A rebuttal to some random post on r/rpghorrorstories

I don’t have a Reddit account. The reason I choose not to have one is to ensure I can’t actually post anything to one of the many subreddits I lurk. I have the kind of defective monkey brain where, if I see someone being WRONG ON INTERNET I will bang the keyboard with my face and hands until the poor unsuspecting target knows how wrong he’s being. This is, of course, unhealthy behavior, but I find that the urge to pee all over a wrong person who is wrong passes pretty quickly. Say, by the time it takes to register a Reddit account, I probably won’t want to pee on anyone.

I feel compelled to pick apart this story I found on r/rpghorrorstories, though. Not in a “THAT GUY IS WRONG RAARR” way, but in a “there’s more to this story than the guy is telling” way. It, like many of the tales on r/rpghorrorstories, is the tale of a poor, innocent player who had a draconian DM that tried to kill everyone, failed (because the player is just that wily and resourceful, I guess?), and then yelled at everyone.

You can read the story in its entirety at this link, at least until it gets moved or delisted or whatever, I guess I don’t really know how Reddit archival works: reddit.com/r/rpghorrorstories/comments/awiwmv/thats_not_the_way_that_i_say_concentration_works/

Before picking apart the actual story, I should probably explain that I don’t actually believe most of the stories on this subreddit are real. Reddit (or, at least the subreddits I tend to lurk) is a site where people share experiences with each other, and being part of that kind of community pressures you to share the most interesting experiences you can, which gives people incentive to lie. If you lurk at a community for a while, it’s really easy to start picking up on the social mores they work by, and concocting a riveting story to capture everyone’s attention is a snap. So, every story I read on this and other similar subreddits, I try to take with a grain of salt.

This particular story, though, I found very interesting because I believe a version of it actually happened. Not the version related by OP, to be sure; there’s too much selective memory and lily-gilding for that. But OP shares just enough interesting details about his experience with this DM — more than he probably intended — that reveal the parts of the story that went left unsaid. Here are some conclusions I drew:

  • The DM in the story is probably a jerk. I doubt I would enjoy playing at his table.
  • The players in this story are just as complicit in the eventual blow-up that destroyed the table, if not more so.
  • The OP almost certainly has not run a game himself. His only D&D experience is as a player.

I’ll explain why I think these things as I go. (I’m omitting some stuff from the post; you can read its entirety in the link above, if you like.)

Now, we’d already been having a few issues with the DM by the time I rejoined the group.

You don’t play D&D with someone you have issues with as a DM. I mean, you might sit at the table with them and roll dice and talk about orcs or whatever, but bad blood at the table never translates into good D&D. I remember a lot of games in my early 20s with DMs we had “had issues with”; we would actively try to sabotage those games, because it was the only reliable way to have fun with them. (I, of course, don’t recommend doing this.)

So, either this player identified issues with this DM, and then decided not to talk to them like an adult and help them improve, in which case what was he expecting… or he did voice his concerns (in a rational and polite way) and the DM, in his infinite maliciousness, decided to ignore or punish him. In which case, what was he expecting.

Don’t play at tables you know are sour. Use the time to find a better table.

He claimed to hate railroading the story, but then would refuse to let us have side quests or anything interesting that we requested–either it was his story or nothing.

I feel this DM’s pain. I know firsthand how much players hate being railroaded, and so of course I would tell any group of players that I wasn’t going to try railroading them. Of course it doesn’t logically follow that I’m now responsibile to give them “anything interesting that they requested.” That’s absurd.

At my table, it is absolutely “my story or nothing”. I spend hours every week writing and planning and putting things together. If my players adamantly refuse to engage with any of it, well, yeah, they get nothing. In practice this doesn’t happen with either of my current groups, because I game with nice people who buy into the social contract that 1) I’m not going to waste their time and 2) they shouldn’t actively try to undermine all my planning.

It’s this idea that players have some right to an interesting game, even if they ignore all the DM’s writing and planning, that piqued my interest about this horror story. There is fault on both sides of the table.

He was very much one of those Player vs DM people, and viewed the players winning encounters as ‘losing’.

This is a red flag that pops up a lot in the various D&D forums and subreddits, this “vs. players” DM that is unfairly antagonistic. Having played with many bad DMs over the years, I am highly skeptical that this sort of DM actually exists. The DM has infinite capacity to “beat” the players. Just say, “And then five more orcs show up!” until the players are all dead or until everyone gets bored and leaves. Beating the players is trivially easy.

The alternative makes absolutely no sense. A DM who honestly views players winning encounters as “losing” should… logically… never have more than one encounter per campaign? Right? The very first combat encounter is a TPK, because he can throw titans and tyranosaurs and tarrasques at you? And then you all die and he wins?

I have another theory as to why this DM is so hostile, which we’ll explore later.

…I wanted to explain why my bard had left the group and leveled up to 7 in the process to be consistent with the rest of the party. I don’t remember the specifics, but it had something to do with…

…I pulled aside the DM and asked him if how he wanted to go about having my character meet back up with the party. That conversation is fuzzy for me, but it boiled down to me being told that my character was going to magically reappear with the group, even if I didn’t want to do it that way because his word as DM was law. Already not off to a great start, but I figured that it wasn’t a big enough deal to make a fuss over it.

I’ve bolded the line in these two quotes that make me feel like this story is embellished quite a lot. Isn’t it interesting how OP remembers very tiny details about this very long story, but has no head for specific information about his character or, indeed, interactions with the DM? In a true horror story that actually happened, you would think these details would be at the forefront of one’s mind.

In the parts OP does admit to remembering, though, we see a clear example of player antagonism. He’s joining a game already in progress, where presumably the DM is already engaged in a narrative with the other players. (Which puts the lie to “he always wants to win every encounter”, as noted previously, because the game is past its first encounter.) It’s perfectly fine to spend the time and energy working a new or returning character back into a story. It’s also perfectly fine to just hand-wave it, declare the character to be “magically there”, and get on with things. OP says this is a revolving door campaign, where players were coming and going all the time. I haven’t run a campaign like that in many years, but I remember driving myself mad trying to improvise story for every meeting and parting. If I were to run a game like that now, I wouldn’t bother trying. You’re magically there now, sure, fine, let’s do the adventure now, shall we?

Note too the binary in this player’s mind. if the DM does something he “didn’t want to do”, it’s because “his word as DM was law.” I have dealt with many players like this over the years, and even been one from time to time. There is a pervasive and possibly growing idea in the various online D&D communities that the DM’s job is to provide the players with funtimes, and give them whatever they want, and always have something great planned for any random or lulzy thing any player happens to do. It’s exhausting to think about.

Despite OP saying this isn’t a big deal, it was apparently a big enough deal for him to change his approach to the game. Specifically, when players feel like the DM is cheating them somehow (being overly adversarial, not giving them what they want, saying “my word is law”) they begin to check out of the game:

About a half-hour into the session, the party clearly is not interested in following the main lead that the DM has left us.

This isn’t really anyone’s fault; if you find yourself at a table you’re not a good fit for, and you’re not going to have fun whether you expend the good faith or not, why go to the effort? Even if this is just a simple disconnect in playstyle, and there should be no harm or foul, it can still cause problems for the table. And the player, who doesn’t feel he’s done anything wrong (because maybe he hasn’t!) sees in his part no blame for the game falling apart. And what’s left? Just the jerkass DM, of course.

This pattern of “the DM didn’t give us what we wanted, so let’s ignore his stuff, which causes him to give us even less of what we want, which makes us ignore even more of his stuff” becomes a self-feeding cycle. Let’s look what happens next:

More than one of the party members were trying to find a bounty board or some sort of lead for an odd job of sorts.

There is a lot to unpack in this statement.

First, a job board filled with bounties is a thing you find in video games. It is not a real thing or even a D&D thing. I have read countless prepared adventures during my time, dating all the way back to the 1970s, and I cannot recall one description of a town or tavern having a bounty board filled with low-effort combat encounters for the players to pick and choose from. The idea is ridiculous outside of its intended place as quick and dirty grind-quests in video games.

Second, this happened after the players already decided they didn’t want to do the DM’s prepared adventure. Here, I actually will hold the DM to blame. If you all sit down to play an adventure, and then all the players say, “We don’t want to play the adventure, point us to the job board!” the proper response is to close up all the books and end the session. Watch a movie or play Smash Bros. instead. If there’s no harm in refusing to play what the DM has planned (as OP has already agreed), surely there’s no harm in refusing to run a game only the players want. This DM wasn’t mature enough to make that call, to everyone’s detriment.

As a DM, I would be absolutely livid if all my players decided they didn’t want to play the adventure I prepped, but then insisted I run for them anyway. What a terrible way to treat someone. I’ve tried running games in that headspace before, and it’s barely possible. And oh look at what happens next in our horror story:

After a bit of huffing from the DM’s part, we’re given a bounty to kill some giant spiders in a nearby forest. Finally, some easy combat!

Note to all players everywhere: if your DM is huffing and puffing, he is not enjoying himself and something needs to change, fast. Why on earth would you, as a player, press on in a game where the DM is so clearly distressed? If this person is your friend, and you’ve put them in that situation accidentally, why would you double down?

Oh, phew, that’s right, because as a video-game-mentality player, all you care about is “easy combat”. And since the DM isn’t a person with feelings, him agreeing to give it to you means you can finally put all this silly “not getting exactly what I want” to bed, and get on with getting exactly what you want. Hooray! Everyone’s happy! (Except the DM but who cares.)

I’m going to summarize the actual encounter OP had in the forest, but I do want to quote this part:

We get to the forest, and it’s exactly what you would expect for a spider’s nest: webs covering everything. Eventually, the party’s path is blocked by a massive web covering the entire trail. After very little deliberation from the party, we decide to burn the web down in order to get past it. The second our party member says their torch touches the web, the entire forest goes up in flames.

This part is just funny to me because, yeah, if the webs are covering everything, and you set fire to the webs, then everything flammable is going to be on fire. The only way you can not expect this is if you’re approaching it as a video game, where the spider webs are flammable but the wood and branches they’re attached to aren’t. (See OP’s own admission in the comments section of his post!) This is a resonable DM call and it’s exactly what I’d do to my players if they took this action in a scene I had described in this way. Actions have consequences, and fire is a particularly destructive action.

So these players set the forest on fire, which causes a nearby spider demigod to take offense, and combat kicks in. Except it turns out — possibly because the DM is hot and not having fun — it’s not the “easy combat” the players want or expect. It turns out to be a harrowing battle against a demigod creature the DM adapted from 4th edition (which, of course, OP calls foul on).


Nobody at the table was mature enough to see the problems with this game, walk away, take deep breaths. So now everyone’s locked in this hatefuck of a spider encounter that the DM doesn’t want to run, the players don’t want to play, and everyone is made sufficiently miserable.

I’m actually a little impressed at how the DM handled this encounter. I’m pretty good at on-the-fly combat enounters, but I don’t think I could have cooked up something this interesting on zero notice when I was already in the headspace of, “These players don’t care about anything I spent work on this week.” A minor bounty against some spiders that turns into a tussle with a demigod in the middle of a huge ring of fire sounds so badass I might actually steal it and drop it in my own campaign.

Clever and blameless OP, paragon that he is, casts banishment on the demigod to buy his party some time to escape. (Which OP describes as “outwitting his death sentence”, and we’ve already established why that’s dumb.) This causes an argument at the table, because that’s all anyone at this table is capable of doing at this point, and then this happens:

Me: “How many spiders are there around the ring?”

