Archive for December, 2010
I was at Staples today and saw the Omnitech Mini-Speaker on one of the tables full of last minute gifts. For $9.99, I decided to give it a try.
I just plugged it into my phone, and I’m absolutely blown away. This speaker’s about the size of a golf ball, and it’s astoundingly loud. It also expands a little bit accordion style, giving it pretty decent bass for such a tiny package.
It’s a powered speaker, and the cord it comes with doubles as a recharging cable (via USB) and the audio connector (via standard TRS connector).
There are really only two things I can find to fault it with. First, it’s probably not feasible to replace the cord (the speaker connection is mini-usb, so you’d need a mini-usb to TRS cord, and a separate cord for charging). But at $10, you might as well just buy a new one if you lose the cord. Would be nice if it had a clip or something to wrap the cord around when not in use.
The other fault comes from the manual: it warns you that if the battery is overcharged, it may affect sound quality temporarily, and you should monitor the speaker and unplug it as soon as the light turns blue. Would be nice if it would stop charging on its own, but no biggie.
It’s also available in a variety of colors. I got red, but there was also blue, black, green, pink… maybe purple?
If you’re interested in a tiny portable speaker, give this thing a shot. You’ll be floored.
I’ve been thinking about ressurection lately. In general, when I run a game I don’t allow ressurection of any kind, because I feel it just causes too many issues.
For example, I feel resurrection removes one of the most important tools a GM has to provide challenge: the threat of death as a consequence of failure. I also worry that it leads to in-game problems; a king has little to worry from assassins when he can simply be resurrected.
I think I’ve come up with a framework for resurrection which addresses both of my main issues, and perhaps even opens up new space.
- People are resurrected at the same age they were when they died. In other words, if you die of old age, resurrection can’t bring you back.
- When someone is resurrected, their new body is whole, healthy (with the exception of the ravages of aging), and unscarred.
- A portion of the body is required for resurrection. The rule of thumb is bone, blood and flesh. If you’ve got that, you can resurrect them. It should be noted that the “sample” must actually be from the corpse. You can’t cut off a finger and leave it behind just in case.
- Consent is required. Someone has to be willing to be resurrected.
- That said, the deceased doesn’t know who is performing the resurrection or under what circumstances.
- Resurrection requires a sacrifice–a soul for a soul. The soul must be relatively similar to that of the deceased; elves, orcs, humans, dwarves, etc are interchangable. A wolf’s soul would not work to resurrect a human, though, and a human’s would not work to resurrect a dragon.
Analyzing this, I reach the following conclusions.
First and foremost, the requirement of bone, blood and flesh means that it’s slightly more difficult, but still completely feasible, to kill someone permanently. If their body can’t be recovered, either because it’s lost or destroyed, there’s nothing to be done. This alone solves almost all my problems with resurrection.
An idea I had related to this is that kingdoms might “save” their greatest heroes by euthanizing them and then magically preserving a part of their body. Picture a reliquary in the heart of a great cathedral where the remains of the greatest paladins in history are stored, ready to be called upon when a great evil arises.
The source of souls for resurrection raises some issues as well. If we’re going to assume that resurrection is a common and accepted part of life, then that leads to the implication that even good societies integrate this soul sacrifice into their culture. I see the ‘good’ societies having institutions where elderly or terminally ill poor can offer themselves for sacrifice, and in return their families are given considerable compensation. On the flipside, a fascist state might use prisoners and dissidents to power resurrection, perhaps even using it as a form of execution. And of course, there are always going to be evil folk who happily kill anyone they like.
Tangentially, I like the idea of vampirism and lichdom as corruptions of resurrection magic. Vampires are practitioners of blood magic. They drink the blood of their victims as a proxy for the victim’s soul. Anyone can become a vampire, it’s literally as simple as just drinking a lot of blood (with the same stipulation that the ‘soul’ needs to be of similar calibre). They heal faster and becomes stronger and faster, but don’t gain any ‘special effects’ for lack of a better term. They can’t fly or transform or charm people.
Liches, on the other hand, steal their victims’ souls directly. Lichdom requires a great deal of arcane prowess, and so liches are quite rare and powerful.
