Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Dress Debate is important. Important because it is trivial. Really.

 TL;DR? Scroll to bottom of post.

The Great Dress debate of '15

One of the curious properties of the internet hivemind is its rapid turns of sheer obsessiveness and utter oblivion. Case in point;  Ferguson, Missouri.
The internet outrage over events in Ferguson burned hot and fast in November of 2014, but was more or less forgotten by Christmas. While in fact, at the time of this writing, local people are still protesting police brutality and being illegally, unjustly incarcerated for doing so.  Their photographic evidence is also being destroyed and tampered with.

For the last few days, the internet's great obsession has been the much more light-hearted debate over the color of this dress:


The internet is currently flooded with theories on why people see the dress in various ways.
We know for a fact that the original dress is black on blue. But the manufacturer plans on producing a gold on white version as well. How wonderful.

The switch is happening on multiple levels: The image is altered as the filetype is converted and copied across the web, creating countless different versions of the image. Different screens display it differently. It can change depending on the angle of the screen. Some people blame poor photography (everyone has a camera phone these days. The cookies are definitely on the bottom shelf for what defines "good" photography)

But the fact is: It is possible for two healthy people, both with otherwise "normal" vision to look at the same object and see something Fundamentally Different.

Think about that. 
This is a trivial matter. A dress. One of billions of other dresses a person could wear. But if we can get something as basic as this so wrong, what else are we missing? The potential is vast, and disconcerting. 
I think I will make a game now of asking people very basic questions about their sensual perceptions. My theory is that our senses are not as objective, or as trustworthy as we often believe.

The part where I tie the above assertion into Gaming:
A GM is responsible for describing not necessarily the world the PCs are in. But rather, the PCs perceptions and sensations of that world.
I do not like to let players roll their own perception checks. Or any other time when the result of the check would not be immediately apparent. I prefer to ask their modifiers and roll for them, and relate what they did notice, if anything at all. This is done for the same reason I only draw as much of the dungeon map as they can see in the radius of their lights; to cleanly separate Player knowledge from Character knowledge.
If the player sees that he rolled a 19 on the check before adding his modifiers (assume d20 system), He will have a good deal of confidence in the perception I relate to him and act accordingly.
On the other hand, if the roll is hidden, he may or may not feel that he can trust his perception. He may well wish that we were rolling with a bell-curve check rather than with that capricious d20.
Does this slow down the game by increasing paranoia? Possibly. 
Gygax and Arneson decide to make "traps" an integral part of the genre and now it's our cross to bear. Way to go, you assholes.

But fear not my players. This ain't the Tomb of Horrors and I ain't Acererak the Demi-Lich.
Don't get the reference? Google it.
You see, I want for you to succeed. If I make a secret roll, chances are 50/50 that I am checking whether you didn't notice what you typically should have. I'm not checking for success. I might expect that. I'm just checking for failure.
Because believe me, nothing derails an adventure like when the whole party fails to notice that one thing they were supposed to because of bad rolls. Or you were playing a B/X clone (I'm looking at you, Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

So yeah. keep your rolls secret when it makes sense, but let you players know that the idea is not to screw them over. And never leave to a die roll what you should be leaving to your own discretion.
The internet debate over the blue/black white/gold dress is notable because it demonstrates the subjectivity and fallibility of our perceptions.
In game, Player Characters also have unreliable senses. As DM, I like to roll perception checks for the characters, and make my description to the player based upon that result. This prevents Players from making decisions based on out of character knowledge of how well they rolled.

Dreams of an Ideal System----And HERESY

Some ideas on my direction:
I fantasize about building a decent system for running RPGs almost as much as I fantasize about everything else. Here are some of the ideas I've been nursing:

Bellcurves are Beautiful. The perfect system should use a bellcurve for its core mechanic, because it gives players and GMs a reasonable expectation of an outcome. Real life works with bell curves. If the real world worked with straight-line probability as in d20-based systems, then even the Iron Chef would dismally fail every 20th time he tried to fry an egg. Yeah, yeah, Crits and fumbles aren't exactly written in the rules of DnD. But every single group I've ever played with has played this way.


 Thanks wikipedia!

