 points. Consider adjusting the timers. Ymir: No changes to terrain that I can see. It’s a 12 minute cap with two points owned, and 4 minutes with 3 points. Might consider reducing those slightly. Apex Genetics has had its wall adjusted somewhat, as well as the rocks surrounding the triple stack. There are now more routes for infantry to enter the base. Aurora Materials: Sunderer garage and surrounding terrain seem to have been lowered slightly. Also, there’s now a rock at the end of the garage, which reduces the possible angles the bus inside can be shelled from. The slope between the crescent building and the road has had some paths added for infantry. Overall, good changes. However, there’s still one issue here, and that’s the possibility of shelling the triple stack balcony from the ridge NW of the base. Additional purple spikes from the cluster behind the spawn room could be positioned to block this firing angle. Eastwake Harborage: Point has received a new structure above it. It’s now on the bottom floor of a triple stack that has an expanded balcony around its second floor. This gives point holders a lot of additional cover, but the problems with this base still exist. There’s still a ridiculous distance between spawn room and the point with minimal cover from vehicles/bolters/LAs- a literal Death Valley. The area immediately around point is still extremely harasser friendly and could use some props to obstruct harasser movement. In its current position, the teleporter room is useless since infantry leaving it must still advance through Death Valley. Sundy positions are a bit sketchy, too. Fortunately, I’ve had a long discussion and now believe this base could be fixed with a couple tweaks. Consider replacing the AI turret outside the spawn room with an AV gun. This would discourage excessively aggressive vehicles from camping Death Valley. Likewise, replacing the light vehicle pull with an MBT pull gives defenders a bit more potential firepower, and increases the area attacking vehicles must cover to protect their own vulnerable spawns. This base would also benefit from the moving of primary teleporter room to a point higher up the hill and closer to the point, as shown by squad waypoint in this image: https://i.imgur.com/TuEee9F.png. A second teleporter here at hearts waypoint https://i.imgur.com/JUbXklc.png gives defenders another route into the point without going through Death Valley. At these two locations sunderer garages could be built to create safer spawn points for attackers.https://i.imgur.com/QWblfz4.pnghttps://i.imgur.com/w4HR05n.png Echo valley: Rocks have been added on the exterior side of the vehicle terminal to give it some cover. However, they aren’t close enough to each other to prevent me from driving through with a Kobalt bus, nor is there anything stopping me from hacking the terminal or using a GSD to get through the shield and then start driving around the base. Placement of a couple rocks in very specific spots would stop this. Secondly, a crate has been placed between bridges to give infantry another path into the point building. It’s a cool concept, but it needs some form of obstruction to prevent me from driving harassers or possibly larger vehicles onto the two bridges and blasting point directly. Thirdly, consider some form of sight blockers on the west wall to reduce the potential for LAs to spawn camp. Excavion DS-01E: Cover has been placed over both tunnels, which is an excellent change. MBT pulls have been added to this base, though they could stand to be moved slightly closer to the spawn room to deter attackers from hacking them and flooding the base with AI vehicles. A point is located in a long narrow building near the eastern tunnel exit. B is in a triple stack on the south side. C is located immediately west of the drill site. Capture timer is 4 minutes with two points and 1 minute with all 3. This base is mostly fine, but could do with some small tweaks for increased cover. At A point the point holders have few options for cover inside. There are two small smokestack structures (pictures in gallery) that could be replaced with actual buildings to provide more cover from aircraft for players moving around inside the base. Timers could probably be increased slightly. Overall though it’s in a decent state. Genudine Gardens: Some props have been added throughout the base that’ll prevent harassers from turboing around like maniacs, but the gigantic hole in the wall in one corner needs to be closed off somewhat to prevent vehicle entry or at least make it more difficult. This base would be fine if that hole were sealed or obstructed better. Grey Heron: Additional cover has been placed on the side of the staircase leading from spawn to B/C point. The secondary route for defenders has been fleshed out- the door now is high enough to get under, and there is a hole in the floor that allows defenders to drop down to the lower level. Cover has been added on the B side of this base. For improvements, I still think a roof is needed over the stairs from defender spawn to the lower level. A wall alone won’t stop tanks from shelling it. C could use a bit of cover, but I’m concerned that adding too much will turn it into a fortress. You can enter this base with harassers, so some bollards should be added to each entrance to prevent that. Jaegers’ fist: Sunderer garage has been added, and the trench has been improved. This base has some odd issues from an infantry perspective, namely that attackers and defenders have the exact same routes to the point, as shown in the gallery. I have no ideas for how this could be improved. I still believe the point needs some kind of roof to block HESH spam and A2G, preferably a solid one to deter LAs from doing C4 bombing. BL-4 Recovery and Vidar Observation Post both have spawn rooms and light vehicle terminals. This is a pretty good change, allowing closer vehicle pulls and a shorter sundy reinforcement distance for attacks on the surrounding facilities. Jord Amp Station: More cover has been added around C point. This is a good change, but doesn’t change the fact that A is still inside the station. Mani Lake: This one has undergone the most terrain edits, and consequently has become a lot less vehicle friendly. The two trenches leading into the base have had barricades installed, allowing infantry to move through but not vehicles. The hills surrounding the base have had their exterior faces steepened significantly, preventing treaded vehicles from driving up them. This change is excellent, but needs a bit of tuning. The Western Ridge’s southern tip has a shallow enough slope that tanks can still drive up it. On the large mountain to the West on the far side of the road, there’s a small protrusion that should also be levelled. Once these two spots are taken care of, this base will be fine. Overall, the changes are very good here. Mattherson’s Triumph: The Sunderer NDZ has been reduced in radius, which allows the defenders to deploy inside the south tower for a safer position. This is a good change. The ridgeline to the NE has had its northern face steepened significantly, preventing tanks from driving up that side. However, the SW face has become easier to traverse, so the ridge is still usable for bombardment of the catwalks and A point. If this goes live in this state, it’s not a total disaster since tanks driving up that will be very exposed to AV fire from the tower, but it still could stand to be addressed. Likewise, there’s still a nice spur sticking out of the north end from the NW ridge that allows tanks to easily shell defender spawn and A point. The fix here is simple- flatten the spur completely. A point needs additional work. At minimum, the windows on each tower in the room where A point/SCU would normally go should be sealed off to reduce the angles point holders must watch. There’s very little cover on the ground, especially when you consider all the angles A can be shot at from. I believe the point could be enclosed in the same type of building used at Chimney