Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Mushroom at the End of the World

I just worked my way through half of Anna Tsing's <b> The Mushroom at the End of the World </b> and it is fantastic. It is a wonderful exploration of the edges of capitalism viewed through the lens of the matsutake mushroom and the economies/ecologies it fosters. There's a lot to chew on in the book, but one of the sections stood out to me in particular as a tabletop player.

Mushroom foraging is an acapitalistic endeavor. While capital exchanges hands (foragers trade mushrooms to buyers for cash, buyers exchange the mushrooms for cash from more centralized buyers who eventually trade mushrooms for cash from consumers), the foragers and buyers do not reinvest the cash into the business - they do not consolidate capital. Foragers are independent, loyal to no particular buyer and no part of the Oregonian mountains - they traipse into and out of public and private land, sometimes with and often without foraging licenses administered by the usually-absent state government and National Park Service. Buyers attempt to groom loyal foragers through bribes of drinks and treats and appeals to ethnic unity (ethnicity, of course, being a construct of conflict and thus highly socially-mediated), a ploy that often falls flat given the range of people and backgrounds who seek fungal gold. A buyer's chief goal is to drive the other buyers out of business. To that end, they compete for the highest prices - the higher the price, the more the highest-bidder will have to spend to buy the mushrooms such a price attracts. Thus, competition increases cost, rather than the opposite.

Matsutake mushrooms grow in forests devastated by human exploitation - they thrive on trees kept artificially alive through human intervention (fire protection) that cannot compete with hereditary giants and thus spring up in the wake of deforestation and the destruction of the natural environment. They cannot be farmed - Japan invests millions of dollars each year seeking a way to cultivate the matsutake, to no avail - they can only be stumbled upon in the woods, often buried in holes where only clever animals (humans and nonhumans alike) smell them out. Matsutake take on the characteristics of the trees on which they grow - the smell of a matsutake (already a pungent mushroom) on a piss-fir is exquisitely awful, and skilled buyers can determine the growing conditions of a mushroom from touch and smell alone (there are also insect parasites that can infest the mushrooms and spoil whole batches shipped to Japan - experienced buyers detect these only with a touch, while novices have to cut into the matsutake's white flesh).

The parallels to parties extracting goods from ruins, themselves the remains of human-led destruction, are obvious. There is a potential for our games to straddle the line between capitalistic and anticapitalistic endeavors, and I wonder if our love of fixed-price commodities, of easily-quantifiable treasure, is the reason that anticapitalistic potential is so rarely realized.

I both adore and hate the idea of the megadungeon. I have one in my world and not a single party I've run has ever expressed any interest in spending a prolonged period of time in there, plumbing the depths - while the cash is good, it is too lethal a place. Logistically, a meaningful megadungeon is almost an oxymoron. Yet, while I cannot imagine my players excited about seeking mushrooms in the Oregonian mountains (something great for video games and not so great for tabletops), I know that players do get excited about dungeon delves, and the resulting dungeon-market economy would function exactly as Tsing describes the matsutake buyers market. But to create such an environment, I have to do away with goods with easily-discernable value: no coins, no antiquated paintings, no clockwork mechanisms.

One of my design goals is to present an example of postcolonial D&D, building a game that does not reify structural racism and other exploitative structures. If that shit isn't OK in my other media, why should it be OK in my game? Tsing's matsutake economy recontextualizes one of the most common forms of labors in D&D into a mode of being in between capitalism and anticapitalism. Tsing writes that the true "good" exchanged between the buyers and foragers is the exercise of freedom. The money is secondary to the ability to live in refugee-style camps in the Cascades, outside the oppressive systems of contemporary life, which describes many of our players to a T.


One of the key problems with the Settlement Campaign idea is that it is so broad. That broadness is also one of the core features that makes it such an appealing idea. However, while there are components common to many Settlement Campaigns, each such endeavor will be unique because of the differences in topography, climate, geology, hydrology, etc. I talked about creating a hyper-snowflake setting and ruleset, but in trying to represent the Settlement Campaign, I tried to reach too broadly, focusing more on universality than the specificity that I want to promote within game design.

So, in service of that specificity, I drew the (most of) the rest of the continent within which the Sea of Shadows is located. It currently lacks a name, but names are complicated beasts and I like to leave those to the end of the process. I do have some names, areas of my world that have been bouncing around in my brain for years but I've not wanted to develop (as I tried to focus on just the Sea of Shadows itself). While Guol, Panumbra, and the Wintry South will continue to occupy the furthest-back burner, it is nice to know where they are on the map, how they relate to each other topographically, and so on. It is also humbling to see that this world which has occupied my thoughts for 5ish years occupies just 40 squares of my sheet of graph paper - despite how much work I have put into this project, I have barely scratched the surface of all there is to accomplish. It is humbling, but it is also somewhat freeing; I am still beginning this endeavor - despite the progress on my game book, I have not come close to any sort of ending.

Additionally, and this was the original goal of the exercise, I now have places for my settlers to settle.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I am chagrined to say that I did not have wildcrafting/foraging rules in my game until earlier today. Maxwell's question prompted me to look, realize my problem, and begin fixing it.

The first problem is definitional. As I outlined in my previous posts, there are two different ways to use this skill. The first, and more common one, is to harvest food from the wilderness, as part of travelling through a location. The second use entails reliably harvesting food from an area over time. Most forage rules only offer a way of dealing with the first, but I'd like to expand the use of this skill.

I am inspired in this approach by Alexis' Hex Generator 2.0 which, drawing from his Civ IV posts, lists different food sources in wilderness hexes. Each source contributes 1 or more food which then sustains predator populations. It's an elegant top-down system (literally, as large hexes are divided into smaller and smaller ones until we reach an approximately 3mi hex), but I wanted something a little more bottom up.

Anyone can pull a bunch of grass from the ground and eat them. Wildcrafters, first and foremost, know what plants are safe to eat (and what parts of those plants are safe to eat), as well as how to find them. Different environments present different levels of risk.

Being simplistic, I have three categories of risk, high, moderate, and low, which reference both the prevalence of innocuously poisonous plants as well as the threat of local predators. The Sahargeen jungle, a rain forest, is high risk for both of those reasons. The scrubland beyond the jungle's edge is far less risky as there are fewer predators and few toxic plants. Low-risk areas require Apprentice Wildcrafting, moderate-risk ones need Journeyman Wildcrafting, and high-risk regions call for Specialist Wildcrafting. Attempting to forage beyond your level of competency requires a check, and failure indicates that either the forager gets a random encounter while alone in the wilderness or the harvested food is potentially poisonous.

Food availability depends upon the environment, its vegetation and topology. Each foraged region provides a number of "nodes", renewable sources of food - a game track, a berry patch, a gloomy mushroom grove, an excellent fishing spot, etc. The number of nodes varies, as one might expect.

Dense: 3-7 nodes
Moderate: 2-5 nodes
Sparse: 1-3 nodes
Dead: 0-1 nodes

I use a modified 2d6 roll with the highest possible outcome on the two most extreme results on each end (2,3,11,12), and then reducing the number of nodes found by 1 moving towards the center until reaching the minimum value. This gives a consistent 1/6 chance of getting the maximal result, but strongly varies how much one might find in the middle.

We say that 1 node provides enough food for 1 person and we're done.

Sort of. If all we care about is that first usage of wildcrafting, then we are done. But I want to make this skill more useful, so we need to complicate the model by introducing the idea of overharvesting.

Staying in one location and continuing to forage depletes local resources and teaches animals to avoid the area. It's not a sustainable practice. A common guideline I've discovered in the interwebs is to harvest 25% of what is present. If we take that literally, then in feeding 3-7 people, we are drawing from 12-28 nodes.

OK, so there is a lot more food present than is being harvested. What does the original number signify, then? It is the amount of food that can be harvested in a day's work, drawing equitably from a subset of the nodes available. The wildcrafter needs to choose how much food they wish to harvest, knowing how much food is available before the area is depleted and needs a year to recharge.

Thus, if the party will be staying in an area for a while, they can't just set up camp and stay there - foraging will eventually remove all of the available food. Travel time to other areas to harvest reduces the time available to actually forage, commensurately reducing the amount of food acquired, as well.

Obviously, I'll need to run this at the table to see how it works, but I feel like this is a workable solution. I think Master and Grandmaster Wildcrafters would be able to do more with what they found, essentially increasing the number of nodes available.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Settlement

My thoughts are continuing to jump around, and finally returned to the Settlement Campaign. Rereading Alexis' series of posts on creating a trading settlement got me thinking about Phase 2 of the settlement campaign: establishing a thorp. This became especially timely with Alexis' ruminations on large-scale passage oftime.

