Thinking Out Loud

all of my ideas are works in progress

My Politics 2016

As mentioned, my political stances are kind of all over the map. I've been trying to make sense of some sort of underlying theme or logic that ties together. Then, when I was shopping for a third-party candidate, I found myself looking at specific issues:

  1. Are they Pro-Life?
  2. Are they pro-environment?


  1. Are they generally open-borders/free trade?

And guess what? None of the major or minor candidates or parties are yes on all. And now more than ever that strikes me as really weird because this is the pattern that emerges: in politics, I care about life and the quality of life, and beyond that I kind of don't care.

IssuesCollapse )

So, I'm voting McMullin tomorrow.

No, he's not a perfect candidate. He's more hawkish than I'd like and too friendly with fossil fuels, but if I wanted a candidate that perfectly matched me on every issue with no consideration of the chance of winning, I'd just write my own name in. I know my vote is not likely to make a difference in this district, but I can't in good conscience vote for either of the major candidates. So, the question for me is, who can I vote for that will best signal to the system that I'm dissatisfied with the choices that are offered to me? McMullin is the closest match to my views, and signals that 'I'm a voter worth courting, but the menu sucks' better than abstaining.

I think Clinton is a tolerable candidate. It should go without saying that she's vastly superior to the other guy. I'm certain she's capable of doing the job and if 'a vote for McMullin is a vote for Clinton' I can certainly live with that. Here's the thing, though:

Basically everyone is horrible, selfish, and petty, and we're only able to function in and as a society because we all pretend really hard and fairly convincingly that we're not.

Basically every politician at the national level is in some way corrupt. Saying Clinton is corrupt is like saying Trump is a misogynist. Duh, that's not news, everyone knows that already, everyone has always known that. But American politics is only able to function because our politicians can pretend convincingly that they're not especially corrupt and, as a courtesy, we all pretend that we believe them. Clinton fails to convincingly pretend that she's not corrupt. Nixon's facade came crashing down in his second term and rendered him unable to continue governing. If she's elected, it doesn't bode well. But, then, it couldn't bode any worse.


Dungeon Fever

Let me tell you about my campaign.

Except for a couple one-shots and a lot of bad PbP, I haven't had anything that could be called a proper gaming group since Texas, about six years ago. Because of geography, work schedules, and baby stuff, an in-person or real-time online group wasn't an option. Then, nine months ago, I joined Reddit, which has a lfg community. I happened to be online at the right moment and was the first to respond to a request for players for an online game, and I got in as a player. For about the past six months I've been playing Pathfinder using Teamspeak and roll20, which is about as close as it comes to a proper gaming group without being in a room together. And it was good to play again.

The other guys in the group were a bunch of university students that mostly all knew each other in real life. Their philosophy of play was pretty much, 'start drunk, end drunker'. A lot of genital-related stabbings. They weren't new at it, but even the GM was fairly vague on the rules - not in the, 'oh, I'll just fudge it' way, in the 'wait, how do I calculate spell save DCs again?' way.

(For the non-gamers, imagine an amusing, friendly, but also mildly annoying co-worker came to you three or four times a day, every day, to ask you to explain to them how to print a document. That's what they were like.)

After just one session, I knew this wasn't a group I wanted to commit myself to for the long haul, but I wanted to stick with it a while to get back into the groove of things. The original plan was to play every other week, but everyone wants to play more, they caught on that I was an experienced GM, and asked me to run a second campaign for them in the alternating weeks. It actually ended up being one of my longest-running campaigns.

This wasn't a group interested in my worldbuilding, carefully-crafted plots, or deep roleplaying. So I came up with a campaign that would just let them kick down doors and get cool treasures and powers.

The premise of Dungeon Fever was that a group of phenomenally wealthy and powerful adventurers had retired and set up a series of dungeons and organized dungeon-crawling as a professional tournament sport. The PCs were one team participating in the competition. I had created opportunities for them to interact with their team manager, trainers, fans, sponsors, and rival teams, but mostly they just cut straight to the dungeon of the week.

A lot of groups start at 1st-level and die out in what seems like a long slog between 2nd- and 3rd-level, so I started them off at 4th level and just leveled them up every tier of the tournament - no XP tracking, very rapid advancement, max hp each level. I had a different theme for each dungeon (jungle, desert, arctic, hell, underground, volcano, etc.), and a different objective (navigate a maze, rescue a captive, capture and defend a location for some amount of time, etc.).

