30 November 2012


Here’s a tip for video/console/computer/iOS† game designers:

Free wandering doesn’t make linear gameplay non-linear.

Rather, adding free wandering to a linear game tends to be tedious at best and frustrating at worst.

†Is there a good general term to use here?

29 November 2012


If you aren’t a C programmer, bail now.

I’ve long wondered why strncpy and strncat were so brain-dead. Recently, I came across the answer. (Which made me go, “Oh...duh!”)

These functions look brain-dead when you try to use them to prevent buffer-overflows. But they weren’t designed to prevent buffer-overflows. They’re simply for copying a substring from the source. Their size parameters are simply meant to be the number of characters to copy from the source, not anything to do with the size of the destination buffer. The expectation, as with strcpy and strcat, is that you’ll figure out if the destination buffer is big enough beforehand.

Look into the strlcpy and strlcat functions from BSD if you haven’t already. They are designed for preventing buffer overflows. It also appears that the similar strcpy_s and strcat_s are on their way into the Standard.

(And now I’m wondering if there should be a strlncpy, that would take both the size of the destination buffer and a count of characters to copy from the source.)

You can also get by with snprintf as a safer replacement for strcpy if adding strlcpy or strcpy_s is not an option. Unfortunately, it can’t stand-in for strcat as easily since passing snprintf the same buffer as the destination and a source is a no-no.

28 November 2012

Plate mail

There seems to be a misconception about the term “plate mail” from TSR-era D&D among armor enthusiasts dealing with spread of D&D jargon as well as among some gamers.

D&D plate mail armor is not plate armor. In D&D, “plate mail” refers to mail armor augmented by some pieces of plate armor.

In D&D, actual plate armor—distinct from plate mail armor—is called “suit armor”. (D&D Master Players’ Book p. 15) In AD&D, plate armor is called “field plate armor” or “full plate armor”. (AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide p. 27; Unearthed Arcana pp. 75–76)

Yes, “plate mail” is an unfortunate term. (I’ve been using “mail and plates” until I find a better term.) It should be considered game jargon rather than a general term or historical term. And it should not be considered a synonym for “plate armor”.

(You may notice that plate armor, likewise, is typically augmented by some bits of mail.)

Note that—unlike “plate mail”—the use of “banded mail”, “ring mail”, “scale mail”, or “splint mail” in D&D is not similarly justified. It would be better to drop the word “mail” from these terms.

For what it’s worth, banded and ring armors might never have existed.

While “chain mail” has come into common use, in medieval usage it was called simply “mail”.

The “plate mail” drawing comes from the AD&D Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. The plate armor is Telecanter’s clean up of an image from Charles John Ffoulkes’ Armour & Weapons

20 November 2012


What do I think of the Microsoft Surface?

I think I tried enough Microsoft powered tablets in the past. They didn’t produce anything useful to me before. I now have a tablet that I’m very happy with, so I have zero incentive to consider the Surface.

Although I will welcome any serious competition that keep Apple improving their tablets. So, I wish Microsoft the best.

11 November 2012

Total defense in Classic D&D

Over at Delta’s D&D Hotspot, there was a discussion of the parry rule in AD&D. In general, this is a pretty useless rule because a character gives up their attack for a bonus to AC. (Well, it’s a penalty to the opponent’s “to hit” roll, but we’ll consider that equivalent.) In D&D combat, if you aren’t attacking, you’re conceding. But special circumstances can arise where this tactic does make sense.

AD&D compounds the uselessness of the rule, however, but setting the bonus equal to the characters “to hit” bonus due to strength.

Chainmail has a parry rule as well. Though it is complicated by its weapon classes rules. The weapon class rules are reasonable, but more complexity than I’d want. The important bit is that Chainmail makes the benefit a flat +2.

Dan also makes a good argument that a +1 in Chainmail should become a +2 in D&D.

It turns out that the d20 SRD has a similar total defense rule, which gives a +4 to AC.

So, that’s what I’m going with...

If a character chooses total defense, they may not attack that round, but they gain a 4-point bonus to AC.

10 November 2012

Touch won’t hold the kids back

Coding Horror: Do You Wanna Touch:

Although I love my touch devices, one thing I've noticed is that they are a major disincentive to writing actual paragraphs. On screen keyboards get the job done, but if I have to scrawl more than a Twitter length reply to someone on a tablet or phone, it's so much effort that I just avoid doing it altogether, postponing indefinitely until I can be in front of a keyboard. By the time that happens I've probably forgotten what I wanted to say in the first place, or that I even needed to reply at all. Multiply that by millions or billions, and you have a whole generation technologically locked into a backwater of minimal communication.

That “whole generation”? They’re not as attached to keyboards as we are. They’re going to take what they have and make those touch keyboards sing.

09 November 2012

iOS 6 uptake

The real reason for the rapid uptake of iOS 6.

The people who obsessively clear any icon badges.

08 November 2012

Thief retries

D&D Basic Rulebook (1981) p. B8

Open Locks may only be tried once per lock. The thief may not “try again” on a difficult lock until until he or she has gained another level of experience.

What if we generalize this to one retry per level per lock. So, if a second-level thief had tried to pick a lock when they were first-level, they’d get a second try now that they were second-level as per the rule. When faced with a locked they hadn’t tried before, however, they’d get two attempts.

The down side is that each attempt takes more time. I don’t recall the amount of time required being specified, so let’s go with the default “1 turn” (i.e. 10 minutes) for each attempt. If that seems excessive to you... Well, you don’t need me to tell you to use whatever you want. I will say that based on my admittedly amateur attempts, I’m not sure that is unrealistic.

This means that, given unlimited time, a second-level thief’s overall chance of opening a lock is (2 tries at 20% each) 36%. For a third-level thief it is (3 tries at 25% each) 57.8%.

This, of course, is a boost for thieves. Some, however, will say that thieves can use every boost they can get. Unfortunately, it is a boost that pays off much more for higher level thieves—who need the boost less—than for lower level thieves.

Given the low chances at low levels, I’m tempted to allow unlimited retries. The time trade-off remains. After each failure, the party must ask: Is it worth standing around for another 10 minutes to give the thief another try?

Well, “unlimited” is perhaps too much. A cumulative penalty for each try after the first seems reasonable.

07 November 2012

Classic D&D prayer beads

In my classic D&D campaigns, the question always comes up whether I will allow clerics (a.k.a. crusaders) to swap out memorized spells for “cure” spells as in the Spontaneous Casting rule from the d20 SRD. I have a hard time deciding.

Then, I came across this, which I find much more interesting. From AC 4: The Book of Marvelous Magic (1984) by Frank Mentzer and Gary Gygax, p. 16:

Prayer Bead: This valuable item allows a cleric to exchange one known spell (not yet cast) for another if both are of the same spell level. For example, if the cleric knows detect magic but needs cure light wounds, the cleric may use the bead to forget detect magic and gain knowledge of cure light wounds. The new spell may be cast as soon as desired. The cleric need not be fully rested to use the bead. After changing one spell, the bead disintegrates.

(For those not familiar with classic D&D jargon, “knows” means “prepared” and “forget” is equivalent to “lose” in the Spontaneous Casting rule.)

If these prayer beads were as available as holy water or—in some campaigns—healing potions, then it’s an interesting resource management mechanic. (Assuming you find resource management mechanics interesting. And classic D&D might be the wrong game if you don’t.) And it is more flexible too.

Trivia: In the original text, the name of the second spell was styled—both times—“cure light wounds”. I have assumed this was a mistake and put “cure” in italics as well.

06 November 2012

Replacement is not a guarantee

You’ll love it, or we’ll replace it. Guaranteed.

That is not a guarantee. That is the minimum that any business should do.†

If you tout this as a “guarantee”, I don't want a replacement. You’ve made me suspect the flaw is endemic rather than a fluke.

†As with any generalization, there are exceptions.

05 November 2012

The myth of myths

There is a myth that those of us who believe in God do so in order to explain what we can’t understand.

There is no doubt that this has always been a superficial use of some myths. Look more closely, though, and it is easy to see that the purpose of a myth is more to teach a lesson than to explain anything. Many myths lack a “explain the unexplained” part entirely.

04 November 2012

Evaluating teachers

Should teachers be evaluated based on their students’ test scores. I don’t know but I do know this:

They shouldn’t be evaluated on their students’ test scores unless they are given the freedom to choose how they do their job. If the state and district were focused primarily on enabling teachers, then we could discuss whether test scores are a valid way to measure their performance.

If the state and district are going to dictate how teachers teach, then it is the state and district that needs to be evaluated; not the teachers.