Drawing from Wilder's novels, in an environment where humans are the alpha predator, each cluster will establish their own farm a day or so distant from each other. However, this is D&D - until the party clears out whatever malicious presences are nearby, the expedition is under constant threat. Consequently, they will build a concentrated group of buildings instead of a network of individual houses. This thorp will likely be walled and will have animal pens, a granary, homes for each cluster, and place of worship, and common food storage. Ideally, the expedition will be able to put a well inside the walls, but that's a feature of hydrology and climate - water barrels might be the only option.

The primary function of this thorp is to produce enough food that everyone lives. No more, no less. Most communities will do this by farming (raiding will later become an option, but presumably there are few things to rob at this point). Each able-bodied worker can manage about 2 acres of farmland, and about 1 acre is necessary to feed 1 adult, over the course of the year. However, yields are not consistent (weather plays a huge factor in whether a field produces or not), so a family of 4 would want to operate at least 5 acres to avoid starvation. In most feudal settings, land is at a premium, but in the settlement campaign, land costs only the effort to clear it. However, farming at this rate pretty much requires a yoke of oxen or horses to plow the land come spring, and 1 team can plow 1 acre per day (the origin of the unit of measurement). So, the number of teams determines the overall number of acres the community can support - in the northern hemisphere, the month of July is used for plowing. On my calendar, that's 28 days available for plowing, so 28 acres per team, or enough land to support about 19 people (assuming a 1.5 acres/person ratio for safety's sake).

There are other food approaches, however. Wildcrafting allows skilled individuals to find and harvest locally-available food, identifying berry patches, fruit trees, edible mushrooms, fishing spots, and the like. Forest farming entails manipulating a forest environment to grow food and cash crops under the tree canopy. The advantages of wildcrafting and forest farming is that they do not require clearing the land before allowing for farming, but they can be less fruitful than typical farming methods in some climates (hence the abandonment of both practices by Europeans).

Wildcrafting uses whatever rules you use for foraging in the wilderness and requires a couple hundred acres of undeveloped land fairly close to the settlement, and it is assumed that a wildcrafter will be sustainably foraging. Forest farming, on the other hand, requires somewhat different rules. It is only available in wooded environments (obviously) and requires at least 5 acres to be sustainable. But, each of those 5 acres can support 1 person, just like an acre of conventional farmland. At this stage of the settlement campaign, the downside to both wildcrafting and forest farming is that they require a specialized skillset -  a combination of traditional farming knowledge and the wilderness lore usually restricted to ranger-type individuals.

The distinctions between trad farming, wildcrafting, and forest farming manifest in the kinds of goods produced, but that only matters when the thorp becomes part of a network of thorps, exchanging goods and services. For now, all three produce food, and that's what is important.

As I alluded above, the settlement's physical location is crucial and will determine the success or failure of the thorp. Most expeditions will need to rely on traditional farming for food and require a relatively flat area of about 20 acres. The site needs to have ready access to potable water, preferably a river or lake.

Preferably, the flatland is not thickly forested, as it will have to be clear-cut and destumped before trad farming the land.  If the site is not forested (as a prairie or something), it would be nice for there to be a woodland of some kind relatively close by to provide the timber for all of the building projects. Ultimately, the biome of the settled location will determine what properties are available and desirable. For those of you who have played Dwarf Fortress, it is exactly the same process - we are looking for a the equivalent of a high-metal, high-wood, high-soil region with reasonable weather and accessible water (but no aquifers. Fuck aquifers.), or as close to it as we can get. I operate with terrain, climate, and vegetation types as three separate parameters which combine into a fairly detailed picture of what kinds of things could be found on a particular hex. Vegetation tells me what kinds of plants predominate (trees, grasses, or shrubs, and in what density) while climate/elevation tells me what specific trees, grasses, or shrubs actually grow there (so that I can say not trees but oak or boxwood trees). [I will say that since I primarily operate in a tropical climate, needing to convert most of the wood used in Alexis' trade tables, which rely on European standards for most constructed goods (spruce for buckets, for instance), to the woods actually available in a tropical climate, has been a lot of fun and also a lot of work, but totally worth it.]