In both cases, they don’t actually cheat the age restriction on resurrection magic. Both liches and vampires are undead. Death is part of the ritual one uses to become a lich. It’s a bit more nuanced for vampires, though. Technically a vampire isn’t a vampire until they “die.” Until that point, they’re a blood mage. At some point, whether from physical trauma, old age, suffocation, etc, a blood mage will die. They might not even notice at the time, for when they die their unlife as a vampire begins immediately and seamlessly. As a blood mage, they can sustain themselves on blood but also can sustain themselves on food and water like any other of their race.
I think I’ve finally made the last random generator I will ever make… OmniGen.
OmniGen is an engine which makes it fast and easy to create random tables which can reference each other and lead to some really cool results.
Give it a try. I’ve got a few presets to show what it’s capable of, and you can even create your own custom ones.
To create a custom generator, you just create a sentence like “My milkshake brings all the [Sex]s to the yard.”
See how [Sex] is in brackets? That means it’s going to lookup on the Sex table, which has two entries; “Male” and “Female”
You could also use [sex], which would do the same thing except force it to lower case.
When you click custom, it’ll show you a list of the tables currently available, and you can click on any of them to quickly add it to your generator.
If you have any ideas for new tables or generators, let me know!
Hubs, Sites & Routes is a methodology for planning out a sandbox game. As the name suggests, it is defined by three elements.
- Quest Hubs: Relatively safe and friendly areas where the PCs can rest and find things to do.
- Adventure Sites: Dangerous areas where the PCs will do most of their adventuring.
- Routes: Connectors which PCs use to travel between quest hubs, adventure sites, and other routes.
The first two, hubs and sites, are very similar except in focus. PCs will get most quests at quest hubs, and most quests will require PCs to travel to adventure sites to fulfill them. That said, there can certainly be quests which are started at an adventure site and/or which are fulfilled at a quest hub.
Routes really just help you to define and keep consistent the distances and effects of travel.
A quest hub should be a relatively safe and friendly place for the PCs, the sort of place they could use as a home base if they were so inclined. It should have a variety of NPCs available for interaction and for questing. Most civilized areas would probably be considered quest hubs, but not necessarily all. An orcish settlement or a town controlled by an enemy, for example, would likely be considered an adventure site, and a roadside inn might be considered a route.
When designing a quest hub, try to keep it open-ended, as ideally you’ll get a lot of use out of it. Ideally, most of the major factions in the area should have some presence in the hub, even if it’s a single person residing there in an unofficial capacity (a retired general, for example). Factions at a quest hub might include churches, political groups, guilds, merchants, etc.
And of course, the most important thing for a quest hub is… the quests! Try to have a number of different quests which can be completed in the same nearby adventure site. I just posted some advice on quest design.
Compared to quest hubs, adventure sites should probably be smaller and more numerous. That doesn’t necessarily mean physically smaller, mind you, but smaller in terms of there being less going on. There should be a small number of enemy or neutral groups at the adventure site. Ruins, dungeons, caves and enemy settlements are examples of adventure sites.
Adventure sites should also have some kind of story for the PCs to discover, and the PCs should ultimately be able to change the adventure site in a lasting way. In fact, they might even be able to turn an adventure site into a quest hub–for example, clearing an evil necromancer and his legion of undead out of an ancient castle and then gifting it to a local lord, or taking control of it themselves. Adventure sites also might turn into routes to other sites and hubs, such as a garrison blocking a passage into the mountains.
Routes are a bit more abstract, and meant to basically allow for some consistency and meaningful choices. For example, there might be two routes from a village (quest hub) to a dungeon (adventure site). The old road is relatively safe, but curves around the dark forest and takes 2 days to travel. The second route is to go directly through the dark forest, which takes only a day if the PCs pass a skill test, but if they fail they could get lost and trapped in the forest longer.
When designing routes, you need to decide what the routes connect to. Routes can connect to any number of hubs, sites, and other routes.
You also need to decide how long a route should take to travel, and any consequences you might wish to attach to traveling the route. Routes serve as an excellent opportunity to emphasize skills in an otherwise combat-heavy game. Skill checks can be used to endure harsh weather (failure depletes the PCs healing surges or similar resources in other games), avoid getting lost (failure increases travel time and may deplete PCs’ food stocks), and avoid (harmful) encounters*.