Rock’s point on Amerish. The bridges are a mixed bag. They’re identical copies with one rotated 180 degrees, which means that crate placement favors the attackers on B side and the defenders on the C side. Picking one crate pattern for all 4 bridge ends is one possible fix. I’m still not sold on the idea of both points being on bridges. They’re very exposed to A2G spam and bolters. Overall, at the very least the terrain edits are a nice start, and the sunderer NDZ change is very welcome. Nott Communications: This base is now entirely underground. Attackers enter by overloading a shielded gate, and then drop down into an amp station interior. These gravity lifts are one way, but please consider adding an up lift to replace one of the drop pads. A point is in the position where A points usually are in amp stations. B and C are in the room where SCU would be normally positioned. At the end of this room where the tunnels and back door would normally be is a one-way teleporter, which is the only way for anyone to get out of this base right now. Defenders spawn underground and there’s a one-way shield leading to where the vehicle bay normally is. To improve this base, I’d make the one-way shield a two way shield, and reverse one of the grav lifts. I could not test the cap timer since I did not feel like ghost capping half a continent. Pale Canyon: Some cover has been adjusted by the big yellow tanks on the SE side. A new route has been placed through the rocks at the NW corner of the base. This is an interesting change, but I don’t know how that’ll play out on live since currently I can park a bus inside the base at the same location. The Rink: The ground texture at A point is now ice, so it’s actually an ice rink. Too bad you don’t slide around here. Saerro Listening Post: Trees added to A point to break LOS between attacking vehicles and the tower. The wall between A and B has had some new gaps placed in it to allow infantry to get in. Interesting changes for sure, but I don’t know how they’ll play out. The Traverse: The bridge has been resurrected, although it’s in a heavily damaged state. It’s now an infantry only playground, unless you’re a bold harasser or magrider driver. Because the storm was here, I really couldn’t stick around and take a long look at this. Lastly, the bottom of the pit has been raised a bit and paths to the bottom have been defined more clearly. There also have been some changes to roads around the continent, but nothing major. Indar: TI Alloys: The removal of the bridge is a failure to understand why TI Alloys is such a difficult base to attack. On live servers, TI currently suffers from horrific sunderer placement options which combine with its central location to create a base that’s easy to defend. From the North, attackers must park their bus and attack up a hill through narrow ravines into entrenched defenders backed up by AI harassers, sunderers, ANTs, lightnings and even occasional MBTs. From the South, attackers have two bus spots: One is placed to the south-east, below the point. The other is placed directly south of the spawn room on the far side of the road. Both of these options are suboptimal- on the south east spawn the bus can easily be sniped by vehicles shelling from the Crown, driving down from the Crown, or by vehicles streaming out of the vehicle pull. The south bus on the far side of the road is also not ideal, since infantry have to cross the road and deal with a flood of vehicles as well as an angry AI turret. The only decent spawn location is at the end of the rock bridge, since that one’s reasonably safe from enemy vehicles and doesn’t involve attacking from the low ground. However, this position’s impeded by the fact that attackers from the north inevitably gravitate to the eastern side of the base since that’s safer from the defenders, forcing a three way that never ends. The result is a base that can’t be broken except by routers. The removal of the rock bridge changes none of this, but instead creates more problems. The safe sundy position on the bridge is gone entirely. Further, the bridge’s removal allows tanks to bombard Ti from the Crown once more, since it served as a line-of-sight blocker. The new attacker foot path to the north east is extremely vulnerable to bombardment from the Crown. As far as the base interior goes, a new wall has been added to the interior of the point room structure. This might give attackers a better chance to get to the point, but at the same time it might make things easier for the defenders should they conduct an organized push since there are fewer angles to set up a crossfire from. So how can Ti be improved? I’d start by bringing the bridge back, or at least a small section of it to allow for a safe sunderer position at the east side. For the south, consider a tunnel leading under the road. This allows infantry to get to the base safely. I’d also consider adding in more props to restrict the passage of vehicles through the spawn room area to the northern side of the base. Removing the Kobalt bus fiesta there will make it easier for attackers to push in from the north. Lastly, if the bridge is not restored, consider creating a rock wall at the north east section of crown to prevent tanks from raining hell on anyone fighting at Ti. Crown: The removal of D point is honestly a good thing. It wasn’t fun for anyone to attack since it’s open ground and below a cliff which enables C4 spam against vehicles and requires attackers push against entrenched infantry. Since Crown becomes a three point again, now the base cannot be stuck in a perpetual stalemate. I’m not a fan of where A point was moved to, either. I think if the rock bridge were kept then Crown would be mostly fine. With the three non-vehicle points it has on live. The issue with A being on that southern bridge is that if the attackers set up sunderers to control B, then they get A almost for free and can contest C as well. B point has been moved farther towards the center of the mountain and the tunnel system lengthened a bit, and a lot of cover has been removed at the initial entrance room that exists on live.The extra tunnel into B is an interesting idea and gives a better chance of an attack from the North succeeding, but at the same time it’s just another tunnel choke point to for aoe spam to create nasty farms. C is also problematic if it’s supposed to be the easy point for defenders to contest. It’s a fair distance from the tower, and it’s also open ground which is prime for A2G farming. I’d suggest moving this one into one of the nearby buildings if A must stay in the position it’s at on PTS. I’m not convinced the base needed any point position changes apart from the removal of D point. The current point layout on PTS favors an attack from the SE very heavily, and attacks from the East or North are far more difficult. While old A was very close to the tower, at least it provided a convenient point for attacks from the East. None of the changes really address the problem of poor bus location options, and with the current terrain there really aren’t many good potential spawn options. At most some garages could be added. Ceres Hydroponics: Defenders now have a slightly shorter path to the point when pushing from the NE side of the base. The point itself has much less cover. I’m not going to make judgements on this without seeing how it plays out. The Esamir storm: I’m not sure what this thing is supposed to do. The entire point of the game is large scale battles, yet this thing rolls around the map destroying the biggest fights. There’s nowhere safe from it. Sunderers will get destroyed even if put in garages. When outdoors infantry can be instagibbed by lightning for staying outside too long, and even when indoors their shielding takes frequent chip damage from environmental effects. The shield damage consistently drops players down about 150 shield points that constantly recharge, but this is enough to start messing with TTKs. For example, a commissioner can consistently OHK players. Since the