(i.e. If you dictate how they teach, then you should evaluate them on how well they follow those rules; not on the results of following those rules.)

03 November 2012


Ambiguity is good...

...in moderation.

The film, Prometheus, leaves too many open questions for me to find it satisfying on its own. I give it an Incomplete.

02 November 2012

Unable or unwilling?

From Epicurus...

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Seen in a post by Jeff M.

For a metaphysical entity, I’m not convinced that there is a meaningful difference between unwilling and unable.

01 November 2012

The expanded universe trap

You have something...a movie, a book, whatever...that’s really good. So good that it demands sequels and spin-offs. This “expanded universe” then fills in all kind of additional information about the elements of the original work. Every thing in the “expanded universe” ends up hanging off those original elements until they become these epic things they were never meant to be.

And so, the “expanded universe”—with all its back-references to the original work—ends up feeling pretty small. By making even the ordinary elements of the original into the epic and iconic, it seems to even tarnish what made the original special as well.

I don’t really mean to say that such an “expanded universe” is a mistake. It’s just an observation. It would be nice to see an effort to counteract that trend.

31 October 2012

A hobby industry

I’ve certainly said before that the role-playing game hobby might be better off without the role-playing game industry.† But let’s be clear on one point. Virtually no one enters the RPG industry to make money more than for a love of the hobby. If someone did, they quickly learned that they’d made a mistake. Maybe during the faddish heydays it could’ve happened, but not today.

The closest you might get to that kind of climate is at Wizards of the Coast, and even there, I’d be surprised if there weren’t more lucrative employment options for the everyone on the RPG staff. They certainly have to work under constraints that other companies don’t, but I can’t believe any of them are in it primarily for the money.

†Though I keep being surprised that products keep coming out that I find interesting enough to shell out some coin for.

24 October 2012

Which iPad?

Which iPad should you buy? Well, first of all, realize that everything I say here is going to be colored by my experience. I’m going to try to give you advice, but there are plenty of factors that I might not see.

It seems to me that there are mainly three disadvantages to the iPad mini versus iPad with Retina display (4th generation). (Two versus the iPad 2.)

Although the iPad mini display has the same number of pixels as the iPad 2, they are smaller. So text is going to be smaller. In lots of cases you can adjust the text size. Even so, if you have trouble reading smaller print, I think you might be happier with the one of the larger iPads.

The extra pixels of the iPad with Retina display (4th generation) means that it is practical to read some PDF files on it that are less practical for anyone to read on an iPad 2 or iPad mini. This is important to me because I carry, reference, and read a lot of PDFs (mainly role-playing game material) on my iPad. For most people, though, I don’t know if the Retina display—as beautiful as it is—makes much difference.

Likewise, tap targets on the iPad mini will be smaller. They’re still big enough in general. If, e.g., you find yourself often having trouble tapping targets accurately on an iPhone, you might be happier with one of the larger iPads.

The third disadvantage to the iPad mini is performance (i.e. CPU/GPU speed). The iPad mini and the iPad 2 are pretty much the same in this department, but the iPad with Retina display (4th generation) is much better. It’s hard to generalize about whether this will really matter to you, but certain types of games are probably one of the biggest reasons you might want the extra performance. Music creation and recording apps might be another.

The big advantage of the iPad mini is weight. The smaller size, for most people, isn’t going to make it that much more portable than the larger iPads. For something that you normally hold in your hands while using, though, being lighter can mean a lot.

In general, the iPad mini is superior to the iPad 2. Unless the text size or tap-target size mentioned above matter to you, you should probably get an iPad mini rather than an iPad 2.

Generally, I would not suggest the 16GB models unless you’re going to be sticking mainly to Mail and Safari. (Which is another knock against the iPad 2, which is only offered in 16GB configurations.) If you’re going to be carrying music and movies on it, you’ll probably want more space. If you’re going to be playing games on it, you’ll probably want more space.

Also, there’s no way to upgrade an iPad’s storage. So, if in doubt, it isn’t a bad idea to err on the side of more.

There’s an argument to be made everyone should spend the $130 for a cellular radio. If you decide not to use it, you’re out $130. If you don’t have it and decide to want it, though, you have to buy a whole new iPad. Personally, I’ve been happy with the Wi-Fi models, and I use my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot on the occasions when I want my iPad to be online where there’s no Wi-Fi. People with less access to Wi-Fi, however, might find it very useful.

Me? I’m sticking with my 3rd generation iPad for now. The big, Retina display, high performance, and maximum storage capacity are important to me. So, if I do decide to upgrade soon, I’d go with the iPad with Retina display (4th generation).

01 October 2012

d4 Thieves

In classic D&D, the hit die for thieves is a d4. That seems kind of harsh until you look at the XP progression. In the Skylands campaign, most of the party is second level. The mage and elf are still first. The thieves are third

So, here’s how it shapes up. The Skyland columns take into account that we’re doing max hp at first level.


So, if the thieves have hp totals rivaling the clerics. If they used d6 for hit dice, they’d be in fighter hp ranges.

30 September 2012

Maps in iOS 6

There hasn’t been a single complaint about Apple’s maps in iOS 6 that isn’t something I’ve seen from the previous, Google-powered maps app. In my experience, the iOS 6 maps app works as well as the iOS 5 maps app ever did. Maybe better. Plus, I get the turn-by-turn, voice-prompted navigation which, again, has been flawless for me so far.

In some countries, things are bad. If you’re in China, though, iOS 6 maps is a huge improvement.

People like me get shouted down, though. We are told we’re the outliers. They say you only have to google to see how widespread the problem is.

Apple’s data is different than Google’s. So, people who were happy with Google’s are likely to be less happy with Apple’s. It’s no surprise those people are going to be vocal about their disappointment. I’m not convinced, however, that the number of complaints found online is an especially good metric for measuring the quality of the app. Your anecdotal evidence isn’t better than mine.

One test suggests that the iOS 5 and iOS 6 data may be comparable. Maybe it isn’t the best test, but it is orders of magnitude better than the “Don’t you see all the complaints?” test.

Yes, Tim Cook apologized. Which is standard customer service operating procedure. You apologize before you even know whether the customer’s complaint is valid. (Jobs might not have done it, but the regular customer service in Apple does.) It is reasonable to assume Apple’s data isn’t up to par with Google’s. Apple is new to this game. It will take actual research rather than anecdotes, however, to know how it really compares.

23 September 2012

Wisdom vs. morality

From This American Life episode 467 “Americans in China”:

In urban China, the sight of a foreigner no longer causes a crowd to gather and stare. But in the rural half, people still approach me with friendly, cautious curiosity, the way you might if a giraffe wandered down your street. I read that the comedian Steve Martin used to hand autograph seekers a signed name card that confirmed the person had met Steve Martin and found him to be warm, polite, intelligent, and funny. I've often thought of making a similar card to present with a silent smile, answering the usual six questions asked of me in this order.

One, I'm an American. Two, I've been in China a long time. Three, I was born in the Year of the Rat. I'm 1.86 meters tall. Four, I do not have a salary. I'm a writer. Five, Chinese is not hard. It is easier to learn than English. Six, yes, I can use chopsticks. We eat Chinese food in America too, but often it's expensive and orange.

On rare occasions, someone starts me off with a curve ball. A gruff construction worker sidled up to me last week, hard helmet in hand, to ask if anyone has ever told me my beard is beautiful. Once, a gentleman in a business suit, standing on a country lane, wondered if morality was more important than wisdom.

Is wisdom more important than morality?

22 September 2012

Backward standards

iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you’d expect to find in a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone.

How strange is it that we expect a watch to be made more precisely than a smartphone?

09 September 2012

3DS and living in the past

The first thing that really struck me as odd about the Nintendo 3DS was the cartridges. In a world of mp3s, e-books, and even buying OS upgrades for my Macs online, games on cartridges seem very out-of-place.

They did eventually launch their eShop. Though—until recently—the eShop didn’t carry any of the cartridge games. Either a game deserved a cartridge or it was undeserving enough to appear in the eShop. There is now one cartridge game that you can get through the eShop as well: New Super Mario Bros. 2

The next surprise was that eShop purchases are tied to a device rather than an account. They did let me transfer (i.e. copy to new device then delete from old device) purchases from my 3DS to my new 3DS XL, but I can only install a purchase on one of my devices.

The 3DS does have a nifty feature called “Download Play”. How this works is that you buy a cartridge game and then friends can use the Download Play feature to temporarily download a client for the game from your 3DS. This way you can play the multiplayer version of the game without having to buy multiple copies of the game. That makes a lot of sense and mirrors the way that we can buy one copy of a game for the Wii and the whole family can play. Or the way that we can buy a game once in the iOS App Store, install it on all our iOS devices, and the whole family can play.

Well, this would be nifty if not for two things. (1) Very few games support this feature. (2) The games that do support it only support it in a very limited way. So, it ends up just making a worse impression than if they just didn’t have it at all.

I do really like the 3DS. It’s fun to have a 3D camera and glasses-free 3D for such a good price. For me, the 3DS XL is an improvement. The bigger screens and greater battery life are worth the increase in size to me.

But it is weird how so much of the experience seems to be relunctantly dragged towards the present. When I’m faced with deciding whether to spend some disposible dollars on software for the 3DS or iOS, I find it harder to choose in the 3DS’ favor. Which is a shame.

Protection from what?

...or “Would that technically be rules lawyering?”

From the D&D Basic Set c. 1981...

Protection from Evil

Range: 0 (caster only)
Duration: 12 turns

This spell circles the cleric with a magic barrier. This barrier will move with the caster. The spell serves as some protection from “evil” attacks (attacks by monsters of some alignment other than the cleric’s alignment) by adding 1 to the cleric’s saving throws, and subtracting 1 from the “to hit” die roll of these opponents. The spell will also keep out hand-to-hand attacks from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters (such as living statues), but not missile fire attacks from these creatures (see COMBAT). The cleric may break this protection by attacking the monster in hand-to-hand combat, but still gains the bonus “to hit” and saves.

I’ve read this spell many times, but I didn’t notice something that was noticed Saturday. The last sentence says that by attacking the monster, the caster breaks the spell.

Well, that’s how I’d read it before. First, we’ll note that the cleric can freely make missile attacks against the monster. Secondly, we’ll note that a qualifying attack doesn’t break the spell, because the “bonus ‘to hit’ and saves”† remains.

But then what is lost? OK, let’s look closer. The spell grants...

  1. A +1 to the cleric’s saving throws against attacks by monsters of an alignment different than the cleric’s.
  2. A -1 “to hit” when a monster of an alignment different than the cleric’s attacks the cleric.
  3. Prevention of hand-to-hand attacks on the cleric from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters.

So, the cleric making a hand-to-hand attack against a monster only negates 3. Note also that the specification of monsters for 1 and 2 is different from the specification in 3.

This spell turns out to be surprisingly complicated. Was it intended to be that complex or was it worded poorly?

As a recovering rules lawyer, this whole discussion made me a bit uneasy. Though this is certainly a far cry from the rules lawyering I participated in with AD&D or Wizards’ D&D.

†But no “to hit” bonus is given. Only a penalty to the monsters. Presumably it is called a bonus here since it is in the caster’s favor.

Fire HD v. iPad first thoughts

Let’s assume for the moment that the Kindle Fire HD lives up to the expectations Amazon has given us. Perhaps the most interesting part is how Amazon differentiated themselves from Apple and other Android tablet makers. Amazon said they want to make money off the content they sell you for your devices rather than on selling the devices themselves.

Now, I’m not going to say that you can’t create on a Kindle Fire HD. Creative people will find creative ways to use any tool. But while Apple sells Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and GarageBand for the iPad; Amazon tells us that their tablets are about selling books, music, movies, and games.

(However much you think creating text content on an iPad doesn’t make sense, consider presentations, music, and graphics. Oh, and thanks to Posts, I’m creating this blog post entirely on my iPad.)

So, for instance, it seems (note “seems”) doubtful that the Fire will ever have the range of music production apps and accessories that the iPad has.

So, if you’re wondering why you should buy an iPad instead of a Fire HD, the big question is how much you want to use it to create and consume. If, for you, a tablet is mostly about consumption, a Kindle Fire might be the best choice for you.

And if you buy an iPad instead, Amazon still wins, because you can still buy your content from them and use it on your iPad. In fact, if you’re thinking about buying content to consume on your iPad from Amazon or Apple, you’re probably better off buying it from Amazon because, e.g., you can read Kindle books on nigh everything, but you can only read iBooks on an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod touch.

28 August 2012

Sell me e-books

I’m not the first person to ask this sort of question about e-books, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

To whomever it may concern: Why can’t I buy the Kindle edition of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword? It is available at Amazon.co.uk but not Amazon.com.

Yes, I understand there are contracts and things. That’s completely missing the point. The point is that this e-book exists. I want to pay you money for it. I’m even willing to put up with your stupid copy protection. Yet, I can’t buy it. How does that make any sense? If you can’t fix it, why are you even clinging to your precious “rights”? Give up! You have failed.

On a brighter note, I paid Baen $35 for the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser collection, and it doesn’t come with copy protection.

Also of note is that some of Jack Vance’s works are available without copy protection. There are regional availability issues there too. Though the ones I looked at that aren’t available in the US are available through Amazon.com in the US...and some without copy protection.

And if you didn’t know: The Harry Potter books are available as e-books sans copy protection from Pottermore.

26 August 2012

Apple, Samsung, etc.

Samsung blatantly copied Apple much too much. That was wrong, but I don’t believe it should be illegal.

Apple is succeeding in the market. There was zero need for them to sue Samsung.

The words “innovation” and “originality” get bandied about a lot here, but I’ve come to see them as overrated. What really counts is execution. It is execution that has put Apple on top, not innovation. What the evidence presented in the case showed was Apple executing. The iPhone and iPad merely seem innovative because everyone else executed so horribly before Apple entered the fray. Seriously, the Blackberry was the pinnacle of mobile phones. It may have been a good product, but it wasn’t great.

By the way, competing in the courtroom is nothing new to Apple. They did it long before Jobs talked about them shamelessly stealing. See Apple v. Franklin and the GEM “look and feel” suit. This has always been the least appealing aspect of the company.

Also, the kind of copying Samsung has done is a far cry from the kind of stealing Apple does. I still don’t think either should be illegal, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference.

15 August 2012

Siri update

I use Siri just about everyday. I find it very useful. I don’t remember the last time I got an “I’m having trouble right now” response. The misunderstandings are infrequent enough to be funny rather than annoying.

The frequent recognition problem that does happen enough to annoy me is, “Set an alarm...” For some reason Siri has a hard time understanding me when I use that stock phrase.

My biggest complaint is that too often it seems to think I’ve stopped talking when I’m in the middle of a word. In general, though, I’m not a big fan of that feature with either Siri or voice dictation. If it worked better, it would be OK when using Siri most of the time. When doing voice dictation—and when doing voice dictation as part of a Siri interaction—my speech often needs to pause to wait on my mind.

Oh, and there is one other minor annoyance with Siri. If I say something like, “What is the closest Chinese restaurant?” Siri shows me a list of the closest ones. Once I tap on one of those, it takes me to the map. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to get back to Siri’s list short of asking the question again.

14 August 2012

iOS project organization thoughts

There is one big thing I find missing when working on my iPad.

On my Mac, I might have a directory with these subdirectories and files.

  • Skylands
    • For the players
      • Character Sheet.ink
      • Player Map.hxm
      • NPC Pictures
        • Abe the patron.jpg
        • Bob the retainer.jpg
        • Chuck the merchant.jpg
      • Q and A.html
      • Player Guide.pages
    • DM eyes only
      • Dungeon key.md
      • Dungeon map.ink
      • Reference.numbers
      • Secrets.md
      • Unmet NPC Pictures
        • Victor the minor villian.jpg
        • Xavier the major villian.jpg

There you see files created and edited by about seven different apps. For the most part, I don’t need the apps to see or access the files belonging to another app. I put all these files from different apps into the same directory, however, for organizational purposes. Everything I collect or create or edit for this project is kept together.

On iOS, data is generally organized by app. At a basic level, this is good. Plus it avoids the complications of a traditional file system which is both hard for many people to understand and which may not serve most people as much as the complication it brings. On the iPhone especially, this “each app manages its own docs” tends to work well for me. On the iPad, though, I really miss the ability to organize everything for a project in one place.

You might be able to workaround this a bit by using an app like GoodReader or FileBrowser. (There are a bunch more too.) These apps essentially work like a file system. The problem, though, is that the interaction between this file system and other apps is limited.

Apple could provide a system-wide file system and a Finder app. Lots of people have been calling for that, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

Maybe there could a project organizer app. Other apps could let it know what documents they have. The projects app would then let the user arrange these into projects. Then, tapping a document name/icon in a project would launch the document’s app and load the document. The actual data remains managed by the originating app. The projects app just provides a way to bring together and organize links to documents inside multiple apps.

05 August 2012

Sell me video

If you’d like me to pay your company for video, here’s three ways you can do it.

  1. Put it on iTunes.
  2. Create an iOS app for it, and—this is crucial—support AirPlay and wired video out. Do not make me log in with my AT&T credentials unless you are AT&T. I shouldn’t need a cable, satellite, or U-verse subscription to view your content unless you actually are that company. Ensure that I can view your content through this app anywhere in the world where I have a wi-fi connection.
  3. Partner with Apple to provide your content directly to my Apple TV. The relevant caveats from #2 apply here too.

Wait! Before you start telling my why these things aren’t possible, understand this: I don’t care. If you want my business, figure out how to make it happen. If you can’t, get as close as you can, and I’ll consider it.

04 August 2012

Skyland questions answered

One of the first things I did when I started preparing for my Skylands campaign was try to answer Jeff’s twenty questions. It turned out, however, that I didn’t have good answers for many of Jeff’s questions.

Perhaps that is an ill omen. shrug Every campaign is an experiment anyway.

So, I asked the players what questions they would want answered, and I answered those.

I also answered Brendan’s twenty questions.

03 August 2012

Sell me RPG stuff

Joseph Bloch has an article about the PDFs of The One Ring are being withdrawn from the market.

I’ve said enough about how doing this tells a customer that you are either lying or stupid. Let’s look at it from a different point-of-view...

Here’s a problem if you are publishing RPG material: There is enough free, high-quality stuff out there that nobody needs to buy anything to fully participate in this hobby.

Ergo, if you are going to ask us to pay for your stuff, you have to earn our dollars. And today, a big part of that is digital editions.

And I mean useful digital editions. Any restraints you put on how we can view it, search it, print it, etc. makes it less useful and, thus, less valuable.

30 July 2012

(A)D&D hardback spines

Say, you’re in a Half Price Books looking at the role-playing games. You’ll probably see some books that look like these. (Clicking it should show you a bigger version.)

(You may want to reference my D&D ID page and the time line in Wikipedia’s “Editions of Dungeons & Dragons” article while reading this.)

The top two represent first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons published by TSR. (Of course, it wasn’t called “first edition” at the time. That came later when second edition was published.) Later books had the orange spine. Some of the early books where later printed with new covers and the orange spine, but the contents are the same.

The third and fourth represent second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons published by TSR. Again, the fourth one is later books. Some of the earlier books where printed with new covers and spines to match this new trade dress but, again, the contents are the same. Note that the later books lack the handy “2nd Edition” text.

Note that all edition of the game published by TSR are highly compatible.

The fifth spine represents “third edition” Dungeons & Dragons published by Wizards of the Coast. Note, again, that there is nothing that explicitly says “third edition” here, although that’s what it is most commonly called.

The sixth spine represents “3.5” Dungeons & Dragons published by Wizards of the Coast. The “core” books did say “v.3.5” on the cover, but other books didn’t. Honestly, though, I don’t have enough 3.5 era books to tell you much about distinguishing 3.0 from 3.5. Mainly I do it through knowing pretty much all the 3.0 products, so if I don’t recognize it, it is probably 3.5. ^_^ The good news is that 3.0 and 3.5 are very compatible.

The seventh spine represents “fourth edition” Dungeons & Dragons published by Wizards of the Coast.

I believe there was only one hardback ever published for “classic D&D”. i.e. The “non-advanced” D&D published by TSR before and parallel with AD&D. That is the Rules Cyclopedia. Everything else for classic D&D was, I believe, saddle-stitched or boxed sets.

Of course, what you really need is a “pocket guide”, but this is what you get. ^_^

I’d love to do something like this for the perfect bound books as well, but I don’t actually have any of them.

Hey, Wizards of the Coast! If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll understand why I don’t think “D&D next” should just say “Dungeons & Dragons” on the cover. Even if I’m playing “D&D next”, I’m going to occasionally see second-hand books, and I’d like it to be easy to tell unambiguously if a book with “D&D” on the cover is intended for the game I’m playing or not. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re going for the “make it easy to use anything from any edition”, but as a customer, I still want every book to tell me what edition it was originally intended for. I shouldn’t have to have the knowledge of a collector for this. There is zero reason for this confusion to exist. I know everyone at TSR and Wizards thought it made sense at the time to do what they did, but you were wrong. Please, do not contribute to the confusion. Thank you.

25 July 2012

Classic Doctor Who on Netflix and iTunes

A little project I finished up today. I tried to find all the classic Doctor Who serials available through Netflix (streaming) and iTunes and sort them in chronological order.

Classic Doctor Who serials on Netflix and iTunes

The file is in CSV format, which any spreadsheet app—like Numbers or OpenOffice† or Excel—ought to be able to open. (If it matters, the character encoding is UTF-8.) It has the...

  • Number of the serial
  • The title
  • Which Doctor it features (this is blank for multiple Doctor episodes)
  • Whether it is available through Netflix or iTunes (or both)
  • What story arc it is a part of
  • And any notes I thought to make about it

Note that, in general, you don’t really need to watch them in chronological order. Although, I think it is still nice to know the order. The story arcs are probably best to watch in order, though.

You might think that it would be in Netflix’s, iTunes’, and the BBC’s interest to make this kind of information easily available and up-to-date. Instead, all you can do—as far as I can tell—with Netflix or iTunes is search for “Doctor Who”, pick the classic serials out of the results, and cross-reference the titles against Wikipedia or another list of the serials. The BBC seems uninterested in letting you know that these are available via Netflix or iTunes much less giving you any guidance about this subset.

I didn’t include Amazon streaming since I’m not set up to use it yet. There are some episodes on Facebook, but I haven’t gotten that working yet. If there are any other ways to stream classic Doctor Who or purchase them as downloads in the US, I’d be interested.

†Is OpenOffice still the open source “office suite” of choice?

Update (31 March 2013): I put together a list of episodes available on Amazon Instant Video. Tomb of the Cybermen, Robots of Death, Horror of Fang Rock, Earthshock, and Vengeance of Varos appear to only be available through Amazon. (I didn’t recheck the Netflix and iTunes episodes, so what’s available there may have changed.)

23 July 2012

7-inch iPad?

A 7-inch iPad makes absolutely no sense to me. Despite all the rumors, I don’t think Apple will release one. Although, the rumors are starting to get to the point where I’m beginning to believe that I’m wrong.

But lots of people thought the iPad made no sense. Lots of people still think the iPad makes no sense. That’s because—while it is the kind of device I’ve been wanting since the Newton, EO, and Pilot days—it doesn’t make sense for them. And that’s the way it is for a 7-inch tablet. It doesn’t make sense for me, but I maybe it does make sense for other people.

17 July 2012

You are getting sleepy...

From the Moldvay-edited D&D Basic Set...

Range: 240'
Duration: 4-16 turns

This spell will put creatures to sleep for 4d4 turns. The caster can only affect creatures with 4+1 hit dice or less. Only 1 creature with 4+1 hit dice will be affected; otherwise, the spell affects 2-16 (2d8) hit dice of creatures. The undead cannot be put to sleep. When affecting a group of creatures of mixed levels (hit dice), lower level creatures will always be put to sleep before higher level ones. Any “pluses” are ignored (for example, 2+1 hit dice is treated as 2 hit dice). Creatures with less than 1 hit die are still considered as 1 hit die. Any sleeping creature may be awakened by force (such as a slap). A sleeping creature may be killed (regardless of its hit points) with a single blow with any edged weapon.

EXAMPLE: A party encounters 4 hungry lizard men. Sarien, an elf, casts a sleep spell at them. The DM rolls 2d8; the result of 7 means that 7 levels of creatures are affected. Lizard men have 2+1 hit dice each, treated as 2 for the effects of this spell. Three lizard men fall asleep: 7 divided by 2 equals 3 &12;, but a creature cannot be “partially” asleep from the spell.

Perhaps listing only a range and no area of effect is intentional†, but what if it isn’t an area-of-effect spell? I’m considering the following clarification:

Before rolling the HD affected, the player must indicate which creatures are being targeted. The caster must be able to see the targets. Then, after the roll, the DM determines which creatures are actually affected, giving preference to the lower HD creatures as described above.

So, the caster could choose to only target a higher HD creature to prevent lower HD creatures from soaking it all up. And I think I’m OK with that, since there’s a trade-off here. e.g. Target fewer creatures with more consistent results or target more creatures with more random results. In also means that Sleep won’t accidentally affect an ally, and that’s the way I’ve usually played it anyway.

†For what it’s worth, in the Rules Cyclopedia, an area of effect was specified. I believe it said a 40-foot square.

06 July 2012

The reciprocal mechanic

For an RPG resolution mechanic, I like coin pools. I like that it is open-ended on the high end. i.e. There’s no upper limit on the scores that determine how many coins are in the pool. I like that it has diminishing returns. i.e. Each coin added to the pool increases the probability of success by a smaller increment than the previous coin.

What I don’t like is that the increments still seem a bit too big.

To get smaller increments, what if the chance of failure equals the reciprocal of the score? e.g. A score of 4 would grant a 1/4th chance of failure. Thus, a 3/4 chance of success.

OK. I like those numbers better, but how do we do this with dice?

One way is to roll a die with a number of sides equal to the score being used. Anything except a 1 means success.

And you thought people complained a lot about DCC using d3, d5, d7, etc.

It’s really not that bad, though. Just choose the next bigger die you have and reroll results higher than the score. e.g. For a score of 5, roll a d6. 1 = failure; 2 to 5 = success; 6 = reroll.

It gets a bit annoying for scores between 12 and 20. At 13, if you’re rolling a d20 and rerolling 14s and above, you’ll be rerolling 35% of the time. Having a d14 and d16 helps out. A d24 and a d30 help for scores over 20. Over 30 starts calling for some creative solutions. At 30, though, we’re up to a 96.7% chance of success, and 2 to 30 is a decent range for scores. Probably more than is really needed.

Alternatively, you could use drawing chits or cards or stones. Put a number of stones equal to the score in a bag. One of them should be a different color than the rest. Draw out the odd stone and it’s a failure.

Any other method?

29 June 2012

Of dice and dice trays

Behold! My collection of d20+ dice has grown.


Gamescience has said that they do still have the tool for making these, so go buy a few through Amazon or Gamestation and then tell Gamescience how much you’d like some d20+ dice in their newer colors.

Here they are hanging out in my new dice tray.

During the first session of my Skylands campaign, I found myself wanting a dice tray. A quick search turned up the “Quest for the Perfect Dice Tray”. A trip to Hobby Lobby turned up the same tray Aryk had found. I used sticky-back felt (also from Hobby Lobby) rather than foam in this one.

Behold my dice inking supplies!

Not pictured are...

  • The paint pens I destroyed by pushing the tip too hard whilst priming them
  • The piece of cardboard I use to test the paint pens
  • The mechanical pencil I’ve been using (with lead retracted) to try and remove the crayon from dice before reïnking them with the paint pens

The paint remover pen looks like it is going to be really handy for cleaning up inking mistakes, but I haven’t quite mastered its use yet.

I really appreciate the work that goes into inking dice now. So the last two sets I bought, I bought inked. Behold my blue opal and jasper dice!

After seeing a couple of d7 at the North Texas RPG Con this year, I finally gave in an ordered a couple myself. Which you can also see in the picture above.

The colors of the blue opal dice are subtle and the photos don’t do them justice. Here’s a close-up as an attempt, though...

Finally, behold the other dice tray I made!

This one used foam secured with foam glue. It also has a lid, which is nice. I’m not sure why, but I don’t like it quite as much as the other one.

28 June 2012

Coin pools

I’ve heard a few game designers say that, as a base line, dice rolls should succeed at least half the time. That got me to thinking... What if we start with a base 50% chance and each increase moves it half-way towards 100%? Is there a simple dice mechanic for that?

Yes, there is, and it was already sitting on my RPG shelf. Prince Valiant, The Story Telling Game (1989) by Greg Stafford uses coin pools. The player flips a number of coins and, if any come up heads, it’s a success. (Sometimes you want more than one heads, but let’s ignore that for now.) The higher the character trait being tested, the more coins the player tosses.

(Since I usually have more dice than coins these days, I just use dice and “even” counts as “heads”. Don’t grab those odd dice—d3, d5, d7—though. Loan them to your opponent.)

It’s a nice, simple mechanic. It is open-ended (on the “high” end), which can be nice. And the probability increments start course and only get finer as you need it to.

27 June 2012

Read magic

Some excerpts from the c. 1981 D&D Basic Set (Moldvay) and Expert Set (Cook/Marsh):

p. B16

Magic-users and elves may use one spell at first level. Unlike clerics, magic-users and elves must select the spells to be used from those spells they know. These spells are stored in large spell books. As magic-users and elves gain levels of experience, the number of spells they may use also increases.

p. B17 (the description of the Read Magic spell)

By casting this spell, magical words or runes on an item or scroll may be read. Without this spell unfamiliar magic cannot be read or understood, even by a magic-user. However, once a scroll or runes are looked at with a read magic spell, the magic-user becomes able to understand and read that item later without the spell. A magic-user’s or elf’s spell book is written so that only the owner may read them without using this spell.

p. X7

Magic-users may add more spells to their spell books through spell research.

p. X11

Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells. Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC. When player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one “game-week” while they are learning their new spells. Either the player or the DM may choose any new spells.

(I’m just going to say “mage” rather than “magic-users and elves”.)

So, there are three ways that mages gain new spells.

  1. Taught spells by another character
  2. Spell research
  3. Scrolls and spell books

Although, it is not explicit that mages can learn new spells from scrolls. Spells on scrolls can be used simply by reading them aloud instead of casting them in the usual way. There is nothing that says spells in spell books can be used this way. So the way spells are written on scrolls and the way they are written in spell books might be different.

Neither is it explicit that mages can learn new spells from a spell book, but it is reasonable to infer that, with Read Magic, this would be possible.

So, Read Magic allows a mage to use spell scrolls and possibly to learn new spells from spell books they find. A mage could, however, get by fine without Read Magic because it isn’t needed for learning spells from their master or guild or for spell research.

In my Skylands campaign, however, there aren’t high-level master mages available to teach spells to the PCs. There may not be any mage who can cast second level spells. They won’t be getting any spells “automatically” when gaining a level. I will let them learn spells from scrolls and spell books, and I saw this as the primary way that mages would acquire new spells. (I’m also letting them pick two spells at first level and roll for up to two more.)

If the players understood all this when picking their spells, I think they would’ve all picked Read Magic. (Maybe not, but I’m pretty sure none of them choose to not take it as a challenge.)

So, I think I’m going to give all mages and elves Read Magic. The one player who chose or rolled it will get to choose/roll another spell.

Later editions of the game did this: Every first level mage got Read Magic. But, if every mage gets Read Magic at first level, what’s the point in having the spell around at all? I could answer that, but I’m not convinced the answer justifies the spell’s existence.

Still, I’m not ready to go that far...yet.

26 June 2012

Learning the rules versus learning the game

This started as a reply to a G+ thread, but I decided to just post what I thought might be the best part here.

Learning the rules of chess didn’t teach me how to play chess. I learned to play chess through:

  1. Watching how my opponents played
  2. Trying things out for myself
  3. Finding books that didn’t teach the rules but taught strategy and tactics (not “the way to play” but “a way to play”)

Applying this as an analogy to role-playing games breaks down, but I think it’s the areas where it doesn’t break down that are interesting. In my experience, almost no game can be found in the rules even if it wholly emerges from the rules. In good games, that level above the rules is a big space where there are many approaches and few definitive answers. Often, the best approach depends upon the other players more than the rules.

That said, I do think D&D books could have done a better job of explaining the game to me. But I also think the people who were writing it at the time did their best.

And now—for TSR-era D&D—we have a few attempts at the analog to the books on chess strategy and tactics.

22 June 2012

Guidelines for my Skyland campaign

Since Brendan asked, here’s a run-down of the variant rules I’m using in my Skylands campaign.

I start with the c. 1981 D&D Basic & Expert Sets. (Those edited by Tom Moldvay, Zeb Cook, and Steve Marsh.) If you aren’t familiar with those sets, some of this may be unclear, but if you have some familiarity with any edition of D&D—especially TSR-era D&D, then I think you’ll get the jist of it.

Strength does not provide a “to hit” bonus; only a damage bonus. There is no intelligence ability score. The “full” Dexterity modifier applies to individual initiative. The wisdom modifier applies to all saving throws.

Speaking of saving throws, I’ve gone the Swords & Wizardry route of having a single one.

There’s none of that “lower one score two point to raise another score one point” stuff. But players can swap a pair of scores.

There are no ability score based XP bonuses or penalties.

The cleric class is renamed “crusader”. I use “mage” rather than magic-user.

There are no restrictions on the weapons usable by crusaders, mages, or thieves.

Thieves do not get a find traps or remove traps skill. The move silently, hide in shadows, and climb sheer surface skills are explicitly called out as extraordinary abilities. Anyone can move quietly, hide, or climb. And a thief who fails a move silently roll is still moving quietly.

No dwarves or halflings. (Which is more of a setting thing than a system thing.) There are gnome PCs. These are mainly following the guidelines for gnome PCs from the Rules Cyclopedia, but they also get cantrips (v.i.).

Elf lifespans are no longer than human lifespans. (The Basic/Expert Sets don’t directly address elf lifespans, though there is a side comment about them having long lifespans.) Gnomes lifespans are about half that of humans.

Gnomes and elves can see in the dark. It isn’t “infrared” or “ultraviolet” vision. It isn’t “low light” vision. It isn’t limited to some distance.

Multiclassing is allowed (but not encouraged). The player can divide XP earned between the classes. Generally, the most favorable aspect of each class is used. Note that max hp must be tracked for each class separately. The character will use the highest max hp value from their classes.

Max hp at first level.

The lawful and chaotic alignments indicate whether the character supports or subverts order and civilization. Crusaders must be lawful.

Players can select “secondary skills” as in AD&D. If multiple are selected, one should be designated “primary”. (I’m thinking about calling them “background skills” since “primary secondary skill” sounds silly.)

I’m using the cantrips from Mike & Liz Stewart. Mages & gnomes start with three to six cantrips. Elves can learn them if they find someone to teach them. There’s no limit on how many cantrips a caster can use. They don’t need to be prepared, and they aren’t “lost” when cast.

Elves and mages begin with two to four spells.

For determining initial cantrips and spells, we did this: First the player picks. (Three for cantrips; two for spells.) Then the player rolls. (Again, three for cantrips, two for spells.) Duplicates are not rerolled.

I’ve switched to a “silver standard”. Prices that are in gp in the books are in sp instead. Platinum is unknown. Electrum could show up. Coins are 70 to the pound.

Mêlée weapons follow this post where the price depends upon the “stats” and the description is left up to the player. And this post covers fighting with two weapons.

A natural 20 on an attack roll grants a free attack. (We already had three hits by one PC in one round during a tournament mêlée.)

I’m using the “shields shall be splintered” rule. Metal shields used this way end up damaged and unusable but can be repaired for half the price of a new metal shield.

I’m using my injury table. Four hours of sleep restore half a character’s hp.

One roll on the injury table for every 10 feet fallen.

1 sp = 1 XP. I’m using 100 XP per HD for monsters defeated. With my usual: Defeat is interpreted liberally, but you only get XP for defeating the same individual monster once.” There may also be XP awards for various achievements. (Nothing specific yet.)

Brand new PCs start at first level, but PCs that replace a dead PC start with half the XP of the old PC.

A player can name their character’s heir, which must include a name and a relationship to the PC. If, after the PC dies, the player creates the heir, that PC will have legal right to the former PC’s stuff.

I raised the chance of magic research failure to 20% with the possibility that rare materials or the discovery of arcane secrets might lower it.

Being raised from the dead will cost a point of constitution.

Update: At the end of the document I gave the players I tried to give the credit due... Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, Tom Moldvay, Stephen Marsh, David Cook, Frank Mentzer, Dan Proctor, James Raggi III, Dan Collins, Erin D. Smale, J. Brian Murphy, and Mike & Liz Stewart. (I hope I didn’t miss anyone I borrowed a rule from.)

21 June 2012

Why do I prefer Moldvay’s D&D Basic Set?

Just curious: What is everyone's favorite version of Basic D&D? #dnd #basic

@DownToDM Moldvay’s Basic is my favorite

@guitar_geek Out of curiosity, why is that? I personally can't decide, so I'm just seeing what other people think.

There’s no way I was going to fit the answer in 140 characters...

I find the second D&D Basic Set (Moldvay’s) easier to understand than the first (Holmes’). Also, Holmes seems to stray farther from the original game while Moldvay seems to move back closer to it.

Really, though, these are trade-offs. These differences are part of what makes Holmes’ Basic Set special. It’s just that my preferences here fall in the direction of Moldvay’s set.

The third D&D Basic Set (Mentzer’s) makes an effort to go even farther and explain the game to anyone. From what I’ve heard, it largely succeeded. I simply have a hard time believing that anyone who is going to enjoy the game needs more than Moldvay’s set to understand the game.

I also like the scope and level of detail of Moldvay’s Basic with Cook & Marsh’s Expert Set. It feels just about right to me for a base to build off of. Also, I’m not a fan of how later printings of Mentzer’s Expert Set slowed progressions (like thief skills) down.

Of course, I can be accused of bias because Moldvay’s set was my introduction to the game. (Well, I’d seen a first edition AD&D Players Handbook, but I couldn’t figure the game out from it.) And, of course, all of this is really splitting hairs. And no matter what version of the game I’m playing, I like to have the others around as resources to draw upon.

Once I started playing Basic/Expert D&D again (c. 2006), I’ve found, however, that the Basic/Expert split is a pain in play. (And cutting the books up and combining them as suggested doesn’t really make it any better.) So, I have my complaints with it. Indeed, in the campaign we started last Saturday, I’m experimenting with a number of modifications.

25 May 2012


I was going to post about the D&D Next playtest packet, but...well...let me ’splain...

One of the things I liked about Blogger was that I could get their editor to produce clean HTML without writing too much raw HTML “by hand”. Well, it still was probably too much, but I made it work for me.

Oh, and it never worked on iOS. A big part of that was that mobile Safari—at least in the beginning—didn’t support features they relied upon, but that didn’t change the fact that it kept me from blogging from my iPhone or iPad. I had hopes the Blogger app would address this, but it didn’t. Again, Apple didn’t make it easy to create a good HTML editor on iOS. Though the Essay app came pretty close while it lasted.

But back to the more immediate issue. They’ve discarded the old editor. I am not happy with this new editor so far.

By the way, this is exactly the same reason why I stopped using Google Docs.

But, I am unusual. I’m picky about the HTML—which to most people is an implementation detail that should be hidden behind the scenes—that is used for my text. I’m picky about how my text looks.

I’ve been trying to go the Markdown route to address the iOS issue. Though I really don’t like working in “plain text” in this day & age. But it did work for my Infogami site. And it honestly is easier than the hoops the old Blogger editor made me jump through to get the results I wanted. The posting part is more complicated, though. The drafts are backing up even faster than they did before because of the extra effort to get a Markdown draft converted, posted, and looking good on Blogger.

I’ve been considering my options for a while now. There’s lots of them, and—as usual—I’m indecisive.

(Interestingly, it looks like the Infogami source code is now available. So that’s another option I didn’t know about until writing this: To run my own copy of Infogami...)

19 March 2012

Another benefit of the iPad retina display

When I remotely connect to my iMac at home, I’ve been switching the display down to the resolution of the (old) iPad: 1024 by 768 pixels. That way, I don’t have to shrink the image or scroll around.

The resolution of the retina display on the new iPad (2048 by 1536) is more than the native resolution of my iMac (1680 by 1080), though. So, the iPad can display every pixel from my iMac in its native resolution and have some left over for the controls of the app I use to connect to the iMac.

If I were to upgrade to a current 27-inch iMac (2560 by 1440), however, the iPad would be a little short again.

11 February 2012

Angry Birds boss doesn’t see app piracy as a problem | iMore

Angry Birds boss doesn’t see app piracy as a problem | iMore

We have some issues with piracy, not only in apps, but also especially in the consumer products. There is tons and tons of merchandise out there, especially in Asia, which is not officially licensed products

Worrying about knock-offs merchandise is the same kind of mistake as worrying about piracy.

Concentrate on providing the best products and services for your customers. Stop worrying about what other people are doing. Unless they are doing what you do better than you do it.

And then, the answer is not to think about how you can sue them or lobby for a law that will allow you to sue them.

The answer is to do what you do better than they do it. Trying to arbitrarily restrict other people’s freedom is admitting that you can’t compete.

10 February 2012

Unintelligent D&D

In my classic D&D games, ability scores...

...can provide an XP bonus (or penalty).

...give a bonus (or penalty) to certain rolls. Strength modifiers melee “to hit” and damage. Dexterity modifier AC and ranged “to hit”. Wisdom I allow to modify all saves. Constitution modifiers hit points. Charisma modifiers reaction rolls.

...can be used for ad hoc “ability checks” to resolve actions.

Intelligence does the first for mages. You may notice intelligence is missing from the second. I never call for an intelligence check. So, if I drop the XP modifier for prime requisites, intelligence doesn’t really do anything and isn’t really needed. And I was never really attached to the XP modifiers.

09 February 2012

The future of the Mac

The iOS-ification Of Apple’s Ecosystem

It does indeed look like the Mac is going to start looking more and more like iOS. Honestly, that makes me uncomfortable.

A key to the success of the iPhone and iPad is that they didn’t try to shoehorn desktop/laptop software onto the palmtop/tablet. I think the same logic holds that what is good for the palmtop/tablet isn’t necessarily good for the desktop/laptop.

(If I had my druthers, the iPad would be called a laptop and MacBooks would be called mobile desktops.)

Apple does recognize this. They’ve said that their research showed touch-screens don’t work well for desktop/laptop systems. But, still, they seem to be carrying “back to the Mac” farther than I’m comfortable with.

But that’s OK.

The reason I don’t have a Linux or *BSD system in the house anymore is simply that the Macs can do pretty much everything Linux can do. Perhaps as the Mac becomes more like iOS, I’ll have a reason to bring Linux back into the house.

It may even be that someday I won’t even have a Mac. The iPad and the Linux box will split everything that I used to use my Mac for.

08 February 2012

RPG survey @ B/X Blackrazor

B/X Blackrazor is conducting a survey of people who have ever played a tabletop/face-to-face role-playing game.

07 February 2012

My classic D&D two-weapon fighting rule

(I mean “guideline”, not “rule”. There are no rules, only guidelines)

I’ve written many times that I do not find a second attack to model anything well in D&D. Especially two-weapon fighting.

First, let’s be clear that I’m (mostly) not including “shield” as a weapon here. D&D already has rules for shields, and I’m—currently—not interested in changing that.

There’s an argument to be made that two-weapon fighting was actually pretty rare in real life, so it is OK if the game doesn’t support it. A character can still carry two weapons attacking with either one each round. There are even some advantages to doing that if the weapons are different.

I believe, however, that there really is an advantage to fighting with two weapons, and I want my game to reflect that. I don’t, however, want two-weapon fighting to be so good that a player is foolish not to choose it. (And the benefits of a free hand should also be considered!)

So, this is the rule:

When fighting with two weapons, for each attack the player designates a primary weapon. The attack is resolved as if the character is only wielding the primary weapon but with a +1 “to hit”. Fighting with two weapons does not grant any additional attacks.

If asked to rationalize it, I will do it so thusly: I actually believe that a second weapon most often plays a defensive role. But…this tends to be less static blocks or parries so much as creating an opening for the primary weapon. Of course, D&D combat is abstract, so such rationalizations are always suspect.

Also, I’m not entirely convinced that the specific secondary weapon makes much difference. They each have advantages and disadvantages. This rule doesn’t penalize a player for choosing to use a longer (more expensive) second weapon, but neither does it penalize a player for choosing a shorter/cheaper second weapon.

We will also “reskin” the dagger as a buckler:

A buckler is the same price as a dagger. It is treated as a second weapon rather than as a shield, so it gives the above +1 “to hit”. The wielder also has the option of treating the buckler as a primary weapon (a buckler bash) doing d4 damage.

06 February 2012

My classic D&D melee weapons: Commentary

@StvWinter: Harking back to #dnd B/X. 1H wpns did 1d6, 2H did 1d8. A dwarf got no + for using ax, no - for using sword. Clean.

I started to look at the B/X weapons similar to my previous look at the Labyrinth Lord weapons. I decided, though, to make a flow chart to help players choose a weapon. I didn’t finish. It seemed much too complex. And backwards.

I want weapon choice to be 90% roleplaying and 10% weapon stats. Sure, there advantages and disadvantages between a sword, a mace, an axe, and warhammer. But those differences are more subtle than the D&D combat system.

On the other hand, I don’t want it to be too abstract either. There should, e.g., be some mechanical trade-off to choosing a two-handed weapon. I also don’t want weapons to feel too different from what I know about real medieval weapons. And I want a weapon’s price to reflect its value in the game.

Generic weapons—where the player “buys” the stats and provides their own description—also helps represent the great variety of weapons. Not only different types of weapons, but the variations within a type.

I looked at the weapons in Lamenations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing. I like its choices a lot, but decided to tweak some things differently.

I should probably touch on variable damage by weapon. I’ve been a big fan of the B/X (by the book) standard d6 for all weapons. I also believe that—all other things being equal—the longer weapon has the advantage. So, I kept looking at different ways to model that. Then I realized that B/X’s optional (but de facto standard) variable damage by weapon does that just fine. After all, “damage” in D&D is abstract. A bigger damage die just represents some abstract advantage.

I still like the idea of variable damage by class or a damage cap by class, but I think the variable hit die by class handles class differences enough.

So, I didn’t end up with anything quite as simple and clean as Steve’s summary, but we’ll see how it goes.

RPGs are war

My first thoughts on the “combat as sport vs. combat as war” topic...

Here’s the difference between a sport and a war:

In a sport, each side agrees to a set of rules. If you don’t follow the rules, it is called a foul, and a penalty is assessed. Or it’s called cheating.

In war, there are no fouls; there is no cheating. When some group gets too set in their ways about “how war should be fought”, some other side comes along as defeats them by ignoring those rules.

(We do try to come up with fouls and cheating in war. e.g. The Geneva conventions. But that doesn’t help you win. You have to win first and then try to enforce those rules. If the side that wins finds it’s in their interest to ignore such rules... In any case, honoring them is about longer-term concerns.)

Most conventional games resemble “combat as sport”. Role-playing games, however...

For me, “combat is war” is easy in a role-playing game, but “combat as sport” is hard. I have to introduce things that interfere with some of the aspects of role-playing games most important to me. Such as “player agency” and “tactical infinity”. (Sorry, I don’t have good links to explain those terms.) Even then, it’s tough to balance on every axis enough to make sure it’s sporting. Sporting combats tend to happen more by chance than design.

(Though, I think superhero games manage to do the “sport” angle a lot.)

The comparisons to literature in the original article seem particularly apt. When you take a character out of a story and give that role to a person to play with the freedom to find creative solutions, they start looking for strategic solutions. It’s the same as the “how it should have ended” videos.

In any case, I definitely prefer “combat as war” in my role-playing games whether as judge or player. The hard part is that—as judge—you may have to have or improvise more stuff when the players find creative ways to short-circuit something you thought would take a while. But I’d rather reward strategic thinking than make things easier on myself.

05 February 2012

My classic D&D melee weapons

Here is my list of melee weapons for classic D&D—with damage, price, and parenthetical notes:

  • Unarmed d2, free
  • Torch d3, 6 for 1sp
  • Club d4, 3sp
  • Dagger (quickdraw) d4, 3sp
  • Silver dagger (quickdraw) d4, 30sp
  • Buckler d4, 3sp
  • Quarterstaff (requires 2 hands) d6, 2sp
  • Lance d6 (2d6 on a charging mount), 5sp
  • Small weapon d6, 5sp
    • axe, kopesh, sickle
  • Small blade (quickdraw) d6, 7sp
    • baselard, gladius, seax, xiphos
  • Medium weapon d6 (d8 if used 2-handed), 7sp
    • axe, flail, mace, morning star, spear, trident, warhammer
  • Medium blade (quickdraw) d6 (d8 if used 2-handed), 10sp
    • arming sword, falchion, flamberge, sabre, scimitar, spatha
  • Large weapon (requires 2 hands) d10, 7sp
    • axe, goedendag, maul, pole arm
  • Large blade (requires 2 hands) d10, 15sp
    • estoc, flamberge, claymore, longsword

“Quickdraw” means that the weapon (daggers & swords) comes with a scabbard. These weapons can be drawn and used for an attack in the same round. Other weapons, if not in hand, require a round to ready. (I’m using 10 second rounds.)

When buying a generic weapon (in italics above), the player must specify the specific weapon it represents. I have given some examples, but if you don’t like them, call it whatever you wish. (The other weapons could be “reskinned” too.)

Note that I’m using a “silver standard” here. Read the prices in gp instead of sp for regular “gold standard” games.

Also note that I do not use the rule that two-handed weapons automatically lose initiative.

No encumbrance values are listed because I use a freeform encumbrance rule.

I also plan on dropping most class-based weapon restrictions, though dwarfs and halflings will still have restrictions.

If it seems odd to have buckler listed as a weapon instead of a shield, well...it is. But a forthcoming house rule on two-weapon fighting will explain it.

Credit where credit is due...

The quickdraw bit was stolen from Original Edition Delta.

Generic weapons are inspired by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing.

Upcoming posts will provide commentary on this, two-weapon fighting, and thrown/missile weapons.

04 February 2012

D&D sacred cows

With a new edition of D&D in the works, I’m thinking about what my sacred cows are. What are the things without which D&D isn’t being what I want it to be?

Reliable but limited magic: I don’t mind magical mishaps being in the game, but it should be the exception rather the the rule. Merlin didn’t get his rep by failing to levitate a Stonehenge megalith 20% of the times he tried and failing spectacularly 5% of the time. But when the Sorcerer’s Apprentice goes messing with stuff he’s not ready for, he might suffer some consequences.

But I don’t want reliable to become unlimited. I’ll take the 3e crossbow sorcerer over the 4e raygun wizard every time.

From what I know about D&D next so far, I don’t expect this to be a problem.

Thief skills: This is an area where my opinion has definitely changed. I used to think of thief skills as general skills, so I wanted a general skill system instead. Now, I see thief skills as special, and I prefer not having a general skill system. (See On thief skills in classic D&D)

And I’ve actually come to like the AD&D secondary skills.

Possibly the one thing that keeps me from declaring Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing my “go to” version of D&D is the skill system. (Even though it is pretty “old school” for such.)

3e lost the special rogue skills in favor of its general skill system, which made the rogue less interesting a class to me. It is also an example of the lack of modularity in 3e. The rogue was built on the skill system, and the fighter was built on the feat system, which means you have to think harder before ignoring either subsystem.

It will be interesting to see how D&D next handles this. In any case, there may be a very simple workaround. I think I could be happy just dropping the thief/rogue/specialist class altogether.

Less systemized magic: When stepping up from Expert D&D to Advanced, spells got a bit more systemized. There were more details filled in for you, and there were more spells. For the most part, though, I find the AD&D spells brought a lot of inspiration and less systemization.

2e started systemizing even more. And not the kind of “let’s give every spell a casting time” sort of systemization. More like, “Shouldn’t there be a spell with an effect between these two?” And, “We have fire and water versions, so we should add earth and air versions as well.”

3e continued with both 1e and 2e kinds of systemizations.

I prefer the classic D&D spells. I can work with the 1e spells. Past that, though, and I get less happy. I’m really interested in whether D&D next will address this at all.

(Actually, I really like the Coda system Lord of the Rings spells, but haven’t gotten around to trying to adapt them into D&D.)

Of course, I’ll be perfectly happy to skip D&D next if I’d find it harder to bend to my will than sticking with classic D&D.

03 February 2012

Create food & water in Labyrinth Lord

In AD&D, Create Food & Water is a 3rd level cleric spell. It provides food for three people per level of the caster. The 3rd level spells-per-day for a cleric maxes out at nine at 19th level. A 19th level cleric could support 513 people. Note also, however, that the casting time has increased to 10 minutes. (The Expert book doesn’t list a casting time, so I presume that it is 10 seconds—i.e. 1 combat round.)

In Labyrinth Lord (both the base game and the AEC), Create Food & Water is a 4th level cleric spell. It only provides for three people regardless of the level of caster. So, a 20th level LL cleric, with six 4th level spells per day, could only support 18 people.

Note that both here and for my earlier Expert D&D (1981) numbers, I’m treating the cleric’s spells-per-day limit as a strict daily limit. If the rules or DM allows for re-prep’ing spells within a day then even more people could be supported, but at the cost of a lot of the cleric’s time.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing lacks such a spell.

02 February 2012


So, I’m sitting here polishing up some blog posts. I’m grabbing URLs to create hyperlinks. And it strikes me...

It’s taking me longer to create these hyperlinks than it will take you to select some text, search Google, and get to the same page. Not only that, the hyperlinks might grow stale, but a Google search won’t. Heck, Google might turn up more relevant results than what I choose to link to the moment I post. Even after Google, some other even better search engine will be available. For all I know, what you’ll really be interested in following up on won’t even be anything I create a hyperlink for.

Google is making hyperlinks obsolete. But Google is built on hyperlinks. It’s only by analyzing hyperlinks that Google can come up with such good results.


Edition wars

If I have ever offended anyone when discussing differences between editions of D&D, I hereby apologize. That was never my intention, though I can have a hard time seeing someone else’s point-of-view.

01 February 2012

D&D Next Classes

From EN World: What We Know About “D&D Next”:

The goal at the moment is to include all the classes that were in the first PH style book for each edition.

Surely someone else has already compiled this list, but since I didn’t find it, I compiled it myself.

Note that many classes appeared first in a supplement for a previous edition. I’m not listing the first appearance of each class. I’m listing its first appearance in Men & Magic or a Players Handbook (first PHB for editions with multiple PHBs).

In the non-advanced line, you had race-classes and the Mystic. Race-classes aren’t included because it seems that D&D next isn’t going that direction. The Mystic, rightly or wrongly, I’m counting as Monk.

AD&D2e had the “specialist wizard” & “specialist priest” which I am also omitting from this list.

  • Assassin (1e PHB)
  • Barbarian (3e PHB)
  • Bard (2e PHB; optional 1e PHB)
  • Cleric (0e Men & Magic)
  • Druid (1e PHB)
  • Fighting-man/Fighter (0e Men & Magic)
  • Illusionist (1e PHB)
  • Magic-user/Mage/Wizard (0e Men & Magic)
  • Monk (1e PHB)
  • Paladin (1e PHB)
  • Ranger (1e PHB)
  • Sorcerer (3e PHB)
  • Thief/Rogue (1e PHB; the Holmes Basic Set)
  • Warlock (4e PHB)
  • Warlord (4e PHB)

For a grand total of 15 classes. Though I think there is the possibility of some of them being combined.

Note that a Psion class was also mentioned in the D&D Experience seminars.

Here they are in roughly chronological order...

  • Cleric (0e Men & Magic)
  • Fighting-man/Fighter (0e Men & Magic)
  • Magic-user/Mage/Wizard (0e Men & Magic)
  • Thief/Rogue (1e PHB; the Holmes Basic Set)
  • Assassin (1e PHB)
  • Druid (1e PHB)
  • Illusionist (1e PHB)
  • Monk (1e PHB)
  • Paladin (1e PHB)
  • Ranger (1e PHB)
  • Bard (2e PHB; optional 1e PHB)
  • Barbarian (3e PHB)
  • Sorcerer (3e PHB)
  • Warlock (4e PHB)
  • Warlord (4e PHB)

18 January 2012

Why are we still talking about piracy?

heavy sigh

I’m so tired of it.

The software industry—other than a few special cases—figured it out decades ago.

The RPG publishers figured it out about five years ago. (Don’t get me started on Wizards of the Coast and this issue.)

The music industry figured it out three to five years ago.

Seriously? Why are we even talking about this anymore? Piracy is not the problem you think it is. The pirates weren’t going to pay you anyway. Copy protection doesn’t work and doesn’t help you make more money. Overreaching legislation doesn’t help you make more money and probably won’t work either. Just make a good product, charge a fair price, and concentrate on the business you’re winning instead of the business you wrongly think you’re losing.

09 January 2012

Maybe 3D movies aren’t just a fad this time

Instapaper led me to “Four reasons 3D movies aren’t just a fad”. (And I’d highly recommend reading it through Instapaper or Safari Reader.)

The Wikipedia article on Hugo led me to “Can Martin Scorsese’s Hugo save 3D?”. (The BBC News site is better than Mashable, but I’d still recommend Instapaper or Safari Reader.) With this quote from Martin Scorsese:

I found 3D to be really interesting, because the actors were more upfront emotionally. Their slightest move, their slightest intention is picked up much more precisely.

08 January 2012

I think you missed the point of “less is more”

Domo Arigato, Mr Roboto - Boing Boing

Google supplied me with the full family (so far) of 16 faces to examine: a regular and oblique (the sans serif name for a slanted type that's not drawn differently, as with italics) of Light, Thin, Condensed, Bold Condensed, Regular, Medium, Bold, and Black. This warms the cockles of my typographer's heart, because with many different weights of a typeface, you can use differentiation to signify importance or meaning without having to rely solely on placement, size, or other faces. (The sign of a bad design is typically the use of many different sizes and faces. Find a great design, and you'll find remarkable restraint. The exceptions, which are legion, break that rule and prove it at the same time.)

I’m not convinced that using eight different weights of a single typeface in one document is superior to using eight different typefaces. The advantage of eight different weights is that you can pick a subset best suited to the use, not so that you can use them all.

07 January 2012

...but what exactly do you mean by “blog”?

Matt Gemmell explains why blogs should have comments turned off.

I don’t know how many bloggers I’ve seen make a comment to the effect of: As usual, the comments contain greater wisdom than my post. It has been a bunch. There is perhaps something of a difference between most bloggers I read and Gemmell, Marco, and Gruber. Indeed, “blog” has become about as meaningless as “anime”.

“Anime” certainly has meaning—animated films/video from Japan. The trouble is that most statements about anime are really about a subset of anime.

Likewise, most of the comments I see made about blogs and blogging are really about some unspecified subset of blogs and bloggers.