Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On hit dice and “to hit” tables and magical creatures.





My approach to hit dice in D&D has always been that they reflect primarily the life energy, the force, will and mana, that each character (whether PC or NPC, monster or other) has.  From this I differed from Gary Gygax who saw them reflecting and abstracting various trinkets, skills and improvements a character obtained as the character reached higher levels combined with the physical presence/size of the character.

Gary was right that D&D works the way he saw it.   You can run Runequest vs. D&D character melee (and Runequest is clearly a model that embraces a mostly Gary Gygax view of character leveling) and it works very well.  The D&D hit points and armor class pretty much work against the parry, etc. so that (after taking into account that the RQ character has improved will/POW with higher “levels”) it is pretty transparent.  

When Steve Perrin pointed that out, I was amazed, then impressed. The active avoidance of Runequest vs. the passive incorporation of it all as hit dice/hit points really works either way.

That said, that wasn't my approach.  Instead of approaching hit points as an approximation, I approached them as a measure of the additional life force one gained with leveling.  That fits many culture myths and legends very well.  Characters who have overcome and "leveled up" have superhuman vitality and personal force in such myths.
 
In that light, I approached magic items, especially +0/+1/+etc. weapons as an extension of life force and energy.  (Silver = +0).

A living weapon, whether it be a werewolf’s claws or a dragon’s bite, allowed the application of the magical force of the character against an opponent.  That fit in well with every few levels or so ~ +1 weapon for hitting things that require magical weapons to hit.  

There are many variations to this.

Thus a hero/4 hit dice creature can hit things that require silver/+0 to hit – if they hit with their bare hands/teeth/fangs/etc.  0-4, can’t hit.  4-8 hit things that require +0.  8-12 hit things that require +1, etc.  Perhaps with some tweaking or adjusting to the scale.

Or, to go to the rules, the most common variation is that 1-4 hit dice creatures using their natural weapons hit as +0/silver weapons, 4-6 hit as +1, 6-8 as +2, 8-10 as +3 and 10+ as +4 weapons for figuring out what they can hit.

You can this starting with Chainmail, where a “hero” can hit and kill some magical creatures, with or without a magic weapon.  The charts seem natural to carry over to the Brown Box set and the “fights like a hero” or “fights like a superhero” categories as characters progress. 

Thus variations on the rules allowing more hit dice/levels allowing characters and creatures to hit things that otherwise require magic started with Chainmail and made it into various editions of the rules.  This got into the rules without much explanation as to why, other than to avoid problems such as where a dragon could be slaughtered by a two or three hit dice creature or creating special cases (such as PC races with shapeshifting being able to hit things requiring magical weapons while shapeshifted) or or creating consistency with prior rules.

But the general rule and rational I liked was that immunity to normal weapons had to do with the magical nature of the creature with the immunity, coupled with it possibly not being completely present on the physical plane.  The power of magical weapons to hit such creatures had to do with the magical weapon being alive in a sense, the same for silver weapons that channeled the power of the moon through the magical correspondence with silver.  Thus the more alive a weapon was, the more things it could reach and hit.

Monsters with natural weapons worked into that system well.  PCs?  Well, they had to hit things with their hands (unless they were shapeshifters).  Just because they could hit things, did not mean that they wanted to.  Monks and Mystics aside, a DM would look at a player and ask “Do you really want to hit that wraith with your hands?  Life drain works on contact after all.  It drains you every attack, you drain yourself every time you hit back.”  Makes for a short and brutal melee if the character decides to go with fists instead of a holy symbol or fleeing.  Which reminds me, an interesting tweak in Chainmail is that a wight is inferior to a wraith at everything except fighting wraiths.

I had meant to write that approach up into a rule, but it is one of the things I never got done – for good reason.  

There were distractions, and the rational for it was not one that everyone agreed on.  

Everyone was pretty clear that higher hit dice creatures should in general be able to hit magical things because most higher hit dice creatures were higher hit dice creatures because they were intensely magical (think Balrogs).  But did that general condition that really mean that a blue whale could hit anything just by virtue of being large and thus having lots of hit points, or was there more to it?  

Should you use a sliding scale so that each size above “normal” you slide the critter doing the hitting down a few hit dice for figuring out what it can hit with natural weapons?  Where did each approach take you, where did each explanation lead?  Was this a rule that really needed an explanation or that was better for having a rationale?  Was it better off as just a rule of thumb without explanation?

In this essay you can see my rationale.  If you’ve played in games I’ve run you’ve seen how I make it work, which is it rarely matters, but it provides the flavor for why the rules are as they are.  You can also see the official rules that eventually got written and put into print in the various editions.

You can make your own determination as to what you want in your game. 

