What do five “o”s get you?

The “o” key on my current laptop suffered an injury today. It’s sort of halfway better right now, but as part of testing it and trying to get it reattached properly, I ended up typing a lot of “o”s — five of them in the entry box for Google. On a whim, I decided to see what five “o”s get me.
Turns out, it gets you this.
Following that link takes you to a White Wolf “World of Darkness” character sheet. Yup, the kind with all the “o”s to fill in for your character’s scores.
I find this hilarious.

Uncle Splinter leads the way

Jeff Rients has an awesome Gameblog where he talks about roleplaying games and associated ideas. I’ve mentioned him once before, in the context of his essay titled “How to Awesome-Up Your Players”.
Now, there’s yet another (of many) reasons to go visit his blog. He’s training ninjas.
As it happens, Jeff’s nephew has discovered his God-given ninja nature. Cute as this is, the feeling of invulnerability it engenders had the unfortunate side effect of making him completely oblivious to “stranger danger.” What’s a mother to do?
Call in uncle Jeff:
My first line of attack on this problem was to appeal to his ninja virtues. “A wise ninja must avoid unnecessary danger,” I tell him. But he doesn’t really seem to buy it. So I go for the carrot approach. Ever since he discovered my plastic minis collection he’s been dying to try Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve held off. One of my concerns is that I needed to be sure he and his cousin (my daughter) were sufficiently literate and numerate to play. Elizabeth can count to 20 now so the last big educational barrier has recently been removed.
“Alright, here’s the deal then. If you can go four weeks in a row without talking to strangers, your mom and I will schedule a game of Dungeons & Dragons. But it won’t just be ordinary Dungeons & Dragons. It will be Dungeons & Ninjas. But listen up, dude. You know I check in with you and your mom every week, right? You have to get good reports four weeks in a row.”

With that mission in mind, design has already started on that most awesome of games, Dungeons and Ninjas:
I don’t have anything resembling a working draft yet, but I see the Top Secret Dungeons & Ninjas Player’s Manual (the Top Secret part is really in the title) as breaking down into 3 major parts. Part 1, “Congratulation! A Ninja is YOU!” is a reworking of Basic D&D character generation. The biggest change will be in the classes. There will be four: Ninja Warrior, Ninja Wizard, Shadow Ninja, and Mystic Ninja. These classes will correspond closely to the traditional Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric, except that they all wear pajamas and masks.
Jeff’s rapidly earning his way into Uncle Valhalla with his heroic deeds.

The tarrasque economy

Thomas T. on RPGnet has an excellent idea about an economy based on that immortal D&D critter, the tarrasque.
“Once apon a time a nation decided to end the threat of the tarrasque once and for all. An army was assembled, led by the greatest heroes of the age. Most importantly, a number of powerful magical weapons were created for the battle. The monster was lured into a tight canyon and the battle began.
“At terrible cost, the tarrasque was defeated. But not slain. It was impaled by fourteen Immovable Harpoons (like an immovable rod, but spikey), each attached to a thick adamantine chain sunk deep into the canyon walls by magic. The tarrasque was restrained.
“A fortress was built around the tarrasque, to watch over it. Every day its watchers hack away at the tarrasque with powerful magic weapons to keep it weakened in case of escape. Even so, there are casualties as they misjudge its reach, or as it’s angry thrashing causes rockfalls.
“Of course, being a powerful magical crearture, the tarrasque’s blood, flesh and other body parts have certain useful properties. A side effect of keeping the tarrasque imprisoned like this was a neverending supply of powerful magical components. A city grew up around the fortress to house the various wizards, scholars and alchemists that came to exploit the tarrasque’s bounty. Eventually, it was almost as if the neverending stream of tarrasque blood, flesh and bone was more important than imprisoning the beast itself.”
More in the extended. Here’s the original thread.

