27 October 2014

Thin iMacs

Dear Apple,

Please stop touting how thin the iMac is. (1) The iMac was thin enough for a desktop machine before you started curving the back. Nobody cares if it is thinner than that. (2) It makes you look stupid to tout how thin it is at the edge when we can all see the bulge in the back.

Please, instead, focus the energy you’ve spent on making the edge thin on improvements that actually matter for a desktop computer.

Thank you.

P.S. On the other hand, I’m loving how thin and light my iPad Air 2 is.

This was also submitted as iMac feedback.

18 October 2014

Encryption backdoors and presumed innocence

FBI wants you to lock up data, but allow tech companies to keep the keys

I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone's closet or their smart phone. The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened -- even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order -- to me does not make any sense.

Yes, I am catching up on unfinished posts...

Flawed analogy. A closet and a data storage are very different things.

We are asked to trust companies and the government—and judges are part of the government—with back doors to get to our data because we might hide clues to illegal activities in that data.

That isn’t a valid justification in a society with presumed innocence.

Especially when you consider the breaches of trust from both companies and the government.

Can you commit a crime and the only evidence be encrypted data?

Even if you can, I’m not convinced that overrides the presumption of innocence.

17 October 2014

Unsubscribe should be instant

Here are your choices:

  1. Don’t ever send mass e-mails
  2. Provide instant unsubscriptions

If it takes you more time than a web page loading to process requests to unsubscribe, that leaves you with only option #1.

16 October 2014

Can a Dungeon Master Cheat?

Matt Finch addressed the question: Can a Dungeon Master cheat?

I don’t think an RPG is a game. Also, for RPGs fiction and rulings are more important than rules. So I’m not convinced that the concept of cheating applies at all.

I do know that a referee can be unfair. Although it isn’t a clear cut & dried thing. The rule I hope to live by is that it is better for a ref to spoil a surprise than to seem unfair.

15 October 2014

Thoughts while reading “Chess is not an RPG”

After watching the conversation between John and Zak and putting down my thoughts about it, I decided to read John’s article that started that conversation. Here are my thoughts as I read it.

Because the focus of an RPG is to tell stories.

I am not convinced that is the case.

The first four editions of D&D are not roleplaying games. You can successfully play them without roleplaying. Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is a game you cannot successfully play without roleplaying. If you try it, you get… well, you actually violate the basic tenant of the game: to make yourself scared through your character’s choices.

I’m not convinced that a game can require role-playing. I haven’t played Call of Cthulhu. (And even if I had, I wouldn’t have played it trying to not role-play.) So I may admittedly be missing something here.

And the goal of those games is to win. Roleplaying, in the end, sabotages the goal of the game.

I think the lack of winning is an important distinction. It’s what puts RPGs in the same category as something like SimCity. Which is perhaps more toy than game. (Although whether there is winning in RPGs is an often fought argument of its own.)

roleplaying game: a game in which the players are rewarded for making choices that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.

If that is a role-playing game, I don’t want to play. I don’t want to codify my character’s motivations to the extent that they can be rewarded. I don’t want to “further the plot of the story”. That would suck all the fun out of the game for me.

Because if the most important part of your game is balancing the damage, rate-of-fire, range modifiers, damage dice, ablative armor, dodge modifiers and speed factors, you aren’t playing a roleplaying game. You’re playing a board game.

For me, I think that’s true. Not because it is about telling a story. Rather it is because, for me, a role-playing game is about playing the hand you’re dealt. Like how the Fantastic Four has to figure out how to deal with Galactus even though he makes their powers moot.

As a GM, your job is to help the players tell the stories of their characters.

My job as referee has three parts:

  • To determine what obstacles are between the PCs and their goals
  • To figure out what forces exist in the world that might intersect with the PCs and what the goals of those forces are
  • Make rulings to resolve the actions the PCs attempt

Are those the same as “help the players tell the stories of their characters”? Maybe?

What matters is spotlight.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a referee trying to ensure each PC gets spotlight time, but I’m not convinced that is their an obligation. I think it is OK if players are sometimes required to earn the spotlight. And I enjoy playing supporting characters who seldom get the spotlight.

Maybe “earn” is not the right word. As referee, perhaps I ought to ensure that each player gets a chance to take the spotlight, but it is up to them to take it.

The reason roleplaying games are a unique art form is because they are the only literary genre where we walk in the hero’s shoes. We are not following the hero, we are not watching her from afar, we are not being told the story. As Robin Laws now famously said, “A roleplaying game is the only genre where the audience and the author are the same person.”

This touches on something I don’t like about some role-playing games. Making authorial choices is not making choices in-character.

And what exactly does speed factor have to do with this? Or ablative armor? Or rate of fire?

These are things that my character makes decisions about. Which tools to use in a given situation. These things provide some of the in-character decisions for me to make. They aren’t required (there are other decisions I could be making), but they are perfectly valid sorts of choices to be making.

You don’t get to say, “I have a high charisma because I’m not very good at roleplaying.”

Sure, but that’s because role-playing isn’t being charismatic.

14 October 2014

Thoughts while watching the conversation between John and Zak

A conversation between John Wick and Zak S.

That conversation was spawned by John’s “Chess is not an RPG”. (I haven’t read that article at the time I’m watching the conversation.)

(Edit: I have now read the article...thoughts here.)

