kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-08-16 03:48 pm

Catan, Minecrafters of

The other night [personal profile] moonlightalice and [personal profile] wellgull were telling me about playing Settler of Catan marathons until the wee hours of the morning. Naturally I thought of Minecraft because ... well, that's what I've been doing since Spring 2011, but also because both games are about resource extraction, and I would love to see trading arise in a competitive, multiplayer game of Minecraft.

Anyway, here's a first draft outline of how it might be set up:
  • The game map uses the new "large biomes" feature. All cattle and sheep would be killed off in advance.
  • There are a series of designated "intersections," placed at equal-size intervals around the map.
  • In half of the intersections (or so) there will be ruins of villages and the ruins of a special building (a library, cathedral, a pyramid, whatever). Monster spawners will be placed in both.
  • In order to "control" an intersection, the player would have to have a contiguous, powered railroad connecting it to her starting position or to other controlled intersections. (My guess is players would be given some or all of the materials needed to build it.)
  • In order to "control" a village, she would have to control the intersection, destroy the monster spawners, and repopulate the village to a certain level. Two villager eggs would be placed in a chest in the ruined village, along with two animal eggs, either cattle or sheep.
  • In order to "control" a special building, one would have to control the nearby village and rebuild the structure, based on specifications given in a book in the ruins. Some materials that are not available locally would be required.
  • Players would start the game on opposite corners of the map, with a starter chest of adequate personal provisions (food, sticks, maybe iron, a bow and some arrows).
  • PvP would be prohibited, although some chests may include deadly monster spawners (creepers, blazes, what have you) which could be placed at will.
  • Players would get 1 point per controlled village, 1 per special building, and 2 points for longest (rail)road. First player with 10 points wins.

Any thoughts?
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
2012-08-14 12:22 pm

Con-Myth: Yer Doin' It Wrong! (I)

When it comes to con-myth (constructed mythologies), there are a few tropes that annoy me. One of them is that a god's power is proportional to their worshipers. Cult members send power through their prayers, and the gods bounce some of it back through miracles, keeping the surplus. Thus a god without worshippers is powerless, while a popular god with a huge cult is very powerful. I dislike this for a number of reasons:
  • It denies the gods any role in creation. How could gods create the world before the source of their power even existed?
  • It also implies a double standard with the monstrous rivals of the gods, who don’t have any attested cults and thus must be drawing on alternative sources of power.
  • If taken to its logical conclusion, it turns the gods into a pack of politicians, grubbily competing over worshipers as if they were choosy consumers ("Apollo, now with 50% more healing power than other leading deities!").
  • Turning the gods into politicians makes them comfortable and familiar to our 21st-century tastes. But I don't want them to be familiar. I want them to be awe-inspiring.

Now there is some historical precedence for this trope. Vedic religion was greatly concerned with sacrifices to the gods. Over centuries, theologians decided that the Devas derived much of their power from these sacrifices. The outcome, though, is telling: They decided the Devas were no more powerful than the Brahmins who officiated the rites. This (among other factors) led to a decline in the prestige of the Devas and the dwindling of the sacrificial cult altogether.

As an alternative, I would suggest that the gods don’t need worshippers for their powers. They don't, in fact, need much at all. Instead, they respond to prayers, punish sacrilege and so forth because they feel like it. They do so out of compassion, vanity, or both. They like flattery, they don’t like to be insulted, and sometimes they pity mortals who are weaker than they are. Some gods may ignore humans entirely. Those gods won’t have cults -- there’s no point in praying to a deity that doesn’t listen to them -- but they won’t be any worse off than those who do.

I'm sure many folks read this and think, "BOR-ing!" Yes, it's true: My approach would take away opportunities for Small Gods-style goofiness. That's kind of the idea. I don't object to thought experiments about miracles on layaway and so forth, or to folks who engage in them, but I don't think they're suited for much beyond comedy. If you want gods to be taken seriously, I'd say my approach is better.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
2012-08-06 08:00 am

Titanomachy

In March I fantasized about "a real God-game." Recently, I decided to whip up a paper & pencil RPG with the same theme. Tentatively called Titanomachy (literally "War of the Titans") you can see a 6-page draft here at Google Docs. While there have been a number of RPGs for the American Gods-style Deities-at-the-Disco settings (such as Scion and Nobilis) I don't know of many that start in the age of mythology, so maybe there's a demand for this sort of thing.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
2012-07-28 08:25 am

More Noise!

My experience with music is typical: My interest peaked around age 18 and my tastes haven't changed much in 25 years. Luckily my tastes weren't typical for an 80s teenager, so I haven't been listening to Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston for a quarter century (thank Zeus), but I wish I'd picked up a little more over the years.

When Kimberly met me she liked my jazz collection -- standard stuff from WWII to the mid-60s -- and that's what we've listened to together ever since. On road trips, though, she prefers the radio, and that's when I really listen to contemporary pop music. My reaction to it has surprised me.

I don't have the stereotypical reaction of a cranky old man. ("Their music is just noise!") Instead I find it ... bland. Pleasant enough, but boring. It's as if nothing new has appeared since the Clinton administration.

Sometimes we'd switch to the classic rock stations, which endlessly recycled the same four-dozen songs from the late-60s to the Disco era, with Nirvana thrown in for the under-40 crowd. God knows I never want to hear "Freebird" again, but even with the endless repetition I got the impression there was a lot more variety in what I was hearing. More experimentation with instruments, more complex harmonies, more contrast in volume.

These were just vague, uninformed impressions, but I'm happy to hear they've been scientifically validated. I'm sure the study has issues -- commentors point out it doesn't measure rhythmic innovation, where hip-hop may shine -- but it confirms I wasn't completely imagining things.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
2012-07-27 09:02 am

Too Long Means Too High Expectations

Hoo-boy, two months since my last entry. There's been a lot of stuff to blog about, both personal and non-, so much so that it's prevented me from blogging about anything. "Do I write about the honeymoon ... or the new job ... or the health care decision ... or the comic-book cheesecake debate ... or game ideas... or...?"

Well to hell with it, here's a series of bullet-point summaries.

  • Kimberly and I took a cruise to Turkey and the Greek Islands. Both of us have posted pictures, and I'd be happy to share impressions with anyone interested.
  • While I'm still working for the State Senate, off-and-on, I also got a statistician/mapper job for the Nassau Legislature Democrats. It's been frustrating, largely (I've heard) because the county executive (a Republican) has blocked the supplies we need. So after a month I still don't have a key to my office or my mapping software, and I've spent far too long with nothing to do.
  • Naturally I'm happy with the Supreme Court decision on the ACA, but alarmed at the closeness of it. Thinking about the Supremes fueled my whole idea of a "Rational Republic," but since that isn't on the agenda, I think there should at least be a supermajority requirement for striking down acts of Congress. Great decisions like Brown were unanimous, and while I wouldn't demand unanimity I think a 6-3 (or even 7-2) majority should be necessary.
  • On comic-book cheesecake, it may surprise some people but I fall on the anti-cheesecake side. I do so with reservations, though: I find some of the anti- arguments unconvincing, or inconsistently applied, and my general skepticism of politicized cultural criticism kicks in from time to time. I do think more women should be recruited into the industry. Maybe Wonder Woman could be reserved as a comic for female writers and artists? I think the ghost of William Moulton Marston would approve.

I could say more about the last bullet point, and comment on game ideas and so forth, but this is long enough for now.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
2012-05-10 11:25 am

Xibalba!

The Mayan epic the Popol Vuh has two fascinating sections in which heroes travel to Xibalba, the land of the dead. (The "X" is pronounced sh.) Xibalba lies underground and will remind any longtime D&D player of a dungeon. In fact it inspired one of my D&D adventures a couple years ago, in which the players had to survive trials in four "houses," just as Hunahpu and Xbalanqu had to in the Popol Vuh.