shield damage is not synchronized across all players, it’s possible to be forced into gunfights where you have no hope of winning not because you were in a bad spot or outplayed, but simply because the game decided it’s your time to die. This applies doubly for lightning bolts which will randomly strike you down. There’s a text warning, of course, but random OHK mechanics really shouldn’t be a thing. You cannot use steel rain in the storm. For vehicles this is obnoxious too. Ground vehicles lose most of their mobility, which will punish new players with poorly certed vehicles even more. Aircraft are even worse off, losing most of their vertical thrust. At times I felt like even afterburning upward was barely enough to keep the aircraft airborne. Vehicles kept in the storm for too long will simply be instagibbed, which cripples sunderers as spawns. The storm also destroys base turrets and terminals. There are counters to the storm, though. Infantry can deploy lightning rods bought with merit that allow them to fight outside, but it doesn’t stop shield chip damage, and can equip an insulated armor suit at the cost of flak armor, nanoweave, or shield capacitor. This suit slot appears to be bugged and doesn’t actually reduce the chip damage taken by your shields. Carapace seems to be immune to this chip damage. Vehicles can equip insulated armor in the defense slot. This mitigates the performance hit to vehicles, reduces the damage taken by lightning, and prevents the storm from instagibbing your vehicle. Now, this is less of a problem in the first place for aircraft and tanks, but it screws over sunderers. Sunderers are already fragile enough even with deployment shield equipped, but forcing spawn buses to use this module and rely on their low hull HP is a very bad idea when paired with random lightning strikes and the severe lack of garages Esamir has. With all that out of the way, the question I have to ask is why is the storm designed like this? It seems like a band-aid fix for zerging and actively punishes trying to create large fights. It cripples the vehicle game, negatively affects the infantry game, creates inconsistent TTKs, and only adds frustrating game mechanics. If the center of the map ends up with stalemates, it’ll circle around there endlessly preventing any kind of progress through the pile of three point bases. Why this, when there’s a lot more interesting concepts that could be used? For example, maybe the storm could reduce the rate at which players can spawn at a base/sunderers/routers. Maybe it could jam radaprevent Q spotting. Consider reducing shield chip damage to 50 shields instead of 150 to reduce TTK variance. There’s a lot more interesting ways it could change the game without being the anti-fun mechanic that it’s currently set up as. Infantry gear: Lightning grenade: Cool, you can launch a targeted lightning strike when in the storm. More instagibs is what the game needed. Lightning rod: This temporarily redirects lightning strikes near you. This is a solution to an obnoxious problem that doesn’t need to exist. Condensate grenade: Reduces movement speed and ROF by 20% for six seconds. This is a terrible idea in an FPS game. This doesn’t create interesting gameplay situations. Instead of being outplayed, players hit by this just lose since the game’s punishing them for playing. Keep this in RPGs and RTS games. Now, we do have status grenades already, but do we need one that’s as powerful as this one is? BEC grenade: Similar to Condensate Grenades, this is a horrible addition to the game. Anything that hurts player mobility/damage output is a bad idea. Neutralizer Device: Campaign reward that allows players to acquire abandoned vehicles, and apparently strip ability energy from players too. I like the idea of vehicle acquisition, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see the second use of this tool. Abandoned vehicles: Around the continent are the hulks of abandoned tanks, sunderers and aircraft. They come with a special ability that I haven’t really tested, HEAT cannons and the first generation ES top gun. For the sake of loadout parity for all 3 abandoned MBTs I’d like to suggest the Prowler get a Gatekeeper instead of the Vulcan. Vehicle changes: Havoc missiles: Are these things still necessary, with the liberator nerfs? These things seem redundant now, and they’ll punish rep gal balls unnecessarily hard while valkyries with rep monkeys can probably still dodge these things easily. Phalanx AA turret range increase: This doesn’t fix any of the problems with the current AA setup. Instead, it’s going to just annoy A2A players who are flying along at high altitude and getting plinked by base AA guns, which is the reason the things got their range capped to begin with! Honestly I think these things should be replaced by weapons like Bastion CIWS guns. Those things are nasty at close range but their damage output falls off heavily at range. Liberator: -500 HP and ESF nosegun resist from 85 to 80. While the liberator needed some changes regarding its durability and repair tanking in particular, this change spectacularly misses the mark on many levels. This change skews ESF vs Liberator combat too far in favor of ESFs. When paired with air locks this brings down the TTK to incredibly fast levels (around 9 seconds, which isn’t even enough for three dalton shots) In this post, mystoganofedolashttps://www.reddit.com/Planetside/comments/ivjg8t/rock_paper_scissor_balance/ explains in great detail the liberator issues- it’s a blatant hard counter to ground vehicles, and gets brutally hard countered by ESFs on PTS. Hard counter mechanics are terrible in an FPS game. In this sort of rock-paper-scissors gameplay, things boil down less to individual ability and more towards who has an exact counter to something, which is extremely boring. There’s no skill in using A2A missiles, just as there’s minimal skill in hovering over tanks and daltoning them. In this post here https://www.reddit.com/Planetside/comments/ivsssx/did_some_basic_math_regarding_the_upcoming/, taltharius demonstrates that -500 HP barely changes anything in the case of liberators eating multiple AP shells before hitting fire suppression and flying off. Skilled gunnery should be rewarded, and sloppy flying should be punished. So how can this be improved? Consider reducing vulnerability to ESF noseguns slightly. Adjusting Liberator resistance against tank shells, light anti-vehicle, gatling guns, and infantry rockets will increase the damage libs take from ground fire and punish poor flying/reward skilled aim. Possibly consider increasing MBT main gun elevation angles slightly, to reduce the ability of liberators to hover over tanks with minimal counterplay. Harasser: Nanite cost to 300. Oh boy this one misses the mark completely. The problem with harassers has never really been cost related, but rather one that got introduced with CAI. The harasser itself is not overpowered and its efficiency in combat drops off hard at higher levels of gameplay. Only when harasser numbers become overwhelming (3 or more harassers vs 1 MBT) do the harassers stand a chance of defeating the best tank crews, and even then the tank usually can take 2-3 harassers with it. Harasser vs tank gameplay is extremely boring and very binary. If the harasser has a CQ AV gun it’s forced to fight at point blank which means I delete it easily. If it uses halberd or ES long range AV we both enter a boring poke fight where neither one does significant damage to the other. Even if the harasser opens up with rear hits the MBT still has an overwhelming advantage in firepower and hit points. With tanks, the problem since CAI has been poor muzzle velocity of HEAT shells which makes hitting difficult and what most players will have equipped, pathetic Basilisk DPS against everything (Kobalt kills stock harassers 4 seconds faster), Skyguards being helpless against every ground vehicle, and the Viper not having the accuracy to deal with small moving fast targets. Small changes to these three weapons will reduce harasser vs tank complaints. Harasser vs Harasser is broken, for a different reason. Harassers have a weakness to gatling guns, which means that the Vulcan and Aphelion rip through harassers while the Mjolnir specializes in fighting heavy vehicles. In practice, this means that for low/average skilled car crews, vulcans are disproportionately powerful since less skilled players won’t know to keep outside minimum damage range. At higher levels an Aphelion car is very hard to fight. Toning back harasser weaknesses to gatling guns might improve this situation, but at the same time it might nerf the Aphelion too much. At the very least this’d probably reduce vulcan whine somewhat. Overall, I have mixed impressions. The base changes are mostly for the better, but the storm, infantry gear, and vehicle changes are mostly bad or miss the mark completely.