It actually turned into a good boot camp for them. Since most groups seem to die young in the first few levels, they never have to learn to face more interesting enemies or use more interesting powers. For some reason (maybe the alcohol) they still have trouble remembering what to roll when, even when it's something like an attack roll that's the same roll several times a night. But they have learned that some enemies are immune to fire, you will need to bring more than fireball, burning hands, and scorching ray to the table. Some enemies have damage resistance, so now everybody knows to carry a cold iron backup weapon in case I drop an evil fey on them. The fighter started wearing Wisdom-improving gear so he doesn't get mind-controlled by vampires again, and everyone now carries antitoxin, scrolls of remove curse and potions of restoration. Now, when someone has an idea of how to solve a problem, he will usually tell everyone what his idea is before implementing it. I'm kind of proud of how much they've improved under my tutelage.

The campaign wrapped a couple weeks ago. Right now I'm focusing on classes and writing a set of simple pregenerated adventures for an event that I'm running for the local library. When that's over, there's a strong chance I may be able to get an in-person group cobbled together. And if I can't, roll20 has a large enough community that I can likely find a real-time game made up of actual adults who don't disappear for three weeks when the next cool video game comes out.


School Bureaucracy

A few years ago I took anatomy and physiology at Central Virginia Community College in preparation to apply to the radiography program before I learned that you can't do the radiography program through any combination of night and online classes. I had them read in my BYU transcript, but at the time I was 'not a degree-seeking student' so they did the quick version.

I switch to Northern Virginia Community College's electrical engineering program because I can do it online, and since it's all part of the Virginia Community College System, I don't have to deal with transferring or transcripts. But they still only have the skimmed evaluation of my BYU transcript, so I have to fight with someone every time I sign up for a class because they can't be sure that a BA in Humanities is equivalent to having taken first-year English composition. Now that I am a degree-seeking student and I've discovered that this is the root of the problem, I've done the paperwork to have a full evaluation of my transcripts done, and I shouldn't have to do this again.

I have some computer knowledge, my engineering program suggests I should be able to get into a class that improves my birds:stones ratio without prerequisites, but the course catalog begs to differ.

Advisor gives me the email of the dean in charge of the program, tells me he's in charge of deciding whether to let me into the class.

I write an email detailing a bit about what I do and don't know about computers. He says it "sounds like you have some engineering experience" [snrk] but it's not his decision, ask the guy who actually knows about computers and engineering.

Guy who actually knows about computes and engineering says sounds good, but he can't give me permission because the computer science classes are in the school of business [?!], so ask him.

Guy in the school of business says sounds good, go ask my administrative assistant to make it so.

I'm taking 13 credits this summer, which I think officially makes me a full-time student for the first time in just over 10 years. I've finally got enough prerequisites out of the way that I can take two or three required classes at a time, and once my transcripts kick in I shouldn't have to worry about generals any more. After this summer, I have 29 credits left to go (possibly fewer), so I should be able to complete my AS by August 2017 and transfer to Old Dominion University to finish my BS.



Everyone shut up.

Pie crust. Greased muffin tin. Circles. You know the drill.

Approximately equal amounts: dried, chopped Mediterranean fruits (e.g. apricots, dates, whatever); chopped nuts (e.g. almonds, pistachios, whatever); sugar

A couple shakes of cinnamon, a couple splashes of lemon juice.

375°F, 10-12 minutes.

Pesach Sameach.


Kaylee 2, South Dakota

We had breakfast soft tacos for dinner the other night, because we had a lot of eggs we needed to get through and also that's just how we roll sometimes. Kaylee loves tortillas and anything in them.

Kaylee picks up her taco with one hand. "Two hands!" she says enthusiastically.
Promptly dumps out contents of taco onto plate. Eats empty tortilla with delight.
"'Tia!" she demands, reaching for another full taco from the serving dish. We gently suggest she eat the eggs and sausage from her first taco, now cooling on her plate. Kaylee voices the opinion that this is a bad idea and that suggesting it is a major tragedy.
"'Tia!" she screams. I fetch her an empty tortilla. She again announces that this course of action is wholly inadequate and probably the worst thing that has ever happened.
I take the empty tortilla from her hand, scoop the spilled contents of the first taco into it, and hand it back to her as a full taco.
"Two hands!" she announces, gripping the taco with one hand.
Promptly dumps out contents of taco onto plate. Eats empty tortilla with delight.

Stephanie's paternal grandmother passed away the other week. We drove to South Dakota to attend the funeral. We celebrated Kaylee's second birthday the night before leaving because we were going to be on the road on her birthday. Then Stephanie's parents had a little birthday celebration for her when we arrived, late evening in South Dakota. Then the night before we left to come home, we observed Stephanie's mother's birthday while the whole family was there, so it's just been birthday, birthday, birthday.

Kaylee is a more stereotypical toddler girl than Emma was. She has big tantrums about every two weeks, shows interest in roleplaying with dolls and stuffed animals. Mostly, though, she's into stacking things and doing whatever Emma's doing.