Now I'm going farther, mapping the whole Hero Twin journey for Minecraft. I'm doing my best to follow the epic, in which the heroes

  1. Left their farm
  2. Went "over the ledge of a steep slope"
  3. Came to the mouths of Rustling and Gurgling Canyons
  4. Passed throw Scorpion Rapids
  5. Crossed Blood River
  6. Crossed Pus River
  7. Came to the Crossroads between Red Road, White Road, Yellow Road and Black Road
  8. Greeted the lords of Xibalba, and endured a pair of practical jokes
  9. Survived the trials in Dark House, Rattling (Cold) House, Bat House, Jaguar House and Razor House
  10. And finally, defeated the death gods in a ball game.
So far I've only finished the Rustling and Gurgling Canyons, as shown by the screencap below.

kent_allard_jr: (morans)
2012-04-18 01:38 pm

Crime and the "Homogeneous Society"

Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times reports on the fate of Anders Breivik:
If the court finds him insane, Mr. Breivik will be kept under forced psychiatric care “for as long as his illness persists” (possibly the rest of his life). Otherwise, Mr. Breivik’s maximum sentence will be 21 years, although a judge can extend his incarceration after that point if he’s still considered dangerous.

By American standards that’s a shockingly lenient punishment. Comparing one high-profile case with another—if a Florida jury finds George Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, he’ll face a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a minimum penalty of 25 years.

The American system, oriented around punishment (vengeance) and containment (keeping dangerous people off the streets), is arguably more satisfying for a crime like Mr. Breivik’s. But outside of worst-of-the-worst type cases, it’s Norway, with its focus on rehabilitation, that has the more rational and effective prison policy.
Norway locks up only one-tenth as many people as the US. The sentences (as noted) are much lighter, and conditions in prison much cushier, with each cell having a flat-screen TV, an unbarred window and a private bathroom. Nevertheless they have a far lower recidivism rate: Only 20% of their inmates return to jail after 2 years, while 60% of ours do. Their system clearly works better than ours.

In comments you hear a standard response, one that comes up a lot with crime and punishment: You can't compare Norway with the US because Norway is a "homogeneous society." It's never explicit why "homogeneity" leads to low crime rates, and I wonder if its a euphemistic way of saying "they have less crime because they have fewer n*****s." I doubt they're saying America's history of exploitation and racism is responsible, because while that might explain the US approach to crime, it spectacularly fails in justifying it.

I think there is something to the latter, in fact. When you look at homicide rates around the world you find the highest rates are found in Russia, Latin America from Mexico to Brazil, and South Africa. If we put Putin's Russia aside for a moment, we see a history of race-based slavery and segregation is something they all have in common. It's telling that the highest US crime rates are in the South and Southwest, as well, with slavery and Jim Crow in the former and the Mexican underclass in the latter.

In these countries the police are -- or were for far too long -- an occupying, alien army, deployed against an underclass that "only understood force." Arbitrary violence -- and thus imprecise and unjust violence -- was deployed against them, while they were denied any opportunity to improve themselves. In an environment like that the law has no legitimacy; it's something to be avoided, not cooperated with, no better or worse than the gangsters down the street ... and the gangsters know the community and can keep closer tabs on you.

So crime is high, and it stays high long after slavery is abolished, Apartheid ends and the lynch mobs go home. People hate and fear criminals, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as they don't let hatred and fear overwhelm their better instincts. Unfortunately it's easy to be overwhelmed when criminals don't look or talk like them; it's easy to fall back on old assumptions, that you're dealing with subhumans who "only understand force." Even when it's clear that treating criminals decently, as the Norwegians seem to do, actually makes the streets safer.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
2012-04-12 02:26 pm