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – ESCAPE FROM STALAG SULTANATE, Part 1
That reminds me of a story. “HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular. “What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly. “This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.” Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu. Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences. “Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.” Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that. “Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore. Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market. Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means. “I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink. “Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly. Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law. I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong. But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge. But not before I took care of a few loose ends. Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year. Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer. He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work. Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced. Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now. So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat. Then he died. And his chosen took over. Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted. Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included. Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs. Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats. “GET OUT.” This was the clear message of the new sultan. He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country. Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them. Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism. Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne. He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies. Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall. But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country. Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them. So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat. “How low can you go?” reverberated through my head. What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists. Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint? “This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!” “Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.” “Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.” “Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.” True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough. We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal. “Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.” “Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.” “No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.” “Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue. “Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.” “Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?” “ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”! “Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.” I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere. Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy. It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested. “I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…” The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed. “Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?” All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could. “BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy. “Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.” We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass. We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were. The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here. “Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.” “You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly. “That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied. “Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut. “Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied. “Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again. I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention. “Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont” I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled. “Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared. “We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass. “Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could. “Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…” “Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?” “Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.” Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good. “OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.” “Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.” “Excuse me?” I said. “Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.” “OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.” “Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me. “Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters. “Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…” In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home. “That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.” “Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.” “Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have. “Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.” That meant we needed to do some packing triage: • Things going home with us. • Things being shipped. • Things being sold. • Things being left behind. • Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on. “Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here. I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills. Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years. See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line. So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit. Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by… Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is… Oh. And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool. Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos. Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall. Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him. So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range. To be continued…
A trans person's measured take on the trans sports issue
So first of all this post was inspired by GGExMachina's brief statement on the issue:
For example, it is objectively the case that biological men have a physical advantage over women. Yet if someone points this out and suggests that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to fight in women’s UFC, or women’s soccer or weightlifting competitions or whatever, suddenly you’re some kind of evil monster. Rather than saying that of course trans people shouldn’t be bullied and that we could perhaps have a trans olympics (like the Paralympics and Special Olympics), we are expected to lie.
