Data Architect, Ph.D, Information Technologist, Gamer
6183 stories
·
26 followers

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Ideal

3 Shares


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Oh my God. I've realized that, over time, I've come to side more and more with the professors than the students. It's time to star in one of those movies where someone goes back to high school and rediscovers hope.


Today's News:
Read the whole story
denubis
23 hours ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Lackadaisy Switchback

1 Share
Read the whole story
denubis
1 day ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Psyops

1 Comment and 4 Shares

O-O

Read the whole story
denubis
5 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
satadru
4 days ago
reply
This was THE BEST.
New York, NY

The Pivot

1 Comment and 5 Shares

Something huge is happening in the UK right now, and I wonder where it's going.

Brexit requires no introduction at this point. Nor, I think, do the main UK media players. With the exception of two newspapers (The Daily Mirror and The Guardian) the national papers have been uniformly pro-Brexit to the extent of attacking national institutions seen as being soft on Brexit. The BBC news programs have also broadly pushed a pro-Brexit line, from Question Time (which gave Nigel Farage a semi-permanent slot but not once invited a guest speaker from the Green Party or the SNP—both pro-Remain by policy), to the Today Program (Radio 4's news flagship), whose John Humphrys pushes a hard Brexit line.

Although the referendum was framed as advisory and limited to leaving the European Union, it was received as a mandate by the Conservative hard right and their hard-left opposite numbers in Labour (who have their own reasons for disliking what they see as a neoliberal right-wing institution), and the current in-cabinet debate appears to be over whether to leave all European institutions immediately, or to provide an adjustment period for leaving organizations like the Customs Union (which wasn't on the ballot in the first place).

Here in the real world the drumbeat of bad economic news continues. Jaguar Land Rover to move production of Discovery from UK to Slovakia, because of course they're owned by Tata, most of their output is exported, and why would an Indian company want to invest in a UK beset by pre-Brexit uncertainty? UK manufacturing output is falling at its fastest rate since 2012. And the rest of the economy is doing so well that Poundworld (the equivalent of a US dollar store chain) has collapsed and is in bankruptcy administration.

Then, last week, something happened. Or several somethings. (From the outside it's hard to be sure.)

One of those somethings was the retirement of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and his replacement by Mail on Sunday editor Georgie Greig, a pro-European journalist. Newspaper owner Lord Rothermere remains the same, but an unattributed source described Greig's appointment as part of a process of "detoxifying the Daily Mail".

Next, the Murdoch press began an extraordinary about-face on Brexit. For about a year now Carol Cadwalladr of The Guardian has been digging into Cambridge Analytica, the Leave.EU campaign, and possible links to Russian state agencies and oligarchs. These links were known to some pro-leave journalists as much as two years ago, but they're only now coming to public view. Aaron Banks is one of the main bankers of the Brexit campaign and appears to have very cordial relations with the Russian government, not to mention half a dozen Russian gold mines; he's been called to testify before a House of Commons committee tomorrow and last week was refusing to attend. This week he appears to be on the back foot, with The Times going after him Revealed: Brexit backer Arron Banks's golden Kremlin connection. Indeed, The Observer reports that Arron Banks 'met Russian embassy officials multiple times before Brexit vote'. The newspaper goes on to say, "Towards the end of last year, Banks issued a statement saying his contacts with "the Russians" consisted of "one boozy lunch" at the Russian embassy. Documents seen by the Observer, suggest a different version of events." (Note that Banks has a net worth in the ~£100M range: you don't print anything about him in an English newspaper without getting a legal opinion first.) Oh, and the Fair Vote Project is going after him in court in the US, following allegations that two companies owned by Banks may have illegally exported information on British voters to the USA (in violation of UK data protection rules) for purposes of data mining (Banks had negotiated with Cambridge Analytica prior to this move).

Here's a summary of what we know so far, by way of Vice: verything you need to know about the bombshell report linking Russia to Brexit. Shorter version: Banks had extensive meetings with the Russian ambassador to the UK, who is also named on the indictment of ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos; Banks also passed contact information for Trump's transition team to the Russians. So he's a critical link in the Brexit/Trump/Russia connection.

He's not the only Brexiteer in trouble in the press. Hedge fund manager and Brexiteer Crispin Odey is accused of shorting the British stock market to the tune of £500M, effectively betting that Brexit will cause the market to fall and these companies to do badly. Brexit ultra and possible Conservative party leadership challenger Jacob Rees-Mogg is under siege by the formerly-friendly Daily Mail: Mogg's Moscow Millions: Brexiteer's firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlim but has invested next to nothing in Britain. And finally Neo-Nazi MEP Nigel Farage's EU pension is to be held in escrow pending the completion of ongoing fraud investigations (and, as the icing on the cake, apparently the FBI have named him as a person of interest in their ongoing investigation into Russian slush money and false news).

Let me put forward a hypothesis:

In the real world (outside the pages of fiction) only two types of conspiracy generally take place: cover-up and collusion. A cover-up generally happens when several people or groups stand to lose money or be politically embarrassed if an uncomfortable truth becomes public knowledge. See, for example, the Home Office shredding of historical records relating to the Windrush scandal lest they embarrass the Prime Minister, who was the Home Office minister who brought in the hostile environment immigration policy. And collusion generally takes place when a group of individuals or organizations stand to benefit from a course of action.

Brexit was a classic example of a collusion conspiracy. Many of the named politicians and businessmen above stand to gain millions of pounds from a hard Brexit that causes the British stock market to fall. Others stand to make millions from juicy investment opportunities they were offered in Russia. We cannot know for certain what the quid pro quo for those investment deals were at this time, but I strongly suspect that support for Brexit (and more general socially-authoritarian right-wing policies) was part of it.

And now we're seeing a rival collusion conspiracy surface. Not all billionaires stand to profit from seeing the remains of British industry sink beneath the waves, and not all of them are in the pocket of the Kremlin's financial backers. There are a bunch of very rich, rather reclusive men (and a handful of women) who probably thought, "well, let's sit back and see where this thing leads, for now" about 18 months ago. And now they can see it leading right over a cliff, and they are unhappy, and they have made their displeasure known on the golf course and in the smoke-filled rooms, and the quiet whispering campaign has finally turned heads at the top of the media empires.

If I'm right, then over the next four to eight weeks the wrath of the British press is going to fall on the heads of the Brexit lobby with a force and a fury we haven't seen in a generation. There may be arrests and criminal prosecutions before this sorry tale is done: I'd be unsurprised to see money-laundering investigations, and possibly prosecutions under the Bribery Act (2010), launched within this time frame that will rumble on for years to come.

Even if the momentum behind Brexit proves un-stoppable at this point, the Remain faction—in the shape of the corporate and political power groups who stand to lose their fortunes as a result—will seek revenge.

And in the large, I think it's no coincidence at all that this broke out in the same week as Donald Trump's epic tantrum at the G7 summit.

Read the whole story
denubis
6 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
acdha
5 days ago
reply
One can hope for multiple dodged bullets this year
Washington, DC

On Wandering Monsters, Part 3: Slaying CoDzilla

1 Share

In part 1 of this series, I admitted to having fear and misunderstood Wandering Monsters in D&D for years, and resolved to find a way to make the system work.

In part 2, I proposed some methods, tested both in Into the Living Library and City of Eternal Rain, for tying procedural content generation into the overall narrative of your story.

Now, I’ll talk about one of the benefits of wandering monsters—the end of the 15-minute adventuring day, and with it, CoDzilla.

“CoDzilla” is a 3.5-era bit of D&D slang that, for the uninitiated, means “Cleric or Druid-zilla.” Clerics and Druids, even without much in the way of optimization, could be enormously powerful. Close competitors were Wizards, Sorcerers, and various non-core full casters. Starting from very low levels, these classes, through use of spellcasting, were able to single-handedly—often single-turnedly—win major encounters. Clerics and Druids were especially notorious, as in addition to a full complement of spells, they were no slouch at mundane fighting, had a host of miscellaneous abilities, and, in the case of the Druid, got the infamously-powerful Wild Shape ability and a pet grizzly bear. In contrast, a Fighter (who is maybe 25-50% better than the bear the Druid gets as icing) gets marginally better at hitting enemies with swords every level.

By 5th edition, the power imbalances between classes have been substantially narrowed, with non-casting classes getting various per-short-rest and per-day abilities that let them have some time in the spotlight. In my current 5th-edition campaign, I’m playing a Paladin, and, at 7th-level, don’t feel particularly behind the party’s Wizard and Cleric. Back in 3.x, I’d be lucky if I even got a turn in combat, and, with few skills or utility abilities, would pretty much fall asleep outside of battle. So to a certain extent, this fix is beating a dead horse, as changes to the rules have reduced the necessity for such a fix. Still, anecdotal accounts have suggested to me that the caster-warrior imbalance problem still lurks, especially at higher levels.

Solving this problem is where Wandering Monsters come in. Those of you playing Pathfinder and 3.x D&D should pay extra heed to this, but it’s applicable to 5e as well.

Wandering Monsters Vs. CoDzilla

Encounters with Wandering Monsters have substantially lower stakes than pre-planned, climactic and narratively-key ones. Typically, the foes are easier and the tension is lower as victory is all-but assured. This means that characters have to choose between ‘wasting’ limited per-day abilities to seek a quick victory, or suffer additional damage by dragging out the fight by sticking with cantrips and regular attacks. The longer the battle, the more opportunities the monster has to get in a few hits before going down.

The devil with this decision is that, either way, casters lose and warriors win.  A Paladin’s basic attack is more accurate, reliable, and powerful than a wizard’s cantrip, so if spellcasters withhold their 'special’ attacks, non-casters take the spotlight. If the casters obliterate Wandering Monsters with high-level spells, then by the time they reach the 'real’ fight (those being the pre-planned encounters, typically in dungeon rooms rather than hallways), they’ll be relegated to cantrips while the fighters open up with their modest per-day abilities and their more efficient conventional attacks.

Martial classes do have some limited-use abilities, especially half-casters like Paladins, so they are pushed into a similar dilemma (“do I use Smite on the owlbear or save it for the true foe?”) but the stakes are much lower, as their abilities are weaker and their conventional attacks more powerful than a true caster’s. This means that even if the Paladins and other half-casters make the 'wrong’ decision, they can typically make do regardless.

Now, the obvious flaw with this plan is that at any point the party can just fall back, rest, and come back in with a full complement of spells, right? This means that wearing the casters down through attrition is doomed from the start, because they can conveniently heal up to 100% with a single night’s sleep. This is why adding Wandering Monsters all by itself isn’t enough—we have to start enforcing other rules as well, such as…

No Long Rests in Dungeons

There’s a secret to the long/short rest split of 5th edition D&D, and that’s that not all classes benefit equally. Far and away, a short rest is more meaningful to a martial class than a spellcasting class, and vice-versa for long rests.

Most martial classes have powerful abilities that recover every short rest starting at level 2 or 3. For example, Fighters get Action Surge, Paladins get Channel Divinity, and Monks get Ki. Barbarians are a rare exception, as their key ability (Rage) is actually tied to long rests. Rangers have no useful abilities worth noting that recharge on short rests, long rests, or honestly at all, so there’s no helping them. Spellcasters’ main ability—spellcasting—universally require long rests to recover in full. Some casting classes, such as the Wizard and Druid, have abilities that let them recover some spell slots on a short rest—but these abilities themselves can only be used once per long rest, so at the end of the day, are still long-rest dependent. Additionally, martial classes, due to their larger hit dice, tend to recover more hit points on a short rest than spellcasting classes do. But, because casters get minor benefits from taking short rests, their players won’t be frustrated by the need for taking them.

If you, as GM, provide many opportunities for a short rest (which is about an hour), but keep long rests few and far between, then martial classes can keep going while spellcasters are run ragged. In the context of a dungeon, you can, for instance, let them take short rests in cleared rooms as long as they put a modicum of effort into securing the room (blocking or locking the doors, for instance), but stress that long rests are impossible. There is simply no way to have eight relaxing, uninterrupted hours in a dungeon; Wandering Monsters will attack, spoiling the rest. What’s more, the constant threat of attack from the unknown makes true relaxation unachievable. You can be upfront about this; don’t assume the players know what you mean when you coyly say “well, you could try that, but you might be attacked in the night.”

If the party wants to take a long rest, they have to leave the dungeon, set up camp, and come back—which will involve fighting their way through the Wandering Monsters that have moved into previously-cleared areas, thus wearing the party down again and defeating the purpose. Conveniently, all of this is simulated by the Wandering Monster table—the GM doesn’t have to worry about actually moving monsters from room to room. Because Wandering Monster tables are at their heart a computer-free technological aid, the random die rolls on the table simulates all of the movement of a real ecosystem, much the same way that a character’s hit points simulate their overall health, but remove a lot of the headache of doing so.

