Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I don't normally intrude into the real world on this blog as that is not the intent.

The events at Newtown elementary were shocking and obviously terrible.  They hit close to home as I have close family members who work in elementary schools.  I want more than anything to see effective solutions that reduce the threat of violence to kids and people who work in schools.

I know that many people are asking a lot of questions and wanting solutions and dialogue.  I am professionally in the risk assessment and threat mitigation business, have qualified on and carried bona fide "assault rifles" for work, and personally know about losing friends and coworkers to violence.  My wife works with children, but on the weekends she is a certified firearms safety instructor (and a better marksman than me and many badge toting professionals, I might add).  We are familiar with the legal environment in Connecticut.  Please email me if you want facts or information that you feel the media are not providing accurately or clearly.

I won't ask you to join the NRA or donate to the Brady Campaign; I won't tell you how to vote or what to tell your Senators.  I can answer questions like, "What's the difference between an automatic assault rifle and a semiautomatic assault weapon?" or "how do you as a risk management professional mitigate the threat of random mass violence?" or "what is the likely risk impact/effect of proposal X?"

Post a comment with your email address and I'll be happy to have a private dialogue to answer  questions.

Back to your regularly scheduled intermittent gaming posts.

Where has your RPG hobby helped you out in life?

My post from Dragonsfoot:

I met my wife and the best man at my wedding through a gaming group.

I learned to quickly and intuitively apply statistics. Most people cannot figure the results of this type of problem: "Ok, I have a 4/6 chance of opening the door first try... Then a 2/6 chance of getting a surprise round... Then a 45% of landing a hit... And an 80% of it being a one-hit-stop before the goblin takes otu the hostage. So what are the chances of getting this done in one or two rounds?" Obviously that exact problem does not come up too often in life except for those on the SWAT team, but there are many events involving probabilities in life and most people suck at the math.

I learned to turn verbal descriptions into graphical maps/diagrams, and back again (mapping 101 and room description 101!).

I learned to put myself in the mind of another type of character -- or even a hideous cunning monster. I now do threat analysis professionally as a living. Most people are unable to even imagine how a suicide bomber or assassin or even common criminal thinks. Being able to break out of your own frame of reference is very helpful.

I learned how to game out multiple courses of action, including detailed tracking of costs/consumables/durations (name level magic user spell planning! AAAGH!) and determine which is best. THis is helpful for many things, whether it be figuring out how to plan a family vacation or a major business move.

I have been able to slip "antithesis of weal" into conversation a few times. I get to smile every time. That phrase is like a secret uber geek handshake, by the way.

I learned that knowing when to commit your last reserves, and knowing when to cut your losses and NOT open that "one last door" are keys to success. Not just in games, either. The key skill in D&D, I think, is having the judgement to balance risk and reward in both the short and long term. That is what "one more door" is all about. Evaluating risks and rewards in a rational, cool headed manner is an important life skill, but so is knowing when to gamble and hope for a natural 20.

Finally, I learned how 1E initiative works. It took four years and enough time to have earned another minor in my undergrad but I think I finally have it licked.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Exploration System Design Notes Part I

I wanted to pile on my previous post with a few explanations behind the choices I made.

SCALE:  My desire was to allow groups to make use of a wide variety of existing graphics and maps.  The 1:250K is a fairly common scale that allows a fairly large area to be depicted on a sheet.  These maps will often display an area about 60NM (1 degree of latitude) on a sheet 15" tall.  One of them should display about nine counties of terrain, making them perfect for exploring the area around an isolated community in a "points of light" type setting.  One could easily pick up some maps of a rural area like the hinterboonies of Afghanistan or Iraq (in a JOG) or remote Alaska (from USGS) and use those maps for a campaign.  I've found the USGS maps as cheap as $1 each.

RATE OF MARCH:  With this scale, a character moving at 12" (max human normal) covers 4" on the 1:250K map which is about 16 miles in eight hours for a pace of 2 MPH.  However, as you will see, the system allows double moves to be taken, putting these characters at a pace of 4 MPH.  This is a bit fast but most parties will be moving a bit slower and most terrain will be restrictive, substantially slowing movement.  It is not unreasonable given that some Army units (such as Airborne, Rangers, etc) conduct foot road marches with rucks at a 4 MPH pace (12 miles in 3 hours).  Obviously such a pace is not necessarily sustained day in and day out but we are in the right ballpark before modifiers.

MOVE IN INCHES VS INCHES ON THE MAP:  Obviously, the 4:1 reduction in pace (12" move = 4" on the map) is a bit confusing.  I could have gone with longer turns of 24 hours or so each, and then just done a straight 1" move = 1" on the map.  Indeed, that would work just fine as a variant rule for groups that want to accelerate overland travel.  However, I found this undesirable for a few reasons.  First off, if groups are covering almost a foot of space on the table every turn then you will rapidly need another map.  They will be off the 1:250K page in just two or three moves.  Next, the longer scale requires a higher degree of abstraction.  

With the party only moving a few inches on the map, a single sheet should last for several iterations of play.  Specifically, a party at 9" move will cover 3" on the map each iteration, which means it will take at least five turns to march from one side of the map to the other.  Factor in winding indirect routes, pauses for detours/shelter/rest, rough terrain, weather/night factors, and you're talking...  Hrm...  7+/-2 turns to cross the map.  You can play for days of campaign time on a map that easily fits on a corner of the typical kitchen table.

ECONOMY OF ACTIONS:  Dan Collins makes a good case for granularity in turns.  Specifically, he thinks if characters are taking multiple actions in a turn then the turn should be shortened until they take only one.  I chose to use the "standard" minor/move/standard action economy instead.

To increase granularity of turns and allow only one action, I would either need four hour turns with the same distance scale (12" move = 4" on the map), or I would need to keep the eight hour turns with twice the movement (12" move = 8" on the map), or some other ratio would be needed (12 hour turns with 12" on the map?).  Of those options I tend to like the four hour one the best.

The problem with allowing only one action per turn is three fold.
  • First, you get "slow poke" syndrome.  An entire party, fleet of foot at 12" move, is dragged down to 6" move when the dwarf comes along.  This either leads to crazy work arounds (how many mule-mounted dwarves have you seen?), handwaving of overland march speeds, heavy burdens for everyone ("Well, we're at six inch move anyways...  Plate mail for everyone, all the time!"), and racial discrimination for new characters ("No dwarves need apply...  Move along, sir...").
  • Next, players get an incentive to do nothing more than move every round.  After all, the party is trying to get somewhere, right?  Why would you spend an iteration doing anything other than moving in most cases?
  • Most of the scales other than the four hours and 12" move = 3" map cause issues with needing a really big map on your table, or necessitate going to a 1:500K chart which lacks the detail I'd want.
So, I decided to try out the old tried & true "Minor/Move/Standard" economy.  The way I envision a lot of groups using this economy is as follows:
  • A few folks use Minors
  • Everyone uses a move action
  • Slow Pokes use their Standard to Force March so as to keep up with the faster folks
  • Faster folks use their Standard to attempt a more interesting exploration option
This may be a bit boring for the Slow Pokes, but even they get to make a die roll for their Standard Action.

Well, that is enough for now.  I certainly envision putting more thoughts down later.