DM: “Fucking hell man, use your imagination. A lot. Hordes. What do you think. Now stop asking irrelevant questions, you’re starting to piss me off”

Isn’t is strange how the earlier conversation, which potentially included an admission of blame on the player’s part, was “fuzzy”, while this one, where the DM uses bad words and admits to being mad, is remembered with perfect clarity?

Anyway, this is a grossly inappropriate response to a grossly inappropriate question. Yellow flag on both parties. No DM should react this way during a game. (No DM should be running a table while this angry, either, but that ship has sailed.)

However, he’s not wrong when he declares the question to be irrelevant. We’ve already established a huge horde of spiders circling the PCs. The exact number isn’t calculable or interesting. No player can do anything useful with that information, and it’s not worth extra work on the DM’s part to track it accurately.

There’s this little dance we do while playing D&D. As a DM and a player, I’m on both sides of it. The world we’re meant to inhabit is ostensibly a real one, with physics and science and butterfly wings and whatnot. But it’s not possible for a NASA supercomputer to properly simulate that kind of world — a real one — let alone some guy with some books and graph paper. As a DM, you want to simulate as much detail as is necessary to make the adventure work. Common things like distances, materials, colors and smells and sounds. Your instinctual understanding of the game world is probably a lot broader than that, but you don’t have enough bandwidth in your voice to bring it all across.

It falls to players, then, to ask probing questions about the scene, to increase their own understanding of things. They don’t have the same instinctual understanding of the world, though, so they don’t know which questions are worth asking in a given situation. This can lead to some really bizarre rabbit hole scenarios, where a player asks an innocuous question, and the DM answers it, possibly with improvisation, and the players pick up on the answer as a crucial detail and spend the next 40 minutes agonizing over the significance of this metal tube or bale of hay or whatever.

There’s some give and take on both sides of this. It’s a skill both DMs and players need to hone over time.

There is a type of player, though, that will ask incresingly irrelevant questions not because they’re trying to increase their understanding of the scene, but because they’re fishing for the answer they want. In a scene where we’ve already established hordes of spiders coming out of the burning woods, it’s kind of dumb and maybe a little passive-aggresive to insist on knowing exactly how many there are. Is there some cunning plan that involves having more than 117 spiders, but fewer than 153? Is the character standing there, in-universe, for minutes on end, painstakingly counting individual spiders? Maybe this would be a good place for the DM to ask, “Why do you think that’s important?” but, as is abundantly clear, nobody at this table is playing in good faith anymore.

A few rounds of combat later, the PCs try to break the line of spiders. The DM declares the retreat to break OP’s concentration on banishment, causing the demigod to re-appear on the scene. Another perfectly-remembered conversation ensues:

DM: “The second you move, your concentration breaks. [the demi-god] pops back into existence, and moves to attack you

ME: “Wait, what the hell? The time on my concentration isn’t up. Why did it break?”

DM: “You can’t move and concentrate on a spell at the same time.”

ME: “Yeah, you can in 5e. The only things that can break concentration are taking damage or casting another spell that requires concentration.”

DM: “I’m getting sick of your shit! WE AREN’T PLAYING 5E! THIS IS MY HOMEBREW! That’s not the way that I say concentration works in my world. Now, you have a choice. You can move, and break concentration, and have [the demi-god] attack you and the party, or you can stay behind and let the party escape. Although, if you do, she’ll kill you instantly.”

OP is 100% correct in this interaction. In 5e, rules as written, cocnentration on a spell is only broken if you sustain damage (and fail a save), or by casting another spell that requires concentration. (You can also drop concentration on a spell, at any time, even if it’s not your turn.) OP can be completely forgiven for believing this is how his movement would work in this case, and being surprised when it doesn’t.

But OP is not the DM. OP does not get to determine how the rules are applied in a given scene. That’s the DM’s job. And this DM, in this encounter, was seven kinds of pissed off. I don’t agree with the DM’s call here, but I definitely understand it. Whether the DM is a jerk or not is kind of irrelevant to the way he’s been treated at this table, by this player’s own admission. Never mind the D&D angle, in what context is it smart to push someone and push someone until they finally snap?

At this point, I was honestly speechless. I just gathered my stuff and left the table.

And this is the first intelligent, mature thing this player has done in this entire story. Kudos to him for that!

Believe it or not, my intention is not to pick on this OP. He had a terrible D&D interaction, and ran to the internet to tell a version of the story that paints him as the hero. This is Human Experience 101.

It’s also not my intention to glorify this DM. I’m sure a version of this story told from his perspective would be similarly embellished, just in the other direction, and I would no doubt find lots of stuff to pick apart in that story as well.

But even in this story, as presented, where the author paints himself in the best possible light, there are some very troubling trends on display. In the minds of this player, and in those of Reddit commenters who agree with him, it is perfectly okay for a player to:

  • Dictate how their character is introduced to the game (without regard to the DM’s plans),
  • decide to completely ignore the adventure the DM intended to run,
  • insist the DM run something anyway, once the adventure has been discarded,
  • pepper the DM with pointless questions about an improvised scene that aren’t of use to anyone, and of course
  • run off to the internet and demonize another human being.

It’s not just this story. It’s something I’ve seen over and over again in lots of D&D communities where I lurk, and the problem seems to be getting worse: players approach D&D as a video game, DMs are not capable of providing that experience, everyone has a bad time as a result. And because the ratio of DMs to players is so lopsided, horror stories skew very far in one direction. I could re-write this post for some new horror story every week, if I were so inclined.

We have this weird situation where DMs are in high demand, but players also seem to hold them to unreasonable standards. What might a new DM who reads this story take away? If they side with the DM it’s, “Wow, some players are really demanding and entitled! I’d better clamp down to make sure my players aren’t like that.” (And then alienate his players by being overly punitive.) If they side with the player it’s, “Wow, some DMs are absolutely terrible! I’m going to work really hard to not make his mistakes!” (And then bend over backwards to please their players, possibly burning out as a result.)

It really doesn’t surprise me to learn that some of them act like jerks, sometimes.

I don’t really know what to do about the situation, other than share my thoughts and advice where appropriate, which is why I wrote this big ol’ nasty post on my big ol’ nasty blog. Here’s what I would have told the people in this story, before this unfortunate event occured:

To the DM: Deep breaths. There’s no need to ever run a game under these circumstances. Getting this super mad at your players is not healthy. If you put a lot of work into a story you want to share with a group of players, but this group has decided to ignore it, end the game and find new players. You have all the bargaining power here. Players constantly complain about how hard it is to find a game, even online, because there are too few DMs to go around. Someone out there wants to play the game you want to run. Don’t waste time on people who don’t.

To the players: Deep breaths. There’s no need to ever play at a table under these circumstances. If you don’t want to play the game your DM is presenting, the best option is to go along with it anyway and see if maybe your mind can be changed. If you don’t want to change your mind (or the DM is unable to change it, after an honest effort) it’s time to find a new table. Trying to force your DM to change into something he doesn’t want to be will not end well, even if you manage to succeed for a time.

To everyone: Please do not stop making up stories about some terrible D&D game you played once. I find them endlessly amusing, occassionally thought-provoking, and as long as I enjoy D&D I will never, ever stop reading them!

Ideas for FFIV: Free Enterprise

If you’re not familiar with Final Fantasy IV: Free Enterprise, the gist is that it’s a version of Final Fantasy IV that starts you with the airship, jettisons all the cutscenes and plot flags, and mixes up everything else. For my part, it’s the best randomizer I’ve played, both in terms of how much I enjoy playing it and how well I feel it presents the base game in a new and interesting way. I could write an entire article about how good it is and why, but I’ll just leave it at “very plenty good” for now.

FF4: Free Enterprise Homepage

One difference I’ve noticed between Free Enterprise and other randomizers I’ve played is that the FE devs seem to have a very strong vision for what their randomizer ought to be. The design philosophy seems to be: leave as much of vanilla FFIV in tact as possible, while creating lots of opportunities for new routing and combat challenges. So when I recommend these new features, I do so in the spirit of the rando as it currently exists. I don’t want to see a “kitchen sink” approach taken to FE, where absolutely every option that pops into someone’s head eventually gets added. In terms of content, I want as little added to the rando as is possible. I don’t want to suddenly see geomancers and blue mages, I don’t want a bunch of new characters from The After Years, I don’t want the janky spell-on-hit weapons from FFIV Advance.

What I want are new ways to create interesting routing and combat challenges. Here are some ideas me and my Twitch chat have come up with, over the course of a few dozen FE runs this past year.

Cid needs to be slightly better.

Not a lot better, just slightly better. FFIV has a lot of early- and mid-game characters that never get developed, because you aren’t supposed to have them after about the halfway point in the game’s story. FFIV Advance solves this problem by adding a new dungeon with a bunch of endgame gear for the leftover characters, but this probably isn’t possible for an SNES romhack. I’d argue it’s not desireable, either.

These characters are Tellah, Edward, Palom, Porom, Yang, and Cid.

Tellah, Palom and Porom don’t need any help. They’re caster characters, so they can equip some or all of the endgame-appropriate equipment already in the game meant for Rosa and Rydia.

Yang doesn’t need any help either, because he doesn’t actually get more powerful with equipment. Just the experience levels he gets are enough to make him really strong in the end.

Edward needed help, because the best he could do was to equip an endgame bow and arrow, which made him “like Rosa, but with no magic”. FE added the -spoon flag, which allows Edward to equip the Spoon. This is a powerful endgame weapon that puts him on par with Cecil for damage output, and probably ahead of Kain and Edge. (The joke here is that Edward is a “spoony bard”, see?)

The best Cid can do, though, is a weapon called the RuneAxe, which is pretty weak as far as weapons go. He has strictly better weapons, including all the bows and arrows, but these make him even worse than Edward used to be; they make him “like Rosa, but with no magic, and also still really slow”.

One possible fix might be to allow Cid to equip the Avenger, a two-handed sword that adds berserk to its user. This is a pretty powerful endgame weapon that Kain and Cecil can both use, although those characters have other options that might be better. If the Avenger is Cid’s only endgame option, though, it gives the character a pretty distinct flavor, while sticking with the personality of the character.

A second option might simply be to make the RuneAxe better, by altering its stats to be more in line with, say, the Murasame or White Spear. This is a weapon no other character uses as far as I know, so it really wouldn’t be stepping on anyone else’s toes.

More boss dependencies!

FE randomizes boss locations and statistics in a pretty interesting way that makes it usually possible to fight late-game bosses if they roll into early-game positions, and make early-game bosses a threat if they roll into late-game positions. There’s a lot of weirdness with this system, and a few bosses can be pretty nasty no matter where you see them, but pushing through the boss fights in whatever order you find them in is much of where the fun of the rando comes from.

There isn’t really any sense of needing to kill a particular boss, though, with one exception: killing the Mist D., wherever in the game it happens to spawn, causes Rydia’s dead-ass mom to cough up a key item in the village of Mist. This is an interesting interaction unlike anything else currently in FE. It creates neat situations where you’ll encounter the Mist D. in a place you’re exploring anyway, and then make a side trip for a free key item. Or, if you’re starving for key items, you might prioritize some early game bosses you would skip otherwise, hoping to find the Mist D.

Gating off more key items in this way would be against the spirit of the rando, I think. (The Mist D. is a unique case in that regard.) But there are other things that could be gated off, which might then be entered into logic to create new routing possibilities.

