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Archive for August, 2007

Good Point: 30 August 2007

August 30, 2007 Leave a comment

Leninade: “Get hammered and sickled!” (I originally thought this was a photoshop prank, buy boy was I wrong.)

“I try to avoid newspapers, actually. Even if they are free, I still don’t want one because it’s somewhat depressing to read world news, and I don’t want that to make me have a bad day. If it’s really important, it’ll get on [The Daily Show.]” Wow.

Also, Amazon.com recently interviewed Joss Whedon as a tie-in to the release of the new Serenity collector’s edition. Normally, I would just link to it, but given that listening to it is no great pleasure, I’ll save you the trouble. (The interviewer has a deadpan voice with no apparant transition from one question to another, and it sounds like Joss is on a landline phone.)

He thinks Battlestar Galactica is the best show on TV “by a country mile.” When pressed, he admits that this may in part be a tight integration with strong female characters, but that’s not the only reason. Also, the collector’s edition of Serenity is very good, and very worth it, and he is hoping that it might eventually give the studios the idea that producing more Firefly could be financially beneficial for them. Until then, there is a new three-issue comic book series coming out soon, similar to Those Left Behind.

Categories: Good Point

These times, they’re a-changing

August 27, 2007 2 comments

Going into this whole college thing, I had two real fears.

The first was that my first semester, I’m starting in Calculus III. I apparently know enough — or knew enough at the time of the AP test — to place into the class. That’s kinda scary, because I’m one of a handful of freshmen in that class. Also, Calculus I and II in high school were no cake walk.

But I’m coming to finally understand what everyone was grumbling last semester: my teacher really was just plain bad. But this teacher at State, a grad student going for his math doctorate, really seems to know what he’s doing. Heck, he’s not even going to actively use the abysmal textbook. (It’s the same text I used in my first two semesters of Calc.)

Also, I’m actually studying. This is sort of new to me, because I’ve mostly just skated through public school to this point, underachieving my way into a decent GPA and SAT score, which landed me here. So the idea of sitting down and working through all the problems assigned is a little novel to me, although not entirely, because I did do a bit of this to save my bacon towards the end of Calculus II.

On a side note, I’m incredibly glad that I’m in a section with a teacher who offers suggested homework problems and doesn’t require anything on daily basis: I’m already hearing WebAssign horror stories of nightly assignments.

My other fear was that I would have to give up my old companion: World of Warcraft. I cloaked this in discussions of worrying about having a too-heavy workload, and not enough free time. But in the end, this was all because, in my heart, I knew that I was spending as much time on WoW as I would on a part-time job. (Well, it sort of is a part time job, Mentor Media and all.)

But now that I’m here, and I have the choice between doing stuff like studying and playing WoW … okay, bad example. When I have the choice between doing stuff like playing Guitar Hero with my friends and playing WoW, it’s not even a contest. I still view the game in a favorable light, but with the presence of real alternatives for things to do — as opposed to not much better way to spend most nights — WoW is definitely falling behind.

In all fairness, in previous times, I got a good deal of enjoyment out of it because of the co-participation of a handful of my friends in real life. But they’ve slowly moved on, or lost interest, removing a portion of my motivation. And with that gone, I find myself finding time for doing stuff like blogging and studying.

It’s funny how these things that I dreaded, when viewed through the proper lens actually become rather positive.

What is this “proper lens,” though? Well, it’s a key facet of my personality: personal choice. I was afraid that I would be forced to do things I didn’t want to get by in college. But instead, all I have to do is choose which I would rather do. And that’s something that I like.

Categories: Uncategorized

What I did instead of sleeping

August 24, 2007 4 comments

One last class to go until the week is over. I’ve made it to all my classes, put in 13 hours of work, and played at least two dozen Guitar Hero songs, to stay sharp. Everything seems to be going according to plan.

Although, there have been surprises. Almost all of these fall into the category of “half-expected.” By that, I mean that I expected them on some sort of subconscious level, but I’m still moderately intrigued when they come to pass. You know, things like having most of my classes taught by grad students instead of tweed-coat wearing professors. Honestly, that’s even better, because nothing makes a better doctor than being operated on, if you follow the metaphor.

I’m sort of disappointed, although not overly, that I’m not actually using my laptop for any direct class work, currently. In all fairness, it’s a decent size laptop, and there’s no way it would stay on top of those little folding chair-desk things endemic to college classrooms. On the other hand, it does allow me to hang around the class-room section of campus and work on homework, instead of trekking back to my dorm to use my desktop. On the gripping hand, if I were going back to my dorm, I might have a chance to catch a nap between classes.

I have to say, though, that my biggest disappointment is my English class. It’s essentially a slightly scaled up version of all the other English I’ve had before, with the scaling affecting the complexity and workload, but not the class size. It’s a group of 20 or 25 of my fellow Freshmen, from all kinds of majors, many of whom are the same types of people who I co-habited high school with. Once again: another “half-expected” surprise: college isn’t full of scholarly intellectuals. Some of the “I only read for class and prefer to have a Marlboro with my Bud Light while riding my dirtbike” crowd came along too.

But also, my English class is taught by and English major, which places it firmly in the “humanities” category, and therefore involves a lot of boring stuff about “what is the self” and “is that really a chair or just language?” (No joke; those are direct quotes from the second day of class.) Also, when did the word for someone who studies the humanities become “humanitarian?”

The upshot of all of this is that I did a lot of “doodling,” except that it’s not picture doodling, it’s doodling with words. Just little bites of comedy that I attempt to create to dispel some of the boredom. A few of my favorites from today:

“If treason is only a matter of dates, then plagiarism is only a matter of words.”-Aristotle

“The university is to knowledge as a house of the holy is to it’s god, with the obvious exception that your pastor doesn’t encourage you to synthesize new gods.” -Hober Short, when asked to “critically respond” to his English text

Categories: College

Fourth Edition Round-Up, Part II

August 22, 2007 1 comment

Part 2 of 2. Part 1 here.

  • Stats generation will be much the same as before. Point buy and die-rolls will both be supported. Also, the stat chart and associated modifiers (i.e. an 18 is a +4) will be very similar.
  • Hitpoints will be more “reliable”. (Wes suggests this may mean that hit point generation will work more like in Iron Heroes where every class rolls a d4 for hitpoints, but has a different modifier. Beefy classes get 1d4+6, while sneaky-types get 1d4+2.) Also, first level characters should be a little more durable.
  • Races will give abilities and advantages at levels other than first. There will also be racial feats that enhance your racial traits, as well as race-specific powers built-in to your class.
  • More on item creation: the whole system should be streamlined and made more useful. As it stands now, PCs crafting just about anything via a Profession skill takes weeks of game time, which either has to be kludged into the plot or just ignored. Either way, Wizards wants to eliminate that.
  • More on monsters: monsters are monsters (not possible PC races), and monster abilities are monster abilities (not monstrous feats). Monsters will have a clearer “role” on the battlefield. And, as stated before, there should be more of them on the field at any time.
  • All books will come with a code to unlock a digital version of the book which will be errata’ed free of charge. (I’ve read elsewhere that gaining access to the digital version, even with the print version in front of you, will require a “nominal” fee.)
  • In April 2008, a month before the PHB release, there will be a module (“The Keep of Shadowfell”) released with pre-generated characters in Fourth that will allow for a taste of the game.
  • The PHB will include “magical items.” It’s unclear to me whether this means the sort of magical enchantment that you could get on top of a standard item, which as always been in the PHB, or the wondrous items (Bag of Tricks, anyone?) characteristic of the DMG.

That’s about it. With Gen Con over, and Wes, my insider, returned to his home, I now will likely hear the same things you folks do. But if any of my readers do find any juicy information, be sure to forward it to me.

Categories: Gaming

What we leave behind

August 22, 2007 4 comments

Off the top, a bit of an update: I’m moved into my dorm, and I had my first day of work at SAS yesterday. I’m writing this from D.H. Hill, the mega-library at NCSU.

Neither the move-in nor the first day went particularly flawlessly, but I muddled through. I knew that when I left for my dorm I would end leaving a good amount of stuff at home, so in the end, I just took what I had packed and let the things I was missing present themselves in due time. Unfortunately, the list of things that I did leave behind ended up being embarassingly long, and included everything from a spare towel to my cell phone charger to any extra underwear at all.

