Monthly Archives: July 2006

Letting Go

This week I’m going to Half Price Books.

I’ve long known it to be a great place to find rpg books on the cheap.

But I’m not going intending to buy.  I’m going to sell.

It started with rpg.net’s RPG Swap thread.  People trade their used and unloved rpg books.  It’s worked great.  I’ve cleaned out a bunch of books I’ll never use again, and got books that I might not never use, but haven’t read.

But what I’ve really learned, is that it’s ok to give up an rpg book.

We treat our books like sacred objects.  But its worth taking a fresh perspective and looking at the real value of these books.  How likely are we to use them again, read, or even skim them?  Does this book hold any future value?  Is there even nostalgia worthwhile in owning this book?

For many of my books, the answer is no.  If I can trade one, or even two or three for a book that will give me fresh ideas and fresh games, I’m willing to do it.  And if I can’t do that, if no one wants to trade for them, then maybe I’ll cash in at the used book store and get a few bucks, and buy myself something that I can use now.

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Am So Awesome

At Adventures in Gaming today, I had a 6-1 win-loss record at Shadowfist.  4 of those games were 4 player.

Damn, I am so good.

Holy Shit

When I cross-posted the Myth of Luck over to rpg.net, (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=276998) I was expecting some added exposure.  I certainly wasn’t expecting 200+ hits in two days, 12 pages of replies, a flamewar, and a thread closure.

I don’t know whether to pat myself on the back or cry for humanity.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who took the time to look at a bit of the site and listen to my ideas.

The Myth of Luck: Part Two

If you don’t know anything about statistics, then the Myth of Luck: Part One: https://willowrants.wordpress.com/2006/07/26/the-myth-of-luck-part-one/ is required reading for this post.

So we know a little bit about random distributions and bell curves.  What do we do with that?

In gaming, we use randomizers quite a bit.  Some people develop reputations as being “lucky” or “unlucky.”  The question is: are they?

Let’s think about randomizers.  For simplicity, we’ll use coin flips (perhaps you’re playing d02):  one has a 50% chance of success, and a 50% chance of failure.  If we logged the total spread of all “chances of success”(the population), there would be only one point: 50%.

Now, think for a moment.  Suppose you flip a million coins during your life time.  Do you think you’re likely to flip exactly five hundred thousand heads?  You aren’t, however, you’re incredibly likely to flip close to five hundred thousand heads.

The grouping of all the coin flips a given person makes is a distribution- a sample of possible outcomes.  And from our knowledge of statistics, we know that distributions do follow a bell curve.

So we look at that bell curve: it’s high in the middle and low in the sides.  The absolute middle is going to be 500,000.  Most people will be in that middle area, and have (say) 400,000 to 600,000 “successes” in their lifetime.

But let’s look at the sides:  there are going to be people who are outliers, who based on their coin-flip history, would seem to have a 30% success rate, or a 70% success rate (or lower or higher, but the more you deviate from the mean, the less common you are.)  These people have years and years of unlikely failures or successes behind them, and people have noticed.  They think they’re lucky, or unlucky.

So yes, these people MUST exist.  Statistics tells us there must be outliers; if there weren’t it would be more of a surprise.  So we shouldn’t be amazed that these people exist.

However, it’s gambler’s fallacy to think that these people’s history will affect their future rolls.  Someone with a history of failures blames their failures on luck, and dismisses their successes.  But what’s really going to happen?

Suppose we took all the “unlucky” ones and put them in a room, and forced them to roll dice and flip coins for the rest of their lives.  Would we see a mass statistical anomaly?  No!

The distribution of these people would follow a bell curve!  The majority of them would have a future sample that was middling average- however, they would still have had a majority of failures over their lifetime, and they would continue to be considered unlucky, based on past performance.  Some few would have an excess of success, and come back to average (over their lifetime), or even exceed it.  However, they would be matched in number by those that got failure after failure, digging themselves an ever deeper whole.

So are some people “luckier” than others?  No.  They operate under the same probabilities as everyone else.  It’s just statistics at work, not the supernatural.

The Myth of Luck: Part One

If you have any level of familiarity with statistics, you can skip this post.

The first part of the Myth of Luck is the Myth of the Bell Curve.  We hear about the bell curve all the time.  Here’s a picture:  http://classes.kumc.edu/sah/resources/sensory_processing/images/bell_curve.gif

The fallacy that surrounds the Bell Curve is that it’s naturally occuring.  (It is, in certain ways that I’ll get to later.)  That huge 68% clump in the middle?  People claim that all sorts of things naturally fall in there:  fish weights, IQ scores, incomes, whatever.  The point is that the Bell Curve is NOT the “default” distribution of stuff.  It has a very specific role in statistics, one that people don’t understand and misinterpret.

Let’s suppose you have the numbers one to a hundred, one of each.  (Or to make it less abstract, you have one hundred index cards, numbered from one to a hundred.)  What does the distribution of that group of numbers look like?  It’s a straight line- you have an equal quantity of each number.

What does the distribution of the average of your numbers look like?  It’s a single point- there’s only one average, and it happens to be 50.5.  Of course, none of the cards actually say 50.5, so if you drew a card at random, you’d never achieve an “average” result.

Now we’re getting into bell curve territory.  Suppose you take 10 random numbers from 1 to a hundred, and then take the average of those numbers.  (This equals 10d100 divided by 10.)  What conclusions can we draw about what these averages are likely to look like?

First off, the average of ten random numbers (the sample) is NOT always going to be the average of the group they came from (the population).  Much more likely than not, it’s going to be some different number.

However, unlike taking one number, which gave results all over the spectrum, a sample of ten numbers is going to have an average that clumps.  Without doing any actual math, I’d say that a noticeable majority of those averages will fall between 40 and 60.  (If I wanted to calculate the standard deviation for this group, I could calculate the exact percentages, but that would be really boring.)

Suppose we do that a hundred times or so.  What we get NOW is a bell curve.  50.5 is the most likely single result, and most results will clump towards the middle.  However, we’ll still have the occasional “outlier”- this is when you roll lots of low or high numbers, and get an average that’s way out there.  The farther from 50.5, the less common a result is going to be.  Results at the far end, like 1 or 100, which require 10 1’s or 10 100’s to be rolled, will very rarely happen- 1 in a Quntillion times, in fact.  (That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000)  But they can happen.

And that’s what the Bell Curve is all about.

Out With A Bang, Not A Whimper

Are you playing in a long-running roleplaying campaign?

How long have you been playing in it?  Are you proud?  Should you be?

If you’ve been able to coordinate the schedules of several busy adults whos company you enjoy for over a year, and as a result created a year’s worth of enjoyable memories, then hot damn you should be proud, and you won’t get any naysaying from me.

On the other hand, if week after week you find yourself stuck in a room with people who barely manage to function in society, who you wouldn’t be caught dead with outside of a gaming situation, then maybe you should reexamine your priorities.  But that really isn’t what this update is about.

So let’s suppose you’ve been playing your campaign for over a year.  How much longer will you be playing?

If your answer is “forever,” you’re an idiot.

Your will not play your Epic Awesome Campaign every day until you die.  The storylines will grow trite, the characters exhausted, and the players bored.  Real life will intervene.  Interest will be lost.  Sessions will be missed, and you won’t be told in advance because of someone’s passive-aggressive complex.  The game will end, because people didn’t have the energy or desire to show up.  Maybe you will be one of those people.  And maybe, you and you’re friends will always say to each other, “gee, remember the Epic Awesome Campaign?  We should have another session sometime.  We’ve got to finish that.”  But you never will.

Build an end into your games.  Have a finale.  Pull out all the stops, and have a blast.  Resolve things.  Let them be heroes and victors now.  Squeeze the Epic Awesome Campaign into a tightly honed gaming experience.

And what of the morning after?  It begins anew, with a different game, maybe different players, and a whole new experience.  (And here’s a secret: you can always do a sequel.  Double secret:  you can always choose not to do a sequel.)

What do you get?  Compact excitement, ease of trying new GMs/settings/game systems/modes of play/characters/what have you, general variety, closure, and being honest to oneself.

I think game designers are starting to figure this out.  Mountain Witch and Burning Empires have defined arcs of play.  (Not to mention the vast array of strictly one-session indie games).  The buildup to a climax is built into the game.

(For sake of comparison, Shattered Vistas has an end-game.  So does Council of Magisters, but its really more of the Parlor Narration Game school of RPGs, so that’s expected.)

When you plan for the end, you get good endings.

An Excerpt From My New Novel

Tell me what you think.

Saidar Duvalier was arguably one of the most important people in the world. Or at least he had been, until his premature demise.

What did Duvalier do that was so important? He made money. Not in the sense of earning, but in the sense of creation, and destruction.

As long as currency has been used, the ability to manipulate that currency has been tightly controlled, and highly valued. The ability men like Duvalier had went beyond sheer exchange of one’s store of wealth; he could alter the fabric of the global economy on a fundamental level.

In the days of mercantilism, there was gold, and there were goldsmiths to make the gold. In the days of nation-states, there were dollars and yen, and there were policy analysts and federal reserves. Those government agencies simply printed as much money as they liked, or if they were wiser, as little as they liked.

