What are you, chicken?

They’re known for their careful scheming.

雌伏雄飛
shi.fuku.yuu.hi

Literally: female – prostrate – male – fly

Alternately: Following someone else while waiting for a chance to strike out on one’s own. Keeping a low profile while preparing for your time to shine. Playing second fiddle… for now.

Notes: While it’s easy to tie the use of 雌 and 雄 characters to traditional sexist attitudes in East Asia – and while this view isn’t exactly unwarranted – the allusion at work here is a little more subtle. Apparently the images invoked are from the lives of birds, perhaps a specific species, where the nesting female lays low (雌伏) and the males flap their wings and take dramatically to the air (雄飛).

This compound comes to us from the Book of the Later Han (後漢書), in the biography of Zhao Dian (趙典) given in volume 27.

ShiFukuYuuRooster

A couple of the image search results suggest the relevant bird is chickens. Behold the glory of the male in flight!

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An all-new take on the ant and the grasshopper

大の虫を生かして小の虫を殺す
(Dai no mushi wo ikashite shou no mushi wo korosu;
“Let the large bug live, and kill the small”)

Definition:

Sacrificing small considerations so that the large may survive. Cutting off a part so that the whole may live, as in amputations. A gambit. Triage.

Breakdown:

We have another pair of parallel phrases. The first begins with the noun 大 (dai), “large.” (Yes, it’s functioning as a noun. We know this because:) This is connected by the associative particle の (no) to the noun 虫 (mushi), a generic term for creepy-crawlies most closely associated with insects. This noun phrase is made into the object of a verb by the particle を (wo); the verb is 生かす (ikasu), a transitive verb meaning “to keep something alive” or “to let something live.” The verb is in conjunctive form, allowing it to connect to the second half of the saying. The latter follows the same pattern except that it replaces 大 with 小 (shou), “small,” and 生かす with 殺す (korosu), “to kill,” in sentence-final form.

Notes:

A close variant switches the order and “saves” the large insect rather than merely letting it live: 小の虫を殺して大の虫を助ける (Shou no mushi wo koroshite dai no mushi wo tasukeru).

Example sentence:

「引っ越しなんていやだなぁ。荷造りのために物を捨てるのは取捨選択というより、大の虫を生かして小の虫を殺すことが繰り返すばかりって感じ」

(“Hikkoshi nante iya da naa. Nidzukuri no tame ni mono wo suteru no wa shushasentaku to iu yori, dai no mushi wo ikashite shou no mushi wo korosu koto ga kurikaesu bakaritte kanji.”)

[“Man, I really hate moving. Throwing things away before packing feels less like ‘sorting’ and more like just ‘letting some die so that others may live’ over and over again.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Like being two-faced, but more compact

流石日本

一口両舌
i-.kkou.ryou.zetsu

Literally: one – mouth – both – tongues

Alternately: Saying one thing and then saying something incompatible later on. Equivocating or, more often, outright lying depending on what’s convenient to say at the time. Speaking with two tongues. Acting presidential, ha ha ha.

Notes: A variant of the compound bumps up the number of tongues to three: 一口三舌 (i-.kkou.san.zetsu).

IKkouCallOut

I’ve decide I don’t want any more pictures of aging racists on my blog, so instead here’s one of the people who call out his 一口両舌 behavior.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magic Monday – Thoughts on Timing

(I picked up YAOSC and tinkered with it in the winter, then put it down… for the whole spring semester. It’s high time I picked it back up for more tinkering, at least for the duration of the summer. I’ll be busy, but not as busy as things will be in the fall, so it’s high time. Anyway, this post is a day late, but dangit at least it’s going up!)

Combat and time have some weight in YAOSC despite the overall abstracted design, in part because how those things work will be instrumental in shaping a wide selection of skills. At the moment, I’m sort of stuck between two incompatible systems… and if I’m going to muse about it, why not do so in a post? Anyway, the options under consideration are what I’m calling rounds and therbligs.

Rounds

This is the traditional route for most RPGs, and it’s already included in my time scale and assumed in a number of other mechanics such as spell descriptions. You chop up time into discrete packets, and assign various actions a value either in fractions of that packet (e.g. you can sneeze up to twice in a round) or multiples of it (e.g. belching on purpose takes three rounds). Everybody has a default number of actions (for YAOSC I’ll say two), and everything you can do consumes a default number of them (one). An initiative mechanic determines who goes first, either anew each round or one time that governs an entire combat scene, and then everybody just does things in turn until it’s over.