  • Dead guards block your way into Damcyan (both the keep and the treasure room) until after you find and kill Antlion. This treasure room is a somewhat quick early-game check, so blocking it reduces your chances of finding great gear before your first boss. Blocking the keep means being able to put the Hoovercraft into logic.
  • Instead of gating Cecil’s class change behind the Ordeals event, gate it behind finding and killing the D. Knight. This boss is notoriously nasty in some areas, so players tend to avoid him if they can. But Cecil is so terrible as a dark knight, and so great as a paladin, that the hunt may really be worth it. Lots of lulzy troll seed potential here!
  • Instead of using items to teach Rydia the Odin, Asura, Levia, and Baham spells, unlock them only after finding and killing those bosses. Or, require both! Levia and Baham are both good enough that putting Rydia through the extra hoops is probably warranted.
  • Similarly, Edge only learns his Flood and Blitz spells if you find and kill the Eblan king and queen. This probably doesn’t matter that much, because nobody ever uses those spells, so maybe make some of Edge’s other advantages latently locked until this fight, like his Dart command or his second weapon slot.
  • Wherever the Elements happen to roll, they will refuse to fight you until you’ve found and killed Milon Z., Kainazzo, Valvalis, and Rubicant somewhere in the world. Instead, they give you a generic message similar to the one you get if you try to complete Zot without the Earth Crystal. Maybe they give you a hint as to where to find one or more of these fights. If paired with a flag that forces a required item behind this fight (wherever it is), this alone would transform the seed from “find the key items and win” to “go on a big boss hunt!”
  • The crystal at the center of the Big Whale is inoperable until you find and kill the CPU. Maybe the beds, big chocobo, and transport to the Giant don’t work until then, either. (Of course this creates a dumb situation where the CPU can’t roll into hits vanilla boss slot!)
  • Instead of requiring the Earth Crystal to get into the Troia treasure room, the guard requires you to kill some boss out in the world. Dark Elf is the obvious choice, but one could also make a fun case (backed by NPC dialogue!) for Valvalis, the Magus Sisters, or Dr. Lugae.
  • Change the HP threshhold at which Edward automatically hides to something really dumb, like 90%, until you find and kill the WaterHag and see Anna’s inspirational message. (This one might actually be too aggravating, depending on where and when you find Edward!)
  • As a sort of hint system, the guard rooms in Baron Castle fill up with helpful NPCs the more soldiers you injure. (They’re there convalescing, and since the only way to get to this room is to defeat whichever boss is in Baigan’s slot as the false captain, they’ve now come to their senses and willing to help!) By my count there are fifteen such NPCs spread through three different boss fights: four in the Kaipo soldier encounter, three fights with three soldiers each in the Fabul gauntlet, and Yang’s two Guards. Four of these soldiers are “lost forevers” since they try and retreat if you kill their underlings, thus incentivizing a different approach to these fights. Information could vary from the location of key items, to character identities, to where you can find choice gear. (“I heard about an Artemis Bow in the Sylph Cave!”)

Those are some interesting and thematically-appropriate ideas that would mesh well with the existing rando options. Of course, arbitrary barriers could be added in just about anywhere, requiring arbitrary bosses to be defeated, which could then all be randomized. That would be a bad direction to go in, though, and against the spirit of what FE is so far. The reason the existing Mist D. block works so well is because it makes sense in the lore, and it’s the same thing every seed. The random element should be where you find the boss, not which boss you need to find, or why.

Make a “weak” version of Edge.

Right now, Edge is just about the best character you can possibly get early in an FE seed. FuSoYa is strictly better, but the rando has flags to make him start weak and only power up as you kill bosses. This is a cool idea, but the best they’ve done for Edge so far is a flag that removes him as an option for starting characters.

There’s not really a problem here that needs fixing, but there’s an opportunity for something potentially great. The reason Edge is so good is his base level and equipment set vastly outclass anything in the main overworld of FFIV. In the base game, you don’t get Edge until you’ve completed the overworld, gone to the underworld, and returned. By the time he joins you have already seen the last of Cid, Yang, the twins, and just about every other character.

What he needs is an experience curve that brings him more in line with Kain, and a worse starting equipment set. Say, a single Boomrang or Silver Dagger, Leather Armor, and a Cap. A L5 Edge with 100 HP and terrible gear would put him on par with a starting Cid, or Yang, or anyone else really.

But here’s the brilliant bit: we now have a “weak” Edge suitable for starting the seed with, and a “strong” Edge suitable for destroying the entire overworld. We can do this with every character in the game!

  • “Strong” Rydia starts with gear comparable to what she has when she rejoins the party in the Dwarf Castle in vanilla, and one of her elemental summons (Shiva, Indra, Jinn, or Titan) unlocked at the start.
  • “Strong” Kain has the gear he rejoins with in the Tower of Zot in vanilla.
  • “Strong” Cid comes decked out with all his best stuff from the Tower of Zot, and actually serves as a neat dividing line between “strong” and “weak” in this context. Edge is so “strong” because his default level outclasses everything in the first part of the game, which happens to coincide with right around the time Cid leaves the party in vanilla.
  • “Strong” Rosa, Palom and Porom come in with mid-tier caster gear, like Wizard Shirts or Tiaras. The twins start with middling stat-boosting weapons, like the Lilith Rod and Silver Staff. Rosa instead starts with an Archer Bow and some Poison Arrows. Palom’s starting level should probably not be high enough to let him out of the gate with Quake.
  • “Strong” Yang just joins at a higher level than usual, maybe with two claws equipped instead of one. (Maybe even randomize these, leaving Cat Claws out?)
  • “Strong” Edward doesn’t make any sense, but starting him at L20 instead of L1 would make him more durable at least. In fact, it might be appropriate to start a “strong” version of Edward with one piece of really good endgame gear, like a Ribbon or a Protect Ring, which would immediately be yoinked and placed on a more deserving character.
  • “Strong” Tellah doesn’t make any sense either, outside of just starting with better gear, and should probably be extempt from these shenanigans. If you really want to give him something, maybe start him with one extra each of white and black magic.
  • “Strong” Cecil also doesn’t make any sense, and we’ll exempt him too. The way to make him stronger is to just promote him to paladin.

Now that we have all this done, we can mix and match the “strong” and “weak” characters in various game modes. Some ideas:

  • “Strong only” mode, where all characters are the “strong” versions. (Reduces how much time is spent gearing up new characters, without overpowering anyone for the back half of the run.)
  • Two characters are chosen at random to be “strong”. They may or may not be one of your starting characters. (This is essentially the current behavior, just with Edge potentially replaced with someone else.)
  • Starting character is guaranteed “strong”; nobody else is.
  • All characters are “weak”; no chance of an early Edge carry. (This is essentially what the current “no free Edge” flag does.)

I should emphasize that “strong” in this context only means “as strong as Edge currently is at the start”. So, a “strong” character should be good enough to clear all content up to and including the Magnetic Cave, but that’s probably it. (It’s worth pointing out that, in a typical vanilla run, Edge is weaker than the rest of your party at the point where you find him.)

This could go the other direction too. Make every character weaker by starting them at L1 with no gear at all, forcing you to scrounge for treasure or shops until you can scrape together a few boss wins.

“Shopping Mode”

Currently, the way to gear up any party in FE is to fly around opening up lots of chests. The quality of gear that can be found in boxes is variable (and adjustable in the rando settings), but most of the good stuff you find comes from treasures. Conversely, very little shopping is done in a typical rando run, outside of a few choice items players keep an eye out for. For the flags I like to play, that list is less than ten items total.

What we do here is flip the incentives; we make treasure boxes less valuable, and shops more so. Instead of gearing up by finding stuff in the wilderness, you have to shop for every piece, for every character. (Maybe pair this with “all characters start as ‘weak'” as outlined above!) Step one: instead of treasure, boxes give GP, maybe the sale price of whatever the box was supposed to contain, or some percentage of it.

At the start of the game, the only two shops that are open are the Fabul equipment shop (which has a smattering of random, low-tier gear, nothing better than Edge’s Short Sword), and the Troia Pass shop (which has a smattering of random, low-tier items). Shops that are currently gated (Baron, the Feymarch, the Hummingway Cave, etc.) remain so. Their inventories are also suitably randomized, but cannot contain anything phenomenal. You might find, say, a Blizzard Spear, but not a Dragoon Spear.

Any location that grants a piece of equipment from the monster box or key item pool unlocks a random shop somewhere in the world. Instead of finding, say, the Drain Spear, you’d get a fanfare and a message window saying, “The Mist weapon shop is open!” These shops can contain anything the seed is capable of generating, except for really high-end lunar equipment.

There are more of these locations in the game than there are shops to open, so fill any remaning “shop slots” with a single item added to Kokkol’s inventory. Immediately after turning in the Adamant and Legend Sword, instead of gifting the Excalbur, the prize is instead the opening of Kokkol’s shop. The Excalbur is immediately for sale, but the rest of the powerful endgame lunar equipment is not. These are unlocked one piece at a time until the shop is full, or the player runs out of spots to check. This should be the only way to get equipment like the Masamune, Stardust Rod, Ribbon, or Adamant Armor. Since this means some lunar equipment might not generate, there should probably be logic ensuring Kokkol can’t end up with useless equipment. There’s no reason to sell Masamune in a seed with no Edges, after all.

More monster box variety.

Currently, there are lots of early game dungeons that are basically worthless to visit. Sure, you might luck into a powerful sword in the Watery Pass, but it’s just as likely you’ll find comparably good stuff in the Antlion’s Nest, which has a guaranteed key item roll at the end. In dozens of FE seeds I think I’ve done the Watery Pass, like, twice.

On the flip side of this coin you have dungeons like the Tower of Bab-il, Sylph Cave and Lunar Subterrane which are probably guaranteed required, considering how many monster boxes they contain. Depending on your flags, monster boxes contain some combination of key items, powerful gear, or summon magic. Locations with high concentrations of these are definitely choice, and even locations with only one such box might gate your progression.

As a side effect of most FE players electing to turn off random encounters, these monster boxes are the only non-boss encounters in the game. So I think we can do with some variety here!

By my count (and this is a back-of-envelope figuring, I haven’t double-checked) there are seven duplicate monster boxes in the game. By which I mean, seven boxes which have the same fight (or near enough) as another monster box found elsewhere. These are:

  • The box full of Mad Ogres in Bab-il. (There’s already a box full of these in Eblan.)
  • Two boxes full of Ghosts in the Sylph Cave. (We’ll leave one.)
  • A box of Malboros in the Sylph Cave. (There’s another box that has Malboros and Treants that’s more interesting.)
  • Two Behemoths in the Lunar Subterrane. (We’ll leave one of these too.)
  • A box with Karys and Warlocks, also in the Subterrane. (There are two of these, we only need one.)

(We’re ignoring the Alerts in the Tower of Bab-il; it’s thematically interesting to have a mechanical security system in that location, and besides, they summon all sorts of critters.)

The idea here is to turn those seven boxes into regular treasures, containing items from the regular treasure pool, then add seven new monster boxes, with fresh encounters, to locations that don’t already have them. This incentivizes players to check locations that now have monster boxes for key items or good loot, and adds a little more enemy variety than a typical FE run sees. Also, it moves potential checks out of the Sylph Cave and Subterrane, where they’re gated behind underworld and moon access, to earlier in the seed where those checks could more organically gate progression. (It’s worth noting that without these extra boxes both of these locations are still chock full of checks!)