I've found that this position is incredibly popular among liberals/left-leaning people, especially here on reddit. It seems like, once or twice a month, like clockwork, a thread stating more or less the same thing on /unpopularopinion or /offmychest will get thousands of upvotes. And while I completely understand the thought process that leads otherwise left-leaning people to come to such conclusions, I feel like the issue has been, broadly speaking, dishonestly presented to the general public by a mixture of bad-faith actors and people who have succumbed to the moral panic. And, as I've seen, there are plenty of people in this subreddit and elsewhere who are itching to be as supportive as they possibly can to the trans community but find themselves becoming very disillusioned by this particular issue. By making this post I hope to present a more nuanced take on the issue, not only in regards to my personal beliefs on what kinds of policies are best to preserve fairness in women's sports but also in regards to shining a light on how this issue is often times dishonestly presented in an attempt to impede the progression of pro-trans sentiments in the cultural zeitgeist.
Sex & Gender
The word "transgender" is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identities differ from those typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, the approximate composition of "the trans community" in the United States is 29% Transgender men (Female-to-Male), 33% Transgender women (Male-to-Female), and 35% non-binary. (The remaining 3% were survey respondents who self-identified as "crossdressers", who were still included in the survey on the grounds of being gender non-conforming) While non-binary people, as a group, are probably deserving of their own separate post. the focus of this post will be on trans men and trans women. I will also be primarily focusing on transgender people who pursue medical transition with Hormone-Replacement-Therapy, as they are most relevant to the issue of sports. (Mind that while the majority of binary trans people fit into this camp, there is a sizable minority of trans people who do not feel the need to medically transition.) What do trans people believe about Gender? The views of transgender people in regards to Gender are actually pretty varied, although the most prominent positions that I've personally seen are best summed up into two different camps:
The "Trans-Medical" camp
Transgender people who fall into this camp usually consider Gender Dysphoria to be the defining factor of what makes somebody trans. The best way I can describe this camp is that they sort of view being transgender akin to being intersex. Only whereas an intersex person would be born with a disorder that affects the body, a trans person is born with a disorder that affects the brain. Trans people in this camp often times put an emphasis on a clinical course for treatment. For example, a person goes to a psychologist, gets diagnosed with gender dysphoria, starts hormone replacement therapy, pursues surgery, then emerges from this process of either cured of the gender dysphoria or, at the very least, treated to the fullest extent of medical intervention. This position is more or less the original position held by trans activists, back in the day when the word "transsexual" was used instead of "transgender". Though many younger trans people, notably YouTuber Blaire White, also hold this position. Under this position, sex and gender are still quite intertwined, but a trans man can still be considered a man, and a trans woman a woman, under the belief that sex/gender doesn't just refer to chromosomal sex and reproductive organs, but also to neurobiology, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics. So someone who is transgender, according to this view, is born with the physical characteristics of one sex/gender but the neurobiology of another, and will change their physical characteristics, to the fullest extent medically possible, to match the neurobiology and therefore cure the individual of gender dysphoria. Critics of this position argue that this mentality is problematic due to being inherently exclusive to transgender people who do not pursue medical transition, whom are often times deemed as "transtrenders" by people within this camp. Many people find it additionally problematic because it is also inherently exclusive to poorer trans people, particularly those in developing nations, who may not have access to trans-related medical care. Note that there are plenty of trans people who *do* have access to medical transition, but nevertheless feel as if the trans community shouldn't gatekeep people who cannot afford or do not desire medical transition, thus believing in the latter camp.