As the power of the nation-states waned, their monetary backing lost its lure. The corporate-states, the new powers, were looked to.

Some corporations thought they could simply issue their own money. This worked well for a time, but those corporations were wrong. The lure of inflationary monetary policy is a siren’s song, and without the nationalistic notions of ‘duty to the people,’ currency is issued as fast as it could be spent. The Nikkei crashed as prime corps went under.
Wiser and more conservative corporations watched the example of their fallen brethren, making hostile takeovers and turning a bear year for the market into isolated pockets of record profits. However, all was not good for the corporation-states, for the question remained: where was money going to come from?

It was clear that corporate-issued currency lacked the network of stability to keep its value grounded, and inflationary pressure was pushing up regional currencies. The dollar, the yen, even the Euro would all soon be worthless. Financial Armageddon was on the horizon, dawning in a stream of ones turning into zeros. Action had to be taken.

Top men from the Federal Reserve, the Bundesbank, the premier corporate-states, and other financial institutions met in the Zurich Summit. There, the groundwork was laid out for the International Prime Reserve, a new kind of financial institution. The IPR would be privatized, publicly held, and owned in extremely large part by the corporate-states. The corporate-states all had their own banks, and had for decades or more, but they wouldn’t have their own recognized independent currencies. The IPR would be the lender only for the most privileged of corporations, and it would wield its monetary powers sternly, for while the potentates of the Prime Reserve Board were drawn from the ranks of the corps, and were under pressure to give their own corporation gobs and gobs of recently issued money, they were under pressure to keep everyone else’s money down. As a system for combating inflation, it was a work of art. The corporations saved the global economy, established a definitive universal currency, and took the nation-states down another peg in one fell swoop.

The representatives from the nation-states, who had been invited as heralded experts, left the Zurich Summit realizing what had happened, and feeling as though they were casualties of war. Monetary policy, as it turned out, was a dangerous business. It was more so for Saidar Duvalier.

Pirates 2 Sucks

You owe it to yourself to not see this movie.

It’s two and a half hours long, and the best part is the fight scene near the beginning of the movie.  After that, its all downhill.  The plot is contrived, the characters are hollow and make no sense, and there’s a completely stupid ending that paves the way for a sequal.  Little is resolved, and what’s left is banal.

I loved the original, and I love pirates, but this one is just a boring, drawn-out reprise.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Last night I played some D&D.  There were some good times to be had, and it was nice to be out of the house and hang out, but there’s something that struck me very strongly:

D&D sucks for running romp & stomp fights.

What D&D shines at is highly tactical, highly balanced, highly intense combats.  As a GM, you’re best off loading as much stuff as you can into one fight, because that plays to the strengths of the system.

Little minor fights that are highly weighed in the PCs favor- those against mooks, minions, random monsters, and other fights designed to let the PCs “show off” don’t work well in D&D.  The PCs will win, but when you factor in the time it takes to set up the combat, keep track of initiative, and slog through it all, it’s just not worth it for a fight with a foregone conclusion.  That causes boredom, and player disinterest, which makes all of those problems worse, and can come back to bite you in the combats that are supposed to be cool.

Compare to say, Burning Wheel.  Burning Wheel’s combat system is arguably as complex as D&D’s, but it has bloody versus.  You can resolve a fight in one roll if you want to.  That’s something every game needs.  Now that I know that, the drawn out D&D fights seem just a little more drawn out.  Because I know I’m sitting through something I shouldn’t have to.

Windwaker is Alright

I haven’t been a fan of the recent Zelda games.  Hero of Time or whatever the N64 one was ok, but suffered from the fact that it was my little brothers and he always gave me spoilers when I didn’t want them.  Majora’s Mask turned me off big time; I don’t like losing from a time-out gimmick before the game even properly starts because I can’t find the one house I’m supposed to go to.

In general, Zelda games have the “one-solution-problem” syndrome:  where’s the one person in the whole world I can talk to to advance the plot?  Windwaker doesn’t really change this, and I’ve had to consult the brother on just where I go to do something (luckily, he has bigger concerns now, and only gives advice when its wanted).  There’s still aggravating music puzzles and aggravating jumping puzzles, although they seem a bit more benign than those in the N64 versions.

Where the game seems to shine is the sandboxy-world exploration, and it promises to only improve as the game goes on.  Hunting for stuff, fishing for treasure, sailing the high seas, ahoy!  (Of course, the majority of the game is a railroad, but at places the tracks are pretty darn ride.)

So yeah, it’s alright.  I’m still playing it.