Cognitive development: pics and puns!

It’s been a long time since I used this blog to publicly marvel at the kid’s development, but this one’s too good to let pass unremarked-on.

In his preschool they’ve been working on drawing, and on writing letters and numerals; we’ve been working on reading and writing in Japanese (mostly hiragana) at home. He’s also picked up a little bit of kanji recognition, at least enough to notice and point out the character 雨 (ame, “rain”) without prompting.

(Tangential comment: It’s interesting comparing the various writing systems in the context of literacy education. Hiragana are ubiquitous in Japanese writing and thus both important and relatively easy to teach, but several of them are difficult to distinguish on the page – は and ほ, for example, or れ, ね, and わ – and a significant number of them are challenging to write – such as む or ぬ.

Katakana, meanwhile, are much easier to read and write, but not so commonly used, and thus less important and more difficult to teach. Kanji are arguably the part of Japanese that is hardest, and takes longest, to learn, but they’re also vital to any degree of literacy beyond Kindergarten level.

On the other side of the ocean, the Latin alphabet is a mess. Each individual character isn’t too hard to learn or write, but in contrast to the one-reading-per-character ease of kana, English spelling is a nightmare that (similar to advanced kanji usage in Japan) can be difficult even for highly-educated adults if they encounter an unfamiliar word.

In brief – trying to teach all of these to full literacy is, and will continue to be, a fascinating adventure!)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the kid’s artistic development. Since the start of summer vacation he’s been producing drawings at an accelerated rate. Common topics: the family, his friends, dinosaurs, monsters, trains, and rainbows. Often pictures include written captions or comments, such as a recent picture of him and me playing hide-and-seek, complete with numbers 1-20 and the traditional call-and-response もういいかい? -もういいよ! (Mou ii kai? -Mou ii yo!, “Are you ready yet?” – “Yes I am!”)

The thing that tickled me the most of late was a minor inclusion; he wrote ち9 on one picture. This is meaningless in and of itself, but it’s pronounced chi-kyuu… and chikyuu is how you pronounce 地球, the earth. And this is no coincidence: he told me explicitly that his goal in writing ち9 was this play on words.

I guess that’s all I wanted to say. The kid has learned the art of the pun, and I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next.


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A real eye-opener


Literally: open – eyeball – offer – nurture

Alternately: This is the name of a Buddhist ceremony in which the eyes are added to a Buddhist sculpture or image, completing it and investing it with a soul. By extension, it can refer to a number of related ceremonies, including the consecration of an in-home Buddhist altar or a grave site.

Notes: Buddhist terms often use unusual readings, and this is no exception. Reading 眼 as gan, or 供 as kyou – the more common Chinese-style pronunciations for these characters – is considered an error.

One variant replaces 供養 with synonym 法要 (houyou); each means “Buddhist (memorial) service.”

This phrase is interesting because we’ve already seen one (here) based on a Chinese story about dragons coming to life when completed by putting pupils in their eyes, and because we’ve already seen one (here) that takes the “ensoulment” of a Buddhist image as a metaphor for the vital finishing touches put on any project.

From this blog post describing a grave consecration and bone-interment ceremony

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Magic Monday – Now you smell it?

Phantasm (Impose Dream; Inception; Hallucination)

In contrast to the Painter’s Spell, which crafts an image for all to see, this spell summons a minor daydream and compels it to implant a full sensory experience into the mind of a single target. As such, the victim builds the illusion for themselves, subconsciously using whatever makes the most sense to them and defending it against disbelief using normal intuitive dream-logic. It can affect even the blind or the unconscious as long as they have senses and dreams. Targets who do not dream are unaffected, however, and experience with lucid dreaming can provide a reasonable defense.

This spell has a base cost of four per target, and lasts for the length of a scene. It can be extended by paying another four per target each hour. The caster chooses the difficulty of the spell (by choosing how potent a dream-spirit to wrangle); each target may resist its effects through either a Psychic save or Concentration check against the same difficulty.

(My apologies for the tardiness; this “Magic Monday” post is going up a little after midnight)
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How about when elephants fight?

(Shippuu ni keisou wo shiru;
“In strong wind one learns of the strong grasses”)


It is only after personally encountering hardships or trials that one truly understands the character and value of people who have already withstood those hardships and is able to distinguish them from people who can’t. A lot of things look easy until you have to do them. Make sure to appreciate the things that people do or endure. “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”


We begin with compound noun 疾風 (shippuu), a fast/strong wind. This is followed by the location particle に (ni), which in this case marks the strong wind as a point in time; we can imagine an elided ~の時 (~no toki, “when”) in between the noun and the particle.

The second clause begins with noun 勁草 (keisou), literally “strong grass,” that is, grass that stands up well against wind and weather. This is marked by particle を (wo) as the object of the verb 知る (shiru), “to know.”


This saying comes to us from our friend, the Book of the Later Han (後漢書, in Japanese Gokanjo). The story is that when emperor Guangwu of Han (光武帝, Koubutei) first raised an army and went to war, things went poorly and his retainers deserted him until only Wang Ba (王覇, Ou Ha) remained; this proverb comes from the emperor’s praise for his most steadfast commander.

The proverb is also expressed, albeit rarely, as the four-character compound 疾風勁草 (shi-.ppuu.kei.sou). 勁草 may be used on its own as a metaphor for a person of unwavering beliefs or ideology.

Example sentence:


(“Taifuu chokugeki no hatsutaiken de kanjita kyoufu kara, chiisai shima ni sumu hitobito no koto wo kangaete, kotoba no toori no shippuu ni keisou wo shitta you na ki ga shita.”)

[“After the terror of my first experience of a direct hit from a typhoon, I thought of the people who live on small islands, and felt that a literal strong wind had taught me how strong the grass is.”]

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A Friday link: The power of (mis)translation

[Here’s the link]

One of the blogs I follow is A Book of Creatures, which regularly introduces cryptids (animals that someone has said exist… that probably or definitely don’t in reality) from around the world. Many of these would make excellent fodder for a fantasy TTRPG bestiary.

The one I want to highlight today is a comment on how much of our world is shaped by translation: an elephant that was morphed over time, through ignorance and error, into a Scandinavian sea beast named the “sahab.”

This sort of drift is hardly novel. The same sort of process is what took “wild oxen” and “young women” in Tanakh, and mutated them into “unicorns” and “virgins” in certain Christian bibles, among many other issues. The same sort of thing is supposedly responsible for the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities at the end of WWII. Our primary lesson is that translation is serious business and that you need to be careful when interpreting or writing a text.

The far less important lesson is that if you want to invent a fantasy monster, instead of just slapping together parts and traits from the real world or re-adapting folklore tropes, you can always try a little creative mistranslation. Pull an animal’s description from a dictionary, or a paragraph about it from an encyclopedia, and guess at how it might be warped by human error and time.

If you’re polyglot, all the better. Start with a text in your weaker language and translate the text into your strongest language off of the top of your head, without checking any words. If you run across a potential pun or a phrase that could be misinterpreted somehow, make a point of erring. Read the description out loud to a child, have them draw a picture of it, and then re-describe the picture as if it were a new animal that you’d just seen for the first time. Trim off the rough edges as necessary to make a proper fantasy beast or cryptid, and you’re set!

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Great at everything but dancing


Literally: eight – face – six – elbow

Alternately: Active in a variety of areas, usually with incredible energy and results. One person doing the work of several. As productive as if having eight heads and six arms.

Notes: One variant uses three (三, san) faces instead of eight. The 三面 version seems to be the original, based on depictions of Asura, but it’s used less frequently in contemporary Japanese. While the two are more or less interchangeable, if you contrast them, the 八面 version can imply a broader (or unlimited) range of activity and accomplishment – cf. the use of the number eight to mean “all directions.”

The Asura statue at Kohfukuji Temple (興福寺) in Nara

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Method & Moil

Method & Moil – a Lasers & Feelings hack

(I found L&F a while back, read through it once, thought it was cool, and then let it lapse as a PDF stored somewhere on my computer for several months. Then just recently I had a thought about “mad scientists whose technology is powered by their belief in it.” While that aspect has shrunk to a mere passing comment, it formed the seed of this reskin – or “hack,” as the kids say these days – of the system.
I suspect that the text may be difficult to parse, or to translate into coherent play, for people not already familiar with RPGs… any feedback that can help me clean it up and make it more presentable/usable would be appreciated!)

In a science-fantasy world of mecha, electromagnetic ghosts, and Lovecraftian gods, you are a team of experimenters and tinkerers whose craft is powered by “mad science” – by your obsessive devotion to a particular pseudo-scientific Ultimate Theory. Your mentor’s private laboratory was recently annihilated and your mentor is missing, presumed vaporized. Will you investigate, rebuild, or move on? Will you save the nearby town, rule it, or destroy it? And what will you do about the ominous dreams that everyone’s been having?