Magic Beyond

I'm going to start running a twice-monthly real-time RPG online. I'm not quite sure when it will start yet - probably late February or early March, after Sanzo's born and things have stabilized. I've already got the campaign introduction set up and applications are open.

It's a high-magic setting. Most of what I've written is little more than taking Pathfinder magic to its logical extreme. Kinda like the idea behind Eberron, but not as dark.

What I'm concerned about is, I've never run a high-magic setting like this before, and I may not have thought out all the implications. I'd like to invite people to look this over and pester me about, "If they have so much magic, why don't they x?" or "If they have so many people, how to they y?" so that I can polish off any rough edges before I start recruiting in earnest.

Magic Beyond Campaign Reference (comments open)

2015 in Review

Lots of big changes. Got out of debt, applied to library science programs, got rejected by library science programs, planned a move to China, cancelled move to China when we found out we're pregnant, met my savings goal, quit my retail job, started my engineering program, bought a minivan, bought a house in the suburbs, did a lot of renovation, diagnosed myself with some variety of seasonal depression, and started self-medicating with St. John's wort and phototherapy.

It has not been a good year for movies. The best:

  • My Girlfriend is an Agent 3.5/5
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron 3/5
  • Big Hero 6 3/5
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3/5
No real honorable mentions.

Anime's been okay.

  • Magi: The Kingdom of Magic 4/5
  • Yona of the Dawn 4/5
  • Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 3.5/5
  • Chaika: The Coffin Princess 3/5

Pretty good year for books:

  • Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman, 5/5
  • Proofiness by Charles Seife, 4.5/5
  • The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher, 4/5
  • Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, 4/5
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, 4/5
Though it doesn't really meet most of my criteria for being a great book (e.g. would voluntarily read again), I was surprised how much I enjoyed and got out of The Odyssey.

It is my intention to reread more books in the new year. Books like 1984 which I read in high school but may be more relevant and meaningful to me now, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I thought was so hilarious and so subversive when I was a teenager but I'm not even sure I would find funny now, and Feist's Riftwar Saga, which may have played an important role in forming my tastes in fantasy fiction and I want to know why.

My primary goal is to continue kicking ass in my engineering classes. I also intend to be more vigilant about recycling. And somehow or other, I will get a real-time RPG group going now that I'm not working nights (it will probably still have to be online).


The Force Awakens (Relax; No Spoilers)
PrefaceCollapse ) The Original TrilogyCollapse )

What I'm getting at is, I think my objections to the Special Editions and prequels are fairly objective and not a factor of my inability to be critical of the original trilogy. I'm pointing this out because:

  1. I don't think I've really said this before except to those closest to me
  2. Some of these insights and articulations are new as of this week
  3. I want to establish my credibility as an objective reviewer of the new movie

It is not my intent to spoil anything for anyone. But here I will talk about some things in the movie, which could be construed by some to be 'spoilers'. Obviously, I'm not giving away any big reveals about who killed whom or who is whose father, but if you want to go to the theater knowing nothing at all, stop reading here.

The Force AwakensCollapse )

Overall, I give it a 3/5. Good but not great. I enjoyed it, and will want to see it again, but there were also several things that bugged me. I find it acceptable, which is better than expected and also better than average for all Star Wars movies.



Okay, now this is eerie. Last night, an idea for a new way of playing Pathfinder and other d20 games came to me, fully-formed. A year earlier to the day, I was writing 321 System.

Dumb20 is 'dumbed-down' d20. It's based on Pathfinder, but is general enough that it can be tailored to any other OGL content with ease, and sufficiently compatible you could have half of your players playing Pathfinder and the other half playing Dumb20 without really being able to tell the difference. This makes it a great way to involve younger or more casual players.

The Dumb20 Core Mechanic

Every ability can be expressed as a bonus x1, x3/4, x1/2, or x1/4* of a character's level, and every action can be resolved by 1d20 + ability bonus + an attribute bonus. Since all fractions are rounded down, any bonus less than x1 won't be available until higher levels. This is how attack bonuses already work in Pathfinder. In Dumb20, saves and skills work the same way.

Each class has 'strong saves' and 'weak saves'. In Dumb20, the strong save is 3/4 the character's level, and weak saves are 1/2. This makes strong saves slightly weaker at low levels, and weak saves quite a bit stronger at high levels, but is unlikely to make much difference to Dumb20 players or mixed groups. A wise GM might fudge save DCs for Dumb20 players by -2 for levels 1-4 and -1 for levels 5-8 if PCs are dying too quickly.

