11 January 2017

Minimal D&D

This is a collection of Dungeons & Dragons-like role-playing games that are 1, 4, or 5 pages.

None of these games claim to be D&D. Legally, of course, they cannot. But they are all attempts at boiling D&D down to its essence. To provide a minimal RPG that still—to some extent—looks and feels like D&D.

Microlite20:

Microlite20 is a minimalist role-playing game designed to be usable with the majority of the OGL/d20 supplements, rules and adventures with little or no advance preparation. The basic rules for character generation, combat, magic and level advancement take up a single sheet of paper, meaning it is perfect for introducing role-playing to new players, gaming oneshot adventures or tailoring into your own game system.

Microlite20 has a ton of spin-offs including some that seek to appeal more to old school gamers than the original may have.

Searchers of the Unknown:

Searchers of the Unknown is a one-page roleplaying game where player characters are entirely defined by a minimalist old school Dungeons & Dragons one line stat block (e.g. “AC 7, MV 9, HD 2, hp 9, #AT 1, D 1d8 mace”) something like monster stat blocks in early editions of D&D.

Searchers likewise has a bunch of spin-offs. Including...

1974 Style:

1974 Style™ is a set of free, familiar, and easily modifiable role-playing game rules suitable for Fantasy, Pulp, Horror, Western and Sci-Fi Adventures.

A typical old-school RPG module stats list for a monster looks like this: AC6, MV9’, HD 1, hp 4, #AT1, D1-10 by halberd. The 1974 Style rules use these same stats for player characters (PCs).

Character stats can fit on a 3×5 or 4×6 card, and all the rules for a given game and setting can fit on a single sheet of paper.

Swords & Wizardry Light:

You remember, don’t you? The sounds of battle heard through the clatter of dice? The shuffling of character sheets? The war stories shared with your fellow campaigners? There is a longing in the soul of every adventurer and though it sometimes fades to a whisper, you still hear it. Swords & Wizardry Light marks your return to fantasy roleplaying—or if you’re curious what fantasy gaming is all about, this is the perfect introduction. This folio, a twenty-sided die, and a few six-sided dice are all you need to return to the gaming table, recall those halycon days of heroism, and forge brand new legend. Welcome back to Swords & Wizardry Light!

I greatly appreciate that they actually spelled in “light” instead of “lite”.

Honorable mention—Original Edition Delta: OED is really just some house rules for original D&D. But it isn’t far from being everything you need. Lists of spells, equipment, monsters, and treasure are missing; although there are plenty of sources for such things. The XP per level tables are also missing, though you could certainly get by with the S&WL rule there.

Honorable mention—Risus: Risus is in no way D&D. Though it can certainly do a good spoof of D&D. But it may be the best minimal RPG ever written.

Others? Please leave a comment about any other minimal D&D-like games I missed.

30 December 2016

How to make rulings in RPGs

Some will say that “rulings instead of rules” is one style of playing role-playing games. I say, “rulings instead of rules” is a defining feature of role-playing games.

But I’m not here to convince you of that point today; it is just some context for what follows. Rather, I’m inspired by a post on the Goblin Punch blog to give some advice on how to make rulings.

Don’t make rules: Making rulings is not making rules. We’re not talking about a method for developing yet another game with a large set of complex rules. We’re talking about playing without a large set of complex rules. For me, the ideal role-playing game has no rules. It can be handy to have some guidelines to help get us started, but no rules.

Don’t try to make a general rule. Concentrate on making a ruling for the exact situation at hand.

And don’t be afraid to overrule the written guidelines when they give unsatisfying results.

Rulings don’t have to be perfect: Since we’re talking about role-playing games, it is OK that our rulings won’t be perfect. The bar is simply this: That they are good enough for everyone currently at the table.

Don’t worry about making the perfect ruling. Just make the best ruling you can now.

Which brings us to: You are not alone: We grant the referee the power to make the final decisions because it is one way to solve the “No you didn’t! Yes I did!” problem of playing “make believe”. And, if the referee isn’t a jerk, it can be a very satisfactory solution.