I know I do.  I know Gary hoped that everyone would make their own determinations and find what made the game more engaging and fun for them.  I hope this helps you find the approach and variations that fits what makes it fun for you and that you feel empowered to choose what you prefer rather than what someone tells you to do.

And that is what I was trying to do when I had rules, and did not have them.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On Soccer in the United States

Freakonomics recently had a podcast on why Soccer is not more popular in the United States:

http://freakonomics.com/2014/06/12/why-america-doesnt-love-soccer-yet-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

They did brush on how Title IX has helped women's soccer.  But they missed the implications for Title IX and men's soccer.  Title IX not only killed college wrestling (one of the few college sports that has weight classes and does not automatically favor tall people), but it will block men's soccer at a college level until and unless you can find a different sport to kill for soccer to take its place.

Not that such a thing will not happen.  Sports do get killed and replaced in colleges.  The student government at CSULA ended football and the next student government did not bring it back (so it stayed dead).  They anticipated that soccer would replace football (and it did).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cal_State_Los_Angeles_Golden_Eagles#Football

But displacement is not as likely as it could be, either in college programs or public spaces.

Anyway, I found myself thinking about sports and world culture vs. American culture and related things.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

About Gary Gygax

Paul Stormberg got me in contact with Anthony Savini.  Anthony is doing a movie about Gary Gygax and has been interviewing people.

Which brought me to a point most people missed about Gary.  Gary had a vision of gaming that was clean and that adjusted.

When he started writing D&D rules, he thought of them as a tool set that everyone would draw from to create their own games and their own rules.  A good example of that is Steven Brust's novels. If you did not know it, they are write-ups in his campaign world.  Those lizard-sorcerers?  His elves. 
Vlad Taltos -- a psionic assassin Player Character.

But he adjusted when he encountered the Chicago gamers, who were younger and who played 24/7 rather than a couple week-ends a month.  Greyhawk came from that and the first supplement.

That is the reason TSR prospered when Gary was in charge and was adrift when he was not.

It is what led to AD&D -- a set of rules that defined everything rather than a set that was a tool kit.  It also led to the D&D Expert Set.  A set of rules without all the granular detail.

There was a cycle at TSR and surrounding it.

Gary would grasp a vision, he would begin to execute on it and it would succeed.

He would succeed so much he would hit a cash crunch (in the beginning that was because sales doubled every year, or more and his buyers were mostly on 60 days, his suppliers on 30 days, so he had little or no float -- he had the reverse). 

He would bring on others for more capital.

At some point they would see a golden goose and be certain that Gary should not be left in charge for fear he would not take care of it.

Gary would lose control. 

Things would go off the rails.

Gary would be brought back in.

Success.

Rinse and Repeat.

That, combined with all the people circling around trying to figure out how to make money off of him created the tragedy that was TSR before Wizards of the Coast took it over.

Anyway, in this story there are no real villains (Savini was surprised that I hold malice only for some lawyers who are a side story).  There are lots of people who did not appreciate what Gary was bringing to the table.  Thousands who thought they could do it better.

I'm hopeful that Savini's film will capture the core of things.  Look forward to it when it comes out.

And was grateful to remember friends.

______

Side note.  I also got to explain the "blame Tim Kask" meme.  The key is that you blamed Tim Kask for things that went wrong -- but only for things that happened when Tim was not around (and so could not possibly have been at fault).  It was a joke, not a condemnation.  Savini asked me if anyone ever blamed Tim Kask for anything that happened while he was at TSR.  Of course not.  That would have ruined the joke and been unfair to boot.

But if you run into instances of that meme, now you will understand it.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From the Heath Brothers



Forwarded message:

Welcome to our erratically-published newsletter for fans of our books! Below you'll find a never-before-published "outtake" from our new book Decisive.
First up: Did you know we have uploaded a slew of resources related to Decisive? As always, they are free. Just go to our Resources page and log in using the email address that this newsletter came to. Let us highlight two of the new items:

·         Contemplating a job change? Check out the podcast Decisive for Job Decisision.
·         Are you an agonizer or a waffler when it comes to decisions? The How to be More Decisive podcast is for you.

-------------------
COMEBACK STORIES: CAN YOU HELP?
For a future article, we are researching stories of people and organizations who bounced back from adversity. When you’ve experienced setbacks, how have you come back from that? If you’ve bounced back in your personal or professional life—or if you’ve been a witness to an impressive comeback—we’d love to hear the story. In particular, we’d love to hear HOW you did it—not just the beginning and end points (from a valley to a recovery) but especially the middle. The mechanics of the rebound. Were there moments of inspiration? Important points of day-to-day discipline? Tactics you found useful? If anything comes to mind, just reply to this email and we’ll get it.
-------------------
THE BANANA BREAD INCIDENT: WHAT INFORMATION CAN WE TRUST?
[The following is a passage that we wrote for Decisive but ultimately had to leave out. This is the first time it has been published anywhere -- hope you enjoy it!]

