Moving Shop

Ben and Thomas seduced me into this; after spending some time musing about WordPress, I've migrated Raven Swallows the Sun to a new address, http://njyar.thesmerf.com/blog/. See you there.


....design flash

What happens if I take that wuxia thing and stir it up with Snow From Korea?

Conversations with Jonathan have cleared up my understanding of low-impact design and gotten some wheels turning in both our heads, I think. This is a good day to be a designer.


Introspection ~ Epiphany

So, there are a lot of playstyles that I find incomprehensible. There was a time when I considered them pathological, but I think I'm over that now. I think I figured out my mental block! But they still make me nervous.

See, the way I see it, roleplaying games consist of three important components, in a strict hierarchy. There is a game system which induces roleplay, which consists of tiny stories which describe imaginary experiences. Importantly, each layer controls and constrains the layer inside it; the system shapes the stories shape the imaginary situation.

I strongly feel that the best play, for me, is play where this structure is acknowledged, understood, and used. That means that all play begins and ends at system; if I primarily want to play with an interesting system, then the stories and imagined events take a backseat. If I want to tell stories of a particular form, then I obtain a system that induces that form. If I want to imagine particular experiences, then I get a system that induces stories that evoke those experiences.

Styles of play where upper layers get thrown out of balance severely disorient me. Jonathan's recent discussions of low system-impact play and the related discussions of immersion set me floundering, because this is play that, by its very nature, cannot adhere to the hierarchy as I have set it out; as I understand it, these playstyles ultimately seek to discard overt system, in favor of either stories or experiences (which, I might add, are doubly disorienting because they are fictional and it appears to be a related goal of immersion to ignore this).

Because of the design potential of highly covert system, I still find design for these styles intriguing; I can steal from them to serve my own ends.

But that's not going to make me less nervous around them.


Self-Serving Cupcakes

When I was younger, chocolate cake was my festival food of choice. There were some weirdos I knew who liked yellow cake or shudder carrot cake, but for me it was always chocolate. Those other things, they weren't cakes; they were barely acceptable vehicles for icing. (If I wanted a carrot sweet, then I could have gajar ka halwa, which is about a billion times better than carrot cake.) I still feel this way about angel food—it seems like a rubbery, spongy thing that you might use as a structural element in one of those layered pudding-and-fruit affairs, but not serve as a dessert in its own right.

When I discovered custard and cannoli, I forgot cake for a time. For years, delicate almond-flour confections held my heart.

But, like a forgotten tulip patch, it comes back. I made chocolate cupcakes today.

These are from Nigella Lawson's recipe for chocolate birthday cake, in How to Eat; the chocolate flavor is not as intense as I would have liked, and so next time I do this I will make chibi-brownies.

But the texture is not bad at all, and the deep, bitter coffee ganache (I cheated, Nigella does not specify this) balances the slightly excessive sweetness of the cake; it saves me from thinking I am eating kiddie food.

And it feels good, baking cake for no reason whatever.


The Wonders of Modern Technology

"I am not sure about these thing," says Birds-of-Trinity.

"Then perhaps you should consider this model! It is powered by the uncertain nature of things." The salesman smiles, but his eyes are full of fear.

Birds-of-Trinity examines the fingernail laser katanas critically. "Well, these are certainly adequately sharp." There is a noise, like a knife being drawn across a whetstone. Backward. "Hm. Well, it appears that they are acceptably long." There is a sound, like a snail retreating into its shell. "Mister Gingerbread, this does not appear to be well-suited to my disposition."

"No," he replies, shaking his head. "It is a weapon for the tentative."

"Birds-of-Trinity is not tentative! Show me the other ones again, the ones powered by nameless dread."

Some time later...

"What impertinence is this?!" Birds-of-Trinity's fingers flare with violet light. It slashes the reciept she is holding into four ribbons. The light brightens. "They didn't tell me about the installation fee for the irritation module!" The light turns blue. "And now I can't return them!" Green-gold. She checks herself, about to make a fist. She slaps her palm on the table. There is a smell of smoke and a clattering, and she falls.

Far away, a salesman chuckles. They all seem to think the irritation module is such a good idea.


So I Wanted Madeleines...

...or like financiers or mignardises or something. There is nothing like the creamy, moist texture of almond cakes. The contrast of the firm crown of the cakes and the melting pedestal holding them up is irresistible.