But the players know some things the referee doesn’t. The table can make a better ruling than the referee alone.

Now, often the referee has knowledge about a situation that the players lack. But a good referee will take the advice of the players into account when making rulings.

Consistency is overrated: Worrying about consistency leads us to making rules rather than rulings. So, the “rulings rather than rules” referee should avoid worrying about it. Consistency also suggests that we should be bound by any poor rulings we made in the past. To me, that’s crazy. We always want to strive to make better rulings than we made in the past.

But isn’t consistency important? Don’t we need consistency to ensure fairness? ...for immersion? Fairness and immersion are—in some degree—important, but consistency itself is only important to the degree that it supports fairness and immersion.

Here’s the key to consistency: Everyone around the table needs to feel free to point out important inconsistencies when they arise. The referee then has a chance to consider it when making the current ruling.

If no one at the table notices an inconsistency and thinks it is important enough to mention, then the inconsistency isn’t important.

Not using dice (or similar tools): Before calling for a roll, ask is whether the situation warrants rolling dice.

It has been said: Only roll the dice when the outcome is uncertain. That may seem obvious, but many of us have fallen into the trap of calling for dice rolls too often. And it is also OK to simply rule something a success if the chance of failure exists but is low.

Also, even if the outcome isn’t certain but it is a minor thing, it is sometimes better to just rule yea or nay and move on.

Using dice (or similar tools): When you do call for a roll, simply take into account all the prevailing circumstances and come up with a chance of success.

You can ask the players to suggest factors you may have not considered. You can also ask the group if they think the percentage you came up with is reasonable.

Before the roll is made, it is also a good idea to state what a successful roll and a failed roll will actually mean.

If you aren’t good with probabilities, it is good enough to always express the chance of success in percentage and roll percentile dice.

Be careful about repeated rolls.

Let’s say you rule that each character in a four character party has a 50% chance of sneaking. Then you make rolls for each character individually and count one of them failing as the party failing. Then the party has less than a 6% chance of success

If you make them roll for every, say, 30 feet of movement, then their chance for sneaking 60 feet drops to less than 0.4%.

When in doubt, it is probably better to determine a single percentage for the entire party to sneak an entire distance rather than try to decompose it into many individual rolls. Because composing and decomposing probabilities isn’t easy (for most of us).

That said, you don’t want the entire adventure to be summed up in a single roll. You want multiple rolls with meaningful decisions between them. So, it is always a balancing act. And that’s a big topic that I don’t have any more to say about at the moment.

Rulings should be fast?

In the Goblin Punch post, Arnold said that probably the most important point is that rulings should be fast. I’m not sure I agree.

If, as I contend, rulings are a defining feature of role-playing games, then perhaps rulings being fast is not important.

11 October 2016

US presidential election 2016

The past several years I have made an effort to stay out of politics. I don’t agree with the stance that we have a responsibility to participate in politics. One of the benefits of freedom is that we have the freedom to ignore politics, which can greatly improve your quality of life. Now, it is true that, when I’m not participating, I can’t complain about the outcomes. (Well, I have the freedom to complain. I just don’t have the moral right to.)

And even when I was involved, I generally held the policy of not saying who I voted for. You could often guess based on what I said, but I didn’t think I needed to proclaim it.

This presidential election, however, is different. Not only do I feel I must vote, I also feel like I should take a public stand. Not in an effort to convince anyone to vote the way I am but merely because it feels like taking a stand is warranted.

Trump has made it very clear that he doesn’t know or care about the principles upon which civilization operates. What’s more, I’m not convinced that he would listen to advisors, whether good or bad.

During the 2008 primaries, at the local caucus, I saw first hand the dirty tricks that the Clinton camp will use. I have little respect for her. But I do believe she has a firm understanding of the underpinnings of civilization and a vested interest in preserving it.