Note: These are just my thoughts. They are not necessarily absolute truths even if I seem to be stating them as such. As always on this blog, this is thinking out loud.

Role-playing—in the context of role-playing games—is making decisions in-character. Therefore you can role-play in any game that allows you to make decisions.

Since role-playing is making choices, the choices a game allows determines how much the game supports role-playing. By trading rules for rulings by a referee, you trade a finite number of responses to any choice for an infinite number. Sometimes called “tactical infinity”.

(There’s a point to be made that even with tactical infinity there may be limits on the choices. Infinity plus limits does not necessarily equal a finite set. But that’s probably a whole ’nother discussion.)

There is no denying that by the Moldvay edited Basic D&D booklet (pp. B2, B3, B60) and first edition AD&D DMG (pp. 7, 9, 230) DM rulings over rules is the explicit intent of D&D and AD&D.

I’d argue that it was there in the original game too, but the text is less clear. Also, descriptions of Chainmail games from before D&D indicate that Gygax and associates played that game very much in a “rulings over rules” fashion. For example, there was a story told of a Chainmail game where one side set fire to the woods where the other side had units holed up. (If anyone has a reference to a telling on that story, please post the link.)


It should be noted that even the original D&D had an example of play that does give some idea of how the game is meant to be played.


I laughed when John said that if you want to role-play don’t be a fighter. To me it is exactly the opposite. The fighter is the blank slate that only becomes interesting through role-playing. Although there has been some effort over the years to take that away from the class.


I like Zak’s analogy of a supermarket versus a set of ingredients and a recipe.


Although in a couple of editions of D&D a three minute combat might take three hours to play out, that hasn’t generally been the case.

Has there ever been an edition of D&D that explicitly says seducing a barmaid can be done in a minute with a single die roll? Even in editions with skills and even if it were a single roll, wouldn’t that typically be played out by doing a lot of things over time to accumulate bonuses to that roll?

Unless you just want to get it out-of-the-way fast because it isn’t something the group wants to spend time on. In which case this is a feature. And it still is a ruling instead of a rule.


There is something about the simplicity of the battle rules in Diplomacy that really seems to drive the negotiation aspect of the game.

The combat system in Moldvay’s Basic D&D really is simple and not the majority of the book. In my experience, this is essentially how people played combat most of the time in AD&D. Others have told me their experience is similar.

That simplicity, however, seems to allow real tactics to be applied effectively. Rules mastery is not required. Which, I think, makes it easier to make decision more in-character and less as-player.

Maybe.


What is the difference between a role-playing game and a conventional game?

When I am attempting to design a conventional game, I am trying to make a closed system. When I am attempting to design a role-playing game, I am trying to leave things open for player creativity and referee rulings. So the difference between a conventional game and a role-playing game isn’t that the rules tell you to role-play but that the rules leave space for role-playing.

Did the original D&D do this intentionally or accidentally? shrug Maybe both. The afterword seems to say that it was at least partially intentional.

While it may not be that people role-played in D&D because the rules were incomplete, I don’t think that can be counted out as a factor.

And, as always, I’m not sure that role-playing games even are games.


Another thought: “Role-playing” in the sense of “playing a role-playing game” is making decisions for the character. Those choices may not be made purely in-character. (Role-playing2 is not always purely role-playing1.) I’m OK with some amount of “metagaming”.

29 August 2014

A comparison of D&D5e fighting styles

I might generally be down on complexity in role-playing game mechanics, but I do enjoy running the numbers.

Here’s one comparison of three fighting styles in D&D5e. Caveats: This is based only on the PHB (as it is the only book out when I’m writing this). I’ve chosen a very specific situation to analyze; there may be no generalizations to make. This is only about averages; once you’re rolling dice, anything can happen. This doesn’t consider tactics and such. Also, there’s every possibility I made a mistake.

Huey, Dewey, and Louis are triplets. They’re all 1st level fighters with 16 (+3 modifier) strength, 14 (+2 modifier) dexterity, and 15 (+2 modifier) constitution. They each have 12 hp. They’ve all got “chain mail” (AC 16) armor. Their proficiency bonus is +2.

(The “chain mail” doesn’t let them use their dexterity bonus for AC, but they got it as part of the starting equipment. The only armor that would give them a better AC would be half plate, but they can’t afford it.)

Huey has chosen the Defense fighting style (+1 AC), a war pick (d8), and a shield (+2 AC). His AC is 19.

Dewey has choosen the Two-Weapon Fighting style (add ability modifier to off-hand attack damage) and two shortswords (d6). His AC is 16.

Louis has choosen the Great Weapon Fighting style (reroll damage rolls of 1 or 2) and a maul (2d6). His AC is also 16.

They’re going to have a little tournament among themselves. (They’ll use the “Knocking a Creature Out” rule to keep from killing one another.) Since they all have the same number of hit points, their chance of winning a bout can be determined by comparing their average damage per round versus their opponent’s AC.

Bout 1: The odds favor Dewey (4.9 average points of damage per round) over Huey (3.975).

Bout 2: The odds favor Louis (4.383) over Huey (3.975).

Bout 3: The odds favor Dewey (6.85) over Louis (6.083).

So, Dewey with his two shortswords is favored in two of the three bouts. Huey with his war pick and shield is not favored in any.