Remastering Morrowind

Or: come see me play my favorite 20-year old video game, beautified for 2021 audiences!

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately modding The Elder Scrolls into completely unrelated games, like RimWorld. While there’s something magical about turning a science fictional game about building a colony on the rim of known space into a game about running a Dunmer cornerclub, it just wasn’t scratching That Elder Scrolls Itch ™.

We do have fun with our tiny murder elves, though…

So! I decided that since it had been ten years since I last played Morrowind, I was overdue for a replay. And this time, I was going to stream it on my Twitch channel.

Why? I want my friends to see Morrowind through my eyes. I wanted to show you Morrowind — but remastered for 2021. I want you to know why I love it so much; why I think it’s the finest iteration of the “venerable” series.

The nitty gritty details

This game will be running on OpenMW, “a free, open source, and modern engine which re-implements and extends the 2002 Gamebryo engine for the open-world role-playing game The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.”

The advantages to using OpenMW are many — it fixes many bugs with the original engine, and adds features that the original game didn’t have, like distant terrain. It also makes modding cleaner and more, well… modular.

And mod it I sure would! Not knowing where else to start, I Googled “modding OpenMW” and came upon a site of the same name. Modding OpenMW features a number of different modlists, as well as detailed instructions for implementing them.

I started by implementing the massive Total Overhaul list. But I ended up stopping after the first few items, and implementing a modlist that was best summarized as “Graphics Overhaul plus some bug fixes.”

Why? Well, after putting more thought into it, I’d realized I wanted to (mostly) leave the vanilla gameplay untouched. My goal was for folks like you, dear reader, to see Morrowind through my eyes, right? How could I do that if all the rough edges had been smoothed off? Some of what I love about is those rough edges!

So ultimately: I modded the graphics out completely and fixed the obvious bugs, but I didn’t, say, add in a poison system, or rebalance the economy, or fix the messy leveling system.

(As it turns out, “graphics overhaul” and “obvious bugs” are more subjective than I thought! But that’s something I can talk about more on my stream).

Is this ready to play?

It sure is! It took me about a hundred hours, and many emails with the (very responsive and helpful) author of Modding OpenMW, but I now have my 250+ modlist working smoothly. I’m a dozen or so hours into a test game, and so far it’s been rock solid!

… not gonna lie, there were moments where I was like “I’m never following a modlist again,” but I’m glad I stuck with it. The end result is lovely. (See: the featured image for this post).

So where do I sign up?

I’ll be starting “Morrowind Remastered” on my Twitch channel on Weds, December 1 at 7pm EST (UTC-5). I will aim to stream Wednesday and Sunday nights at the same time — or more or less frequently, as I feel like it. Because I’m a rebel, and nothing makes me want to do something less than scheduling it 😉

Your best bet to find out when I’ll be going live is to click the big purple follow button on Twitch; that should email you when I go live.

If you are more asynchronously inclined, you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I plan to upload the VODs.

I’m also posting occasionally on Twitter about the process of setting up the game. Sometimes I use my liseplays Twitter account for this, but more often it’s threads like this on my main lisefrac account:

And that’s it! I hope to see you in the stream!

ETA: I also published a Google Calendar with the dates, if that’s helpful to you:

The fun guys of fall 2021: cauliflower mushroom

My dad was visiting recently, and — as one does when the only thing you have in common is a love of nature– we went for a walk in the woods.

There, we found this big boi:

Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis americana (?)

I realize you have no sense of scale or terrain here, so imagine this growing at the food of an Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). It was about 12-18 square inches in size — large enough that it barely fit in a standard grocery bag.

How do I know that last bit? Because I harvested it. My dad was very insistent that if it was edible, he wanted to harvest it and eat it “before anybody else could get it.” (My dad, gentlethems. If food is in danger of disappearing, he’s there).

I was almost dismayed when iNaturalist IDed it as being an edible in the Sparassis genus — cauliflower mushroom, in the vernacular. Oh no, I said, as my dad started up again.

But not only is cauliflower mushroom edible, it’s a choice edible and often hard to find. There’s also very little it can be mistaken for. So after doing lots of research, I too determined: I was gonna eat that big boi.

How did that go, Lise?

Slowly, but deliciously!

This was my first time harvesting Sparassis — really, any wild mushroom — so I took it slow. I ate a tiny piece (cooked, of course), and waited 24 hours. Then I ate a bigger piece and waited 24 more. Only then did I move on to using it in recipes.

Most recently I made a quiche with 4 cups dry weight of mushrooms in it, and hey, it was pretty great! And I’m not dead!

How did cauliflower mushroom taste? It was your pretty standard mushroom umami. I wouldn’t say it was particularly “choice”, or unique, but maybe it was past its prime? I read that when it begins to yellow like that, it begins to decline in quality.

You want to use mushrooms quickly once you harvest them — within a week — so I gave half of the bounty to my dad to take home. I attempted to dry some in the oven, but my oven only goes down to 170 degrees F, which was still too high and cooked the mushrooms into, well, mush. My dad had better luck with a food dehydrator.