I won't make a list - how those three parameters interact is going to depend heavily upon your worldmap, and I have not yet finished a nice organizational scheme for the interactions that I use.

As I mentioned previously, every expedition needs to have some sort of guide (a hinterlander or ranger-type character) who helps the expedition cope with the new environment, and it is the guide's responsibility to choose a suitable site. Whatever site the group ends up with is the best available site within the region - there should not be a strictly better place to establish a thorp within a couple days' travel. If your players become guides, then randomly rolling for a series of sites and letting them choose where to settle their groups makes sense.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Magic Bells

Magical powers have been attributed to bells for much of human history, in both the West and Far East. The basic premise is that the chiming of the bell drives away evil spirits/lightning/thieves/bad luck/etc. They are essentially a tool that weaponizes sound, directing it at (often) incorporeal or abstract targets. In Garth Nix's Old Kingdom Chronicles, necromancers use a set of 7 bells, which tap into the powers of primordial beings, to unleash specific effects (sleeping, reanimating, forcing movement, speech, thought, binding, and death itself, respectively). This core concept, bell magic, lead me to write my first set of custom rules, an Old Kingdom Chronicles RPG built on a D&D 3.5 chassis (the only system I knew at the time), and gave me my start as a DM.

Based on the folklore, bellringing works kind of like turning undead - while sound emanates from the bell, a targeted type of thing is driven from the space. If we limit it to types of creatures, the bell may ring in the audible frequency range, but it has distinct overtones beyond it only perceptible by the targeted group (or it magically has a low fundamental that matches the targeted creatures' natural frequency and will, over time, vibrate them apart).

Now for the implementation. Silver bells repel Sidh and Yokai, an extension of how silver dispels their magic and burns them.

Handbell players have a variety of options when it comes to playing a handbell - the first is a question of how many bells are played. Everyone can ring one bell per hand, but more skilled players can play with 2 or even 3 bells per hand, sounding either 1 at a time or all of them. Furthermore, while a single strike of the clapper is the norm, the bellringer can circle the bell, causing the clapper to slide around the inside of the bell and sustaining the pitch (like sliding your wet finger around the rim of a partially-filled wineglass).

The first ability is something to take note of for later, but not immediately necessary for these rules. However, the ability of a bellringer to arbitrarily sustain the pitch of the bell is a powerful one in this context.

This means that the most important feature of a bell is its loudness, most importantly, the range at which it is still audible (and thus effective). Finding hard numbers on this is somewhat tricky, so I'll cheat. By rearranging the equation I can find relating audibility distance and loudness, I get


Where r2 is the distance at which the sound is L2 loud, if the sound is L1 loud at a distance of 1 yard from the instrument.

Looking at instrument loudness ratings, the upper limit on the sound of a handbell is 100dB (the approximate volume of a fortissimo piano). Now, a 100dB sound is audible for 56,000 yards (since the threshold for hearing is ~5dB for pitches written on the musical staff), which is a massive sphere of influence for a single bell, even at the extremes - that's about 32 miles (admittedly, 32 miles on what I presume is a flat, featureless plain with no sound competition, but still). Perhaps a better range is 55dB, the loudness of a casual conversation. This reduces our 100dB handbell's effective range to 178 yards, which is a far more reasonable range. However, 100dB is the upper limit on how loud a handbell might be - most are not nearly that loud. A 90dB bell is (roughly) half the volume, and travels only 56 yards before crossing beneath our effective threshold, but I want to use 85dB as the standard - it's the threshold for ear damage from prolonged exposure, which means that characters who ring bells for too long will suffer permanent damage, but they can easily ring the bell more quietly for a limited range indefinitely.

Being a fan of round numbers, we'll say that handbells can be played at 3 volumes: 90dB (loud), 85dB (normal), and 80dB (quiet), with effective ranges of 56, 32, and 18 yards. We'll play one last trick and redefine our distances from yards to feet (so that these loudness measures represent what the bellringer hears, not what someone standing in front of the bellringer hears), which lets us shrink these ranges down to 19, 11, and 6 yards of effective range, or 20/10/5 to keep things nice and round.