Here are my suggestions for what to do with the seven new boxes:

  • The center box of the Mist Cave contains six Imps.
  • The far side of the secret passage on B3(?) of the Watery Pass contains a battle against a group of jellies. (Say, one black, one white, and two each of yellow and red.)
  • The secret chest in the Baron Waterway save room contains an Aqua Worm and three Elecfish.
  • One of the chests in the room on B2 of the Magnetic Cave contains a battle against two Mages. (A nice reference to the FF1 WIZARDs, who also frequently guard treaure on spiked squares.)
  • We’ll replace the Mad Ogres in the overworld Bab-il chest with a D. Machine for some out-of-depth robot dragon fun.
  • The weird out-of-the-way chest just before the Falcon in the last section of the Tower of Bab-il, that always felt like it should be a monster box, but isn’t, for whatever weird reason, just because the developers felt like screwing with us I guess. Anyway we’ll put one of those cool Eggs that hatches into a Q. Lamia here. (This also makes the overworld stretch of Bab-il more attractive, from a key item standpoint, if you don’t need it for underworld access in your seed.)
  • The secret box to the right of Kokkol’s stairs contains the rare underworld trio: a Gorgon, Tarantula and GlomWing. (FFIV trivia experts will appreciate this one, for sure!)

Of course, now that we have a unique fight in every monster box, we can also have a “randomize monster box” flag, so you get a Behemoth in the Mist Cave and some Imps on the moon. Or, if it’s possible to add the current boss scaling logic to monster boxes as well, we could mix the bosses and monster boxes together. (This is probably not possible considering most monster boxes don’t have map sprites. Or maybe all of their sprites are just a treasure box?)

These ideas aren’t exhaustive, of course. They’re just what I’ve had rattling around in my brain as I’ve been working through a dozen seeds on stream and processing a dozen more videos of Free Enterprise for YouTube. The randomizer is already excellent and I’m sure whatever direction it continues to develop will be fun and interesting to watch.

Thank you for reading!

FFXV Spoiler Cast

FFXV Spoiler Cast
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:22:34

FFXV Spoiler Cast

Brick & McClain discuss Final Fantasy XV, and absolutely nothing else.

Subscribe to That Podcast We Did:

▶ iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1391927970

▶ Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Ikfr5vm6pmp5o5rxdefzm3q2sq4▶ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJaCM0fQ67ZYbv-rfGnaqZqDE0D5QKtXF

Trying to Get Our Numbers Up

Trying to Get Our Numbers Up
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:15:29

Brick & McClain discuss adorable Christmas memories, terrible Smash Bros. bosses, timpano, lucky New Year’s stew, the importance of buffer dogs, doggie Xanax, Infinity Wars spoilers, fictional resurrections, McClain’s phone tribulations, and the new states of Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

Subscribe to That Podcast We Did:

▶ iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1391927970
▶ Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Ikfr5vm6pmp5o5rxdefzm3q2sq4
▶ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJaCM0fQ67ZYbv-rfGnaqZqDE0D5QKtXF

Timpano: http://scibbe.com/archives/4634

Cool US Population map: http://fakeisthenewreal.org/img/reform/electoral10-1100.jpg

Four New NetHack Roles

NetHack has a strong history of referencing fantasy materials in its content, predominantly ancient religious mythology, Lord of the Rings, and a smattering of Discworld. But a lot of modern mythology has been written since NetHack‘s inception, so I thought I’d help them out by modernizing the game a bit with three roles based on fantasy properties that didn’t exist when the game was new.

Note: I’m aware these roles aren’t entirely NetHack-ish, and their mechanics sort of break the spirit of the game a bit. I think that’s fine, because 1) the DevTeam isn’t going to implement these anyway, and 2) my main criticism of the game in its current state is that there are too many same-y roles. Aside from four or five exceptions, your choice of role sort of doesn’t matter after ten or so dungeon levels. I’d like to see new roles along the lines of Monk or Archeologist, with cool gameplay mechanics that actually matter.

These are formatted in more or less the same way as the role pages on the NetHack Wiki.


Aurors are humans of any alignment.

Starting equipment:

  • a +2 cloak of protection
  • a wand of teleportation (0:8)
  • a random attack wand (magic missile, striking, cold, fire, lightning, or sleep)
  • 2 random wands (not attack wands, teleportation, nothing, create monster, polymorph, or wishing)
  • a scroll of charging
  • a pair of lenses
  • 2..3 candy bars


  • XL1: stealth
  • XL5: warning
  • XL13: see invisible
  • XL20: invisibile


  • Basic: knife, short sword, club, quarterstaff, dart, riding, bare hands, attack
  • Skilled: dagger, unicorn horn, divination, enchantment, matter
  • Expert: escape
  • Special spell is teleport away

Special rules:

Aurors rely on wands as their primary gameplay. They have a number of special features:

  • Upon [z]apping or [a]pplying a formally identified wand, Aurors learn how many charges the wand has (or had).
  • [z]apping or [a]pplying a wand has a chance to exercise Intelligence.
  • If an Auror has shock resistance, wands in their open inventory are safe from destruction.
  • Wands are less likely to explode when being charged, based on the Auror’s Intelligence.
    • (7:x) or higher wands explode only 90% of the time.
    • (1:x) or higher wands of wishing always explode.
  • Upon gaining intrinsic warning, Aurors are also specifically warned if an enemy they can see is carrying a wand. (“Careful! That foo is brandishing a <wand>!”)
    • Or, “The foo is holding a <wand>.”, if peaceful.
  • [w]ielding a wand confers special properties, depending on wand type.
  • [z]apping a wand with at least one charge while [w]ielding it has a chance to expend the Auror’s Pw instead of one of the wand’s charges. This chance increases based on the Auror’s Intelligence. Consumed Pw depends on wand type.
  • Since many wands have identifying properties when [w]ielded, Aurors can potentially identify some wand types without expending a charge on [E]ngrave testing.
Wand typeProperty while [w]eildedPw consumption
lightlight source, radius 26
nothingformally identifies
("This is just a stick.")
0 (and abuse Intelligence)
diggingdetect $ and *, radius 231
lockingdoors resist less often12
magic missilemagic resistance12
make invisibledisplacement25
openingdoors resist less often6
probinghallucination resistance6
secret door detectionsearching18
slow monsterstoning resistance12
speed monsterfree action18
strikingreceive (y/n) prompt before destroying objects6
undead turningdrain resistance37
coldcold resistance25
firefire resistance25
lightningshock resistance25
sleepsleep resistance6
cancellation+1 MC (as per ring of protection)43
create monsterESP12
polymorphpolymorph control37
teleportationteleport control37
deathmagic resistance43
wishingno effect
("The wand's magic will not be controlled!")


  • Lawful: Godric
  • Neutral: Rowena
  • Chaotic: Salazar


  • Home: Diagon Alley
  • Locate: Hog’s Head Inn
  • Goal: Hogwarts Great Hall
  • Leader: Garrick Ollivander
  • Guardians: students
  • Nemesis: Nagini the Snake

Quest Artifact:
The Elder Wand

  • Base item: wand of magic missile (0:8)
  • Affiliation: lawful, Auror, intelligent
  • When carried: faster energy regeneration
  • When [z]apped: damage calculation as per magic missile spell, rather than wand (for Aurors only)
  • When [a]pplied: explosion as per wand of magic missile
    • uses all charges; wand does not break
  • When [w]ielded: confers intrinsic property of wand [w]ielded in other hand (for Aurors only)
  • When [M-i]nvoked: restores 1d2 charges to Elder Wand; if this causes explosion, functions as being [a]pplied, but still recharges


Dragoons are humans of any alignment.


  • pony = chocobo chick
  • horse = chocobo
  • warhorse = red chocobo
  • white/grey/black unicorn = white/grey/black chocobo
  • ki-rin = gold chocobo
  • apple = gysahl greens
  • carrot = sylkis greens
  • pear = mimett greens
  • melon = tantal greens

Starting equipment:

  • a +1 spear (50%) or random +1 polearm (50%)
  • a +0 ring mail
  • a +0 helmet
  • a pair of +0 leather gloves
  • a pair of +0 low boots
  • starting pet is an unsaddled chocobo chick
  • knows identity of all nonmagical weapons and armor


  • XL1: jumping (limited)
  • XL7: speed


  • Basic: dagger, knife, pick-axe, scimitar, club, flail, hammer, trident, bow
  • Skilled: axe, short sword, broadsword, two-handed sword, saber, mace, morning star, bare hands, crossbow, lance, two weapon combat, attack, divination, enchantment
  • Expert: long sword, spear, polearms, bare hands, riding
  • Spear and polearms start at Basic
  • Special spell is drain life

Special rules:

  • Dragoons can [j]ump like a knight piece in chess.
  • Monsters are a valid target for a Dragoon’s [j]ump. When [j]umping at a monster, do the following:
    1. If monster has no empty adjacent spaces, [j]ump fails. (“You can’t find an opening!”)
    2. Roll to hit against target.
    3. If hit, apply damage as normal (as though [F]ighting it).
      • If weapon is spear, polearm or lance, +3d8 damage.
      • Rust/corrode weapon as needed.
      • If monster is dead, Dragoon lands in its empty space. (“You skewered the foo!”)
      • If target is still alive:
        1. If target is whirly, it is stunned. (“You stopped the foo‘s spin!”)
        2. Make a Dexterity check.
          • If pass, Dragoon lands on target’s space, and target is pushed to a random adjacent space. (“The foo reels!”)
          • If fail, Dragoon lands on a random adjacent space (known not to be dangerous, if possible), abuses Dexterity, and gains a leg wound. (“Ouch! Rough landing!”)
    4. If miss, treat as a failed Dexterity check.


  • Lawful: Ramuh
  • Neutral: Shiva
  • Chaotic: Ifrit


  • Home: Baron Castle
  • Locate: Chocobo Forest
  • Goal: Cavern of Mist
  • Leader: Guard Captain Baigan
  • Guardians: guardsmen
  • Nemesis: Dragon of Mist

Quest Artifact:
The Zodiac Spear

  • Base item: silver spear
  • Affiliation: chaotic, intelligent
  • When carried: [j]umping requires no nutrition
  • When [w]ielded: drain resistance, chance to stun target in melee, +5 to hit, +1d8 damage, +2d8 damage while [j]umping (Dragoon only)


Dothraki are always chaotic male humans.


  • scimitar = arakh

Starting equipment:

  • two of three possible weapons, one of which is enchanted to +1:
    • an arakh
    • a bow
      • and 20..29 arrows
    • a bullwhip
  • a +0 leather armor
  • a pair of +0 low boots
  • 5..9 uncursed apples (50%) or carrots (50%)
  • 2 uncursed tins of horse meat
  • an uncursed bell (50%)
  • starting pet is a saddled pony


  • XL1: aggravate monster, searching, food appraisal (for u corpses only)
  • XL7: see invisible


  • Basic: knife, short sword, long sword, sling, two weapon combat, healing
  • Skilled: dagger, axe, broadsword, saber, club, boomerang, bare hands
  • Expert: scimitar, bow, whip, riding
  • Riding and one weapon skill (whichever generated +1) start at Basic
  • Special spell is healing

Special rules:

Dothraki have several restrictions:

  • Dothraki suffer a to-hit penalty while [W]earing metal armor, [W]earing a shield, or [w]ielding a two-handed weapon.
  • Dothraki cannot tame a monster he cannot ride. (“That foo is no suitable steed!”)
  • Dothraki cannot cast spells; doing so suffers an alignment penalty and always fails. (“You should not trust in blood magic!”)
    • The exception is the spell healing, when cast on the Dothraki’s mount, while [M-r]iding.
  • Dothraki cannot pick up bells that were not dropped by a monster they killed. (“You did not earn that bell!”)