Also worth noting: this sample was pretty clean and free from critters, but it was still a pain in the butt to clean. I ended up breaking it into pieces and rinsing it in cold water. Unlike many mushrooms, Sparassis doesn’t soak up much water, so this was an acceptable treatment.

What did you learn?

SO MUCH. I’ve spent the last ten days endlessly researching mushrooms in general and Sparassis in particular. I read and watched videos about foraging mushrooms, cooking mushrooms, and identifying mushrooms. I’ve devoured the entire oeuvre of Learn Your Land.

So let me drop some cool mushroom knowledge on you:

  • If you’re wondering why no full binomial name for this sample, it’s because the Sparassis genus is kind of a muddle. Some folks refer to all cauliflower mushrooms are S. crispa, but in fact S. crispa is only accurately applied to the European species. In North America we have S. americana in the east and S. radicata in the west. (And then further confusing it, there’s S. spathulata…). I’m pretty confident saying this specimen was S. americana, but it really doesn’t matter, because they’re all delicious.
  • Very few of the million+ mushroom species are poisonous — that is, have substances that are toxic to humans in them (eg. amatoxins in amanitas). Furthermore, some toxic substances are denatured by cooking, eg. the toxins in the delicious morel mushroom. (Hence why you want to cook most mushrooms).
  • More accurately, not everybody can tolerate every mushroom. I was surprised to learn that certain species of mushrooms, like Armillaria spp (honey mushrooms) and Hydnum spp (hedgehog mushrooms) are famously ones that some people can’t tolerate.
  • Certain mushrooms shouldn’t be eaten with alcohol! In specific, mushrooms in the genus Coprinopsis contain a substance called coprine that combines in the human body to form something similar to disulfiram. You know, that drug they use to treat alcoholism — by making you really sick when you consume alcohol.
  • Mushrooms contain chitin. Yep, that thing that crab shells are made up of. So almost certainly some cases of non-deadly mushroom “poisoning” are actually gastric upset caused by trying to eat significant quantities of something indigestible. (Cooking breaks down the chitin, however, which is yet another reason why you want to cook almost all mushrooms).
  • Sparassis is a saprobe and/or parasite (depending on who you ask), mainly on conifer trees and their debris. In the eastern U.S., Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) is a preferred host. Just where I found it!
  • Like most mushrooms, the mycelium of Sparassis are are unharmed by harvesting, and thus we are likely to see it again next year in the same location.
  • Apparently Sparassis has a deep “taproot” of mycelium? I didn’t pull my sample up in order to see, but this Paul Stamets video mentions it can be up to six feet deep!

Resources

Just some of the many resources I consulted recently:

  • Learn Your Land, a YouTube channel by Adam Haritan. Love this guy’s videos, and not just about mushrooms! This is what my YT watch history looks like right now, lol.

That’s it! I’ve taken soooo many mushroom pics this season, so maybe more posts like this anon?

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Orb’ilythiiri”

Read “Orb’ilythiiri” here.

Chapter Summary

Jorlan had seen driders, of course. They were used as a minatory example for the students of all schools of Tier Breche, not just Sorcere. Standing at the edge of the drider pits, no one said — but he was meant to know —this is what happens when you fuck up so hard that a priestess thinks death is too kind.

And Jorlan had truly, fatally fucked up.

Chapter Front Notes

This chapter has some important content warnings: parasitism, body horror, and our old friend implied/referenced sexual assault. Basically, if you don’t want to know my headcanon about how a drider is made, I’d skip this one, or read between your fingers. This is a dark one, friends.

That said, this chapter also stands well on its own, so if you have never read Bright Future before, this is a decent place to start, as it references events mostly outside the timeline of the main story.

Chapter End Notes

I have always hated the portmanteau “drider,” which is why I use here… well, a Drow portmanteau of “orbb,” spider, and “Ilythiiri,” drow. It’s illogical, but it sounds better to my ear.

The lore has gone back and forth on whether or not becoming a drider is a reward or a punishment. As always, I’m most familiar with 2e, where it is most definitely a punishment. I tried to split the difference by implying that both are possible — it’s just the degree of torment involved, and your relevant standing in drow society afterwards. If Lolth can wave her spidery hand and make you a drider, I imagine it will be a relatively painless process, and you will have a place of honor, as a temple guard or teacher at Arach-Tinilith. (One imagines most of these driders are female).

But if it’s a punishment, it’s a gruesome parasitic process that robs you of some of your will, and you’ll basically spend the rest of your wretched life doing the work of a slave, thrown into battle as cannon fodder, and used as breeding stock (if you’re “lucky” enough to have genetics that the Lolthites want; let’s not forget the drow are rampant eugenicists, too).

(Does this imply drider fucking? I’ll leave that to your own imagination, ya perv, but I was thinking something more clinical, like artificial insemination).

I am inspired here by cordyceps fungus, which is famous for parasitizing the bodies and brains of insects, causing them to display risky behavior, and eventually bursting through the insect’s head, spreading their spores and killing the host. The word I chose for the fungus, shanaal’karliik, means “goblet-headed” according to the fan dictionary, which is a nod to the fact that “cordycep” is Latin? Greek? for “club-headed.”

If that sounds similar to the Zuggtmoy stuff in RAW… well, it probably took inspiration from the same thing.

I worry I went too far in the direction of misery porn and extravagant evil in this chapter, which I have so often derided in the canon writings about the drow. But as my friend Alice says: “we like our misery porn and extravagant evil, just in moderation.” It’s basically the worst thing the drow do to each other, and so I think it’s realistic to imagine it’s a horrible process — but also fairly rare. It also needs to be something that evoked such horror in Jorlan that he blocked it out until now, as one does with trauma.

I spent a looooong time on the Forgotten Realms wiki trying to figure out the tangle of House Mizzrym — made more challenging that I haven’t read the War of the Spider Queen books, or any books where they are prominent. We know from OotA that Miz’ri Mizzrym is still matron of the house in 1484; we’ll assume this is the same Miz’ri who was also matron in the 1370s, and thus who was the mother of Pharaun, Greyanna, and Sabal, who are all now dead. RAS apparently mentioned a “Sabbal” as first priestess in 1484 in Night of the Hunter, but… is that just a typo? Did he forget/not know that Richard Lee Byers killed off Sabal? Did Miz’ri have two daughters that she named “Sabal” and “Sabbal”? Is 1484 Miz’ri a different Miz’ri? Who knows!

Tl;dr Ilvara can be first priestess because the lore is vague and inconsistent and it suits my need to torment my boy.

Anything about Quenthel’s age is a guess. Heck, we don’t even know Jarlaxle’s age precisely, and he’s arguably the second most famous drow in Faerun.

Keeping with my headcanon of “drow as the ultimate in guess culture,” there’s SO MUCH that is implied and not stated here — both about drow canon, and about Jorlan’s history. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, but definitely ask if you have questions about any of it.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Ilindith”

Read “Ilindith” here.

Chapter Summary

The secret to the prophecy is: do not lose hope. Mavash and companions seek six feathers from six petrified angels, and unearth a terrible prophecy in the bargain.

Chapter Front Notes

I am skipping ahead quite a bit in the timeline here, to get to the stuff that a) I remember the most, or recorded the most of, and b) is most personally meaningful. That means I’m skipping the Vast Oblivium and much of the Labyrinth. Our intrepid heroes now have two of the components for Vizeran’s ritual — a purple worm egg and the central eye stalk of a beholder — and are on their way to find the third.

There is definitely some fun stuff I’m missing, and maybe I’ll go back and fill it in eventually. Or maybe it will simply remain in flashbacks! Gods know I love my flashbacks.

Quick content warning: mention of animal suffering.

Chapter End Notes

  • You originally meet Yuk-yuk and Spiderbait, the goblin guides, when they offer to guide you through the Silken Path at the beginning of the adventure. DM Nixon had them come back as our guides to the Labyrinth, which I thought was a nice callback.
  • “A letter written in uncertainty” is a line I stole from my favoritest in-universe book in The Elder Scrolls, The 36 Lessons of Vivec. Let this be your regular reminder that the drow are only my second favorite murder elves; the Dunmer still are number one.
  • “What language does a child speak if no one speaks any language to it?” is a real question that Renaissance scholars asked, and if I recall correctly, the answer is child abuse. (Also I added this in because I needed an in-universe reason why Umbra doesn’t speak Drow. Because Drow isn’t an actual language your PC can learn in 5e, don’t-even-get-me-started).
  • The gnoll event is from the Spiral of the Horned King chapter in RAW. In actual play, it was an interesting conflict between Gaulir’s lawful good and Mavash’s chaotic good, and was a character-defining moment for all concerned. There’s not really enough there to build a chapter around, but I wanted to include it somehow. Relevant Twitter thread.
  • The final line is from the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name.
  • The title of the chapter, ilindith, means “aim, goal, or hoped-for end” in Drow. I was looking for a word that meant “hope” (the noun), but that word is — perhaps understandably — lacking in Drow! I debated mightily between this and some permutation of kyorl (to wait). After all, in some languages, like Spanish, “hope” and “wait” are the same verb. I also considered a compound word like kyor’lindith, but do we really need more Drow compound words with apostrophes? We do not.
  • While the prophecy was all our DM’s invention, this chapter of the adventure otherwise played out pretty close to RAW!
  • The side story â€œSmall Sacrifices” — which outlines Jorlan and Ambergris’ plan re: the prophecy — takes place immediately after this one. Hopefully it makes a lot more sense after reading this one.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Oloth”

Somehow I never posted this?

Read “Oloth” here.