Yay, April Updates

Life has been a little busier than usual, so I've had less time for LJ. Here's a summary:
  • I'm back to work for the State Senate. It's full time, but only temporary, and instead of a six-person staff it's just me, alone in the office. Nevertheless money is good, and I'm happy to get out of the house.
  • I spent last week in federal jury duty on a banking fraud case. I'd never been part of deliberations before, and it was a heady experience, something everyone should be part of at least once. Too bad that in New York you're permanently indentured and I've been told I'll called back every two years, grumble grumble. (Once is fun, a lifetime not so much.)
  • Kimberly and I will be in the Aegean for our "real" honeymoon in late May. This was a compromise: I wanted the history and Kim wanted a cruise (she loves being pampered and taken care of, something I don't like much at all). We'll see parts of Greece I missed in '09 (Crete in particular), and this time I'll go full Indiana Jones, bring a flashlight, and get to the bottom on the cistern at Mycenae, damn it!
  • Gaming: After loving Saints Row 2 to death I couldn't resist Saints Row the Third. I enjoyed it a greatly, and LOL'd out loud at the brazen wackiness a few times, but it was a lot easier than its predecessor, and that made it a little less satisfying, as I finished the main storyline in about one-third the time.
  • I finished Mass Effect in about the same amount of time (15-20 hours), and my reaction was ... meh. Maybe I was spoiled by SR3; after running around naked with a rocket launcher, a standard strait-laced SF RPG failed to excite me. It wasn't bad, and the basic premise was intriguing, but I found the combat and general gameplay a little dull. Maybe it's just me.
  • After Mass Effect I turned to Spellbound Caves, one of Vechs' "Super Hostile" Minecraft dungeons. I just finished it this morning, and overall I had a blast. If you've downloaded Minecraft but it didn't engage you, I'd recommend trying it again with one of Vechs' maps. Challenging but a lot of fun.

The picture, by the way, is by the great Phil Foglio from a old Dragon. I wish I had the Photoshop skills for a more elegant editing job (it might help if I used Photoshop instead of Corel Photo-Paint, too), but I don't.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
2012-03-25 01:25 pm

A Real "God-Game" & World-Generator

As I've said before, I think the computer RPG has eclipsed the paper & pencil variety, at least when it comes to the player's experience. (I know this doesn't hold for Narrativist RPGs, but I don't like Narrativist RPGs. They're supposed to be collaborative story generators, but I see them as dull games that create bad stories.) Sadly, this leaves wannabe Game Masters without a creative outlet. Minecraft creative mode can serve as an adequate dungeon maker -- see Vech's Super-Hostile series to see some great examples -- but it isn't a good world-making tool.

Here's an idea for a game that would create a CRPG world as you play. Ideally it would start with a small multi-player group -- three to a dozen, perhaps -- which would expand as the world grows. I imagine it progressing in two or three phases:

Phase One: The War Against Chaos, Darkness or Evil


The players start out in world dominated by sinister monsters: Giants, Titans, Dragons, the forces of the Dark Lord ... Ideally there would be many options, and the player that reserves the server space could choose one. The object of the Phase One would be to defeat the Evil Overlord(s) and rule the world in their stead.

A key part of this phase is that once the Dark Force leaders are defeated, their minions would flee and hide from the big bad PCs. They'd withdraw into caves, dense forests, mountain passes and the margins of the world. They would become important later.

Phase Two: The Golden Age


In Phase Two the PCs are the new gods. (New players can become "young" gods in this Phase, with limited opportunities for monster-fighting.) They can build their Olympus/Asgard/Valinor and, more importantly, can create the first mortals. There can be only a single mortal race, or several, and in the latter case the general rule will be (a) the first races have the best magic and craft skills, but (b) each later race will be more numerous and will push the earlier ones to the world's margins. Once the last mortal race is created you can move to the third Phase.

Phase Three: The Heroic Age


In the final (?) Phase, players can take the roles of mortal heroes. For old players, these could be the children of their god-characters (in which case, they would have to be from the last mortal race, i.e., humans). These heroes would battle the monsters left over from Phase One, and fight for or against the kingdoms established in Phase Two. In this Phase the gods would only be able to intervene in extremely limited ways (and those playing demi-god descendants wouldn't be able to intervene at all). The game would be much like a standard fantasy RPG at this point.

So, what do people think?
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
2012-03-07 09:36 am

My Take on Global Warming

My old thesis adviser Andrew Gelman writes about climate trends today. He notes that it's really hard to predict future trends from past values, something you learn in intermediate stat classes (which is as far as I ever got, sadly) and worth reminding ourselves from time to time. Accurate predictions need a strong model, one consistent with the data but derived independently from it.

Do climate scientists have strong models? Well I only know stuff from Traveller and planet-building guidebooks for science-fiction writers, so I'm no kind of expert, but what little I learned suggests that dumping methane and CO2 into the atmosphere will, all else being equal, make the planet hotter. Are levels of these greenhouse gasses higher than they used to be? From what I've heard, yes.

