Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Web Design Survey 2007

Doing my part to broaden the sample.

Easy to take, and it made me like my job again.

I Took The Survey

Posted by caffeinated at 7:23 PM in Bohemian Breakfast

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Warhammer Character generation, evolved

I am now in possession of a Java command line tool that generates rich, fully detailed characters for Warhammer FRP. Be they NPCs or pre-fab PCs, this tool is awesome.

The author is a co-worker of mine and he has poured over source books, fan-work, and more. Skaven and Orge race types can be generated even (though I don't tend to allow playing of these types, skaven and orges do not wander the streets and roads of the Empire freely). Every thing about this is randomized. The tool also works at the component level, so you can generate a list of Empire names, 00–99, and roll against it, double-blind randomization!

Here’s a sample:

% java RaceEngine
Skorbin Kazlikson
Male Dwarf
    71 years old. Born in Karak Izor in the Vaults.
    5'4", 179 lbs. with a tall build.
    Eye Color: grey blue
    Hair color: grey
    Distinguishing Features: beard, bronze skin, beady eyes
    Birthday: Born on the 4th of Erntezeit, 2451 years since the
        founding of the Empire by Lord Sigmar.
    Astrology: You were born under the sign of the Gloaming, the 
        sign of illusion and mystery.
    Dooming: Under the bridge lies thine doom.
    Religion: You were raised to worship Valaya.
    Family: Father infirm and 1 sibling(s). Parents divorced, 
        step family: Your parents have legally divorced or
        otherwise annulled, and you have one or more step families.
    Friends: Wealthy patron! You are on good terms with someone 
        who is generous with their money. This could be a relative,
        employer, mentor, or some organization important to your 
        character. For whatever reason, you can turn to them for 
        funding. These funds should be available only for expenses
        incurred during approved activities.
        If your patron is a local temple, they might pay for an 
        excursion to locate an icon or scroll important to their 
        faith. If your patron is a business partner, they might 
        give you money to spend on shop supplies. Roll once on the 
        Purse Contents table for the typical weekly allowance 
        provided by this patron. This is not an extremely strong 
        relationship, and if you fail to produce results 
        (or profits) you’re likely to lose this support entirely.
    Enemies: Cruel tormentor! You frequently find yourself in close 
        proximity with someone who gleefully preys on your 
        weaknesses. Or, you might be the instigator of the torment,
        bullying someone weaker than you on a regular basis. This 
        bullying has taken its toll and both parties have become 
        bitter enemies. When the two of you meet in the same place,
        there is sure to be a fight. Perhaps the only way to end
        the rivalry is to prove that you are stronger, which may
        require beating your opponent to a pulp or sending them to
        the bottom of the river.
    |Main Profile                                                   |
    |WS     |BS     |S     |T     |Ag     |Int     |WP     |Fel     |
    | 40%   | 31%   | 29%  | 43%  | 23%   | 37%    | 40%   | 26%    |
    |+10%   |+0%    |+5%   |+5%   |+10%   |+5%     |+5%    |+0%     |
    |Secondary Profile                                              |
    |A      |W      |SB    |TB    |M      |Mag     |IP     |FP      |
    | 1     |11     | 2    | 4    | 3     | 0      | 0     | 1      |
    |+0     |+2     | 0    | 0    |+1     |+0      | 0     | 0      |

    Racial Skills: 
        Common Knowledge (Dwarfs), 
        Speak Language (Khazalid/Dwarf), 
        Language (Reikspiel/Empire), 
        One of Trade (Miner) or Trade (Smith) or Trade (Stoneworker)

    Racial Talents: 
        Grudge Born Fury, 
        Night Vision, 
        Resistance to Magic,
        Stout Hearted, 

    Career Skills: 
        Dodge Blow, 
        Outdoor Survival,
        Secret Signs (Scout),

    Career Talents: 
        One of Fleet Footed or Sixth Sense, 
        Rapid Reload,
        One of Very Resilient or Very Strong

    Background Skills:

    Background Talents: 
        Acute Hearing

My coworker and I are designing a WFRP PC XML schema and will integrate an open source PDF engine next. It is possible that that this tool will be “open-sourced” in short order and made available as a web application for public use.

Now that would be awesome.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:41 PM in d10

Saturday, 7 April 2007

alias and cvs

If you were to execute a `man alias` command, depending on your CLI shell, you might be shown a list of builtin commands.

`aliasing' is something that can be a great weapon in working with branches of a software project. For example, it is a pragmatic programmer that makes sure, when merging or just hoping between checked out code bases, he/she has the latest code. Either you make it practice to always `cvs update` when popping into a directory, or you automate it, as I have done with an alias.

A sanitized sample of my alias file that is sourced in my .zshrc file:

alias p='cd /prod;cvs up'
alias h='cd /head;cvs up'

The actions in this file are obvious, but to the uninitiated, at a prompt: $ p, does two things, first it moves me to the prod branch, then updates the branch to the latest state.

There are probably other ways to do this as well, but this was a simple hack in a file that I use every day to move around my filesystem.

Posted by caffeinated at 4:59 PM in nerdery

Friday, 6 April 2007


Martin Ralya, of Treasure Tables, offers a term from the classic game of chess in relation to PC death or campaign ending events, check.

The comments about the merit, or lack thereof, of meta-gaming I found interesting, if only because I never thought of considering the very framework of a game, the rules, out of play during a session, as a GM for certain.

There are different styles of play, and every one abhors the rules laywer—except maybe players of Star Fleet Battles—but everyone needs to be able to have at least a modicum of familiarity with a ruleset. And that ends my stance on meta-gaming, and brings me full circle in light of my most recent session, the topic of PC death is fresh on my mind.

WFRP provides a rule framework for PC death, the Fate Point. The idea being that when a character suffers a death blow, the player can opt to spend a Fate Point, a Get out of Hell free card if you will.

WFRP provides this framework, some games do it similiarly, others not at all. Yet regardless, it is part of a social contract, either written or not, players should be having fun, not thinking about the death of a hard-rolled PC with an investment of imagination. The GM is the final arbiter of second-chances. This is not to say that if the player insists on diving into a pool infested with sharks—sharks with lasers strapped to their head—that that PC should continue living: stupid deserves a just reward.

And what about the gray area: when a PC finds himself held at gun point (gun to the head) and the party must decide to comply with demands being made by a villain, or do as heroes a GM do you pull the trigger? I have been on the wrong end of the muzzle as a player where the GM did just that, pulled the trigger. Is meta-gaming in play, or out of the question? No one called check; the situation spoke for itself. I recall lots of rapid fire discussion of just what to do by the other players...but the villain stacked the deck in the GM's eye. Checkmate. I was rolling a new character. No fate points.

I feel that players and GM should see a game and session holistically: roleplaying and imagination meeting the framework of the game, always trying to reach on goal: having fun. ~o)

Posted by caffeinated at 11:01 PM in kaffehaus

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Not sure of the usefullness

WotC has a Free Dungeon Tile Mapper available online. Yawn. Sure the features are nice, but…

I haven’t played D&D in a loooong time, but I never remember dungeons like this. Do campaigns really exist in settings like this? Such dungeoneering was never something that was actually played in my circles back in the day.

“Oh look, another cave! Let's go set off some traps, kill some monsters, ponder the stoopid reasons some lost soul turned necromancer collected bones and horded treasure,” never seemed like a reason to play the game. Where was the “world” that my character lived? Or was the original game that Gygax made like this: there only needed to be an idea that a world existed above ground out of the dungeon?

I never played this way. Did/Do you? Sure, we explored ruins, fought dragons, battled a liche, sought better armor and greater challenges, but almost never went spelunking a random dungeon. I mean, the luminaries and my—our—collective influences do not spend lots of time in caves or dungeons. How much of LotR is in the caves of Moria, or do Weis and Hickman spend below ground looking for dragon hordes? Maybe my influences are grossly dated.

To each their own, yet I can’t see much use for this tool in my gaming.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:00 PM in kaffehaus

Monday, 2 April 2007

I survived The Chronicles

Taking a recommendation from Dr. Rotwang of I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow, I downloaded The Chronicles, a c. 1988 college produced, Canadian-made, radio play that takes place in the Traveller game world.

It takes me back…I was 20 and in a military college playing Shadowrun and running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st. ed. My exposure to Traveller was light: I had a PC and as I recall, the GM had planned a H2G2 campaign; it promised to be fun, but it never got started.

So I thought, let’s see what all the rage is…

…I’m now wishing that there was someway to do MST3K for radio plays.

First, let me say about the whole production, regardless of the effort the two music students put into the producing it: it sounds as if having access to new toys such as “synthesizers, a sampling keyboard, drum machine, sound board, microphones and a 4 track tape deck” made them tech-drunk. There is little audio in the play that is not modulated in some grotesque manner as to make it nearly unintelligible in many parts. No echo effect was left unused.

