Friday, August 30, 2013

AnyDice Website

For those concerned with the statistical considerations of role playing games, often one of the most frustrating thing is determining the statistical distributions which governs the outcomes of the events in question. As I was poking around on the internet, I discovered AnyDice, a web application which generates probability distributions for dice rolls. The thing that makes it fun, is that it seems to be an actual programming language. Several people have posted short programs to illuminate common D&D mechanics, including 4d6 Drop the Lowest, our favorite character generation mechanic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Ghost Ship King Shaassa.

I started a new game last night with a group of guys I met at the local game store.  We played at my house this time, which was nice because the presense of alcohol seemed to encourage role playing, and to get a snack you didn't have to run down the the drugstore on the corner.  I also enjoyed that it was much quieter.  In keeping with my usual practice of encouraging characters to not always be champions of goodness and light, my party created the ugliest bunch of lawful-evil fighters and assassins as I've ever seen.  The most loveable of them was a half-orc known only as "Inmate #..." What to do with this horrible band of criminals and mercenaries?

When presented with the opportunity, they quickly enlisted on a pirate vessel (no need to Shanghai them!).  After days at sea the ship's lookout called "A sail!" and the captain changed course to intercept.  There they found a derelict vessel which had been at sea for many years.  The ship's captain sent the party aboard to investigate where, after some poking around in the various parts of the ship, they found the ship's log.  Soon afterwards, they were set upon by a hungry ghoul and then another. 

So far so good, I thought, for a short adventure intended to be played in an evening.  We took up about half the time shoring up some loose ends with character generation, so we didn't finish the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Hobbit Review

The other day I walked down to the IMAX theatre at the National Air and Space Museum and watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  As renderings of The Hobbit go, this one fell flat on me.  There were definitely amusing points.  There were exciting points.  I also really liked the idea of interweaving bits where The Simarillion overlaps The Hobbit  in order to add depth and a sense of a larger evil afoot in Middle Earth.  Unfortunately, for all the good ideas in the movie, for some reason it just doesn't manage to connect to me the same way the cartoon Hobbits did, or the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings renderings did (which were truely excellent). I'm at a loss to explain exactly why that was the case, though.  I felt like the movie really took it's time getting started.  I also started off really liking Radaghast and in the end, I just couldn't take my eyes off the stream of bird poop on his head.  I liked how you only saw fleeting glimpses of the dragon.  It definitely heightened the mystery of it.  I liked how they rendered the dwarven mines and halls.  I loved the goblin king and his lair.  There's an awful lot to like in that movie.  The problem is, emotionally, I just couldn't connect to it.  The Hobbit cartoon is one of my all time favorites.  It's like comfort food for the soul.  I was hoping to find that in this movie as well, and somehow, in spite of all indications that it might have achieved that, it didn't.  My hope is that the second film will be better.  The pace of things picked up considerably after Bilbo left the village.  None the less, I worry that a slow first film doesn't bode well for the rest.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Testing D20

As promised, I finally got some Game Science dice today and immediately set out testing them to see if they're fair, then compared the result against the black D20 that came with my old red box Basic Set and I've had since god-knows-when.  Ready for the results?

Figure 1:  Histograming results initially suggests that the black D20 likes to produce a result of "18."

The inital results are shown in figure 1.  After rolling each die 100 times, I then applied the chi-squared test to estimate the likelyhood of such a result, given the differences between the observed and expected distributions. 

The net result!  The observed distribution of my Game Science D20 is about 80% likely given the expected distribution of a fair die, while the observed distribution of my black D20 is about 5% likely (see figure 2). 

Figure 2:  Chi-squared test probability of the observed distribution given the expected distribution of a fair D20.
If the observed distribution is 80% likely given the expected distribution of a fair die, then I'd bet that the die is fair (or at least as close to fair as is easily observable).  Therefore Game Science die passes the test of fairness fairly well.  The Black D20, however, is a lot more problematic.  I will be testing more of my dice to see if I observe similar results.  In the mean time, however, I think the black D20 will be the designated "hit the bad guys" die. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Conan The Barbarian

Last summer Conan the Barbarian was released with generally horrible reviews.  Some of the most brutal reviewers were those who loved the original Robert E. Howard stories.  I downloaded and watched it this afternoon and I'm a big fan of the original stories.  Frankly, I didn't think it was all that bad.  I enjoyed it.  I might even watch it again some time.

I think it captured the essense of Conan much better than the Arnold versions.  Even so, it was not a recreation of any of the stories, which I think is mostly what people were disappointed about.  Instead it was Conan pastiche.  That's not to say it was bad.  Conan was such an enduring character that he inspired novels and comic books beyond what Robert E. Howard wrote.  Much of it is quite good in my opinion.  It's a good thing that people wanted to write continuing adventures for Conan long after his original creator died.

While I would love to see a story like The Queen of the Black Coast turned into a movie, I can't help but wonder if there are significant challenges to it, not the least of which is that there are now fans of Conan who have never read any of the stories, or even the comic books. They only know him from the movies.  In order to avoid alienating those fans, you have to include tips of the hat to them too.

