19 October 2008

What I want from Hasbro

Jeff wants the original D&D box set or one of the Basic Sets in their vintage wood box line.

Which is a great idea. I’ve long been saying that the old game deserves to live on the shelves alongside other classic games.

Whatever you think of the D&D/AD&D split, there’s no doubt that the old Basic Sets sold well. There’s no doubt that a great many AD&D players got their start in the hobby with one of the old Basic Sets. There’s no doubt that an old Basic Set is even more of a different game than the current edition of D&D than it was a different game than AD&D.

Some may doubt that the old game is still as much fun today as it was then, but I’m not the only one who will vouch for that fact.

And let’s not forget that Wizards approved miniature (but complete) reprints of the Basic and Expert sets. They approved selling of PDFs of the classic products. Hackmaster and a “current edition” did coëxist in the market. The idea isn’t without some precedence.

I’d love to see the 1981 Basic and Expert sets reprinted verbatim, but if I’m dreaming...

I’d like to see the Basic and Expert books edited into a single product. With commentary by me to try to head-off some of the misconceptions that I had.

What might the actual products look like?

  • A boxed set
    • 4 player booklets
    • A DM booklet
    • B2
    • Dice
  • Free PDF of the player booklet online
  • A companion box set (not more levels, but more spells, monsters, treasures, optional subsystems, &c.)

Maybe? I don’t know.

Of course, D&D is just the tip of the iceberg if we’re going to talk things I want from Hasbro. About Avalon Hill...

18 October 2008

Tool tips

Tool tips are insidious. We’ve somehow designed them so that they never appear when you try to summon them, but they won’t go away when they’re in your way.

17 October 2008

3 levels of complexity in RPGs

Let me start out by saying I think there are problems with the following, but here it goes anyway.

Let me posit three levels of complexity in rules for role-playing games.

Low complexity The outcome depends mainly on the judge who must provide ad hoc modifiers, interpret outcomes, and make rulings. (Call it “fiat” if you wish.)

Moderate complexity The outcome depends mainly on character stats and die rolls.

High complexity The outcome depends mainly upon the player having a thorough understanding of the rules.

16 October 2008


I look around my house. Now just my house—in practice if not yet legally. It feels so different. I’m still happy with it. It just feels—diminished.

I’m diminished.

No matter how much happiness the future brings, my little family will now always be broken. My kids’ mom will never again be my wife. We’ll glue things together however we can make them fit. I suppose we’ll all come out of it stronger.

It’s like...I don’t think I’ll ever be as proud of anything I accomplish as I was of the things that Andrea and I accomplished together. Providing my kids a home is not that same as providing our kids a home. I can see a bright future, but it isn’t as bright.

Which is a foolish thing to be mourning. Life’s been good to me so far. There are people in this world who would gladly trade their troubles for mine.

15 October 2008

Transistor radio→Walkman→iPod

“The iPod has sort of lived a long life at number one,” he says. “Things like, that if you look back to transistor radios and Walkmans, they kind of die out after a while.”

Steve Wozniak

But there was little incentive in buying a next-generation transistor radio or Walkman. An iPod with a bigger, cheaper hard-drive is worth the upgrade. I think the iPod has the potential for a much longer run.

14 October 2008

What every company should know about the web, part 3

Look at your web site’s reports and you’ll see that most visits are from people using Microsoft Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows with Adobe Flash installed.

What about the customer using their Blackberry hoping to find your closest location because they are out-and-about and they want to buy something from you right now? What about the customer using their iPhone who wants to check your menu so they can decide whether to come to your restaurant or your competitor? What about the search engine that may bring you leads who would not have found you otherwise? What about the handicapped customer...?

No matter how good that Flash animation looks, it isn’t doing you any good if potential customers can’t find the information they’ve come looking for. (Flash is, of course, only an example. Substitute whatever flashy technology you want.)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the animation. Just that it shouldn’t be a obstacle between potential customers and the answers they’ve come to your site seeking.

