Friday, September 30, 2011

HOMM 6 - Good and bad in the demo

Initially I was looking forward to the release of Heroes of Might and Magic 6.  Yesterday I downloaded the demo and now... not so much.  Not to say that HOMM6 looks awful, because it doesn't, but it doesn't look nearly as good as I was hoping.  The graphics are pretty and the world rendering is clearly a cut above the old titles in the series (though there are still some glitchy graphics issues I assume will be ironed out for release) but pretty isn't what I am looking for.  I want enduring mechanics and endless variety!

I don't know that I will be getting that.  Instead of 8 factions HOMM6 has 5.  Instead of 9 resource types HOMM6 has 4.  Instead of the necessity of carefully figuring out which cities to recruit from and what sort of army to build you can just convert any city into the faction type you want.  There will be no more ferrying troops around the map and worrying about logistics either since you can recruit every creature available anywhere in your empire in any city at any time.  Your heroes can teleport all over the map too so positioning is going to be drastically less important.  In the old HOMM3 (the classic!) you could eventually set up your hero to be able to move about the map with extreme speed but it took a lot of time and a massive investment in skills, stats and resources to make it happen.  So are these good things?

The main thing that is undeniable is that these changes will make the lategame much faster and involve much less clicking around.  No longer will you have to manage 6 'delivery boy' heroes who just carry troops around the map to the main army.  No longer will you have to spend turn after turn slowly walking here and there - in the late game you will get your troops and go wreck or be wrecked by your enemies.  In some ways this is a great thing since I always found the exploring of the early game to be the strongest point of the HOMM series and the intense micromanaging needed for a large empire became tiresome.  On the other hand I wonder if making positioning much less relevant is going to make the game less fun.  One thing for sure is that these changes will make the AI much better at playing the game.  It was clear that the AI had issues with long term planning and positioning and making it more feasible to have just one army that goes wherever it is needed will make outsmarting the AI more difficult.

On the other hand I lament the reduction in choice.  I want more factions, I want more mines and resources and *stuff* to find and think about and do.  It seems like many of the complex decisions of the past will be made trivial and I don't know that I like that much.  Do I hire another random hero to go collect all those mines or just use the cash to raise more troops?  Do I add these off-Faction troops to my army even though it reduces morale?  Which city do I try to attack first?

There are plenty of things in the demo and beta that are downright bad.  Magic heroes are useless, Faction balance is horrible and there are plenty of bugs.  On the other hand this is exactly what a beta is for; to find the bugs and help the devs locate balance problems.  Maybe it will be fine.  However, HOMM6 is definitely going on my 'wait and see what the reviews say' list.  Maybe the changes will just make the lategame faster and make me enjoy HOMM even more and maybe it will just feel like a chopped down game with pretty pictures.  Hard to tell.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

D3 skills

I have been mucking around with the new Diablo 3 skill calculator.  Even though D3 isn't easy to model in a spreadsheet and I don't even know what a lot of the abilities do exactly I still have a desperate itch to start calculating things and figuring out what the optimal builds are.  One thing I must say is that I absolutely love the design of it.  You get six active abilities, each of which can have one of five different runestones.  The runestones modify the abilities in all kinds of crazy ways.  Some make the abilities generate more mana, some make the abilities hit harder, some add extra effects and some completely change the way the ability works.  You also get 3 passive abilities that aren't modified by runestones and which aren't cast a spells but just add to or change your character.

I set out to see how flexible characters could be and I was very impressed.  Check out this Tank Barbarian build.  I built a Tank Monk too and they are both really powerful (well, tough) but in very different ways.  The Monk stacks Dodge effects (85% !) and has powerful debuffs and self healing effects.  The Barbarian has enormous health, armour and healing but his Dodge is absolutely wretched.  I played around with all of the classes and I am pleased to report that in every case I was able to find many really interesting builds with all kinds of choices.  I built a ThrowBarian, who is awesome because he is a Barbarian who has no melee or AOE skills at all and relies on zooming around the battlefield blasting people with savage ranged attacks and summons.

The thing that is really telling is that I constantly need just a little bit more.  I always build a character and have to make difficult tradeoffs like deciding if I can allow myself to build a Wizard without Teleport.  Who can play without Teleport?!? but yet if I cut it I can set myself up to do more damage and be more flexible in combat.  I liked the Witch Doctor as a summoner using stacked AOE debuffs and Blizzard seems absolutely savage as the Wizard but no matter what build I try I am always rebuilding it trying to figure out a new way to squeeze a different ability or extra effect onto my character.

That is a good sign.  I suspect you will see huge variety in character builds in D3 because so much of the build is a judgement call.  Are you good enough to be able to drop a defensive ability for another offensive one?  Can you afford to drop an ability that generates mana to get more utility or will that additional downtime be annoying?  This design is much, much better than a talent tree like D2 or WOW boasts and for my money is the best character customization design for a pure combat game I have ever seen.  It is very easy to get started and make some reasonable choices and understanding the rules of the system is trivial but finding the absolute best build is extremely difficult.

Easy to learn, hard to master.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A beard again

Blizzard has issued a formal challenge to all hardcore Diablo fans - grow a Diableard.  This is, of course, the most ridiculous beard you can grow prior to D3s release with the intention of shaving it off on launch day.  Dude, I think I need to grow a beard again.  Blizzard told me to!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Complaints about WOW

For some reason I still read lots of blog posts about MMORPGs.  I find the viewpoints of bloggers on WOW intriguing because so often their experiences are so starkly different from mine.  My WOW subscription has lapsed and I have no intention of renewing it so I cannot be so much accused of being biased towards a game I don't play but normally I find the various criticisms levelled at WOW to be entirely spurious.

One of the most common ones is the idea that WOW is entirely twitch reflex based and not strategic.  Tobold and Gevlon, among others, seem to have this idea that as long as you click fast in WOW you are going to be awesome because nothing else matters.  I just don't see how that makes the slightest bit of sense.  Clearly when playing a fast moving game you have to make rapid decisions but strategy comes up all the time.  Healers moreso than others need to be monitoring their mana and their casting patterns to find more efficient ways to keep the group alive.  That said, everyone has cooldowns to use and things they have to choose timing on and figuring out when to do that is important.  Regularly when my guild was tackling hard content we sat down and had discussions about how many DPS to put on a task, which ones, and who would take special jobs.  Clearly at the end of the day you are going to have to click a bunch of buttons really quickly but there was huge amounts of time devoted to strategy and people who couldn't plan ahead were obvious because they failed at their tasks.  

Although much of the button pressing thinking is offloaded to mods these days I don't know that this removes the strategic element to hitting abilities.  I spent hundreds of hours building and maintaining my spreadsheet to tell me exactly how to play optimally and many of the choices that ended up being the best were not at all obvious from the outset.  Though it is true that the average player usually does simply download the appropriate mod and accept whatever the theorycrafters say I would point out how often my theorycraft slightly differed from others and that these small differences were relevant.  Doing the theory myself was important and gave me a real advantage over those who just went with whatever they found online.  I suspect that much of the complaints of WOW being all twitch based come from people who simply never did much hard content.  If you are doing easymodes you rarely get pushed to the limit of your potential - as long as you can do 80% of the optimum you will win as long as you don't stand in the fire.  When you do hardmodes with minimal gear though you end up being forced to never stand in the fire and also deliver 95% of optimum and doing that requires a ton of information, strategy and thought to achieve.

The second big complaint I see is that you don't get to use your class abilities as you raid.  I totally get this one as I recall vividly going into AQ40 back in the Classic days and being awed that I had to actually Hammer of Justice things.  No monster in the preceding dungeons was affected by anything aside from autoattack so I really only needed 3 buttons on my bar - Flash of Light, Holy Light and Cleanse.  In AQ40 not only *could* you use all kinds of 'levelling' abilities you *had* to use them or you would die.  There was a huge increase in the number of abilities you needed to use to be effective and I thought it made the game a lot more fun.  In modern raiding this still holds true - I loved fights where the monsters were brutal but could be slowed, interrupted, stunned, etc. and we had to use all kinds of crazy tactics and spells to solve problems.  I remember really enjoying the challenge of piecing together how we would solve particular problems with the raid members on hand and having to be aware of all the neat things stuffed away in our spellbooks.  

I think the raid design team is doing a MUCH better job than they used to at incorporating more class abilities into fights which I find pretty hilarious when I compare it to Tobold's recollection that BWL was the best zone ever for forcing him to use his abilities. The BWL I recall was one where mostly everyone stood in one spot casting either Fireball, Frostbolt, or their single most efficient heal.  Nothing came out of your spellbook aside from the 3 basic things you needed to do - there is no question that modern fights require far more in terms of skill, output, flexibility and using all of your abilities than the ones in BWL did.

WOW isn't perfect, as is evidenced by the fact that I don't play it anymore.  However, there has been a major improvement in making use of levelling abilities in endgame and the level of strategy required for the challenging encounters is extremely high.  You *can* get by with minimal strategy and you *can* ignore your spellbook but only if you are doing easy stuff.  If you want a challenge, it is there... and if you don't agree with me I want to see your list of heroic mode final boss kills that were done before the boss was nerfed!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A threesome

Just recently I read a book called Hunger Games which is the first of a 3 part series.  It was a book about a dystopian future with a very interesting 'death game' involved.  Here is the way the game works:

1.  24 people chosen mostly at random from the ages of 12-18 start in a large circle with no equipment whatsoever.  In the middle of the circle is the Cornucopia, which is a huge stash of weapons, food and survival equipment.  The contestants are then let go to do whatever they want but the catch is that only one can leave alive.

2.  The area they can move about in is large, perhaps 10 kilometers on a side, and each night they are told which contestants died the preceding day.

3.  The contestants are drawn from 12 distinct regions, 2 each, and anyone outside the game can spend a ton of money to send them gifts during the match so if you can be appealing to the people watching on TV you can potentially be handed really powerful advantages.

So what do you do in this sort of scenario?  The book presents the idea that normally half the people end up fighting over the Cornucopia and ~8 of them die right away doing so but the victors of that battle get supplies and control over the weapons.  The rest run away and some of those die to starvation, cold, bee stings, traps set by the gamemasters or whatever else.  The gamemasters have the ability and mandate to force a victor so there is no possibility of simply ignoring the others and living off the land indefinitely - you will eventually be forced together by fire, monsters or whatever else they please.

This is a pretty interesting thing to think on.  First off, obviously any alliance is extremely valuable but also short lived.  As soon as you get to the point where your alliance can handily beat the rest of the field there is a massive incentive to strike first and take out one of your allies.  My feeling is that the best strategy in this situation would be to set up a group of three.  In a big group you will quickly run out of anyone who could stop you and get right down to murdering each other in no time.  In a group of three though you have a really enormous advantage against any solo people because you can sleep safely (you hope!) as well as find food, water or shelter while having someone be a lookout.  Of course you also have the advantage that three vs. one in combat isn't much of a fight.  Three is also enough that if there is a large group you are likely to injure or kill some of them if attacked and almost certainly aren't a soft target.

I think three is also much better than two, but for different reasons.  In a three person group it is challenging for one person to decide to kill someone.  For one, the third person would have it easy in deciding who to assist (or to just kill/injure both) and it would be hard to know who would really back you up when you decide to backstab.  In a two person group whoever decides to backstab first pretty much is guaranteed victory so I suspect that alliance would be much more unstable.

Obviously all of this would be extremely random and depend on the personalities involved - young people forced to kill or die aren't exactly going to act predictably!

My personal plan would be to rush the Cornucopia to grab some stuff and try to get at least one nearby person to ally with me.  Hopefully a group of three, but any group is better than solo I think.  It is a risky play at the start but I suspect that my woodsman skills aren't remotely up to the task of surviving in the wild and risks must be taken.  Given the ability of people outside to influence the game I would definitely want to put on a show and act like a contender - it is possible that being up front and getting things done would be critical in keeping me alive.  The other contestants would be more likely to try to eliminate those that are a threat, I would think, but they might also be afraid of an overconfident show.  If you are going to bluff, bluff big would be my credo.

Picture from wikipedia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

4th edition scaling

There is a constant stream of posts on the internet that talks about the 'math hole' in 4th edition DnD.  The problem is this:  The monsters get a +1 to all of their attacks and defenses at every level but the players get a complicated mess of bonuses that add up to closer to +.9 to all of their attacks and defenses at every level.  This means by the time you get to high level the players miss an awful lot and get hit constantly - it doesn't mean the players can't win but it does mean that fights take a long time and the feel of the game is very different.  That is the objective difference.  The subjective difference is that it sucks.

For example, my defenses at level 1 are:

AC:  20
Fort:  17
Ref:  12
Will:  10

At level 30:

AC:  47
Fort:  42
Ref:  34
Will:  32

So since the monsters get +29 to hit they are a relative advantage of

AC:  +2
Fort:  +4
Ref:  +7
Will:  +7

This is completely nutty.  Now, if we assume that I take all three of the 'mandatory defensive feats' which improve my Fort, Ref, Will by 4 each and also take a feat to improve my armour by 1 then it looks like this:

AC:  +1
Fort:  +0
Ref:  +3
Will:  +3

The armour difference is fine, but the fact that I devoted the maximum amount of resources possible to defence and I still get hit significantly more is awful.  In particular most monsters are going to be hitting my Will defence on a 2 anyway so I sure won't waste the feat.  It feels to me like when you spend a feat to be better at a defence you shouldn't be hit on 2+ on a d20 by any random dude.  The problem with the armour defence is not the discrepancy of 1, which is close enough, but the fact that it requires a bizarre kludge where magical armour is allowed to be masterwork when it is very powerful and masterwork gives either a +3 or +6 bonus to my armour.  If you are going to use a bizarre kludge can't you at least hit the actual correct number?

One good question is this:  If we assume players buy every single defensive feat should they then be tougher at level 30 relatively speaking or should they be the same and we just assume that everyone has to buy those feats?  I think feats that are mandatory to keep your basic defenses in line are poor design but at least the defensive 'mandatory' feats are actually reasonable in power level unlike the 'mandatory' offensive feats which literally make your character 30% more powerful.  The defensive ones are more like a 5% increase in overall toughness which is quite reasonable.

Our current strategy in my group is to give everyone a +1 to hit at levels 5, 15, 25 and to ban all the 'mandatory' offensive feats.  Here are some options I was thinking of for defensive bonuses that fix the math problems in similar ways.

1.  At levels 9, 19 you gain +1 to Fort, Ref, Will.  This means that people with good stat spreads who spend all 3 defensive feats will end up with slightly better defenses at high level than low level, but only by about 1.  People with bad stat spreads like me will end up right on par, again assuming buying all 3 feats.

2.  AC is trickier because light armour wearers need to get a random bonus of 3-4 from somewhere and heavy armour wearers need 7-8.  I think for AC we can just force people to take a feat to get their AC up to snuff so we should aim for 3 and 7.  My idea here is that everyone gets a +1 to AC at 5, 15, 25 and heavy armour wearers get an additional bonus at 6,13,20,27.

These are of course a little bit kludgy but since the basic math of the system is off we need to find some way around it.  Ideally of course we could just increase the scaling of the +bonuses on the weapons, armour and necks instead but that would require a rewrite of the costing on the magic items and would end up giving players a greater bonus to damage than they current enjoy with magic weapons - lots of complications crop up when you start rewriting the bonuses on magic gear.

The absolute simplest way to do all of this (but which doesn't match the numbers as nicely) would be to give everybody a 'special super power bonus' of +1 to all defenses and all attacks at levels 5,15,25.  Secondary defenses would end up a bit higher and you would need to give heavy armour users twice the bonus to their heavy armour but it would overall be very easy to understand and work with and would do away with the need for masterwork items entirely.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Factions in FMB

For a long time I have wanted to add something to my standard FMB layout.  The game plays fine as it is but I think it would have a lot more replay value if people got to really change their strategy each time they started a new game.  At the moment they can change up their armies to contain different mixes of the 8 basic units but that somehow doesn't feel like enough specialization.  Initially I had designed several new factions that each had 4 new units in them, all of which had special powers.  This worked fine on the drawing board but had the issue that I have 3 different colours for the basic units and would need yet 4 more colours for the different factions.  This would mean I need to make a truckload of basic pieces and faction pieces and even then every player would have two different colours for their army (regular pieces and faction pieces) which would makes things difficult visually.

