30 September 2010

Gumshoe & investigation in role-playing games

I keep reading about how the Gumshoe system provides a fix for investigation in role-playing games. The problem they identify is that a botched die roll can prevent players from gaining a vital clue.

My first thought is that applying mechanics to investigation is the real mistake. Then I think that for a game—like Call of Cthulhu, which is all about investigation—maybe it makes sense.

But then I think, isn’t D&D really about investigation too? You’re trying to locate the McGuffin or explore the unknown or whatever. D&D didn’t have much in the way of mechanics for investigation, and—I think—for good reason. The more such mechanics have been expanded and added to D&D, the more you see people coming up with complaints exactly like the one Gumshoe is designed to address.

Gumshoe’s answer is to provide a resource-based mechanic in place of a dice-based one. (There are still dice rolls, but overall it’s more resource-management focused.) Reading about this, I can’t help but think that I’d rather spend time at the table thinking about the mystery and the clues rather than resource management.

So, I’m back to thinking that applying mechanics to investigation doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

This all feels a little unfair since I haven’t actually read any of the Gumshoe books yet. This, however, is the reason why I haven’t bought or read any of them yet.

22 September 2010

1 gp paid for training = 1 XP

A thought inspired by a thread on the LinkedIn RPG group:

In classic D&D, instead of giving the PCs 1 XP per gp of treasure acquired, make it 1 XP per gp paid to a mentor for training.

Ignoring the word “experience” in “experience point” and “experience level”, I think this puts the horse back in front of the cart. You don’t search for treasure to earn “experience” to get better. You search for treasure in order to afford the training to get better.

Of course, you still get some gain for experience as well. This isn’t completely dumping experience for training.

It reminds me of the “wine, women, and song” rule from Dave Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign in which PCs only got XP for treasure by spending it. It also recalls classic Traveller in which PCs spent money and time to improve their skills rather than through XP.

Although, once the PCs reach a certain level—¿ninth?—perhaps things should change so that they can mentor themselves.

Android and the carriers

Android Is As Open As The Clenched Fist I’d Like To Punch The Carriers With

In theory, I’m right there with you. The thought of a truly open mobile operating system is very appealing. The problem is that in practice, that’s just simply not the reality of the situation. Maybe if Google had their way, the system would be truly open. But they don’t. Sadly, they have to deal with a very big roadblock: the carriers.

Is Google even making an effort to have their way?

An iPhone isn’t a phone. It’s a palmtop computer. The cellular provider for such a device should be much less involved that they have been with cell phones. One of the key pieces of the iPhone is that Apple has pushed AT&T more towards their rightful role for such a device. They haven’t been entirely successful, but they have been very successful.

21 September 2010

Cheating in Sunday school

After some research, I settled on the Olive Tree Bible Reader for iPad.

I really like the Tecarta app, but they didn’t have the NRSV. I really wanted a single app with—at least—the NRSV, the NIV, and the Message.

I used to just use Bible Gateway with my iPhone. It’s a fabulous site, works well with the iPhone, and is completely free. The one downside was that over 3G it was slow enough that I would still be loading when everyone else had already found the passage. Another downside was that the iPhone’s small screen was poorly suited to sharing with your neighbor.

Well, with the Olive Tree app and having the Bibles installed on the iPad, I now find passages while everyone else is still flipping pages. It felt almost like cheating. ^_^ Just four taps to get to any verse.

There is one really weird thing about the Olive Tree app. From the app store, you can buy different versions of it that come bundled with different Bibles. Then there is a sort of “generic” version that allows you to buy multiple translations via in-app purchases.

Once you log-in through one of the bundled versions of the app, Olive Tree will record that you have the bundled Bible (and other bundled books). You can then download those in the generic version of the app.

The weird part is that the versions of the app with the bundles are cheaper than buying the same books directly in the generic app via in-app purchase. So, instead of just buying the generic app and then the translations I wanted via in-app purchase, it was cheaper to buy all the individual bundled apps and then download all the books in the generic app.

It’s hard to even explain. It was confusing for me, and I suspect my background in software and e-books means it was easier for me to understand than for most of their customers.

In any case, I’m pretty happy with the final results. I have the KJV, the NRSV, the NIV, the NIrV, the TNIV, the Message, the ASV, the Vulgate, and the Bible in Esperanto all installed on my iPad in a single app. It’s quick to get to any verse. The search seems decent. And it will do split-screen to compare two versions side-by-side. I also have a couple of commentaries. (In split-screen mode, you can get the commentary for a passage next to the passage.) Plus a few other free e-books. Olive Tree seems to have a good selection of other Bibles, commentaries, and books to buy as well.

20 September 2010


Gazelephants in the Wild

Right Network Logo, New

OK, somebody write up gazelephants for D&D.

19 September 2010


What’s Next for Nokia?:

Nokia’s problem — and I’ve heard this same story from at least half a dozen former and present Nokia employees who read DF — is that their handset business is fundamentally based around hardware teams. When they decide to make a phone, they put together a hardware team for that model, and that team makes all decisions. That’s why they have no cohesive software strategy. Nokia sees software as one component in a hardware-based view of the industry.

The iPhone is a palmtop computer, which happens to also be a phone. I don’t think that is what everyone wants or needs. Some people are happier with a phone that is just a phone. Or perhaps a phone that does a few palmtop-like things.

It seems to me that Nokia ought to continue to focus on hardware. It needs to produce the absolute best phone rather than trying to compete directly against the iPhone.

The problem, I suppose, is that that isn’t a high-margin business. Still, I think trying to play somebody else’s game is a lousy and losing strategy.

13 September 2010

Backlight beats e-ink (for me)

The number of times I want to read an e-book in direct sunlight: Almost never. The number of times I want to read an e-book in the dark: Nearly every night.