As for SAS, when I showed up for work, I didn’t have a user account or any rights on any computers. This was because, between my manager being on vacation and the IT person in charge of entering such things being out of the office, nobody had bothered to put me in the system. In the end, it worked out alright though, because I just sat in my cubicle and started teaching myself the SAS programming language.

Anyways, I should be in class right now, according to my schedule, but I found that when I showed up for the lab section of my Chemistry class, my first class of the year, that it won’t be starting up until this time next week. Funny how that works.

As for D.H. Hill itself, it’s an oddly nostalgic experience. I remember this place from my days of coming with my mother to work, but it’s got so many different parts that myself, a decade ago, never bothered to notice. I have a sort of mental floor plan, but it’s hardly complete.

At any rate, there you have it: my grand return to regular blogging. I hope to be able to crank out three to four posts a week as I had been doing before summer caught up with me. The only caveat is that they’ll likely be appearing a bit later than they used to, as I’ll mostly be writing them between my morning class and afternoon class, in the 10am-1pm window, about. At any rate, we’ll see.

Categories: College, Real Life

Fourth Edition Round-Up

August 18, 2007 6 comments

A friend of mine who’s attending Gen Con has been sending dispatches of what he’s learned about Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition. Since has no blog, and these dispatches mostly take the form of emails, I figured I would collect them into a blog post. Some of this may be duplicate of other folks’ coverage, but here’s what I’ve heard:

  • 30 Levels; 1-10 will be “heroic play”: defending the town, saving the mayors daughter, fighting orcs/ogres etc, stopping a small invading horde. The lower level type stuff. Level 11-20 will be “paragon play”: saving the kingdom, defeating the Vampire Count. 21-30 will be “epic play”: big dragons, liches, and terrasques.
  • Advancement at every level; no “dead levels” where your character doesn’t gain any real abilities.
  • Fewer base classes in the Players Handbook: no more Bard. More defined class roles for each of the classes. The Ranger will gain some of the abilities of the scout, and a more distinctive fighting style. The Fighter will work similar to the rules for stances and maneuvers in Tome of Battle. The difference between Wizard and Sorceror will be more stark, and a Wizard should never have to pick up crossbow.
  • To that end, classes will have “at will” abilities, as well as per-encounter and per-day abilities, so that a caster will never run out of things to cast.
  • New races: Aasimar (“planetouched”) and Tieflings (evil-inclined Aasimar). They’ve been toned down from the their appearance in non-core materials in Third Edition, but the other races are meeting them halfway by being empowered to a degree.
  • Encounters are being redesigned with larger-scale encounters in mind, as well as streamlining combat. Making turns go quicker around the table, as well as eliminating the “I just finished my turn, I have five minutes to get a snack before I have to do anything” mentality.
  • Skills are going to be reworked and given a bigger role. No real details on that currently.
  • Players Handbook (288 pages) in May 2008, Monster Manual (288 pages) in June, and the first Dungeon Master’s Guide (256 pages) in July.

I’ve also been very impressed by the all of the enthusiasm from all the Wizards of the Coast employees assigned to work on this. In an interview, the head of R&D discussed how they had essentially shut down work on developing Fourth Edition and just playtested the draft of the rules they’d produced for a month solid. That shows a level of dedication that is everything we could hope for.

Stay tuned for more info, as I might be hearing more. Thanks to Wes, my inside man at Gen Con.

UPDATE: (Midnight EST, 19 August) Some more fresh informations:

  • Characters will always have some kind of choice at each level: picking a feat, picking between this or that class ability.
  • Reduced reliance on magic items.
  • Truncating the spell system. If you want to be a tailor, writer “Tailor” on your character sheet, because “Profession (Tailor)” is gone. There’s a focus on active (i.e. combat?) skills. Also, combining certain skills: who buys Hide without Move Silently? Also, complex things like Diplomacy should be somewhat more complex than a single die roll.
  • Any kind of conversion guide from Third to Fourth will be anemic, if even extant. 1:1 conversions are so difficult, you’re better off re-rolling the character, attempting to recreate the spirit of the character within the new rule set. (Worked for Third, in my opinion.)
  • Prestige classes will still be around, but somewhat different. They want a greater level of integration between base classes and prestige: some kind of advancement in your base class as you take levels in your prestige class. Not many details on this.
  • Allowing for re-allocation of some feats. For example, Whirlwind has five pre-requisite feats: you shouldn’t have to start planning to get whirlwind so far ahead. There’s talk of re-training a la Players Handbook 2.
  • XP will be easier; no more comparing challenge rating to party level to find out how much they’re worth. CR is gone, melded into monster level. To build an encounter, you determine the XP value you want, and then pick out monsters that total that XP value. This should also make it easier to modify encounters.
  • For monsters, the focus is going to be on what the monster is likely to do. As they did from 3.0 to 3.5, they’ll cut out a lot of monster abilities because a monster with a life expectancy of 7 rounds doesn’t need 30 abilities.
  • Alignment is getting a re-work. Less concentration on it as a “mechanical element.” (Eberron shades-of-gray system, anyone?)
  • No more magic item creation costing experience points. Or monsters eating your levels.
  • Starker contrasts between races: real tactical differences.

Some things occurred to me while I was typing this up, almost all of them related to Fourth Edition and Iron Heroes. Many of the changes they discuss (non-reliance on magical items, more active skills, more involved diplomacy) remind me of changes to the d20 system in IH. This actually fits into a statement I heard via some of the video coverage from a developer, who spoke about how many recent books (he cited Tome of Battle as an example) have been experiments in seeing how players responded to certain propositions. Many of the favorably received such experiments are becoming a part of Fourth. I can only wonder if the entire IH system started out that way. And if you’re not hearing Twilight Zone music yet, let me add that one of the folks presenting all this information at Gen Con is Mike Mearls, the mind behind Iron Heroes.

Categories: Gaming

Ch-ch-changes

August 14, 2007 4 comments

G’Kar once said that all of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. I’m stuck sorely in a moment of transition, and it’s starting to get on my nerves.

For example, the there’s the transition between my old graphics card and my new one, because I torched the old one, on accident. The new one’s in the mail, so I’ve got no computer games to play (except World of Warcraft, limping along on my laptop).

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem, because I have a summer job working for Mentor Media, except that that too has begun its transition from summer job mode to the way it usually is during the year, so I’ve got more than enough time for the few articles I’ve been asigned.

Okay, so I’ve got no games and no work. What does that leave? What did people do before computers? TV? Well, I’ve watched everything I’m interested in on both (!!!) TiVos. Hmm, what else? Oh, yeah, books!

Well, that was going okay until I ran out of pages in Atlas Shrugged. (!!!!!!!) Yeah, I finally finished it. I did some poking around, based on what I remember, and found the post on Kim du Toit’s website that spurred me into pulling the 1079-page tome off my father’s bookshelf and begin to dive it. It’s dated 29 June 2005. It only took me a little over two years to get through the book. Sheesh. (Full disclosure: I tend to jump around between books a lot. In those two years I also read all of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, as well as Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys once or twice.)

It’s actually sort of like losing an old friend, in some ways. Atlas Shrugged served as a refuge any time the world seemed unjust or stupid (i.e. most of the time when I read the news). After all, not only does it depict a far worse situation than we’re in, but it’s also guaranteed to have a happy ending. Of course, it’s not like the book has gone, because if I begin re-reading it today, almost all of what I read 2 years ago will be relatively new to me. That’s the problem with huge sagas like Atlas Shrugged.

Plus, I’ll be thumbing through those pages again before long, for the Atlas Shrugged Scholarship Essay Contest. I should probably get cracking on that. I’ve got a month to write 1000 words, on top of my forthcoming academic work.

Speaking of which, classes start in a week and a day. On top of that, I’ve taken a job offer to work part-time during the year at SAS. My schedule’s gonna fill up real quick.

I do realize how lucky I am to be able to gripe about being bored all day and sitting around at home. I also realize that this is quite likely the last time I will do that, at least over summer break. I was lucky this past summer to have such a forgiving summer job that allowed me to work in my pajamas. But this SAS job, or one like it, will likely be my full-time fare during summers while I’m in college, and then afterwards, I’ll be a genuine hard-working member of society, with no summer breaks at all. I’m not exactly lamenting this, because it also will afford me much more freedom to be gainfully and professionally employed, just noting.

Like I said, one long moment of transition.

Categories: Real Life