Friday, October 17, 2014

Small words

I live in a small town were we use small words. We have diminutives for everything, including "everything". In Spanish everything or all is "todo" and the diminutive of everything is "todito". We have small trees ("arboles") called "arbolitos", and small cars ("autos") called "autitos", but it doesn't stop there; we have small favors ("favores") called "favorcitos" and small mornings ("mañana") called "mañanita"; the same applies for night "nochecita" and afternoon "tardecita". If you want to say to someone that he or she is a bit of an obnoxious prankster you'd say "How [small] funny you are today" (Que graciocito estas hoy).

Why is this? I can tell you upfront it isn't because we think so small we use small words ;)

To find the roots of this we need to go the some of the basics of the Nahuatl language, the language of the Aztecs who ruled over the vast majority of central and southern Mexico. It is here were things get interesting for those who enjoy alignment languages and the usage of language as a game element. The use of diminutives is common in the central and southern parts of Mexico, but not so in the northern states.

The Nahuatl language has the suffix "-tsintli" or "-tzintli" that is used on words when the speaker is showing reverence. Some sources indicate the suffix "-tzin" and "-tli", with -tli added to substantives and -tzin alone for adjectives, pronouns, forenames, etc. .  Water "atl" becomes atsintli  or small water, rock "tetl" becomes tetsintli, child or kid "pili" becomes piltsintli and house "kali" would be kaltsintli.

Some sources I've researched relate this suffix to the Spanish diminutive suffix "-cito" or "-ito". So when someone says they appreciate the hospitality of your "small" home they're not insulting by saying your mansion, castle or palace is small. When being served in a tavern and you're asked if they should bring you a small beer and a small bbq rib your character shouldn't take offense. Your character isn't going to be served a minuscule piece of pork and sip of beer, quite the contrary. Nonetheless you can see how this can get really ugly really fast, specially with a dwarf in the party.

Responding to the dwarven patron of the tavern that his small ale and small pork ribs have a small flavor can get your character bruised up bad. Not knowing how to use the proper terms at a given time can have dire consequences. This gives a new dimension to language skills, guild slang and culture knowledge. It can be helpful in finding out relationships between NPCs. For example Aztecs had two types of speak, the normal one and the aforementioned one with the -tzinlti suffix. Brothers and friends use the common tongue to speak with each other, but the reverential tongue to speak with a parent or godparent. Event friends who build a godparent relationship through a child will begin using only the reverential tongue.

Applied in game a NPC may give away her or his relationship to another NPC simply by the words used. Is there a hidden allegiance? Is the NPC a superior or subordinate? Do the words they speak mean literally what they say or is there a hidden message understood only if you know the relationship between both speakers?

How do you put your character's language, culture and lore knowledge skills to play in your game?


The enemy within

Author's note Dec. 31 2014,  Tracy thanks for taking the time to read this post it would have been great if you had done so a few months back when I wrote it. Sorry to see it took you so long to find it. Maybe if you hadn't blocked me? On that note I'd like to add that I'd love to continue our conversation on this matter if you're up to it. Are you? Or will you prove everyone else right by hiding behind G+'s block feature?

BTW thanks for the extra traffic!

Carry on...

I usually keep away from commenting on the whole gamergate issue unless it is something that warrants highlighting as is the case of this article brought to light to me by +Tracy Hurley last week. The article titled "Misogyny and the Female Body in Dungeons & Dragons" develops some points by misquoting the original articles. Tracy's response to me highlighting those points was, should I say, less than professional, and eventually led to a blocking (apparently a common habit of hers). Now if the whole gamergate issue is supposedly about questioning journalistic ethics, which it isn't, it is simply unacceptable to feed these trolls by giving them a reason to point out unethical journalistic practices in the group that supports female rights. Tracy brings up a post that misquotes the original articles to point out issues with gender equality. As rightful as the author's position may be, one can't simply do this kind of thing and walk out unscathed.

If the bogus idea that gamergate is about journalistic ethics is to be trampled, actions like this can't be tolerated. This is like planting or faking evidence in a trial. If caught, the criminal walks, no matter how guilty. The fact that Tracy is willing to go to such an extent as to reference or promote such articles and in doing so open the doors to the trolls to do more damage under the guise of "journalistic ethics" leads me to believe that Tracy isn't interested in the well being of women, she's interested in the well being of the fight. The fight gives her purpose and to perpetuate the fight women she can never let them be seen as equal to men, she is the enemy within.

The article addresses two old Dragon Magazine articles and raises a few points: female characters are limited in classes they can be and taking the thief as an example it claims the thief character is sub-par to its male counterpart. Added to that Tracy claims the rules are portrayed as "special" as if women were an appendix or afterthought. The article as written seems pretty convincing unless you happen to have copies of those two Dragon Magazine issues, as is my case. When you read the original articles you get a different and much broader picture.

Two Dragon Magazine articles are referenced "Len Lakofka. “Notes on Women & Magic — Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D.” The Dragon 1.3 (October 1976), pp. 7-10." and "P.M. Crabaugh. “Weights & Measures, Physical Appearance and Why Males are Stronger than Females; in D&D. The Dragon 2.4, pp.19-20. (October 1977)"

With these two magazines at hand lets go point by point:

Female characters are limited in the classes they can be.

Aaron, the article's author, makes an issue of the usage of the word may. Lakofka, the Dragon's article author wrote "There will be four major groups in which women may enter. They may be FIGHTERS, MAGIC USERS, THIEVES and CLERICS.", so based on this Aaron claims it is "clearly sexist language employed in this article (where Lakofka allows women to participate in game fictions through his use of the word “may”)".

Aaron fails to lookup the characters at the time and realize that at the time those were the available classes. If we reference the Moldvay Basic Red Rules (January, 1981, five years after the Dragon article) page B9 clearly reads "A human may be a cleric, fighter, magic-user or thief" Take note that Moldvay uses the word "may" regardless of player or character gender. Lakofka isn't limiting women; fighters, magic users, thieves and clerics was all there was back then.

The thief character is sub-par to its male and basically a sex symbol.

Aaron goes on showing how female characters are less capable when fighting than male ones by using the thief as an example and also focuses heavily on the charm and seduction powers of the thief to drive the point that this is stereotypical and portrays women as using their beauty and body to get what they want. Once again reading the Dragon Magazine article and knowing the rules of the time we see that that thieves did not have the fighting skill of the fighter class, and in particular the female thief requires less XP per level and is multi-classing with magic user. Magic users don't have the fighting skills of fighters, is it no wonder this is conveyed in the rules to these thief-magic-users as well? Aaron focuses on a set of spells he deems sexist, but hides the fact that the female character also has the following spells light, read languages, tarot reading, sleep, mirror image, detect magic, ESP and knock. So less with XP per level and magic use, no wonder fighting skills get hit a bit. Aaron does not do a comparison adjusted by XP and magic power, he just claims "Lakofka works to show the ways in which women fight at a disadvantage to men in a variety of contexts" and leaves it at that.

As a player who, like many of you, has played more than the uber strong fighter I know there's more to overcoming challenges in a dungeon than sword swinging yourself out of a problem. Is Aaron actually reducing the options of women by stating that the only relevant feature of a character is her fighting skill? I believe there's more potential to a thief-magic-user than just sword fighting.

Women rules are portrayed as "special" as if women were and afterthought.

Since the article focuses only on women Tracy goes on to claim this is sexist because "the default is thief is male whereas special rules are needed for a female thief".

Now aside from Lakofka's modified XP levels and spell powers, the second Dragaon article by Crabaugh brings up some modifiers like + 2 CON, + 1 DEX and - 1 STR for female characters. Tracy sees this as "special rules", now she needs to be reminded that math lacks gender and

women + 2 = men + 3, is just the same as: women = men + 1

If the article provides + 2 CON, + 1 DEX and - 1 STR modifiers to women, it could very well been written as - 2 CON, - 1 DEX and + 1 STR modifiers for men. The article would then be centered around men and the so called "default thief" in the rulebook would then be female. All it took was to multiply everything by - 1 and your whole argument got debunked Tracy.

The default is not male as Tracy claims, the default is male and female and only after the Dragon Magazine modifiers are applied does the reference points change, and the reference can be either male or female.


After pointing out the issues with the article Tracy's response came along with some unfit language and when I asked for a structured rebuttal or comment on my comment I got this and was quickly blocked afterwards.

Now I've never played with gender differences like the ones mentioned in the article nor of any other type. Yet that doesn't mean I'm going to accept an article like this as valid. You can't prove the right thing by the wrong means Tracy and your means are obviously wrong.

I see comments out of context to make them seem sexists. I see parts of the articles hidden to emphasize the difference between men and women to make women seem "less" than men. I don't see a thorough analysis that would show that women are equal if not better than men. A tunnel-vision focus on fighting without portraying the other aspects of the character class and its impact on roleplay. 

Overall I see a construction of arguments based on false or biased quotes of the reference material. When this is pointed out the response is to block me so the article deficiencies can't be refuted. To what purpose if not to perpetuate the fight? To what purpose if not to support biased journalism?

We need more than awareness to "level the field between men and women in D&D" as Tracy mentions in her post. We need to move forward and provide working solutions to achieve this. From Tracy I get the following: a misquote of some 35 year old articles, a refusal to have a conversation and a lack of a "fix" aside from "throw it away". It's 35 years old Tracy, are you trying to regurgitate the past to get more fuel to drive your war?

Many of us want a greater representation of women in the hobby, we want a level field, we want this for minorities too, but you undermine this. This is like court, no matter how sure you are the suspect is guilty you can't make up evidence. If you do, the suspect walks.

Tracy, I've tried to be impartial with your position towards others in the past, but now I see you don't want a level field between men and women, you want a fight. A perpetual fight that leads you to dig deep into the past so you may falsely portray an unlevel field so you may continue fighting. You're not interested in the well being of women, in equality, in representation, you're interested in the well being of the fight. You're the enemy within.

The original exchange can be read here

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tzotltlan, the unclean city

In the midst of a luscious jungle valley crossed by vast rivers and decorated by beautiful waterfalls stands Tzotltlan. A city that coexists harmoniously with its surroundings and has the most magnificent gardens in all Itza. They race up the sides of the huge pyramids in wide decorated terraces that hold the most exotic of plants and animals in the realm. As with others cities in Itza its beauty also hides a horrible secret. It is a city of sorcery, infamous rituals, tyrannic and temperamental rulers, sacrifice, vice and an 85% humidity every day of the year. What would make you live in this city? Only the promise of immortality.

Tzotltlan is home to the gatekeeper and guide of the underworld of Mictlan, the great Xolotl. He is the evil twin brother of Quetzalcoatl who guides not only the souls of men to the underworld, but the Sun itself through its daily passage every night. In western terms he is Charon to Ra. He is both an evil version of Venus and a god thoughtful of the interests of mankind. He created man alongside Quetzalcoatl and helped it emerge from the shadows of by giving mankind the fires of wisdom.

Legend says that in the beginning of this era, the fifth sun, Xolotl went to the underworld Mictlan with Quetzalcoatl and together they stole the bones of past men from the underworld god Mictlantecuhtli. From these remains the made race of men was made. Then, to set the fifth sun in motion, the gods sacrificed themselves to start the new era, but Xolotl, fearful of death, fled from the executioner. First he transformed into a plant of corn, but when discovered he ran again only to transform himself into a maguey plant and once again hide from his executioner. When his executioner found him again he fled into the waters transforming into a axolotl ( a salamander like amphibian ) and was finally captured and killed in this form. He is a god that fears death and rejects it at all costs, using transformations to escape it. So do Xolotl's followers who live in Tzotltlan seek to escape death by the power of transformation.

Unlike other cities in which death is an accepted aspect of life that both closes and opens the cycle of life, those living in Tzotltlan reject this destiny preferring that others pay the price of this cycle of life. Tzotltlan is full of nahuales, shapeshifting sorcerers, warlocks and witch-priests who use their powers to extend their lives beyond their natural limit. This is usually in the form of rituals involving human sacrifice of the most horrible nature so that others may fill their place in the underworld of Mictlan and please the undeworld's god Mictlantecuhtli thirst for new souls.

Tzotltlan also houses the Ahuiateteo (or macuiltonaleque) the five hunchback dwarven gods of vice. They are: Five Vulture (Macuilcozcacuauhtli) god of gluttony, Five Lizard (Macuilcuetzpalin) god of pride, Five Weed (Macuilmalinalli) god of lust and envy, Five Flower (Macuilxochitl) god of gambling and games, and Five Rabbit (Macuiltochtli) god of alcoholic beverages. Rituals, offerings and sacrifices are done to gain the favor of these gods and fill the ever emptier lives of those who live forever in Tzotltlan. If this were not enough the common folk or unaware traveler may directly fall prey to these gods, as it is known of them to come out during certain days of the calendar.

There are nine great pyramids that stand above all other pyramids and structures in Tzotltlan. One for each of the nine circles of the underworld, and each is said to hold a portal or gate into their corresponding circle. Through them the priests can bring back the dead, condemn the living and obtain information from wandering spirits of the underworld. This is a place were the barrier between life and death fades away and the dead are thought to be as alive as the living. Great undead armies have been seen rising from these pyramids. Horrible tortures have been performed on the dead relatives of traitors and enemies in the interest of obtaining information and knowledge that will further the city-state's interests.

In Tzotltlan this morning's sacrifices are the evening's armies. Death is the currency paid to perpetuate life. Those who live in Tzotltlan have become masters of this skill and this has made Tzotltlan the longest standing empire in Itza, an empire spanning millennia.

Eons of rituals have harnessed, within these teocalli (9 temple pyramids), the powers of life and death, even the supreme powers of dusk and dawn. Control the rise and setting of the Sun and you control the destiny of every man in Itza. While Tzotltlan is a religious and intellectual superpower plagued with vice its military might should not be underestimated.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Papaloatlitlan Butterfly City

Been doing some world building work these last few weeks on my prehispanic RPG, Papaloatlitlan is the product of this, one of the great altepetls or city-states in Itza. Governed by the huey tlatoani (pronounced wey or wey-ji tlatoani) Huitzilihuitl (hummingbird feather) Papaloatlitlan dominates the western lands of the realm of Itza.

From high above the city in the greatest teocalli or temple Huitzilihuitl levies taxes and offerings from the surrounding altepetls (city-states). Supported by his army led by the brave butterfly warriors he maintains a tight control over his realm and constantly wars with distant city-states to increase his power and might in the name of Itzpapalotl, patron goddess of the city.

The city is a marvel of civil and military engineering. Its canals and causeways provide a means to bring clean water in, take soiled water out, water the gardens and fields and allow merchant ships to easily dock in the tianquiztli, one of the largest markets in the land. In it goods arrive from distant realms by sea, land and even air, as is the case of trade with the cloud city of Coamixtlan.

The market is so big it could rival the size of a medium sized medieval city. In it all sorts of goods are traded: cloth, feathers, cacao beans, coffee, cotton, yute or jute, oil, salt, corn and bean grains, chiles, flowers, spices from distant lands, fresh fish, hueyxolotl (turkey) among other foods such as vegetables and herbs. Also highly prized meals such as fried crickets, maguey worms, and ant and mosquito eggs are sold in the market. Alongside these goods a more valuable item is traded: information. Merchants are known to be spies too. The hear stories, observe the city and report back to their lord. Peace in the land is a fragile and hard to keep thing. Dominating states wish to break free of Papaloatlitlan control and further their own interests and those of their tlatoani.

Surrounding Papaloatlitlan a vast expanse of land is farmed to produce some of the greatest products in the realm and feed one of its largest cities. Peasants farm the land planting corn, the staple food of the land, as well as cotton, henequen, beans and flowers, lots of flowers. Fruits such as mango, bananas and pineapples are also cultivated and traded in the great market. Other goods that are grown and even serve as currency are cacao and coffee beans.

The farmlands are vast and rather empty areas. Spotted here and there with small farming villages or even as little as a few houses. Beautiful and colorful as it is during the day the land is unquestionably dangerous, specially at night. Wayobs and nahuales (were-like creatures and sorcerers) tend to venture out at night looking for prey and victims for their hideous magical rituals. People tend to stay home during the dark hours and journey only over the main roads and trading routes of which the city-states lacks very little of being the trade hub of all the kingdom. The land and roads are usually patrolled by the armies of the king led by one or two warrior-priests, usually a butterfly warrior. They help keep dangers at bay and remind the common folk that the king is always watching.