Chapter Summary

“The Widower.” The man made a throttled chuckle. “A consort who outlives his mistress outlives his welcome. And you’ve done it… how many times now?”

Mavash and companions try to skirt around the troglodyte lair, but find prisoners, ropers, and a head-chopping sword. Jorlan makes a difficult choice, which forces him to consider his less-than-savory past.

Chapter End Notes

The way this played out in session, there wasn’t anything remarkable about the drow in the oubliette. But I wanted to up the stakes here a bit, because otherwise exploring the troglodyte cavern is pretty boring. I used it to bring up a plot thread from later on in the adventure, when a Certain Someone ™ implies that Jorlan has a Reputation ™ for outliving his lovers, who all die in Perfectly Innocent Ways ™.

The attack by the ropers and piercers is true to RAW, but I forgot most of the details of how it played out — except for Mavash blinding poor Jorlan and Hanne with Sunburst. It was a similar case when we met the troglodyte chieftain — I know we got a sword out of it, but I don’t recall how. But I was tired of writing fight scenes, so we get Umbra pulling an Indiana Jones.

The end of this chapter echoes a flashback in “Siltrin,” which I am probably going to remove in favor of this version. As I said in those author’s notes, Oloth tlu malla is meant to be a +2 longsword as written, but that’s not very interesting.

Mavash pretending to be the spirit of Oloth tlu malla is also true to the actual session 🙂

I’ve finally read enough of the newer Drizzt books to realize… my Ambergris (well, DM Nixon’s) is hella different from how she is written in the books. But given how abysmally she is portrayed in Timeless (still not over that, grrr), I am a-okay with this! If this has been bothering you, just imagine she is a totally different character with the same name? Because she basically is.

Also I refuse to have my dwarves sound like a walking plate of haggis.

Vendui’, vel’uss lil vith phuul dos? means roughly, “excuse me, who the fuck are you?” This is Lux’s favorite way to greet enemies — this was, in fact, how they greeted Jorlan, since they had not been in Velkynvelve with the rest of us and had no idea who he was. It became a tradition after that.

Do accents and pronunciation exist in telepathic communication? Who knows! Creative license!

Incidentally, I’m not sure if I’m going to write the scene in the purple worm nursery, since you do see the important bits through Jorlan’s POV in “Siltrin.” To be completionist I would, from Mavash’s POV. But at the same time, my memories of the campaign are fading, and I haven’t yet reached the portions where I took detailed notes. We may be skipping right from here to the Gallery of Angels, in the interest of getting to the Important Stuff.

I mean, of course, noodles.

Letter to the Seventh Church

This is a letter my Pathfinder character Kivran wrote to her mother, a high-ranking paladin of Iomedae in the Seventh Church in Absalom –basically informing the clergy of her crisis of faith (and also hey, Mom, I joined the Edgewatch).

This resulted in her being summoned to the Church for a “come to Jesus Iomedae” chat with one of the ranking deacons, so: mission accomplished.

I was rather proud of it, so I thought I’d post it here. I was going for an overly formal and somewhat melodramatic tone, and I think I nailed it.

Very minor spoilers for Agents of Edgewatch.

Enjoy!


To Knight-Faithful Ameredine Sulla, greetings.

In accordance with the rules of the Seventh Church, I, Kivran Sulla, knight-acolyte of the Tempering Hall, write to inform you of my whereabouts and intentions.

When I left the Tempering Hall some six months ago, my course was yet unclear. Unlike many in the service of our Lady of Valor, I felt no need prove myself in battle, and I was unsure where my talents might be best put to use. Indeed, my time in close contact with the faithful left me with more doubts than I had when I began my initiation. These doubts I shared with the spiritual counsel of the Tempering Hall, but their words did not put me entirely at ease. I believed I would need to seek wisdom from Iomedae’s own hand at work in the world.

For some months I have been serving in one of the units of the Absalom guard — one whose name I will not speak, but suffice it to say, it is very close at hand to the Seventh Church, and yet in spirit vast eons apart. It has been eye-opening, and has given me an levelness of view towards the faithful of all gods and goddesses, not merely the Inheritor’s own. It will perhaps surprise you to learn that other faiths have as much to teach about how one lives with truth and honor as the Seventh Church itself does.

I soon felt I had grown beyond the walls of the Ascendant Court, however, and when the opportunity to join the Edgewatch presented itself, I jumped at it. Where better to learn about the gods of Golarion and their faithful than at the Radiant Festival?

Four days I have served the Edgewatch with the same fidelity and honor that I showed in my studies at the Tempering Hall. To be quite honest, it has tried me — perhaps further tempered me.

I am sure you will find the sordid details of the affair in Mr. Vancaskerkin’s tabloids, so I will omit them here. But the mere words of a reporter cannot reflect the change written on my heart.

While Iomedae’s justice may be sublime in the living world, what I have come to understand is that her blade does not penetrate the veil of death. For some time I have asked myself: what is honorable, when all crumbles before us? What is loyalty, when our own bodies betray us in the end? What does it mean to rule, when even kings die? What does it matter that serf does not bow before his lord, when his life is mere days compared to the eternity he will spend beneath the earth?

I found no answers, because those were not questions Iomedae could answer. That question is for Pharasma alone, who rules the vast dry land beyond the grave.

And the answer I have received is this: a good and honorable death may be more important than a good and honorable life. 

Did you know? The streets of the Precipice Quarter are built upon the bones of our ancestors. One day my fellow agents and I came across some workers who were battling skeletons — walking corpses, animated by fury. What made them so furious, so desperate, in death? Did they perhaps die without faith in one of the gods of our land? I entered the hole they emerged from, and learned the sad and simple truth. They had been interred alive, due to some terrible accident — a cave-in, a locked door, some shoddy construction, I don’t know.

I could see how they would have lived their last days, close enough to the surface to see light streaming down on them through a grate, but too far to call for help. How must that have felt? How that must have rent their souls, the divine cruelty of it all!

Of course they were furious. Of course they were desperate. They had been abandoned by their gods. I felt sorrow and revulsion in equal parts — sorrow for the mortals they had been and the dreams that had died with them, and revulsion at the twisted abominations they had become. I burned with rage to think how they had been denied Pharasma’s judgment at the last — how even in death they were not at peace.

I felt a duty to end their suffering, to put them to rest. To give them the mercy they had been denied.

Indeed, I have taken an oath to this effect — one many of our temple take, to put the undead to rest. But I suspect my reasons are different.

The Pharasmin priests of the Precipice Quarter have been very accommodating, and have been teaching me their rituals of rest. Despite the hardship of the past four days, and the terrible things I have seen, I have felt peace in my heart from this small power the Lady of Graves has granted me to make the world right.

Perhaps I have found where my talents are best put to use.

This letter has gotten very long, so in summary:

I am well — stronger than ever, and my heart is light. You may write me care of Edgewatch Station in the Precipice Quarter. I will serve both Iomedae’s judgment and Pharasma’s mercy, as best as I know how and as long as I live. 

Your sister in faith and your obedient daughter,
Knight-Acolyte Kivran Sulla


Photo by Nicolas Brigante on Unsplash

Five months of Pathfinding

(This started as a repost of a few bullet points about PF2e mechanics that I wrote on Facebook. Then it turned into a novel. Why am I like this?)

After I wrote my what I’m looking for in my next campaign post, I decided to apply to a Pathfinder 2e game that was advertising on /r/lfg. I was interested in giving PF2e a try, because I was getting mighty sick of Wizards of the Coast’s continual missteps on issues of inclusion and representation in D&D. I had heard that Paizo Games — the makers of Pathfinder, another fantasy RPG — were better in this regard.

I made some errors in judgment while lurking on /r/lfg, but joining this game was not one of them!

Wtf is Pathfinder, anyway?

For context, we need to go back to D&D 3.5e, and its Open Gaming License, which allowed other creators to piggyback on its rules system to build their own games. Many creators did this, and I had some experience with them — I played a lot of Crafty Games’ Spycraft and FantasyCraft, in particular.

Paizo Games, and Pathfinder 1e, came out of this. Originally the creators of Pathfinder were working directly with WotC, until WotC screwed them over in some way, so they went off and formed Paizo. (A fellow player provided this much better article as a detailed explanation).

“I’m going to go build my own games company! With kobold blackjack! And goblin hookers!”

The world of Golarion also came out of this — presumably because they could no longer use any of the brand-identifying D&D settings.

I never played PF1e, so I can’t say much about it. But from what I understand, it was incredibly similar to D&D 3.5 — so much so that people called it “D&D 3.75.”

Then came Pathfinder 2e in 2019 — arguably in response to the incredible popularity of D&D 5e. More importantly, PF2e refined many of the systems from PF1e, doing away with some of the more annoying aspects of D&D 3.5.

Given that, I initially expected a game that was more like D&D 5e. But PF2e is definitely its own unique system, and still feels more like 3.5 than it does 5.

The Campaign

I joined a game with a bunch of pretty woke players, playing Agents of Edgewatch, a pre-written Adventure Path designed to take your character from level 1 to 20.

This was not a neutral choice, it turned out, but it would turn into a good example of Paizo’s relatively strong voice for DEI in the games industry.

In AoE, you play fantasy guards at a fantasy world’s fair. I suspect Paizo was going for a buddy cop movie/Brooklyn 99/Discworld Guards sorta feel, but the book had the misfortune of being released in July 2020.

… you know, the month George Floyd was murdered and protests against police violence erupted across the U.S.

That definitely gave me pause, but this was the first test, for me, of how Paizo would handle such an issue. In this regard, I was generally pleased. Apparently the publisher, Erik Mona, issued a public apology for the insensitivity that implied, and options were added to play as adventurers looking for work, or to make all damage non-lethal without the usual mechanical penalty.

(Btw, I came to all this after the fact — Paizo/Pathfinder wasn’t really on my radar in 2020. But this was on my mind as the group deliberated what to play, and this is what I learned as I investigated).

My group chose this adventure rather than the other AP that was offered, Extinction Curse. I can’t speak to how my fellow players made their decision, but mine was informed by my Pathfinder-playing friends, who judged it as the better written of the two APs. Forging forward with that decision, we opted for the “assume non-lethal damage” option, but we still decided to go with the fantasy cop angle.

So far I don’t feel like anyone’s abused it, although I am still bothered by the fact that — since you’re not exactly dungeon-delving in this game — all your cool stuff comes, basically, from civil asset forfeiture. That’s definitely kinda YIKES in my book. But when you’re taking stuff from a half-elf you find up to his elbows in flayed humanoid skin, it feels a lot less awful.

(We still feel bad about accidentally killing Rusty the Rust Monster, though).

Currently we are level 4, and have just defeated the villain of book 1.

My character

I’d wanting to play a paladin in D&D for a long time. In Out of the Abyss, I watched my fellow player Justin have a helluva good time with his dragonborn Oath of Devotion paladin Gaulir. I found myself saying, “Yeah I want to smite things, too!”

Also, you may recall I’m a big fan of this fic, where the original female main character is a paladin of Kelemvor (a newer god of death who arose out of the Time of Troubles) who once served Torm (god of duty, loyalty, righteousness, and law).

The PF2e equivalent of a paladin is champion. (“Paladin” is specifically the lawful good subclass of champion). Additionally, in PF2e, what god you are a champion of is actually important — in 5e it feels more like flavor text. So I knew what god I picked to be a champion of was really going to matter.

The (very) rough equivalents of Kelemvor and Torm in the world of Golarion are Pharasma and Iomedae, both goddesses. I decided my character — who I named Kivran — was going to be a redeemer (NG) champion of Iomedae, who was beginning to have doubts about the righteousness of her path. She had looked at how the divine right of kings was used as a bludgeon against the less fortunate, and begun to ask herself, “What is honorable in the face of suffering and death?”

Mechanically speaking, I ended up taking the Godless Graycloak background which… might not have been the best choice? It’s literally the atheist/non-religious faction of the Absalom guard. But I saw it as reactionary to corruption Kivran saw in the temple of Iomedae.

To summarize: she had lost faith in the clergy of Iomedae, but not the goddess herself.

I also gave her a family history where she was an only child, and her mother was an adventurer and a paladin of Iomedae. Thus she had been raised with the expectation that she would become a champion of Iomedae, too, and felt some pressure to join the temple before she was 100% ready.

I saw her trajectory as a character as moving from being a champion of Iomedae to a champion of Pharasma, but it turns out mechanically speaking, that’s kinda hard to do in PF2e!

One of my fellow players pointed out that I could use the Splinter Faith class feat to do this, but a) it doesn’t seem that mechanically useful; it just gives you access to a different set of focus spells, which are super limited, anyway. Point B) there’s actually not that much of a splinter between Pharasma and Iomedae. As my GM put it:

Iomedae: be valorious! do good! smite evil!
pharasma: oh, and to undead, too!
iomedae: yeah, what she said!

That said, the GM has been very accommodating, playing up or modifying aspects of the adventure to show Kivran’s growing interest in Pharasma and sorrow for the fate of those who become undead; he even wrote up a ritual of rest that Kivran has taken to using after destroying any undead. I also took the Shining Oath feat at level 3 to further expand this angle of her character.

L0ng story story, I’m still figuring out how to express this inner tension mechanically. My current leaning is to pick up the cleric archetype for Pharasma, but we’ll see.

Anyway, this is the random piece of fantasy art I picked to represent Kivran. Turns out the options when you search “female paladin fantasy art” are kind of awful.

One of the few that didn’t involve chainmail bikinis, mesh shirts, or high heels.

Kivran is a human of Taldan heritage, so I needed to pick an appropriate last name for her, too. It seems like a lot of the Taldan names are Latinate in nature, so of course the first thing that came to mind for me was the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, possibly because I’ve listened to a lot of Hardcore History.

Hence: Kivran Sulla, native of Absalom, only child of two adventurers, troubled champion of Iomedae, former Graycloak, newly a devotee of Pharasma.

… also, thanks to a combination of factors, the party’s mom. (Glimpse of Redemption reaction, an undercover operation where I had to pretend to be the druid’s mom, said druid yelling “Moooooooom!” whenever she took crit damage and wanted me to use said reaction, and dubbing of said ability as Mom Glare).

The rest of the party

We started out as a group of four, but one player stepped away after a couple of months, and two more players joined — including my husband Matt.