The "Gender Identity" camp
I feel like this camp is the one most popularly criticized by people on the right, but is also probably the most mainstream. It is the viewpoint held by many more left-wing trans people, (Note that in the aforementioned 2015 survey, only 1% of trans respondents voted Republican, so trans people are largely a pretty left-wing group, therefore it makes sense that this position would be the most mainstream) but also notably held by American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, GLAAD, and other mainstream health organizations and activist groups. While people in this camp still acknowledge that medical transition to treat gender dysphoria can still be a very important aspect of the transgender experience, it's believed that the *defining* experience is simply having a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth. "Gender identity" simply being the internal, personal sense of being a man, a woman, or outside the gender binary. Many people in this camp, though, still often maintain that gender identity is (at least partially) neurobiological, but differ from the first camp in regards to acknowledging that the issue is less black & white than an individual simply having a "male brain" or a "female brain", but rather that the neurological characteristics associated with gender exist on more of a spectrum, thus leaving the door open to gender non-conforming people who do not identify as trans, as well as to non-binary people. This is where the "gender is a spectrum" phrase comes from. "52 genders" is a popular right-wing meme that makes fun of this viewpoint, however it is important to note that many trans and non-binary people disagree with the idea of quantifying gender identity to such an absurd amount of individual genders, rather more simply maintaining that there are men, women, and a small portion of people in-between, with a few words such as "agender" or "genderqueer" being used to describe specific identities/presentations within this category. It's also noteworthy that not all people in this camp believe that neurobiology is the be-all-end-all of gender identity, as many believe that the performativity of gender also plays an integral role in one's identity. (That gender identity is a mixture of neurobiology and performativity is a position held by YouTuber Contrapoints) Trans people and biological sex So while the aforementioned "Gender Identity" viewpoint has become quite popularized among liberals and leftists, I have noticed a certain rhetorical mentality/assumption become prevalent alongside it, especially among cisgender people who consider themselves trans-allies: "Sex and Gender are different. A trans woman is a woman who is biologically male. A trans man is a man who is biologically female" When "Sex" is defined by someone's chromosomes, or the sex organs they were born with, this is correct. However, there is a pretty good reason why the trans community tends to prefer terms like "Assigned Male at Birth" rather than "Biologically Male". This is done not only for the inclusion of people who are both intersex and transgender (For example, someone can be born intersex but assigned male based on the existence of a penis or micropenis), but also due to the aforementioned viewpoint on divergent neurobiology being the cause for gender dysphoria. Those reasons are why the word "Assigned" is used. But the reason why it's "Assigned Male/Female At Birth" instead of just "Assigned Male/Female" is because among the trans community there exists an understanding of the mutability of sexually dimorphic biology that the general population is often ignorant to. For example, often times people (especially older folks) don't even know of the existence of Hormone Replacement Therapy, and simply assume that trans people get a single "sex change operation" that, (for a trans woman) would just entail the removal of the penis and getting breast implants. Therefore they imagine the process to be "medically sculpting a male to look female" instead of a more natural biological process of switching the endocrine system form male to female or vice versa and letting the body change over the course of multiple years. It doesn't help that, for a lot of older trans people (namely Caitlyn Jenner, who is probably the most high profile trans person sadly), the body can be a lot more resistant to change even with hormones so they *do* need to rely on plastic surgery a lot more to get obvious results) So what sexually dimorphic bodily characteristics can one expect to change from Hormone Replacement Therapy? (Note that there is a surprising lack of studies done on some of the more intricate changes that HRT can, so I've put a "*" next to the changes that are anecdotal, but still commonly and universally observed enough among trans people [including myself for the MTF stuff] to consider factual. I've also put a "✝" next to the changes that only occur when people transition before or during puberty) Male to Female:
Breast development and nipple/areolar enlargement, including in some people, the development of mammary glands and the ability to breastfeed
Thinning/slowed growth of facial/body hair
Cessation/reversal of male-pattern scalp hair loss
Softening of skin/decreased oiliness and acne
Decreased muscle mass/strength
Widening and rounding of the pelvis
Changes in mood, emotionality, and behavior (anecdotally crying is way easier to do)
Decreased sex drive (anecdotally, taking progesterone helps a lot in regards to regaining sex drive, though attraction is often noted as being experienced a bit differently than how it feels with testosterone)
Decreased sperm production/fertility
Decreased testicle size
Decreased penis size
Decreased prostate gland size
Voice changes (As far as I've heard, most people only experience minor changes from transitioning in adulthood, so it's common to do vocal training on top of everything to actually get a female-passing voice. I'll add a ✝ here since vocal changes seem to be a lot stronger in people who transition before/during puberty)
Changes in body odor (It's been documented that men and women often times have different smelling body odor, and trans people commonly notice a change in this regard) *
Changes in how arousal, sexual pleasure, and orgasms are experienced *
Changes in facial complexion *
Slight changes in hair color, texture, or curl *
Slight changes in eye color *
Changes in alcohol/drug tolerance *
Experiencing pubescent skeletal development and bodily growth along female-typical lines, including both bodily size/shape and facial bone/cartilage features ✝
Female to Male:
Growth of facial/body hair
male pattern scalp hair loss (in some individuals)
Roughening of the skin and prominence of veins
Increased muscle mass/strength
Changes in mood, emotionality, and behavior (I forget the source for this sadly but I remember reading that trans men are significantly more likely to commit crimes and get into fights after starting HRT)
Increased sex drive
Cessation of ovulation and menstruation
Acne (especially in the first few years of therapy)
Alterations in blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides)
Increased red blood cell count
Deepening of the voice
Enlargement of the clitoris
Changes in body odor *
Changes in how arousal, sexual pleasure, and orgasms are experienced *
Changes in facial complexion *
Slight changes in hair color, texture, or curl *
Slight changes in eye color *
Changes in alcohol/drug tolerance *
Experiencing male pubescent skeletal development and bodily growth along male-typical lines, and closure of growth plates ✝
Often times, when the whole "transgender people in sports" discussion arises, a logical error is made when *all* transgender people are assumed to be "biologically" their birth sex. For example, when talking about trans women participating in female sports, these instances will be referred to as cases of "Biological males competing against females". As mentioned before, calling a trans woman "biologically male" strictly in regards to chromosomes or sex organs at birth would be correct. However, not only can it be considered derogatory (the word "male" is colloquially a shorthand for "man", after all), but there are many instances where calling a post-HRT transgender person "biologically [sex assigned at birth]" is downright misleading. For example, hospitals have, given transgender patients improper or erroneous medical care by assuming treatment based on birth sex where treatment based on their current endocrinological sex would have been more adequate. Acute Clinical Care of Transgender Patients: A Review
Conclusions and relevance: Clinicians should learn how to engage with transgender patients, appreciate that unique anatomy or the use of gender-affirming hormones may affect the prevalence of certain disease (eg, cardiovascular disease, venous thromboembolism, and osteoporosis), and be prepared to manage specific issues, including those related to hormone therapy. Health care facilities should work toward providing inclusive systems of care that correctly identify and integrate information about transgender patients into the electronic health record, account for the unique needs of these patients within the facility, and through education and policy create a welcoming environment for their care.
