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.

Friday, June 29, 2007

When Crazy Fundies Attack

This is an outrage! Stupid fundies think they can ignore the First Amendment. A candidate's religion is her own business, and should be irrelevant to the political arena.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Game Review: InSpectres

My gaming group has some dead time coming up, as our current campaign draws to a close and the next GM in line is out of town. That leaves us with 2 or 3 empty weeks - plenty of time for a game of InSpectres.

My first experience running InSpectres was a little over a year ago. I'd never GMed before, and none of us were familiar with the rules. Thankfully, InSpectres is really easy to pick up, and even easier to GM.

The game's premise is essentially Ghostbusters. The party is a group of paranormal investigators for hire. The starter rules are only 3 pages, covering character creation, game flow, and the core check mechanic.

Each character has 4 base stats: Academics, Athletics, Technology, and Contact. In addition, each character also has a Talent, a special ability that grants them a bonus on checks under certain circumstances. This can be pretty much anything - subject to the GM's approval, of course. For example, my character had the Occultist talent, which granted an extra die to my check rolls having to do with the Occult: this included casting spells and identifying entities (say that three times fast).

In stressful situations, the GM can call for a Stress check. If you fail, you take penalties to your stats. These can be repaired by spending Franchise dice at the end of each job, on a one-to-one basis.

Franchise dice are the currency of InSpectres, and are used to upgrade the party's equipment. Each job has a dice rating, and the job isn't over until the party earns that many Franchise dice during the job. Players earn Franchise dice by rolling 5 or 6 on check rolls - except Stress checks. A 6 there lets you repair stat penalties from earlier Stress checks, or gives you a Cool point, which is essentially a point of immunity from stat penalties. Cool points can be used for other things, much like Action Points in D20 Modern or Eberron.

One last thing: the Confessional. Once per scene, a player may "step into the Confessional" to narrate something about the scene. For example, say the party is sneaking up on a ghost they've never seen before, and one player decides to use the Confessional: "What we didn't realize at the time was that this particular ghost had humongous ears. We must've sounded like a herd of elephants to it." The mechanism is a fun way to add twists to the scene, or add detail to a character, or just about anything else. "It turns out that we weren't chasing a ghost, but a baby albino elephant the zoo had lost in transit that morning."

The system is simple to get the hang of, and doesn't need much preparation time. The Ghostbusters genre is zany and random, so if you play with a group like mine, it'll probably almost run itself.

DRM group vows to fight bloggers

...tracking down everyone who had published the keys was a “resource intensive exercise”. A search on Google shows almost 700,000 pages have published the key. Mr Ayers said that while he could not reveal the specific steps the group would be taking, it would be using both “legal and technical” steps to prevent the circumvention of copy protection.

What the AACS says sounds like bollocks to me. If the key really isn't important, then why are they so worried about its dissemination? If it's because it compromises all of those "in the clear" discs, then the system wasn't "designed to cope with breaches" very well then, was it?
Encryption will always be broken eventually. HD-DVD DRM is poorly designed if it relies solely on that, or even that and litigation. Of course, if they'd just play nice with OSes other than Windows and OS-X (especially Linux/UNIX), people probably wouldn't complain quite so much.

Bah. Old media has one foot in the grave already, and here comes the other foot...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cool, I'm Zen: My Set-up

Leo Babauta has some nice tips for Zen-ifying your workspace.

On the subject of simplifying your computer: normally I run Linux, which tends to have a cleaner windowing environment. At work, though, I have to use Windows because it's what I need to support.

So I use BBLean on my computer instead of the normal Windows shell. It's a port of Fluxbox, and a lot more functional to me. BBLean has a simple plug-in infrastructure, skin support, multiple virtual desktops, and has much less visual clutter (no desktop icons). BB4Win has links to info, plugins, and variants.

It's nice to have the option of Explorer occasionally, even if I despise it, so I use Carapace to give me a shell menu at login. This is also a good way to have LiteStep or SharpE available too.

