D&D: Better Bonus: To-Hit or Damage?

I crunched some numbers* using D&D mechanics.

Damage bonus is better... unless the target is REALLY hard to hit (you need a 16 or above).

If both opponents need a 10 to hit one another, a player with a +1 to hit versus a player with +1 damage will lose 55.8% more often, all other things being equal. If they each need a 15 to hit, however, this goes down to a 7% advantage to have the extra damage. If your target is so hard to hit you need a 16, however, you will start to lose with the extra damage: better to get the to-hit bonus at that point (7% better, in fact).

Not that I'm in to min-maxing**, mind you... but in a heavy-mechanics game like D&D, it seems to be better for everyone if this kind of information is out in the open.

* Actually: this is brute-force die-rolling, not real statistics: I fought 4000 battles for each result, ignoring tactics. Basically, two guys standing toe-to-toe and rolling to-hit, then damage, one attack per turn. (
And, yes, I know two attacks would be more accurate if they were really toe-to-toe: oh well.) I gave each of them 100 HP and a base damage of 1d10. Neither of them healed at all. This was done with ruby code: if you want the source, ask.

** On the other hand, as a game designer, I think min-maxing is an essential practice to understand the mechanics.

A New Game Afoot

Last night, I started a new D&D (4E) game. If you expected an invitation: I apologize. I wanted to run a very small, quick, infrequent game with people who hadn't played before (or at least, in decades), so I could try out the new rules without being too embarrassed. It's certainly nothing personal.

The first remark I have to make about 4E is character generation. And when I say "have to", I mean: that's all we did. Three hours of making characters. I had forgotten just how long it took with D&D: I have been jaded by the lighter systems. A little. I mean, it really shouldn't take three hours just to make the character you're going to use in a game. 30 minutes is, IMO, a good target.

Now, if I had more than three people reading my blog (if you count the two figments of my imagination), someone would comment "I don't know about the new system, but I can make a decent 3.5E character in 15 minutes! And the new system is dumbed-down, so it really should be faster!" I wouldn't say you were lying. (...I mean, other than the fact that you are fictitious.) But you are, of course, someone who has made a dozen or more characters. (Hypothetically.) You know the system and you've already got a mental pick-list of the options you want.

For new players, it is daunting at the very least. The book, of course, provides sample adventurers and class "builds", which is all well and good for a pickup game, but if you're interested in letting your players make their own decisions, there is still a lot to cover.

So, first: it takes too long. Even with the simplified rules.

Second: there was an inordinate amount of jumping around the damn book. ...Maybe I was just "doing it wrong", but it seemed to me that the book is not organized well for character generation (which you would think is the primary purpose of the damn book), so "boo" on Wizards for that. I can't make specific suggestions on how to improve it: I would need more experience. Maybe I just need a good set of bookmarks/tabs. Or maybe THEY need to put some in. At the very least, there could have been more page references peppered in the text.

(Note to shelf: it would be interesting to design a book with a (visual) theme of crossroads: a picture at the start of every chapeter would look like a road sign, pointing to the other chapters that you may care to get to from here. You know: "races", pointing backwards, "equipment" pointing forward, and the like... with someone at the foot of the sign scratching their head while looking at a staff, spellbook, holy symbol, and a set of lockpicks...)

Third: even though we haven't started playing yet, I feel compelled to reiterate just how much I like the at-will/encounter/daily system of powers, and how balanced the classes feel because of it. I don't generally like long pick-lists as the basis for RPGs, but I think it works in this case. It gives the game a much more cinematic feel, and harkens to card-games (like MagicTG), which I don't think is a bad thing. It gives the players a little "license" in attributing flavor to their powers: I don't care if a Wizard claims to be a psion or a bookworm; they have the same effects.

I also like that they threw in some exotic/seemingly powerful effects even at first level, like the Eladrin's ability to teleport.

I also like the healing system. So much simpler, and "feels" like a movie or TV show to me.

Fourth: I broke the "rules" and discouraged the players from picking a "well-balanced" party. Okay, I have to rant about this briefly: it has always, always bothered me that every game seems to suggest the party should split roles... you know, ideally they should have a tank, a thief, a healer, and a mage, right? Miss out on one of the roles and you are sure to meet a quick demise... or so they say: we never really find out, 'cause it's SO strongly discouraged. This strikes me as... well... lame. I can see the point, but a good GM should be able to make a compelling game for ANY set of characters. Besides, it makes more sense: a group of people are more likely to have similar backgrounds (and races) than disperate ones. In fact, I've always wanted to play a series of games where the players were all the SAME class: especially mages, rogues, or druids... but any of them would work. I think it would be really cool, in terms of the story.

Well, I told the players (there were only two of them) to make two characters each, and not to give a hoot what the other player picked. Play what you most want to play, and we'll see where that leads.

The mix they ended up with was: An Eladin paladin, an Elf cleric, a Tiefling rogue (charismatic type), and a Halfling rogue (sneaky type). The interesting thing is: one player made both thieves! I thought that was interesting (and bold). The first player's "theme" was to go with a samurai and a monk. He's a Kurosawa fan. : )

I have a little trepidation about how the two players' characters will get along effectively, and have yet to devise a good enough hook. I don't expect these players to really make trouble, but it would still make me feel better.

Fifth: I, again, started the game with a Universalis-light world-creation system. I have a love-hate relationship with this system. One the one hand, it produces some of the most imaginative settings that I would hope to play in (and this was no exception). On the other, it lends itself to some silliness, unless the entire group is really dead-set against it. (Case in point: I ran one game where elves, when they died, exploded into a bunch of worms, which were the source of mana. Yeah. ...It was still fun: just weird.)

So, the world this will be played in has these key (abridged) features:

  • The world is on the moon of a gas giant, tide-locked. There are two other visible moons.
  • There will be occasional references to steampunk, thanks to 100-year-gone Dwarves.
  • There are four elemental temples, the architecture and placement of which keeps demons from invading the world. There are magical means of travel between each of them.
  • Atalantis is the Water Temple, shaped from coral by Eladrin mages.
  • All sentient creatures speak Common (I've decided this is due to a powerful spell, cast ages ago: as you learn your first langauge, you magically learn as much Common).
  • A young girl, who makes plants grow everywhere she steps. Also, an 11-year old boy who cannot be killed: he is leading an army.
[shrug] I think that's moderately cool.

There is also a fair share of whimsy:
  • "Rapelling" was one of the rules.
  • Knock-knock jokes completely (magically) distract one race, even if told in combat.
  • "Pirates!" was one of the rules.
  • A fire swamp. Complete with R.O.U.S.'s.
  • There are Triffid-like plants.
...so it goes. I will probably minimize these elements.


Let's pretend America is a big 'ole corporation.  A happy family of 300 million employees.  You're a Republican, you'd like that analogy, wouldn't you?  Okay, great.

Now, our company has a problem.  It seems we have a large number of employees--many thousands--who have gone over-budget, and started projects that they cannot afford to maintain.  Namely, they purchased houses that they couldn't make the payments on.  What do we do about this?

Now, you might say "fire the bastards", but that's poor management style! A good manager will tell you that people aren't to blame (certainly not for a single mistake), processes are.  This is a problem with the corporation's processes. It has to absorb the loss, not dock it from those employees' pay.

So what aspect of the process here went wrong?  Specifically, what can we do to avoid the problem again in the future?

My suggestion is to change the process that allowed people to buy homes that were out of budget.  If this were a corporation, we'd tell finance to provide a more accurate picture of each of those employee's budgets, wouldn't we?

So maybe we shouldn't be allowing banks to tell people they can afford a $500,000 home on $70,000 a year.  That would keep the problem from happening again, wouldn't it?