That's the rub.  You can't undo a not-so-great rendition of a great character, which has lodged itself in the illiterate mind more firmly than the original source material.  Hence they had to include "the riddle of steel."  None the less, I enjoyed how the bad guys in the new movie's child-Conan scenes were easily recognizable to me as Picts.  I also think the original Conan would be difficult to portray accurately today simply because of the original source material's implied (and not so implied) racism and sexism.  In that sense, it shares a lot with Tarzan. 

I was surprised they went with a giant octopus this time around.  It seems like you can't get through a good chunk of Conan stories without him wrestling a giant snake somehow.  The octopus was good, though.  There were also no Stygians in this one.  The bad guy was of unknown ethnicity, and his daughter was merely a strange witch who moved in  vaguely snake-like way to me.  Acheron, while an ancient evil empire in the Conan series, is not the main source of evil, except in one story I know of.  Stygia is a much more regular source of irritation.  None the less, the sets were spectacular.  I can't think of a more beautiful fantasy movie, with it's spectacular CGI rendered cities and temples.  I feel like they used and didn't abuse CGI in this movie.  Lord of the Rings was good, but this was that multiplied.  I can't help but wonder if it has to do with Lord of the Rings essentially rural flavor, while Conan is a mix of urban and rural locales. 

I liked how they captured Conan's propensity for freeing slaves, womanizing and piracy, as well as implied the tremendous ethnic diversity and vast geographical stretch of Conan's world.  They captured that much better in the most recent movie, than in the Arnold ones.  I also really enjoyed it when he flung his prisoner into the enemy camp with a catapult.

If I had one dislike it was the current trend in Hollywood of "equalizing" the roles of women and men by giving women heavy weapons and fight scenes.  I'm not against arming women in movies, or putting women in combatitive roles.  The thing is, you have to consider what kind of woman you're putting in that role.  Just as there are many kinds of men in this world, there are many kinds of women.  There are women (Grace Jones?  Lucy Lawless?) for whom that kind of thing is believable.  But a priestess in a diaphanous gown doesn't strike me as the sort who'd be excited about getting all sweaty flinging around a heavy sword, or for that matter, the kind of person who would be a natural fighting with a heavy piece of steel.  That doesn't make sense.  She's too prissy.  She needed something lighter.  Giving her a dagger worked for me.  Picking up a big sword worked less, but having her actually demonstrate how good she was with it seemed superfluous and silly.  It was especially non-sensical because after discovering her talent for swordplay, she didn't keep a sword with her the rest of the movie, regardless of the dangers she faced.  If that was the case, why have her demonstrate how good she was with it?  The obviously female archer made a little more sense, but it looked to me that the director originally gave her a bigger role in the film and then edited her out.  I liked the witch daughter.  She was fabulous.  I'd want her part in the movie.  She got the best costume, the best makeup and the wildest hair.  Those claws were awesome.

I want to see a Conan director's cut.  I suspect it'd be a better movie.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Joined a Play by Post Game

I recently joined a Play by Post (PbP) game on the Labyrinth Lord forums.  I decided it'd be fun because I usually DM and I need to play more.  I wanted to get excited about my one character.  As luck would have it, the DM rolled me some above average stats, using the 4d6, drop the lowest and arrange in order convention, resulting in statistics which would suggest a fighter-thief if left un-rearranged.  Since he ruled out multi-classing, I chose an elven thief.    I'm excited about my character. 

I'm also excited to participate in a PbP game for the first time, simply because I'm curious about the mechanics.  In this game, the DM rolls all the dice, hence nobody has to rely on the honor system.  While that's fine, it got me wondering if one could make a "cheat detecting" spreadsheet that takes advantage of Bayes' theorem to estimate the probability of someone cheating, given that they rolled what they rolled.  Then, through Bayesian revision, one would gradually update that probability.  Thus, if one cheated, a high confidence level that they were cheating would eventually be achieved, and the offending player appropriately disciplined.

Part of the fun of RPGs to me, is rolling some dice.  I like the feel and sound of them.  Yes, from time to time I have taken advantage of smartphone apps and spreadsheet formulas to fill in when I don't have access to my dice, but using them seems to replace the visceral feeling of dice rolling.  Let's face it, it's not fun to hinge your success on the outcome of pressing the F9 button.  I'm always left wondering if I had reset my system's clock then something else would have happened.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who is More Fightey? D&D Monsters or AD&D Monsters

Continuing my thinking about morale in the two different systems...

Figure 1: A creature with a morale score of '7' has an almost 60% chance of failing a morale check compared to AD&D's base morale of 50%. 

Since D&D Morale rules mandate the use of 2d6 instead of d% as in AD&D, comparing the two systems requires looking at the distribution of outcomes.  If a relatively cowardly monster in D&D has a morale score of 7 then I would argue that the weakest D&D monsters are slightly less aggressive than in AD&D where their base morale score is 50%.  That's assuming the morale rules are applied under similar circumstances and left unmodified.  The modifiers are where things get complicated, though.