I came up with a new idea today that I think works much better.

Faction:  Pit Fiends

Army Points:  4
Special Unit:  Cerberus
Spells per Turn:  2

Use:  During your Spell phase.

Effect:  One friendly ranged unit may attack up to two additional times this turn.  Each attack must be against a different target and each attack costs one Movement Point.

Faction:  Faerie Kingdoms

Army Points:  5
Special Unit:  Sprite
Spells per Turn:  2

Use:  During your Spell phase.

Effect:  One friendly unit gains +1 Speed and ignores all terrain effects on movement until end of turn.

Faction:  Mountain Clan

Army Points:  4
Special Unit:  Cyclops
Spells per Turn:  2

All friendly units treat Mountains and Hills as Plains for the purposes of movement.

Faction:  Sylvan

Army Points:  6
Special Unit:  Dryad
Spells per Turn:  3

Whenever a friendly unit is Destroyed the attacker gains one extra Gold.

Faction:  Forged Ones

Army Points:  6
Special Unit:  Golem
Spells per Turn:  2

All friendly units must pay two Movement Points instead of one to make an attack.  Any unit with only one Movement Point may still attack if it did not move during its turn.

Faction:  The Legion

Army Points:  3
Special Unit:  Paladin
Spells per Turn:  1

Any friendly unit that is adjacent to one or more other friendly units gains +1 Strength.

Faction: Cabal of Blood

Army Points:  4
Special Unit:  Vampire
Spells per Turn:  2

Any time your Vampire is Stunned or Destroyed you may Stun one of your units that is not currently Stunned to negate the effect on your Vampire.

Faction:  Warlock’s Conclave

Army Points:  5
Special Unit:  Pyromage
Spells per Turn:  4

All friendly units take a -1 Strength penalty during enemy turns.

Faction:  Things from the Deep

Army Points:  3
Special Unit:  Horror
Spells per Turn:  2

After an opponent draws Spell(s) during their Production phase they must choose and discard a Spell.

Faction:  Northern Tribes

Army Points:  4
Special Unit:  Yeti
Spells per Turn:  1

Friendly units do not pay any Movement Points at all for any Water spaces they enter and also do not pay the additional Movement Point cost associated with leaving Water spaces.

Faction:  Golden Mercenaries

Army Points:  0
Special Unit:  None
Spells per Turn:  2

Your army consists of one of each of the following units:  Elf, Dwarf, Centaur, Worg, Ogre, Unicorn, Dragon.

Faction:  Iron Knights

Army Points:  0
Special Unit:  None
Spells per Turn:  2

Your army consists of one of each of the following units:  Elf, Dwarf, Centaur, Worg, Ogre, Unicorn, Dragon.

The idea behind all these new factions is that each player chooses a faction and doing so gives them a special unit with special rules, a bonus or penalty and also determines how many Spells per turn they get and how many points they have to spend on the rest of their army.  Overall I think each of these factions is balanced (with the caveat that I haven't tested them properly) and they will certainly give a unique feel to each game.  The last two factions (Golden Mercenaries and Iron Knights) are there so that new players have an easy introduction that is built right into the expert version of the game.  A new player can be handed those factions and they don't have to worry about special unit rules or unique abilities and their army is prebuilt.  Assuming I have the balance right the newbie factions should be just as powerful as the specialized ones, just less involved.

Hopefully the new layout will mean that experts can have all kinds of interesting matchups and designs but the physical piece requirements should be minimal.  I can just make one copy of each of the special units and give them all the same colour since only two will be on the board at any given point.  Below is the list of the special units including the point costs I assigned them.  The point costs are placed on a scale where normal units cost either 0, 1 or 2.

Special Units
Point Cost
Stand Firm
Short Range
Double Strike

Descriptions of Special Powers:
Flying:  The unit treats all terrain as Plains for the purposes of movement.
Stealth:  The unit cannot be affected by any enemy Spell or Artifact effects.  Attacks made by this unit may not be affected by any enemy Spell or Artifact effects.
Attacker:  The unit gains + 1 Strength while attacking.
Stand Firm:  The unit may not be pushed or moved by any unit, spell or artifact.  It is only moved when it is Destroyed and is put back in the Fortress.
Short Range:  The unit may only make attacks against adjacent units.
Healer:  The unit and any friendly units that are adjacent or sharing the Fortress remove their Stun condition during your Spell phase.  They may act as normal.
Double Strike:  The unit may make two attacks on its turn.  The second attack comes directly after the first and does not cost Movement Points.
Fear:  When this unit successfully Hits an enemy unit the enemy unit is Pushed 1 space in addition to the normal effect of the attack.
Defender:  The unit gains + 1 Strength while it is being attacked.
Immolate:  When the unit successfully Hits an enemy unit which has a Strength of 1 or less the enemy unit is automatically Destroyed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Quoridor is like corridor, only with a alternate spelling.  See how funny that is?

Okay, so it isn't that funny.  It is far more true that English is funny in that there are so many different ways to spell the same damn sound.

Regardless the game of Quoridor is one I find extremely intriguing.  I was introduced to it over the weekend and played a bunch of games to try to sort it out.  At first glance I figured that the strategy would be something reasonably solvable and that a perfect set of plays could be figured out but after a bit I have changed my mind. Now I think it is something much more like chess in that with truly stupendous computing power the game could be entirely parsed but it is simply too big for such things given current restrictions.  At this site you can find a computer AI that is reasonable but not amazing - I played against it and it made lots of very solid moves but I did win even though I have only played 10 or so games.
The two player version is played by giving each player 10 walls and starting their pieces on the middle square of the row closest to them like in the picture above - but with only two pieces.  Each turn you can either place a wall or move your piece one square horizontally or vertically but not diagonally.  You cannot cross walls.  If you are next to the enemy piece you can jump over them and if the space beyond them is blocked by a wall you can jump to the square(s) to their sides instead.  You win if you get your piece to the enemy home row.  Neither player may ever place a wall that makes it impossible for either player to get to the enemy home row.

The thing I find most fascinating about this game is that it is quite new - only 13 years old right now.  There are a reasonable number of people who have played it but it doesn't have anything remotely like the history or depth of research that chess or go have so the strategies are still being worked out by random people.  It is the same in that the game is a game of perfect information and zero randomness and yet the board results end up being extremely strange and interesting each time - at the end of each game you see a unique maze covering the board that can tell you how the game went.  Because standard openings and responses aren't well documented it is easy to imagine people coming up with powerful new ideas and theories without having to put in years of effort to find something that isn't already done to death.  I liken it a bit to Gauss and Wiles, one of which was a monumentally intelligent mathematician who lived quite some time ago and who made incredible discoveries across all fields of math (Gauss) and one who is alive today who solved one particularly brutal problem (Fermat's Last) but who will likely never known so well no matter what he does (Wiles).  Mathematics, like chess, is so well travelled and documented these days that it is incredibly challenging to do really new things while Quoridor is relatively new and uncharted territory.

Pictures taken from

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A question of style

I am currently involved in two DnD games, one of which is using 4th edition and which is an endless series of challenging yet balanced encounters that we defeat by playing nearly optimally with nearly optimally designed characters.  We fight mostly groups of 4-6 enemies in well defined dungeon areas and after we lose the expected number of healing surges and daily powers we move onto the next fight with nothing more than "Obviously we loot the room, is there any stuff?"  The other group playing Pathfinder is quite the contrast because it involves long sections of roleplaying and decision making which lead to all kinds of strange plans like "Let's go visit the Frozen Sea to the far north and see what is there!" rather than just one more fight.  The fights are random and the monsters we face are not neatly organized into appropriate encounters but rather just given an XP value and the DM has to guesstimate what we can beat and what will destroy us.