Players: Create characters

  1. Choose a style for your character: bombastic, flustered, gonzo, haunted, insatiable, inscrutable, meticulous, etc.
  2. Choose a field for your character: biology, chemistry, electromagnetics, optics, parapsychology, zoology, etc.
  3. Choose a number from 2 to 5. A high number means you’re better at method (precision, control, relative order, small-scale effects or subjects). A low number means you’re better at moil (power, intensity, relative chaos, maximized effects and massive subjects).
  4. Give your character a cool mad-science name, and any other identifying quirks or characteristics you have in mind.

Stuff you have: Sets of civilian and work clothes, enough supplies to whip up an invention or two, a usually-reliable prototype of your favorite gadget, and a token of your private superstition. You have a key to the workshop’s common areas and knowledge of their on-site security measures. You also have a suite that contains your personal workroom or lab, materials storage, library, and a tiny monastic cell for sleeping in.

Player goal: Have fun with crazy pulp-science hijinks!

Character goal: Choose one or create your own: Become team leader, satiate your desires, destroy your enemies, remake the world, discover one of Nature’s ultimate secrets, prove yourself to someone, or just keep being awesome (you have nothing to prove).

Players: Create the workshop

 As a group, pick two strengths for your workplace: Loyal staff, good defenses/security, durable, mobile, hidden, modular, or self-sufficient (has just enough food, materials, and energy for the team).

Also pick one problem: resource hog (needs constant resupply), unstable (accidents or fights tend to cause other problems), bad reputation (your mentor made a lot of enemies and your team isn’t well-liked or trusted), weirdness magnet (even when you didn’t do anything, coincidences and the supernatural seem drawn to your location), mind of its own (the workshop’s equipment, staff, and other systems don’t always do what you want).

Rolling the dice

〇 When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out how it goes. Add +1d if you’re prepared and +1d if you’re an expert, plus any from aid.

◎ (Aid: If you want to help someone else’s roll, say how you try to help and make one of your own. If you succeed, give them +1d.)

●If using method (precision), you want to roll under your number.

●If using moil (power), you want to roll over your number.

Then count your successes:

0 – It goes wrong. The GM says how things get worse somehow.

1 – You barely manage. The GM inflicts a complication, harm, or cost.

2 – You do it well. Not the most dramatic outcome, but good job!

3+ – Critical success! The GM says how things go better than planned.

– If you roll your number exactly, you have a Moment of Clarity and gain special insight. Ask the GM a question for each die that matched your number, and they’ll answer you honestly.

GM: Create a mad-science adventure

Roll and/or choose on the tables below:

The main threat…

  1. A rival team of mad scientists… or cultists
  2. Your former mentor, somehow changed… or the secret police
  3. An angry mob… or horrible monsters
  4. An approaching natural disaster
  5. Spirits from beyond the veil… or aliens from outer space
  6. An actual god that you were never meant to behold

…wants to

  1. Investigate or fiddle with
  2. Destroy or corrupt
  3. Protect or empower
  4. Steal or copy
  5. Control or conquer
  6. Bond with or consume


  1. Townsfolk
  2. Resource your community or workshop relies on
  3. Complex you live and work in
  4. Secret project your mentor was working on
  5. Secret that you had all been keeping from your mentor
  6. Whole planet

…which will…

  1. Unleash a plague
  2. Start a war
  3. Scour the mind/soul out of mortal flesh
  4. Erase existence as we know it
  5. Be super annoying
  6. Fix everything (thus wrecking the status quo)

GM: Run the game

 Describe a fictional world and then confront it with a threat. Play to find out what happens when the players encounter that world and that threat. Introduce the main threat by showing clues about its nature, goals, and tactics. Introduce minor threats or problems as appropriate on the way to confronting the main one. Before a threat does something to the characters, show signs of what’s about to happen, and ask them what they do. Use the rest of the game world to set the stakes, provide a contrast with a threat’s effects, and vary the action.

When possible, say “Yes, but…” rather than “No.” Show the players the costs, the risks, and the rewards of their proposed actions. Ask questions and build on the answers; invite the players to help you build the world that their characters are adventuring in.

Call for a roll when the situation is uncertain. Don’t plan outcomes or solutions; present a situation and see what the players do in response. Use failures to push the action forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for better or worse (or both). When in doubt, play to the character’s chosen style and aim for Awesome.


This hack created by @confanity

For those interested, I’ve also produced a version of the above text in PDF form; feel free to download it, play with it, share it with friends, and let me know what you think!  ↓

Method & Moil

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