Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Not sure what to make of this

Sorry to get political on a gaming blog, but I need to address this.

Earlier in the year I put out the Chanbara Characters paper minis set on my DrivethruRPG store, Hidden Treasure Books. Now frequent blog readers will know that I'm terrible at self-promotion. It's my Midwesterner background, maybe, or my introversion. If people want what I'm offering, great! I'm happy to provide it. But I don't go posting about them all over the place, all the time here, or in barely semi-relevant comments on others' blogs or forums. If they become relevant, I might bring them up.

Needless to say, I don't check for feedback or reviews as often as I should. The paper minis line has only gotten one review anyway (positive), and all of the feedback about Chanbara was here, aside from one comment on Drivethru asking about the print version when only the PDF was available.

I did check the other day, and found that a guy named David B had posted this:

Customer avatar
David B June 10, 2019 12:33 am Asia/Tokyo
Why did you not give them Japanese skin tones or did you not want to lose the opportunity for some virtue signalling 
I posted a response there, but probably this David character will never check back to see it, since I missed his comment for five months. So David B, if you're reading this and would like to further explain yourself, please feel free to chime in in the comments. 

My response to this was to laugh, honestly. I was pretty up front about the creation process of the paper minis here on the blog. So I'm guessing this guy isn't a regular reader. I'm a pretty poor artist. I never really developed my talent in art. I don't try to create the art myself. I take public domain images and modify them using GIMP. Sometimes that's just cropping out all the background to leave the character. Sometimes, if it's a black and white original, I colorize it. Sometimes I modify them to add weapons/armor or modify the pose a bit. Mostly though, it's selecting the figure I want from the original and deleting the rest. 

Now, with my Basic Adventurers set (see how I did that! Product placement!), I did go to some effort to make sure there were equal male and female figures, and that there were a variety of skin tones depicted. Many years ago, a Filipino friend I was gaming with took a look at my minis and asked me, in all seriousness, "Why are they all white?" And my only answer was that, being white myself, and thinking of Medieval fantasy as typically European-coded, they were all white. Then I stared painting more variety on my minis.
It doesn't hurt me in any way to be more inclusive. And if customers appreciate having some choices for fantasy characters that look more like they do (or a chance to use a figure that very much does NOT look like they do), great! Win-win, right?

With the Chanbara set, though, I was collecting Japanese public domain art, and some vintage photographs (also public domain). I didn't need to colorize anything, as they were already in color. The vintage photos were already colorized. 

The range of skin tones found in the Chanbara Characters set are the range of skin colors depicted by actual Japanese artists of the 17th through 19th centuries. In other words, most of these figures are of Japanese subjects as painted by actual Japanese artists. The rest are photos of Japanese people (colorized by someone other than me).
And this David B person, since his location lists him as Asia/Tokyo and assuming that he really is posting from somewhere in Asia, should realize that East Asian peoples actually do have quite the range of skin tones. I have students here in Korea who are just as pasty white as my Celtic/Germanic-heritage white ass (one who's even paler!) and some who are so dark they could almost pass for African-heritage. And that's not counting the fake tan "ko-gyaru" in Japan. I'm talking about the soccer club boys or track girls who spent a lot of time out in the sun. 

So I'm stumped as to why David B, if he is actually in Asia and not just using a VPN to make it look that way, wouldn't know this.

I'm also wondering why he thinks I'm "virtue signalling" by this. Makes me think he's just another one of those incel alt-right asshats on the internet, pissed off that someone, somewhere, is doing things without the express purpose of pissing people off. Or even worse, that he's crypto-fascist and doing his own virtue-signalling to his Aryan brothers on one of the most obscure items for sale on DriveThru. Like I've literally sold 4 copies of this thing. That's all. 
Now that sounds pretty bad. And I don't like to make wild assumptions about people like this. So David B, if you are reading, please prove me wrong in the comments. I'd love to know what your motivation was for posting that comment. Were you actually offended in some way? Are you (needlessly) defending Asian people from some perceived slight? Are you virtue signalling to the Regressive Right? Or did you just feel ripped off because you're one of those 4 people who spent your buck-fifty on this thing and weren't satisfied with it?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Information in Game Theory

This is the first post in a series responding to Alexis's comments on my Secret Roll post. I don't have time to write up a full reply today, so I'll just get this out there as a grounding for my thoughts.

