Tag Archives: Game Mechanics

#249: A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #249, on the subject of A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

Last year in An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience I reflected on being a guest of the convention–a minor guest, listed as staff, but brought there because as a role playing game designer I hopefully add something to the experience of convention goers.  I’m looking at it through a different lens this time, hoping to give something of my own experience.

I suppose the story really starts months ago.  Last summer, shortly after my guest appearance at AnimeNEXT, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of time recuperating.  Complicating it greatly, two days after I was hospitalized my wife fell and broke a hip and a foot, and was also hospitalized for emergency surgery followed by extended rehabilitation.  In what would have been a comedy of errors had it not been so serious, three of our sons were working at cross purposes trying to resolve issues with the house so that we would be able to maneuver in it while convalescing, with wheelchair and walker and such, and when I came home in the middle of this it was in an uproar.  I don’t know that I contributed much to it, but after perhaps a week my wife came home, and I was there for a few days helping her get settled before I returned to the hospital for another couple weeks and she was struggling to get along without me with the help of two of those boys and a neighbor friend of theirs.  We took a long time to convalesce, and things are still not entirely normal–which meant, among other things, that I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to get to the convention myself, and whether she would be able to manage without me for a few days.  She still doesn’t drive, even though she’s back to work, so I have to drive her.

I’m not sure whether it was the last week of April or the first week of May, but one night when I drove my wife to work the most reliable car we have broke down, and that put a dent in our transportation.  I had one of my sons pick me up, and used a different car in the morning to retrieve my wife from work, and AAA towed the car to the nearest AAA approved service station, which happened to be a few blocks from home, which was quite convenient since work is fifty miles away.  I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it.

Why should I worry?  Well, if you read the aforementioned linked article, you know that I was present in 2014 and 2017, but that in 2015 and 2016 last-minute disasters prevented my attendance.  I thought we were potentially facing another, particularly since one of the cars on which we rely belongs to a son who spends the school year driving around the country in a company car and then uses his car, which is legally my car so that he doesn’t have to pay insurance and garage fees during most of the year just to have it, for the summer.  So I was anticipating losing a car, on an uncertain date, complicating transportation further.

Then a few weeks prior to the convention I ran out of printer ink.  I was in the middle of printing the first draft of the next novel for online publication, and I’m collaborating with someone on this one, so an exchange of printed pages has been part of the process.  Printer ink might not be that important, but it is important, and with the car in the shop (for the entire month) and an expected cost estimated with a variable of about two hundred dollars more or less, I had to be careful about spending money.  HP makes a reliable all-in-one printer which I’ve been using for near a couple decades now, but they have a policy of underpricing their printers and then overpricing their ink cartridges.  Complicating it further, apparently the cartridge mine uses has become less commonly used, so that it wasn’t on the shelf at my local Walmart when I finally decided I needed to buy one.  The convention was two weeks away, and I went online and found a place that sold their own replacement cartridges, and ordered some.  They arrived about a week before the convention–and two out of two black cartridges were defective, in different ways.

I will credit SwiftInk for great customer service.  Their online help gave me suggestions for trying to make them work (cleaning the contacts), and when these failed promised to ship replacements immediately, which they did.  Unfortunately, those replacements did not arrive until after the convention began, so I had no print capability.

If somehow you don’t know, I go to conventions to run Multiverser, the roleplaying game I co-authored with E. R. Jones.  I take a stack of books; they’re out of print, and I don’t have any copies of the rules other than my own, but I have several of the world books and a couple others.  I also have a small (probably twenty-two pocket) file case in which I have a lot of papers, including unpublished worlds that I use, worksheets for magic skills, and on-the-fly character creation papers.  As noted, last year when I returned from the convention there was a lot happening, and I wound up hospitalized not too long thereafter, and never gave another thought to those books and papers.  At least they got put away–the suitcase that I used was left in the living room until one of my sons decided to move it outside to get it out of the way, and when I found it this year it was ruined.  It went through my head a couple times in the hectic days before the convention that I ought to find the books and papers and make sure I had everything, but then part of me was uncertain I was going to go at all, and part of me recognized that if I didn’t have printouts of the needed papers there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, not having printer ink.

Complicating it further, as the date approached it became known that my wife, who works alternate weekends, would be working that weekend.  At first I thought that was the kibosh, but I realized after mulling on it for a few days that the convention started early Friday, with staff arriving starting Thursday night, and ran through Sunday morning; Sunday was the quiet day, generally.  If I could check in on Thursday night I could be active on Friday and up until lunchtime Saturday, get home in time to get organized and have my wife at work Saturday night.  I was not able to get confirmation for that from, well, anyone anywhere, but it became my plan, at any rate.

Transportation was settled a couple days in advance.  The car that was in the shop was going to be finished that Thursday, and my son whose car it is and I would retrieve it and bring it home.  He and his wife were interested in playing at the convention, so they were going to drive me in and back; as it turned out she was feeling ill the day I had to go, but he still did the driving for me (again, thank you).  He dropped me at Bally’s, where I was billeted, and I told him to stay in Atlantic City until he heard from me in case something went wrong.

Something did go wrong, but first I stood on line for probably half an hour.  I was very irked when a young and not unattractive girl took advantage of the attentions of a young man to cut in line right in front of me, but stifled my passive-aggressive tendencies and waited until it was my turn.  Then they asked for my ID.  I had not driven myself to Atlantic City, and I did not have a current copy of my license on my person.  With all the hospital visits and doctor offices wanting my ID, it got separated from my wallet and I wasn’t carrying it.  I had two older licenses, but the hotel would not accept these despite the fact that they were photo IDs, because they had expired.  They were not unsympathetic, and attempted to call the person running housing for the convention, Connie Ngo, but Connie didn’t answer her phone.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t keep my driver in the city all night, but I couldn’t send him away without knowing I had a room.  I texted him to return to get me, and started toward the exit; but I remembered that I had Connie on Messenger (because I had wanted to confirm that there would be no problem with checking in on Thursday night), so I messaged her.  She responded to the message and called the desk clerk, and I was approved and given a room key.

We were four to a room, technically, but only one of my roommates had arrived, and one had had to cancel at the last minute, and the remaining one I did not see until Friday night.  My roommate introduced himself by first name only, and I admit that it takes me several tries to learn names, and I only saw him awake one other time when I was barely so myself.  He offered a variety of snacks he brought from home.  I stuck one of the two key cards they had given me in a pocket and tossed the folder containing the other on the dresser, and never saw it again, but I slept with the card in my pajama pocket and kept track of it all day (I have this freaky thing about losing keys).  I laid claim to one of the beds and slept until morning.

At this point I’ll say a few words about the hotel.  I was in the Sheraton last year.  The room at Bally’s was considerably nicer.  I think the room itself was larger, and it had a couch large enough for a bed in addition to the two beds (and the first roommate had brought his own cot) so we didn’t have to share.  The bathroom is larger, with a large shower stall.  I had some concern that there were no safety railings inside the shower (I’m getting old, and am not always completely steady on my feet), but that’s often the case.  The Sheraton, as I recall, had a shower/tub, but I’m a bit tall for most bathtubs and so prefer showers.  It was overall a nice room.  I do not know, however, whether that’s because all the Bally’s rooms are nicer than the Sheraton rooms.  I was in the Garden Tower, and it may be that those are better than the standard rooms.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that if you wanted WiFi you had to pay for it separately.  McDonalds and Walmart can manage to give their customers free WiFi.  I’m not sure why one of the biggest casino hotels in one of the major resort centers in the Western Hemisphere can’t manage such a trivial amenity–but indeed I was reminded that the same rule held at the Sheraton last year.  I’d have used it to watch Netflix on my Kindle, I expect, but I had had the foresight to download a couple things to the Kindle for that purpose in advance, and I could handle Messenger, which I also have on the Kindle, on my phone.

I awoke alone, and had not yet checked in with the convention staff, but I took time for prayer and study and got a shower and a respiratory treatment before packing the essentials and walking the several blocks to the Convention Center.  That is one advantage of staying at the Sheraton:  it is physically attached to the Convention Center, being right across the street and having an enclosed pedestrian bridge between the second floors of each.  That doesn’t mean it’s close–it’s a long walk inside the Sheraton just to get from the rooms to the bridge (there are banquet halls between the two), and I remember lugging my gear using a wheeled cooler as a handtruck and case between the buildings.  I knew that there were free buses between Bally’s and the convention, but that you had to have your convention ID to use them, so the first time I had to walk.  Had I been earlier the night before I could have checked in there, but I was slow packing everything (the suitcase having been ruined, it took a while to settle on a high-quality reusable grocery bag for my clothes) and thought getting into the hotel was more important.  I made the walk to the center and found my way to operations, which was in the same room as last year, and was soon properly badged.  I then found Kat, my boss as head of Tabletop Gaming.  She was telling one of the photographers to get some pictures of how overcrowded the board game room already was on Friday morning, to show that our department could make good use of more space.  I told her I was going to take the Jtney (the bus) back to Bally’s and return with my thirty pound box of books, dice, and game materials, then grab some brunch somewhere.

Time to address the food.  That was an issue last year.  It was considerably better this year.  Instead of providing scheduled meals they gave us eight vouchers, each good for up to fifteen dollars at any of the several food outlets in the Convention Center itself except the Beer Garden.  Breakfast was still a challenge, as reportedly only one of those outlets opened early, and it sold out of breakfast sandwiches quite quickly both days I was there.  I was late enough on Friday that they already had their lunch menu going, and I bought a personal pizza, a cup of coffee, and a single-serve Minute Maid Tropical Blend juice, which was fourteen dollars and change–but hey, they must pay exorbitant rent to have space inside the convention center.  When I got back to the table, though, I already had players waiting, and so I sipped my coffee while running a game for a couple hours, and then when they scattered to other convention attractions I ate a cold pizza with a bottle of juice, and can’t really speak to the quality of the pizza.  The next morning I was earlier; they had gluten free bagels, which I decided not to eat (and was told my someone that this was a good decision), but instead got two cinnamon danishes, a small Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice.

By Friday afternoon I had heard that there was a place to buy food inside the dealer room, so I decided to try that next.  They were a pirate-themed grill, and advertised steak sandwiches and burgers.  I asked for one of their ten dollar bacon sirloin cheeseburgers, and was told that they were out of bacon, so I went with the eight dollar version without bacon, added lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and catsup, with a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate, self-served.  It was rumored that their fries were good, but at five dollars I could see I wouldn’t be able to buy a drink and stay within the voucher.  Anyway, the burger was large, tasty, and filling, and I went back the next day.  At that point I was preparing to leave the convention, my ride being almost there, and so I spent two vouchers to get two bacon cheeseburgers and one without bacon.  I gave one of the bacon burgers to the son who drove to get me (and he devoured it in the street before we drove away, but said it was really very good, but economical as he is he would not have paid ten dollars for it; I figure that’s a good price for deluxe burgers nowadays, and again they have an incredibly high rent on their space).  I brought the other two home and shared them with my wife, who is not a fan of bacon.  The grill bent over backwards to make it possible for me to transport these, which were usually served in open topped boxes, and should be commended for that.  I left my remaining coupons with Ahmetia, my co-host in the RPG room, figuring she could use them.  Because of the high prices, I often saw people using a fifteen dollar voucher plus a bit of pocket cash to pay for their meals, and while I avoided that I did so partly by not buying some things I might otherwise have eaten.  That’s not a complaint; I tend to overeat anyway, and didn’t really need the fries.

By now I have this entirely out of sequence, but that’s not really a problem.  I’ve left out the games, only hinting at them to this point.  Time to remedy that.

By the time I got to the table with my pizza late Friday morning, Navya and Cory were waiting, and I began the character creation process.  Ahmetia, who has several years of Multiverser play under her belt, is very good at selling people on playing at my table, and Kat reminded me that she played a session at Ubercon a decade ago and thinks it’s a really great game, so I get referrals.  As we were moving forward with their character papers, Johanna arrived and joined us.

You’ll remember I said that the printer mattered.  My On-the-Fly Character Creation system uses four printed sheets on which players record information.  The fourth sheet is the simplest, being there strictly for the world list and stage number.  The third is equipment and the second skills, and of course you can have multiple sheets of skills and equipment.  The first, though, is the most complicated, with name, aliases, attributes, averaged attributes, best relevant attributes, bias levels, weaknesses, and character description all mapped onto a single page–and when I opened my file, I had only the second and third pages printed.

It wasn’t a disaster.  After all, I know what goes on the first page, and I had a couple of yellow pads, so everyone wrote out the first page longhand.  There was a second problem, that I had only one pen, and my first two players had no writing implements; I discovered another, though, an old four-color pen, in the game materials box, and when the third player arrived she had her own.  Not long after that, Ahmetia delivered a handful of pencils and some scrap paper, which was a big help as the weekend continued.  We put together their character papers, started them on the Tropical Island, and got them all gathered together with Michael di Vars, who explained to them what was happening.

I had eight players over the weekend, seven of whom sat and listened to Michael explain that they had died and any time in the future that they die they’ll come back to life in another universe just like this time, and not one of them balked, called him crazy, or demanded proof of this insane explanation.  Ah, well, it’s fun when it happens, but I’m not going to spoil it.  I was working out where each of the original trio was going to go next when they died, but suddenly they all had to run before that occurred, the game ended, and I ate my cold pizza and ran to the loo.

I returned to find Corderro waiting.  We got him up and running on the Tropical Island, and he had a long conversation with di Vars and then asked if the senior verser would be willing to spar a bit in unarmed combat.  As it happens, di Vars is extremely good at many weapons across the technological spectrum, but never really took much interest in unarmed hand-to-hand.  Corderro was high level professional, third degree black belt in a martial arts style.  At hand-to-hand he was fifty percent faster than di Vars with a very slight edge on accuracy, with the result that he outfought the killing machine in two one-minute rounds.  He lasted long enough for the volcano to blow, took a nasty rock to the head, and was out of the world–but also decided to leave the game there.  That’s a bit of a shame, because I knew where I was going to send him.  (Hint:  he has a beard.)

I’ll interrupt this recounting of games to recount the night.  I was the first one back to the room, partly because after seven I figured there was no point in starting a new game, I got and ate the aforementioned cheeseburger, and called it a night.  I moved my box of books to the board game room, which gets locked overnight, and took my bag of personal effects to the Jitney to ride back to the hotel.  I wasn’t up long, taking time to find something innocuous on the television that would lull me to sleep (Transformers, which I’ve seen before), set early alarms, and went to bed.

An hour later I was awakened by banging on the door.  It took a moment to get organized and answer it, and I almost didn’t catch the departing offender, but it was the roommate I’d met accompanied by the roommate I hadn’t met, having gotten themselves locked out.  I let them in and went back to bed, only to have my cell phone ring while I was getting in.  My youngest son, who lives not far from Atlantic City at the moment, had apparently not realized that I was going to be at the convention this weekend, and having failed to get his mother on her phone decided to try mine.  We talked for several minutes, and apart from me suggesting that if he couldn’t reach his mother he should try his brother I don’t remember any of it.  I then settled down to sleep.

Someone silenced the television at some point, but I was asleep by then.  I noticed it in one of my brief periods of overnight awareness.  I think I awoke before my alarm; in any case, I was the first up, and I packed my things, left the room, went back because I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and discovered that I’d also forgotten my box of tissues, and then went downstairs and checked out of the hotel.  It was not quite seven thirty, and the buses didn’t run until eight, so I got some prayer and study time on a park bench near the hotel parking garage entrance under the shelter of the building as it poured rain a few dozen feet away.  At eight I walked the short couple blocks to the bus stop, boarded a waiting Jitney, and was soon joined by a crowd of others headed to the convention.  I had promised Kat I would text her when I was up, which I did around seven-thirty but with the caveat that I wasn’t going to get there until the buses started, and she said she was already awake and working on getting the room unlocked.

I put my stuff in the RPG room, but the board game room was still locked; I asked someone working that room to bring my box to me when it became possible, and went to obtain the aforementioned breakfast.  Returning, I did a bit more study while nibbling on part of the breakfast, but then Steven arrived.  I still didn’t have my materials, but there were pencils and pieces of scrap paper on the table, so I set aside my breakfast and attended to starting his character sheet.  The books came, I got him started on the island, and Hannah and Tia arrived.  I had actually bumped into them twice in the halls, and Hannah must look like someone I know because I thought I recognized her, but apparently she’s not who I remembered.  Having met me and introduced themselves, they came to try the game, so I started setting up their papers.  Having finished their first page, I turned to their skills, still juggling Steven through his time on the island, and Austin arrived and joined the character creation process.  I was hitting my stride, though, and got that moving well.  Steven met di Vars, and got a feel for what was happening, but then said he had to leave just about the time I was launching Tia, then Hannah, then Austin.

Austin made a comment about having to leave soon, so I ignored the die roll and had him reach di Vars first.  He decided on cautious discretion, and remained behind the tree line watching.  Tia, second to arrive, decided that she needed help more than caution, and called out, receiving an invitation to join him.  By the time Hannah arrived, she could see Tia sitting by the campfire, and as they were friends before the verse they recognized each other.  Austin left the table, and di Vars explained things to Tia and Hannah, and then before we got much further they, too, said they had to leave.

I feel a bit foolish that I did not mention it to Navya, Cory, and Johanna, but perhaps they’ll find their way here somehow.  Corderro jogged my thinking, so I invited him, Steven, Austin, Hannah, and Tia to continue play on the M. J. Young Net Forum.  I know several of them wrote that down, but as I write this none of them have arrived.  That’s kind of a shame, because I know where I want to send several of them, but we’ll give them some time to find their way.

I’ve got one other aside.  Last year, within minutes of my arrival, I saw a girl in costume who would have made a good picture for my character papers for Lauren Hastings.  She looks a lot like most representations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, so I often find pictures that work.  This year I saw someone, not quite as good but passable, again as I was headed for check-in.  Again I never saw her again.  It prompted my brain, though, to consider that I should look for people who might be suitable images for those character papers.  After all, Slade looks a lot like Thor, I’ve got a couple of American soldiers, someone might come as a sprite which would be good for Derek, Shella is a witch, and I’ve recently added a few characters including a dark-haired Arabian princess.  I saw no one the entire time who fit any of these images.  It was a bit disappointing in that regard, but then I’m not all that well versed in anime and recognized very few of the characters I did see.  Someone was Deadpool.  That’s about it.

When I got home, the household was hoping that since I had left the convention already I could run a game for them.  I somewhat wearily with apologies explained that the reason I was home was because I had to get some sleep and do the work driving that night, and then tackled what had to be done to be ready for that.

I must also thank Kate and Tris for holding down the kitchen in my absence.

Here’s hoping that I can do another convention next year, if not sooner.  I don’t know that I would say I have fun, but it is a high point in my time to be reminded that people like the game, even if it didn’t sell terribly well.

I think that about covers it all.  Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the convention for inviting me again.  Here’s hoping that I was not more trouble than I’m worth, and perhaps there will be another invitation next year.  It’s an interesting way to spend my birthday weekend.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#195: Probabilities in Dishwashing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #195, on the subject of Probabilities in Dishwashing.

I was going to call this, What Are the Odds?, but that’s too useful a title to use for this.  Actually, almost every time my bill rings up to an exact dollar amount, ending “.00”, I say that to the cashier, and usually they have no idea, so usually I tell them.  But I’m a game master–I’ve been running Multiverser™ for over twenty years, and Dungeons & Dragons™ for nearly as long before that.  I have to know these things.  After all, whenever a player says to me, “What do I have to roll?”, he really means “What are the odds that this will work?”  Then, usually very quickly by the seat of my pants, I have to estimate what chance there is that something will happen the way the player wants it.  So I find myself wondering about the odds frequently–and in an appendix in the back of the Multiverser rule book, there were a number of tools provided to help figure out the odds in a lot of situations.

And so when I saw an improbable circumstance, I immediately wondered what the odds were, and then I wondered how I would calculate them, and then I had the answer.  It has something in common with the way I cracked the probabilities of dice pools decades back (that’s in the book), but has more to do with card probabilities, as we examined in web log post #1:  Probabilities and Solitaire, than with dice.

So here’s the puzzle.

At some point I bought a set of four drinking cups in four distinct colors.  I think technically the colors were orange, green, cyan, and magenta, although we call the cyan one blue and the magenta one red, and for our purposes all that matters is that there are four colors, A, B, C, and D.  We liked them enough, and they were cheap enough, that on my next trip to that store I bought another identical set.  That means that there are two tumblers of each color.

I was washing dishes, and I realized that among those dishes were exactly four of these cups, one of each of the four colors.  I wondered immediately what the odds were, and rapidly determined how to calculate them.  I did not finish the calculation while I was washing dishes, for reasons that will become apparent, but thought I’d share the process here, to help other game masters estimate odds.  This is a problem in the probabilities of non-occurrence, that is, what are the odds of not drawing a pair.

The color of the first cup does not matter, because when you have none and you draw one, it is guaranteed not to match any previously drawn cup, because there aren’t any.  Thus there is a one hundred percent chance that the first cup will be one that you need and not one that you don’t want.  Whatever color it is, it is our color A.

In drawing the second cup, what you know is that there are now seven cups that you do not have, one of which will be a match.  That means there is one chance in seven of a match, six chances in seven of not matching.  This is where I stopped the math, because I hate sevenths.  I know that they create a six-digit repeating decimal that shifts its position–1/7th is 0.1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅7̅, and 2/7ths is 0.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅, and in each case the digits are in the same sequence, but I can never remember that sequence (I don’t use it frequently enough to matter, and I can look it up on the table in the back of the Multiverser book as I just did here, or plug it into a calculator to get it).  So the probability of the second cup matching the first–of drawing the other A–is 14.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅%, and the probability of not drawing a match is 85.7̅1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅%.

So with a roughly 86% chance we have two cups that do not match, colors A and B, and we are drawing the third from a pool of six cups, of which there are one A, one B, two Cs and two Ds.  That means there are two chances that our draw will match one of the two cups we already have, against four chances that we will get a new color.  There is thus a 33.3̅3̅% chance of a match, a 66.6̅6̅% chance that we will not get a match.

We thus have a roughly 67% chance of drawing color C, but that assumes that we have already drawn colors A and B.  We had a 100% chance of drawing color A, and an 86% chance of drawing color B.  That means our current probability of having three differently-colored cups is 67% of 86% of 100%, a simple multiplication problem which yields about 58%.  Odds slightly favor getting three different colors.

As we go for the fourth, though, our chances drop significantly.  There are now three colors to match, and five cups in the deck three of which match–three chances in five, or 60%, to match, which means two in five, or 40%, to get the fourth color.  That’s 40% of 67% of 86% of 100%, and that comes to, roughly, a 23% chance.  That’s closer to 3/13ths (according to my chart), but close enough to one chance in four, 25%.

A quicker way to do it in game, though, would be to assign each of the eight cups a number, and roll four eight-sided dice to see which four of the cups were drawn.  You don’t have to know the probabilities to do it that way, but if you had any matching rolls you would have to re-roll them (one of any pair), because it would not be possible to select the same cup twice.  In that sense, it would be easier to do it with eight cards, assigning each to a cup.

I should note that this math fails to address the more difficult questions–first, what are the odds that exactly four of the eight cups would be waiting to be washed, as opposed to three or five or some other number; second, how likely is it that someone has absconded with one of the cups of a particular color because he likes that color and is keeping it in his car or his room or elsewhere.  However, the first question is an assumption made in posing the problem, and the second question is presumably equally likely to apply to any one of the four color cups (even if I can’t imagine someone taking a liking to the orange one, someone in the house does like orange).  However, it should give you a bit of a better understanding on how to figure out the odds of something happening.

For what it’s worth, the probability of the cost of the purchase coming to an even dollar amount, assuming random values and numbers of items purchased, is one chance in one hundred.  That, of course, assumes that the sales tax scheme in the jurisdiction doesn’t skew the odds.

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#167: Cybergame Timing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #167, on the subject of Cybergame Timing.

I’ve played a few games which I am calling “cybergames”.  “Computer games” would suggest they are considerably bigger than they are.  These are “Facebook games” and cellphone games.  What usually happens is a close friend or family member will be playing a game and will “need” another player in order to get certain in-game benefits (a recruitment tool used by the game designers to get people who are playing to coerce their friends to play), so I will join the game and become involved, and then they will stop playing and I’ll realize, gradually, that I’m the only one I know playing this game, and eventually will realize that I’m wasting a lot of time on something that was supposed to be a way of interacting, in some small way, with this other person, and now is about interacting with a central processing unit somewhere.  However, along the way, being a game designer and gamer from way back, I notice things about these games, and one of them has begun to bother me.

img0167Game

Many of these games have timed processes.  That is, for example, you’ll say “build this here”, and it will tell you that it has started building it and the building will be complete in exactly this period of time, a countdown timer beginning.  That sometimes limits what else you can do (or requires you to spend resources to do some other things you normally would be able to do “free”), but its primary function seems to be to induce you to return to continue playing the game later.  The time units are often intuitively logical–for example, it is often the case that these will be twenty-four hours, or twelve or eight or six, fractions of a day.  With the twenty-four hour unit, you think that means you can play the game once a day and hit the button to restart this for the next day–but therein lies the rub.

Assume that you are playing such a game, and there is one task that can be done every twenty-four hours–collect a specific resource.  Let’s assume you are playing this game every morning before work and again twelve hours later in the evening after supper.  Both of those times are going to have a bit of fluctuation to them, of course, and that’s part–but not all–of the problem.  So at seven o’clock Monday evening you collect the resource, and that restarts the clock.  Of course, there are other things to do in the game–you don’t just collect the resource, you do other game play things at the same time.  So on Tuesday at seven the flag pops up to say that you can collect the resource.  Odds are against the notion that you are simply waiting for that flag to appear and immediately hit the button, so it will be at least a few seconds–let’s say a minute–before you do.  Sure, some days you are going to hit that resource in the same second, but those are the very rare ones.  By the end of a week, you are going to have shifted the time that the twenty-four hour resource renews by several minutes–so the next Monday you come to play at seven, but the flag doesn’t appear until five after, or ten after, or some time after the hour.  That’s not a problem–presumably you are playing the game for more than ten minutes at a shot, or it wouldn’t be much of a game.  However, you can’t make that clock go backwards–by the next week it will be quarter after, or possibly half past, before the flag appears.

Probably it’s not a game that you play for half an hour, at least not every night.  At some point, you give up waiting for that flag, and it “appears” in the program after you’ve shut down the game.  When you restart the game at seven in the morning, there it is.  And now you repeat the same process in the morning, until you have to quit the game and leave for work before the flag appears.  You lose a day of resource generation, and it returns to an evening task.

Not a big deal?  However, this same problem affects all tasks of length, whether twelve, eight, six, four, or even three hours:  no matter how frequently you play the game during the day, eventually the task will be unfinished twenty minutes before you are going to bed, and you will have to choose whether to stay up and hit the button late or go to bed and pick it up in the morning.  What seems like a game mechanic that pushes you toward a regular play schedule actually prevents a regular play schedule, because it shifts against the clock slightly each time.

The obvious solution to this problem is a game design correction:  replace those seemingly intuitive chunks of turnover time with rather unintuitive shorter ones.  Have the resource renew in twenty-three hours, eleven and a half, eight and two thirds, six and a three quarters, four and five sixths, three and seven eighths hours.  This lets the player show at a regular time and find the task complete and waiting for replay.  It avoids the frustration of having to wait until tomorrow morning simply because it’s not worth waiting another twenty minutes tonight.  It’s a better game design.

Anyway, that’s my suggestion.  I would probably find these games a bit less frustrating (and really, do you want your game to be frustrating?) if that were fixed.

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#44: The Feeling of Victory

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #44, on the subject of The Feeling of Victory.

Moments ago I finished a game of computer pinball, and it was such an exciting finish–on the final ball I finished the extra point task list, crossed the two million mark, and lost the ball, all within a second, and I couldn’t help going, yes.

Don’t get me wrong.  Two million is a paltry score, even by my standards. I have to break six or seven million just to get on my own leader board, and I think that my record score is up somewhere above fourteen.  This wasn’t a particularly well-played game overall.  It was just–

Screenshot of 3D Pinball Space Cadet (c)Microsoft

It illustrates something that every game designer and every role playing game referee needs to grasp.  It is something inherent in Multiverser, something that I tried to capture in the novels.  Some call it the “payoff”.  It’s the feeling, perhaps the “rush”, you get when you do something special.

Note that you don’t have to win.  You don’t even have to break even.  You don’t have to have reached some pre-defined goal.  At no point did I think that I wanted to reach two million–on throwaway games of pinball, I figure I did fine if I passed the million mark, and I’d done that.  Nor did I give much thought to whether I was going to “complete the mission” by hitting all the intended targets.  It was this juxtaposition, the unexpected success on both of those in-game milestones at the moment of defeat.

After all, let’s face it, you never “win” pinball.  It’s not like Solitaire, where sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and if you know enough you can improve your odds.  With pinball, you keep playing, and you keep winning, until suddenly you lose.  You can count it a win if your particularly high losing score is high enough to put you on the leader board.  Yet this unwinnable game has an appeal of its own, an appeal that comes from the small victories along the way, and particularly from the unexpected ones, the ones that come in under the wire, the ones that surprise.  It’s fine for me to lose, as long as at some point I felt like I won–even if it’s the same moment.

It’s fine to run or design a game in which people lose.  In Multiverser, player characters get killed all the time.  Ron Edwards once wrote that the game had some of the best answers to the problem of character death, because we use it to advance the plot into the next adventure.  You lost the round; get ready for the next round, because you get to keep playing, you’re just on a different board.  The game you lost isn’t lost if you won something along the way, and the sting of defeat is considerably mitigated by the thrill of a victory gained at that same moment.  People love their victories, but they also love their glorious defeats.  Icarus may have crashed and burned, but for a moment there, he was flying.

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#40: Multiverser Cover Value

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #40, on the subject of Multiverser Cover Value.

In a thread on Facebook on a completely different issue (an article I encountered on an effective non-lethal weapon) posters made some comments about the complexity of the Multiverser game system.  I don’t happen to think it that complex, really (to create an Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ character without limiting in advance what the player might want to be, the referee needs to have access to twelve of the thirteen hard-cover volumes), but they did tackle two of the more complicated areas:  the spell system and the way to calculate cover value for armor.  I promised to provide answers, and since I no longer have the Gaming Outpost forum for such things, the answers are going to land here.  We previously addressed the issue of Multiverser magic; this entry will deal with the cover value problem.

Combat image from Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, by Jim Denaxas, (c)E. R. Jones & M. Joseph Young

This part of it was raised by one of the most experienced Multiverser referees out there, my own son Kyler:

While you’re talking about complicated math in multiverser, I’m surprised no one has brought up Cover. That was one of the first things I changed when I was trying to streamline the system.

The math for Cover can get ridiculously complicated when you’re wearing layers of armor. “Add this, divide that. Take into account material density.” I abandoned it in favor of a system that focused more on where you were hit and ascribed a damage value to each piece of armor.

I’m not saying that the Multiverser system’s way of dealing with it is bad. I’m just saying that it’s needlessly complex, basically no matter what we’re trying to do.

Ouch.

Well, in my defense, the rule book does say that calculating cover is a complicated bit of math–but at the same time, that you don’t have to do it generally, as once for any piece of armor is sufficient.  Reading some of the other comments on the thread, I’ll note that if for Multiverser purposes you’ve calculated the “cover value” of five different pieces of armor, and you wear them all, your cover value is simply the sum of all the pieces you’re wearing, even if they cover the same body parts.  So the math is only difficult when a particular piece of armor is created or acquired, and after that the only question is whether you’re wearing the same pieces or left something off.

So, what is the complication?

How well armor protects is based on two factors, one of which is also based on two factors.  The one factor is how much of the body the armor covers.  It is kind of the joke that people wear bullet proof vests but are easily killed by a shot to the head.  That’s why combat and riot gear includes helmets.  The system would be complicated indeed if we required the referee to work out how much protection was afforded to each part of the body, but we allow a sort of fiction here–if you’re wearing a bullet proof vest, you are that much harder to hit, and the “cover value” takes into account that blows against your torso are less likely to penetrate, even though your head is still vulnerable.  In theory, someone can aim for an unprotected head, but they’d take a size penalty on the shot.

The second factor is how difficult it is to penetrate.  We know from history that iron armor protects better than bronze armor, because iron weapons are more likely to penetrate bronze armor but not iron armor.  It thus follows that a suit of white dwarf alloy (if such a thing could be obtained and worn) would protect better than a suit of aluminum.  We cover this factor with a density number–nothing too scientific, just the application of a game concept of “density” extended to cover materials that have not yet been created.  We also allow the issue of thickness, when it comes to armor–if you make your armor twice as thick, it’s more difficult to penetrate–but that particular factor is usually ignored because thicker armor of that sort is overly restrictive:  armor that is twice as heavy is only twenty-five percent more protective.

So the system really comes down to these two factors:

  1. How much of your body is covered by the armor?
  2. How hard is it to penetrate the material covering it?

It’s not usually difficult.  For example, let’s suppose someone gets a full suit of jointed full plate armor.  The book suggests that such a suit covers ninety-five percent of the body–there are some slots for vision and air in the front of the visor, and a few small gaps where the metal comes together most of which open and close as the body moves.  It would be made of a relatively hard metal, but that could be a softer one like bronze or a harder one like steel.  Thus there’s a range of densities for hard metals, from 2@6 to 4@8.  From there it’s simple to convert the values to “decimalized” numbers and multiply.  If we’re looking at 95% coverage at 2@6 density, that comes to 26 x 0.95=24.7, which we round to 25, a 25 percentage point penalty on incoming attacks.  If we have heavier denser metal, say a 4@8, that’s 48 x 0.95=45.6, again rounded to 46.

It looks complicated probably probably for two reasons.  One is because of that table in the book that looks like this (you don’t have to read this table, it’s just here so you can see it):

From Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, (c)E. R. Jones & M. Joseph Young

That makes it look complicated–add this, subtract that, put it all together to get a number–but ultimately, all it’s really saying is, figure out how completely the wearer is covered.  It tries to take into account things that should be considered–chain doesn’t really cover your entire body because it has little holes in it, and we’ve all read stories about the arrow or knife that went through the holes in the chain armor.  Ultimately, though, all the referee really needs to do is decide what percentage of the body is covered–or conversely not covered–to get his basic “percent covered”.  That’s all that that table is for.

The second complication arises, though, when players attempt to “game the system”.  They’ll usually try to make armor thicker to get more protection out of it–and sure, a phone book is harder to penetrate than a manila envelope, so thickness does matter.  It does not matter if the design uses layers–that is, if you’re wearing a chain shirt under solid breast and backplates, you get the full value of both.  It’s only complicated if you make the material thicker, such as making the breastplate half an inch thick instead of a (standard) quarter inch.  That requires a bit of math–but the thickness of the armor is not going to change, and wearing multiple layers of armor is simple addition, so you only have to do the complicated bit once.

After all, how many times does someone get a new suit of armor?  A few minutes to work out how effective it is should not be that much of a problem.

The game also has rules for ablative armor–armor which protects by absorbing damage–but these rules in essence say that unless the ablative armor is also stated to provide cover value, it does not provide cover value and so isn’t part of this calculation at all.  There can also be complications if someone is hiding behind a wall and someone else is destroying the wall, but that’s an attack on cover or structures, not at all about armor, so it’s not part of the usual “cover value” issue.

Or did I miss something?

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#38: Multiverser Magic

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #38, on the subject of Multiverser Magic.

In a thread on Facebook on a completely different issue (an article I encountered on an effective non-lethal weapon) posters made some comments about the complexity of the Multiverser game system.  I don’t happen to think it that complex, really, but they did tackle two of the more complicated areas:  the spell system and the way to calculate cover value for armor.  I promised to provide answers, and since I no longer have the Gaming Outpost forum for such things, the answers are going to land here.  This entry will deal with the magic.

From Multiverser: The Game: Referee's Rules, (c)Valdron Inc, by Jim Denaxas

Harry Lambrianou (wow–I spelled that correctly on the first try without looking) raised the issue, and said in significant part:

My biggest problem – and the thing I houseruled away most frequently – is that MV’s magic system, as written, insists that /any change/ no matter how minute results in a completely new spell.

So if I have a “Battle Blessing” spell that normally takes 1 minute to cast, and I decide that today I need to rush it and cast my “Battle Blessing” in 10 seconds… normally you would think that this is my normal “Battle Blessing” spell, albeit with a skill penalty for rushing, right? That’s intuitive… No, it’s an /entirely new/, but /otherwise identical in every way/ spell… that does not inherit the Skill Ability Level for the spell its based on. So if I was 2@8 on the original Battle Blessing… maybe I’m 1@3 on the /identical/ rushed version…. and both need to be leveled up separately.

At one point I think my actual Verser self had something upwards of four different copies of this same spell, the only difference being one was a shorter casting time, or one affected three people instead of five, or something like that. It got out of hand very quickly.

I hated this from the first time I saw it happen, and consequently have never enforced it on the handful of players I ever ran for.

It’s a valid point:  if you know how to perform some kind of magic, shouldn’t you be able to perform it more quickly if you’re in a situation in which you need to get it done fast?  However, I have two answers for this.

The first has to do with “game balance” in mechanics.  That was always a big deal before Vincent Baker’s Lumpley Principle and Ron Edward’s Model, and it’s still a big deal in complex game design.  It means, among other things, that every power has limits so that it won’t dominate the game.

Magic, in Multiverser, has essentially two limits.  One is the same limit that applies to technology, psionics, and even to body skills:  bias, which determines what is possible or impossible in a given universe, and how difficult it is to do.  It’s a relatively simple system given the complexity of issues it addresses, but it’s not at issue here.  For any given magic outcome, either it is or is not possible in the present world, and it can be more or less difficult.

The other limitation is the one at issue.  In Multiverser, you can design your own magic skills.  You can say that you want to achieve this result–create fire or lightning, charm an enemy, pass unnoticed through the midst of a crowd, fly–and that you are going to take these steps to achieve it.  The simple form of the rule is that the power you get from a “spell” is proportional to the effort you put into it.  That effort can take the form of sacrificing objects of greater or lesser value, speaking loudly or gesticulating wildly in ways that call attention to yourself, saying words that broadcast what you are attempting to do so the target can take countermeasures, and, almost always, how much time it takes to cast it.  The battle blessing in particular is significant in this regard:  a two-minute spell to enhance your combat abilities means that for two minutes you have to stay out of the fray, which might not even be possible; the same spell in twelve seconds is going to be very nearly something you can do while drawing your weapon.  Obviously, though, if we assume that the battle blessing does exactly the same thing to the same degree at the same probability of success, no character in his right mind would take two minutes of valuable combat time to cast a spell he can cast in twelve seconds.  Thus part of the solution to prevent that is that the probability of success on the twelve-second version is considerably lower than that on the two-minute version.  Assuming everything else to be the same, the longer spell is probably about thirty percentage points more likely to be successful than the short one.  That can impact whether or not it works, of course, and also because of Multiverser’s relative success rules it can also impact how well it works, because a higher successful roll normally delivers a better outcome.

Understand, too, that I believe in running an equitable game.  If when you create this spell you get this bonus for shouting, everyone should get that bonus for including “shouting” in any spell design; it becomes the “shouting bonus”.  I have a list of standard bonuses for standard “spell components”, and when someone comes up with some new component I had not previously considered I compare it to my list and then attempt to make note of what I decided so that if they do it again, or someone else at the table does it, I will treat it consistently.  When you create a spell, I look at everything you’re investing in success, and crunch the numbers, and I give you a number, a “situation modifier”, to record with the spell description that says that this spell is this percentage more or less likely to work than the baseline.  You get that bonus–or penalty–whenever you use that specific spell.  But if you modify that spell in any way, you’ve changed the bonus or penalty.

Of course, I could let you change the spell for a specific casting–but that means that when you do that, I have to recalculate the chance of success anyway.  And in doing so, I’m probably going to have to look up the baseline for the spell, figure out what elements you are using and what value I gave each of them originally, and work out the new chance of success pretty much as if it were a new spell–and seriously, how much of a two-minute ritual can you cram into a twelve-second rush casting?  And does it make sense to say that because you have done this two-minute ritual before a couple times you will be just as good at doing the same ritual in twelve seconds?  I think of the fast talker competition, where someone holds the record for the fastest delivery of a particular Shakespearean sililoquy (I cannot now recall whether it is from Hamlet or MacBeth).  Does the fact that you recited that sililoquy a couple times mean you can now challenge the record?  You can deliver such a speech at a reasonable pace and allow yourself time to think of the next line without looking as if you don’t know what you’re doing; you can’t spit it out at record time if you have to think of the words.  Believe me, I’ve sung a few songs that have incredibly rapid-fire lyrics, and you had better know them cold if you expect them to make it to your lips.  So I have to recalculate, and I probably don’t have the original calculation handy (why clutter your character paper with the detailed numbers, particularly when that’s not character knowledge?) so I’m starting from scratch.

And if you’re forcing me to start from scratch to recalculate your chance of success for what is necessarily a different ritual (because it runs a different length of time) that feels to me like you’re doing a completely different spell, and I want it on your sheet for the next time you decide you want to do it in twelve seconds instead of two minutes.  It really is not the same spell just because it has the same outcome, any more than striking a match, using a cigarette lighter, and rubbing two sticks together are the same skill even though they all produce fire.  You are attempting to achieve the same outcome a different way, and the simple fact that you want it to happen more quickly proves that this is the case.

Of course, it does make sense that if you’ve done the same skill enough times you would be able to do it in less time.  That’s true when I cook, certainly, as once I know the recipe I’m not stopping at each step to check it.  And that leads to the second answer.  It’s built into the system that when you have used or practiced a skill long enough/enough times to be good at it, your “skill ability level” crosses the line from amateur to professional, and whenever you perform that skill you do it in half the time.  Your two minute skill takes only sixty seconds.  Continue at it and eventually you will be an expert at that skill, and it will take only one third as long as it took when you were an amateur–in this case, forty seconds.  No, that’s not twelve seconds; but if your ritual requires singing four verses of Onward, Christian Soldiers at thirty seconds per verse (sorry, Harry, it was the first decent example that came to mind), you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting it as fast as ten seconds per verse.  So “faster” is built into the system, but only after a lot of practice.  If you want the same outcome in less time, you really are trying to figure out a “faster” way to do it.  There is a saying in business, something like “Fast, good, cheap, pick two.” If you’re trying to get fast, you have to trade something for it–you’re doing it a different way, and a different way means a different skill, even if it’s a choice between the American Crawl and the Breast Stroke.  Keep doing it the same way and you get better at it; change the skill, and you’re learning more skills.

There’s nothing wrong with learning more skills–if one fails, you can use another.  In fact, if you botch on a skill you’re not permitted to retry it again immediately, but you are permitted to try a different skill that does the same thing, so having multiple versions of a skill can be useful in a pinch.

Anyway, that’s how it works and why.  I know it frustrated you; it frustrated me that you couldn’t see that to be the same skill it had to be done the same way.

Eric does all of this by the seat of his pants, and you can do it that way.  I don’t, because I am not good enough to keep the playing field level if I don’t keep track of the rules–but Eric is more like Ed in that regard, and doesn’t much care whether the playing field is level as long as it tells a good story.  It’s harder for a good player to play in a world like that, though, because things are not predictable–a spell that should be easy winds up being hard, because the same standards aren’t maintained from one to the next.  Part of play is learning what works, and what makes it work better.  If the standards shift, you can’t learn that.  It can still be fun, but it’s not quite the game we designed.

I also sympathize with your feeling, Harry, that you were trapped in the same world for a long time.  It’s not entirely my fault–people who stay with the ship take risks of being versed out in a lot of ways, and people who settle into city life, even taking a job with the city watch and starting a fire department, are not taking the same risks.  My second world was a modern vampire setting, and before long Ed was becoming frustrated trying to find ways to get me out of it, because I kept playing smart enough to beat his killer monsters.  Eventually he stopped running the game, and I was never really out of there; two other referees tried to pick it up, but they couldn’t see how to get me out, either, and both gave up on it.  Kyler was stuck in NagaWorld so long that he had to dream up something plausible but truly dangerous to try to get himself out of there.  Being stuck in a world in Multiverser seems to be proof that you’re a good careful player who knows how to stay alive.  It’s a compliment.  Reckless players jump from universe to universe.  You were never that.

I’ll address the cover value thing in a couple days, probably.

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