Naturally, all else is not equal, and there are both negative and positive feedback loops. For example, higher temperatures can lead to more evaporation. That means more water vapor -- which as a greenhouse gas, increases temperature -- but also more cloud cover, which raises the albedo and cools the planet down. These complications, I suspect, add variability to the models and make predictions harder. Climate-change denialists may find that comforting, but not me: I'm not happy that we may end up in an ice age, or we might turn Earth into Venus, but Earth normal is somewhere in the middle so it's all OK. I'd rather take steps to ensure the climate doesn't oscillate out of control.

What's more, the denialists use rhetoric that makes them hard to take seriously. Global warming isn't a "fraud," and anyone who says so is a hack or a nut. Skepticism is called for, particularly with predictions and trends, but that kind of talk has no place.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-02-29 09:37 am

Recommended: Saints Row 2

As the helicopter flies into the sunset: "What do we do now?" "We own this city. We can do whatever we want." Cue the end credits for Saints Row 2!

Yes, I finished the game and had a blast. As I've said, I'm a lousy video game player so my experience may not be typical, but on "casual" I found it challenging without ever being impossible. (I found it harder than Skyrim, but there I stumbled upon an optimal combat strategy so my Skyrim experience may not be typical.) There was a lot to do, from fighting to chases to "ho-ing" to driving around on fire in an asbestos suit, with a wacky humor that made me LOL quite a few times.

If you don't mind playing a violent sociopath -- and I wouldn't hold it against you if you do! -- I would highly recommend Saints Row 2. Only $15 on Steam, and it runs smooth as silk (only crashing once in 60 hours of gameplay, nearly unheard of for PC games on my machine). Check it out, yo!
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
2012-02-28 11:25 am

Supreme Court and Rational Republic

Thanks to all who commented on my last entry. Most skepticism was directed towards the composition of my second chamber, and rightly so. I said it would be "elected from professional associations or something like that," suggesting it would be come kind of syndicalist body and I'd be giving the AMA, American Bar Association and so forth their own Senators. These special interests have too much influence as it is!

I was thinking more in terms of the Supreme Court. I'm filled with ambivalence towards the USSC, which has been a reactionary body for most of its history but which was responsible for Brown v. Board of Education and other great civil rights milestones of the 50s, 60s and 70s. I sympathize with the democratic rhetoric conservatives use in their critique of the judiciary, but know it's just used opportunistically to attack the reforms of the Warren Court. (I wonder what purpose they think the USSC should serve, beyond committing the nation to pointless antiquarianism.) Why give so much power to a group of unelected judges with lifetime tenure?

My conclusion is we need a role for people who are greatly respected for their knowledge and wisdom, who can speak their conscience, and force the political system to acknowledge their arguments, without fear of reprisals.

I'm not convinced their role should be limited to the constitutional interpretation, and at the same time, I don't think their power should be as unfettered as the USSC's. My answer, for an ideal role, was the "technocratic chamber" I proposed for the Rational Republic.
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
2012-02-27 12:27 pm

The Rational Republic

This is a bit of pie-in-the-sky political philosophizing. It's based on a contradiction between two principles.

On the one hand, a good government is one that acts in the best interests of its people, and the only way to ensure this (that we know of) is to hold the government responsible to those people through free, fair and regular elections. On the other, a good government is a well-informed government, one that studies the issues it's involved in.

Traditionally, we've hoped or assumed that representative democracy fulfills both criteria: We elect leaders who then learn all they need to make intelligent decisions, because failing to do so could lead to disasters that they would be held responsible for. Is this, however, a safe assumption? I don't think it is, particularly when dealing with issues of great public interest but limited public knowledge. What's the point of learning about an issue if you're responsible to an uneducated public, that will punish you for taking the correct, well-informed position?

Note that when I say "uneducated" I mean "about a specific issue." Everyone is poorly informed about some matters, and well informed about others. This is not a question of college degrees or anything like that. It isn't about credentials, but a willingness to learn.

