NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 21 – No Time!

Started research on knighthood and it’s origins. Seems there was some influence on the concept from the Middle East, and not crusaders, but their Muslim opposition. Very interesting stuff. And not unique to Europe. Will need to boil down for the StarSea.

Had a really cool dream this morning that seemed like a cool game. Groups of outlaw heroes who kidnap those who hunt them, show their oppressors their true colors, then set up a test in which the outlaws are in danger. If the above-board hero is willing to sacrifice himself to save his enemies, he can be trusted and asked to join up. If not, he’s sent on his way. Seemed like a great, if flawed, set up for a game.

Worked all day. Will be working tomorrow. Need to get to bed. Later.

NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 20 – d20s and Cypher

I’m trying to do the “No Shave November.” I’m trimming the chin and moustache to try to match length with the jowls, but I just don’t think it’s going to work out. I have a thin beard on the jowls, as well as some major bald spots, so I’m thinking this beard isn’t going to work out. *Sigh.*

So, my shower thinking was about the d20 post the other day. I have to admit I think the Cypher System is probably the best application of the d20 in any system. However, I took to time to find another d20 system I knew of that I wanted to examine.

After the post, I managed to hunt up my Traveller: The New Era, Game Design Workshop’s attempt to revitalize the Traveller system back in the ’90s, after MegaTraveller didn’t work out. That system runs off the same 2d6-1 rolled stats. Those stats are added straight to a skill rating to determine an “asset.” Assets determine the roll needed to succeed, rolling low being better. The asset is multiplied by 4 or 2 for easier tasks, while harder tasks are handled by division by the same numbers. For example, say I want to pick up an object. My Constitution is 6 (average) and my Climbing is 3, my Climbing Asset is 9. An Easy Climbing task is 36 or less on a d20 (guaranteed success), an Average task is 18 or less (a 90% chance), a Difficult task is 9 or less (45%), a Formidable task is 4 or less (20%), and Impossible tasks being a 2 or less (10%). A raw CON task would be 24/12/6/3/1. The game cautions GMs about how difficult a stat-only could be overwhelming for a party because of these number.

Looking at this, I thought it was a bit too easy for characters to succeed, but it is predictable and the numbers don’t look that crazy to me. The Easy number might make those rolls too easy, but I think it’s tolerable math.

The Cypher System works on a roll high system, but it is admittedly a simple, easy-to-use system. The GM sets a difficulty between 1 and 10. Skill training and other modifiers draw the difficulty down, as well as players using Effort (basically hit points). The final resulting Difficulty is multiplied by three and that’s the number that must be exceeded on a d20, with 18, 19, and 20 getting bonus results, and one on the die creating a “GM Intrusion,” an opportunity for the GM to mess with the characters, within reason. Yes, at Difficulty 10, the players must use Effort or have skill to have a real hope of affecting the target or beating the obstruction. In example videos, Difficulty 3 gets used, a lot (more, in my opinion, than necessary). This will give you pretty predictable results, both for the GM and the players.

I like the system, but I’m now finding the “special numbers” a throwback ruling, and I was simply feeling that creating the StarSea in the Cypher System was going to take more work than I want to put in, and not result in the more freeform feel to the game I think I can achieve by using Fate.

I really don’t have much else going on today, so I’m going to call it a post for tonight. Later.




NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 19 – Blech!

Work was one of those days that my job (all too) frequently gives me: one in which there is a long time spent waiting in the middle of the day expecting to be sent home followed by sufficient work to end up with overtime. We get sent home early with a regularity I don’t care for, and this has been especially so recently. It was like this last year, too. Makes for difficulty budgeting. And all of this was after a trip to Sacramento for work had been cancelled, which would have guaranteed a full day’s pay. As it is, now I’m not working tomorrow (first Thursday off in a while). Only about 15 hours this week, when a couple of weeks ago I had nearly 30. I’m hating the inconsistency.

Then, I basically was the deciding vote towards not gaming tonight. Half our players didn’t show up, or worse, showed up too late for me to be happy. The FLGS we play at is five minutes from work, and I’d sat in the store waiting for over an hour before anyone showed up. One of the players decided not to show only about the time I arrived at the store (5PM) and only gave notice at that point. Others got caught in traffic. But after an hours wait, I felt like I’d waited long enough. My indigestion (related to weight gain from the past year of a fast-food heavy diet related to work) was flaring, I had a headache, and just ended up not feeling like staying for a game in which our spread of characters were not up to the ask of completing the encounter we’d begun last week.

So I came home and started poking around at the Internet, falling asleep sometime around 9PM and sleeping through until about half an hour ago. And I’m ready for more.

What a day. Blech!


NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 18 – Why D20s Suck… Finally

Random item: I saw a young woman today who made me think “Damn, I wish was physically 18 again.” And I reminded myself that my maturity level isn’t in line with my age, so no adjustment there is necessary.

So, I’m starting early in the evening, so I think I’m going to finally write the infamous “Why D20s Suck” post.

I’m going to start with the admission that I suck at math, but I do get the ideas behind probabilities and statistics. So, a lot of this is going to be a little vague, but should get the point across.

Back in the day (c. 1979), we rarely used d20s alone. Old d20s were marked with only single digits on all the faces. I still have a few or those I use regularly for d10s, and it scares the shit out of the kids at the LFR table when I roll out a crit with my new bard character and his piercing songblade (which does a d10 per plus). I’ve always got to remind them I’m rolling d10s, not d20s.

Anyway, in those days, all our dice were precision dice, with sharp edges on the faces. The way we got a “20-sided die” result was often to roll two dice, a d6 and a “d10,” with the d6 acting as a coin flip that determines whether or not you add 10 to the digit on the d10. Usually, we used the results of 1, 2, and 3 for reading the d10 straight, and 4, 5, and 6 for adding 10. For example, if your d6 came up 2, and your d10 came up 7, you got a seven. If your d6 instead came up 5, then the d10 would be read as 17. In this way, the d20 had a bit of a bell curve. Not much of one, but a bell curve all the same.

Sometimes, we would use different colors to label the numbers. Half might be in white, the others in black, and then you’d call which color was high, again adding 10 if the number rolled was the color called high.

And therein lies the problem. Theoretically, each surface of a normal d20 has a 5% chance of coming up. In practice the numbers are a little different, but not significantly so. You can check out this article on Gnome Stew to get more info. It boils down to this, d20s have no bell curve. A d20 is a flat die. Of course, all single-die rolls are, assuming all the surfaces are built correctly and carry the same area.

So, rolling a result of 20 has the same percentage as rolling a 1. Most games assign a significance to those numbers, the higher being a critical hit, the lower being a fumble. The Cypher System adds significance to 18 and 19, too. This is an artifact of imagination. They really aren’t special as they all have the same chance of coming up as any other number.

Monte Cook has mentioned in a couple of places that he thought about using a 2d10 roll for Cypher, but he felt that the d20 was a “visceral” artifact he wanted to maintain. And I get that, but lately, I’ve seen that the reality is that the d20 is a grossly flawed die to base your resolution system on. Any single die system is going to have this problem.

Now that I’ve spent all this time on explaining the basic problem, I’m going to repeat some of the examples of the problems I’ve experienced.

One of the most prominent is what happened with my characters in the LFR game. 4e’s way of creating challenge is by setting difficulty numbers about 15 points above the level of the PCs, at least as far as AC is concerned. Other Defenses work similarly. So, in order to maintain viability, a player needs to 1) focus his character on one stat, to maximize it’s functionality, and 2) purchase the right feats, that improve the character’s accuracy. My previous character was divided between two stats, and a lot of feats had been spent to give the character his multi-class powers, so they couldn’t be spent on accuracy feats. The current character is exactly the opposite: all of his powers key off one stat, and he’s got the feats to improve his accuracy.

Another example of the flaw is my prior campaign, especially towards the end. The ranger in the party could not be surprised without a lot of DM fiat, as the build had such a high Perception skill that even high level sneaks could not roll high enough to surpass the character’s skill, much less his total roll. I came up with similar problems with the bard, whose social skills were off the chain as well. I’m seeing some of that with my current character in LFR: The skills the bard is focused on are based on the same stat his powers are focused on. Some classes have that synergy built into them.