Pros:

  • It’s easy in play. Your turn comes, you do your thing(s), done. You don’t need a high degree of system mastery to understand how combat time works.
  • It’s familiar. I can’t even think of an RPG right now that doesn’t use rounds in some form or other, at least until you get into the GMless story games.
  • It’s simple to design. You don’t need to weigh and balance a whole lot of factors or add a whole lot of complexity unless you really want to.

Cons:

  • It breaks verisimilitude. People in real life don’t take turns doing things, especially in a fight (despite what kung fu movies might have you believe). You can imagine a dynamic scene in your head no matter the system, of course, but thinking about the mechanics too hard can (and does) make it all start to feel weird.
  • It can get complicated anyway. Just look at any RPG where combat leans toward the tactics-and-minis school, and it’s easy to see how using rounds to mark time doesn’t protect against system bloat.

Therbligs

(I’m not using the word correctly; it’s just there because it’s fun and sort of relevant.) This system would be based on a scrolling version of time, still granular but less choppy than the above. Instead of actions being counted in terms of rounds, each action would cost a given number of time units (which I’m tongue-in-cheek calling “therbligs”). These values could be adjusted by factors such as skill level, the condition the character is in, the circumstances they’re acting under, and so on.

When your place on the scroll comes around, you choose an action. Then, if all goes well, the action is completed after its assigned number of therbligs have passed, and then you choose again. Instead of initiative, a skill determines the number of therbligs it takes to comprehend and respond to a situation, after which the scroll unrolls on its own.

Pros:

  • It offers greater verisimilitude. You can tinker with your therbligs until the relative length of time spent on a given action feels right, and there is no artifice of “taking turns” – everybody is always engaged in some action or other. This leads us to:
  • It smooths out edge cases. The simplicity of rounds invites extra rules to account for cases where rounds don’t make sense, and you end up adding things like “surprise rounds.” Therbligs do away with this.
  • It affords tremendous versatility and tactical depth. A therblig-based system makes it easy to set up situations where a fast fighter can interrupt a slow one, wait for exactly the right moment to act, or simply gain advantage by observing.
  • It should increase engagement. Rounds tend to encourage players to “tune out” when it’s not their turn, and while my imagined implementation would break this open a bit, I suspect that a well-managed scroll would

Cons:

  • It would be hard to learn and hard to master. The basic concept may be intuitive, but it could take some time for GMs to learn how to run the scrolling combat efficiently and without too many mistakes, and a long time for players to get a feel for how to use the system to their advantage. This is definitely a system that can prioritize player skill over character skill, which creates a barrier to new or casual players.
  • There’s lots of room for bloat. Every time you add an element of versatility or tactical depth, you add another rule for everyone to learn and remember.
  • It would mean a massive amount of work to design. While it’s possible and necessary to establish generic guidelines for the number of therbligs it takes to perform any given action, at the very least the system seems to demand a considered, hand-crafted rating for hundreds of common actions, combat maneuvers with a variety of weapons, and spells.

Therbligs delight me to no end, and I want to develop them further as a pet project… but for the time being I’m leaning toward sticking with rounds for simplicity’s sake. If YAOSC ever gets published, like, for reals, then perhaps I could roll out therbligs in all their fiddly glory for those theoretical players who like my quirky hyper-niche D&D clone but also want some extra tactical combat up in there. Or maybe I’ll recycle some of the ideas for use somewhere else – I can’t stop thinking about how therbligs would work.

No minis, though. Even feeling some excitement at the idea of detailed, “real”-feeling tactical sword-and-sorcery battles, I’m more interested in making a theater-of-the-mind RPG than a combat-focused boardgame.

Anyway, this is definitely a topic where any feedback or thoughts on the matter would be appreciated. Should I nurture this beautiful awkward pet, or invest my time in putting a fresh spin on the familiar, traditional system? And does anybody know of a game that does use a therblig-scroll for its timekeeping that I could look at for reference?

Posted in Musing, Rules | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paradox!

See also 急がば回れ

負けるが勝ち
(Makeru ga kachi; “Losing is winning.”)