To make up for this, their mounts enjoy several benefits:

  • Dothraki mounts enjoy all the same protections he does, so long as he is [M-r]iding.
  • If a mount is reduced to 0 HP while the Dothraki is [M-r]iding, the mount is instead set to 1 HP and the Dothraki is dismounted on the nearest available space. (“<petname>/Your <pet> is dying!”)
  • Attempting to [M-r]ide a mount does not reduce its tameness.
  • While [M-r]iding, low mount HP and low tameness are considered minor problems for purposes of [p]raying, and may be remedied accordingly.

Dothraki enjoy the following benefits in mounted combat:

  • +2 to-hit bonus, and +2 bonus to AC
  • If the Dothraki moves three or more spaces in a straight line, and the next action after movement is attacking a monster, the attack counts as a “charge attack”.
    • This attack deals +2d12 damage. It is also loud, waking nearby monsters. (“You scream into battle!”)
    • At Skilled in riding, it becomes more lenient as to what constitutes a straight line. (E.g., ↖, ↑, and ↗ all count as up; →, ↗, and ↑ all count as up-right.)
    • At Expert, the Dothraki need only move two spaces instead of three.

Finally, the Dothraki have some benefits involving shops and bells:

  • Upon entering a shop for the first time, there is a small chance (influenced by Strength) that the shopkeeper will make a gift of one random item (or stack of items) in his inventory. (“<shopkeeper> makes a gift of <item>.”)
  • There is a 3% chance a monster’s death drop is a bell.
    • Each bell the Dothraki carries in his open inventory gives a bonus to hit and damage: +0/+0 if cursed, +1/+1 if uncursed, +1/+1d2 if blessed.


  • Lawful: The Great Shepherd
  • Neutral: The Mother of Mountains
  • Chaotic: The Great Stallion


  • Home: Vaes Dothrak
  • Locate: The Dothraki Sea
  • Goal: The Red Wastes
  • Leader: Mother of Dragons
  • Guardians: dosh khaleen
  • Nemesis: Warlock of Qarth
  • Note: if the Dothraki uses some tricky means of dispatching the Warlock of Qarth, he will not be able to pick up the Bell of Opening! The only way to seize it is to bring a covetous monster to the level, who will pick it up and subsequently drop it when killed. (The Wizard of Yendor might be happy to oblige!)

Quest Artifact:
The Arakh of Rakharo

  • Base item: arakh (scimitar)
  • Affiliation: chaotic, Dothraki, intelligent
  • When carried: reflection
  • When [w]ielded: conflict, beheading (5%), +1d5 to-hit, +1d4 damage, +2d4 damage while [M-r]iding (Dothraki only)


Waterbenders may be human, elf, or gnome. Human waterbenders may be any alignment.

Starting equipment:

  • a +1 quarterstaff (50%) or a pair of +1 leather gloves (50%)
  • a +1 robe
  • a pair of water walking boots (50%) or an amulet of magical breathing (50%)
  • a blessed spellbook (healing, protection, or sleep)
  • 3..4 uncursed potions of water
  • 2..3 potions of fruit juice
  • 3 random potions (not water, booze, or fruit juice)
  • 3..6 food rations
  • 3..6 fortune cookies
  • an oilskin sack


  • XL1: cold resistance, speed
  • XL5: stealth
  • XL7: warning
  • XL9: sleep resistance
  • XL13: poison resistance
  • XL17: breathless


  • Basic: short sword, dagger, spear, trident, crossbow, shuriken
  • Skilled: attack, clerical, escape
  • Expert: quarterstaff, healing
  • Master: martial arts
  • Special spell is cone of cold

Special rules:

Waterbenders have the same penalties for [e]ating meat and [W]earing armor as do monks, with these changes:

  • The to-hit bonus when not [W]earing armor or a shield applies only to ranged attacks.
  • Waterbenders are incapable of dealing a staggering blow in any event.

To make up for this, Waterbenders have the following benefits:

  • Waterbenders are immune to water traps and thrown potions. (“You bend the liquid harmlessly away from you.”)
  • Waterbenders can dilute any potion except oil by [a]pplying it, converting it to an uncursed potion of water. (“You draw the water from your <potion>.”)
  • While standing next to or on top of a fountain, sink or square of open water or ice, the Waterbender’s combat abilities are augmented (“The nearby water swirls around you!”):
    • Gain fire resistance, shock resistance, reflection, and +1 MC.
    • +3 bonus to AC, +5 bonus to hit, and +1d4 cold damage on melee attacks per adjacent square of water (up to 9).
    • [f]iring with a [Q]uivered potion of water costs no Pw and will not consume a potion.

Finally, Waterbenders are able to perform several tricks with potions of water:

  • Uncursed potions of water have their weight reduced by 50%.
  • [t]hrowing an uncursed potion of water at an unoccupied square has a chance (influenced by Wisdom) to convert the square into a water square. This does not work on the Plane of Fire or the Quest Goal level (“The water immediately evaporates!”), the Plane of Air (“The water falls down as rain!”), or any level with undiggable walls.
  • A weapon (or a pair of gloves, if using martial arts) [M-d]ipped into a potion of water becomes more dangerous. (“The water swirls around your <weapon>!”) The effect lasts for a number of turns influenced by Wisdom and experience level. When the effect ends, there is a chance the Waterbender gets back the potion. (“Your <weapon> is dry again. / The water returns to its bottle.”)
    • +2 bonus to-hit per skill level.
    • +1d3 cold damage per skill level.
    • If the potion was holy water, apply the standard effects to appropriate targets.
  • Waterbenders can [Q]uiver stacks of potions of water and then [f]ire blasts of water from them. This consumes Pw. At 0 Pw, it consumes the potions instead. The skill used for these shots is martial arts.
    • Blasts of water can multishot. At 0 Pw, a single potion is consumed for the entire turn, regardless of how many blasts are fired.
    • Blasts of water deal damage as per a thrown rock, +1d3 damage per martial arts level.
    • If the potions are holy water, Pw consumption is increased but the shots gain the benefits of thrown potions of holy water, if applicable.


  • Lawful: Tui and La
  • Neutral: Raava
  • Chaotic: Koh


  • Home: The Spirit Oasis
  • Locate: The Frozen Ocean
  • Goal: The Fire Nation Ship
  • Leader: Princess Yue
  • Guardians: waterbenders
  • Nemesis: Admiral Zhao

Quest artifact:
The Decanter of the New Moon

  • Base item: horn of plenty (0:50)
    • only dispenses uncursed potions of water
  • Affiliation: neutral, intelligent
  • When carried: faster energy regeneration, +1 multishot bonus while firing water blasts, half spell damage
  • When [M-i]nvoked: charges itself, and changes 1..6 adjacent unoccupied squares to water


Peanut and I throw a holiday party for all our friends each year, where we make way too much food, play board games, and usually end up spilling alcohol everywhere. This year, we decided to try our hand at making a dish that utterly defies reason and logic: timpano.

I first learned of timpano from this Binging with Babish video, which I imagine you’ve already seen. Here’s the basic recipe:

  1. Roll out a just absurdly large circle of pasta dough, and line the inside of a dutch oven with it.
  2. Fill it with absolutely every Italian dish you’ve ever heard of.
  3. Bake it, flip it, and serve it.

Timpano traditionally has hard boiled eggs in it, but that sounded weird and gross to us, so we decided on the following layers:

Layer one: rigatoni, on a bed of provolone cheese, painstakingly organized so they are all more or less facing the same direction.
Layer two: eggplant parmesan, because one of our guests was a vegetarian.
Layer three: Peanut’s homemade meatballs, which include tiny bits of carrots.
Layer four: fresh mozzarella.
Layer five: shells stuffed with ricotta and spinach.
Layer six: chicken parmesan.
Layer seven: hot Italian sausage, peppers and mushrooms.
Layer eight: salami and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

We folded all that up and baked all 38 lbs. of food for about an hour, and this was the result:

Glorious. Delicious. Utterly decadent.

There was a really loud THUD as I flipped the meat and pasta monstrosity out of the pot, but thankfully everything stayed together and carved up nicely. We fed a dozen people and had enough leftover to bring my parents dinner tonight.

What good are holidays if you can’t take the opportunity to go overboard making all your friends and loved ones fat and happy?

Thumbs Down on Incineroar

Thumbs Down on Incineroar
That Podcast We Did


00:00 / 1:13:04



Brick & McClain discuss anti-animal phrases, the clingiest web browser, fake Australia, the proper usage of “show notes”, weird fetus Pikachu, and the proliferation of anime swordguys.

Subscribe to That Podcast We Did:
▶ iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1391927970
▶ Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Ikfr5vm6pmp5o5rxdefzm3q2sq4
▶ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJaCM0fQ67ZYbv-rfGnaqZqDE0D5QKtXF

Aggressive Monetization Ruins Games

Look, I understand that game publishers need to make money. I get that. I’m not going to write a frothing rant about how DLC and microtransactions are destroying the landscape of gaming. I’m not going to stack up some hippy-dippy malarky about how creativity and capitalism are at odds and any company that “sells out” has lost the plot. I’m not going to howl and rave about season passes or lootboxes or “$39.99 best value!” piles of in-game funny money.

Companies are here to make money. I understand. I don’t need the lecture.

But I like game ideas. I like seeing even very simple ideas in action and going, “Cool!” I like the thought of some poor, faceless game dev grunt signing on with one of these monstrous mobile game companies, being tasked with making Bongo the Bear Taps His Screen (and Then Asks For Your Parents’ Credit Card) or whatever, and actually managing to inject some fun and creativity into it. I like to acknowledge talent wherever I find it, even if it’s in the badly-organized cash-grab hellscape of the Google Play store.

I want to share two mobile games I’ve been playing recently. One I really like, and will probably keep playing, at least for a while. The other I sank about five hours into over the course of a week, then uninstalled in disgust. These games have two very simple things in common:

  1. They’re both perfectly fine games, which would be well worth, say, a $4.99 asking price.
  2. They both have a major flaw smack in the middle of their gameplay loop, which would not exist if not for their aggressive monetization.


Wordscapes is a find-the-word game. You’re given a group of letters in a circle, and then you have to make all the words you can think of with those letters. I have a soft spot for uncomplicated little word games like this, and I’ve tried a few that are out there, but Wordscapes packages its ideas up in a way I hadn’t seen before. Instead of just listing the words you find, Wordscapes plugs them into a crossword. For me, this makes all the difference.

Other games in this style I’ve tried have a pretty dumb problem: you end up with all but one of the words on your list, some obscure four-letter Scrabble reject you aren’t going to find on your own. Your only recourse, other than brute force, is to use the game’s hint system (which is, of course, backed by microtransactions). Or, if you’re a savvy Internet hero like I am, Google it using one of those online word finders that ruined Words With Friends for everyone.

What sucks is, using a hint system in a game like this isn’t satisfying. It’s not a puzzle, there’s no logic or cleverness to work through, you either know the words or you don’t. You can’t get a nudge. You basically find all but one word on a level, then ask what the last word is, and the game is like “FROE!” and you’re like ok whatev, next level please.

What Wordscapes does, with its crossword layout, is build an unobtrusive hint system right into the base game. As you knock down the obvious words, including the big one that uses all the letters, the crossword gets filled in, giving you a few freebie letters in the words you have trouble with. When you swipe in “ROSE”, and figure out your last word has R as a second letter, well, you probably still wouldn’t guess “FROE” but at least the searching space is a lot smaller. It’s a neat system that keeps you moving through the levels at a relaxing pace.