For very large dungeons, such as Paul Jacquay’s famous Caverns of Thracia, it at first appears simply impossible for any party, no matter how stringent they are with spells and potions, to complete in a single long rest. In part, this is mitigated by numerous hidden entrances into the dungeon that, once discovered, can be used to bypass previously-cleared sections. There are also numerous shortcuts, such as teleport pads and elevators, that can be used in a similar manner. Still, all of that might not be quite enough, and when designing very large dungeons, occasional points of safety can be placed that are free of Wandering Monsters. They might have particularly secure doors, be protected by magic, or some kind of friendly NPC or monster. Think of these as a video game mid-dungeon save point, both in terms of how powerful an effect it will have, and how rare it should be.

Time Pressure

Into the Living Library relies heavily on Wandering Monsters because they play well with the adventure’s time crunch: each time the party faces such a monster, their consumable resources (spells, potions, HP) are slightly depleted, and they must choose whether to press on in their weakened state or return to campus to rest, which means sacrificing one of their precious few days.

Wandering Monsters, tied with any kind of external time pressure, pack more work into a single adventuring day, and with that, the expenditure of more spells. Spellcasters’ 'basic’ attacks (cantrips and crossbows) tend to be much less powerful than those of a Fighter, Barbarian, or Paladin. If high-level spells and per-day abilities have to be carefully rationed out over the course of many encounters, rather than just one or two, then casters are brought down to the level of non-casters.

Not every adventure should include a time pressure element, as the players will start to feel rushed and possibly even railroaded, as the constant time demands may keep them from feeling able to pursue their own goals. Beware Fallout 4’s Preston Garvey, who continually dispenses timed quests that pull the player away from doing what they want to do.

Keep the Battles Unbalanced

As a GM, I often forget that my toolbox includes more than perfectly-balanced encounters. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is a time and a place for a poorly-balanced battle, which brings us back to the original post. Oblivion, my least-favourite Elder Scrolls game, has highly restrictive game rules in place in an attempt to keep every battle, whether it be against a necromancer lord or a random bandit, balanced on a knife’s edge. Enemies and equipment level up closely in step with the player, meaning that as the player gains power, so too does the world. The drawback is that there are few if any “oh, crap!” moments where the player gets in over their head. Likewise, there are very few moments where the player simply obliterates the enemies in front of them, and, by doing so, feels like a badass.

By all means, strive for perfect balance and interesting terrain in your pre-made set-piece battles (such as what might be found in a dungeon’s room, for example), but for Wandering Monsters, imbalance is a feature, not a bug. Battles that are 'too easy’ will be resolved quickly (saving precious game time), and battles that are 'too hard’ won’t be fought at all—the party will turn tail and run (convincing the party to run rather than fight a losing battle is a good subject for a later post). Battles that are close to balanced will be drawn-out slugfests, forcing the party to draw upon every available resource. They will take ages, and burn through per-day abilities much faster than you intend, which in turn forces the party to leave the dungeon, thus contributing to the 15-minute adventuring day. Remember that easy battles will still drain the party’s resources somewhat, as even the weakest monsters in 5e have a pretty good chance of getting one or two hits on any character, and players will be constantly tempted to blow the trash monsters away with their limited-use abilities, like spells and smites.

Another rarely-mentioned feature of unbalanced encounters is that they let you use a greater percentage of the Monster Manual when designing your dungeons, thus increasing the variety of creatures the party can meet. Using only level-appropriate encounters limits you to an ever-decreasing handful of creatures as the party levels up, and can push you into placing monsters in unthematic areas just to reduce the monotony a little. It also means that, in a few levels, when the party actually can fight the same type of high-level monster they’ve been running from, victory will feel all the sweeter.

Read the whole story
denubis
10 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
Share this story
Delete

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Robot Revolution

3 Comments and 13 Shares


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
When you think you feel a sweet breeze coming through the forest, it's actually all of nature's creatures giving you the finger at the same time.

New comic!
Today's News:
Read the whole story
denubis
12 days ago
reply
Sydney, Australia
francisga
13 days ago
reply
Lafayette, LA, USA
Share this story
Delete
2 public comments
jlvanderzwan
5 days ago
reply
"There is nothing wrong with photography, if you don't mind the perspective of a paralysed Cyclops." - David Hockney

Another excuse to link to Hockney's photo collages


www.davidhockney.co/index.php/works/photos/photographic-collages

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coGPeckNQZw
drchuck
13 days ago
reply
The word of the day is "saccading."
Long Island, NY
Next Page of Stories