08 September 2010

Why selling PDFs has nothing to do with piracy

Selling an electronic edition of your book makes it more more susceptible to piracy, right? No, it just means you’re sticking your head in the sand.

In the video below, the company that digitized The Macintosh Way includes a bit of footage of their book scanning machine. It demonstrates not only how that book was reborn, but how easily pirates can turn your printed book into a illicit PDF.

To me, PDF has always been a very limited e-book format. It was good for a fairly limited range of things. For good or ill, however, it is the e-book format that has had the most success.

The iPad has changed things for me, though. For PDFs, it rivals print. For role-playing game books, I now want an electronic copy. (Formats other than PDF are welcome, though PDF if the most common.) Now, I can carry my library anywhere and get to any book in a few taps. I’ll still buy the occasional paper RPG book. If I can’t get an electronic copy, however, there’s a good chance I won’t actually use it.

07 September 2010

Keeping up appearances

I have written before that I think it is important to recognize that what’s right for me isn’t right for everyone. But I do believe that there are some absolute rights and wrongs.

One such fundamental is this: It doesn’t matter what other people think.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be considerate. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek advice. It simply means that when faced with a choice, you shouldn’t make a decision based on what other people might think about your choice.

If for no other reason than that you are likely wrong about what anyone will think. In fact, I suppose this is a subset of the “don’t make a decisions based on fear” proverb.

Not that I’m perfect at practicing this bit of preaching.

06 September 2010

Carvin & shameless waste

When a Carvin guitar doesn’t meet their quality standards, they destroy it. Not only that, they throw the pieces in the dumpster. In fact, they say they do this because people have pulled guitars out of their dumpster and sold them.

When watching videos of the Carvin factory, one of the things that struck me was the waste of wood that their CNC machines create. Then, on top of that, they’re going to cut up the pieces and throw it in the dumpster if it isn’t perfect?

Surely they can find some way to keep their quality standards without this sort of wastefulness. Surely there are people in this world who could benefit from a not-perfect guitar. Why not allow restaurants to screw a quality reject to their wall for decor as so many do? Why not give it to an artist who wants to smash a guitar on stage?

But cutting it into pieces, throwing it in the dumpster, and bragging about it on YouTube?

05 September 2010

Cardinal rules of role-playing

Leonard H. Kanterman, M.D. wrote Starships & Spacemen. This game has recently been revived by Goblinoid Games.

In an article in Different Worlds magazine, “My Life and Role-Playing”, Dr. Kanterman wrote of four cardinal rules of role-playing.

1. “Firstly, an enjoyable game requires an experienced and imaginative gamemaster;”

I’m going to disagree with this...though perhaps only slightly.

Is the game better with an experienced and imaginative gamemaster? Perhaps. To suggest that the game cannot be enjoyable without this, however, is overstating things, I think. A game that is full of clichés and borrowed ideas can be just as fun. Indeed, it can be more fun because the familiar elements can make the game more accessible.

One cannot become an experienced gamemaster without starting as an inexperienced gamemaster. And many people tend to underestimate their own imagination. So, this statement tends to discourage new gamemasters. We should encourage rather than discourage jumping into the role.

2. “and secondly, the key to interesting and challenging encounters is to fit the degree of hazard to the ability of the characters to deal with it.”

I think this rule is an overly simplistic solution to the problem that inspired it.

In my experience, the game is more fun when encounters vary in difficulty. One encounter goes very easily because the cleric turns the undead or the mage puts the enemies to sleep. The characters must flee from another because they have no direct means of harming the monster. They must now either figure a way around the monster or devise a way to indirectly defeat it. Others fall somewhere between.

Problems occur when the GM doesn’t give the players a choice in what encounters they face. When there isn’t variety in the encounters the players can chose. When the GM doesn’t allow the characters chances to escape encounters. When all monsters always fight to the death. When the GM doesn’t allow creative means of dealing with an encounter from succeeding.

Likewise, nerfing character abilities because the GM never wants the players to have an easy encounter can have a negative effect as much as all encounters being too difficult.

3. “The third rule: role-playing is best among friends, with the corollary to this rule being that, among friends, all should be allowed their chance to participate.”

This one I agree with. Although, at the North Texas RPG Con, I discovered that gaming with strangers can be more fun than I expected.

4. “When playing a character, one should play his role. That is, the best play results when a player fully understands his character, and tries to act as he thinks his character might in a given situation.”

This one I mostly agree with as well. I think, however, that the doctor and I are on the same page here.

“At its best, role-play offers a challenge to our wits and our wiles, while extending the potential for insight into ourselves.”

The cautionary note for me here is that I don’t want to take playing my role so far that I become removed from the equation. I want the game to be a challenge to my wits and wiles, not a simulated challenge of my character’s wits and wiles statistics.

04 September 2010

Ui faux pas

User Interface of the Week: Max Magic Microtuner

I’m all for lambasting a company like Adobe for its user interface sins. A little company, however, could use constructive criticism rather than being held up for humiliation.

In fact, Gruber’s “Ronco Spray-On Usability” contains such advice. To paraphrase: Usability isn’t something you can add later. You need to start with it.

03 September 2010

OED price

From “Oxford English Dictionary ‘will not be printed again’”

Despite its worldwide reputation, the OED has never made a profit. The continuing research costs several million pounds a year. “These are the sort of long-term research projects which will never cover their costs, but are something that we choose to do,” Mr Portwood said.

Huh? So, if the price isn’t covering its costs, why price it so high? Better yet, why not price it high enough to cover the costs?

I always wished I could justify the cost of the OED. Or even a subscription to the online version. It’s kind of annoying to know a price that I can’t justify doesn’t even cover the costs.