It's a good thing Clotilde knows how to make those, and I had mini baking cups, because otherwise I'd have had to go to the bakery.

1c sugar
1 1/4c almond meal
zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs
2/3c butter
1/4c flour

So, I didn't have almond meal. Who has time to go to the gourmet market in the middle of the week? Well, yes, I do. I didn't, though. Just blanched some almonds and ground them up in the processor. I think I could have gotten a more elegantly delicate texture from professionally ground almonds, which I will try next time. As it was, they had tiny, rustic but not unpleasant, toothy fragments of almond floating about inside. The real kicker was the smell: a heavenly, floral fragrance, like perfume from many years ago.

Stir together the sugar, almonds, and zest; break up lumps with a fork. Add the eggs, and the butter, melted. I beat this all together with one of those stick blenders, which probably incorporated some air into the batter as well. Last, add the flour and stir in well.

Pour into your moulds of choice—ideally, financier pans, but you can get adorable tiny cupcake foils at the supermarket—and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for ten to twenty minutes, depending on the size of your mould. Take them out immediately when they start to take on visible colour. They're done. They'll still be sticky on top until they have had some time to cool, and the centres should remain moist and spongy.

Contemplate a single rose while peeling these one-by-one and devouring them all in one piece, or more daintily, in bites, spreading a marmalade with a proper bitter streak.


It Began at the Water

It danced there, on the sand, on the water. The wind howled and sang a melody for it, and it kept time by naming the beats of the two-headed drum: dhinak dhinak dhin dhin dha, dhinak dhin...Was it a woman? Was it a man? Now yes, now no, now, perhaps. It was white. It flickered.

It was a god.

They could tell by the way it moved, or didn't move: the way its scarves hung stiff as paper in the thrashing sea airs until it turned its eyes to them; the way it would strike a pose and then suddenly be uncoiling from a different one; they saw it in the pale flash of its eyes and the lazy extension of its limbs. It flickered. They stood behind the dunes and the trees and watched.

Most of all, they could tell it because it was more a performance than a performer; a painting of a dancer. It flickered, and it smudged.

The hush of admiration for a god's unleashed beauty became a hush of impatient preparation, as the god ascended to heaven on the crest of a silver hill. They had noticed, at last, that as its feet touched the sand as it danced, as it threw shells from its hands, all these things were glazed with a layer of whiteness. Everything the god touched was turning into pearls.

Árichesja Raven-Swallows-the-Sun later said of the theophany, "That was when the war began."


Refining UCS

Some refinements and clarifications from the RPGnet thread:


  • A simple damage success generates a -1 dot wound.
  • A difficult success generates a -2 dot wound.
  • A legendary success causes a -3 dot wound.

You may perform a "called shot" at a difficulty of the defender's Essence. A simple success causes a -1 dot wound; a difficult success causes a -1 dot wound to the Accuracy or Defence Attribute.

This makes it a little easier for high-end Exalted to wear down their inferiors to helplessness.

No, I Die!

When you suffer the consequences of defeat, you may choose to die. Describe the way you do so. Your consequences of victory occur, if this is possible (as when your goal is something like save Yuanyin's life or obtain the Green Destiny, and they do so in the most permanent fashion reasonable; if you obtained an item by dying, then twists of fate will keep that item in obscurity until your spark's next incarnation remembers your epic death and seeks it out.


For each damage success against an extra group, defeat one extra. This is just a cinematic thing; I think extras are a little too annoying to deal with in the default.

Ox-Body Technique & Healing

Radical changes ahoy! Since I don't have HLs, I can't use OBT to add those; instead, they'll have to be repaired some other way. Haven't figured out the details of this.

Anytime you would regain Willpower outside a conflict, you may recover your Essence in Ability dots, or one Attribute dot. I award stunts a lot, so this will probably work for me.


Clarification: An effect you obtain by stake-setting and winning a conflict can only be negated by defeating you in another conflict.

Other comments and questions are of course welcome.


Indian-Style Chicken Satay

This won't turn into a food blog permanently, promise.

So, everyone has enjoyed satay, those beautiful skewers of rippling grilled meat, bright gold from their marinade, at a Malay or Thai restaurant. What makes them so delicious?