In practice, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you design routes, and the important thing is that it describes how the players travel just as much as where they travel. So for example a long journey might have two routes–one a direct course to the destination that’s shorter but more taxing, and the other where the PCs stop at an inn halfway through, taking more time but arriving at themore rested.
*A note on encounters: I recommend giving little if any experience or other reward for random encounters, to emphasize that PCs should avoid them and see them as a bad thing. Otherwise, some groups might try to game the system by actively seeking out random encounters (guilty!).
After thinking on the topic for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that quests should be short and simple, easily expressed as “[Action] [Subject]” For example, “Collect eggs,” “Deliver package,” “Escort caravan.”
However, and here I’m taking a lesson from World of Warcraft, you spice things up not by complicating the quests, but by giving multiple quests which are to be completed in the same area.
A cult has been growing in the forests outside a large village. The local mayor asks the PCs to look into the cult, and determine if it’s a threat. A farmer asks the PCs to rescue his daughter, who he believes has been brainwashed by the cult. The sheriff believes a thief who escaped is hiding out in the woods as well. Another farmer on the way out of town has been having problems with a pack of wolves attacking his livestock. An infirm widow hasn’t been able to make it out to her husband’s grave recently and asks the players to place a wreath on his grave.
That boils down to the following five quests.
- Investigate cult
- Rescue daughter
- Find thief
- Kill wolves
- Visit grave
Tiny. Bite size. Easy for GMs to come up with, and easy for players to keep track of.
Of course, they still leave plenty of room for the GM to complicate things, as well. Suppose the daughter wasn’t brainwashed, but went with the cult willingly. The thief has been murdered in a particular grisly fashion. The graveyard is overrun by undead. The cult claims they’re trying to stop the undead. The wolves… well, they’re just wolves. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
This article is primarily targeted at people who don’t play World of Warcraft, but have an interest in reading about the mechanics of it.
The term ‘rotation’ refers to how you use your abilities in a fight, and in particular it refers to your ‘bread and butter’ abilities which are used over and over. Every class has a number of ‘cooldowns’ as well–abilities with a long wait time (anywhere from 1 minute up to 15 minutes) which are used situationally.
‘Rotation’ is also a bit of a misnomer, as it implies that you do things in a certain order. This certainly used to be the case for many classes, but these days most classes use a priority-based rotation, where every time you have to use an ability you need to run through a quick decision tree in your head.
The priority might be as simple as always use A if it’s available; else always use B if it’s available; else always use C if available; etc. Or it might be more complicated, requiring you to consider the current game state. Between procs (passive abilities which trigger automatically and [usually] randomly) and resources which build up over time, the decision for which ability to use can sometimes be rather complicated.
Cooldowns and the GCD
First and foremost, a quick point of terminology. Cooldown is how long you have to wait between using abilities. Some abilities might not have their own cooldowns, while others can have cooldowns anywhere from a second up to a week! Those extraordinarily long cooldowns aren’t usually aren’t for combat abilities, but rather for things like crafting.
GCD stands for Global Cooldown. The vast majority of ‘attacks’ and other combat abilities are ‘on the GCD’, which is 1.5 seconds long, and means that you can in most cases only use one attack per GCD.
For most intents and purposes, you can think of GCD as being analagous to a ‘turn’ in a boardgame.
Paladin Tanking Rotation
The thing that’s got me thinking about rotations is that I’ve started playing my paladin, and I’m finding the rotation to be one of the more complicated rotations I’ve tried. Tanking, by the way, means that your job is to hold the attention of the mobs and take all the damage. This as opposed to healing (obvious) and DPS (acronym for damage per second, think of them as glass cannons).
Currently at level 72 (level 80 being the max level as of writing, and level 85 the max when the new expansion drops in less than a week), my rotation goes like this:
- If I have 3 points of Holy Power, use Shield of the Righteous.
- Else if Crusader Strike/Hammer of Righteousness is available, use that (they share a cooldown, and one the former is used for single targets while the latter for groups).
- Else if Avenger’s Shield is available, use that.
- Else if Judgement (sic) is available, use that.
- Else, this is a free GCD, where at my discretion I might use a less optimal ability just to do something or I might just spend a a GCD doing nothing.