To Map or not to Map: The edition which I play breaks down when combat is not mapped with miniatures on a grid. This means a lot of complicated rules and quibbling which ruins any sense of fast-paced excitement. Obviously, the One True Way to play a game of the imagination is in your bloody imagination. I know this to be true.  Except mapping combat is a hard habit to break. I mean; you probably already made the map, and you want your players to be able to play with tactics, and you already have those little pewter idols you love so much. So its hard not to want to find a use for them.

No system-based rules to govern personality or morality: Alignment breaks down when you start to think of it, and is extremely arbitrary. 5th Edition's bond/flaws/ideal system is a patronizing straightjacket. A player needs nothing more than a rough concept of their character's personality and motivation to run with it. It naturally develops from there.

Quick to run, simple to understand: Can't be bogging down the action with a bunch or rolls or modifier crunching and rules checking. Nope Nope Nope.

And yet, with potential for depth in a variety of fields: Different systems tend to serve different interests for the players. We could get out  Broadswords&Barbicans, with the rules for combat maneuvers and naval and air battles. Or we could use Mystics&Mythology, with its free-flowing and creative magic system. Or we could play Drama Theatre 3k for the plotchasers and method actors. But practically speaking, It is going to be hard to find four friends who all want to play the same one for a whole campaign. The ideal system should be able to accommodate any of these styles.

All genres, seamlessly mixable: A system should have the potential to take players from the stone-age to the end of time, with all the weirdness in between. Genre-savvyness is the enemy of immersion, danger and mystery. A fixed setting soon devolves into a set of unjustified and boring tropes.

Classes and Level need to Go: They only make sense in a universe where these ideas are built into the cosmology. The development of a character should be naturalistic and stem from actions in game. Not an arbitrary set of class abilities.

Hit Points too: Nobody has every been able to make sense of hit points or satisfactorily describe what they are. How many HP did Julius Caesar have? (around 57) How about Abraham Lincoln? Did John Wilkes Booth crit his to-hit roll? How about Rasputin?
Dagger does d4 damage, avg 2.5. Stabbed 23 times by some accounts.
 Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

It should only use d6s: We gamers have a a truly odd fetish for our Platonic Solids; A fetish which we totally take for granted after a while. But the curious dice are among the first thing that people notice about the hobby, and they react with either fascination or confusion. Also, they are a specialty item and you have to know where to look to find them. Difficult for people just entering the hobby.

From Kepler's Mysterium Cosmographicum: The d10 is not among the Platonic Solids.
five Platonic solids

The d6 is the way to go. With a little creativity, they can produce a wide range of probabilities. And you can find them at a decent convenience store. You could play on a desert island. What else would you have to do but finally plot your magnum opus campaign?

Greetings! Thanks for taking a look!

Welcome to my new blog!
Here at Armchair Demiurge, I'll be discussing a number of topics, but mostly traditional Roleplaying games and their design.
There will be occasional digressions on history, current affairs, religion and mythology, science and technology, the internet and what it does to us, or whatever my current obsession might be. Chances are they will mostly tie back into RPGing though, cause that's the nature of the beast.

D&D and RPGs

I mostly play 3E DnD with a group of friends. I run game pretty frequently, and it never ceases to challenge me.
I love traditional RPGs. They provide a vehicle for storytelling, challenge and catharsis unmatched by any other medium, and I am Chasing that Dragon. I feel that RPGS are almost NEVER played to their potential though. Learning how to tap that potential is the main purpose of Armchair Demiurge at this point.
DnD is my main frame of reference. Everyone who plays DnD knows that it sucks, but the magic is in there and you know it and love it anyway like a weird, dysfunctional family.
A lot of my posts will be proposals for techniques to help design or run a game, and hopefully, followups on how the proposal actually worked.

I tend to explain my reasoning any ideas with lots of background explanations and metaphors and all that. And when I finish an article, I will notice that the actual point is maybe a fraction of what I've written. If I catch myself doing this, I will include a TL;DR summary at the bottom of the post. Because dammit, I want to share my ideas and if I gotta cut the fat to get it down , so be it.

Coming up next: Dreams of an Ideal System