To put it simply: If you’re restaurant’s web site requires Flash to give me any information, then when I am using my iPhone to help me decide where to eat, you’ve lost my business.

If Flash was used merely to enhance your site for those visitors whose browser supports it, then you would’ve had a shot.

13 October 2008

Grimm Studios’ podcast

Two things that stuck out for me from the Grimm Studios’ GM Sessions 2 podcast:

  • Story is a goal, not a ingredient
  • A character is a player’s vehicle

12 October 2008

What every company should know about the web, part 2

The web is a medium in which your customer comes to you. If the customer is coming to you, they are already interested in your company or product. They come because they have a question about you or your product.

The web is a medium in which there is virtually no limit to the depth of information you can supply. You know those technical little details about your product that you’re so proud of? The ones that they told you you couldn’t put in your ads? On the web, customers can drill down through layers of information to find the details that they care about—and that you’ve been dying to share with them.

If those customers, however, come to you web site and find no more information than an ad designed for another medium, your web site has failed.

Go ahead. Put all that information you’d like to share with customers on your web site. The challenge is no longer to distill your message for a limited medium and a general audience. The challenge is merely to organize it well.

11 October 2008

D&D 4e—rhetorical questions

Would I like Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition” better if...

...there were more utility powers and rituals and fewer combat powers?

...utility powers and combat powers weren’t “silo’d” so that I could choose the mix of them that I want?

...if PC’s had access to all the powers of their class and level?

10 October 2008

What every company should know about the web

When a customer comes to your web site, they are coming to find out something about your company or your product. If they fail to find that information—whether because you didn’t put it on your web site or because you’ve put barriers in front of it—your web site has failed.

09 October 2008

Character building

I’d generally rather play a twerp I diced up than an ubermensch I had to buy with points.

Jeff’s Gameblog: Fantasy in Drag

When I stopped playing AD&D, I started playing GURPS. How great it seemed to be able to build exactly the character I wanted. Yet, the biggest concern in my group was ensuring your character wouldn’t “step on the toes” of another PC. In essence, we spent a lot of time building exactly the sort of niches that AD&D classes handed us preformed.

Oh, that is an oversimplification. There was more to building our GURPS characters than reinventing the AD&D wheels. Yet, after I had a few GURPS PCs, there tended to be a lot of similarities between them.

When I first started playing Wizard’s D&D “third edition”, I loved the fact that rather than limitations or restrictions, it usually gave trade-offs instead. In practice, though, it often amounted to the same thing. Having a choice between two very unequal choices isn’t really much of a choice. Despite the many more choices (versus AD&D), I don’t know that the number of suboptimal choices that I found enjoyable was much greater.

With all the prerequisites and such... Well, there are a few specific Fighter builds that the rules encourage. The archer, the power fighter, the finesse fighter, the mounted fighter. Sometimes I think they should’ve just included more classes rather than make us sift through the specifics of the rules and discover them.

And the designers tried very hard to balance these different builds against one another so that—at least in some sense—it didn’t matter which build you chose. In fact, the options often seem so well balanced to me that I’ll end up using dice to make choices when building 3e PCs.

(I’m intentionally not even touching on what supplements add to the equation, because I’m usually don’t use supplements.)

Ironically, so often when creating a character in a system that seems to promise building whatever character I want, I instead feel like the system is keeping me from building the character I want.

Now, this isn’t meant as a criticism of GURPS or 3e. I enjoy both games, and they have good points that aren’t salient to what I’m trying to get at here.

And what I’m trying to get at is... Why did I enjoy all my AD&D Fighters so much—and felt no two were the same—despite the fact they were all mechanically identical?

I think it is because the things that make a character interesting to me are not mechanical. Adding mechanics for building characters can please the rule mechanic in me, but that is fleeting. In the long run, no mechanic is going to really make much of a difference in how I feel about the character or how much I enjoy playing it.

08 October 2008

Communicating expectations

One of my repeated memories from my childhood is how angry I’d get when my mom would ask me to do something moments before I was about to do it. I’d so much wanted to do whatever-it-was without being asked to, and suddenly I didn’t want to do it at all.

It’s so strange how sometimes someone telling me to do something makes me not want to do it. Likewise, it’s strange how it’s so hard sometimes for me to tell others what I want.

I clearly remember realizing during that first year of marriage how silly this was. At best it was childish; at worst, irrational. I should be happy when someone I love tells me what makes them happy. And how can I expect to get what I want if I’m not willing to ask for it?

Well, knowing and doing are two different things.

On the first score, I think I’ve actually done pretty well in my life thus far. I’m usually happy when people tell me what they expect of me.

(Incidentally, this the the best management advice I’ve ever gotten: The most important thing to do as manager is to let your employees know exactly what is expected of them.)

On the second score, I’ve never done as well. My inferiority complex has always led me to just “deal” whenever my own needs, wants, or expectations aren’t met. Instead, I just try to fill them myself whenever I can.

07 October 2008

D&D tournaments

I’m probably really out on a limb here because I haven’t played in a tournament, but here goes some thinking out loud anyway.

Quotes come from James Maliszewski’s interview with Tim Kask

We also had other concerns, chief of which was how to conduct fair tournaments. Before the term came into vogue, we were marketing TSR virally; I was a perfect example. I played the game at a con, bought one and took it back to my group and infected them.

(1) Conventional play was a good way to market the game. (2) Tournaments were a good way to market convention play.

As the nature of the game dictated, it was meant to be only loosely bound by the rules as printed; they were originally meant as suggestions and guidelines. Finding 30 DMs to run a tourney for us was a big task in and of itself; finding 30 that played the game the same was impossible as each one ran his own campaigns as he saw fit.

(3) Tournaments required minimizing one of the strengths of the game. (4) It seems to me that marketing that minimizes one of the product’s strength is maybe not the best idea. (5) Furthermore, the adventures created for tournaments were often published as modules, but they were often not good models for non-tournament play.

Later tournaments had the participants vote on which of them had played their role best. This minimizes the need for standardized rules, but it also emphasized one aspect of the game over others.

06 October 2008

To boldly — what no one has —’d before

When Dungeons & Dragons was published, it included a full range of monsters and treasures. This gave referees both sufficient things that could be used out-of-the-box and lots of of inspiration.

But they also became—to an extent—canonical. We tend to assume that the bulk of these things exist in every DM’s milieu and that the bulk of them are as described in the book.

As new editions were published, each sought to round out those lists even further. And the canon grew. While there is always room for our own creations, adding them to the already crowded lists...

Imagine what it was like for players in Dave’s Blackmoor campaign or Gary’s Greyhawk campaign, to encounter these things for the first time not in books, but in game.

Perhaps we should strive to use nigh none of this stuff exactly as published in our own campaigns.

Is this at odds with my “let D&D be D&D” principle? I thought so, but I’m re-thinking that.

05 October 2008

Public education

I think there are two main things we should do in this country to improve public education.

1. Stop micro-managing our teachers and administrators. Let these people do the jobs we hired them for. The jobs they trained for. In particular—to give just one important example—let them pick their own text books.

2. Figure out how to get more of the money we spend on education into teacher salaries. Pooring more money into the system isn’t an answer to anything until we figure out how to better use what we already spend. If we are going to let the teachers do their jobs, we need to retain the good ones, recruit more good ones, and give them the incentives to do their best.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of school choice. The best schools can’t take everyone. (Even if they did, that would just mean they wouldn’t remain the best as they got overloaded and stretched too thin.) The other schools will still be full, but it will be full of the kids who lost the voucher lottery instead of the geography lottery. We need to improve the whole system rather than trying to come up with a silver bullet.