Returning to silver bells, Sidh and Yokai within the affected range must succeed an Ascetic test (or Magic saving throw) in to remain within that area and their magic becomes more difficult to manifest, requiring them to make casting checks.

Larger Bells
Of course, bells come in more shapes and sizes than just handbells. Churchbells are still a huge part of the soundscape of most European cities - even competing with modern urban noise, one can still hear the churchbells ring out the hour all across the city. The bell and belltower become the center of those communities lucky enough to have one. In most medieval-fantasy settings, the only "practical" reason for this might be the vantage the belltower provides and the ability of the bell to warn of danger. The bell's function in liturgical communities was obviously as a call to prayer (since they had 7-8 different services every day), but we can do better.

The obvious extension is to add bellmaking as a medium under sculpture for the artist/bard. I'd need a new entry in the table detailing different effects a mastercrafted bell (or set of bells) might cause in the countryside. However, I am intrigued by Alexis' discussion of happiness in bardic artwork. Frustratingly, the solution he proposes is impossible for my game - I don't have character levels, so a mechanic that allows them to be acquired faster is not particularly useful, and expediting other kinds of character growth (notch acquisition) is not a particularly elegant solution.

While Alexis was still musing about in what direction to take the bard, I proposed creating a scale of behaviors based upon happiness - an x-happiness settlement behaves in this way, whereas a y-happiness settlement behaves in this other way. It's a ridiculous amount of work, but I think the benefits extend beyond bardic artwork, especially when I return to talking about the settlement campaign at some point in the future.

We can interpret the list of effects bells were thought to abjure in two ways: the first is that bells essentially make the owner/user more lucky (in avoiding theft, lightning strikes, wildfire, evil spirits, whatever) - they are focused upon evading some potential harm, when the chances of that harm occurring are fairly low already. If I still ran my game from a random encounter table, this might be a sensible choice - if the probability of something bad happening is 1-in-6, a community with a bell has instead a 1-in-8 or 1-in-10 chance of suffering that same event. But I don't do that anymore; I want to approach the game as a narrative written by the players that observes cycles of tension and release, which makes that kind of approach less useful.

Instead, community bells increase the happiness of the population that lives near them. The word "happiness" is somewhat problematic. In modern psychology, "happiness" is a technical term that only tangentially relates to its vernacular meaning: "happiness" describes a state of general contentment and inner peace, which quickly links to Buddhist and other non-Western faith traditions. Within the Western psychological literature, "happiness" correlates with trust and risk-taking (which are somewhat linked already). The idea is that happier people are more willing to take chances on something that might make them unhappy because taking that risk allows them to expand, develop, and grow - it is an awareness that one's comfort zone can only expand by leaving it. It's still fairly abstract, but I think this path will give me a powerful tool in the end.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Die Zauberflöte

I am embarrassed. As a musicologist, my training (primarily) deals with Western Art Music ("Classical" Music or dead-white-guy music). One of those dead white guys was this dude named Mozart, and he wrote an opera about a flute which has magical powers, the Zauberflöte (literally, "magic flute") that takes place in a quasi-medieval environment with witches and curses and princesses. And it never occurred to me, until Jon Miller's comment, to mine it for D&Dables.

Act I
Prince Tamino is attacked by a giant serpent and faints
The Queen of the Night appears, kills the serpent, and vanishes
The professional birdcatcher, Papageno, (costumed as a birdman) enters the scene just as Tamino awakens
The Queen of the Night reappears, gives Tamino a quest to rescue her daughter from the evil sorcerer, giving him the titular Magic Flute, which transmutes grief to joy, and some magic bells for protection

Tamino and Papageno set out to rescue said maiden

Pamina, the maiden in question, failed in her most-recent attempt to escape and is rechained by the slavemaster (who happens to be black)
Papageno bursts on the scene and is so horrified by the slavemaster's blackness that he flees (while the slavemaster is also revolted by Papageno's birdman appearance. Yay 18th century racial norms…)
The "evil sorcerer" appears and, surprise surprise, is actually a good guy (since if you have two magicians in the 18th c., the evil one is always female) who allows Tamino and Pamina to get married (because love at first sight and, well, it's an opera and that's what ingénues do in opera) if Tamino can pass some manly trials of reason and love of nature and other Freemason-y things.

Act II (this act is better than it looks, but it's less interesting for our purposes)
Tamino passes the trials
The Queen of the Night is pissed
Conflict is resolved through magic
Everyone gets married

Things to pull out of this opera:
2 magic items: the Zauberflöte and protective bells (all bells are magical for most of European history, and it is a terrible shame that most people have forgotten this. I need to talk about bells in a way that probably steals from Garth Nix's Abhorsen series).

Giant serpent (meh)
Birdpeople (yes!) that talk to birds and can look like people or like bird-people and have difficulty finding other members of their species

Bigger things:
Unproblematic Patriarchy (nope. I want to be done with that part of D&D's history. Thank you very much)
Women and night and magic and mystery
Men and day and order and logic and reason and "nature"
Unproblematic Racism (Ibid., Ibid. Just nope)
But I will take conflict via cultural misunderstandings and lack of communication, potentially leading to meaningless hostility and generation-spanning conflicts between "men" and "monsters"
Family Drama (yes)
The top-level conflict in the opera is between two divorced parents (the two magicians) and their approach to parenting. That is super cool. We should think more about what happens when two married archmages get into a pissing contest. (Maybe that's where the Owlbear comes from…) This is simultaneously totally banal and utterly fantastic, which is perfect for D&D.

Overall takeaways:
The emergence of the Zauberflöte, just as Alexis is working on a metric to measurehappiness is perfectly timed. Once he gets to a conclusion, I will adapt it to my world/rules and have a brand-new artifact.
I need to spend a lot of time thinking about how bells are fundamentally magical objects (and how that ripples through everything)
A reminder that NPC motivations are often simple, personal things that can explode into huge issues. We don't learn that the "evil sorcerer" and the Queen of the Night were married and had a daughter (Pamina) until late in Act I at the earliest - there is no reason for the PCs to know that the reason they've been asked to burgle the townhouse is because that's where the cheating spouse likes to go with their special friends. Or that the reason there are two teahouses on the same block that conduct nightly raids of the other is that the owner of a business, a retired adventurer, promised his vast wealth to whichever kid could operate the best teahouse and then died before specifying how the teahouse was to be judged, but left the clause in the will, and through the generations the cause of the endless rivalry has vanished into memory but the feud remains virulent as ever. It's a reminder that when things happen to affect our players, they do not need to be only one level deep or exceedingly complex - seemingly-"ordinary" relationship dynamics can spawn something vast and sweeping, inviting the players to investigate and find out the small thing that has generated the larger issue.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Neglected Space

I want to open by saying that I love Imogen Heap's music. Her more recent work is an excellent fusion of avant-garde and pop sensibilities (which is a weird and compelling combination). One of these tracks is called "Neglected Space" and narrates the thoughts of a house as it is built, abandoned, and reinhabited. The video accompanying the track features beautiful ink-painted graphics which add to the poetic feeling of the piece.

The relevance to D&D is this: imagine that every constructed space features an accompanying spirit, an entity that receives all of the emotional energy expended upon the building, remembering everything that has happened within it. These memories shape the "personality" of the structure. As the spirit gains definition (through the acquisition of memories), the relationship between the spirit and the structure shifts - the structure becomes an extension of the spirit. The architecture seeks to perpetuate the types of memories possessed by the building - a place of evil will try to accommodate those who commit acts of cruelty within it, while a home full of warmth and cheer will be unfriendly to the bandits that massacred the family living there.

One of the consequences of Alexis' and my expanded conception of the bard is that the bard's singular ability, bardic music, makes absolutely no sense for any bard that doesn't work with music. Why can a sculptor help people fight better through the playing of music? It doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd like to have each discipline allow the bard to interact with the world on a regular basis through the lens of their medium.

The idea of a building's spirit gives us the answer for architectural bards. Such a bard has the ability to interface with, in some limited capacity, the spirit of a structure. Through such communion, the bard can glean information about the current and previous states of the building by listening to it.

More importantly, the bard can project memories into the spirit of the structure, causing its architecture to shift accordingly (since the building is an extension of the spirit) - the bard can remove a lock, create a doorway, cause the flooring to weaken in a strategic place, etc. These projections last a limited time, after which the building might reject or act against the bard.

Thoughts? Obviously, I am not presenting any rules here, only the impetus for them, but this feels weird and cool and similar-but-different to what arcane spellcasters can do (with things like stoneshape and the like).