There’s a minor innovation, too, which I didn’t realize was helping me at first, but which I really came to appreciate: obscure and obscene words don’t go into the crossword, but count as “bonus words” instead. So the game acknowledges that, say, “RAPED” is indeed a word that uses those letters, and gives you credit for them, but doesn’t take up space on your screen. And if you happen to know what a “FROE” is, you get credit for that too, but level completion isn’t locked behind finding it. This is a neat feature that didn’t happen by accident; a smart game designer noticed the issues other word games were having, and solved them elegantly.

There are powerups you can buy with the in-game currency, which uncovers letters on the board for you, if you really get stuck. The more coins you sink in, the more letters you’ll get. I mostly ignore these because the game isn’t super challenging, but I assume most players use them at least part of the time. I like the bullseye powerup that lets you reveal one specific letter of your choosing; I sometimes use this to get a hint for the rare disconnected words that show up on the edges of puzzles. The game dumps coins in your lap to buy these with, if you need them.

And, of course, you can buy as many coins as you want with real money.

Reviews of Wordscapes complain that the game has too many ads. And, ah, the game does have a lot of ads. Every two levels or so, you have to watch a video shilling Texas Toast or find the hidden “close this ad” button on whatever Bejeweled clone is being pooped out this week. I mostly don’t mind the ads, and they’re not what ruins the game for me.

What ruins the game are the bees.

I’m not totally sure how the bees work. The game gave me a bunch of free ones early on, and when I ran out, it helpfully explained I could buy more anytime. I think the bees get placed on the crossword grid, sometimes revealing letters for you, and awarding you with extra coins as you go.

But you can’t earn more bees, ever. You can only buy them. They’re for premium players only. If you don’t pay, you don’t get any bees.

Are bees a fun and interesting aspect of Wordscapes? If so, then I’m missing out on a fun and interesting feature because it’s been locked up behind a paywall. If not, then they shouldn’t be in the game at all. As far as I can tell they only help reveal letters (which the hint powerups already do) and reward you with coins (which you can already buy). If you need hints, you’re covered. If you want to spend money to buy more hints, you’re covered there too. I don’t see what the point of the bees are, from a gameplay perspective.

It looks like what happened was the Wordscapes guys made a fully-functional, reasonably addictive word game, showed it to their boss, and their boss’s boss’s boss sent word back that it needs bees and this is how bees should work and this is how much they should cost. It’s a totally tacked-on feature that feels like it doesn’t belong at all.

These bees are vocabulary tumors.

Obviously the bees didn’t make me quit Wordscapes. I used the game this past week to unwind a bit after all the Thanksgiving activity. I still like making words and watching coins fly into my giant pile. But it bugs me that every level I play has this annoying “buy more bees” button on it, and always will, for as long as I enjoy the game.

Toon Blast

I played about eighty levels of Toon Blast before uninstalling it.

This is your basic color-matching game. You tap blocks of a particular color, and if there are enough of them clumped together, they explode and new blocks fall in from the top of the screen. Destroying enough blocks at once condenses the exploded blocks down into powerups, which in turn let you clear more blocks. You’ve played a million games like this.

Toon Blast doesn’t lock any of the powerups behind a paywall. In fact, you unlock usable powerups at a pretty steady clip, and they line up on the bottom of your screen. These are like your “emergency powerups”, for when you need to clear a particular block in order to set up an impressive looking combo, or when you’re two moves away from winning a level with one move left.

The final piece of the Toon Blast puzzle is the large amount of types of blocks in the game. There are actually more different block types than there are standard block colors, each with their own behaviors and interactions. When you combine all the different block types with the powerups you can make while playing, and sprinkle the emergency powerups on top of that, there’s actually a surprising amount of strategy involved in clearing each level. There’s no time limit ticking away forcing fast, stupid play (which is the case in a lot of block-matching games), so the Toon Blast experience ends up being thoughtful and liesurely.

And there isn’t an ad break every two levels. So that’s nice.

Without a time limit, and with all these powerups laying around, where then does the challenge come from. Well, Toon Blast limits the number of moves you can take in a given level. A “move” is defined as “tapping a block on the screen”, and if you can’t clear all your objectives in, say, 44 taps, you fail the level. Then Sad Bear pops up and asks if you want to pay 100 coins for five more moves, or if you want to give up. If you elect to give up, Sad Bear points out that means you have to also “give up your crown”, and I have no idea what wearing a crown does in the context of the game, but who would want to give up a crown? And anyway, the game basically poops coins on you constantly, so if you’re faced with Sad Bear and you can see you’re only a few moves away from completing the level, this looks like a pretty good deal.

However, if you’ve misjudged your win state by just a smidge, you might run out of extra moves, and cause Sad Bear to pop up again. This time, five more bonus moves is going to run you 200 coins. And, if you misjudge twice, 300 on his next visit. All the while you’re being warned that your crown (??) is in jeopardy. And you figure, well, I’ve already sank 600 coins into this, I might as well sink another 400 to beat this one stupid level, and wow, now 50+ levels’ worth of coins is wiped out in a blink.

If you’re like me, you might just throw the crown away and retry the level. The game has thought of this too, and Sad Bear works very hard to prevent it. First, the “+5 Moves” button is way bigger than the “Give Up” button, and Sad Bear gives you like three chances to mix them up with his “Are you REALLY sure you’re a stupid loser who gives up?” prompts. But okay, you push through all that, and restart the level. But then you lose a life, of which you only have five, and they only grow back at a rate of once per 30 minutes.

This all sounds pretty insidious: if you’re stuck on a level, you only get to try it a few times per sitting before you run out of lives and can’t play anymore. (Sad Bear will helpfully text message you when you have more lives to play with, of course.) This system immediately sucks all the fun out of the game, because you don’t get to actually go in and try new strategies or combinations of powerups. You don’t get to try playing with all the fun block types in new ways, or set up new combos, or really much of anything. The game discourages experimenting with its systems — which are fun and colorful and combine in interesting ways — because experimenting actively hurts you.

This is all designed to funnel you into what I imagine is a very common screen for the most active Toon Blast players: the big attractive button that gives you more lives for real cash.

I was willing to deal with all of this, because I enjoyed the core gameplay enough. (Well, not all of it. I blocked Sad Bear the first time he texted me, because eff that ess in the bee.) What really nailed the game for me was the inclusion of BS levels.

All puzzle-y games with random elements have these kinds of levels. I’m sure you remember trying to forge new spells or whatever in Puzzle Quest, or clear a particular section of overlapping track in Zuma, and just not getting the pieces you need. Every Tetris player learns immediately to build up their stack with one empty vertical slice against a wall, only to lose it all because the game went 30 moves without coughing up an I-piece. This is just an element of the colored-block-puzzle genre.

But Toon Blast is so slick and so polished, so very purposely designed, that I couldn’t shake the feeling that a boss in a suit somewhere said, “Okay, once every 20 levels or so, make sure there’s one that’s just complete BS. Tweak it just perfectly so there’s always just two or three fewer moves than the player needs.”

I can swallow a lot of BS in games, because their emergent properties sometimes lend themselves to BS. Sometimes Shadow Man slides when it looks like he’s going to fire, sometimes Zeromus’s ATB just happens to line up so you get Virus’d immediately after getting Big Bang’d. It happens. You get screwed, you reset, you win next time.

But specifically designing your gameplay to have this property, for the explicit purpose of having Sad Bear pop up and ask for cash… wow. It made the whole game incredibly sour. When I cleared a fun level in a satisfying way, the sense of achievement was sapped because I knew the next level might be BS. The rewards for clearing that level didn’t matter either, because I knew the next BS level would just flush all those coins and powerups, leaving me destitute of in-game funny money. And that’s if I was lucky.

I don’t want to pay Toon Blast a dollar every time I get slapped with a level that is purposely designed to be impossible within the boundaries of the game’s rules. I’d much rather pay Toon Blast $4.99, once, and then just enjoy playing it.

Again, I’m not here to rail against games that monetize their features. I can appreciate that the old quarter-munching arcades were a viable business model, and that a lot of these modern mobile games are just an extension of that.

But even in 1985, even in those old dingy arcades, there was a difference between designing a game to be fun, challenging, and rewarding, versus designing a game to just eat quarters. Pac-Man got your quarters by being fun and addictive, with simple gameplay and a steady drip-feed of minor in-game rewards. When the ghosts caught you, they didn’t apologize and offer to let you go for a dollar (and two dollars, next time).

Thank you for reading this post about mobile games nobody cares about!

None of Them are Pilots

None of Them are Pilots
That Podcast We Did


00:00 / 1:02:41



Brick & McClain discuss flat-Earth People, the first Flumph campaign, lightsaber construction, a terrible Idris Elba doll, the minimum baldness threshold, Harry Potter’s magic mirror, Rick Grimes’s exit, Pony Island, and holiday logistics.

Subscribe to That Podcast We Did:
▶ iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1391927970
▶ Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Ikfr5vm6pmp5o5rxdefzm3q2sq4
▶ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJaCM0fQ67ZYbv-rfGnaqZqDE0D5QKtXF

Show Notes:
• This $1,100 Idris Elba Doll Looks Nothing Like Idris Elba: http://time.com/5453341/idris-elba-doll/
• Pony Island on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/405640/Pony_Island/

Answers to 15 More “Unanswered” Metal Gear Questions

I wish I had seen this video back when it was first uploaded, which was around the time I was compiling questions for my own smart-aleck-y list of answers to “Unanswered” Questions in Metal Gear. Alas, the timelines just didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago the video butted into my Related Videos feed, and now that I’ve seen it, I feel like addressing it. (Or, at least, address the parts I haven’t already, in my previous post.)

I invited folks to leave new questions in the comments for the previous post, but I don’t have the most popular blog in the world, so I don’t even know how many people saw it. (Most of the feedback I get for blog posts comes from my Discord channel, and most of that was “Brick please stop talking about Metal Gear, we are begging you”.) The only actual question I ended up getting there is the first one I’d like to tackle now, because it’s an example of another eye-rolling class of question that’s kind of unfair to even ask. To wit:

How did the Cyborg Ninja get to Shadow Moses Island?

The for-real answer to this question is, “Somehow.” He got there somehow. Solid Snake arrives by submarine, Liquid Snake arrives by Hind D, Otacon flies there a decade later in the Nomad. The point is, people get there. The island is reachable. The actual logistics of each individual character’s journey — including scientists, soldiers, terrorists, FOXHOUND members, intruders, spaghetti western-loving quadruple agents, and Cyborg Ninjas — just don’t matter much.

To me, this is a disingenuous question. Someone seeking to untangle the plot isn’t going to get bogged down with minutiae like this, for the same reason we don’t wonder who does Rey’s laundry, what restaurant Cipher and Agent Smith are eating at, how many different sorts of carrots Farmer Maggot grows, or what the thread count is at the Galdin Quay hotel. Someone seeking answers in good faith will wonder why the Cyborg Ninja went there, or who the Cyborg Ninja is, or what the Cyborg Ninja did upon arrival. And we know all those answers, because they’re a part of the story.

But why care how he got there? He got there somehow, is what’s important.

“Snaaaaake! I took an Uuuuuuuber!”

And now, on to the clickbait listicle video! A few of the questions therein were addressed in my first post, so I’ll just skip over those.

Why didn’t Solid Snake or any of the hostages ever recognize George Sears?