They are impossible to make, I say, and the sheer unfamiliarity makes them fascinating. Or, rather, the seasonings that go into satay marinade are hard to come by in an American kitchen—galangal, lemongrass, tamarind, fresh turmeric—and some are strange to American tastes; one source calls for a small amout of belacan, Malay fermented shrimp paste.

Being that I live in an Indian kitchen, though, I thought I could approximate. Looking around, I found that the marinade's built around a foundation of equal parts cumin and coriander. That's easy enough. Turmeric on top of that, for the yellow colour; easy. Sugar. Garlic. After this the ingredient lists start to diverge. Lemongrass! one cries. Fish sauce, lemon juice! another declaims.

It seems like these are establishing the sour and salty aspects of the marinade. I went for salt and Worcestershire sauce (I have fish sauce, but I'm serving people who don't like it) for salty, and tamarind for sourness; as I recall, it's also a fair tenderiser for meats, which will be nice. I find lemon toughens things, and lemongrass imparts a lot of fragrance but not much taste. One recipe calls for anise, which I thought intriguing, and another for chili powder—neither seems particularly authentic but they are welcome.

The recipe I ended up using looked something like this:

  • 1 teaspoon each: Cumin, coriander, red chile powder*, sugar, turmeric
  • 1 clove: Garlic
  • 1 pod: Star anise
  • A splash: Tamarind concentrate, Worcestershire sauce (I didn't really measure these; start with a half teaspoon of each and adjust up.)
  • 1 Tablespoon: Vegetable oil
  • As needed: Salt & pepper, water

Grind the star anise and spices (except the turmeric, it'll stain your spice grinder) together to make a find powder; mince the garlic or pound it to a paste. Add to the sugar, tamarind, turmeric, Worcestershire sauce, and oil. Mix well, adding water to make a smooth thin paste. Adjust seasoning if needed. Marinate 1 pound of meat overnight in this marinade.

The anise is very intense here; though it seems like cooking it subdues the almost overpowering smell of the marinade, it is a little stronger than I liked. I'd use half a pod (four lobes) next time. I'd also increase the amount of chile powder; the spiciness didn't come through the other flavors at all. Nonetheless, it looked exactly right, and the flavor came reasonably close to restaurant-style satay, so I think it'll be even better with the changes I described. Possibly also add salt.

It was nice on ciabatta with peanut sauce and mâche, but the greens were a little too tender for the sandwich overall. Some wilted spinach might have done the job more gracefully, if less beautifully.

*: This refers to the powder of dried red chiles, not the chile-based spice mixture.

Xin Chao and the Legend of Buildings

The saga of Vakhriyya Dawndrinker does not begin on the dawn of that chilly day when she sailed across the Sea of Years in her grey driftwood ship.

Nor does it begin some millennia before her birth, when Rustam on his ship of flowers landed here, when he and Allevih the witch and Durat the swordsmith became two kings and a queen, and ruled with great honesty and craftiness and glory.

Nor does it begin some hundreds of years later, when those three sailed away on the counsel of dreams, leaving their empire to collapse.

The saga of Vakhriyya Dawndrinker begins long before that, in a forgotten place in forgotten years, when Xin Chao tended his goats among the long grasses. They grazed day and night, uncaring, because Xin Chao's heart was like the sun.

Then the winds came to the hills of Xin, and with them the dust and the black kites that beat at Xin Chao with their wings and tore his flesh with their claws. Then Xin Chao's blood came out onto the red earth.

Then the rains came to the hills of Xin, soaking the goats and washing Xin Chao's blood into the red rivers and red streams.

Then the darkness came to the hills of Xin, the clicking darkness of velvet spiders and ebony wasps and onyx scorpions with stingers held high, and when Xin Chao gasped in fright he breathed them in and drowned in them.

Yet Xin Chao was undaunted, because his heart was like the sun.

So he took his sword and he crushed the spiders and he beat back the rain and he cut the wind's wings so that it could no longer fly, and he said to his long-suffering goats, "My heart is like the sun, but yours are not, and so I will build you a...a building! A building that will shelter you from outside as my heart shelters me from inside.

So he took his sword and he cut trees and reeds and blocks of earth and he built a...a building. He put his goats inside.

Then when the winds and rains and darkness came, they washed up against the...the building's walls, and were beaten back, and Xin Chao sat on the top of a hill and laughed, and they slunk away, muttering bitter, bitter oaths.

Thousands of years later, Vakhriyya Dawndrinker awoke to hear curses on the wind.