We saw similar results in our 3/3.5e games. Worse, if characters are built the right way, they become invulnerable. We had a character who could stand on the event horizon of a black hole (basically, as that was what we determined a sphere of annihilation was), because the character in question, a fighter, had a high enough Fort Save that she couldn’t be drawn in. I had a fighter that couldn’t be hit, as eventually we arranged for an AC so high monster couldn’t hit my character. In both cases, I’m referring to Epic level characters, but the idea persists throughout the system. My LFR experiences are showing that.

It’s simply a flaw with using a single die, and attempting to fix the system with bonuses to make the flat rolls “balance.”

5e is trying to fix this with a “bounded accuracy” system. I haven’t looked at this as deeply as I should, but this is how I understand it: By limiting the the bonuses, the hope is that challenging the dice can be achieved. Note that I said “challenging the dice.” That’s because the player can only make decisions what his character does, not what the die roll is, or really what the difficulty is (excepting the effort rules in Cypher). 5e difficulties are limited to 5/10/15, and bonuses are limited to 6 at 20th. Even if it’s difficult to get a score above 18, since the 3/3.5/4e attribute bonus math is in place, that means a +10 at 20th level, without other bonuses (and we know that other bonuses are available, just maybe more difficult to acquire). So, at 20th level, a character will still beat a difficult action 80% of the time, assuming a match-or-beat system (a +10 versus a 15 difficulty means a 5 or better on the die wins the challenge). Even a first level character will likely beat a difficult action 45% of the time, provided it’s with his strong stat. At low levels, the die is more important, but eventually that switches and the character’s skill overwhelms the die.

Again, the linearity makes the game flawed.

This is why I want to return to a bell curve based system like Fate. The system is built for the skill of the character to be paramount, and the die roll, being a bell curve, tends to settle towards the middle of the curve, and not swing the game in crazy directions like a d20 does. Like percentile-based games, and others that use multiple, accumulative dice, the Fate system leans to the center and becomes more predictable, not only for the players, it’s also for GM, which d20-based systems fail at.

So, there you go. That’s my problem with the d20 summed up, and maybe beaten to glue. I hope you’ve managed to stick with me here, and get some insight into what I’ve been blogging about for a while.

Working tomorrow, so I need to go. Later.



NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 17 – Zzzzzz…

You know, I thought I had something I wanted to cover earlier, but a couple of nod-offs and I’ve now forgotten what they were.

I did update my “About” page since my last post. If you know me, go read it and let me know if there’s anything you think I should add.

Yeah… I can’t keep my eyes open. Later


NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 16 – Too Many Files

For a while this morning, I fell into some of the files on my old desktop computer. In the days before Pinterest, if you liked an image, you saved it to your hard drive. I have mountains of such images, and I find more all the time. I was looking for old music files, and I stumbled onto my graphics directory, and got lost for at least an hour. The images on that machine are all very old, in the ball park of seven years (before I got this laptop I’m working with now). Still, it was fun to look through them and see what I was interested in then, and how much I am still interested in now.

Earlier this week, I think I might have mentioned picking up an ebook called Aether Sea, a worldbook for Fate that has a lot of similarities to my own StarSea. I’ve only managed to read a little bit so far. Setting-wise, I’m not very interested. There is a monolithic government, from what little I can remember (I was reading it while riding at work, which made me fall asleep). My thought has been that this setting may be lacking in conflict, but I have to admit, I wasn’t as focused as I wanted to be. I’ll need to give it another try soon. I’ve found some interesting commentary on the magic system, so my interest is even more piqued to look into that.

Otherwise, I still find myself wanting to dig into that “20-sided die” issue article. I might try drafting something on the tablet this week while I have downtime. It’s making my brain itch, because I’m wondering if there really is anyway around my issues. I’m just not so sure the new “Bounded Accuracy” is really effective as a control.

Work comes early tomorrow, so I’m out of time. I’ve been trying to get The Dragon In The Sword done and out of my hair, and I need reading time to do that. So, I’ll have more tomorrow. Later.

NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 15 – More Nothing

Today has been a lot of nothing. Well, I did things, but nothing of particular note. Spent time with friends and their kids, watched Night At The Museum, an episode of Bill Maher and Castle. That’s it.

I’ve done some poking around the Internet, finding interesting images and wasting time. Again, nothing to really report on, just cluttering my hard drive.

Yeah, slow, quiet day.


NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 14 – Accounting

Today I didn’t do much, so the biggest thing I have to report is…

Accounting. As in “balancing the checkbook” accounting. I keep my info in a spreadsheet based on a downloadable file I get from my bank, and I use it to figure out how much I spend on what.

Contrary to what most might believe for a gamer, gaming is not where most (or even a large percentage) of my money goes. It actually goes primarily for food. That’s because of the job. Carrying lunch is a pain in the ass, so I end up buying lunch. And a snack at break time, and often a breakfast. Gasoline and car are the next most intensive, also related largely to work. Then there’s entertainment, which includes not only gaming, but also DVDs and other media.

I spent the evening re-watching the first couple of episodes of Constantine. Pretty good stuff, but I’m amazed that it’s on network TV. Some of the themes seem pretty dark and unChristian for network, but who knows. I suppose if it gets ratings, it’ll continue.

Anyway, it’s late, and while I have nowhere to be in the morning, I think it’s about bedtime. Later.

NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 13 – Stuff That’s Accumulated

Here’s some stuff that’s popped up on my radar in the past few days that I’ve wanted to write about, but exhaustion has interrupted.


I have a friend who has a podcast, The Satyrsphere. He turned me onto this new podcast, Welcome to Night Vale. This quirky little podcast is about the strange doings in the mythic village of Night Vale, which I’m certain is over the hill from Roswell. I’ve only listened to the first episode, but I’m already subscribed. It’s updated twice a month (I think), and episodes are short (only about 20 minutes each). Some of the content is kind of silly, but other bits are creepy and downright chilling. I think an Urban Fantasy or Modern Horror GM could mine this series for campaign material for a long time, even though it has no connection to gaming. I’d recommend it to all my readers.

For Veteran’s Day, I took the Kids to Big Hero 6. I read the original comics the movie is based on, and even though the movie plot line strays quite a bit from those comics, I found the movie enjoyable, if somewhat “kiddie-fied.” Disney seems to be more and more incorporating the Pixar style in to their films, which I don’t consider a Bad Thing. The animation style was very clean and enjoyable, the lighting was solid and realistic when outdoors in sunlight, which is something I enjoy. There were a number of little cool Easter Eggs for the comic book fans. Lots of good stuff in this movie. I’d definitely recommend it.

This weekend, I plan on quizzing the Kids a bit on some of the actions of the characters. The main character, Hiro, does something really morally questionable, and I want to get the Kids’ reactions and thoughts on that.

In gaming news, I found this announcement interesting but…

Announcing the Cypher System Rulebook

Unfortunately, my slow turn away from the twenty-sided die is making me look at this and feel sad, as I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up. The “twenty-sided die” issue is one for a post of its own, so I won’t get into it now, but it’s become a big factor in my lack of interest in many games now. Maybe next week I’ll take the time to write-up a more thorough treatment on that.

Last but not least tonight is the Vow of Honor Kickstarter. This one looks very interesting, especially in comparison to the StarSea. I’m not quite sure why this needs to be a sci-fi setting as opposed to a fantasy setting. I’m kinda thinking they may be trying to cash in on the motions I think I’m seeing towards the “looks like one genre, but is really another” wagon I see growing since the release of Numenera, by the aforementioned Monte Cook Games. I’ve been seeing this pop up in a few other settings recently, and I have to admit, there’s a heaping helping of that in the StarSea. It’s not really a bad thing, but to me, it’s becoming noticeable as a sort of meta-genre in the gaming industry. I’ll likely support it, but I do want to read through the quickstart rules that are available from the Kickstarter site.

Well, I’ve now run out of things to talk about today. Later.


NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 12 – Troubleshooting sucks

Came home from LFR to find the DSL down. Spent the last hour troubleshooting. Working tomorrow. No time for pithy post. Sorry.



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