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The burgeoning PDF market

Several years ago, I decided I wanted a copy of the D&D Cyclopedia, a sort of “all-in-one” book for basic Dungeons & Dragons that was released in 1990 or so. I was able to pick it up at a very sane price (around retail) from an online seller, which was itself a real step up over earlier years when I would have had to go hunting around used bookstores and game stores that stocked used or vintage merchandise.
More recently, game companies, especially roleplaying game companies, have turned to online sales of PDF versions of their books. You can, for example, buy digital copies of your favorite Steve Jackson Games books at their e23 store, or browse thousands of products at DriveThruRPG.com.
PDF versions of game books have a number of benefits. For consumers, they offer immediate access (click to buy it), the convenience of not cluttering your place or your backpack with books, and best of all, the opportunity to buy things that will never, ever see a reprint as a physical book. Similarly, companies can pick up sales from people who are hesitant to add another book to their shelves, can release direct-to-PDF products that would cost too much to distribute conventionally, and can convert their whole product catalog into a revenue stream.
From what I can see on DTR, both Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf have been aggressive in offering a substantial portion of their entire portfolio for sale in PDF. Always meant to run the classic Dragonlance adventures? You can buy them for $4.95 each. Wanted to check out the Planescape setting? $5.95. Try Vampire: the Masquerade, Revised or second edition, for $15 and $14, respectively.
Some people worry about pirating, but to paraphrase Bill Coffin, “Your stuff is being pirated already.” And given the option, people will happily buy material rather than torrent it.
For me, the most appealing aspect is having easy access to material that, as I said, will never see a physical reprint. There are just so many things that looked cool on the shelves through the years…

Kobolds lead the way

Bruno posted a truly awesome story of Kobolds on a mission to the SJGames Forums:
The obvious solution is not to find the unicorn, but to find the nearest princess. This has the added benefit that princesses rarely weigh 1500+ pounds and even more rarely have six foot spears grafted to their foreheads.
Full story in the extended.

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Warhammer 40K roleplay

From Ken Hite’s March 22nd Out of the Box column:
Easily the show’s biggest news was the announcement of Warhammer 40K Roleplay, which will use a close variant of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system as revised and designed (rather nicely, in my book) by Chris Pramas and Green Ronin. Green Ronin will likewise be handling the design for W40KRP (as it is unfortunately actually acronymized), and the release will be structured around a three-game line model. Coming up in March 2007 will be Dark Heresy, a basic W40K RPG pitched as “Traveller meets Call of Cthulhu”; then for GenCon 2008, we’ll be seeing Rogue Trader, (which is, I suppose, “Traveller meets really dark Traveller”) and then in spring-ish 2009 we get Death Watch, which is essentially “Starship Troopers Freelance Police,” as best I understand it. Quite frankly, that last is the one I’m most curious about, if only because I ran a “Traveller meets Call of Cthulhu” game for a while in college, and then wrote a treatment of the same basic thing in 2001 that vanished onto the Steve Jackson Games cutting room floor. Thus, the first two aren’t going to take me anywhere I haven’t already been. But that last concept, “space marines as superheroes,” is pretty awesome, and could be amazing in the right hands, which is to say, in the hands of, oh I don’t know, Chris Pramas and Steve Kenson. So yee bally haw! Or whatever it is they say in the future, where, you know, there is only war.
Now that is just cool. Coming in a year.

Wired reflexes

Fans of the cyberpunk genre, or perhaps people who played the Cyberpunk or Shadowrun roleplaying games will be familiar with the concept of “wired reflexes.” The notion here is that you somehow have been modified to react much faster than a normal person. The normal in-genre and in-game consequences of wired reflexes are impressive, leading to the kind of perceptual differences shown in The Matrix, when the Agents and Neo simply see the world around them as moving in very slow motion and conversely are seen as moving very fast, and Underworld, in which a vampire assassin pulls a trigger so fast her semiautomatic handgun appears to be firing on full auto.
Based on the name and some genre ideas, this kind of reflex modification mainly involves replacing your main nervous system transmission routes with a faster mechanism — fiber optics sound good for this. Assuming away the time needed to convert between the chemical nervous signal to the fiber optic and then back again at the brain, what kind of time could we gain by such a replacement?
Nerve transmission speeds vary depending on the nerves involved, but one reasonable average is about 50 meters/second. At this speed, it should take about 40 milliseconds for a signal to travel one-way along the longest route in your body (foot to brain), or 80 milliseconds for a round trip. This suggests that we could shave that 80 milliseconds off your reaction time by using fiber optics (again, assuming away the time needed to convert the signal).
So how much do you gain from this 80 milliseconds?
Human reaction times differ based on the test conditions, but “recognition reaction times” that require identifying and choosing between two objects average 384 milliseconds. This rises as the number of valid choices increases, making it hard to estimate what that translates to in real life — how many “valid choices” are present for our cyberpunk protagonist when she’s faced by an alley full of scrubs? Even sticking with 384 milliseconds, that means that our wired individual gets an 80 millisecond head start, cutting 21% of her reaction time. Not shabby, but not amazing.
This suggests that someone with wired reflexes would, over time, tend to act slightly before those without, but certainly not so much as to appear to move differently or be a blur. Especially given that another 60 milliseconds or more of even the simplest act is taken up by muscle action, there just may not be a lot to shave off of that reaction time should one be able to speed up the brain part of the decision-making process.

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