Hi there. If you're reading this, it's either because you know me or you spend way too much time hitting "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. Either way, welcome.

Illumination is a perpetual work in progress, so please pardon our dust. The intent of the place is to provide space where I can lay down my thoughts and observations about the world around me and the things I do. That means it could be filled with nearly anything, from silly accounts of my gaming antics to thoughtful political discussion and anything in-between.

Whatever it turns out to be, please have a look around. It's only a few minutes of your day and you might find something worth your time. If you see something you like, leave a comment and let me know.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vancian (on Peak Output Efficiency)

There's been a LOT of talk about balance in DDN lately, most of it in regard to the "Vancian" spellcasting system, but I'd like to make a point of clarity that I haven't seen anyone else mention.

When people (including me) complain about "Vancian casting", they're actually complaining about two things:

1) That ALL of a spellcaster's resources are daily-use, and furthermore that a spellcaster is not restricted to how often he can otherwise tap those resources. The root cause of the "five-minute workday" (which is really a different but related issue) is that the game's assumption is the Wizard will expend about 1/5th of his spells in a single encounter (and use a crossbow or otherwise do nothing the rest of the time) and thus will be "functional" for four or five encounters before he needs to rest. However, the reality is that the spellcaster blows through all of his resources in only one or two encounters, either because doing so makes those encounters significantly easier and conserves other, less-renewable resources (hit points), or because doing so is necessary just to survive the encounter.

4e's solution to this was rather elegant, actually: give the spellcaster 1/5th as many resources, but let him use them in every encounter. A useful compromise might be to restrict how many spells a character can cast in a single encounter, but that would run into the same kind of verisimilitude issue that people take with 4e's system.

2) That not all classes work on this system. Why are Fighters linear and Wizards quadratic, as the saying goes? Because Wizards (generally, spellcasters) have the ability to expend a huge amount of their resources in a very short amount of time in order to gain a disproportionately massive "peak output". Fighters (nonspellcasters) do not possess this ability to "go nova"; they are restricted to a baseline efficiency over time ratio that they cannot voluntarily alter. The spellcaster can proportionally increase (or reduce) his output based on the requirements of the encounter, the nonspellcaster cannot. Additionally, this creates a situation in later levels where the spellcaster's baseline efficiency outpaces the nonspellcaster's: even if the spellcaster plays for par (1/5 of his resources), his output exceeds the nonspellcaster's because his efficiency rises more quickly as he gains levels than the nonspellcaster's does.

Whatever the nature of the decisions made during the design process of DDN, this is an issue that will have to be addresses. If Wizards is smart, they'll address this quickly, and loudly.

Experience (on The Way Forward)

I find it highly humorous that the exact attitude that shot Wizards of the Coast in the foot four years ago is what they're counting on to save them now: "The game you're playing sucks. Here's a better one!"

I hope it works. I hope it works because D&D as an RPG is done for if Wizards blows two editions in a row. The brand might stick around in other forms (board games, etc), but Hasbro will lock the RPG in a filing cabinet in a bean counter's office somewhere for the next twenty years if a second consecutive flop convinces them it's not a venture that'll return on their investment in it.

If you're one of the people who is excited about the new edition, I and all the other 4e fans out there wish you and those like you many years of happy and productive gaming with it. We won't be joining you (and the worst part is, in terms of sales revenue, Wizards is never even going to notice we're gone).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Needles (on There's A Story Somewhere In That Haystack)

I’m good at building things in my head. People, places, worlds, all spinning freely away from my imagination to hang in the air around my mind’s eye like constellations sparkling in the night sky. Sometimes they start as an idea; an image or a description or a snippet of dialogue, a small thing that begins as a tiny spark and require some nurturing to grow strong enough to take wing and join the rest of the stars; sometimes they leap from my subconscious fully-formed or nearly, requiring only the gentlest of nudges to be off, rocketing away on a trajectory that I can barely control and only mostly follow.

Both kinds have their perks and flaws, but getting them out into the √¶ther where I can access them late isn’t the hard part. The hard part, the bit I’ve always had trouble with, is figuring out where they’re going. I can set up conflict just fine –and I often even discover some measure of it is built into the things I create- but resolving it is a problem.

So, in an astoundingly arrogant simile to NASA and SETI projects, I’m going to fling this question out into the great dark void and see if anyone answers it:

How do you find the endings to your stories?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ironclad (on Monsters In The Sky)

I sometimes think I was born a decade too late. I missed the early days of most of my hobbies –the dawn of such enduring games as Dungeons & Dragons, Battletech and Warhammer were all before my time, or I was too young to have made any sense of them. I wasn’t around for the explosion of controversy over James Dallas Egbert[1]  or the early years of White Dwarf and its riotously joyful celebration of this strange new hobby.

It’s strange to say that I miss something that I never really experienced, but having been given –through old magazines, discussions with older gamers and the depth of history that rests behind these games awaiting only a bit of curiosity to discover them- a glimpse into what this odd social group of mine was in the past, I find myself feeling a fond nostalgia for these things, a vague wish to return to the idealistic simplicity (if not the game mechanics) of those times.

In light of that, I’ve found the last month to be a fascinating process. After all, I’ve never been one of the first people in the world to play a game that is so brand new it’s not even on store shelves yet. After having spent the greater part of my life sitting on the shoulders of the hobbyists who have come before me, the ground floor is a very interesting place indeed.

 I’m talking about Leviathans, and it’s been a while since a game has captivated me so completely.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Themes (on Heroes Redux)

Life, I've long maintained, has a soundtrack. It has a grand score, unmatched in passion and scope, rising and falling with the highs and lows of life. I feel sorry for the benighted fools among us who can't or won't hear it, because I find this world much richer with it accompanying us through our days.

This third member of these odd little pieces of fiction is, I think, a reflection of that. What if we were able to harness our personal soundtrack and project it to others, for they to share in it with us? That would be a powerful gift indeed.

Every so often, I stumble on a song that suits its particular moment perfectly. Several nights ago was such a moment, and such a song. It led to this, three hours later, bleary-eyed and dazedly tapping away at a laptop keyboard as time sinks away into those cold pre-dawn hours when the world seems to vanish beyond the window.

There are few things I enjoy more than this "magic hour," and the creations that spring forth from within it. I hope you'll enjoy it too. Eventually I may even tell you where I'm going with these odd little stories.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heroes (on Hang On A Minute, I've Got An Idea...)

Sometimes writing for writing's sake is the best kind. It's pure catharsis, free from obligation or expectation. I need to do it more often, because sometimes it produces something memorable, something worthwhile... something with potential.

Whether or not these are any of that is up for some debate, but I quite like the way both of them came out. I might do a few more in this "series" and see if it bears out.

So without further ado, here are the first two of these odd little pieces. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010