29 August 2008

Albert Collins Telecaster

Another Telecaster with the same S-H (single-coil/humbucker) configuration as Trixie: Fender Custom Artist Series Albert Collins Tribute Telecaster

D&D 4th edition, second impressions

I know I promised to post about things I liked about 4e, but I’ve got some more dislikes first.

Second wind My general philosophy is that players don’t need to know the rules. They just tell the DM what they want their character to do, and it’s up to the DM to translate that into mechanics and then translate the results back into plain terms. This is an ideal that we perhaps can’t actually fully make it to, but I’d rather move towards it rather than away.

Second wind is not an action a player would ever think of his character wanting to take unless the player knew about the rule. Well, maybe. “I spend this turn catching my breath.” But you get the point, right?

Healing surges These seem like a completely unnecessary extra layer of abstraction on top of hit points.

The 15 minute adventuring day One of the things 4e sought to fix was that adventuring parties would often stop to take a full 8-hour rest and replenish “per day” resources. This didn’t seem to work, since our party did the same thing.

Too many subsystems? Powers, feats, skills, and rituals. Does the system really need and make the most of these subsystems? Feats in particular seem a bit redundant now that there are powers.

Unreliable magic One of the things I really liked about D&D is that magic spells tend to just work. Yeah, if a spell is cast on a creature, it might get a saving throw or magic resistance. And yeah, more and more spells that didn’t allow saving throws would in a new edition. Now, however, most spells are essentially attack rolls. I didn’t like having to roll to cast spells in any of the non-D&D RPGs I’ve played. I don’t like doing it in 4e either.

28 August 2008

Parent survey

What frustrates your child?

I’m not sure, but what frustrates me is these questionnaires full of questions I don’t know how to answer that his teachers alway send home.

22 August 2008

A guitar amp idea

I imagine: A guitar combo amp with an embedded computer that can run an embedded version of ReValver. It can drive a second cabinet (for stereo) and has stereo line-outs. It’ll need a bank of foot-switches to switch pre-sets and enable/disable individual effects.

At first I was going to say that it and the extension cabinet should each have a single 12” speaker. Since ReValver does speaker simulation, however, we want high-fidelity speakers rather than typical guitar amp speakers.

Of course, you’d use a desktop/laptop with ReValver to create pre-sets to load into the amp.

And while I’m dreaming, let’s include a compartment in the amp that the foot-switch and it’s cable can be stowed in. And a place to stow the power cord.

A huge amount of tone flexibility in an easy-to-tote package. Suitable for practice, recording, and just about any gig.

You can get pretty close to this today, but not quite.

Vaguely related, the OpenStomp project is interesting.

Yeah, yeah. All you need is a good tube amp. I can enjoy that, but I could also enjoy this.

20 August 2008

RPG development and releases

So, with D&D “fourth edition”, Wizards is planning on putting out a new Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual each year. These will be expansions rather than replacements. They’re considering them, however, “core” rather than supplements.

The distinction is a bit subtle. They typically avoid using a lot of stuff from supplements in adventures, preferring to stick to the core rules. Also, calling these expansions “core” make it easier for them to choose to delay certain things—e.g. gnomes, half-orcs, and druids—that they would normally consider something that should be “core”.

As I said, the distinction is subtle.

I actually think, to some extent, this isn’t a bad idea. It is quite a task to develop a game as involved and with the scope of Wizards’ brand of D&D. It seems daunting and risky to try to fully develop and playtest it before releasing anything.

They did test some parts of “fourth edition” as “third edition” supplements and in the Saga edition of their Star Wars RPG. But I’ll put that aside for now.

I think, however, that I'd go a more classic D&D BECMI→RC path.

The quick explanation: Classic D&D was released in a series of boxed sets: Beginner, Expert, Companion, Master, & Immortal. These were later compiled into a single Rules Cyclopedia.

The first year books would’ve been the Heroic PHB, Heroic DMG, and Heroic MM. They would cover only levels 1–10. (Which “fourth edition” calls the “heroic tier”.) In exchange, they would’ve covered more classes and races.

The second year would see the Paragon versions of the three core books. The third year, the Epic versions.

Then, once the game is fully developed, the fourth year would see all three tiers compiled into the Complete PHB, Complete DMG, & Complete MM triple along with errata and any other fixes that developed over the years.

I think it would be easier to develop and test more classes/races over a single tier than fewer classes/races over all three tiers.

19 August 2008

You can be anything

In the comments to Steve Yegge’s post on Business Requirements, entaroadun asked...

The problem with everyone eating their own dogfood is that there will always be some class of people with product needs that cannot make dogfood.

I’m not so sure. I think most of us are much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. If another person can do it, there’s a good chance you can too.

Obviously there are some extraordinary people that can do things very few others can, but that’s where the “good chance” comes in. Most of the things people do are things that most other people can do.

Which works the other way too. This isn’t a “problem” because the “some class” of people who can’t do what most other people can do are on the opposite side of the bell-curve from those extraordinaries.

Besides, people seldom accomplish things alone. You don’t have to be entirely capable of making dogfood in order to make dogfood. You can get help.

18 August 2008

Yegge on Business Requirements

The easiest way to build a product that kicks ass is to start with someone else’s great idea (camcorders, for instance), and take stuff away.

Don’t gather business requirements: hire domain experts.

Steve Yegge

I found it a good—if verbose—read.

17 August 2008

Schools of RPGs, follow-up

I’m not sure about The Fantasy Trip, Chivarly & Sorcery, or Runequest. Which probably has to do with the fact that I never played them.

Trying to be uncharacteristically inclusive, I’d put computer RPGs into the engineer school, as an extreme example of it. LARP? I don’t know.

Schools of RPGs

Don’t take the names too seriously. Probably not really useful at all. Just a thought...out loud. Not really very developed.

Old school: It’s a mostly free-form game with some simple, abstract rules for whatever we think it would be fun to have rules for.

New school: It’s about the world, PC backgrounds, and story. We need rules for things other than combat and magic.

Deconstructionist school: Let’s deconstruct the hobby and rebuild it in other interesting ways. We take the free-form elements from the old school, the world/background/story focus from the new school, and make any rules even simpler and more abstract.

Forum school: Forget the rules and dice. We’re going 100% free-form.

Engineer school: Let’s try to make the rules to cover everything. Which we think is rejecting new school and harkening back to old school.

16 August 2008

Look and feel

NPR Morning Edition: “Facebook Faceoff: German Rival Gets Poked

Facebook is suing a German site for copying Facebook’s “look and feel”.

Falzone says the line between an innovation and a copy can be blurry. But he also says that it’s important to remember that intellectual property rights are there to protect innovation.

OK. I’m with you. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand the point.

“That’s essential to healthy competition,” Falzone said, “because it lets the person who executes the idea best win in the marketplace—and that protects a healthy, competitive marketplace.”




If you want it to be about who executes the idea best, then you don’t want intellectual property rights getting in the way of competition. Intellectual property rights are asserted to try to prevent competition from executing the idea so that you don’t have to worry about competing on execution.

Even though the “look and feel” term was popularized by Apple’s suit against Microsoft, Apple isn’t still around and doing well because they won that suit. (There was never a ruling.) It’s because of how Apple executed their ideas.

And just think of where they’d be if executed better and not made some of the big mistakes that really set them back.

“It’s not easy to do a copycat” site, Hochmuth said. “It may look like an easy thing to do, but actually growing such a copycat is just as hard as building a company that’s otherwise your own original idea.”


Yeah, the Apple engineers saw Xerox’s technology, but they had to figure out how to actually build it, make it affordable, and make it truly practical for consumers. If you think that’s easy, take a moment and give it a try.

Microsoft (as I understand it) had more access to Apple’s actual technology than Apple had to Xerox’s, but they still rebuilt it. They executed it well enough to keep Apple from taking over the market, though not well enough to make Apple superfluous.

Apple’s darkest days were when even Microsoft was executing on fundamental operating system features than Apple was.

Facebook should know that a “look and feel” lawsuit is just a waste of resources. Resources that should be concentrated on executing better than the competition.

15 August 2008

Alternate olympics

Every Olympics, I think about some of the things I’d like to see in a similar event.

  • No sports that involve a panel of judges choosing scores
  • No sports that require gear
  • Any victory by a margin less than human reaction time is considered a tie
  • No anti-doping rules

14 August 2008

Science versus religion, part 2

In response to this post, Anonymous wrote:

I guess if you want your science without objectivity, a little faith thrown in is fine.

What if I just want to look to science for answers to the questions it can answer while looking to faith when considering the issues it addresses?

When there is a conflict between science and faith, it is because somebody has misunderstood one or both of them.

Sadly, some scientists manage to misunderstand science, and some clerics manage to misunderstand faith.

If you think a scientific conclusion conflicts with your religion, you’ve missed the point of religion.

Not that that means the scientific conclusion is always right. Science is imperfect. Most of the time, there’s more to the story yet to be discovered. Sometimes, we just get it plain wrong. Religion, however, doesn’t really care about the issues science addresses.

If you expect science to provide meaning, you’ll be disappointed.


There’s this cool software called ReValver that emulates guitar gear. Amps, effects, and speakers.

There’s other software that does the same thing. In fact, Garage Band even has some of this stuff built in. My Digitech RP350 is basically the same thing in a stomp-box appliance, though less flexible.

The really cool thing about ReValver is that it actually simulates individual circuit components, so you can even play with modifying an amp. Or even virtually build your own.

Of course, these emulations aren’t quite as good as the real thing, but they’re coming pretty close. They allow you to play with decent facsimiles of a lot of gear that would cost a whole lot of money. It makes experimenting with that gear to find unique sounds cheaper, easier, and safer.

In fact, it’s making me want to buy a real tube amp (or three) more than anything else ever has. When I do, the lessons I’ve learned from these emulations will help inform my choices.

Which seems exactly the opposite of how Ig sees it.

13 August 2008

Science versus religion

The other day I heard this NPR story.

I’m so sick of this attitude that science and religion are mutually exclusive.

12 August 2008


This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it'd be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

As you can see, our distributed infrastructure allows applications to efficiently traverse a link graph with many trillions of connections, or quickly sort petabytes of data, just to prepare to answer the most important question: your next Google search.

All this technology has been brought to bear so we can find information about these things.

And it all seems to be funded by little, unobtrusive text ads.

11 August 2008

D&D 3.5 = Linux

Now, I haven’t seen a lot of other systems, but from what I have seen, I suspect this problem looks worse than it really is. We started with D&D 3.5 and a lot of splats. Since it’s the only game we know, there’s an assumption that any system we replace it with would be similarly complex, and require a similar ramp-up time. My brief survey of alternative systems indicates that this isn’t so—but we have no way to know that. It’s as though we all started on Linux, so we naturally assume any system we switch to will have a similarly painful learning curve. Because, well, that’s all we know about computers.


Olympic pronunciation trivia

The J in “Beijing” is actually pronounced more like the normal English pronunciation of J rather than “zh”. Not that it matters.

10 August 2008

D&D 4th edition, 1st impressions

Played in my first Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition” session Saturday.

“Blasting people with magical energy”

My first level Wizard, Tothamon, can launch silvery bolts of force, engulf his foes in a column of flames, and create a whip-crack of sonic power that lashes up from the ground. He can do one of these things every six seconds. Once an encounter, he can hurl an force-grenade.

Note that my other choices for these four powers were pretty much the same sort of things. This is exactly what I was afraid Andy Collin’s statement—“Being a wizard is about blasting people with magical energy”—meant.

He can cast a sleep spell once a day, and he has some nifty minor (non-combat) cantrips, and he has a couple of (non-combat) ritual spells. But he doesn’t get any “utility” spells until second level!