My solution to this problem would be, first of all, to have a limited bicameralism, with one elected (and more powerful) chamber, and another made up of technocrats elected from professional associations or something like that. The latter would be able to veto the decisions of the former, but only with a supermajority vote (say, 3/4th of the technocrat chamber); they would only be able to veto if there was a broad professional consensus. (In practice, these vetoes would have to be made by specialist committees, rather than the chamber as a whole. So there'd be one made up of economists, one of national security specialists, and so on.)

In addition, the second chamber's veto could be overridden by a draft lottery legislature. This would be a group of randomly selected citizens, who would listen to arguments from representatives of both chambers before deciding whether to sustain or override the veto. So in my vision, the constitution would be both more technocratic and more democratic at the same time, with the purpose of creating, and putting more power in the hands of, a well-informed public.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
2012-02-22 10:15 am

A New Mechanic for RuneQuest and Percentile-Based RPGs

Like many old roleplayers I fell in love with RuneQuest after playing AD&D. The mechanics were elegant and consistent, and its combat system had a verisimilitude that D&D lacked with its clunky abstractions.

One problem with RuneQuest was its basic combat mechanic: In order to damage an opponent, you had to make a successful attack roll and your opponent had to fail a parry roll (or some other defense roll). Rolls were made with percentile dice, and attack and parry skills ranged (more or less) from 5-95, starting at the low range. This meant fights could go on a looooong time. If two folks had skill ratings of 10%, only 9% of their blows would land; and if they had skills of 95% then less than 5% would. Combat was only resolved quickly when skills were in the 50% range. A number of solutions had been suggested over the years, but all of them seemed a bit clunky.

My suggestion is to use other dice, as well as D100s, for skill checks. Use D20s for easy tasks, D40s for somewhat easy, D100 for standard, D200 for hard tasks, and D400 (or higher!) for extremely difficult skill checks. (A D40, in case you wondered, would just be a 4-sided and a 10-sided die rolled simultaneously, and a D200 would be a D20 and a D10.) Criticals and Specials would skill occur if you rolled less than 5% of your skill or 20% of your skill, respectively, so they'd come up more often with easier tasks; while fumbles would occur if you rolled within the die's "threat range" (shown below) and then failed a D100 skill check.

Die Type Threat Range
D20 20
D40 39-40
D100 96-100
D200 191-200
D400 381-400
D1000 951-1000


In combat, attackers would choose which dice to roll, and defenders would (in most cases) use the same dice for their parry or dodge rolls. So a crude, obvious attack would use a D20 roll, and would likely crit if it made contact, but could easily be swatted away, while a super-duper-ninja-mindfuck attack might require D400, but would be nearly impossible to defend against.

I know the subject matter is a bit obscure, but comments are welcome.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-02-19 12:03 pm

Misadventures in Character Customization

Years ago, Ben "Yatzee" Croshaw posted a glowing review of Saints Row 2:
On Thursday I found it on sale on Steam for $15 and downloaded the game. Friday morning I created an avatar who looked just like my wife Kimberly. Kimberly expressed approval and left for work.

By the time she returned home I broke out of prison, murdered 100 cops, crashed twenty cars and sprayed half the city with raw sewage (don't ask). I'd also settled on an outfit that, to me, was perfect for the game's trashy wackiness, shown on left. Kimberly was horrified.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?!?!! That's completely INSANE!!! A pimp hat and FLIP-FLOPS?!?!? At least give her boots with those leggings for God's sake. You turned me into a batty old lady!"

She insisted I abandoned my current mission and go to the nearest clothing shop. I had to lose the hat, cover her ass, and get some decent footwear. I grumbled, at least when I wasn't reduced to helpless laughter, but complied nonetheless. I don't know how long I can keep her sensibly dressed, though. At some point I'll find the costume shop and Kim will get to rob banks dressed as a Playboy bunny or something. How could I resist?
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-01-30 12:00 pm

World of StoneCraft!

Switching between Minecraft and assorted MMOs inspired fantasies of a niche MMO called "World of StoneCraft."

It'd be an MMO set in the Neolithic era, loosely defined. Some folks would be hunter-gatherers, others farmers, still others fishermen or herdsmen. Players would make their own tools and weapons with sticks, stone, feathers and bone. They could also build their own shelters with leather, wood, mud, stone and straw. Crafting skills would necessary for survival and key to the game, not just tacked on to the monster slaying.

