Author Archives: Kyrie

D&D Assignment: Prompts & Answers

Kyrie Caldwell, CMS Grad Student (and thusly prepare thyself for CMSly walls of text! 🙂 )

Just to be clear, I was creating a character for a new campaign with my regular D&D group, so my process likely varied slightly from the template!

Question: How would you characterize the moments in this account in which stats are referenced or dice are rolled? What is happening in these moments? How do they differ from the rest of the account? How do they differ from each other (that is, how are the stats lookups different from the dice rolls)? Write a short answer to this. It can just be a few sentences or even a short list of words.

Stats and dice rolls account for creatures’ capability and randomness in the reactions that meet players’ narration, or their actions and attempts to influence the world; that influence (or lack thereof) as well as other events and a running description of what player characters would sense are all in the domain of the DM’s narration. Using a quantifiable system and an element of chance allows for sessions to be somewhat standardizable and relatable to how our real-world actions work. Not all will pan out, and some ideas and attempts are beyond our capabilities. Personally, I would have expected more strength checks in this excerpt!

Imagine what kind of person you’ve just created based on these attributes. What personality is created by combining these attributes? Do you know anyone in real life who matches this mix of characteristics? How would you describe someone like this to a friend? What jobs would they thrive in? What are some situations in which they’d be really out of place? Write a paragraph describing your character as if they were a real person. Pretend you’re describing a friend or professor of yours to someone you know.

Arjen Shestendeliath has the physique and mentality of an athlete in sports that do require some physical strength but further reward fine, precise movement and the ability to read a situation and glean what is needed for the immediate future (reactive rather than proactive). Although he will not be the tactician of any group, he acts reliably and attentively. He is also fairly hardy but not likely to hold up well tanking, or taking damage to shield other party members. However, he is awkward around others and often cannot find much to say, making his words less insightful and sensitive than his actions. Arjen would do well in artisan work and crafting, such as smithing and tanning or construction. He might make a good soccer or basketball player, especially a defender or goalie, but he will likely be less versatile than those a bit mentally sharper.

Note: Our DM uses the standard set of ability scores rather than having us roll.

Now move the numbers around and do this again. Try to create a character who’s very different from your first character without just being the exact inverse. Write a paragraph describing this second character. Would your two characters get along? How would they interact? If they were on a team would they complement each other? Would they be able to collaborate?

An alternate Arjen would be quick-witted and bright, someone to which others are attracted to and will be quick to follow. Although he would move and work precisely, he would be somewhat weak, and would be better suited to positions that require coordinating people and tasks rather than doing the literal heavy lifting. I think these two character types are complementary and would work well on a team together, serving as brains and brawn to an extent but likely with a better chance of reading each other and surrounding circumstances more intuitively. However, when the going got rough, it would likely seriously threaten progress to the duo without better means of physically protecting themselves.

Select a class for your character. While considering options try imagining a person with your character’s attributes in each of the 12 classes. How would they have ended up doing that job? How would they make it work even if it might seem wildly inappropriate on the surface? Write down your character’s profession on your character sheet. Also write a short paragraph explaining how their profession matches up with their attributes. Are they good at it? Were they a natural who always knew this was what they wanted to do? Were they forced into it by circumstance? Was it the result of a weird religious calling? Did they have some other prior life or career before doing this? Make up anything you can to make a coherent story out of these two aspects of your character.

Arjen is a monk, resolutely training his connection to the element of fire. Arjen’s class was chosen before his attributes were distributed, with the latter adapting to the former. Thus, his highest stats, dexterity, wisdom, and strength, will serve him well on this path, as the monk’s power comes from his/her honing of body and mind not in terms of sheer strength or intelligence, but in focused movements and thought. Arjen came to this class at a young age and has been training for sometime, but without experience in the world outside his monastery, he is prepared but not yet skilled. Yet, he respects the discipline and work that is the bread and butter of the monk class, so he may yet find success within it.

As you read through the race descriptions, try each one on for size. How would they fit with the character you’ve been building? What story would you make up to explain your character’s experience growing up within this culture? Maybe they were emigrants so they didn’t grow up amongst too many people of their kind. How would that change their attitudes to their race’s mainstream values? Would they romanticize them or be embarrassed of the traits that made them different from their surroundings? Write down your character’s race on your character sheet. Also write a short paragraph adding to your character’s growing biography to incorporate their race. Try to sketch the outlines of their relationship to the “mainstream” of their race community. Did they grow up traditionally for their race or not? What is their relationship to those traditions, positive or negative?