Located close to the ocean and within eye's reach of the east mountains Papaloatlitlan holds a stranglehold on trade in the area. Movement between the low coastal lands of the north and south is regulated by the city-state. Tight military control of the main passages through the mountains also ensure tribute to the great king Huitzilihuitl. This has ensured the dominance over the past fivehundred years and lead to one of the most powerful city-states known in Itza. A city state that holds total and unquestionable military, cultural and religious dominance over its subject states.

The city has become an important cultural center in which many rulers from allied or dominated kingdoms send their children, or are kindly invited to send their children to learn the art of war and the matters of religion in the calmecac. In the calmecac the children learn to be strong and powerful soldiers who will fill the ranks of the butterfly warriors and further the military interests of the king. They also learn about religion, all that relates to the gods and pleasing them, particularly the patron goddess Itzpapalotl ("obsidian butterfly").

Itzpapalotl, the patron of the city, is the fearsome skeletal warrior goddess who rules over Tamoanchan, the paradise for those victims of infant mortality and the land in which man was created. She is considered to be one of the cihuateteo, women who died during childbirth and are honored as fallen warriors. Their patron days are the beginning of the westward trecenas (thirteen day "weeks" in the 260 day calendar): 1 Deer, 1 Rain, 1 Monkey, 1 House, and 1 Eagle. During these days the cihuateteos descend to Earth and wreak havoc in the land, and are known to hunt crossroads, kidnapping and killing men, women and children alike.

To please the goddess the priests and warriors work continuously to keep the city in good terms with the goddess. Rituals and a close observance of the calendar are followed to the letter. The calmecac (noble school) teaches the soon to be warrior priests how to perform all the rituals and how to properly wage war against the enemy. War is both a military and religious endeavor.

The butterfly warriors are a group of highly specialized warrior-priests. Equivalent to at least captain and bishop, they are obscure figures who wage war in a dark moth like outfit that serves both as a military and religious outfit. It is the armor of the soldier, but also a source of divine power in the battlefield.

Their constantly bloodshot eyes light up as bright red balls of light during battle. Instilling fear into enemy troops. Their deadly macuahuitl (obsidian sword) will not only tear legs, arms and heads of their enemies, it will also seep in their victim's blood and regenerate the very sharp but rather fragile obsidian blades. The more victims they take the sharper and more powerful the weapon and its wielder become.

Yet the end of battle is not the end of the ritual. After defeating the enemy the butterfly warriors and the common troops devour the dead enemy soldiers, keeping the hearts for the butterfly warriors and feeding the rest to the common troop or macehualtzin. Those who survive the battle and fall prisoner to the butterfly warriors are taken back to Papaloatlitlan to serve as human sacrifice to the gods, particularly in the key trecena days (1 Deer, 1 Rain, 1 Monkey, 1 House, and 1 Eagle) when the cihuateteo are expected to descend to Earth.

Offers of sacrifice usually keep the cihuateteo at bay, usually. Sometimes their power or thirst becomes so great it is impossible to keep them back. This is particularly true when the Moon defeats the Sun and blocks it out of the day sky or during the five unstable Nemontemi days of the year count (365 day year). It is during these times that the cihuateteo descend to Earth followed their legion of the most feared inhabitants of Tamoanchan (the paradise in which Itzpapalotl lives), the dreaded Tzitzimimeh.

These bony creatures with clawed hands and feet descend from the stars during the darkest moments of the day to devour all that stands in their way. They are hideous creatures with dark obsidian skin and very sharp obsidian like claws. They have a bony neck and face and a large ornamented head. From their neck hands seem to stick out and are surrounded with the hearts and blood of their victims. They have a long tongue that comes out to strike their victims, tearing their heart out and drinking their blood. Their tongues and mouths are always soiled in blood and dripping the precious liquid from the hearts ripped out by the tzitzimimeh. From their back a snake like tail protrudes with a sharp obsidian tip the size of a small sword. It swings left and right ready to strike with blinding speed.

Here a tzitzimimeh is offered blood, hearts and flesh in return for the well being of the people.

Only one creature in our present day science fiction depicts the tzitzimimeh well and honors not only its image, but also its deadly nature.

Welcome to Papaloatlitlan, the butterfly city. I hope you enjoy your stay.

Image sources