Political Conclusion

...So here's my conclusion on those political thoughts I've been having.

Politics is a red herring*.

People speak of politics in terms of its effect on their lives and the lives of those around them.  But those effects are very rarely driven by politics: they are driven by society.  So when I person is, say, ranting about the legality of abortions, they are misdirected by the politics of it: society's stance on abortion is what they have an issue with.  I just sat through a lunch where I listened to three older men talk about how unfair it is to be providing bailouts for those people who are in fear of foreclosure: they were ostensibly comments about politics, but what was really on their mind was how stupid society has allowed itself to become in terms of money-management.  And my (unspoken) argument with them may have seemed to be about how the behavior of banks (telling people they can afford these huge loans) is criminal... what I should be thinking is that society shouldn't consider it okay for a bank to lie about a person's financial potential.

Political thinking is a ruse: the real problems, solutions, and effort should be placed on people.  We shouldn't work on changing the laws, we should work on changing people's minds.

* Insomuch as, the only real influence politics has is its influence on society.  ...Which, granted, is considerable.  But probably far less than the media and marketing we are exposed to every day.  It's influence is somewhat compounded by how much emphasis we place on it, but I still think it's less influential than it first appears.

More Nihilism on Politics

Today it struck me that my political power amounts to a vote.

The vote is something very precious to Americans.  We like to believe that this is a very powerful thing.  We get an equal say in what goes on in our country, daggummit!

But let's think about this.  My power to vote at the national level amounts to 1/125,000,000th of a decision (based roughly on 2004 presidential votes, I could be off).  ...And that's in practice.  If everyone voted, (which they should in Democratic theory, right?), I should really have 1/221,285,099th of a vote (source).

...Which is not to claim that voting is ridiculous.  It's just to point out that it seems my vote is not as powerful as the government would like to have us believe.  The power isn't in voting, the power is in influencing votes.  The next logical question should then be, what influences votes?

I'm not sure what this means... but it seems that my vote isn't a matter of who I believe fit to serve, but by whom I was more strongly influenced to support.

The more I think about it, the more democracy strikes me as flawed.

And, no, I don't have a better idea.  : )

Misplaced Ads

Errr...  this is not a website you want to go to if you are busy or don't have an hour-plus to waste. It's one of those sites that has lists of remarkable things. This page is a good one to start on, and made me laugh out loud a couple of times: advertisements that showed up in inappropriate places... such as a cigarette billboard placed next to an "I survived cancer" billboard.  Recommended for a chuckle.  The other pages on the site are also quite interesting, though not often laugh-out-loud funny.

Nude Sketch I (Moderately NSFW)

Bubonicon this weekend. I haven't spent much time there (I may write about why later), so today I decided to spend some time sketching (when I probably should have been working). This is the result. I'm more pleased with this one than the last... but recognize that I still have a long way to go. (Again: art is my retirement plan: I am in no rush.)

On Olympics and Elections

You're familiar with the business adage: "what gets measured gets improved".

Consider the Olympian. The result of the Olympic competition is that you eventually find people who are willing to sacrifice their very humanity to prove that they can do it better, be that swimming, running, or hitting a 1" plastic ball over a miniature net.

Now consider electoral politics.  If you reward the person that gets the most votes, you will eventually find people who are willing to sacrifice their very humanity to get more votes.

I'm not absolutely in favor of meritocracy, but sometimes I wish we had something closer to it.  A popularity contest is just lame.

Longer Study

This was a painful picture to draw. I probably spent four hours (!) on it, over the course of three dyas. As always, I learned a lot: the next will be easier.

Here are the problems I'm aware of:

  • Inconsistent style
  • Face is too tall (too much space between nose and mouth)
  • Nose is a little short
  • Her right eye doesn't sit right on her face (I couldn't figure out why, though)
  • Light-sources difficult to discern
  • Poor choice of color palate
  • A little too much white

Another Life-Lesson, Learned

"Does this taste funny to you?"

...When asked this question, feign the sudden need to use the bathroom and leave. Or stab yourself in the leg with a pencil to distract the questioner.

This is the lesson I learned today when my wife and her mother came into my office with a box of goldfish, insisting that I check them, "to be sure". They both had a cold, they claimed, so before they dispensed with the questionable crackers, someone healthy had to sample them.

Instead of taking the box, quizzically looking it over, and saying "yup, they're bad" as I tossed them in the trash... I decided it couldn't hurt to try one. Just one, you see. How bad could it be?

Have you ever tried eating Turtle Wax?

...I ask this not as a joke, but in all earnest: this Goldfish cracker--or at least what ostensibly seemed cracker-like--immediately assaulted my mouth with the unmistakable taste of car wax. Well, at least a reasonable facsimile of how one might translate the odor of car wax to a taste.

It took a good thirty minutes and a box of Hot Tamales candy to mask the taste and alleviate the perception that water was beading on my tongue.


But at least I learned a valuable lesson.

Wow: Primordial Dance

I don't dance. It's a decision I made a long time ago, and I don't regret at all. It's not my thing.

That said, I like to watch dancing, when it's not too dippy.

This is my new favorite dance. Sort of on that border between dance and pure athleticism, though... which may be why. It also helps that the music is by the Kronos Quartet. But I watch this and think "Wow."


I've gotten in the habit of keeping Painter open in the background while I work. While tests are running or during video-conference meetings, I practice drawing. It's kind of like artistic stretching: mostly, I try to draw good circles. Sometimes I try drawing rows of straight, equally-spaced lines. Occasionally I'll do a gesture drawing, or shade a basic shape. Often, I'll try out different Painter tools (brush types). This last aspect of the process is very important: I'm "discovering my media", digitally. At the moment, I like a combination of Pencil, Pastel, and Chalk, with some Blenders and Erasers.

Here's an example. : )


Another Photo-painting

I decided to try a longer photo-paint. I went with oils, though I think I will eventually prefer the drawing end of things with pencils (to get a conté-like effect, 'cause the actual conté setting sucks).

I'm only moderately pleased with this result. Perhaps I'll have better luck next time. Or perhaps I just need a little distance, first.

This Seems True To Me

Robert Anton Wilson said "we live our beliefs; we endure our reality". I love that phrase.

Facebook: You're Doing It Wrong

More on the Facebook thang:

I'm reminded of just how many women I had a crush on during my high school/college years.  : )  I've talked to three of them already, and that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  I am a freak.

I am getting a multitude of friend requests from people I barely knew.  I keep ignoring them. One guy even did it twice. Am I doing the Facebook thing wrong?  ...I dunno, perhaps my definition of "friend" is too strict.  I think my litmus test is "passing by".  If, when I knew you, I would wave hi, or even say "hello" or the like: you are an acquaintance, not a friend.  If we stop and chat for a couple of sentences, we might be friends: depends on whether it felt like an opportunity or a chore.  : )

One of the first people I found on Facebook was a neighbor of mine.  I was a little blown away by the fact that she was the first person I ever really knew, outside of my family.  We never really got along very well (not that we hated one anoher), but I still added her just for the sheer curiosity of it.  ...And, truth be told, I probably would have enjoyed talking to her, even though we weren't in the habit of saying hi.  (...She was one of those strong-women types, which I tend to like.)

Lastly, how is it that so many people I grew up with have gone on to be teachers?!?  I thought we had a shortage of them, but it seems the majority have gone that route... I wonder what percentage of college grads are teachers...