This is not what I think of when I think “wizard”. This is not what I think of when I think “D&D magic-user”. You cannot create a wizard by these rules who doesn’t have at least three “blasty” powers at first level.

That’s fine. I’ll enjoy it. “When in Rome.” But if you wonder why I might choose to play an older edition of D&D sometimes—if you wonder why I say “it’s not just a new edition, it’s a new game”—there’s at least one reason why.

“And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”

After looking at the rules, I said, “everyone’s a spell-caster”. After playing a session, I’d refine that.

Where playing a fighter or a magic-user used to be two very different experiences, now they are very, very similar. It’s not just that playing a fighter is now more like playing a wizard. It’s also that playing a wizard is more like playing a fighter. The engineer part of me loves it. The gamer part of me isn’t so sure.

This really has me rethinking some of my own homebrew system ideas and some of the systems I was looking forward to trying.

“If you can’t say something nice...”

There are definitely some things I like about the system too. I’ll try to post some about those things too.


pure awesome


A picture that asks the question: What if Traveller had been a fantasy game? There’s lots of nice little touches. Like REH’s “Know, O Prince...” text substituted for the “Free Trader Beowulf” text.

Since I first played Traveller (c. 1985?), I’ve wanted to run a fantasy game with the Traveller rules. I’ve not been alone. In fact, the 1981 Thieves’ World set included Traveller stats!

09 August 2008

I guess I wasn’t having fun

And worse, the fighter is still as boring to play as a brick. “I miss, I hit, I miss, I hit.” Yech.

seen on Paizo’s message board

<sarcasm>Oy! You’ve made me see the light! I haven’t had any fun playing fighters all these years! Woe is me!</sarcasm>

If you don’t enjoy playing Fighters, it doesn’t mean that Fighters need to be changed. It just means you shouldn’t play Fighters.

(Or—horrors—perhaps you should try to find out why some of us enjoy playing Fighters and see if changing your approach allows you to enjoy them.)


When I posted about Trixie, my new Telecaster, I forgot to mention the Gibson Marauder, another guitar with the angled—single-coil—bridge and humbucker—neck pick-up combination.

08 August 2008



A melee ensues when groups become locked together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual.

Turns out the use of the word “mêlée” in role-playing games is particularly apt. ^_^

07 August 2008

“...ended in bloodshed”

Mike Mearls worte:

Alas, as happens all too often in RPGs, our stealthy and bluff plan ended in bloodshed.

If there’s one thing I’m tempted to call “broken” in a lot of role-playing games, it’s this. One bad roll out of a series—which is usually pretty likely—spoils the stealthy plan. One bad roll does not spoil the frontal assault. Why even bother trying the stealthy plan?

How can we “fix” that?

  • Say it isn’t broken; it’s just the nature of stealthy plans
  • Decrease the difficulty of stealth checks to make a bad roll less likely
  • Partial credit; tweak the results so that a single bad roll creates a minor setback rather than spoiling the whole plan
  • Don’t roll for stealth
  • Tweet’s “there is no try” approach

06 August 2008

Rush unplugged

Rush “unplugged” covering Heart full of soul:

Here’s the Yardbird’s version.

How to make someone hate software

What to make someone hate a software application? Here’s a nigh foolproof method:

Require them to use it.

This works in two ways.

Firstly, when someone sees that a similar application lacks an annoyance or has an additional feature, the user will resent not having the choice to try the other application instead.

Secondly, when the person who chooses the application isn’t the person who uses the application, it is more likely to be the wrong choice.

05 August 2008

The opposite of power gaming?

I recently dropped in on a D&D 3.5 session. I had to create a 17th level character. (I’ve never played a 17th level character in any edition of D&D.) I created a halfling sorcerer, Emanon.

Yeah, I created a single-classed PC. Yeah, I just picked three skills and assumed he put one skill point in each each level. Just because you can agonize over a character build in 3e doesn’t mean you have to.

Although I knew the campaign was winding down, I’d probably only play this PC this one time, and that it was mostly going to be a big battle; I didn’t choose a lot of direct damage “blasting” spells. Sure, I took Magic Missile, Fireball, and Lightning Bolt; but that was about it. It was pointed out to me that that might have not been the wisest course. But I don’t want to play a blaster.

