Monthly Archives: February 2007

Taxing the Poor and Ignorant

Taxes are good.  I like taxes, especially high ones that target the rich.  I like big fat social programs for the poor, and big awesome taxes.

Except they don’t let communist economists write tax codes.  Corporate shill politicians get to do it.  Politics is how we end up with complicated tax breaks.  Anyone who’s smart enough to sit down and do the math can do their own taxes.  It’s really no harder than making a character for HERO, and if you look at it as a game to see how much money you can save or get the government to pay you, it can be quite fun.

The idle rich have people to do that for them, a class of technical experts who do people’s taxes for a living.  However, the poor don’t have the money for that, and they often don’t have the time or education necessary to sit down and do a full on hard-core tax return.  They file the shortest, simplest form they can, don’t look into their options, and take what they can get.

There are tax breaks out there to help the poor.  There’s lots of them, but the problem is that most people who qualify don’t know they exist.

So here’s a secret from me to you: if you live in Wisconsin, and make 24,500 a year or less, and you either rent or own a home, you qualify for the Wisconsin Homestead Tax Credit.  I get hundreds of dollars back every year- and its not that I had too much withheld.  The state government is literally paying me money to live here and be a working slob.

So if you’re in that income level, look into it.  You can find Schedule H & H-EZ and the instructions in a packet at your local library.  Why should the rich folks get all the tax breaks?

Just Ask Willow

To the person who found my site, having searched for a site where they could buy cardboard cutouts of Patrick Swayze, I’m sorry for letting you down.

Games Need Diminishing Returns, Part II

At last, the long anticipated (or at least delayed) sequel to Games Need Diminishing Returns, Part I.

In Part I, I talked about the character creation aspect of diminishing returns, and how they can be a pressure to build a balanced character.  Now I’m going to talk about how game systems can utilize diminishing returns in gameplay, and why they should.

This mostly effects “with teeth” mechanics- those game systems that have some player oriented die mechanic that allows the players to spend a resource to give their character a boost.

When I was first designing the Reserve System, one could spend lots and lots of points on one action.  In a combat, the dominant strategy seemed to be blow all ones points on the first attack roll, getting a one shot kill, or at least enough damage to put ones opponent far enough into the death spiral to cripple them.

I could never figure out exactly what the problem was and how to solve it; a hard cap on the number of dice one could spend rankled me; I wanted people to be able to blow all their reserve points on one roll if they really wanted to, but it was too powerful.

Most such systems that have these factors either have very limited resources to spend, which makes spending all of them on one roll less of an auto-win, or they have limitations on how much can be spent.  These both work very well, but aren’t an option for all systems.

Let us turn to Shadowrun, particularly the third edition of the rules.  It has a mechanic called Karma, a pool that can be used (on a per adventure basis) to reroll failures, or add extra dice to a pool, among other things.  Adding one die costs 1 karma, adding two dice costs a total of 3, adding three dice costs a total of 6, and rerolls work similarly.

Sometimes, that expenditure is worth it, but it usually isn’t (its often worth it on the reroll option.)  But what is important here is the choice:  are dice on this roll worth spending more, and giving up more dice spread across multiple later rolls?  By asking that question, the game gives us a tactical hard choice.  And the hard choice, in many ways, is what gaming is all about.

Random Math Quiz

I was doing the audit spreadsheet at work today, which has four numbers at the bottom of the sheet: the Guest Ledger, the City Ledger, the Advance Deposits, and the Total of all three.

As it happened, the decimal values on the Guest Ledger and City Ledger both happened to be the same- .58.  I at first was struck with a “what are the odds?” notion, but then I realized that, assuming all decimal values occur with the same regularity, the chance of the Guest Ledger and City Ledger matching would be 1 in 100, not really all that impressive.

But then I wondered- what would be the chance of all FOUR numbers matching?  What do you think?

ABCs of Good Gaming

Just follow these 26 simple guidelines, and you’ll have a kick-ass game.

A is for Action!

B is for Burning!

C is for Car Chases!

D is for DestruXX0r!

E is for Explosions!

F is for Fights!

G is for Giant Robots!

H is for Hard Choices!

I is for Invincible Sword Princesses!

J is for Joint Decision Making!

K is for Kewl Powerz!

L is for Leaping From Rooftop to Rooftop, Pursued by Tigers!

M is for Magic Items!

