Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Balance in RPGs

Yeah, I know. A month later... This post was actually pretty hard for me to articulate. Anyway...

Among gamer circles, especially those which contain those individuals variously referred to as "munchkins," "powergamers," or "optimizers," arguments commonly arise concerning balance, both of the group's characters and the system as a whole.

There are actually two issues here. The first is a confusion between the terms "munchkin," "powergamer," and "optimizer." Each term refers to a completely different type of gamer:

  • A munchkin cares more about power than the game, even to the point of cheating to "win."

  • A powergamer won't necessarily cheat, but still subscribes to the mindset of "winning," and as such compromises the game's integrity to this end.

  • An optimizer, by contrast, aspires simply to make his character the best that it can be within the constraints of the game.

The second issue is more important than semantics, though: is the balance of the system itself relevant, or is it the GM's responsibility to keep the game balanced internally?

One of the main problems with answering this question is that balance is relative. Different systems have different power levels, and different groups have different comfort zones.

There are a few things that seem to be universal, though. Certainly, relative balance is important. If one combination is obviously more effective than others the majority of the time, to the point that everybody uses it by default, it's broken. If one character is the major force in the party, however, it's not necessarily a problem with the system.

If the GM isn't comfortable with a given power level, it's his/her responsibility to make sure the campaign doesn't go there. This includes choosing an appropriate system, and scaling the difficulty of power gain. In D&D terms, make levelling up more or less difficult, or allow/deny certain spells, items, races, and/or classes.

There's an alternative ruleset for D&D known as E6. It divides the standard 20-level D&D progression into four distinct power levels. This makes it a lot easier for a GM to keep a game in a certain power range. From what I understand, it's pretty popular.

Whatever tools the GM decides to use, it's their game, and therfore they're the ones who need to maintain the power level they're comfortable running. A good GM uses the system the way it's designed to be used, and doesn't worry about whether or not the system is "balanced." Balance is the GM's job, by picking an appropriate system in the first place.

Agree? Disagree? Did I get a fact wrong? That's what the comments are for. Leave one.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Things That Piss Me Off

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't posted much lately. It's been busy the last couple of weeks thanks to the fall semester starting and the dorms opening. And thanks to all the stress, I've started noticing that more things are pissing me off. Bear with me, because I need to get this stuff off my chest.

Article 1: Java
It turns out that CS departments everywhere have switched their basic classes from C and C++ to Java. Old news, right? Except that I was one of the last classes to learn on C/C++, so now that I'm going after a CS minor I'm lost.

It's not so much that I don't know Java. I've worked with it before. The problem is that the class I'm in assumes that Java is actually a good language for large applications. Further, it assumes that everyone knows how to use Eclipse. I learned on the command line with Emacs and Vi. Eclipse reminds me too much of Visual Studio.

One thing I don't get is why people think Java is worth writing apps in. It's got at least twice the overhead of native code, and usually twice the complexity as well. Compare to the elegance and relative simplicity of Scheme or TCL, or Python for that matter. Hell, even AJAX apps are more efficient. And the whole "but it's object-oriented!" argument is bullshit. Objective-C does it better, and over-use of object-oriented programming set CS back a good ten years. Learn how to pick the right tools, people! If Java is a hammer, there are very few nails.

Note that I'm not complaining about applets; those are fine most of the time. It's the unnecessary overcomplexity that bugs me.

In a similar vein, why the reliance on eye-candy IDEs like Eclipse? I'm sure it has some useful features, but what good are they when I can't even find them, much less figure out what they're for? Emacs with GCC and a CVS workalike is perfectly usable for app coding, and makes better use of system resources too. If you actually need all this extra crap, you should probably simplify your code. Seriously, IDEs like Eclipse leave temp files all over the place, and the development model is responsible for Microsoft-type code. If you need that much help to keep track of the code, IT NEEDS TO BE SIMPLIFIED. Trust me, it'll be a lot more maintainable in the long run.

Or maybe I'm just too old-school for the current crop of CS fads... I've never liked IDEs. I'm happier writing code in cat than I am in an IDE. Less distracting.