As a Gold Dragonborn, Arjen’s family or clan is known to value the greater good above all. Instead, Arjen respects systems and structures he sees as necessary, especially finding interest in law and science when young. Having never been one to agree wholeheartedly with the moral compass of that clan, Arjen resented their rather totaliterian insistence on worshipping the Platinum Dragon Bahamut and, at six years old, spoke his mind publicly as such. Kicked out of his clan, Arjen found himself alone and homeless until taken into a monastery by the monk Leocin Arlenthar. Arjen’s adolescence was spent training as a monk and as an acolyte. Inspired by the reflective and deliberate worship of the monks, he made personal amends with the figure of Bahamut, now understanding Bahamut’s dynamic role in the structures of the world rather than the monolithic, static figure he knew to be worshipped by the Dragonborn. Similarly, Arjen hopes to make amends with his clan too, but his ways will always be different than the culture fostered within.

Try to think of one or two examples of well-known historical, public, or fictional figures who match each [alignment] category. Write down the examples of each category that you came up with. It will be interesting to see how much we as a class overlap here. Can you come up with a realistic example for Chaotic Evil? It’s probably the hardest one…

Moral/Ethical Lawful Neutral Chaotic
Good Superman Fox Mulder (The X-Files) Batman (depends on your version…)
Neutral Solid Snake (Metal Gear series) Dream and the other Endless (The Sandman) Victor Frankenstein(the book)
Evil Lucifer (Christian representation) Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII) Evil ghosts (see Japanese folklore)

Now select an alignment for your character. As should be familiar by now, start by exploring each option and imagining how you’d incorporate it into the existing portrait you’ve been building for your character. What stories can you come up with to make them make sense? Are there any alignments that seem to match particularly well with your character’s attributes, class, and relationship to their race? Write down you character’s alignment on your character sheet and write a short paragraph explaining how that alignment fits into their wider biography.

Arjen is Lawful Neutral. His exile from his clan has left him somewhat embittered, though not vengeful. Rather, he is concerned with honor and obedience to those he feels are deserving of it, including even his clan, but he is not guided to this simply by seeing others as “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong,” preferring to choose his allegiances based on what he can respect. Nor is he particularly invested in beings beyond himself, those to whom he is indebted, and those under his charge. Yet, once he commits to a cause, he stays with it and lets that allegiance guide his actions, such as he has with the teachings of his monastery.

Notice how the Handbook uses numbers to represent the differences between parts of its world. It tells you to add and subtract from various character attributes when you select a class and a race. What are those changes meant to represent? Do they match the story you’re telling about your character or do they water it down? Write down one or two examples of these kinds of numerical changes the Handbook suggested that struck you as a particularly bad match for the character you were trying to create. Document them and then don’t do them! Don’t let the Handbook push you into stereotype. Its purpose is to translate the character you want to play into numbers that let that character interact in a structured way with other elements and characters in the shared world. It’s just a starting point.

In the game’s lingo (but a slightly different context), those adjustments make the idea of “proficiency” salient in actual play, even if that is based on a tenuous assumption that innate, genetic attributes or entering into a field necessarily bestows strengths and weaknesses. For a Dragonborn, this meant +2 Strength and +1 Charisma; for monk, that means +1 Wisdom and +1 Dexterity. I take issue mainly with the +1 Charisma for Arjen in particular, but really, racial bonuses are semiotically problematic all around. Class bonuses at least explore the idea that someone has trained in their field, so to speak, but racial ones suggest more, and definitely weird, physiognomic leanings.

Once you’ve completed your character, post their attributes, class, race, and what you’ve written about them to the class blog. As a bonus, also include your completed character sheet if you’d like with your items, spells, etc. Fill out the rest of your character sheet using the instructions in the Player Handbook.

This reflects the character after the first session of our campaign (hence being level 2).

Arjen Character Sheet copy 2

Roll a random character using D&D’s suggested method. For each character attribute, roll 4d6 (a six-sided die four times) and discard the lowest die. Add the other three together to produce the attribute score. Once you’ve filled in all six attributes, select a class, race, and alignment, building a story about your character as you go. How was this process different from creating your main character before? How did the different distribution of the numbers you got for attributes change the process of coming up with the character’s story. Write down your character’s attributes, class, race, alignment, and background sketch. Also write down some notes about how this time was different from last time. Was it easier or harder to come up with a story? Why?