Definition:

No, this isn’t some Orwellian doublespeak. It means that there are times when granting your opponent a win can be advantageous for you in the long run. Avoiding conflict and thus ceding a default win; using a gambit; or even surrendering can all help avoid unnecessary harm or even benefit.

Breakdown:

This super simple saying comprises two noun phrases derived from verbs and a single particle linking them together. The particle is が (ga), which makes the link a subject-predicate kind of arrangement. The subject is the verb 負ける (makeru), “to lose” (as in losing a battle, not one’s keys), with a nominalization implied. (Note that this is not classical grammar; that would give us attributive form 負くる makuru.) The predicate, describing the subject, is 勝つ (katsu) in a more explicitly nominalized form. You can imagine a copula to make this a complete sentence if you want.

Notes:

A variant on this saying hearkens back to the Thirty-Six Stratagems by replacing 負ける with 逃げる (nigeru), “to run away.” Some people apparently use the conditional verb form 負ければ (makereba) instead of the implied noun, but this is considered an error. However, replacing the particle が with topic marker は (wa) is acceptable.

This is the ま entry of the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:

「例のキャリア役人は首になったが、一方でそれが彼の上司の腐敗の証になるように手を回しておいた。一枚上手の者にこそ、負けるが勝ちなのである」

(“Rei no kyaria yakunin wa kubi ni natta ga, ippou de sore ga kare no joushi no fuhai no akashi ni naru you ni te wo mawashite oita. Ichimai uwate no mono ni koso, makeru ga kachi na no de aru.”)

[“That one career official was fired, but he set it up so that his firing became proof of his boss’ corruption. For truly skilled people, a loss really can be a win.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I choose you!

…Tiny red blob?

取捨選択
shu.sha.sen.taku

Literally: take – throw away – choose – choose

Alternately: Deciding to accept or reject something; sorting through options; separating the good or necessary from that which is not.

Notes: Unlike some of the more literary compounds and sayings we cover, this prosaic yojijukugo is likely to be found in a variety of contexts.

ShuShaJouHou

The post this image comes from is actually talking about people selecting information, which is a reminder that even “careful selection” isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scrape it off, scrape it off, woah-oah

旅の恥は掻き捨て
(Tabi no haji wa kakisute; “Cast off shame while traveling.”)

Definition:

When you’re away from home, nobody knows you and so it’s easy to do things that you would have found unthinkable (or at least undoable) in more familiar surroundings with the threat of more impactful social backlash. The idea that bad things you do in a place away from home are limited to that place and don’t follow you home. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Unlike the English version, though, the overall nuance seems to be less permissive and more negative.

Breakdown:

A brief imperative sentence, comprising only a topic and a verb. The central noun is 恥 (haji), “shame” or “embarrassment.” It’s marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa), and modified by using the associative particle の (no) to make it specifically shame acquired during 旅 (tabi), “a journey.” The verb, meanwhile, is a compound comprising the conjunctive form of 掻く (kaku), “to scratch,” and the imperative form of 捨てる (suteru), “to throw away.”

Notes:

It’s a homophone and some computerized auto-kanji may suggest it, but for Pete’s sake don’t replace 搔き with 書き, “to write.”

I can’t help but think that, despite the critical undertones, that this is exactly the feeling that has saved many a small-town nonconformist who fled to college or The Big City and suddenly found the freedom to find themselves. Unfortunately, it’s no doubt also exactly the feeling that has allowed many other people to trash hotel rooms, inconvenience the locals, and otherwise make themselves into poster children for everything bad about tourists.

Example sentence:

「勘弁してくれ!初めての出張だからもう三、四回旅の恥は掻き捨てなんて先輩に言われてるんすけど、どのみち出張先は地元の神戸だからそんなの無理っす!」

(“Kanben shite kure! Hajimete no shucchou dakara mou san, yonkai tabi no haji wa kakisute nante senpai ni iwareteru nsu kedo, dono michi shucchou saki wa jimoto no Kobe dakara sonna no muri ssu!”)

[“Give me a break already! It’s my first business trip and so three or four of my seniors have told me ‘You’re away from home, it’s okay to cut loose.’ But I’m being sent to Kobe, and that’s my home town, so there’s no way that’s going to happen!”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment