27 June 2013

Be a better (RPG) player

In “Know Your System”, noisms referenced grant’s “11 ways to be a better roleplayer”. There’s really only one of grant’s points that I wholeheartedly agree with. Embrace failure.

So, here’s my advice. I’d like to say that I’m a paragon who exemplifies these points, but—alas—I am not. Do what I say, not what I do. ☺

Avoid over-analysis—especially during character creation. I’m a big fan of over-analysis, but I’m also a big fan of experiments. Often it’s better to just make a choice, play, accumulate data, and save the analysis for later. What’s the worst that could happen?

Don’t look to the rules for options. You know whenever you find yourself screaming at a fictional character for not doing what you would do? You know whenever you’re playing a game and you think, “I wish I could...” Well, RPGs are the chance to do those things. Look for options in the game-world.

Ask questions. Then ask more questions. The GM is your character’s senses. To some extent they are also your character’s knowledge of the world. They can’t volunteer every detail that your character sees, hears, smells, and knows. Plus, they’re mainly using words to communicate all these things to you, which is error-prone. You have to ask about what you want to know more about and to clarify things. Don’t take any action until you’ve gathered information beyond what the GM has volunteered.

Tell the GM your intent. If you try to describe the things you want your character to do in discrete steps, it’s going to take a lot of time and increase the chance of miscommunication. Instead, tell the GM your intent and then describe discreet steps as necessary to clarify.

After you tell the GM your intent, tell them why you should succeed. Look at your character sheet and mention anything that might be a factor. Mention aspects of your character that aren’t on the sheet that might be a factor. Mention things about the situation that might be a factor. Don’t be a jerk about it. It isn’t about convincing them so much as reminding them about things that they might not think of.

Give the GM the benefit of the doubt. It is a hard job, and they’re only human. If you think you can do a better job, most GMs will be happy for the chance to be a player.

Take turns. After you’ve had a “turn”, sit back and let everyone else have a turn. While other players have the GM’s attention, have a pencil and paper handy to jot down notes for things you might want to ask about or do when it is your turn again. Before taking another turn, ask any players who haven’t had a turn since your last one if they want to do anything.

Enjoy your friends’ successes. Even in competitive games, you can enjoy a friend’s success. Make sure you take them time not only to give other people their turn but to enjoy being in the audience.

Cöoperate, involve others, and form consensus. RPGs aren’t always cöoperative, but not being cöoperative is easy. Getting everyone working together can take effort. When appropriate, make the effort.

Take responsibility for your own fun. I’m tempted to leave “for your own fun” off of that. Taking responsibility could take many forms. I guess you should just ask yourself “What can I do to make this game better?”

Give the GM feedback. Before, after, and between sessions, let the GM know what you’re enjoying. Tell them about the things you don’t enjoy too. Don’t expect that things you don’t enjoy will go away, but it is useful for the GM to know the players’ perspectives.

I looked at a bunch of other lists like this. I disagreed with the majority of most of them. So, perhaps the best advice would be to try to figure out what works for your group.

23 June 2013

Formula D

When I first learned about Formula Dé, I immediately dismissed it because dice are used to determine how far a car moves. That is—typically—a bad sign in a racing board game. Then I saw (the now renamed) Formula D on Tabletop. While dice are used to determine how far you move, the die you roll depends on the gear you’re in and each die has a short range of values.

The game seems to have a lot of the spirit of Waddingtons’ Formula 1—for me, the canonical car racing boardgame—while still doing things its own way. Formula D also has the advantages of being “in print”, having two tracks in the box and additional tracks for purchase, and having some more in-depth rules. I can’t say much about that last bit yet, though, since we’ve only played the basic game thus far.

22 June 2013

Doesn’t do Word

Yes, the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint. It also doesn’t do Word.

When I wrote these posts, Office Mobile for Office 365 hand’t been released.

It does do Pages.

More interesting, however, is that it does UX Write. UX Write is my favorite word processor. I wish there were a Mac version. It may not work for you, but it works for me.

There are lots of other word processing apps for the iPad.

Oh, and Pages and UX Write both work on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad.

21 June 2013

Game of soaps

Good stories, according to me, have a point. A moral, even if it isn’t a particularly moral moral.

Soap operas are simply about keeping the story going. There is no point except for continuing. Soaps can only hold my interest for a time.

(If you’re thinking of a soap opera that doesn’t meet that definition of a soap opera, then that’s not what I’m talking about when I write “soap opera”.)

I haven’t read any of the Song of Fire and Ice yet. The TV series isn’t selling me on it. I suspect the TV series of being a soap opera, although there are hints of a possible point or two. I’m afraid it won’t actually get to any of those points.

Why? Because I read this quote from GRRM, which I’ve edited for spoilers. (The original with spoilers)

I knew it almost from the beginning. Not the first day, but very soon. I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I [SPOILER] in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. [SPOILER] The next predictable thing is to think [SPOILER]. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [it] became the next thing I had to do.

Unpredictability for the sake of unpredictability doesn’t make for good storytelling, IMHO. And, ironically, unpredictability becomes predictable after a while. If this is his primary reason for these events, then I’m not inclined to care.

20 June 2013

Doesn’t do Excel

Yes, the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint. It also doesn’t do Excel.

When I wrote these posts, Office Mobile for Office 365 hand’t been released.

It does do Numbers. There are lots of other spreadsheet apps for the iPad.

More interesting, however, is that it does Soulver. Soulver sits somewhere between a calculator and a spreadsheet. (It’s similar to a old Mac app I used to love called MathPad.) You may find that Soulver replaces any calculator app you might use. You may also find that it replaces many of the more straightforward uses of spreadsheets.

Also of possible interest here: Permanent. (I haven’t gotten to trying it out yet.)

Oh, and Numbers and Soulver both work on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad. (Although Soulver for iPhone is a separate app.)

19 June 2013

Ramblings about skeuomorphs

Amid the revealing of iOS 7, I started using a new app call Do It Tomorrow. This app is very skeuomorphrific. It not only looks like hand-written notes in a paper notebook, it also includes the desk, pen, coffee, coffee stains, &c.

During the WWDC keynote, Apple suggested that the most important thing about a product is “How it will make someone feel.” I argue that skeuomorphs are not about usability but about how they make some users feel. Indeed, I don’t think the skeuomorphs in Do It Tomorrow make the app more usable, but they do make it—for me—more enjoyable.

Rene Ritchie says iOS 7 is most skeuomorphic iOS yet.

One of the key aspects of Apple’s iOS devices is that they become each app.† The app takes up the full screen. The screen is how the user interacts with the app. The hardware beyond the touch-screen is designed to not distract from the app. In iOS 7, there are system things that can temporarily intrude—notification center from above and control center from below—but these are translucent overlays that emphasize the the device is still primarily the app. Well, Apple is actually emphasizing content now, but sometimes the app itself is content. Skeuomorphs can be content.

Speaking of notification center and control center in iOS 7, they appear glass and plastic, respectively, to me.

Guitar effects apps are an area where skeuomorphs are common. While I’d certainly like to see some more entries in that category that take a skeuomorphless approach, the look of guitar gear can be an important part of the feel.

So, despite Apple’s move away from skeuomorphs, I hope that some apps will still provide skeuomorphic options for those users who enjoy them.

†It occurs to me that this works directly against the sort of split-screen mode I have always wanted in iOS.

18 June 2013

Not doing PowerPoint

Yes, it is true that the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint.

(See “New Microsoft video slams the iPad on multitasking, PowerPoint and price”)

(Ironically, since I started the draft of this post, Microsoft has actually released an iOS app that allows—perhaps limited—PowerPoint editing as well as presentation.)

It’s also true that it does do Keynote. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a presentation that was powered by Keynote instead of PowerPoint. I’ve used Keynote on my iPad to edit and present a presentation that was originally created with PowerPoint. (There were some issues but nothing that kept me from getting what I needed done done.)

More interesting, though is that the iPad does Haiku Deck. Haiku Deck doesn’t have all the features of Keynote or PowerPoint, but what it does, it does well.

And that’s only two of the presentation apps for the iPad.

Oh, and Keynote works on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad.

17 June 2013

It’s time for compulsory licensing of video

Since the owners of video content can’t wrap their heads around the simple fact that there is zero difference between streaming video to a phone, tablet, computer, “smart TV”, or set-top box†, I say it is time for compulsory licensing.

That’s how music is licensed (here in the US at least). You don’t have to go to the “rights holder” for permission to play a song. You just have to be sure that you pay them the mandated fee.

We get to watch movies and TV however is convenient for us; the “rights holders” get paid; win-win.

†Here’s how you can tell: Open them up and see that, inside, all of these things are computers.

16 June 2013

App Store Genius

John August, “Topping the charts and racing to the bottom”:

What you really want is a list that shows what apps that people like you are using and enjoying. That’s the kind of information that companies like Amazon and Netflix are terrific at leveraging.

Um...isn’t that what that Genius option does?

15 June 2013

The iOS 7 redesign, second impressions

My first impression was that the iOS 7 redesign was all about coherence. Here are my second impressions...

There have been a lot of complaints about the iOS 7 icons for Apple’s apps. shrug I can’t get too worked up about them. I generally don’t care for many of them, but I could’ve probably complained just as much about the iOS 6 versions.

Only using color to differentiate interactive elements is something I have concerns about. Firstly, how will this work for color blind users? Secondly, I’ve seen differentiating things only by color be a problem for users who aren’t color blind in many situations. Thirdly, in user interfaces redundancy is a feature. I’d expect that Apple has taken these concerns into account. Sometimes a well thought out implementation of something that goes against the guidelines can work fine. But that’s the one aspect of the redesign that I’m doubtful about.

14 June 2013

Serious Superman

I haven’t seen the Man of Steel yet, but I can’t say that I’m excited about it. And not simply because I’m old enough that yet another incarnation of the old superheroes is becoming tiresome.

I’d love to see a serious Superman movie. But it would be one where they threw out almost all the canon except for the alien orphan becomes super-powered hero bit.

Trying to make a serious movie about the DC Superman seems pointless to me. There’s a built-in idealism and over-the-top aspect that it is hard to see working the way the Dark Knight series could.

12 June 2013

T&T attributes

At NTRPGC this year, I got to play Tunnels & Trolls with its creator, Ken St. Andre. My only experience of T&T before this was a few runs through solitaire adventures. It seems that we were the first people to play the T&T Free RPG Day adventure. Ken was an enjoyable GM, and we got a sneak peek at the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls changes.

Perhaps my one apprehension about T&T has been its highly abstract combat system. It seemed to work much better in play than I’d anticipated, though. It seems to smooth out the kinds of imbalances between characters that T&T doesn’t avoid. The “weakest” character still contributed to combat and the “stronger” characters could protect them by soaking up the damage. It also played very quick and got us back to exploring and parlaying with the NPCs.

But, on to the topic at hand: Like D&D, T&T characters have a number of attributes that are generated by rolling 3d6. Ken had us reroll attributes below nine. Since there is an almost 26% chance of rolling < 9, though, that meant a fair amount of rerolling. So, that got me to thinking about ways to do it without rerolling.

My first thought was to use 6+2d6 instead. That would mean the minimum was 8 instead of 9, but...close enough. It does greatly change the probabilities, though. At least it is simple.

Next I considered 6 + (3d6 drop the highest). I was surprised by how close this was to the original 3d6 reroll < 9. It seems perhaps “too fiddly” for T&T, but it seems to get the job done.

This AnyDice plot shows the probabilities for 3d6, 3d6 reroll < 9, 6+2d6, and 6+3d6 drop the highest. Switch it to “graph” and then check out the “normal” and “at least” views.

Note that this ignores the TARO rule: If you roll triples, you get to roll three more dice and add their results. It’d also be interesting to work out the chances of qualifying to be a paragon (all attributes ≥ 12) would be for the different methods.

Whichever method might be used, one question arises: Should the reroll < 9 rule apply before or after kindred (i.e. race) modifiers? I’m thinking: Before.

(Another question about kindred modifiers is whether a character qualifies for a type (i.e. class) before or after kindred modifiers. But Ken said that in dT&T, only human characters have types.)

11 June 2013

iOS 7—coherence

...or Jony Ive is the man.

I said that, if it were up to me, I would decide about textures in Apple’s iOS apps on a case-by-case basis rather than blindly making everything flat.

The key word for the design changes in iOS 7, however, isn’t “flat”. It is “coherence”.

They didn’t blindly make everything flat. They created a coherent design language. Which makes the way everything works seem to make sense—even if only subconsciously. Not to mention that it makes it more pleasing. It’s exactly the opposite of a case-by-case basis, but on a deeper level than flat versus textured.

In a sense, the flat versus textured issue simply disappears in iOS 7. The user picks the backdrop image. The content sits in a layer on top of that. Anything on top of that is not flat or textured but translucent to let the backdrop and content shine through.

Ive has shown that the same sensibilities he brings to hardware design can be applied to software with just as—if not more—spectacular results. I can’t wait until fall.

Incidentally, Sunday night I was organizing my RPG files and thinking about how I wish I had tags so I could organize them by source, publisher, and game system. Monday, they’re telling me how Mac OS X Sea Lion Mavericks will have file tags.

10 June 2013

Apple and Google maps at NTRPGC

No, the Old San Antonio Road wasn’t involved in me getting to or from NTRPGC, but its sign seem appropriate to the topic.

My experience with the map apps while attending the North Texas RPG Con this year...

Apple maps did it great job of getting us near the hotel. It thought the hotel was a couple blocks from where it really was, but at least I could see it. (And, yes, I submitted the mistake to Apple.)

For nearby points-of-interest (i.e. restaurants), it failed. It didn’t show them all and was mistaken about the locations of those it did have. On the POI side, the Google maps app proved flawless. It appeared to show all the nearby restaurants, and it had their locations spot-on.

So, when we left and headed out to pick up my daughter from her grandmothers’, it was Google maps’ turn to fail. First off, the app just gave me a text list of the route choices, which didn’t give me a good way to judge between them. It told me to get off a highway only to get back on to it a few miles later, which added a lot of unnecessary extra time. To exacerbate things, construction meant I couldn’t get back on that highway. After adding about a 20 minute extra delay to a 30 minute trip, I switched back to Apple maps to help find an alternate route.

The road construction in the D/FW area seems out-of-control. It’s a real mess. Apple maps tripped up on it once as well, but it luckily recovered quickly. So, the delay was perhaps not completely Google maps’ fault, but it picked a screwy route even if there hadn’t been construction to exacerbate things.

Of course, this is just one anecdote that I wouldn’t want to generalize too much from. The lessons I’m taking away from this are:

  • It’s a good idea to check both Apple and Google maps when possible.
  • Start with Apple maps for guided turn-by-turn directions.
  • Start with Google maps for POIs or finding the exact location of the destination at the end of an Apple maps route.

06 June 2013

Rathkin abbey relics

Rathkin Abbey is a classic D&D campaign I’m running as my 10yo daughters first role-playing game. The players found some magic items belonging to famous adventurers of the past.

(I looked at a lot of magic items from different sources while coming up with these. I don’t remember what all may have inspired them.)

Ogden the fighter: A belt of finely-tooled leather with a silver buckle. It increases the wearer’s strength enough to increase their modifier by +1.

Frida the thief: High, soft leather boots designed with a feather motif. The wearer will not activate traps. If the wearer should fall, the boots will generate the same effect as the Feather Fall spell.

Cora the crusader (i.e. cleric): When the wearer raises the hood on this cloak, their image seems to shift and waver to onlookers. The effect can be very disconcerting when looking directly at them for more than a few seconds. (i.e. displacer cloak) +2 AC and saves.

Ector the mage: A fairly plain hazelwood wand with a crystal tip. It can store one first level spell. The crystal glows faintly when a spell is stored.

There was one other relic found of unknown provenance: A tiara with a cat’s ears design. When the wearer meows, they are transformed into a cat. The user may transform back at will, and they will also transform back when falling asleep or unconscious. Usable once per day.

05 June 2013

Another thing about textures

Thinking more about textures and skeuomorphism, another point occurs to me about textures in iOS.

What purpose does the “Corinthian leather” serve in a Chrysler? What purpose does green felt and wood serve in a casino? These surfaces could be covered with materials of different color and different texture. They could be covered in materials with a flat texture and painted in flat colors. These textures are just as superfluous—or purposeful—as they are in the digital world as in the real world.

You may not like the specific choices in either the real so digital world, but the aesthetic choice is just as valid in either case.

04 June 2013

It isn’t about magic or fighting

As usual, the recent regularity of blog posts means that a lot of it is me sifting through old drafts, so the references aren’t exactly timely. Also, as usual, this isn’t really a critique of what JB wrote as much as the thoughts I had reading his comments.

“Magic in 5AK”

[...] the fact of the matter is a player wants to play a magic-user because he or she wants to USE MAGIC.

Actually, I don’t play a mage to use magic. I don’t play a fighter to fight. Instead, those class names describe what I fall back on when my brain fails me.

03 June 2013

Scheme implementations

One of the difficulties in getting started with the Scheme programming language is picking an implementation. There are a bunch. Many of them are very good. Each has strengths and weaknesses. But those strengths and weaknesses don’t always readily line up with uses. So, recommending an implementation can be tricky.

Here is a pretty good guide to picking an implementation: “an opinionated guide to scheme implementations

I know a lot less about Scheme than (wingo). I just play with it and use it instead of Bash/Perl/Python/Ruby whenever I can at work. Still, I was a Scheme newbie once, so here’s my suggestion:

If you’re using Linux or BSD, check to see if Guile is installed. (If you’ve got Mac ports or fink installed on your Mac, you might fall into this category as well.) There are things I love about Guile, and there are things I hate about it. But it is hard to argue with it already being installed on your machine. Grab a copy of SICP or The Little Schemer or whatever and go...

If you’re on Linux or BSD and you don’t have Guile installed, check your package manager for it.

If you don’t have Guile or if you’re ready for something more than Guile, get Racket. While the people working on Scheme standards are trying to figure out how to please academics and pragmatists, Racket has built a Scheme that is good for learning/teaching the language and has much of the “batteries included” that some other languages claim you should expect.

If you want Racket but without the GUI bits, you’ll have to dig a bit for Racket Textual.

Once you’ve had a taste of Scheme with Guile and/or Racket, then you can start to delve into what makes all those other implementations unique.

02 June 2013

Actual conventional wisdom vs. pundit conventional wisdom

Pricing and Profit Consistency and the Halo Effect

The conventional wisdom is to pursue profits by maximizing market share.

Is that really true? In the actual business world, perusing higher margins or niche markets or both seems to be conventional wisdom. Only in the business press is maximizing marketshare the conventional wisdom.

Certainly there are companies that have done well at the maximizing marketshare game, but they are the minority.

01 June 2013

Don’t change that logo

Playing Logo Quiz really brings home that changing an established logo is most often a bad idea. The only reason that I recognize a lot of the new logos of old companies is that I follow Brand New.