My commute to work gave me 45 minutes to waste. About halfway through I could not stop laughing while conjuring up memories of MST3K. The soundtrack was new age a la Music, From Some Guys In Space. The story reminiscent of Raul Julia in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank meets BJ and the Bear, if BJ was an asshole and his chimp offered nothing to the story (oh, wait, the chimp never offered anything).

Yet nothing made me smile more than the audio montages! The narration would wrap up a scene where the writers clearly imagined something was taking place and deserved music, but they felt it could not be narrated, thus they invented the audio montage.

About the zealous use of audio effects, would psionic communication echo in your head? Yes…if you didn’t have a brain. But if you did have a brain, and I concede in my own mind’s eye, psionic conversations would sound normal.

All negativity aside, the story was decent enough that if it should get new treatment, and a new director, I have some tips for the producers: 1) pick up the classic Orson Welles’ radio show of War of the Worlds on CD. Maybe even get some old radio soap operas from the 20s and 30s. From them learn one lesson: go light on the sound effects that don’t drive the action of the characters or the environment; 2) Don’t enhance the narrator because it “feels” more futuristic. Let the voice be the listener’s own, like reading a book. Throughout The Chronicles I was just waiting for a “Bidibidibidi” and the narrator to be credited as Dr. Theopolis; 3) go easy on the big words: pirates don’t use “small unit tactics"; and 4) you don’t need a college to fund a recording lab: if you had the original masters, a Mac and Apple’s Garageband could digitally mix down a new version of The Chronicles with very little effort, and it could sound so much better.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:05 PM in kaffehaus

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Many Orcs and goblins knew what it was ... be skewered in the heart of the Great Forest that night, I can tell you.

Our WFRP group got together this weekend for a 4 hour session. I’m going to admit that the last 2 weeks have been jammed packed with other things that gaming has taken a backseat, so the session was short on preparation. Unfortunate too, as we had a new player at the table.

I hate the idea that he saw me not at the top of my game.

But I had some evil overlord actions to play out so there were actions taking place in the game world, of note was what the growing Waaagh! was going to do about 5 humies and a pointy ear crossing the forest to alert militias on the other side.

I threw 5 orcs and 10 goblins at them. At night. In the rain. I wasn't trying to kill the party...okay, maybe give them an “oh, shit” moment, and it worked, sorta.

See, I had to introduce the new player and without preparation I came up with a scenario: caught poking around in the forest by two elven ghost striders, the young bounty hunter was being hustled north for depositing where he could not make trouble. This was briefly described as a human tripping over branches and roots, making a lot of noise yet still trying to imitate the elves that seemed to glide over the forest floor. The player was unceremoniously deposited in the camp of the party.

The party had met one of the striders before so there was no need for introduction. The elves then meant to take the party, + 1, north to a place called Taal's Teeth (a place I made up on the spot), then east to the Kolsa Hills, thus out of the forest. The elves had been made aware of the party by word of other striders and the unusual interest by the greenskins moving north to investigate.

I beset the party first by 4 orcs. The elves, including the party's elf, handled them in the dark at standoff range, for the most part. Then another orc and 10 goblins. The goblins dispatched the new party member in short order; the PC was just unlucky and spent a fate point. He now has two nasty cuts, i.e., developing scars, on the side of his face from where the flat side of the goblin’s poorly crafted sword “slapped him,”, with killing force; the skin in that moment seemingly gripping the sword edge.

But enough of the story. I think you get the gist of the session. Oh, I provided opportunity for the players to do other things, besides hack and slash, like: a) collect the wood of a tree struck by lightening (a valuable magic ingredient); b) collect orc scalps (bounties paid in most towns); and c) capture a heavily wounded goblin for waterboarding or the like. Alas, the players missed all of these opportunities.

It could just be that I expected too much of the players to catch the hints, but I learned some lessons, tuning my rusty GM skills; all of them it seems are don’ts:

  1. Don't make NPCs too powerful.
  2. Don’t forget the Flashlight or the 150 watt bulb. I cite how the ghost striders did all the heavy lifting in the combat, they are just too advanced. I provide this reoccurring NPC as a balance when I think an encounter might just be too tough. Yet I seem to forget that I drive the encounter.
  3. Don’t kill the new player’s character in the first session.

Now, I need to think about just what future mysteries my new Talabecland landmarks of Taal's Teeth (a very large, natural and unnatural rock outcropping that has formed concentric rings, the center a pristine grassy plain, the roof clear of the Great Forest's canopy) and Taal's Knob (a rock circle atop the highest of the foothills in the Kolsa Hills) hold. Any thoughts from the readers?

Like this gets read. ~o)

Posted by caffeinated at 10:51 PM in d10