With no icons on the desktop, I need an alternative way to quickly run things. I use a combination of Launchy, StrokeIt, and RocketDock.

Launchy is a hotkey-activated launchbox with incremental search and plug-ins. It's also easily skinnable. It's great for finding something when your hands are already on the keyboard, so you don't have to reach over for the mouse and dig through a menu or find an icon. (Yes, this is a problem, especially on large screens - mine is 1600x1200 and set to small icons. Screen real-estate has a price...)

StrokeIt is a universal mouse gestures utility. It's something like a hotkey, but triggered by holding a mouse button and drawing a symbol. You can define custom symbols and custom triggers separately, and with varying contexts too. The program also learns how you draw the symbols over time. I really wish Linux had something like this...

RocketDock is essentially an ObjectDock clone, but freeware instead of shareware. It's compatible with Yz Dock and a couple of others, too. Eye-candy aside, I like having somewhere to put a few icons and have them both out of the way and easily accessible. The bubble-zoom effect alone makes it far superior to Windows Quicklaunch, because larger icons are easier to click quickly.

I've found that, with the exception of StrokeIt, any operating system has similar options available.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fun with Inkscape

Aqeel Zafar wrote a very helpful conversion of BittBox's Reflection tutorial. I used it to help with the new logo here. I know I probably could've done it a lot faster in GIMP, but vector graphics are so much more scalable. Besides, it's high time I figured out how to use them right; it's the best way to make character sheets, for one.

Anyway, I just figured out how to do that blur-based glow that graces the logo text. I've known how to make glows in GIMP and PS for years, and thankfully it's pretty similar in Inkscape.

How to make glows in Inkscape:
First, you want to make a copy of the target object. There are several ways to do this, but I prefer to use Duplicate because it doesn't lock the glow to the same color as the original like Clone does.
  • Press Ctrl+D to make a duplicate of the selection, or click Edit->Duplicate.
Once you have your copy, you want to give it a blur so you can see the original through it. You may want to adjust opacity as well, though it's usually not necessary.
  • Press Ctrl+Shift+F to open the "Fill and Stroke" dialog.
  • At the bottom of the window, move the "Blur, %" slider as desired. 3% is what I used.
At this stage, you can move the blurred object a bit for a drop-shadow effect. Keep in mind that if the copy is above the original and you want it below, you can just hit PageDown to lower the selected object in the stack. Similarly, PageUp raises the selected object. Also, if you want a glow from behind the object, instead of over it, hit PageDown here. This gives a similar effect to a solar eclipse, with the corona glowing around the moon.
  • Hit PageUp or PageDown to raise or lower the selected object.
Object layering and Blurs are incredibly useful. Play around with combinations; you can get some nice-looking effects that are simple to create, and are scalable as well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Well, it's live... sort of.

About the Tome of Knowledge +5:
The Tome of Knowledge +5 is a place for me, NekoRyuu, to publish articles of interest. At least, I find them interesting. Hopefully, you will too.

I know the site's name is nerdy. That's what happens when you try to name a blog while battling a nasty cold. Just go with it, I'll come up with a nice custom layout once I recover.

About Me:
  • I'm a gamer, as you could probably tell from the blog's name. And by gamer, I mean old-school pen & paper role-playing games, not Warcrack or Counterstrike.
  • I'm a network administrator, dealing primarily with Windows users. I run Linux myself, though.
  • I'm a college student, and all which that implies. Except for the drinking. And the partying. Come to think of it, I'd be pretty boring to most people if not for the next point:
  • I'm an occultist. This doesn't mean I'm a devil worshiper or anything stupid like that. It just means that I don't identify with either mainstream religions or neopagans, but I'm also not an atheist or agnostic. Call it non-denominational spirituality if you wish, although eclectic chaote might be a slightly better fit. Either way, expect some articles on the subject of spirituality in the future.
There's more, obviously, but that's a significant chunk of what makes me tick. Hopefully I didn't scare anybody away.