Tablet Practice: Drow study

(A study of a painting by Lockwood)

Tonight I spent quite some time on the above picture. (90min?) My objective was to prove that, using electronic media, it's possible to just refine, and refine, and refine, until you get what you really wanted. That worked, though I didn't take it all the way (due to time). But more importantly, it gave me a little familiarity with the media itself. Just like I used to be really awkward with charcoal, but learned to love it after so many hours of pushing it on the paper and dabbing it off... the little time I spent tonight got me into a "groove", where I began to understand digital painting. And, unlike charcoal, I came to this thinking it would be really enjoyable. ...So my comfort with the media is coming much faster.

Results worthwhile or not (likely not, other than a curiosity), the process was incredible, and I loved it. (Unfortunately, I turned off my Anti-RSI software, and ended up with a sore wrist for my indiscretion.)

To put this in a little more context, I picked up a very nice art book this week called "Classical Drawing Atelier", which I have been savoring: taking my time reading it, paying close attention to the details. If you see it in the store, please pick it up and flip through it, because it contains what I--personally--consider paragons of art. The drawings in those books are the drawings I want to be able to create.

I'm excited.

Filling In

Okay, so I've actually had this... uhh... facial hair (goatee? beard?) long enough that it doesn't look like a kid's. ...Well, I think, anyway. Here:

Low Hanging Fruit

What are your priorities for solving the world's problems?

I think this is a superb, if painful, question. And it gets discussed here:

If you want to see it, here is the full list.

...There are flaws with this, as he points out himself: money is not the solution to everything... but it does help. And, for the most part, I agree with their top-three ticket items (actually, I like the top 18). And, in fact, I would tend to agree with their climate-change conclusion as well: it's very costly. Better, IMO, to push that agenda culturally, rather than politically, such that it creates a bottom-up pressure toward being green. I think there will be a snowball effect there: as more people demand more green, more jobs will be created, technology will get better, and the solution will essentially become cheaper. So, IMO, best to focus on AIDS, malnutrition, and fair trade.

I'd like to see cancer research in there, personally... but I don't know the math. In that case--for me--it's less an economic impact I'm looking for, and more of a scientific one. If we can understand what causes cancer, we better understand the inner workings of life itself. (Notice I said "cancer research" and not "a cure to cancer". I'm talking prevention, not treatment.)

An important discussion. This video has gotten me thinking more than most!

More 4th Ed.

...I like the 4th Edition of D&D, though I'm saying this without having actually play-tested it.

It's not without its faults.  First and foremost, I have to chide the team that worked on the Monster Manual this time around: they did a miserable job.  Few of the illustrations are on par with 3, they left out some of my favourite races, they tampered with other races I liked, and the additions are weak at best: they smell of cheesy module encounters.

Not all of the illustrations are of worse quality: the tarrasque, bullette, shambling mound, and kuo-toa are improvements, for example. It was nice of them to *finally* show off the hands of rakshassa, too.  And I think the Lizardman's spear kicks some serious ass.. but the 3.5 MM had a nice illustration, too.  But some of them are markedly worse, like the azer (LAME!), marut, ogres, orcs, salamanders, satyrs, bears, carrion crawler, doppleganger...

WHY?!? These guys are frickin' Wizards of the Coast!  They have access to the best artists in the industry. I expected much, much better.  ...On the same note, I think the design of the books (all three) is much cleaner, which is nice, but I really actually liked the rustic feel of the 3.5 books, even if they were busy.  But I suppose they couldn't just do that again... so I won't mark them down for that.

Elemtnals are gone!  ...Well, more to the point: they are spread out in the form of angels, giants, and other creatures.  ...I think that's a damn, damn shame: summoning elementals was really the thing that brought me to the table in 3.5.  ...And they even re-arranged the planes such that "Elemental Chaos" plays--ostensibly--as large a role as all of the "Astral Sea".  They need elementals.

They got rid of the inevitables, which is also a shame.  ...I mean, they kept the Marut, but in a dumbed-down, crippled form, and I suppose you could get a Kolyarut out of a warforged... but still, I liked the concept.  ...Makes sense in light of the new alignment system, I suppose, but I think it's a tough sacrifice.