Clearly the first style caters much more to the mechanics player who wants combat and constant tactical challenges.  4th edition is great for that because the powers and enemies are drastically more predictable and balanced than in Pathfinder.  Of course 4th is still heinously unbalanced in many ways but it is worlds ahead of the older versions.  Pathfinder also has all kinds of rules for crafting things, making poisons, earning money as a blacksmith and loads of other random stuff that gives mechanics for things that are primarily about roleplaying rather than maximizing combat efficacy.  Pathfinder feels more realistic to me in that it is wild and messy and unpredictable - just like I would expect a fantasy world to actually be!  4th is a much better tactical game but I think it does not support the fantasy milieu as effectively.

I enjoy both tactical games and roleplaying so being in these two games works really well for me but I wonder how much the change in focus from 3rd to 4th edition changed the way other people play the game.  Did lots of people start playing more hack and slash dungeoneering because the game shifted to focus more on that style?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Portal Gun

(Sung to the tune of the Spider Man theme song.  Lyrics here.)

Portal Gun, Portal Gun
I've got a fucking Portal Gun
Pop in here, pop out there,
I can go anywhere,
Look out!
I've got a Portal Gun.

Is it fun?
Listen dude,
So hooked I forget about food.
Can you get way up there
Hell, I can walk on air
Check this
I've got a Portal Gun.

In the damp underground
Evil bot I must fight
Perfect angle is found
Walk on through, its so tight!

Portal Gun, Portal Gun
I've got a fucking Portal Gun
Outside world
I forget
This can't be done I bet

Wait just a minute I see it now
I finally figured out how
Warm up that Portal Gun!

Monday, September 5, 2011


It seems like game designers who work on DnD really have no idea that there is a difference between a +2 bonus to a roll before or after you see the result on the die.  In our last 4th edition session we had a Psion in our group who used the ability Guiding Shot which is an immediate reaction encounter power that lets you turn your own or an ally's attack from an attack targetting AC to targetting Reflex instead.  You can use it after the attack is rolled though so it ends up being extremely good.  Initially we thought it was a Psion ability and were pretty convinced that this alone was able to lift the Psion from a poor class to midrange - after all, this ability is worth 20 damage in the majority of fights we get involved in.  Most of the time this ability is worth about +2 to hit but since we make a large number of physical attacks it ends up turning a miss into a hit the great majority of the time since we just wait until we *barely* miss to activate it.

It turns out this ability is actually a power available to anyone with Perception who wants to give up their level 6 Utility power to get it and that probably Psions are just bad since all kinds of classes should be picking Guiding Shot up.  Obviously Level 6 Utility powers do something and it is easy to imagine they are better than 15 damage (20 damage that works most of, but not all of the time) but still this is a strong ability even though it only gives somewhere between +0 and +5 to hit.

I looked at this power and then went through my other options and found that many of my choices gave the same sort of bonus:  +2 to hit, +2 to damage, +2 to AC, occasionally several of these, and lasting for 1 round.  Unfortunately they all required using the ability before the attack is rolled!  These end up being worth something like 2 to 4 damage depending on the ability because most of the time the attacks involved end up being hits already or missing by more than 2 anyway.

How can these people not notice this?  A +2 to hit *before* the attack is a minor but useful bonus while A +2 *after* the attack is worth almost an entire extra hit!  The same sort of thing comes up with the Human and Deva special bonuses which give +4 or +1d6 bonus to hit after the roll.  A racial bonus that gives 75% of an additional attack every fight is worth something like 15% extra damage, and can be even more if you have daily attacks that hit single targets and are particularly devastating.

I noticed this tendency for people to completely misunderstand the nature of informed vs. random choices years ago when I was busy posing the Monty Hall problem to various relatives and friends and being astonished that aside from those people in university level mathematics programs the success rate was something like 5-10% to answer the question correctly.  People in general just don't understand the impact of prior information on making choices.  In the case of the DnD abilities in question it would be reasonable to give any ability that is used after the roll a +1 benefit and any 'equivalent' ability used before the roll a +7 benefit and call them the same.  Oftentimes the +1 simply won't come up or will be used at an inappropriate time since we don't know the exact number we are targetting.  Instead the designers generally make the bonuses similar in size and render one category of bonus supremely powerful and the other nearly worthless.