My Games

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Anima Concept Crafting: Pokemon-like TTRPG Game Design Pattern by way of Animism

Following up on my "Animism Appendix N" for my still unnamed "Pariah by way of Maximum Recursion Depth" setting (although the setting might be running away from that a bit...), this is a game design pattern using Concept Crafting for Anima, the spirits of things, from an Animist perspective. I'm still deciding whether / how the setting will be some combination of modern, the imprecise state between paleo/neolithic, or post post apocalyptic, so this is written in a setting neutral manner, but all of it assumes a dream-like, surreal, psychedelic, Weird World.

Appendix N aside, it's also inspired by Shaman King (almost too literally...), Pokemon, Megaman Battle Network, the Dane Komljen movie Afterwater, and the Rolando Klein movie Chac: Dios de la Lluvia.

In Worldbuilding with Pokemon I actually tapped into this idea quite a while ago, I even specifically make the Shaman King and MMBN connections and the connection of Pokemon as like nature spirits, but this takes it in a more specifically Animist direction, which works even better.

As mentioned in that post as well, my old micro-settings I-Cons, Monsters and Madmen, and maybe even Stonepunk Adventures (as Enziramire keeps reminding me!), may be influencing this setting as well.

This setting, and by extension this Anima Concept Crafting system, reflects ideas I'd had well before I really had any meaningful understanding of Animism. It's really cool how we can converge on all of these big ideas from multiple directions, and also how each brings some new facet, or makes certain aspects more salient.

Shaman King. Never finished this manga when I was younger but it deeply influenced me. The recent anime on Netflix was just ok. I suspect the manga is better, but also that it's probably not quite as good as I remember it either. One could argue there's dicey stuff around cultural representation and appropriation, but I think it was coming from a good place.

Some previous Concept Crafting posts

Anima and The Dreaming
NOTE: None of this has been playtested, and I'm sure much of the terminology and other particulars will change over time or be adapted for the setting as I build it out.

There is a will in all things, the Anima. A rock, lake, animal, person, idea, celestial body, divine being; all of these things have Anima. The Dreaming are curious, they ponder the universe; they see the beauty in the interconnectedness of things, and in understanding the nature of these interconnected systems. Most people acknowledge the Anima, and perhaps 10% of the population are among the Dreaming, developing Relationships with Anima and Manifesting as a way of life. The only thing separating the Dreaming from the rest, is the willingness to Manifest.

When a Dreamer develops a Relationship with or Manifests an Anima, they are not expressing dominance or ownership over the material origin of the Anima. Manifesting requires understanding, a submission to the will of the Anima; at its worst, a kind of para-social relationship. Even so, given the interconnectedness of things, the Manifestation of Anima can materially effect its origin; there is a balance of power, a dance or ongoing conversation, between the Dreamer and the Anima they Manifest, and also to its material origin. Every time an Anima is Manifested, its true nature changes, even if just a little bit.

Anima are composed of WORDs, the number of words corresponding to their level. The power of Anima scale geometrically by level at base 2, i.e. a level 1 Anima has a power of 2, level 2 has a power of 4, level 3 has a power of 8, and level 4 has a power of 16; however, these numbers don't effect rolls, it's merely conceptual.

Level 1 Anima (Power 2)
One WORD. Trivial or circumstantial, may be Manifested at no cost and don't require an ongoing Relationship. Manifesting the flavor of a MEAL, the number of skips of a ROCK tossed against a body of water, the LUCK of the draw.

Level 2 Anima (Power 4)
Two WORDs. Manifested through some object of personal importance or utility like a staff (STRENGTH+SUPPORT), pair of glasses (SALIENCE+GLASS), fetish/token (LUCK+FOCUS), utility knife (UTILITY+KNIFE), etc. 
They may be used freely, and are integrated into daily life. 
There is no limit on the number of level 2 Anima Relationships, but they must be Manifested in some meaningful way at least once every three sessions or else the Relationship is Broken (if the Player can't remember, they're Broken, so keep track!).

Level 3 Anima (Power 8)
Three WORDs. Manifested through spiritual communion with a superorganism, a collective consciousness representing one or more other Anima as an Anima in itself. A lake (LOVE+WONDER+TRANSIENCE), apex predator (HUNT+FEED+BALANCE), or venerated ancestor (DEEP+TIME+GIANT)
Level 3 Anima may be Manifested with the passing of seasons (i.e. once per season). Usually, they require some sacrifice, appeasement, or quest. 
There is no limit on the number of level 3 Anima Relationships, but after Manifesting any one level 3 Anima, all other level 3 Anima Relationships are Broken.

Level 4 Anima (Power 16)
Four WORDs. As with Level 3, these are superorganisms Manifested through spiritual communion, but also requiring greater material cost; the attainment of many rare commodities, the recruitment of true believers or a greater number of paid workers or an even greater number of those servicing under the threat of violence. Freedom (INFINITY+CHAOS+IMAGINATION+UNKNOWN), Economy (MONEY+TRADE+ENCRYPTION+VALUE), Community (PEOPLE+SOUL+SELF+OTHER)
Level 4 Anima may be Manifested as one crosses forks in the roads of life (perhaps once a decade, or reflecting some major life transition). 
A Dreamer may have only one level 4 Anima Relationship at any one time.

Although the material origin of an Anima influences its level, ultimately the level is determined by the Relationship between the Dreamer and the Anima. It is possible to have a low-level Anima with a profound material origin if the Relationship is trivial or para-social, and likewise it is possible to have a high-level Anima with a simple material origin, if the Relationship runs deeply enough.

Megaman Battle Network, a more scifi/modern take on the idea, no less valid. Megaman Star Force didn't hit the same tho.

Anima Concept Crafting
While not the exclusive means of building Anima Relationships, Concept Crafting may be used to create Anima.

Anima Crafting
Any two Anima of the same level may be combined into an Anima of the same or one higher level by taking at least one WORD from each Anima, and for creating level 3 Anima or higher, at least one new WORD inspired by the context or by the interconnectedness of the two component Anima.
Crafting a level 2 Anima may require a day or a few days, level 3 Anima a moderate quest, and level 4 a paradigm-shifting, life-changing adventure.

Anima Mutation
Given the interconnectedness of things, any time an Anima is Manifested, its very nature is subtly changed. Likewise, if the material origin of the Anima is itself changed, depending on the degree of change or how aware the Dreamer is of the change, this may also cause Mutation. Manifesting two Anima within temporal proximity frequently, or any Anima Manifested under some extreme or traumatic context, is likely to Mutate. 
This merely involves replacing one (or more) WORDs of the Anima with one from or inspired by the other Anima, or the context.

"What Would Taylor Swift Do" Charm (DISTANCE+LOVE): Manifests an Anima of Taylor Swift, whose wisdom is based on the para-social relationship between the Dreamer and Taylor Swift. While the real Taylor Swift would not acknowledge the Relationship, often her actions will align (or notably fail to align) with the nature of the Anima.

Anaglyph 3D Glasses (DIMENSION+PERSPECTIVE): Red and Cyan anaglyph 3D glasses that when Manifested allow one to frequency-modulate into the Positive and Negative Planes. Each lens has a different flavor of Anima, one more manic, and one more depressive.

Twin Mask of Play and Win (PLAY+WIN): A mask of two faces merged together, one of the iconoclastic spirit of Play (dolphin face), and the other the disciplined spirit of Win (dragon face). Manifests as suggestions like the Devil and Angel over the shoulder.

Serenity Plugs (SERENITY+NOTHING): Waxen earplugs Manifesting an Anima like the shadow of sound. An inner peace deriving from the absence of sound and a willingness to absolve oneself of willful action.