I am past the time when I was idealistic enough to support a third party candidate. The biggest problem in Federal politics (prior to Trump’s nomination) is that the two major parties look more like each other than like the electorate. The system doesn’t incentivize the parties to be more representative of the electorate. Since only the people in power could reform the system, and since it is rigged to keep them in power, it is hard to see a time when the system will be reformed to make third parties viable so that our parties might better represent us. The best we can hope for is for a third party to replace one of the major two, but then we’ll just be right back in the same boat.

The system means that—for all my life—my vote for president hasn’t counted. My state, being winner-takes-all, always ends up going 100% Republican no matter how many people vote Democratic or third party. The fact that the Republican nominee is so unfit, however, means that this may be the first time in my lifetime that my vote for president might actually count. So, I’m voting for president this year, and I’m voting for Clinton.

15 June 2016

Windows NT 4: A high point

Microsoft Windows NT 4 was a good system. It wasn’t a great system. It had plenty of flaws. But—at the time—it may have been the best in its class.

Apple was working on a system code-named Copland to replace the aging Mac OS as a transition to Gershwin, which would supposedly be a real modern, personal-computer OS. But it was a quagmire that would eventually be scrapped.

Linux wasn’t quite old enough...yet. Some people will say “Desktop Linux” is perpetually two years away, but it was good enough to serve as my primary system for the years between Windows NT and when I switched to Mac OS X.

(Apologies to the OS/2 fans, in particular. I never had much experience with it. And no doubt there are other contenders that I’m forgetting. But it was programming for Mac and Windows that was paying my bills. Linux was the only venture away from them I had time for.)

Windows NT 4 had the basic OS services—virtual memory, memory protection, and preëmptive multitasking—that personal computers were finally ready for and needed. It had a UI that borrowed some of the goodness of NeXTSTEP by way of Windows 95. It was sufficiently compatible with older DOS and 16-bit Windows software. (At least for my needs.) And, most importantly, I found myself more productive using it than I was on my Mac.

By the time Windows 2000 came out, I’d moved on to Linux. So, I can’t speak much to when things really started getting worse for Windows.

Sidebar: It seemed ironic how so many Mac people ended up on Linux during Apple’s dark years. On the face of it, at least, the two couldn’t seem to be farther apart. Completely open and customizable versus completely closed and curated. One that promises to let you do anything with it as long as you spend the time and effort; one that strives towards “it just works” provided that you want to do exactly what it wants you to do.

Microsoft today is so different. They’re no longer on top, and that means they’re doing some really great things. (And Apple is pulling Microsoft-style moves.) Yet they’re still doing a lot of silly things. And I wonder if Windows can ever again be even as good as it was with NT 4. Should I leave the Mac again, I can’t imagine it would be for a future version of Windows. Most likely it will be Linux again, if not some upstart that doesn’t exist yet.

14 April 2016

Dear Apple: Stop nagging me! (for the 2nd time)

This is the feedback I’ve sent Apple. If you feel the same way, please let them know it.

Stop nagging me about iOS updates. Now.

This is something Apple should never have done. I should not have had to say this once. Yet here I am saying it a second time.

Add a “Don’t remind me” option, or get rid of the notification altogether.

Just stop it. Now.

22 February 2016

Logo unification

New Logo(s) for Jetbrains

How can you take a good logo (if you had one) and make it boring? Create a dozen different logos that look nearly the same.

Having a common theme among product logos isn’t a bad idea, but making them this similar is a bad idea. It was a bad idea when Adobe did it. It was a bad idea when Microsoft did it.

Software companies should stop doing that.

21 February 2016

What’s the more important message?

I find it academically interesting to read things like “Mark and Divine Christology?

But the question of whether Jesus was wholly God or wholly man or wholly both or wholly neither... That’s all academic to me. I can’t understand why it is anything more than that to anyone.

My own personal credo says nothing about the divinity of the Jesus.

If you honestly study the scriptures, you will find that they do not necessarily agree on this matter. (Perhaps they don’t necessarily disagree either, but...again: Academic.)

What is the more important message? The one that is more mixed or the one that is more consistent?

What is the more important message? That Jesus was divine or that we should love our enemies?

What is the more important message? That we should stone certain offenders or that we should not judge others lest we be judged ourselves?

What would Jesus say?