The other two original characters were:

  • Nathraak, human wizard from the bad part of town (the Puddles). He has a history where he got arrested for practicing unlicensed medicine, which got him interested in law, which eventually led to him becoming part of the guard corps for the Puddles. (And, eventually, the Edgewatch). One thing I think is super interesting about Nath, mechanically, is that he really doesn’t cast a lot of spells. He seems to be built to do two things: counter spells, and heal with the Medicine skill rather than magic. Occasionally he also yeets his staff.
  • Shep, the leshy druid, and her bear companion Berry. She likes to remind us that the Starstone Isle is not entirely the city of Absalom and does in fact have wilderness. She also pretends to be offended by jokes about leshy, casts Electric Arc a lot, and once disguised herself as a human child and pretended to be Kivran and Nath’s kid.

About a month ago we were joined by:

  • Jabi, kobold alchemist, who we met when undercover in a sketchy club. Very nervous and generally high on some kind of mutagen. He also comes with his pal Rope Snake, who I’m still not sure is a real snake or some kind of construct.
  • Lucio Merenas, another Taldan human and swashbuckler from a family down on its luck. This is Matt’s character.

    (I feel kind of bad for Matt, because he joined the campaign right before we fought two big bad humanoid enemies. Thus the story of his game thus far has been failing to Tumble Through the squares of enemies with ridiculously high save DCs. I think he’s still having fun? But that’s at least part the awesomeness of the group itself).

I like the style of play in this group. It scratches my itch for both roleplay and tactical combat, for sure. It’s also a good level of seriousness for me — people clearly care about the adventure and their role in it, and they’re minimally distracted during game (I’m probably the worst about distraction, especially since it’s Thursday night right around when my ADHD meds start to wear off…) But no one is playing an edgelord character, either, and we often fill Discord with memes and gifs OOC.

On the whole, I feel like I got what I was looking for in my original post!

The party, lined up for photos at the end of last session. Things got rough.

And finally, what I came here to say…

Mechanically, I have some Thoughts about how this plays as an RPG system, having played for a few months now:

  • Most important: I’m having a lot of fun.
  • It is WAY crunchier a system than I was expecting. There’s a reason they call it Mathfinder.
  • At the same time, that crunchiness brings a lot of options, allowing you to build the sorts of characters that would be impossible in 5e.
  • Yes, yes, rules-light systems exist, but sometimes what you want is to roll high numbers and feel like a fantasy badass.
  • That said, you don’t roll a lot of high numbers at lower levels, it seems. It’s hard to feel effective when you’re level 4 and you absolutely cannot hit a target to save your life.
  • You do feel pretty badass, though, when Shield Block saves you from eating an owlbear’s crit at level 1.
  • That’s another thing — you really feel like a whole character starting at level 1. One of my least favorite things about 5e is that you don’t really gain class identity until you pick your subclass, which for quite a few isn’t until level 3. In PF, you get it right at level 1. It wasn’t like Kivran had to do a rotation to decide what sort of champion she wanted to be.
  • PF2e has moved on a lot from its origins in D&D3.5, but one thing that remains: you have to min-max to some extent or you will have a bad time.
  • … why yes, I AM still traumatized by memories of the miserable 3.5 campaign I was in, where I spent most of my time stuck in melee range as a half-orc archery ranger constantly failing Will saves.
  • Luckily, I do enjoy min-maxing to some degree, and more importantly I know a fair number of people — both in my game and out — who are happy to provide guidance. Also this PF2e champion class guide helps.
  • I feel like the classes are pretty well balanced, at least across a representative sample of enemies. There are definitely fights where I feel more effective than others — and I’m sure, given their relative strengths and weaknesses, Nath and Matt feel the same way — but I also don’t look at the druid or wizard and be like, “okay, I will never be that effective.” CoDzilla, it is not.
  • Everything is a feat. And you get a LOT of them — even without variant rules, you get something like 11 class feats alone by the time you get to level 20. (Not counting skill feats, general feats, archetype feats, etc). I had to create my own cheatsheet just to keep track at a high level of everything my feats allow me to do. And this is level 4 — I imagine it will only get worse as we get higher level.
  • Each feat alone is generally a pretty small or niche benefit. It feels weird to take a feet that, say makes you better at climbing, but when you get so many of them…
  • Feats build on each other and combine in interesting ways.
  • There seem to be fewer feats that are outright traps in PF2e compared to 3.5. (Although one could argue that the Group feats are, at least in this campaign, where our GM never bothers with the rule that Diplomacy/Intimidate/etc can only be used against one target at a time. Why yes I’m still annoyed I spent points on Group Impression).
  • This is a system where it REALLY helps to plan out your character to level 20 in advance, since there is a lot of “how many class feats will I have by X level, and how does that affect what feats I take now, or what prerequisite feats I take?”
  • Relatedly, my kingdom for the free archetype variant rule to be included in the web version of Pathbuilder!
  • I like the three-action system a lot; it gives a lot of flexibility that you just didn’t have with 3.5’s “move and two actions and also you get a five-foot-step” system. I can move twice and raise my shield! I can attack three times!(admittedly with an increasing penalty after the first attack)
  • While ranged attacks in melee range still provoke attacks of opportunity (*shudder* *flashes back*) I enjoy that attacks of opportunity aren’t something anybody can do. Generally only fighter or champion PCs can get them, and in monsters, you can usually guess by what sort of creature it is.
  • For all that it is a crunchy system, combat doesn’t bog down or interfere with RP the way I remember it doing in 3.5. Maybe it’s the campaign level; maybe it’s that my fellow players seem to actually, yanno, plan out what they’re going to do when it’s not their turn. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how it works out at higher levels, when we all have more feats.