04 October 2008


Is it wrong that I keep imagining an Octa-switch with a bunch of amPlugs?

Let’s see...an AC-30 set to a clean setting, an AC-30 with a dirty setting, one Classic Rock, one Metal, & one Lead? Octa-switch is perhaps overkill for this task.

03 October 2008

Per X abilities

I promised some good points about Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition”.

I like the basic idea of at-will, per-encounter, and per-day abilities.

I’ve written before about the fact that per-X abilities can simply and abstractly simulate the fact that some abilities or “special moves” require specific circumstances. If you don’t like simple and abstract, then that’s bad. But I currently prefer simple and abstract.

Another good thing about many 4e abilities is that they have an alternate effect even when the player fails the die roll. ExploderWizard on ENWorld suggested that all per-X abilities should either work automatically (without a die roll) or an alternate effect if the roll fails. I definitely like that idea.

I think there should also be a general rule for getting to re-use a per-X ability. Like spending some sort of “meta-point”. 4e has some specific rules for this but not a general one.

P.S. Another thing about per-X abilities is that when abilities aren’t perfectly balanced (always the case, but can differ based on circumstance) one doesn’t get repeatedly used to the exclusion of the others.

02 October 2008

Mac vs. PC ads

The bad thing about Apple’s commercials: They often choose a topic where the Mac isn’t as strong against the PC or which are borderline misleading.

The bad thing about Microsoft’s ads: They are all about image with no substance. Not even weak or misleading substance.

01 October 2008


...or It’s not that easy being—ew!

Wake up. Walk into bathroom. Lift the lid on the toilet.

Long ago I got in the habit of not only putting the seat down but the lid as well. Not out of any attempt at domestic peace. Mainly from—at the time—having a small bathroom with the toilet right next to the sink and not wanting anything to accidently fall in there.

Lift the lid on the toilet. Staring up at me is a frog—or maybe a toad, I don’t take the time to access—the size of my fist.

Close the lid.

I flush several times and peek. Gone. Still, I leave the house with a heavy weight on the lids of both toilets.

Come home from work. Peek.

It’s back.

What do I do? What do I do?

I check the clean-out outside. The lid is on.

What do I do? What do I do?

I’ll just go ahead and get it out.

There I am with a bucket with a tight fitting lid, a plunger, and a broom. I open the lid.

It seems I have an irrational fear of hopping amphibians that come out of the sewer.

I put the weights back on the toilets and wait until morning.

“How may we help you?”

“I have a frog in my toilet.”

“Please hold on a minute. I’ll have to check about that as I haven’t heard of it before.”


“Sir, I’m sorry. We don’t handle amphibians.”

“Can you recommend somebody?”

“Let me check with my supervisor.”


“No, sir. I’m sorry.”

Maybe you should call yourselves, “a-few-very-specific-types-of-pest control”.

The conversation with the plumber was shorter. And very amusing. For him. I stressed that my biggest concern was to ensure that no other animals would be coming in this way. He said there was nothing he could do.

The rest of the calls were no more helpful.

So, after a trip to the drug store for some latex gloves, I finally did it. The frog—or toad—is out of the house.

But now I’m going to be even more sure to keep the lids closed.

the photographic evidence

$ coins

Despite past failures, the US mint is trying once again to promote a $1 coin.

Austin in golden

I have to wonder how they measure success or failure.

If they consider success people using dollar coins exactly the way they use dollar bills, I don’t think that makes any sense. People aren’t going to use dollar coins like dollar bills anymore than they use quarters as they use dollar bills. Coins and bills are different, and thus will be used differently.

Which is all moot anyway. Dollar coins don’t need marketing campaigns. If the treasury wants people to use dollar coins instead of dollar bills, all they need to do is stop printing dollar bills.

Of course, some people are against that. Though, they failed to get their legislation passed. Even still, the treasury could only print a token number of dollar bills.