There would be the occasional monster, hiding in caves or deep in the wilderness, and NPC villagers might give quests to kill them. (Other quests could include rescuing lost villagers, providing supplies, or killing PCs that have killed villagers or stolen supplies.) Day-to-day survival, though, would be the main challenge at the start of the game. You'd need food (possibly of different types), water and shelter from the cold. Killing would be necessary, for meat, leather and bone, but the targets would be mammoth and buffalo instead of zombies or dragons, for the most part.

There'd be some magic: shamanism, witchcraft and crude paganism of some sort or another. I can imagine players building shrines to deities, and getting buffs from animal sacrifices, while shamans would travel to the spirit world and have their own quests there. There would also be herbal remedies and first aid skills.

The map would have to be huge for the whole thing to work, but there could be a natural progression on each server, from hunters to farmers, as the land gradually fills up. Of course farming would be less exciting than hunting, so maybe it that would serve as a thermostat to keep the population down. That assumes, of course, that anyone would find the concept intriguing other than myself.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-01-27 10:12 am

Kittens = Server?

Now that Minecraft has KITTENZ Kimberly says she'd like to try the game. (Recent exchange: "Damn, I just got killed by a creeper!" "Any kittens killed?" "No." "Oh, it's OK then.") She only wants to play multiplayer, though, which is tempting me to set up my own server. Questions:

  1. Is this a good idea, for a non-tech head like myself?
  2. If (A), then would anyone like to join it?
If it were just Kim and I then we'd build a compound, breed animals (Kim wants me to bring her "lots of pink sheep") and do other couple shit. If more folks joined I'd build dungeons and so forth.

I returned to Minecraft after getting stuck in Arkham Asylum: My reflexes are just too damn slow and I couldn't get through a fight with Bane AND a room full of thugs. (I'm sure most of you breezed through this part, but please keep that to yourself, OK? It's embarrassing.) It's too bad because I was really enjoying the game. I love stealthing around, carefully planning each takedown, but the quick-time events are hard for a lousy typist who was diagnosed with bad reflexes as an infant and who hasn't gotten better with age.

A comparison with DC Universe Online is instructive. I created a maskless Batwoman type, and got all of Batman's fragility without the stealth. None of the money, either, and you have to return to vendors to repair your equipment all the time. You also have to buy soda, the main source of healing in the game. (Funny, I don't remember Bats quaffing Mountain Dew very often...) I got to 10th level and called it quits.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
2012-01-25 11:00 am

Adventures in Television

I wasn't a big TV viewer in the old days. Even as a little kid, I'd watch Sesame Street or something and shut the thing off (much to the annoyance of my mother, who wanted more time to herself). When I married Kim my evenings changed: Kim works in TV and loves the medium, so now we sit in front of the Boob Tube every night. Luckily we have Netflix Streaming and there's a lot of good stuff to watch. I've already talked about Mad Men; here are my thoughts on some other shows we've watched:

  • Mythbusters. I always liked the "Worst Case Scenario Handbooks" that were popular a decade ago, and I enjoy Mythbusters the most when it's like those books, and tells you how to be Batman one way or another. Their love of explosions is endearing, but I don't get the same thrill from the big blasts as I do from, say, watching them break out of prison with watches and paper clips.
  • Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, it's excellent overall but makes me uneasy. It's filled with Leonard's cutesy machismo, and as I noted to Ta Neishi Coates today, I'm uncomfortable with it when it's coming from a guy with a badge. I highly recommend Justified, but with that reservation.
  • Breaking Bad. Extremely well done but I find it hard to watch. It's not that he's dying of cancer while being threatened by psychotic drug lords; I can accept that. Weirdly enough it's his family: I find his prissy, humorless wife revolting, for some reason, and the main character's cavalcade of dreary misery, from all sides of his life, more depressing than entertaining. Kim and I watch it occasionally but there's only so much we can stand.
  • Archer. Very Adult Swim-esque in that every character is a mild sociopath, but we laugh anyway so who cares?
  • The X-Files. It's amazing how well this show has aged over the last two decades, at least when you rewatch the comedy episodes (I don't remember the "mythos" ones being that great). That's until the 8th and 9th seasons, anyway, when I had stopped watching. I tried some ninth season eps for the first time, but even when the concepts were great (Burt Reynolds as God! The Brady Bunch as serial killers!) the execution was dull as dishwater. So sad.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Kim likes this a lot better than I do, since I find the mysteries/"thrillers" to be simple-minded and crude (not surprising with only 30 minutes to cover them). Nevertheless the intros and closers with Hitchcock himself are delightful, funny and charming, and the show can be worth watching for those alone.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
2012-01-19 11:38 am