Big Boss and Solidus Snake aren’t actually identical.

During Metal Gear Solid, George Sears is president of the United States. He is forced to resign after the Shadow Moses Incident. A few years later, during Sons of Liberty, it is revealed that George Sears is really Solidus Snake — third clone of Big Boss. However, Solid Snake doesn’t seem to notice the resemblance at all. Is that weird?

Here are the best visuals we have for what Solidus and Big Boss look like when they get old:

Left: Snake. Right: Also Snake.

To my knowledge these are the most recent graphical renders of each of these characters, at an age where Solid Snake would know them. (Big Boss has newer renders, but of a younger version of himself, which Solid Snake wouldn’t be familiar with.)

The first thing to address is… ah… these men don’t look exactly alike! Despite having the same genetics, Solidus only sorta resembles Big Boss; their features are different enough that they could be different people. So the easy answer to why Snake didn’t see George Sears on CNN or whatever and be all “Hey that looks like Big Boss!” is the guy on CNN didn’t look enough like Big Boss for Snake to jump to conclusions. If you’re in line behind a guy who kinda looks like Joe Pesci, you don’t later tell the story about how you met Joe Pesci at the gas station. The reaction would be more like, “Hey that looks kinda like Big Boss, if he were ten years younger, and clean shaven, and had both eyes!”

There’s also the fact that Snake spent most of George Sears’s presidency hiding off the grid in the Alaskan bush, probably not watching much CNN.

But okay, why doesn’t Solidus look like Big Boss, if they’re supposed to be a perfect genetic match? And the answer is, Solidus is not Big Boss’s perfect genetic match. Big Boss was a human man who aged naturally over many years. Solidus was genetically engineered to age rapidly. (In the shot above, Solidus is only 37… about my age!) This, combined with any physical alterations they added to the mix, plus whatever effect you get from cleaning him up and putting him in a nice suit, produces two men who look similar but not identical.

As for why the hostages in Big Shell don’t recognize him… they’re hostages. They’re wearing blindfolds and Solidus doesn’t interact with them directly at any point. Even if one of them happened to catch a glimpse, they have Snake’s problem from the other direction; there’s no indication an average citizen in 2009, however-many years into the Patriots’ lockdown on information, knows who Big Boss is or what he looked like.

Where was Solidus during The Phantom Pain?

The Patriots had him.

The video’s next question after this is “where was Grey Fox?” which I covered in my 30 Questions post, but these “where was so-and-so” questions all have the same answer: they were wherever they were, and where they were wasn’t here.

The video’s Grey Fox question gives the game away: people wonder where Grey Fox was, not because there’s some burning hole in the story that needs addressing, but because Grey Fox was cool and influential in that one chapter. So why oh why isn’t he in this other chapter? It’s a Pure Fanboy question (and, of course, I have deep respect and sympathy for other Metal Gear fanboys). It’s not a stupid thing to ask, it’s just that there’s not an answer and isn’t going to be, because the answer wouldn’t affect anything.

The wording in the video is something like, “Grey Fox did important stuff in this story, so it would make perfect sense for him to do important stuff in this other story.” Yeah, okay, but it also makes perfect sense that maybe he didn’t do important stuff in that other story. Kojima can only write it one way. It’s fine to wish it was written another way because you dig on some Grey Fox, but that’s not the way it went.

You can see the silliness of this question by asking a reverse version of it. Where was Quiet during Metal Gear Solid? She doesn’t die onscreen, she isn’t mentioned later in the chronology… what happened to her? We know the answer is something like “Phantom Pain was a prequel, and Quiet hadn’t been invented yet.” And we leave it at that. We don’t trouble ourselves with an in-universe version of the question because one simply isn’t necessary to make the story work.

We can of course speculate. It’s possible Quiet retired from military life and opened a flower shop in Bruges, and nobody bothered her ever again. Or maybe she slipped on a banana peel and fell into the ocean and dissolved, and Venom wiped the resulting sludge all over his face in a dramatic cutscene. Point is, she wasn’t at Shadow Moses. And Solidus wasn’t on Mother Base.

As with any absent character, we can infer what Solidus was likely up to in the early 1980s. He’s younger than his brothers, but aging faster, and we know from Sons of Liberty that by the late ’80s he was “old” enough to be a twisted father figure to Raiden on a battlefield in Liberia. The whole point of Solidus’s existence is to be a military and political tool for the Patriots, and we know he eventually fills that intended role, at least for a time. During the early ’80s his apparent age is probably in the mid-to-late teens, and he’s probably spending his days receiving the harsh training that would eventually carry him to Liberia, the presidency, and Dead Cell.

What happened to Diamond Dogs after The Phantom Pain?

They died, disbanded, and rebranded themselves, in some combination.

D-Dog got to keep the helicopter.

From our perspective, because our protagonists were the dudes in charge of Mother Base — and it certainly does look super impressive — the Diamond Dogs were a special and influential player in world events during the 1980s. Our perspective is biased, though. In reality, Diamond Dogs was just one of many mercenary armies dotting the globe. They were a blip on the map.

This is the in-universe reason for The Phantom Pain‘s PvP element. When you infiltrate another player’s Mother Base, what you’re actually doing is attacking a rival PMC in order to steal their soldiers and intel, disassemble their nukes, and piss in all their flower pots. We don’t know how many such groups there are. Probably lots and lots.

We also get a very grim depiction of what life is like for the men of these PMCs, both from Big Boss himself (especially during his various speeches in Peace Walker), and eventually from the creation and manipulation of the War Economy in Guns of the Patriots. These men drift from battlefield to battlefield mostly in a haze. When one group breaks up — as Diamond Dogs inevitably must — the component parts end up somewhere else. They join other PMCs, to fight in other battles, and that is the story of them. EVA has quite a lot to say about this during her big “war is bad” exposition during Guns.

In practice, most of the Diamond Dogs hardware and personnel probably ended up at Outer Heaven, which is where Venom Snake eventually plants his flag on soil. Outer Heaven wasn’t just another PMC, it was a new nation, which is why the US government took such an interest in it. But that’s a story for another time.

What is the VOL2 tape? Is there a VOL1 tape?

It’s an easter egg.

The tape in question is collected during a non-canon side op in Ground Zeroes called “Classified Intel Acquisition”. Once collected it appears on the menu as “Classified Intel Data”. There’s only one track: “Data Cassette (Do not use in music players)”. Of course, inside Ground Zeroes the only thing you can do with tapes is listen to them in your music player, which just results in about five seconds of static.

Now, the first couple Metal Gear games were released for an 8-bit computer called the MSX, which was able to read data from cassette tapes. Some cheaper games came on cassette, but Metal Gear and its sequel came on sturdier, more expensive cartridges. In fact, Metal Gear 2 uses MSX cartridges as a plot element, when some important data winds up encoded on one. There being precident for this kind of chicanery, some enterprising hackers figured out how to boot the static from Ground Zeroes in an MSX emulator. The result is the phrase “VOL2” followed by a bunch of garbage code.

In one of The Phantom Pain‘s thirty endings, we get to see what might be VOL1: the cassette Venom Snake has that’s labeled “Operation Intrude N313”. That’s the code name for sending Solid Snake into Outer Heaven. The implication here is that Venom’s tape is the mission data for the first Metal Gear game, and the tape Big Boss recovers in Ground Zeroes, VOL2, is the data for Metal Gear 2.

But it can’t possibly be, because there’s no way the planning for Zanzibar Land could have ended up at a Cuban black site in the 1970s, ten years before a computer that can read it even makes it to market. Metal Gear is crazy, but it’s never dipped into time travel.

The VOL2 tape is just a macguffin. It only exists to justify your running around in that one side op. It was just a neat place for Kojima to hide a little wink for fanatical players to discover.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the “VOL2” thing may not even be true. I haven’t verified it myself, others have reported not being able to boot the data at all, there doesn’t seem to be any video of the data being booted, and the only reference to VOL2 I can even find on the internet outside of the listicle video are some reddit posts discussing it. (The video doesn’t even seem to know why it’s called the VOL2 tape, or at least, doesn’t mention it.) Reports indicate that the “VOL2” text is followed by lots of garbage data, so it could even be coincidence that the static, when converted to MSX data, just happens to output something legible for the first four characters. The whole thing might just be an urban legend. Either way, it doesn’t need an in-universe explanation.

How do we know the Ground Zeroes side ops aren’t canonical?

Big Boss only visits Camp Omega once: the Ground Zeroes main op.

In the side ops, Big Boss visits Camp Omega again and again, to accomplish various tasks. In one he sits in his helicopter and sprays the whole base with a machinegun. In another he erases a bunch of Metal Gear game logos. In another he extracts Hideo Kojima himself, who is held in the base as a prisoner. Some, like Classified Intel Acquisition, are plausible in-universe adventures; others clearly aren’t.

The crucial tell here is, at the beginning of the main op, it’s Big Boss’s first visit to Camp Omega. Kaz’s briefing as Big Boss climbs the cliffs up to the site make it pretty clear neither of them have been there before in person. So we know he didn’t complete Classified Intel Acquisition before now.

As soon as Big Boss leaves with Paz and Chico, he arrives back at Mother Base during Skull Face’s attack. During the commotion Big Boss is wounded, and enters his nine-year coma. So we know he doesn’t complete Classified Intel Acquisition later, either.

The only other read, if you’re willing to really stretch, is that Big Boss went back to Camp Omega at some point in the 1980s to complete these side ops during or after the events of The Phantom Pain. The problem with this read is it would have to be Big Boss, and not Venom Snake, since the man doing the infiltration doesn’t have any forehead shrapnel. But it couldn’t be Big Boss, because Kaz doesn’t work with Big Boss any more after Mother Base is destroyed.

The side ops are fun little missions, and some of them even make sense as canon if you take Ground Zeroes in isolation, but they’re not a part of the series chronology.

Are all easter eggs non-canonical?

This gets real muddy real quick, but basically no.

Some easter eggs are clearly just for fun: Snake demonstrably did not run around Shadow Moses in a tuxedo. Others are fun, but also fit in-universe: EVA probably did have breast augmentation done as part of “charm school”.

Metal Gear likes to dabble in magical realism, so when Snake tells Raiden his bandana gives him infinite ammo, and then fires thirty thousand rounds at ninja attackers in the following scene, I’m willing to take his word. When something like this happens during the course of natural gameplay, or is directly called attention to by one of the characters in-universe, we can probably put it down as having happened, even if what happened was weird.

On the other hand, it’s really hard to believe that Snake has a “Making of Metal Gear Solid 4” podcast on his iPod. I mean, who carried an iPod around in 2014!?

There’s this intuitive understanding of video game storytelling where it’s not necessarily true that every bit of gameplay “actually happened”. If you spend an hour punching Emma in the face, you wouldn’t consider that part of the story’s canon. It’s just Some Dumb Thing You Did. Kojima is really, really good at finding those spots and acknowledging them, though; if you do punch Emma in the face, your codec team knows you did it, and will yell at you for it. The codec team reacting makes it “more real” than if they hadn’t, and it becomes part of “your” Sons of Liberty story, but it’s still not part of the shared canon across all players. (E.g., when you boot up Guns of the Patriots, Otacon won’t be like, “Hey Raiden, remember that time you spent an hour punching my sister in the face?”)

So maybe, when you point a camera at one of the Beauties and she wiggles her butt at you, it’s because the Beauties canonically wiggled their butts. Or maybe it was just Kojima winking and saying, “I knew you’d try that, you perv.”

“I knew you’d try this, too, and the authorities have been notified.”

How did the Philosopher’s Legacy end up with Ocelot?

He took it.

The Philosopher’s Legacy is a colossal amount of money in Colonel Volgin’s possession during Snake Eater. Anybody who’s anybody in Groznyj Grad is there to get their grubby mitts on the Legacy, in the form of a microfilm containing its location, and turn it over to their respective government. Lots of stuff happens, but it all shakes out with Ocelot telling his boss, the director of the CIA, that the Legacy is “safely with us, in America’s hands.” In that same conversation, he says only about half the Legacy made it back, and speculates that the rest must still be in the USSR, with the KGB.

Every reference to the Legacy after this point involves it coming to Major Zero, and being used to establish the Patriots. The nuts and bolts of where the money actually went requires delving into Portable Ops, which many players (including me) do not consider canon. In that game, Ocelot explicitly recovers both the KGB and CIA halves of the Legacy, and turns it all over to Zero.

While Portable Ops isn’t canon, I think we can safely assume those particular events played out more or less as they were depicted. This sort of duplicity is exactly the kind of work Ocelot is suited for, and he was well-placed in both the KGB and CIA at the time. Betraying both for a new organization that benefits himself and Big Boss sounds right up his alley.

Do Ocelot and The Boss know they’re related?


The Boss is Ocelot’s mother. In The Boss’s long sad story about giving birth during the landing at Normandy, the baby she lost to the Philosophers grew up to become Ocelot. During Snake Eater neither character gives any indication they know about their connection, and while The Boss is mentioned quite a lot by other characters later in the chronology, never by Ocelot himself. So that’s the answer: no, they don’t. (Or, the more complete answer: no, probably not.)

The more interesting aspect of this question is, to me, that neither of these characters are the type to have behaved any differently if they had known. The Boss wasn’t going to jeopardize her mission in Groznyj Grad because she happened to be reunited with dear old Sonny Boy, and Ocelot just flat out doesn’t respect authority. Most likely there’s no family reunion scene because neither of them knew, but it’s possible one or both of them knew, and didn’t act.

Where was EVA between Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots?

Wherever she was.

No, Brick, come on, this one is actually important!

Okay, fair enough. We actually know quite a lot about EVA’s timeline between the two games she appears in, but we have to put it together from several different sources. The only direct evidence we get about her fate following Snake Eater is from the ending crawl. In 1968, she “disappeared without a trace in Hanoi”. A few lines later, in 1972, “the sons of Big Boss are born.”

At the time Snake Eater came out these looked like two disconnected events, but as of Guns of the Patriots we know that EVA is the mother of Big Boss’s sons. So it follows: when she disappeared in Hanoi, she disappeared into Patriots custody, for use in Les Enfants Terribles. This project caused a schism in the Patriots; it was the event that caused Big Boss to break away. EVA was conflicted; she didn’t want to work against Big Boss, but she also cared about her sons. (She tells Snake, “Your father never wanted you… but I wanted you.”)

From here the games lose track of EVA until she turns up again in Guns, as the leader of the Paradise Lost Army, working against the Patriots.

EVA never worked directly with Big Boss during his private army years. There was some contact — she sends him a bunch of tapes about The Boss in Peace Walker — but as far as we can tell they never met again face to face. However, Ocelot also wasn’t working directly with Big Boss during this time; he was still ostensibly a loyal Patriots agent. It’s not until Skull Face blows up Mother Base and draws Zero out of hiding that there’s any indication these characters still share a personal connection. It’s at Zero’s behest that Ocelot look after Big Boss’s double, as an extra security measure.

One more important clue: when EVA lay dying on the Volta, she makes one final emotional appeal to Liquid Ocelot by using the first code name she knew him by: ADAM. She even gives him an apple, just to drive home the ham-handed imagery. This is the only time during Guns when a character addresses Liquid Ocelot as Ocelot instead of Liquid. She’s asking, is the Ocelot I knew still in there? And she dies before she gets the answer.

Remember, the man Ocelot is masquereding as at this point is her other son, who she wanted. That she’d try to appeal to Ocelot, rather than her own son, is very telling. She had a connection with Ocelot, before he disappeared into Liquid.

From all of this we can extrapolate EVA’s timeline. She was working closely with Ocelot for many years, though covertly. Ocelot was still inside the Patriots; EVA at some point breaks away. They kept working together to get hold of Big Boss’s remains and bring down Cipher. You can picture EVA receiving a secret tape (well, probably a CD or a thumb drive by this point) with Ocelot saying, “Hey, this Big Shell nonsense is going to be a real cluster. Don’t get close, I got this.”

At some point, she forms Paradise Lost.

I don’t think it’s really important to pin down when this happens. A secret covert organization devoted to fighting another secret covert organization nobody knows exists? Makes sense there are no breadcrumbs. Cipher and the Patriots have lots of fingers in lots of pies. While Ocelot was working the direct military conflicts — the sort of thing Solid Snake and therefore the player would be involved in — Paradise Lost was doing different sorts of work. Rescuing VIPs, shuffling and hiding finances, planting and acquiring secret intel, maybe keeping tabs on Huey Emmerich’s kids.

Eventually Ocelot is “lost” from EVA’s perspective, and at that point she’s the last one left still fighting the Patriots. It’s not until now, maybe 2010 or so, she needs to become more involved militarily. She recruits Raiden and, eventually, makes contact with Solid Snake.

So, where was she between Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots? She was wherever she was, doing whatever she could.

Why was Shadow Moses left unattended for so long?

This is a very, very interesting question that gets right to the heart of a lot of the themes of information control the series likes to drone on about. I’m actually surprised — and a little impressed! — that it showed up in someone’s clickbait video.

And it was left unattended because they knew they’d want to make this scene a decade later.

After the events of Metal Gear Solid, Nastasha Romanenko, a loose end the Patriots failed to tie up, published a tell-all book entitled In the Darkness of Shadow Moses: The Unofficial Truth. This is an accurate recounting of the Shadow Moses Incident. You can read the full text off the main menu in Sons of Liberty, where it serves as a story recap. When it comes to Shadow Moses, the truth is out there.

So tell me, what did you just think of when I said, “the truth is out there”?

One important distinction between the Metal Gear universe and our own is, over there, there exists a shadowy illuminati organization that controls everything the citizens think and feel. It’s rare that the Patriots goof enough that the public gets any wind of their machinations. (Indeed, these incidents tend to be the scenarios we play through!) But even events that are too big to cover up can be spun, and nobody is better at doing that than Cipher. Remember: the Patriots’ goal isn’t to suppress information, but rather to control it. They don’t need to erase Shadow Moses, they just need the citizenry to not believe it. As long as they paint Romanenko’s tell-all as sensationalist conspiracy claptrap, well, job done.

How would you feel about a movie called Obama’s Birth Certificate: The Unofficial Truth? (That movie kind of exists, by the way.)

Shadow Moses was left unattended because the only public account of what happened there wasn’t credible. And besides, we don’t actually know it was left unattended. Maybe Cipher had a dude out there in a yurt whose job it was to catalog all the comings and goings. Maybe black helicopters showed up in 2013 to disappear the film crew of the In the Darkness Netflix documentary series.

How did the Patriots AI give orders to people?

Agents. Until nanomachines were invented, anyway. Then, nanomachines. Except those people that don’t have nanomachines. For those, the AI uses agents.

How do nanomachines get installed?

A needle goes into your skin, and the nanomachines are injected, and now you have nanomachines.

These two questions, taken together, fall into the category of “So wait,” for me. “So wait, the Patriots really have basically infinite resources?” Yeah, that’s really what’s up. If the Patriots want you to do a thing, you’ll get your orders somehow. If they want you to have nanos, you’ll get nanos.

There are numerous examples of the Patriots AI establishing control over people without them ever knowing it. Meryl Silverburgh spends an entire game doing their bidding, and she doesn’t even know they exist. Raiden goes into live fire on an anti-terrorist infiltration op because a voice in his head tells him to. Solid Snake lets a doctor give him an injection of what he thinks is an anti-freezing agent, but is actually a revenge-fueled nanovirus.

The Patriots AI is an infinite computer brain that lives in space, has been in constant development for 40 years, backed by an all-powerful world-spanning organization with unlimited funds, whose very mission statement is to control everything. Eventually it’s not even possible to fire a gun unless the AI says it’s okay. The logistics of these day-to-day tasks are just trifling details.

The AI is imperfect, and by Sons of Liberty it has also gone crazy, but it’s still functionally all-powerful.

Why does the Patriots AI allow Liquid Ocelot to rise to power?

Because it can’t not.

The AI isn’t equipped to deal with Liquid as he’s amassing wealth and power. Imagine coming home to find your kitchen burned down, and asking your goldfish why it didn’t put the fire out even though it had all that water right there.

The Patriots AI is infinite in resources and global reach, but it is stupid. At the end of Guns Big Boss describes the AI as being an “oppressivly uniform system”. It’s capable of doing only what it was designed to do: control information. That’s an incredibly powerful tool, but as of SIGINT’s death in Metal Gear Solid, nobody is weilding it anymore. The AI is left unsupervized, and its code eventually mutates into what we see in Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots.

Liquid Ocelot takes advantage of the situation, but he didn’t create the War Economy. The War Economy is an abberation, a mutation in the Patriots AI that allows it to propogate itself and bring people under its control faster and more efficiently than the old method of controlling information.

The AI can’t take action against Liquid without damaging its own plots and systems. And the AI can’t — literally is unable to — take action that would damage its own plots and systems. So it’s stuck, if it even sees what’s happening.

However, buried somewhere deep in the AI is a vestigial line of code left over from Shadow Moses, that looks something like:

if Liquid.uppity

Which is exactly what happens. The AI starts turning a wheel somewhere, and before you know it Roy Campbell is touching down in a helicopter with an assassination job on offer. And that wheel touches another wheel which touches another wheel which ensures Drebin and Meryl just happen to be in the area to offer valuable support.

The AI can’t prevent Liquid’s rise to power because last time Liquid rose to power, nobody prevented it. It has no frame of reference. But someone did stop Liquid once he attained power, and so the AI just does the same thing that worked last time: it sends in Solid Snake.

How is the Arsenal Gear crash covered up?

The clickbait video lists this as the #1 question Metal Gear doesn’t answer, but I can’t really figure out why, since to my knowledge this doesn’t actually happen. The cover-up, I mean. The crash definitely happens.

It’s true we don’t know what the public’s reaction to the Arsenal crash is. But then, we generally don’t know a lot about what the public is up to in the Metal Gear universe at all. We are told repeatedly that the events of the games — even the big, flashy public ones — get swept away by some “official story” that everybody buys, and that’s really enough of an explanation. The public believed whatever the Patriots AI wanted them to believe re: Arsenal, because that’s something the Patriots AI is able to do.

They did cover up this awesome boss fight, though.

In Sons of Liberty, Otacon explains that Ocelot sold the technical specs for REX on the black market, and now every “state, group and dotcom” has their own Metal Gear. In such a climate, it would be shockingly easy for the US government to sell its citizens on the idea that, yes, we really do need something like Arsenal to protect us, and yes, terrorists stole it and crashed it into New York, so yes, now we need even bigger and badder Metal Gears to combat this new threat. This is, in fact, almost exactly how the War Economy ends up operating in Guns of the Patriots.

That’s the end of the Metal Gear questions, for now.

If you have a burning question of your own, or even better, if you have another dumb clickbait video for me to dissect, point me in that direction. And as always, thanks for reading!