13 February 2016

Classic D&D ability checks

When playing classic D&D, I like having some mechanics that don’t reduce the 3–18 range for ability scores to ±3. I’ve been using “roll score or less on nd6” for ability checks. (The n depends upon the difficulty of the check.) It’s unfortunate that this doesn’t take the character’s level into account.

So, here’s what I’m considering:

Roll a d20 for each character level. Pass if any are less than or equal to the ability score.

Although, unlike nd6, this has no provision to factor in a difficulty.

One possibility is to use different dice. For an easier task, roll d12s instead of d20s. For a harder task, roll d30s instead of d20s.

Another possibility is to have the difficulty modify the character’s level. But what do we do when modified level is less than one?

Maybe require rolling score or less on multiple d20s. e.g. If the effective character level were zero, success requires rolling the ability score or less on two d20s.

Here is an Anydice program showing the odds.

12 February 2016

Realistic sword fighting in films

A good point is made that on film or video, a realistic sword fight would be too short and too hard for the audience to follow. The sword fight in these media has many other purposes to fulfill other than being an actual sword fight.

I think, however, that film (or video) might be the best medium for depicting realistic sword fights.

On stage, the action would indeed be to quick and subtle to be understood by the audience. Film, however, can slow things down. Camera angles and distance can be chosen to clearly depict what is happening and focus on nuances.

Literature and audio drama aren’t good at depicting the details of motion for three dimensional combatants and their weapons. Film has a huge advantage there.

One place film is at a disadvantage—at least compared to literature—is in depicting the subtle feeling (fühlen among students of Liechtenauer) that allows a fencer to sense their opponent through the pressure of two blades in the midst of a bind.

11 February 2016

Thoughts upon rewatching Star Wars: Episode VI

After seeing Episode VII, we rewatched the previous films. Some thoughts...

There may be spoilers for Episodes I through VI below! ...but none for Episode VII.

Episode VI: I’ve always had an issue with the fact that Luke—now calling himself a Jedi—acts in bad-faith right-off-the-bat at the top of the movie.

If Dagobah in Episode V was a muppet movie, Jabba’s palace is doubly so. Again, for both good and ill.

Then we learn that Luke has not been back to Dagobah since the end of Episode V. Yoda says he already knows what he needs to know. He just needs to confront Vader. (Wait...isn’t that exactly what he already did?) Just so we’re clear on this: The message of episodes V and VI are that spending a lot of time training isn’t really a key to being a Jedi. For good or ill.

As strong as Leia is depicted, she’s still not allowed to be quite as heroic as the guys.

Does what happens between Luke, the Emperor, and Vader matter to the outcome of the story? Perhaps...if the Emperor was powerful enough to prevent or survive the destruction of the second Death Star.

But, watching it this time, I don’t think it matters. It is OK if Vader’s redemption doesn’t matter to the universe at large. It’s enough for it to stand on its own.

It does seem a bit too easy, though. Presumably it wasn’t, as Vader is dying afterwards. But the film doesn’t really communicate the effort required or the injury...

10 February 2016


From “A Tribute to VMware Workstation, Fusion, and Hosted UI”...

Yesterday morning, the Hosted UI team, responsible for VMware’s Workstation and Fusion products, woke up to find themselves out of a job.

It has been reported that the team has been replaced by outsourcing. Back to the article quoted above...

VMware claims they’ll continue to exist, and I really hope that’s the case. I like to think what we built will continue to live on, and I hope VMware does it justice.

The problem isn’t whether these products go into maintenance mode or not. The outsourced team might be every bit as good as the original team.

The problem is that this isn’t something that a company with smart leadership does. It’s hard to find good people. That may be the hardest part of the technology business. This is the epitome of penny wise and pound foolish.

09 February 2016

Does it affect tone?

Stop me if I’ve said this already...

If you find yourself asking whether something affects the tone of an electric guitar...

(...which means we aren’t talking about something that obviously affects tone...)

...the answer is: Yes, but not a lot.

You may or may not be able to hear it. It’s likely that listeners (especially once you consider any media between you and your listeners) won’t.

08 February 2016

Classic D&D ability score shifting thought

I have written about how I dropped intelligence from my Skylands classic D&D campaign. And about how I might like to replace it with quickness. And how the scores might be grouped into three related pairs.

One reason for pairing them is that at least one of my players thought that dexterity and quickness should be related. That it should be unusual for them to be very different. (While I argue that I myself am a example of them being fairly different. While I—at least in my youth—had decent dexterity, I have never been quick.) Anywho...what I want to talk about today is this idea:

All six scores are rolled separately. In each of the pairs (strength and constitution, dexterity and quickness, charisma and wisdom), the higher score my be lowered and the same number of points added to the lower score. But the lower score cannot be raised past the higher score.

e.g. I roll 10 for dexterity and 14 for quickness. I could raise dexterity to 11 by lowering quickness to 13. I could raise dexterity to 12 by lowering quickness to 12. But I couldn’t raise dexterity past 12.

Since I use the B/X modifiers, a smart player will consider the break points. e.g. If 17 was rolled for strength and 12 for constitution, it makes sense to lower the 17 to 16 because both have a +2 modifier while bumping the 12 to 13 goes from a +0 to a +1. I don’t think this is a bad thing.

On the other hand, I’m known to call for ability checks against the actual score, so—when that happens—the difference between a 17 and an 18 can be significant.

07 February 2016

Thoughts upon rewatching Star Wars: Episode V

After seeing Episode VII, we rewatched the previous films. Some thoughts...

There may be spoilers for Episodes I through VI below! ...but none for Episode VII.

Episode V: I would say that the conventional wisdom about this movie is this: Lucas’ weaknesses are writing and directing. Being able to afford to hire better writers and a better director makes Empire a better movie.

In the past I have cited this as the best of the series or vacillated between it and Episode IV. This time around, though—as I said before—I think IV is better than V.

The timeline seems off. Either the Falcon spends way too much time running from the empire, or Luke spends much too little time on Dagobah.

If you’re going to have hyperdrive to deal with the problem of interstellar travel, then you can’t have slower-than-light interstellar travel. If the first movie had glossed over interstellar travel, that would’ve been fine, but it didn’t. This movie not only embraces hyperdrive by making it a plot point, it also misses the implication. It would’ve been plausibility-stretching enough for Bespin to be close enough to Hoth (perhaps in the same system), but throwing the Anoat system in there as well... sigh

This viewing, Han came off as creepy to me rather than whatever the intention was.

I’m not sure if this was true before, but this time, I was constantly seeing that Yoda is a muppet. The scenes on Dagobah felt like a muppet movie. For good or ill. Probably both.

The first time I saw this movie, I assumed Vader lied. This time around, it feels like the entire movie is aimed towards that reveal. Like there’s no way it could be a lie.

When Yoda gives the reasons for why he won’t train Luke, he reminded me of a rabbi who turns a convert away three times. This scene isn’t really about whether he will train Luke. How could he not? Rather, this is a lesson for Luke.

If you take the things Yoda and Obiwan tell Luke at face value, they end up being very wrong. But they’re not stating facts. They’re expressing their fears. Yoda himself tells us in another movie that, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” Interesting that, in this scene, Yoda and Obiwan are afraid, and Luke isn’t.