I got oddly pretty high rolls: 17, 11, 18, 20, 16, 14. Knowing that three attributes would be particularly strong, two moderate, and one fairly weak, it was easier to think of clear ways to develop towards a class immediately, which was my first decision, rather than race/cultural background and gender (which are more interesting to me when thinking about making a character to actually plop in a world). Those rolls suggest versatility, making a fighter or rogue appealing. However, especially at early levels or in a difficult campaign, having a powerful and hardy character from the start can be of great benefit to a team, especially one otherwise full of not-yet-skilled magic-based characters. Thus, I went with a fighter. It is easy to stereotype races along the class, and that shows up in the prescribed numbers as well, such as with halflings, but I want to play against that. Thus, I went with a surprisingly buff female high elf. In order to serve best as tank, this character needs to care about the rest of the party, so Good makes sense as the moral dimension of the alignment. But again, versatility and an effort to make a fun character drives me towards the Chaotic end rather than the Lawful one of the ethical dimension. Maybe she feels strongly about protecting others, as she outgrew other high elves and took it upon herself to protect her younger siblings from bullies. Yet, her size and physicality distanced herself from other high elves, so perhaps she’s struck out on her own, guided by her internal compass rather than a cultural one. This version of the process felt much more driven by the character’s utility rather than trying new things out for the player’s sake, which also made the backstory a bit less substantial than with a character that relies less on pre-established party roles (damage-dealers, tanks, supports, etc.).

Now pick two people from the following list: Sailor Moon Ron Weasley Lady Gaga Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy Genghis Khan Serena Williams Martin Luther King, Jr. Tina Fey The Bride (from Kill Bill) Neil Gershenfeld Wolverine For each one that you pick, write down what you think their strength, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, and constitutions scores are. What’s the closest class to what they do in real life? What race’s traditions or aesthetic matches them? What alignment are they? Write down your answers so we can compare them with other people in the class who chose the same subjects.

Using the standard set of ability scores…

Wolverine— 14 Strength; 12 Dexterity; 15 Constitution; 13 Intelligence; 10 Wisdom; 8 Charisma Class would be fighter, and alignment would be likely Chaotic Good (as least in the form perpetuated by the ‘90s cartoon). Although perhaps on the taller side, Wolverine would make a solid dwarf, if we characterize dwarves as gruff, hardy, stubborn, aloof until trust is earned, etc.

Martin Luther King, Jr.— A quick note: It makes me uncomfortable to apply this to actual people, as I highly doubt people can be quantified and put into moral/ethical boxes without reducing them to caricatures. But here’s for trying anyway. 10 Strength; 8 Dexterity; 12 Constitution; 13 Intelligence; 14 Wisdom; 15 Charisma Considering how MLK became the figure we understand him to be, as a D&D character, his class would likely be a wizard: studied and powerful. However, the stats would serve a warlock better. We might think of MLK as Neutral Good, although I think Lawful might be more apt, as he seemed to live fiercely along a moral code, even if it did not always align with the law. Only human works here, with a racial tendency, so to speak, towards diversity and short but often significant and memorable lives.

“It’s Showtime, Girls”: A “Magical Girl” Transformation Made Real through the Intersections of Magic and Technology

Kyrie Caldwell, CMS Grad Student

My Trick++ rather erroneously ended up being design work on a more ambitious, larger trick that will become my semester-long project in stages. With little previous design experience, this is a large undertaking and will require plenty of iteration and catch-up methodological work, so please bear with me!

Research Question
The initial idea came through my interest in and exploration of anime and video games’ representations of women as well as the cosplay communities around these two media forms. Cosplay is a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” which captures both the fashion design and performance elements of the practice, which includes creating or purchasing and then wearing outfits and accessories in order to emulate favorite characters, usually from anime or games (digital or tabletop). Knowing of the magical girl anime genre and its leaks into games, I decided to explore the “transformation” sequences that appear ubiquitously in the genre.
How does one leverage technological enhancements into magic, illusionist, mentalist, etc. performances while still retaining the sought sense of wonder, often built through the showmanship and preparatory work of the performer? Alternatively but similarly, how does one incorporate the work of such magic performances into the front-end development, demonstration, and use of technology, such as via user interfaces and user experiences?
Also, how might the socio-cultural implications of the “magical girl” genre translate into real-world performances? How would this contribute to cosplay performances, namely through practitioners’ experimentation with media representations of women and through “D.I.Y.” approaches to cosplay and the status of such creator-performers in cosplay communities? These questions are somewhat out of the scope of the current project but could lead to rich research using the results of the design work represented here.