Let me also preface this by saying I'm nowhere near an expert in Game Theory. I've done some light reading on the subject. My notes here come from reviewing Rosenthal's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory (2011).

There are four basic states of information in Game Theory: perfect, imperfect, incomplete, and asymmetric.

Perfect Information: all players are aware of all moves made by all other players up to that point of the game. For example, in chess, you can see the board, all the pieces, and every move you have made and every move the opponent has made is done openly.

Imperfect Information: One or more players know the possible moves that could be made, but don't know the exact move that has been made until after they make their move. Rock-Paper-Scissors is an example. You know what move you will make. You know possible moves your opponent may make. You won't know the outcome until the moves have been made already.

Incomplete Information: One or more players has imperfect information and also cannot be sure what sort of player they are up against, what strategies they favor, or the value the other player(s) place on outcomes. Poker is a good example of this, as a good poker player will try to hide their preferred strategies to more effectively bluff.

Asymmetric Information: One player has perfect information while the other player(s) has incomplete information. This sounds to me a lot like the typical DM/player distinction.

Rosenthal suggests that imperfect information games are the most interesting theoretically. "[T]he truly interesting games involving human interaction are games of imperfect information" (p. 84). However, game theorists can turn games of incomplete/asymmetric information into games of imperfect information by using a "call to Nature" or assigning a probability to each possible unknown move or unknown strategy choice in these situations.

It seems like Alexis is saying D&D works best when it's an imperfect information game. Players know the moves that they and the DM have made, but don't know the outcome until the dice are rolled. But once they are rolled, we're in a situation of perfect information until the dice need to be rolled again.

What I'm suggesting is that occasionally, incomplete or asymmetric information situations, where the player is forced to make a Call to Nature to determine the best strategy, can be a good thing.

More later.

Rosenthal, E.C. (2011). The complete idiot's guide to game theory: The fascinating math behind decision-making. New York: Alpha Books.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Secret Roll

I know there are a lot of bloggers and blog readers who favor rolling all the dice in the open. The original West Marches campaign, which I'm not faithful to 100%, also was for open rolls by the DM.

Now, I've come to believe that in combat, yes, the rolls should be open. Fair combat rolls, observed by everyone, lead to fewer complaints when things go pear-shaped.

But sometimes, rolling in secret as a DM for non-combat tasks is a good thing.

Searching for secret doors is a trade-off. There's not guaranteed to be a secret door where you're searching. And even if there is, you're not guaranteed to find it due to the roll. And each search takes a Turn, so the more searching done, the more chances of wandering monster encounters that suck up resources. In this case, if the roll is in the open and a result proves that there is no secret door (1-2 on a d6 for an Elf, 1 on d6 for anyone else, with no door found), the party knows to stop expending resources. But if the result is a mystery, they don't know if there is no door, or if the dice just weren't on their side (and chances are they weren't).

And now, they have to make a choice. Risk a wandering monster check to roll again? Or move on and potentially miss some treasure or a shortcut through the dungeon.

Now, I can understand the rationalization in the above situation that a successful roll where there is no door means the party gets definitive evidence that there is no door. So rolling in the open isn't so bad for that. But the suspense and measuring of odds of keeping that roll secret is more interesting to me.

Similarly, Thief skills are rolls that I, having learned from Mentzer's rules where he advises such, think the DM should roll in secret. Again, it adds to the suspense at the game table. And it's a situation where, as DM, if you were going to fudge the roll anyway, you might as well just tell the player straight up that conditions are such that they succeed automatically.

I mean, no one complains when a DM tells the Thief player, "Sorry, there just aren't any shadows to hide in here." Or if a door is barred rather than locked, so it can't be picked (although a clever Thief can work around a barred door too...). If the situation is such that failure is guaranteed, I don't see many players complaining. So if success is guaranteed, the DM should just tell the player that without bothering to make a roll. 

Just like players, the DM shouldn't have to roll unless the outcome is uncertain. And while certain rolls like monsters' attacks, damage, and saving throws most definitely should be rolled in the open, occasionally there are still times when it is better for the game experience for the DM to keep the roll secret from the players.