Some hosptials have taken to labeling the biological sex of transgender patients as "MTF" (for post-HRT trans women) and "FTM" (for post-HRT trans men), which is a much more medically useful identifier compared to their sex assigned at birth. In regards to the sports discussion, I've seen *multiple threads* where redditors have backed up their opinions on the subject of trans people in sports with studies demonstrating that cis men are, on average, more athletically capable than cis women. Which I personally find to be a pathetic misunderstanding of the entire issue. Because we're not supposed to be comparing the athletic capabilities of natal males to natal females, here. We're supposed to comparing the athletic capabilities of *post-HRT male-to-females* to natal females. And, if we're going to really have a fact-based discussion on the matter, we need to have separate categories for pre-pubescent and post-pubescent transitioners. Since, as mentioned earlier, the former will likely have different skeletal characteristics compared to the latter. The currentInternational Olympic Committee(IOC) model for trans participation, and criticisms of said model (I quoted the specific guidelines from the International Cycling Union, but similar guidelines exist for all Olympic sports)
Elite Competition At elite competition levels, members may have the opportunity to represent the United States and participate in international competition. They may therefore be subject to the policies and regulations of the International Cycling Union (UCI) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). USA Cycling therefore follows the IOC guidelines on transgender athletes at these elite competition levels. For purposes of this policy, international competition means competition sanctioned by the UCI or competition taking place outside the United States in which USA Cycling’s competition rules do not apply. The IOC revised its guidelines on transgender athlete participation in 2015, to focus on hormone levels and medical monitoring. The main points of the guidelines are: Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction. It is the responsibility of athletes to be aware of current WADA/USADA policies and file for appropriate therapeutic use exemptions. Those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category under the following conditions: The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years. The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition). The athlete's total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category. Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by random or for-cause testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.
Valid criticisms of the IOC model are usually based on the fact that, even though hormone replacement therapy provokes changes to muscle mass, it does *not* shrink the size of someone's skeleton or cardiovascular system. Therefore an adult-transitioned trans woman could, even after losing all levels of male-typical muscle mass, still have an advantage in certain sports if she had an excessively large skeletal frame, and was participating in a sport where such a thing would be advantageous. Additionally, the guidelines only require that athletes be able to demonstrate having had female hormone levels for 12-24 months, which isn't necessarily long enough to completely lose musculature gained from training on testosterone (anecdotally it can take 2-4 years to completely lose male-typical muscle mass) So the IOC guidelines don't have any safeguard against, for example, a trans woman training with testosterone as the dominant hormone in her body, and then taking hormones for the bare minimum time period and still having some of the advantage left. Note that, while lower level sports have had (to the glee of right-wing publications sensationalizing the issue) instances of this exact thing happening, in the 16 years since these IOC guidelines were established, not a single transgender individual has won an Olympic medal Also note that none of the above criticisms of the IOC policy would apply in regards to the participation of pre-pubescent-transitioned trans women. After all, male-pubescent bone structure and cardiovascular size, and male-typical muscle levels, can't possibly exist if you never went through male puberty to begin with. What could better guidelines entail, to best preserve fairness in female sports while avoiding succumbing to anti-trans moral panic?
The most extreme way for female sports to reasonably go about addressing this issue would be to only allow for the participation of transgender women who are documented to have, with puberty blockers, carried out their transitions without having gone past Tanner Stage II or III of male puberty.
Sports leagues willing to be a bit looser could accept adult transitioners under the stipulation that their bodily measurements in regards to certain skeletal features fit within a standard deviation of the cis-female average
Sports leagues willing to be even looser could copy the IOC guidelines, but require documentation of having gone through HRT for a greater period of time rather than just the 12 months, (3 years would probably be better) to guarantee full loss of male muscle mass
In my personal opinion, sports leagues should pick one of the three above options depending on what best fits the nature of the sport and the eliteness of the competition. For example, extremely competitive contact sports might be better off going with the first option, but an aerobic sport such as marathon running would probably be fine with the third option.