The banana bread incident

To make a good decision, we need to assess our options, which means that we need to collect information about them. But there’s a problem: The information we’ll collect instinctively may not be trustworthy because of a few predictable biases.

Consider a story a friend told us about a place he used to work. (We will disguise names to avoid being gratuitously mean.) He had a colleague, Ed, whose wife, Melissa, sent baked goods to the office via Ed. She made pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins, banana bread, cranberry scones, and more. Naturally, people devoured them immediately.

“Unfortunately,” says our friend, “all the pastries were ‘low-fat.’ We used to complain about how dry they were. They were fine, I guess. Probably as good as ‘low-fat pastries’ can be. Which is not that good. But we ate them anyway … I mean, they were free.” Let’s face it: In most offices, even a free bowl of salted Styrofoam peanuts would disappear quickly.

At company parties, employees would meet Melissa, and their only point of connection with her was her pastries. So they’d immediately say something positive: “Keep sending that banana bread!” “You wouldn’t believe how quickly your goodies always disappear!” and so on. They were being nice.

The baked goods kept coming, week after week, with each batch disappearing quickly, until one day Ed announced that Melissa, elated by the reaction she was getting from the office, was thinking about starting her own catering business. “That’s when it hit us. Uh-oh,” said our friend. “What have we done? We’ve been so positive that we’ve convinced this woman to start a new career! But how could we undo the damage at that point? ‘Actually, your banana bread sucks.’ Who would say that?”

Our friend left the company right around this time, but he recalls that Ed had started to fish for catering opportunities among his colleagues, who tended to smile and squirm.

What information can you trust?

It’s a mistake to think that the information that’s most accessible to us will be the most accurate. When Melissa began to consider a catering business, she had a lot of positive feedback close at hand: I send food to the office, and people eat every morsel. And when they see me at parties, they rave about it. Their feedback confirmed her instinct that she should start a catering business.

But she never sought disconfirming information—information that challenged what she hoped would be true. Had she tried charging $5 per loaf of banana bread, for instance, she might have learned how shallow her pool of support was.

But Melissa also made another kind of mistake, one we all tend to commit: She got sucked in by the vivid particulars of her situation and failed to see the larger pattern it was a part of. For example, she took it as a huge compliment that people always finished every last morsel of her baked goods (the particulars); she didn’t realize that they finished every last morsel of anything brought to the office (the pattern).

Nor did she see herself as part of a larger class of people like her—good cooks who want to start catering businesses—and wonder what she could learn from the experience of others like her. (Is it a hard business to start? Can you trust that compliments will translate into orders?)
For another example of this tension between particulars and patterns, think of a manager who’s visited by three different employees during the same week, all disgruntled about their working hours. As a result of those visits, she concludes that the company’s scheduling process needs an overhaul. After all, the close-at-hand information was universally negative. (Meanwhile, the other 47 employees, a quieter bunch, were perfectly happy.)

We tend to confuse vivid information with representative information. Think, for instance, of the feeling we’ve all had that we always get stuck in the slow line. This is silly, of course—it can’t be statistically true that we’re all stuck in the slow lines (unless, perhaps, all the fast lines are in China). The problem is that we don’t hang onto memories of fast-moving lines, only the times when we were stuck.

Similarly, most people fear plane crashes more than car crashes, and most people believe that homicides are more lethal than diabetes. Both are false—on a mile for mile basis, you are 37 times more likely to die while driving than while flying, and diabetes kills four times as many people as homicides.

Many people fear shark attacks when they visit the beach, even though shark attacks have killed only 67 people worldwide since 1876. In fact, if you’ve ever rocked a vending machine in hopes of knocking loose your purchase, you were much closer to death; more people die from vending machine accidents than shark attacks. (Yet no one quakes with fear when they feed in coins for Fritos.)

Plane crashes and homicides and shark attacks are searingly vivid and emotional. Every time one happens, it makes the headlines. Meanwhile, car crashes and diabetes and vending machine accidents are every bit as terrible, but they’re less visible. They don’t make the papers.

[For more thoughts on gathering trustworthy information, see the "Zoom Out Zoom In" chapter of Decisive.]

Until next time,

Dan & Chip

P.S. If you pre-ordered Decisive to claim your freebies, you should have long since received them. If you haven’t, please email Christy@heathbrothers.com and we will sort it out pronto!


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