In conclusion

This has been a really long way of saying:

I’m liking Pathfinder. It’s different, but in good ways. I really like my character and I feel invested in her success. I like my fellow players and I like the style of play. I like options that aren’t continuing to give Wizards of the Coast money as they continue to do shitty things.

I still wish Pathbuilder worked for me, though.

That’s all, folks! Tell me about your own Pathfinder experiences, and revel in telling me where I’m wrong.

Words in May, week 4

This was a productive week in terms of writing, but not in terms of tracking my work! I think I missed one or two days, but I worked exclusively on Bright Future, and published a new chapter on… Wednesday?

It’s good to get back to working on this fic, but man, I’ve forgotten SO MUCH. I am fighting a constant battle between “I should include this encounter, for completeness’ sake” and “I actually have no idea how this played out any more; can I just skip to the feels?”

Otherwise? Enjoy a picture of an azalea or rhododendron in my yard.

(Stupid plant fact: “rhododendron” is Greek for “rose tree”).

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future, chapter 13

Read chapter 13 (“Jaluk d’quellar”) here.

Chapter Summary

On the search for the purple worm egg, Mavash and her companions find a troglodyte lair. Jorlan tries to counsel Mavash against trying to save everyone. (Good luck with that).

Chapter End Notes

On my first pass, I honestly didn’t have many end notes for this. I was very tired when I was adding it to AO3, and thus my motivation was low. But then I wrote a little bit about my writing process on Twitter and used this chapter as an example. Lo and behold, I do have stuff to say!

A thread about POV and narrative distance, and how I occasionally remember how to write.

Also worth noting: jaluk d’quellar is a word I cobbled together from the sad excuse for a Drow conlang we have. Jaluk means “male”; qu’ellar means “noble house,” and they’re tied together by the word del, which is “of”, and which is often shortened to de or d’.

I took out the apostrophe in qu’ellar because it seems to be a convention to do so when you stick together multiple words with apostrophes (see: el’lar and qu’ellar. Also just… there is a limit on how many apostrophes I want to stick in a sentence, and jaluk d’qu’ellar hit that limit for me.

(What do apostrophes mean in Drow, anyway? Sometimes they seem to mark a shortening of words, as in English, but other times they’re just… there. Are they a glottal stop? A stress marking? All questions a linguist would have asking in building a consistent conlang, but we don’t have that here. Alas).

Speaking of language conventions, it seems to be a tradition when writing about elves to use “male” and “female” as nouns, instead of “man” or “woman.” Presumably this is because “man” and “woman” have a specifically human connotation. (I think of the Elder Scrolls, with the contrast of “men and mer”).

“Venturing the Uncharted,” a fantastic Baldur’s Gate 2/D&D fanfic I read recently, brought this convention to my attention, and made me think about why I only sometimes follow this convention.

Quite frankly, using “male” and “female” as nouns makes me uncomfortable. It always reminds me of creepy MRA and incel types using “females” as a pejorative; it also equates gender with sex, which I don’t like to do.

Tl;dr, I don’t always do this, and I can’t promise I will start, so please just imagine it’s an infelicity of translation.

By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to point you to my essay On making the drow less problematic. I have Opinions on this, as someone who’s been a murder elf fancier since 2e.


In completion of Words in May, day 29.

Words in May, week 3

Not the most productive writing week — but in my defense, this week started with having to put one of my cats to sleep and hit a high point on Wednesday when I came down with a stomach bug. It was, quite literally, a shit week.

What writing I did this week was on fanfic and blog posts.

  1. Began work on my drow headcanon post.
  2. Worked on my drow headcanon post.
  3. Worked on Bright Future.
  4. Nothing
  5. Worked on Bright Future.
  6. Nothing
  7. Nothing

Here’s a sample from my drow headcanon post, for your delectation.

Given this, I believe that drow culture is deeply selfish, and that most individual drow see no harm in shoving another one in front of the metaphorical bus. (Purple worm? Demon prince?) This leads naturally to the belief that anyone you screw over probably brought it on themselves.

That is evil. But it’s not mustache-twirling, “let’s arrange overly complex tortures for our enemies” evil. As I said at one point re: my boy Jorlan: while he’s definitely suffered in drow society, it’s mostly through neglect. No one’s ever gone out of their way to be cacklingly evil to him, because that is simply more fucks than anyone has ever given for him.

And, honestly? I find that utter disregard more evil, more terrifying, than any overly creative torture some teenaged fanboy would come up with.