Adventures in Videogaming, January 2012 Edition

Kim's mother got me Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Christmas, and I enjoyed it immensely (well... as much as I can with any videogame, since I always have the sense I'm letting my life dribble away while playing). The graphics were stunning, as you can see from the left-hand screenshot, and the world wonderfully immersive. After I finished the main story, became leader of the Companions and Grand Wizard of the magic academy I gradually lost interest; there were a few more quests left, but it didn't seem fulfilling, extorting protection money from shopkeepers after saving the world three or four times. Ultimately I bought the largest house in the game, got married, and happily retired, which wasn't a terrible way to wrap things up.

Before Skyrim I had briefly returned to City of Heroes. Now free to play, they had introduced a few new features that I wanted to try out. One was the "morality mission," which let you turn your villains into "rogues" (mercenary, Catwoman types), your heroes into "vigilantes," and then from rogues to heroes and vigilantes to villains. I took Fantomah on the full path to redemption, and enjoyed the ride, getting a strange sense of accomplishment I never got from the leveling grind. I also tried some of the "user-generated content," and while I still believe amateur dungeons are the future of MMOs, they weren't good enough to make City of Heroes worth playing for long.

I put a lot of faith in amateur-designed dungeons because I'm a non-programmer who's written paper&pencil RPGs, loves to design worlds and loves to be a game-master. I have to acknowledge, though, that something like Skyrim is better than a D&D campaign in just about every way. There's no math to juggle or rules to memorize; you can play it any time you like (no tedious scheduling emails); and the sights and sounds are more vivid and intense than the descriptive text of even the best game master. Players are almost always better off with a computer for a GM.

It's the GM who loses out. I want to create and show off what I make, and for some reason RPGs have been the best medium for my diverse if underdeveloped talents. I don't think I'm alone in that regard, and would like to see more tools for budding Dungeon Masters who would like to continue creating content for a 21st century medium, hopefully without requiring the vast resources that computer games seem to need these days.

That's part of why Minecraft appealed to me so much. I stopped playing after its official release in November -- I just ran out of new stuff to do -- but with a few new features I think a Minecraft server could serve as a custom designed online RPG. I don't think I have the computer chops to run one, but it's a possibility.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
2012-01-12 01:22 pm

My Main 5E Suggestion

Wizards of the Coast will soon release a 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. (They're refusing to call it "fifth edition," saying it's the "next iteration" or some other nonsense like that, but we all know what it is.)

From what I've heard, their main goal is to avoid the fracturing of the market that occurred when 4th edition came out. Right now Pathfinder, essentially a 3e variant, has roughly the same sales as 4e D&D, and Wizards would like to bring its committed players back into the fold.

Right now they're talking about a "modular" rule set. It's hard to know its exact meaning in practice, but I think it's an excellent approach. To me, the ideal game system should have something like the Hero System for infrastructure, and Tunnels & Trolls as a superstructure: Super-simple to the casual player, but with with enormous range for customization for those who want it.

My main suggestion would be two-fold:
  1. Every class trait or feature should be purchasable with one or more feats. In fact, the number of feats should be about equal for each class, so DMs could create new ones by taking, say, 20 feats and matching them with sets of powers.
  2. As players advance, however, their feats will be chosen for them based on their class or sub-class, much as powers were pre-selected under D&D Essentials. They'll have the option of replacing the packaged feat with one of their choice, but they won't have to do so.

In essence, this would be using a point-build system for classes, where 1 feat = 1 character point. From the standpoint of the player, though, it would be like 1st edition D&D, where every "thief" has the same abilities. If he wasn't happy with that straitjacket, though, he could customize his character as he wished.