This probably looks fairly simple on paper, and indeed it is a lot easier to pull off when I’m tanking a boss. However, things get really hairy when I’m tanking large groups of enemies, and I have to split my attention between the rotation, trying to spread aggro around evenly to the enemies around me, and in particular trying to notice and react quickly whenever I lose an enemy and they start going after the DPS or healer.
There are also some caveats which are not obvious from the rotation I’ve listed above.
- First and foremost, the idea that sometimes the correct thing to do is nothing is a surprisingly difficult paradigm to get into. Coming from the land of DPS, where you’re constantly trying to use your resources (including time!) as efficiently as possible, it’s really hard not to push a button just because you can.
- The second step, Crusader Strike/Hammer of Righteousness, is where I get my holy power from. Every time I connect with those, I get 1 point of holy power (which maxes out at 3 points). These spells share a 3-second cooldown, meaning that in effect every other GCD is spent using one of these two abilities. This has two consequences.
- First, it means that even if I’ve just used Shield of the Righteous to burn my holy power, I immediately followed up with an attack that gave me another point. That means Shield is always available and tempting to use, but it’s extremely inefficient to use with less than full power.
- Second, it means I get into the mindset of “Crusader strike, something else, crusader strike, something else”, and in essence I subconsciously move step 2 up above step 1 as the highest priority. This is incorrect, however. If Shield of the Righteous misses (and thus doesn’t burn the holy power), the correct thing to do is immediately use it again until it connects. The “every other GCD” mindset also exacerbates other mistakes I might make. For example, if I have 3 holy power but use Avenger’s Shield instead of Shield of the Righteous, my natural habit is going to be to follow it up with a crusader strike, but what I should do is try to correct myself immediately and throw in Shield of the Righteous next.
- There’s a random proc on crusader strike/hammer of righteousness that immediately resets the 15-second cooldown of Avenger’s shield. This proc can happen multiple times in a row, in which case I might need to throw out Avenger’s Shield 3 or 4 times in a row, or I might go an entire fight without seeing it. So while the first two priorities are predictable (I always know when I’ll have 3 holy power, and I always know that Crusader Strike is available every other action), thereafter I can’t plan ahead and have to make the decision on the fly.
Hunter Beast Mastery DPS Rotation
Hunters are a pure DPS-class, and you can spec yourself as Beast Mastery (emphasizing your pet), Marksmanship (emphasizing your personal ranged skills), or Survival (more of a utilitarian build). Hunters use a resource called ‘focus’ which is limited (you always have 100-110 max focus, depending on spec) but regenerates quickly and automatically. Compare this to mana-using classes, which usually have very large pools of mana (20,000+), but mana regeneration in combat is usually relatively difficult and limited.
My hunter is specced for beast mastery, and the rotation is actually fairly simple. My decision tree goes something like this:
- Make sure I don’t have maxed-out focus. Maxed-out focus means wasted focus, since it constantly regenerates itself. If I I’m close to full, I’ll usually use two Arcane Shots (which costs 25 focus) to bring myself down.
- Make sure I keep my focus high enough that I can use Kill Command (costs 40 focus) whenever its 6-second cooldown is up.
- Try to keep Serpent Sting, a powerful damage-over-time ability, on the enemy(ies). More important for bosses, less important for normal enemies.
- As long as I’m not in danger of maxing out my focus, use Steady Shot, which is a slow, relatively weak attack that regenerates my focus.
And… that’s it. In a nutshell, while the paladin rotation is all about managing cooldowns and using things at the right time, the hunter rotation is all about managing focus, and aside from your ‘signature’ shot you have a lot of leeway. Any time I’m between around 50 and 80 focus, either steady shot or arcane shot are perfectly reasonable, and even if I’m not in that golden zone and use the wrong one it really doesn’t set me back too far.
There’s also a lot less pressure on DPS. If I mess up the rotation in a boss fight, the absolute worst case scenario is that I might have to wait a few seconds to build up focus and cast Kill Command late. In other words, I just lose a bit of damage. Compare this to tanking, where especially at the beginning of the fight a botched rotation can mean not having sufficient aggro on everything and not being able to pick them up quickly enough before they start wailing on the squishies.
If you found this interesting, please let me know. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who likes reading about mechanics.