Cancer Carapace (ABOMINATION+INEVITABILITY): Carapace armor crafted from a large aquatic arthropod. Manifests as the mutant monster Cancer, an Anima of a pitiable abomination. Empowered by acts of humility and love in the face of perceived evil.

Forgiveness Bow (ACCURACY+REGRET): A bow that will always hit its mark, but its mark is driven by the unconscious of the wielder. The bow Manifests as a time Anima, a frozen moment infinitely trapped between being an non-being.

Dragon Quest Monsters. Watabou, that little fuzzy blue guy, is actually plant-type, and if I remember correctly, one of the hardest monsters to get, one of the most powerful, and was strongly implied to be some kind of eldritch god, and I love that for him. Dragon Quest Monsters is Pokemon by way of Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragon Ball), with a really interesting monster breeding (in later games fusion) system, and it was awesome, I really loved these games when I was younger.

Probably unconsciously inspired by Shaman King long before I made the conscious connection, but also my general love of the collecting and generative/crafting aspects of Pokemon-likes (even more emblematically, Dragon Quest Monsters), and of settings where humans have personal relationships with "magical" beings (including Megaman Battle Network in this), it seemed logical to me to combine the Pokemon-like gameplay loop with Animism.

I like this philosophically as well, in that while one could choose to simply treat it as a re-flavored Pokemon-like if one so chose, because of the nature of Relationships and Manifesting, there is an intentional emphasis on this system as not one of ownership and conquest, but of intra- and inter-personal examination, which is obviously my jam.

Pokemon-likes in TTRPGs tend to struggle because of the multiplicative complexity it imposes on other gameplay mechanics, or even in rules-light form, it's just a lot for any Player or GM to keep track of.

Given the soft-limitations on Anima, that any level 2 Anima must be Manifested at least once every three sessions, that Manifesting any level 3 Anima Breaks the Relationships with all other level 3 Anima, the way acquiring Anima generally involves some kind of quest, I'm hoping it will lend itself naturally to a certain balance, but it will likely need to be tweaked during playtesting.

I allude to the philosophical aspects of Animism more in the Appendix N, and in future posts I'll discuss the setting and by extension philosophy in more detail, but this post is focused on this Anima Concept Crafting game design pattern.

1. I've intentionally chosen not to use the word Shaman, or Druid for that matter. I had originally wanted to call the "Dreamers" the Wisdom, but since I use Wisdom as an Ability Score in MRD I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to that term. Dreams tend to hold a lot of significance in Animism and other kinds of spiritualism, but I dunno for some reason it feels maybe too generic or too corny, I'm just not sure how I feel about it.

2. I'm very comfortable with Concept Crafting and the abstractness of the Anima as presented here, and also in calling them Anima, but I'm not sure if I'm overly limiting myself with the levels of Anima and some of the constraints in terms of the gameplay loop.

Also, you know I intentionally chose not to include a Pokemon image in a post where I specifically call it a Pokemon-like because that is how I roll.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

How to Count to 31 on One Hand

I was reading The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a really funny and clever comic from a while back, and it reminded me of a cute, but also really cool trick, for counting on one hand.

Imagine from pinky to thumb, that the value of each finger doubles:
Pinky = 1
Ring = 2
Middle = 4
Index = 8
Thumb = 16
And each finger can be either Up/On (1), or Down/Off (0).

So let's start counting. I show it as multiplication and addition here, as vectors, but you can just hold up your hand, or lay it on a surface like a keyboard or piano, whatever makes sense for you, and just feel it on your fingers.
1: 1(1) + 2(0) + 4(0) + 8(0) + 16(0) = 1 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 1
2: 1(0) + 2(1) + 4(0) + 8(0) + 16(0) = 0 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 2 
Simple enough so far. You can see from the ones and zeroes, it's just the position of your fingers. But what about 3, a number that you don't have a finger for? Just set your pinky and ring finger both to the ON position.
3: 1(1) + 2(1) + 4(0) + 8(0) + 16(0) = 1 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 3
And numbers larger than what we have fingers for, like 17? Pinky and thumb are ON, the rest are OFF.
17: 1(1) + 2(0) + 4(0) + 8(0) + 16(1) = 1 + 0 + 0 + 16 = 17
Normally when we think of numbers, we think of Arabic Numerals in Base 10, meaning 0 through 9, with 10, 20, 30, ..., 100, etc., as like the next iteration.

When we use this approach, we're counting in Base 2, also known as Binary. If we think of our fingers each as representing binary states, we can infer the value just from 0's and 1's. But, understanding the relationship between Base 10 and Base 2 visually and kinesthetically through our fingers makes it easier to understand.

In other words, starting from 0, we can think of each finger as representing 2** (to the power of) the incrementing values of our fingers:
1: 2**0 == Pinky 2: 2**1 == Ring 4: 2**2 == Middle 8: 2**3 == Index 16: 2**4 == Thumb
So instead of:
17: 1(1) + 2(0) + 4(0) + 8(0) + 16(1) = 1 + 0 + 0 + 16 = 17
We can just represent it as:
17: 1 0 0 0 1
As I was reading the comic, I couldn't help but start counting from 0 to 31, it was just fun to do, even meditative. It took a bit of effort at first, but now I can usually on two hands get to 128 fairly trivially. Going from 128 to 256 I usually end up losing focus or making a mistake somewhere along the way, but it's still really fun!

Here is our full table:
n:   1 2 4 8 16
0:   0 0 0 0 0
1:   1 0 0 0 0
2:   0 1 0 0 0
3:   1 1 0 0 0
4:   0 0 1 0 0
5:   1 0 1 0 0
6:   0 1 1 0 0
7:   1 1 1 0 0
8:   0 0 0 1 0
9:   1 0 0 1 0
10: 0 1 0 1 0
11: 1 1 0 1 0
12: 0 0 1 1 0
13: 1 0 1 1 0
14: 0 1 1 1 0
15: 1 1 1 1 0
16: 0 0 0 0 1
17: 1 0 0 0 1
18: 0 1 0 0 1
19: 1 1 0 0 1
20: 0 0 1 0 1
21: 1 0 1 0 1
22: 0 1 1 0 1
23: 1 1 1 0 1
24: 0 0 0 1 1
25: 1 0 0 1 1
26: 0 1 0 1 1
27: 1 1 0 1 1
28: 0 0 1 1 1
29: 1 0 1 1 1
30: 0 1 1 1 1
31: 1 1 1 1 1

Or, on our hands:
First image I found on google images. They went the opposite direction (thumb -> pinky) rather than what I said but it amounts to the same thing. You can also reverse the up and down if your pinky is capable of that, and then you get cool ninja / spiderman / punkrock handsigns. Whatever works for you, have fun with it.

During my Insight Fellowship after leaving academia, I struggled to learn a lot of the algorithmic and other computer science and software engineering fundamentals that I needed for industry. I didn't have the training and it definitely didn't come to me intuitively. Another Fellow in the group who had a much deeper intuition towards algorithms would often help me study, and one of the algorithms he worked through with me was in converting a decimal (number) to a binary representation. Rather than counting on my hands (honestly that may have been better...), I came to understand the algorithm as a vector representation, just another way of getting at the same thing, but either way, in so doing, a lot of things clicked into place for me. Not just how to write algorithms, but how to understand mathematical relationships, and in understanding aspects of natural philosophy, or how the universe works.

Imagine a World where people counted this way. What kind of culture would this be? What would be their myths, laws, philosophies, arts, and sciences?

There are other ways to reconceptualize numbers physically. This system is in Base 20, and computations can be inferred from the physical relationship between strokes:

A Number System Invented by Inuit Schoolchildren

Imagine a world where people counted this way? You don't have to imagine it.

From the article linked above:

The Alaskan Inuit language, known as Iñupiaq, uses an oral counting system built around the human body. Quantities are first described in groups of five, 10, and 15 and then in sets of 20. The system “is really the count of your hands and the count of your toes,”...