N is for Nazis!

O is for Orcs!

P is for Plot Twists!

Q is for Quentin Tarrantino-esqueness!

R is for Rolling Lots and Lots of Dice!

S is for Strategy!

T is for Tactics!

U is for Undead!

V is for Vengenda!

W is for Willow!

X is for X-treme!

Y is for Ysgard!

Z is for ZOMG!

Games Need Diminishing Returns- Part I

Diminishing Returns is one of those economics terms.  Basically, it means that the more you put in, the less you get for each unit.

Consider something like point-buy attributes for D&D, or raising one’s stats with experience points in typical games that allow such things (such as most White Wolf systems.)  If you want that 18 Strength or 5 Presence, it’s going to cost you.

Systems that have diminishing returns have a pressure built in to make people well-rounded: if you have a well rounded character, you have more total effectiveness to go around.  What stops people from having all their stats at 13?  ALL systems, by nature of play, will not rely on each attribute equally.  If you know what type of rolls you’ll have to make more often than others (either because of genre, system, or character niche), it’s in your interest to specialize.

Consider HERO for a moment; buying five more points of strength costs only 5 points, whether your Strength is currently 10 or 100.  While the nature of HERO combat is such that there’s often a rock-paper-scissors element to defenses, it’s almost always in one’s best interest to raise their offensive (or otherwise definitive) powers as high as they can get away with, thus the prevailing HERO doctrine of ‘active point limits’ and the like.

With diminishing returns however, there’s two opposing forces, and the question becomes: is this increased effectiveness in my area of specialization worth the price I will have to pay for it?  Answering that question becomes a (strategic) task in and of itself, and becomes one more area of challenge for the player.

 So next time you see escalating costs for a skill or power or what have you, remember that you aren’t being punished- you’re being challenged.  What’s it going to be?

You Know What Phrase I Miss?

“Big-Ass.”  That’s right.  People have not been bandering about that phrase nearly as much as I would like.  Especially in context of things that can’t really be defined in terms of size, and are therefore “big-ass” because they are good.

So do your literary good deed for the day, and refer to things as “big-assed,” whether they be Big-Ass Sandwhiches, Big-Ass Hair, Big-Ass Televisions, Big-Ass Drama, or Big-Ass Ice Sculptures.

The Mountain Witch is Really Awesome

I’m still waffling on whether or not I’ll do an actual play report, but the Mountain Witch is a really damn cool game.  This is my third time with it, and I’m running it for people who have never played it before, and the second (middle) session has been a snake-pit of crisscrossing stories, dark irony, treachery, and wonder.

I love this game.

End Line-Item Vetoes

Wisconsin has an unusual policy in its constitution:  the line-item veto.

It’s been suggested on occasion that the President of the United States should have this power.  I’m sure George Bush would love that.  But line-item vetoes are a tragedy for democracy.

What’s a line-item veto?  A normal veto lets the executive (the governor or the president) cancel a bill passed by the legislature.  Unless the legislature has a sizable majority in favor of the bill, the executive can negate whatever they do.  That’s it.  Uphold, or negate.  The executive doesn’t set policy, it enforces it.

A line-item veto allows the executive to shape policy, by negating parts of laws, not the whole thing.  In addition to being an obvious usurpation of the seperation of powers by giving the executive more power, it has even greater consequences.  The governor of Wisconsin can remove words, who lines, or cross out entire paragraphs, taking words and numbers from each one, combining them together into a law that suits his interest, completly bypassing the entire legislative process.

With the bipartisan nature of the Wisconsin legislature, overcoming a gubernatorial veto is highly unlikely.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Check this out.

This isn’t a partisan issue.  Governor Doyle does this all the time, but Tommy Thompson used to too.  Given that the political tides in Wisconsin seem to sway back and forth, it seems to me that any right-thinking, long-sighted politician in Madison would want to restore a balance of powers, and curtail the gubernatorial veto.  As it is enshrined in the constitution, this would take a state-wide referendum.  This would require the consent of the currently ruling political party (the Democrats), and it would be extremely likely to pass a popular referendum.

Of course, right-thinking and long-sightedness seem to be in short supply in our politicians these days.


I wrote 2000 words on my novel today!  (Which is four times my current daily goal.)  Who knows, I might still write more!  And the end is in sight, with the rest of my rough draft fully envisioned ahead of me.

It’s a great time to be writing.