31 January 2011


As part of my struggle to focus on building a campaign rather than homebrew rule systems that I never complete, here’s another idea. R20 or “if Robert were to run a d20 system game again”...

When I first read Wizards’ third edition D&D Players Handbook, it seemed like a fairly generic game that had been skinned to look like more like D&D. It seemed to me that if they’d gone farther away from D&D (and not called it D&D), I’d probably like it more.

I thought the generic classes from the 3e Unearthed Arcana was a step in the right direction. True20 expanded on that idea, but I’m not crazy about it.

I liked a lot about the “only one class” variant in the d20 Call of Cthulhu, but I’ll put that route aside for now. I didn’t really care for the ability-based classes of d20 Modern. Anyway, back to the generic classes route...

I’m not a big fan of the Expert generic class. Let’s let everyone be an Expert. The Spellcaster and Warrior classes should gang up, kill it, and take its stuff. Spellcasters and Warriors follow the class skill and skill point rules for Experts. It’s kind of fitting that a swords & sorcery game should have two classes: Spellcasters and Warriors.

Next, I’d use “mid20” for probably most rolls other than attack rolls. That means you roll 3d20 and use the middle value. I’ve also considered the 3d6 bell curve rolls from the UA. I also like level-based skills, another UA variant.

Even with all those changes, though, I’m not sure if it becomes a game I want to run. There may still be too many little details in the feats, combat rules, and spells that I’d want to change.

30 January 2011

Two-mechanic RPG systems

I’m OK with “unified mechanic” RPGs. I don’t think lacking a unified mechanic is a flaw, but I don’t think having one is necessarily a flaw either.

There’s an interesting variant that I’ve seen pop up a few times: Using a linear distribution for combat and a normal distribution for skill checks.

e.g. Someone on the TFT mailing list used a d20 for combat rolls but kept the standard nd6 rolls for everything else.

I think the appeal of this comes from the fact that, the way most people play, combat involves lots of rolls while non-combat checks more often involve a single roll. When you use a linear mechanic for skills, the results seem too random. When you use a normal-distribution for combat, things don’t feel random enough.

29 January 2011

Why the 3D movie case is not closed

Roger Ebert posted a letter from film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. “Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.

Munch’s main point is around convergence and focus.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues—darkness and “smallness”—are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen—say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another.

The greater the distance, the less depth perception matters. The real magic of stereoscopy happen when the convergence and focus distances are similar. When you can see the small differences in depth within the form of the focal object. Large and exaggerated depths and rapid changes of convergence aren’t where the magic is.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to “get” what the space of each shot is and adjust.

If you don’t have a lot of shifting convergence, then I guess this won’t be an issue. In any case, though, I think less rapid cuts would be a very good thing. Rapid cutting annoys me in 2D.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image.

shrug I know that I have never felt as immersed in a film as when I was when I was standing outside Baikonur Cosmodrome...when I was really sitting in an IMAX theatre with 3D glasses on.

But who am I to argue with an expert like Munch? Reading their arguments, however, I just can’t help but think that many of the people who dismiss 3D in films dismiss it based on bad and gimmicky 3D instead of on the merits of 3D when used well.