Because of the tally-inspired design, arithmetic using the Kaktovik numerals is strikingly visual. Addition, subtraction and even long division become almost geometric. The Hindu-Arabic digits are an awkward system, Bartley says, but “the students found, with their numerals, they could solve problems a better way, a faster way.”...

Thanks to efforts by linguists working with the Script Encoding Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, the numerals were included in the September 2022 update of Unicode, an international information technology standard that enables the digitization of the world’s written languages. The new release, Unicode 15.0, provides a virtual identifier for each Kaktovik numeral so developers can incorporate them into digital displays. “It really is revolutionary for us,” Judkins says. “Right now we either have to use photos of the numerals or write them by hand.”

Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Dimensional Hierarchy is a Lie

The cube is a lie.
The square is a lie.
Even the line, is a lie.

Imagine two lines:
━  ━  ━
━  ━  ━

Or this way:
│ │

│ │

│ │

What is their relationship? Which is length? Which is width?

│━  ━  ━

If I rotated them, how would you know the difference? (Ignoring that these are different ascii characters...)

We think of dimensionality as a hierarchy; a one-dimensional line, two-dimensional square, three-dimensional cube, four-dimensional hypercube or time... but really, these are all single dimensions which may or may not have their own properties (is time just a rotation of space, or something fundamentally different?), which may very well be heterarchical, but we've chosen to think of them hierarchically.

And there is value in doing so, both because there is still clearly some kind of underlying systemic relationship, but also, having a shared understanding of what is up or down, left or right, lateral, before or after, or causal, is just a very useful assumption to make, and makes our perceptions of reality more communicable. Yet, when we fail to recognize that we are not always sharing this understanding, that our different perceptions may reflect the relativistic nature of reality itself, it only holds us back.

A zero-dimensional space is simply a dot. A line is a series of dots that can more parsimoniously be described by the equation Y=A+BX (or you may have learned it as Y=MX+B but it amounts to the same thing...). From the two-dimensional graph space, we can explain a series of dots in terms of their distance from a line cutting through them; the slope, B, being our one dimension.

If we add a second dimension to explain a three-dimensional graph by the distance of dots from a plane (or square) cutting through the space Y=A+B1X1+B2X2, we get something like: 

To the extent that we can conceptualize information, data, as a series of zero-dimensional objects, and create lines and planes and hyperplanes, cutting through a graphical space necessarily at least one dimension larger than the shape we cut through it (this is related to degrees of freedom or rank in statistics), and use that to often quite effectively explain patterns and even create learning algorithms, is it hard to imagine that this might speak to the nature of physical and metaphysical reality as well? We have plenty of other reasons already to believe that reality is better explained via probabilities than causalities, admittedly outside of my wheelhouse. 

Maybe all of these data are just being funneled through the fixed structure we think of as spacetime. But I dunno, maybe it makes more sense to think of reality as an "emergent" property of interactions of data- not that it can't be represented or interfaced with, but that, necessarily, part of the network exists in a larger (NOT "higher", necessarily) dimensional space than we can perceive all at once.

But it may not be that we can't perceive those other dimensions. Again, thinking of them as "higher" may be erroneous. It may just be that we can't perceive all of them at once; we may only be able to perceive, at most, n-1 of them at any one time.

But also, remember, these dimensions may themselves be unfixed, whether it's a matter of rotation, translation, reflection, or maybe even entire re-configuration.

They say that to effectively break the rules, you have to understand them first. I believe there is a numinousness that comes from the ability to think in terms of graphical representations, equations, and probabilities. Maybe it's all something between panentheism and animism? A series of wills superimposed on top of each other, a systemic or functional relationship between all things, each operating within their own dimensionalities; different frequency networks or phase networks, a push and pull of "spiritual forces", no one seeing all of reality, any one only seeing at most n-1 of it; none of it existing in isolation, every one making up its ever-changing totality.