Trend Research
Although deeper research into the “magical girl” genre in media and in cosplay performances again lie outside of the current project’s scope, understanding of the aesthetics of the genre is critical here. Popular representatives of the genre include Sailor Moon and Prétear in anime and Final Fantasy X-2 in video games. In the case of Sailor Moon and Final Fantasy X-2, the action centers around an all-female main cast; in Prétear, the main cast has one female character and a group of male characters (a version of the “harem” genre, in which a male/female character is surrounded by characters of the other genre, with sexual/romantic, usually gendered respectively, antics ensuing). In Sailor Moon and Prétear, the transformation sequences mark a shift from an otherwise normal girl to one with spectacular (literally, in the sense of the spectacle) powers; in Prétear and Final Fantasy X-2, these transformations are also dependent on the powers that will be gained, resulting in different outfits for different sets of skills and abilities.

Overall, these transformations take place in a usually unnamed realm that is separate from the main setting, shown through a lack of or abstraction (moving colored light fields) of the background. The character who is transforming is often outlined as a body without clothes levitating in space as those clothes transition, either in one bright flash of light, or materializing in stages. Then the character appears again in the main setting, now in a different and usually much more elaborate outfit, complete with the new powers afforded by it. 

Trend research also here includes magical performances, such as the levitation and quick change sequences that will be included in the current project. There are several ways to approach each illusion, but they are based around similar ideas. For levitation, the key is to control where the audience is looking so that very simple optical illusions become the audience’s only way of seeing the performance; that is, if a mirror is used, making sure that the audience sees the mirror not as a reflection but as a part of the flat visual landscape, requiring either a symmetrical room or a setting with visual ambiguity (such as plants or other objects that cloy where shapes begin and end). Other methods use the expectation that shoes will accompany feet, even when the latter has discreetly exited from and is moving independently of the former. For quick changes, there is almost always an obscuring element (e.g. a sheet, a burst of confetti, a flash of light) for the moment of the change. The speed of the change is usually enabled by specially-made clothes that look like normal garments but have a quick release mechanism, such as snaps.

Brainstorming the performance was an exercise in thinking about what has been done and could be done through researching trends as outlined above. Each part of the performance (aesthetics, quick change, levitation, and the material/technological components needed for each) was considered as its own element. I generated ideas around each element, eliminating ones that seemed beyond my capacity in terms of technical/physical skills and temporal/financial constraints.

The working concept is a physically performed sequence set to sound and visual effects taking place in a reasonably symmetrical room with lights that can be dimmed remotely. The performer and audience is situated across from each other, oriented to maximize symmetry between the audience’s and performer’s halves of the room. The performed theatrically discusses what she was about to perform, such as needing to quickly get ready for a special performance, either theatrical or in efforts against a vague evil. The pre-programmed audiovisual sequence would begin, in which the lights would dim, a projector behind the performer would cast an animated field of colored light, and a coordinated sound effects track would play. The performer would mount the mirror levitation as a Microsoft Kinect would track her body, projecting visual noise (e.g. shimmering light) onto her. Meanwhile, the performer is carefully manipulating the quick change clothes as much as possible without showing this to the audience. The light from the projector and Kinect and the sound effects would crescendo, culminating in a flash of overhead light, during which the quick change would be performed and the mirror dismounted. Then the ambient lighting return to its dim state, and the projector and the Kinect effects would fade away as the audience’s eyes readjust to the performer’s silhouette, now in a different costume.

Storyboard/Flowchart and Enabling Technology2015-03-15 13.24.50

Considering my inexperience with this kind of production, my timeline will be slightly more extended than might be otherwise required. The initial design work has taken two weeks, and it would be expected that perfecting each part of the performance would need similar timeframes. I am estimating two to three weeks to practice the levitation and quick change maneuvers, another two to three weeks for editing the audiovisual effects sequence, and a final two to three weeks for putting together all the elements into one performance.

I am expecting that the design will shift as the prototyping and storyboarding is attempted in real time/space. The current design is accounting as thoroughly as possible for all constraints, but iteration is likely and will be recorded as the production is realized.

Included below is the slide deck for the first presentation of my design work. Videos and GIF files are rendered here as static images.

Trick++ Slide 1 Trick++ Slide 2 Trick++ Slide 3 Trick++ Slide 4 Trick++ Slide 5 Trick++ Slide 6 Trick++ Slide 7