How this issue has been misrepresented by The Right
Right-wing rhetoric surrounding this issue assumes that the issue exists as an innate consequence of trans activism (Ie. "This is what the left is pushing!") rather than as a result of individual sports leagues failing to have solid rules for participation. Often times, certain low-level sports leagues have failed to even measure trans athlete's hormone levels, and have, in some cases, let completely male-bodied athletes participate as women. This is obviously the fault of these specific sports leagues failing to implement or enforce reasonable rules for participation, but right-wing articles surrounding such instances will act as if these occurrences are an ideological goal of the pro-trans left. This runs off of the assumption that a majority of trans people and "the left" are specifically pushing for muscular males (who merely "identify" as women, and nothing more) to dominate female sports. When, in reality, we really had nothing to do with these occurrences, and the majority of trans people would even likely agree with the sentiments expressed in this post. Additionally, accepting the gender identities of trans people is something you can do irregardless of your opinion on the sports issue.
Over-exaggeration of the problem. The issue is often sensationalized to the extent of coming off as a call to action, to stop the trans activists and their SJW bullies from ruining female sports! They're coming after your daughter's lacrosse team! In reality, out of the hundreds of thousands (perhaps even more) of sports competitions that exist in the United States and throughout the world, an incredibly small percentage of them are actually ruined by trans participants. You hear the stories of the 6'5'' trans woman with the broad frame winning a weightlifting competition, but not of the hundreds of more average-sized trans-female athletes turning out more mediocre performances. This isn't to say that the niche cases don't present a problem that indeed needs to be fixed, but presenting the problem as more prevalent than it actually is acts as a rhetorical strategy meant to provoke anger as well as a more dramatic response. Buying into this rhetorical strategy, especially if you're is already somewhat ignorant to the issue to begin with, will make it much easier to convince you of accepting drastic solutions to the problems. Ie. "ONLY XX CHROMOSOMES ALLOWED IN FEMALE SPORTS", instead of any of the three more measured approaches suggested above. The provoked response of anger is also meant to turn people off of accepting trans rights in general.
Infuriatingly, I've noticed that right-wing rhetoric usually doesn't even mention pre-pubescent transitioners at all. Like, these people are fine with acknowledging the existence of puberty blockers when they're trying to make them illegal, but they refuse to talk about them in regards to the sports issue. There have been cases where conservative jurisdictions have banned the participation of all transgender students in girl's sports, period. Meaning a transgender girl who never went through male puberty at all, and has pre-pubescent hormone levels as a result of puberty blockers, could be banned from participating in girl's sports, while in reality said trans girl could possibly even be at a disadvantage compared to the cis girls, as a result of not even having started puberty yet. Nonsensical. And liberal allies are at fault of this too, I've noticed. I've seen countless reddit threads where left-leaning people voice their take on the trans sports issue without mentioning the existence of pre-pubescent transitioners. It's honestly ridiculous.
The sports issue is also used as an excuse to say derogatory things about trans women that would be less justifiable in other instances.
I'll use Joe Rogan as an example of this last thing:
She calls herself a woman but... I tend to disagree. And, uh, she, um... she used to be a man but now she has had, she's a transgender which is (the) official term that means you've gone through it, right? And she wants to be able to fight women in MMA. I say no f***ing way. I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You're a f***ing man. That's a man, OK? You can't have... that's... I don't care if you don't have a dick any more... If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and you know you want to play house and all of that other s*** and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman's body trapped inside a man's frame and so you got a operation, that's all good in the hood. But you can't fight chicks. Get the f*** out of here. You're out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know? Period. You need to fight men your size because you're a man. You're a man without a dick. I'm not trying to discriminate against women in any way, shape, or form and I'm a big supporter of women's fighting. I loved watching that Ronda Rousey/Liz Carmouche fight. But those are actual women. Those are actual women. And as strong as Ronda Rousey looks, she's still looks to me like a pretty girl. She's a beautiful girl who happens to be strong. She's a girl! [Fallon Fox] is not a girl, OK? This is a [transgender] woman. It's a totally different specification.
Calling a trans woman a "man", and equating transitioning to merely removal of the dick, and equating trans women's experiences as women as "playing house" and "being a woman in the bedroom". These things are obviously pretty transphobic, and if Rogan had said these things about just any random trans woman his statements would have likely been more widely seen in that light. But when it's someone having an unfair advantage in sports, and the audience is supposed to be angry with you, it's much more socially acceptable thing to say such things. But the problem is, when you say these kinds of things about one trans woman, you're essentially saying those derogatory things about all trans women by extension. It's the equivalent of using an article about a black home invader who murdered a family as an excuse to use a racial slur. Now, I'm not saying that Rogan necessarily did this on purpose, in fact I'm more inclined to believe that it was done moreso due to ignorance rather than having an actual ideological agenda. But since then, many right wing ideologues who do have an ideological agenda have used this issue as an excuse to voice their opinions on trans people while appearing to be less bigoted. Ie. "I'm not trying to be a bigot or anything and I accept people's rights to live their lives as they see fit, but we NEED to keep men out of women's sports", as a sly way to call trans women "men". Additionally, doing this allows them to slip in untrue statements about the biology of trans women. I mean, first of all in regards to the statement "You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints", obviously even in regards to post-pubescent transitioners, not every trans woman is going to have bigger hands and shoulder joints than every cis woman (My hands are actually smaller than my aunt's!). It's just that people who go through male puberty on average tend to have bigger hands and shoulder joints compared to people who go through female puberty. But over-exaggerating the breadth of sexual dimorphism, as if males and females are entirely different species to each-other, helps to paint the idea of transitioning in a more nonsensical light. I hope this thread has presented this issue in a better light for anyone reading it. Let me know if you have any thoughts/criticisms of my stances or the ways I went about this issue.
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