31 July 2009

You’re a good man, CB

I love You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.

It really gives me the impression, though, that Clark Gesner didn’t really know Peanuts. It’s like somebody just gave him a quick summary of each character.

30 July 2009

United breaks guitars update

An update via “I ♥ guitar”. United has offered to compensate Dave Carroll for damaging his guitar.

That’s good. They should. Yet that is the least of what they should do. People should be fired. Policies should be changed. The company should—as loudly as they can—detail these changes and say, “We were wrong and stupid. We don’t want anyone to have an experience like this with us again.” And not in the typical PR speak. In simple, plain language.

Because the problem isn’t that Dave’s guitar got damaged. The problem is that it shouldn’t be company policy to treat customers the way Dave was treated, and the people who put those policies into place are a liability.

You want people to trust you with their lives and their property? Then you should make it clear that they won’t have to publicly ridicule you via YouTube for you to take those responsibilities seriously.

29 July 2009

Thinking in mechanics

Robin Laws posted an example of play he’d written for HeroQuest (the role-playing game...not the board game) that didn’t make the cut.

That example strikes me as exactly the kind of “thinking in mechanics” that is—for me—antithetical to role-playing games. It’s interesting, though, in that HeroQuest seems to be fairly different than more traditional role-playing games. Yet, I think I dislike “thinking in mechanics” here even more.

Now, it is an example designed to clarify the games mechanics. So, I’d hesitate to extend this observation into a criticism of HeroQuest.

28 July 2009

Bezos apologies for Kindle faux pas

Bezos apologized.

That’s good. Some people say the apology wasn’t necessary, but it was. If you buy a Kindle and content for it, you want to feel like you have control of your property.

(People don’t think of intellectual property as only licensed, and Amazon must deal with customer perception even if it is legally wrong. Not to mention that I’m not convinced that what’s legal is what’s right here.)

Of course, the apology isn’t as important as follow-through.

On another note: For some reason it surprised me that Bezos has an Amazon wish list and submits product reviews.

Lejendary Adventures

So the Gygax day one-shot was my first chance to actually play Lejendary Adventures. I’ve had Essentials (sort of a LA Basic Set) for a while, but a couple of weeks ago I scored a bundle of the full rules on eBay.

I needed more pre-gen characters than the four that came with the Quick Start adventure, so I typed up the three from the examples of character creation from the Lejendary Rules for All Players. I really feel that character creation has a lot of fiddly bits that don’t really add much to the game.

I really like the “skill bundle” Abilities as a middle ground between classes and skills.

I found the full rules just as poorly edited and imprecise as Essentials was. You have to be willing to just make your best guess at what things mean and roll with it. Essentials did actually clarify a couple of things versus the full rules, though.

Of course, I’ve only had the full rules for about a week now, so this is an early impression. There’s a lot of pages there. Gary may have considered it “rules light”, but I’d say more “rules medium”.

The abundance of non-standard jargon was annoying in play. “Ilf” and “wylf” also seemed kind of pointless, especially as wylfs are also called “elves”. It also seemed weird that elves were renamed but dwarves weren’t.

Combat seemed to go smooth enough. As usual with a “damage resistance” armor mechanic, I had a tendency to forget it.

It annoyed me to see the mage have a roughly 1 in 3 chance of failing to cast a spell. Having it resisted or something is one thing, but it just doesn’t feel right for professional magic wielders to have that high of a chance of failing to even cast a spell.

I really like that there are six different magic systems. The downside, though, is that I ended up having to try to quickly grasp four of them. The descriptions of how each works I found very opaque too.

I don’t know. So far, there’s some stuff I really like about it, but I really feel like there’s a lot of fiddly bits and complications that I’ll end up ignoring in the long run.

27 July 2009

Gygax day one-shot

In honor of Gary Gygax’s birthday this year, I decided to run a one-shot adventure. I ended up choosing the Quick Start adventure for Gary’s Lejendary Adventures system.

The players were challenged with coming up with names for their characters...er, “avatars”...that were anagrams of their own names. We had...

  • Calne the Human Noble (Lance)
  • Jerax the Ilf Mage (Jax)
  • Ilia Maechlen the Human Ecclesiastic (Cheli)
  • Hyronac Metrenul Loncug the Dwarven Soldier (Von)
  • Dalec Noclum Ghûld the Kobold Elementalist (Don)

Since it was a week-night, we didn’t really get rolling until late and had to end early. So, we only got through the exposition and first encounter and to the second one encounter. Still, fun (and Oreo cake) was had.