Article 2: Lazy People
There are two different kinds of lazy. One of them is actually more productive in the long run, such as when someone got tired of proofreading for the same errors all the time and wrote the first spellchecker. This kind of lazy fixes problems because they're not worth dealing with.

The other kind of lazy is far more common, and creates infinitely more problems than it solves (if it solves any). This is the kind of lazy that Christians know as Sloth, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. There's a good reason it's in the big 7.

Sloth comes from being self-absorbed.

Slothful people are lazy for no other reason than being too self-absorbed to realize that they're making things more difficult for everyone, including themselves. They're the kind of people who drive SUVs with no passengers while talking on their cell phones. They're the kind of people who never bother actually learning about anything, instead preferring to parrot what they're told because they're too lazy to study. They're the kind of people who don't think about the consequences of their actions.

There are far too many of these people.

Article 3: People With A Crisis Complex
Stress is one of the biggest causes of high blood pressure, and a bunch of other ailments besides. Oddly enough, many people seem to prefer being stressed out.

I don't.

Please, if you're one of these people, CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Stress is contagious, like most negative moods. Also like most negative moods, it's almost entirely unnecessary. Very few things are actually worth stressing out about, and it's usually counterproductive anyway. Whatever you're freaking out about, it's probably not really a big enough deal to warrant panicking over. Besides, a calm mind is far more effective at dealing with obstacles than a stressed-out mind.

Article 4: People Who Are Offended by Swearwords
They're part of the language. Like all words, they have only the meaning you attribute to them, no more or less. Get over it.

Article 5: Cars
Why does everybody drive like they're the only ones on the road? I have a theory: it's the cars. Along with the whole self-absorbed thing, cars isolate drivers from their surroundings, making it all too easy to not pay enough attention.

Cars have a way of amplifying certain personality flaws to an unsafe degree. Stuff like the aforementioned crisis complex and self-absorption can be a lot more dangerous physically when displayed by a 2-ton chunk of metal than a 150lb chunk of flesh.

And then there's the whole air pollution/EPA/oil crisis thing, but I don't want to get into that. Suffice to say that it's getting less worthwhile to drive.

I wonder what the laws are for commuting by ultralight?

Article 6: Religion
I'll have to give this one its own post.
Stay tuned; now that I'm settled into the new school routine I'll likely be posting more often.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to Get A Good Domain Name

I've been looking for a domain name to buy, but wasn't really having much luck. You know how it goes: sudden flash of inspiration, check the registry, and it's taken already. Frustrating, isn't it?

LifeHacker recently reported on a new domain registry service, Bust-A-Name. You give it a list of words and it combines them, returning a list of available domain names which you can then purchase through one of their affiliates. I went with 1&1 because it's the cheapest and I've heard good things about them.

I'm now the owner of Now to get the site up and running...

How to find your future

I've been doing some introspecting lately. I'm at that point in my life where I'm starting to wonder if I'm on the right track. I'm a creative writing major at the moment, but it's not something I want to make a living out of.

So what to do when you don't know where to take your life?

There are a couple of things I've found that can help you find some direction.

Seek Counsel
The first thing I did was make an appointment with my university's Career Services office. Career Services departments usually have counselors on hand for just such an occupational identity crisis, and having someone to discuss things with can really help clarify the situation as well.

Another thing Career Services is good for is the Strong Interest Inventory, which measures not only your interests, but your personality and learning styles as well. It's helpful to go over the results with a counselor because A) they know what resources are available; and B) they can advise you on how to best utilize them according to your results.

If you're not enrolled in a university, most state Department of Labor offices will offer similar services.

Look Within
Steve Pavlina has a pretty good article about finding your purpose on his blog. In my experience, his method works very well. Just expect to be surprised at what you find out about yourself.

Once armed with this knowledge, you'll be better prepared when meeting with that Career Services counselor, and you'll likely find that you have more energy when you're working towards your purpose.

Monday, July 2, 2007

How to Never Feel Tired Again links to an interesting article from WebMD about keeping your energy levels from taking a swan dive off the Empire State Building. (Or even just stumbling over the dog.) Worth a look.