IMO, YMMV, all that jazz.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A New Take on Demi-Human Level Limits

This is an idea I've had before, but a quick search of my blog makes me think I've never posted about it before.

So we all know that AD&D had some pretty severe level limits on demi-humans, which Unearthed Arcana and then 2E relaxed. Classic D&D is a bit more generous than AD&D 1E, but you're limited to the race-as-class system. 3E got rid of them altogether and they've remained gone through 5E.

You're probably thinking now, "Thank you Captain Obvious."

I still haven't reverted my Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules to race-as-class (which I'm still considering, but less strongly right now). So my races have limited options for what class they can take, and level limits a la AD&D.

But there's this idea that keeps floating around in my head: What if the level limits only apply to multiclassed characters? 

So TSR classes go up to level 15. Humans have no limits in any classes. Demi-humans do. And unlike AD&D, the highest any demi-human is allowed to go (with the right race/class combination) is level 12. This is to honor the fact that the BX/BECMI Dwarf class maxes out at 12th level. AD&D, as you probably know, allowed most demi-humans unlimited advancement as Thieves.

Well, my idea above would be to allow single-classed demi-humans to reach pinnacles of  power just like a human. It's only when they multi-class that they need to worry about the level limits.

Of course, then some people will ask, why play a human then, if they can't multiclass, and you could get the demi-human abilities along with unlimited advancement as a single-class character?

Well, I do give humans two advantages: dual classing, and Survivability which allows them to roll for hit points with advantage (roll twice, take the higher number). So far, the hit point thing has been a key selling point for the race.

Anyway, it's just an idea that's been rolling around in my head. Not sure if I will implement it or not. We'll see.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fey Planet

A while back, I was reading an article about a new exo-planet that was discovered, and scientists think that it may be in the Goldilocks Zone, but tidally locked. That got me to thinking what conditions on a planet like that would be.

The planet orbits its star, and rotates perpendicular to the axis of rotation. In other words, it would appear from a fixed point in space to roll along its revolution. If you are on the planet, one side constantly faces the star, and the other side constantly faces away. Habitable zones, if there were any, would be along the equator. The day side would mostly be too hot, and the night side too cold.

So any life on the planet would likely be in the perpetual twilight/dawn of the equatorial zone.

And THAT sounds a lot like the Realm of Faerie as described by Poul Anderson in Three Hearts and Three Lions.

And THAT sounds like a great setting for a sword-and-planet style game!

The fey kingdoms inhabit the Twilight Zone (OK, probably need a better name than that to prevent endless Rod Serling impersonations). Sunward, the land gets drier and hotter as it gets brighter. The Sun Lands are an inhospitable desert, with a molten sea rumored at the center. Only the fiercest and toughest of desert-monsters can inhabit even the fringes of this land. Nightward, the land gets sparser and colder as it gets darker. The Night Lands are inhospitable glaciers, with a massive ice mountain rumored at the center. Only the fiercest of arctic-monsters can inhabit even the fringes of this land.

There is no night and day. Time is kept by the moons (this planet should have more than one) and the procession of the stars through the sky. "Days" or hours would be kept by the rising of certain constellations in the sky.

Sounds like a cool setting for either straight D&D fantasy, or for a sword-and-planet style mix of tech and magic.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Giving Credit to Robert Fisher

Recently I've been going back to Robert Fisher's old posts on his Classic D&D (or was it OD&D) campaign from many years ago. Reading these was a big part of what got me back into older editions of D&D.

Looking at them again now, I realized that my "big idea" for energy drain the other day was actually just Robert's idea from a dozen years ago or so.

So thanks (again) for the idea Robert! It obviously stuck with me somewhere in the back of my mind.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Why are stirges gluttonous?

Having dealt with stirges in some games recently as both player and DM, and in Pool of Radiance (still playing it!), I was wondering today why they will suck you dry if allowed

Mosquitoes don't do that. Ticks definitly bloat themselves, but detach before they pop themselves. I assume leeches do as well. So should stirges.

Idea: once a stirge has drained more than double its hit points, it detaches and flees to spawn.