I ended up using Fly, Invisibility, Teleport, and Baleful Polymorph. It was a...um...blast.

Of the magic items I was granted, I only actively used the bag of tricks.

Anyway, that and a blog post by Trollsmyth got me to thinking about how I enjoy...the opposite of power gaming. Rather than create a blaster sorcerer for the upcoming battle, I enjoyed creating a sorcerer not designed for the battle and then doing my best with that. How am I going to take these spells—chosen, not strategically, but simply on what caught my attention and a vague character concept—and apply them in this situation?

Likewise, I’m happy to try a party without a cleric—although conventional wisdom says you must have one—figuring we’ll figure out how to manage and have fun doing so.

04 August 2008

What was D&D?

What separated D&D from other games, thereby spawning a new category—role-playing games?

Now, this can be a bit tricky because whatever elements you come up with, you can likely find pre-D&D examples of. But here it goes anyway.

  1. Non-zero-sum. One player “winning” doesn’t mean another player “loses”. Players can—and typically do—coöperate.
  2. A referee who—instead of moderating between the players—provides flexibility that no set of written rules can. The scope of the game becomes limited only by imagination.
  3. Open ended. There are no victory conditions.
  4. One player plays one “figure” that represents one character.

One was definitely something (according to Heroic Worlds) Wesely was going for with the Braunsteins.

Two seemed to be a tool he discovered—from Strategos—to help make it happen. (It has been said that Strategos got it from Free Kreigspiel.)

Three seems to have developed in Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.

And again, these things are kind of tricky. I’m sure things weren’t nearly that clear-cut.

Four seems to have occurred in the Braunsteins as well. Although it seems essential to list it, I’m tempted not to. I’m not sure why.

03 August 2008

Ask Captain Pike

For fans of Star Trek (the original series): Scott Meyer’s “Ask Captain Pike”

02 August 2008

Games that aren’t D&D

Inspired by Other Games I Have Known et alia...

Although the first role-playing game I owned was a D&D Basic Set and an Expert rule book, the first role-playing game I played on a regular basis was Traveller.

In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to play classic D&D and classic Traveller again. Both games were as much (if not more) fun today as they were then.

Here’s a list—as memory serves—of the other role-playing games that aren’t a D&D that I’ve played for a significant amount of time.

  • (classic) Traveller
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • GURPS (3/e)
  • Rolemaster
  • Hârnmaster
  • Fantasy HERO
  • Marvel SuperHeroes
  • (Decipher’s) Lord of the Rings
  • Toon
  • Forbidden

Forbidden is a homebrew horror game a friend of mine has designed.

Oh, and “d20 Fantasy”. (Duck & run) ^_^

Open minds

I get so sick of people assuming I don’t have an open mind.

By expressing an opinion, I am usually inviting challenges. If I didn’t want to hear counter opinions, I wouldn’t have bother expressing my opinion.

In fact, most of the opinions I express are the direct result of me expressing an opinion, hearing counter opinions, and changing my opinion based on such discussions.

Yeah, I know I can improve my communication skills. I’m working on that. But this is my blog, so I’m hear to rant. ^_^

(I used to spend way too much time (probably still do a lot) carefully choosing my wording in online communication only to be misread anyway. >_<)

Instead of accusing me of being close-minded, be open-minded about me! OK?

01 August 2008


If you—without tongue in cheek—find yourself explaining the proper usage of “dork”, “geek”, and “nerd”; then <foxworthy>you just might be</foxworthy>...whichever one you think is worst. If you’re (again, without tongue in cheek) offended by someone’s usage of one of those terms, then you are.


(Ah...the sweet irony of hyperlinking those words to Wiktionary.)

Incidentally, no matter how inaccurate it may be, I like the pop-etymology: drunk → knurd → nerd.

And as Scott Meyers wrote: “Jocks are just sports geeks. Live with it.”