Each class has a number of skill ranks per level. A Dumb20 player just picks that number of skills from the skill list (plus a number of additional skills equal to their Intelligence modifier) as 'their' skills, which will not change much as the character levels up. If they're class skills, their bonus is equal to the character's level, and 3/4 if they're not class skills, or a player can choose to sacrifice a skill at one fraction for two skills at one fraction lower. This makes class skills somewhat weaker at low levels that a similarly specialized Pathfinder character, so a GM might similarly fudge down some skill DCs.

All other racial and class abilities work pretty much as written. For any ability that scales with character level, assign it a fraction of character level that best fits. *x1/4 abilities are mostly class features.

Character Creation

So, right now, this might sound like just different math, not less, and more things for the GM to keep track of. Let me show you how an in-progress character sheet might look so you can see how this makes all the numbers very easy for an inexperienced player:

elf fighter 4
+4 (x1) +3 (x3/4) +2 (x1/2) +1 (x1/4)
+0 Attacks
Handle animal (Cha)
Survival (Wis)
Fort save Ref save
Will save
Armor training
+2 Perception (Wis)
Str 13 (+1)
Dex 19 (+4)
Con 13 (+1)
Int 12 (+1)
Wis 12 (+1)
Cha 9 (-1)

The core of the sheet is a 4x4 grid. Every relevant ability or skill is placed in a box representing its fraction bonus (column), and fixed bonus, if any (row). This basic fighter isn't too bright, and only has three skills, two class skills in the (4,0) box, and a cross-class skill with a racial bonus (3,2). Fort save is strong, the others are weak, full BAB, a few class abilities (I'll explain feats later). The attributes and their bonuses are listed below the main grid for a reason.

Want to make an attack? Attacks are in box (4,0), BAB is +4, if it's ranged, add Dex, it's 1d20+8. (I'm sure there will ultimately be a few more boxes, for hp and other commonly-used combat numbers.)

Survival? +4, +0, +1, 1d20+5. Perception? +3, +2, +1, 1d20+6. Appraise? It's not on the grid, so just the attribute, 1d20+1.

The beauty is, when this PC levels up, the player just erases the numbers in the top row, and recalculates them as fractions of the new level. Heck, this could have been the player's character sheet from level 1 without any alteration, it's just taken until they reached level 4 for the 1/4 ability column to become available, and you've never needed to open a rulebook since then.

A lot of feats can be used as-is, often by just moving an ability down a row (or, if appropriate, a column to the left). A GM and player can easily work out before hand that this PC is going to be a killer archer and get all the weapon focus and weapon specialization feats, the GM crosses off half of the fighter bonus feats and puts 'archery specialist' in the 1/4 column, treating it as a linear class feature instead of tracking individual feats.

Alterations to spells and equipment are not necessary for Dumb20, but a player that would benefit from Dumb20 would probably also benefit from a constrained/streamlined equipment list and spell list.

Multiclass characters would probably have a separate grid for each class. You get the bonus from each grid, and sum them. I'm an advocate of summing fractional bonuses, and looking at your classes this way makes it more obvious that a rogue 1/wizard 1 has 1.25 total BAB from their classes, which is better represented by a +1 than +0+0.


Dumb20 is not a complete game system, and it's not meant to do everything that Pathfinder can do. In some ways, it's a hybrid of 321 System and Pathfinder - identifying the 'main things' that make a character work and assigning streamlined bonuses. In some ways, it's just a different kind of character sheet and a shoehorn.

It looks like a great way to make quick and dirty characters, such as at a con, when you just want to get playing instead of combing through sourcebooks for a few hours to create the perfect character, or for medium-importance mid-level NPCs that the GM isn't sure are going to recur yet. Or it could be used for the long haul by a group or a player that likes the idea of Pathfinder, but struggles with hunting for the right number of the classic character sheet or other bookkeeping aspects. It might also be a useful tool for comparing different builds or archetypes of a class, since all the class abilities are available at a glance, or prototyping ideas for new classes.

I'm not exactly sure if or how this work interacts with the Open Gaming License, but I'm pretty sure it's okay for me to use the parts of d20 that I have, and for others to share and distribute them under the same terms. Everything that I created and contributed in this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License


Scale of Evil

Rate in order from most to least evil and explain your reasoning:

  • Straight up murdering someone to their face because of something bad they have personally done to you or to someone you know.
  • Straight up murdering someone to their face to make a point because they belong to a category that is connected to the point you are trying to make.
  • You owe a lot of money to a crime lord, and you're given the choice to kill a stranger of the crime lord's choosing or be killed yourself, and you choose to kill someone else to clear your debt.
  • Working as a hitman or assassin.
  • Killing in war.
  • Taking an action for personal benefit/convenience that almost definitely results in killing (e.g. buying conflict diamonds, voting for a hawk politician, etc.)


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