I didn’t really think of doing anything else besides running the game. e.g. Getting a birthday cake decorated with Gary’s Futurama likeness. Handing out prizes for working Gygax quotes into your character’s speech.

Hmm...the dungeons under Castle Blackmoor for Dave Arneson’s birthday? Some Traveller on Marc Miller’s? Munchkin on Steve Jackson’s?

ENnies bullet points

The ENnie Awards Home Page

  • I voted
  • Yay! Instant Run-off voting!
  • I cast very few votes because I wasn’t familiar with many of the products or companies on the ballot
  • How few people are there who actually can be familiar enough with all these products to be able to cast informed votes?
  • How many people are casting ill-informed votes?

20 July 2009

A good thing about “full page zoom”

I really didn’t see any need for web browsers to implement “full-page zoom”. Pretty much the only times I’ve wanted to zoom-in on a web page it has been because it used too small of font in too wide of a layout. Making the text larger while keeping everything else the same size was exactly what I wanted. Thankfully, Safari (at least) has keep text-only zoom as an option.

Today, though, I realized a use for “full-page zoom”: To make an overly wide web page narrow enough to fit in my browser window by zooming out.

Of course, I wouldn’t need either use of zooming if people did a better job of designing web sites. Yeah, and I realize my idea of “better” is different than some other people’s. But they’re wrong, and I’m right. (At least, here on my blog.) (^_^)

Now if I could only use “full-page” zoom-out and text-only zoom-in together!

06 July 2009

HTML 5 <video>

There’s some brouhaha over the decision that the HTML 5 standard (a work in progress) will not require browsers to support any specific codec(s) for the <video> tag. So...my 2¢...

Submarine patents: Really? You’re paying the licensing fees to implement the heavily patent encumbered H.264 codec, but you absolutely refuse to implement (or just take advantage of the open source code for) Ogg Theora because you’re afraid it may be discovered to infringe a patent? Despite the known patents covering H.264, isn’t it just as likely to be a victim of an as-yet-unknown submarine patent? It doesn’t look like the licensing future of H.264 is all that clear either. It’s hard for me to believe that Ogg Theora is any bigger a risk than anyone who has implemented H.264 has already assumed. I think Apple can weather any submarine patents better than Mozilla.

Quality: What does it matter whether Ogg Theora isn’t as good as H.264? Implementing Ogg Theora doesn’t prevent you from also providing H.264 as well. This is not an argument for opposing Ogg Theora being required by the standard or for refusing to implement it. Does iTunes refuse to play mp3 files because AAC are higher quality? Does Safari refuse to play mp3 files?

I don’t buy that HTML 5 should only codify what the browsers do. (Would there even be a <video> element to be debated if that were really the case?) A standard—backed by pressure from actual customers and implemented by competitors always looking for another bullet point—can and has convinced implementors to do things they wouldn’t otherwise.

That being said, I fully respect Ian Hickman’s decision as editor. It was a good decision, whether I might nitpick it or not.

And really, I haven’t been following HTML 5 as closely as I probably should be. Not to mention that, as interested (although that word seems entirely inappropriate) as I am in intellectual property law, I’m far from an expert on it. And my knowledge of video codecs is only having implemented some old codecs. (^_^)

05 July 2009

The game isn’t found in the rules

When I was a kid, I thought knowing the rules to a game meant you knew the game. At some point, though, you realize that that isn’t true. That’s why there are books on playing chess. At most the first chapter, if any, of the book covers the rules.

A game’s rules are like axioms from which the game emerges.

Role-playing games are weird in that role-playing isn’t governed by rules. So, the things presented as “role-playing game rules” cover things other than role-playing. Which makes them easy to misunderstand.

Looking just at the rules, any role-playing game tends to look like it is about combat and one or two other things. They tend to look like anemic wargames. There’s been a lot of effort to create rule systems that cover more than just combat and magic, to create a “real role-playing game” instead of just “hack & slash”. (I certainly spent a lot of time on that effort myself.) For me, however, most of them seem to actually make the game feel more like a wargame.

Yet when I read stories of early role-playing game sessions, when I hear my friends talk about their sessions with the older games, when I think back to my sessions with the older games; there was an awful lot of role-playing going on. As I’ve said before, nearly all the stories I’ve heard about The Keep on the Borderlands focus more on things that happened in the Keep than things that happened in the Caves of Chaos.

Actually, though, I think there are some rules useful for governing role-playing. I hear gamers mention them a lot, but I don’t see them written in the rule books much.

04 July 2009

iSight & RP350

Photo Booth records video mirrored. There’s an option to flip photos, but I haven’t found one for video.

Recording video through iMovie is not mirrored. When using the iSight, however, iMovie always gets the audio from the built-in mic.

Quicktime Player can also record video (although it requires Quicktime Pro), and it will honor the system settings for audio input. This way I could record unmirrored video with the iSight while capturing the audio directly from my Digitech RP350.

(I had to search, though, to find that Quicktime Player was saving the movies to my Desktop.)

Next experiment will be recording video, guitar via the RP350, and vocals via a USB mic, which will require creating an aggregate audio device with the Audio MIDI Setup app.

03 July 2009

Cowboys and Indians

In a comment to Grognardia’s post, “Ability Checks”, Rach wrote: “At what point then does D&D end and Cowboys and Indians begin?”

For me, it’s when all the participants choose one person to be the judge in order to resolve conflicts. Yes, it means that you have to trust that person. Yes, it means that they may make mistakes. But in exchange you get a game of infinite scope. Everything else is embellishment.

02 July 2009


Joe Satriani playing “Surfing with the Alien” on a random guitar through a Digitech RP200 and a Peavey Backstage 30:

Without his guitar, pedal-board, or amp, Satch still sounds like Satch. It’s often put this way: Tone is in the fingers.

What I want to rant about today (inspired by an episode of MusicRadar’s podcast) is the way that “tone is in the fingers” is too often used to dismiss questions about what gear a guitarist uses. Just because “tone is in the fingers”, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in knowing what gear somebody used for something. The question doesn’t automatically mean that the questioner is just looking to clone that person’s tone.

Here we have Eric Johnson playing through a Fender G-DEC amp:

Yes. EJ sounds like EJ even without his rig. Although, the point of this video is that the G-DEC allows him to practice things without his rig that were harder for him to practice without his rig before.

If gear didn’t matter at all, EJ wouldn’t bother with the rig he has. Satch wouldn’t have worked with Ibanez to create his JS series of guitars or Vox to create his line of pedals.

01 July 2009

Sage Advice

From Grognardia’s interview with Skip Williams:

6. For many years, you acted as “the Sage,” providing official answers to questions about the rules of D&D in the pages of Dragon, a role you continue to assume for Kobold Quarterly. I remember Gary once complaining that, in the early days, fans of D&D would call him at his home to ask him rules questions and he was baffled as to why anyone needed him to come up with answers, a feeling many early TSR staffers apparently shared. Do you see any contradiction between the desire of many fans for official answers to their questions and the belief of many early designers that players should come up with their own answers?

It’s a huge contradiction. The early designers were wrong. It comes down to this: If you want to be in control of your character, you have to have some idea how anything you might try is going to come out. and you can’t know that unless you have some idea of how the rules are going to handle the situation. If the GM is making capricious decisions about what happens in the game, you’re always shooting in the dark and you have no real control over your character at all. Think of how hard it would be to, say, learn to ride a bicycle if the laws of physics were constantly in flux. The game just works better if the DM and players have similar expectations about how the rules handle things.

To know how anything you might try is going to come out, you need to talk to the GM. The thing that sets role-playing games apart is that they have a living judge instead of lots of carefully worded rules. That’s why early D&D had such a minimal set of rules. That’s why the most interesting systems being created today have a minimal set of rules. That’s why Gary was so surprised by people calling him for answers.

(Yes, I realize that this is my own point-of-view. TINWWTP. YMMV.)

For every capricious GM, there’s (at least one) player who gets upset because they made too many assumptions and didn’t bother to actually communicate with the GM or the rest of the group. Instead of trying to fix the “problem GM” or “problem player” problems, we should just concentrate on fixing the “problem me” problem.

Having said all of that, though, I loved the “Sage Advice” column. (And in recent years I asked a number of questions of Gary too.) Firstly, If I buy a role-playing game, I want to understand what I read in it. One-way communication is almost guaranteed to have errors. Two-way communication allows for error detection and correction. Secondly, when I have a question about something, I often like to get other people’s opinion. Even better if I can get the opinion of someone more knowledgeable or experienced in the subject than I. Whether I end up deciding against the author’s original intention or the sage’s advice, it’s still valuable.