No pixies!  For that matter, no fey, aside from Eladrin and "Banshrae", which I'm not sure I like.  Oh, and a few animals, which is fine.  Strange omission.

And they had to go an muck with the Slaadi.  ...The Death Slaad was the coolest of them (made the stupid reds and greens worthwhile), and they 'nixed it for the lame "chaos incarnate" kind of thing. ...Just doesn't make sense to me.  The changes to Angels is also lame (making them, essentially, elementals)... no longer are they an answer to demons and devils: they're just trinkets of the lawful gods.  ...While they're kinda neat, they also lost something.

And I just don't like the additions.  Well, mostly.  I like the Dark Ones/Shadar-Kai: they fit well... but they aren't extreme.  Sorrowsworn, Rot Harbinger, Magma Beasts, Larva Mage, Foulspawn, and so on: these are the things you would expect to see from lame D20 expansions in the 3.0 era.  They are generic bastardizations of other creatures.  I would much rather have seen them cut down on these additions and add a section for templates.  Templates provide the same results without smelling so strongly of cheese.  Or, expand on the races that are already strong and have some buy-in, like tieflings, cambion, and frickin' elementals!  ; )

All in all, I was sorely disappointed with MM4.

On the positive side, the monsters in a setting are the easiest thing to customize... so it's not a huge loss.  My players will never see 80% of these creatures.

Wait, did I just say "my players"?  ...But that's for another post...

On a Related Note...

...Here are the lyrics to "Letting You", from Nine Inch Nails.  ...Related, because it's another quote... but also because of the subject.  Grr.

The sky is painted black
The smoke pours out the stack
One hand upon your heart
One hand behind your back
You train us how to act
You keep the fear intact
The imminent attack
Everything is right on track

And we are letting you get away
We are letting you get away with it

Upon our plates to feed
The dying left to bleed
How much we really need
Your politics of greed
The cancer takes a hold
The wolf is in the fold
Our destiny's been sold
We do just what we're told

And we are letting you get away
We are letting you get away with it

Your armies filled with hate
Believing your charade
Begin to suffocate
For us it's far too late

And we are letting you get away
We are letting you get away with it

And to pimp the album: you can download the whole thing for free, on the up-and-up.

Trent Reznor continues to amaze me, by the way.

Quote of the Day 2: Subheading, Lie

So when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.

George W. Bush
acceptance speech at the 2000
Republican National Convention
in Philadelphia.

Quote of the Day

...From a movie I decided to watch again, after a long hiatus (and I must say: it stands up remarkably well).  I'll let you guess which movie...

I know you gentlemen have been through a lot.  But when you find the time... I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!

Letter from a Librarian

Here's an awesome letter from a librarian, addressing a complaint about a pro-gay-marriage book in the kid's section of the library.


You say that the book is inappropriate, and I infer that your reason is the topic itself: gay marriage. I think a lot of adults imagine that what defines a children's book is the subject. But that's not the case. Children's books deal with anything and everything. There are children's books about death (even suicide), adult alcoholism, family violence, and more. Even the most common fairy tales have their grim side: the father and stepmother of Hansel and Gretel, facing hunger and poverty, take the children into the woods, and abandon them to die!

... Your third point, about the founders' vision of America, is something that has been a matter of keen interest to me most of my adult life. In fact, I even wrote a book about it, where I went back and read the founders' early writings about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What a fascinating time to be alive! What astonishing minds! Here's what I learned: our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them.

...I fully appreciate that you, and some of your friends, strongly disagree with its viewpoint. But if the library is doing its job, there are lots of books in our collection that people won't agree with; there are certainly many that I object to. Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life.

I do think he made a mistake in saying "If it's legal, then how could writing a book about it be inappropriate?", but I'll forgive him that.  :)

The letter is well worth the read.  Avoid the comments.

Coolest. Machine. Ever.