Archive for July, 2012

Dear Google …

Dear Google,

Many years ago you were the plucky upstart that everyone rooted for. You had a clean, simple interface, with quick, and relevant search results. Most of the time, even when searching for a complex topic, one could find the results they were looking for in the first page or two. You  were showing the world just how simple and awesome search could be. In fact, you became so awesome at it, that your name is practically synonymous with searching. Your name has been verbed, and you used to provide such good results, that they made a website just for snarky internet posters to direct other users to just goole their questions.

So what the hell happened Google? Today, if you search for why your macbook pro optical drive might be rejecting cds, you get 2-4 good results, and pages and pages of “Bigresource” (not linking them) results. Bigresource is a link aggregator. Spam. Useless drivel that is another annoying step between me and the results I want. Searches for programing questions often result in pages of link aggregators just scraping StackOverflow for their content. And god help you if you want to search for how to solve your printer problems. If it’s not a problem with the most common of HP printers, chances are you’ll be staring down a list of FixYa all of which are worse than useless. It’s gotten so bad that they made a site to let you search google and exclude all of those sites that we all know are just link spam.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch the crap your intentionally doing to mess up my searches Google. Look, I appreciate your suggestions when I mispell a word and your offer to search for the other term, that’s great. What’s not great is when you decide you know better than me what I was intending on searching for and changing my results without asking me. Yes google, I meant the word “reject” not “eject”. And damn it, when I start editing the search query and scroll the cursor to the end to add a quote stop trying to change it to your recommended search in your search suggestions. And while I appreciate your shopping results when I search for specific products, can you please stop listing prices that I can’t get. Don’t tell me I can get a new monitor for $25 when the cheapest price when I click your shopping link is $75 before shipping.

Oh, and I also don’t want or need your iGoogle crap, can we have a simple, unadorned front page again? It used to be my home page because it was so quick to load, not so much anymore, and I’m not even logged in. And then can we talk about your new habit of inserting ad links at the top of the results, with a barely differentiated background color. I know you want the ads to be unobtrusive, but since they’re included in the search results, it would be nice if they were a bit more prominently marked as ads.

Oh, and lets not talk about your ignoring the “do not track” stuff in browsers ok? I’m sure that was just the result of a bit too much drinking.

Now I get your primary business isn’t search, it’s selling me, my life and everything tangentially related to every salesman in the world. But you didn’t get to have the user base you do on the backs of the same dirty tricks that all the other search engines used to pull. You were different, you weren’t evil. Now … not so much. So in closing, can you please get back to making awesome search engines again?

Love,

(The Subsection Which Agrees to Allow Me to Speak For Them of ) The Internet

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On Complexity vs Options

Sometimes, when I argue that we need to keep and maintain simple classes in D&D (and usually this comes up in discussions over the current D&D Next Fighter), people mistake that desire for simplicity with a desire to not have options. When I argue that there’s no need for a fighter (or indeed any class) to have a massive list of abilities to choose from, I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t have that option, just that they shouldn’t have to take those options to be effective. I did a little bit of math on this that I think exemplifies my point.

Lets say you sit down at a table with a bunch of players. You hand them the primary rule book and say “We’re going to run an adventure here, roll up a character you want to play, start at level 10.

If you were using Labyrinth Lord, your players would need to read and parse 42 pages of material, assuming that they read all the equipment lists, and all the spell lists. If you wanted them to choose some magic items from the treasure tables, add another 16 pages for a grand total of 58. At the minimum they would need to read a mere 18 pages if they didn’t review the spell lists.

If you were using Advanced Edition Companion from LL, they would need to parse (including all spells and equipment and magic items) 96 pages, and a minimum of 24 pages (including multi-classing) if they didn’t read through the spell lists or treasure.

If you were playing Dark Dungeons (a Rules Cyclopedia clone) and including all the weapon proficiencies, skills spells and treasure, 110 pages, with a minimum of  22 pages without skills, WP, spells and treasure, or 48 with skills and WP.

If you were playing OSRIC, 155 pages, including all spells and treasure. A mere 31 pages without spells and treasure.

So what we have so far is

  • LL – 18 / 58
  • LL AEC – 24 / 96
  • DD – 22 / 48 / 110 (depending on whether you play with out without skills and WP)
  • OSRIC – 31 / 155

So what does it look like for a new player of 4th edition? 20 pages of basic character information, 17 pages of races, 125 pages of classes and their mandatory powers, 13 pages of skills, 19 pages of feats, 45 pages of equipment and 19 pages of rituals. A whopping 258 pages of material that a new player must read through to make a character. If you drop the rituals (as only some classes use them) and the equipment (including magical) you’re down to a minimum of 194 pages just to get started on the game. And unlike previous editions where skills or weapon proficiencies were truly optional rules, 4e doesn’t work if you don’t take powers and feats and such, and so you have to parse all of that.

  • D&D 4e – 194 / 258

That is why I support having simple classes, where powers, feats and special tricks are optional, rather than mandatory and baked in. In my ideal dream system, characters would level as normal, perhaps with general bonuses to hit, damage or stats. As an option, players could choose from among lists of powers, and each of these powers would make the character a bigger specialist in something rather than making them all around better. So as a quick off the cuff example, When leveling from 9 to 10, the fighter would normally get +1/+1 to hit and damage. Instead, the fighter might choose to take the skill “Crushing Blow” where in some limited number of times per combat, the fighter can choose add an addition weapons worth of damage when using any heavy weapon. Under such a system, players who chose the standard leveling method would still be able to hold their own at level 20 against a character that took specializations.

Now other may argue that this ignores places where the games could be alternatively complex, like variable weapon speeds, or THAC0 or other such early fiddly systems that have been improved over time, and they’re right. But I don’t argue that D&D needs to bring back those fiddly bits, I argue that D&D needs to bring back simpler classes. Let’s keep the improved other systems and bring the character complexity back down as well.

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Playing the Game

It’s been a while, and in that time I’ve run through two more sessions, one a D&D Next playtest session, and the other a Labyrinth Lord session.
D&D Next continues to be an entertaining game, and the players certainly enjoy it. The players decided to take on the 40 kobold room as a straight fight, though quickly realised that they would be outnumbered if they didn’t do something. So the wizard cast sleep, and half the kobolds fell asleep. While the physical characters engaged in kobold genocide, the wizard then used mage hand to wind an oil soaked rope among the fray and once it was set, lit the rope on fire. All in all it worked out pretty well. Next definitely needs some form of swarm/squad rule combat however. I tried putting something together on the spot, but it didn’t feel quite right.

Later the party ventured into the Owlbear’s cave, and despite my warnings attempted to fight off, and were almost destroyed by the gray oozes.

The next week, we got back together for a Labyrinth Lord session. However, rather than have the players pick up in the caves again, we’ve changed settings entirely. The LL characters are now Level 3, and they are exploring the Castle of the Mad Archmage, a fantastic megadungeon and simulacrum of the Greyhawk castle by Greyhawk Grognard. In addition we’re using the wonderful Mad Demigod’s Castle from over at DragonsFoot as the first level. I’m running this for a couple of reasons. I want to run a megadungeon, I want to experiment with running without a map, and I want to switch between the games to get a good side by side comparison going. And I’ll be honest, they’re pretty similar, which is awesome to me.

One thing I did notice harkens back to my initiative discussions earlier. I really like group initiative (though the group sometimes hates it) but, it only works if I insist that the players declare their actions upfront and act as a group rather than individuals. If you roll group initiative and then parse each players actions one at a time, you get pretty much the same effect as having individual initiative. I’m considering switching to a combined model as in Dark Dungeons where initiative is still a d6, and characters on each initiative segment act at the same time.

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