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August 31, 2005

Ever seem in the same room together?

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Jen and I came up with almost identical results on the Law's Game Style quiz.

August 31, 2005 in Games | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

Political blogging, Kiwi style

Public Address' Tze Ming Mok "famously entered the blogging world when he miskeyed a Google search for 'public bogs.'"

And "Destiny NZ's political campaign was thrown into disarray yesterday when, at a sometimes heated press conference, God denied the party's claims that the Bible was to be taken literally." Sadly God let Winston "I have nothing to offer you but poisonous race hatred, unsubstantiated race hatred and, er, poisonous and unsubstantiated race hatred" Peters off lightly, without even the mild smiting he threatened Tamaki with. That big lug is just way too omnibenevolent.

August 30, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

I thought we sprayed for Babbages

This is so cool. On a tiny island, 200 years and 12000 miles away from where it all began, Phil Cockfield meets a man with a Babbage machine in his attic. This is like Hicksville for techies.

August 21, 2005 in Software | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

The Devil's Infosec Dictionary

Bruce Schneier wishes The Devil's Infosec Dictionary were funnier and invites his readers to come up with alternatives.

My favourite contribution was from "Vainstein," partly because it's such a great metaphor for technological solutions to security in general, and partly because he has Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary style just so:

Encryption. A lock, more or less elaborate, betimes even with one key for outside and one for inside. Guards the door to treasure - which is usually stolen via the window.

August 14, 2005 in Software | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

It's elephants all the way down

BBC News: "George Bush has... suggested that a theory known as 'intelligent design' should be taught in the classroom."

New Scientist had an excellent if rather apocalyptic article on the subject a few weeks back (subscription required for full article), which prompted an enjoyable letter.

Let us explore the hypothesis, the writer suggested, that complex entities, such as eyes or brains, can only be created through the intervention of an intelligent designer. That designer would have to be considerably more complex than a human being; after all, we are only beginning to stumble into the realm of designing simple living entities, and could certainly never design anything as complex as the human brain. Then how did this complex entity come to be? Did some even more intelligent designer design it?

"You don't fool me, young man. It's designers all the way up!"

August 10, 2005 in Science | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 07, 2005

Conflict resolution in superhero RPGs

Mash is not impressed with the state of superhero RPG systems: "Combats drag on, and on, and on, without resolution. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm for a fight between two characters which lasts more than, say, half a dozen exchanges. Supers games seem to have about a dozen exchanges and often with no noticeable outcome due to damage soaking."

Good call Mash. It's been twenty years since Watchmen; does anybody really still think the superhero genre is about the fighting? Look at a modern superhero comic like Powers, or even the venerable Astro City: how many pages are devoted to fight sequences? Fights are a necessary part of the superhero genre, but they're a means to a storytelling end; when the fight takes over from the story, something's gone wrong.

By a strange coincidence, an idea for a short superhero campaign popped into my head this morning. It would be a campaign in which the characters' superheroic exploits -- and their success or failure -- would be pivotal; but because of their consequences and side-effects, not because of the means by which that success or failure came about. A detailed, "combat-style" system like Champions or Golden Heroes would have been complete overkill. We'd have spent 2 hours and 55 minutes of every session on slugfesting, and had only five minutes left for the actual content.

By another strange coincidence, I was lucky enough to snag a slot yesterday in Mike Sands' Confusion game, 'Hostile Waters.' Mike's system, The Devil & The Deep, abandons traditional task resolution for "scene level" resolution of conflict. It's conceptually similar to what he and Luke patiently explain to me here, here and here, in the context of Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard, but fixes the bugs in that system and is consequently much cleaner, clearer and more plausible in narrative terms.

Seems to me that something like Mike's system, mutatis mutandis, is absolutely spot-on for superhero conflict. The heroes and villains get to show off their powers as they see fit, and to take whatever risks they are willing to take. Plenty of flavour, plenty of action, plenty of uncertainty. Maybe the heroes win, maybe they have a nasty setback. Maybe, in order to stop the villains, they injure or kill an innocent. Maybe -- heaven forbid -- they mess up so badly that the villains are actually able to carry out their plan. In a Sandsian system, all the narrative, all the colour, leads up to a quick, efficient scene-as-a-whole resolution, instead of occupying half the gametime on details of "your energy blast misses the villain by (roll roll roll) 2.8 centimetres and badly singes Mrs Kowalski's (roll roll roll) left hand curtain." We can then get on to dealing with the interesting bit, namely the consequences of the conflict for the superheroes themselves.

I think this would work really well. The whole "abilities and powers" thing remains really important and gives a whole load of flavour to the narrative, but it frees up a whole lot of playing time from mechanical dice-rolling, enabling games to focus on character development, sophisticated plot, or theme development without getting bogged down.

August 7, 2005 in Games | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack