jack: (Default)
I feel confused by the news of Friday's ransomware worm. I've tried to piece together the pieces.

It spread by both email (requiring people to clink a link or open an attachment?) and across local networks to windows computers that were not up to date with patches (ie. all xp and win7/8 which haven't got security updates in the last two months )[1] using one or more particular vulnerabilities. Is that right?

This vulnerability applied to some networking thing called Windows SMB, version 1, which was outdated, but mostly still enabled on any computers which used SMB at all, which was mostly organisation networks, not home computers. Is that right?

Some time ago, the NSA discovered this particular vulnerability. As far as I can tell there's no suggestion they *created* it? Even though that's the sort of thing they WOULD do. Lots of news articles are saying "the nsa vulnerability" but that's just hype, right? But they did find it, and (apparently) not report it, just keep it for internal use.

They assembled some of these vulnerabilities into a suite of hacking tools.

Some time more than two months ago, there was a leak. Probably an insider of some sort? Someone got hold of those tools. cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EternalBlue

About two months ago, maybe immediately, maybe after a delay, the NSA tipped off microsoft. Microsoft released a patch in the normal security updates. I think Microsoft mostly confirmed this recently, even though at the time the patch didn't say anything about it (it was somewhat suspicious it didn't say who found the vulnerability).

One month ago, a shadowy hacker group who named themselves after a shadowy hacker group in Mass Effect 3, tried to auction some of those leaked tools with mixed success. This sounds weird, but AFAICT is fairly certain, is that right?

They could be anyone, but people suspect they may be sponsored by Russia, as propaganda to say, "see what the NSA do, don't get into an open, cyber or propaganda war with us, you have a lot to lose too".

If the malware had been released *before* the patch, it could have been a lot worse, it could have infected many other networks as well, even completely up to date computers. As it happened, it only applied to older computers of which there were still many, but it made the auction less notable.

By Friday, someone had used that vulnerability to create (an updated version of?) that worm aka WannaCry and released it. It infected many many major organisations including most of NHS.

I don't know how the clean-up is going. Will large organisations pay ransom? Probably not? Will they be able to restore computers? How much data is permanently lost? I've no idea.

Someone registered a domain name referenced in the worm which accidentally or deliberately acted as a kill switch.

Microsoft released a one-off patch for windows xp and some other older operating systems (?) to fix this specific exploit.

We have no idea who "someone" was in this case, if they were affiliated with any of the previous groups or not.


This is just a feeling, but it feels like this particular worm was a bit of a rush job by someone who didn't expect it to do this well.


As far as I can tell, this worm was based on the same exploit the NSA found, but I've not heard anything concrete whether (a) they reverse engineered the microsoft patch (b) they got the vulnerability from the leaked NSA tool or (c) they re-used some of the code in the leaked NSA tool.

I assume the NSA didn't actually write this worm? Like, they would have done something more targeted?

But the news keeps saying things like "the tool used in this current attack had been developed by the US National Security Agency and was stolen by hackers". As far as I can tell, they just didn't understand the difference between "using" and "based on", right? I don't understand how they could know "using" without citing a security researcher or something, and I've not seen anything like that. Am I missing something?

What we should do

Give up the idea that unpatched OSes are "good enough". Make sure you're getting updates if you can.


Worry about the NHS being underfunded, and having a fucked-up tender process that ensures their IT infrastructure is always supplied by the sort of company that was cutting edge when security updates came out on a scale of a decade, not a day.

Worry about the NSA stockpiling vulnerabilities.

Remember that it could be a lot worse. Sooner or later things will line up and a vulnerability gets discovered and *not* patched, and basically infects every computer running a particular operating system, and is paired with something even worse than ransomware eg. a botnet consisting of 75% of the windows computers on the planet. People are working on this and we've got a lot better, but it's a struggle to make security good enough.


That's my attempt at a summary. Mostly based on the news and SwiftOnSecurity. Can people who actually know more fill in the details, especially the bits that don't quite seem to track?


1. No idea if anyone's using vista.
jack: (Default)
No-one enjoyed Aunt Vera? I loved writing that.

I had a further thought about some of the things I've tried to read. That quantum "things" ie. probability waves only exhibit recognisably non-classical probabilities when they line up perfectly, in order to have the bits with otherwise-non-detectable opposite signs cancel out. Which only really happens if they were generated together in the first place.

And if some of that state is elsewhere, because one of the particles/waves has interacted with something else, it doesn't do quantum things (you don't get interference bands). But if it interacts with something else, but you're able to re-interact those particles so they both go back to what they were before then it would work. But if it interacts with LOTS of particles, that state is spread across all of them and basically never recoverable.

That means, a deterministic "what happens is based on the physical state of the particles/waves that are there" view coincides with a weird philosophical "you get interference if you 'could' know in principle"... But I'm really not sure. That seems to make *some* of the dodgy-sounding explanations fit, but not all of them. Anyone able to explain better than that?
jack: (Default)
As I passed Aunt Vera's, I wandered up to the open garage to see how she was doing. A week ago, she had borrowed mum's bar billiard's table. Mum had said it would be good for her to give the mad science a rest occasionally and try a different hobby. I was excited to see what she'd turned it into.

As I peered into the garage, she was indeed tinkering madly with the billiard table. Four steam funnels rose from the corners, and a dense web of different wires wended between them almost creating a wall round the table a meter above it. At the head of the table, dozens of different dials had been wedged onto a narrow wooden board, several resting at awkward angles suspended by the wires and pipes plugged into them.

I must have made a noise, as she suddenly spun around, labcoat and goggles swirling about her. "Ah, Sarah! What perfect timing. I have a lot to show you."

"Uh. My parents are going to be cross if I'm late for dinner agian. And I was going to call Carol later."

"Pish!" she exclaimed. "Pish-tosh! "This is Educational, and they will appreciated you being educated,"

"But I am being educated," I protested. "I have homework and everything. Homework I need to get done, if I'm going to call Carol before 10."

"Pish!" she said again. "Is Carol going to show you how quantum mechanics works?"

"Well, I don't expect so-" I began.

"Well then!" she announced with finality. "You need me to do it. No niece of mine is going to go to university with a piddling A-level knowledge of quantum mechanics."

"But, Aunt Vera, they don't teach quantum mechanics at A-Level. Not even in physics. And I'm studying Biology, and Economics and Japanese, and..."

"PRECISELY MY POINT", she yelled, a foot from my ear. "You would swan off to university with no knowledge of physics, the very forces which stop you falling through the ground. Did I tell you about my adventure of the intangibility harness and the Earth's crust?"

"Aunt Vera", I shouted, and winced as I realised how loud I was screaming. But she stopped, a bit put out, and I continued. "I'm not a physicist." She looked heartbroken, and I tried to school myself not to fall for it. "But I'd love to see what you've--"

"Excellent," she crowed, and dragged me up to the table. Wires festooned the edges, and at the top where the score used to be, a bank of complicated dials and levels waited.
I toyed with the idea of a comic fantasy style explanation of what I'd learned about relativity. Unfortunately, I really loved how the byplay turned out, but the actual explanation didn't work well. There's a lot more, but it's mixed "fun arguing" and "didactic bad explanations".
jack: (Default)
Every so often I hear someone talking about modelling traffic jams as waves travelling in a queue of cars. After some thought, I came to some tentative conclusions, without having actually tried any modelling or anything.

Imagine a long long stream of cars along a somewhat congested motorway without much overtaking.

The first observation is, whatever you do, you can't really affect the car in front as long as you're driving legally/safely. And whatever you do, you don't end up significantly behind them: if there's any sort of traffic, the average speed is much under the fastest speed you could drive in an empty road, so you can always catch up with them. So whatever you do, *you* will reach your final turnoff shortly after the car in front.

However, over a long run of cars, it seems plausible (I haven't double-checked the maths) that cars driving at 30mph have a greater throughput than ones alternating 60mph and 0mph, mostly due to needing more than twice the distance between at 60 than at 30. That means that if traffic is dense, there's a natural tendency for small disruptions to sometimes get magnified, when each car reacts a little slowly to the car in front, and hence makes a slightly larger correction. Whereas if you go a bit slower and give yourself a bit of extra space when the traffic in front of you starts of but you suspect it's more stop-start, hopefully the traffic behind you will experience *less* disruption.

I'm not sure, does that sound right?
jack: (Default)
* It's apparently more like a parody of pointlessness, not an endorsement thereof
* For "anarchist" read more like "terrorist", regardless of the truth, a type of people who the public are genuinely scared are going to be blowing stuff up
* Nefarious plans by subversive groups being run primarily by uncover policemen is ridiculous, not the norm.

This is more of a life lesson, but:

* If you're recruited as a police officer or agent, and there's a bunch of justification but not a giant pile of bureaucracy, it's probably some sort of scam.
jack: (Default)
Since I started work in bar hill (about 3 months now, eek!) I've been going to the gym here twice a week.

I think I have very slowly started to improve again. I have a long way to go to regain my previous best. I'm not sure if the improvement is due to more reliable running with treadmill, or due to doing weights more strenuously as well.

The paradox of improvement seems to apply to many other parts of my life as well. I'm not happy unless there's something I'm working towards. If I'm failing I'm not *happy*, but if I have *no* pressure, I'm listless in a different way.

I have been slowly learning how to vary the amount I intend to do each day. Some days that's "get changed, reply to emails, go to bed" and sometimes it's quite a bit, but if there's some connection between what I intend and what I do, I feel a lot better, regardless of the actual amount.

I still find it very hard to fit things in though. Ideally I could do things like housework in the edges and gaps, 5min here and there, but it doesn't usually happen as well as it might. Every so often I try to set good habits, and things improve a certain amount, but still short of what would be better.
jack: (Default)

Almost everything Scott posts is interesting, even when I disagree with it. Sometimes I decide I absorbed an important idea anyway despite superficial disagreements. Sometimes I decide he's just wrong, but said interesting things along the way.

Here he describes a case where a student group invited a couple of deliberately controversial speakers as a pro-free-speech point. This is probably a bad idea for a variety of reasons, whether it was well meant or not. But he and I were thinking of the details about *why* it was a bad idea.

Was that effectively pro free speech whether or not it caused harm in other ways?

His point was, separate to which ideas *should* be covered under free speech, deliberately choosing controversial ones uses up people's tolerance and moves us a notch closer to associating free speech with mostly being used for horrible things and make everyone dislike it.

And I'm sort of torn. Because on the one hand, that sounds completely true. Things that are sufficiently harmful are NOT covered under free speech (morally or legally depending on culture or country), and this is deliberately expanding that category by making potentially-harmful things a lot more of a problem.

On the other hand, defending horrible things as legal if undesirable feels like it sets a standard for free speech: we know other speech is ok, because we allow this.

Did it cause harm in other ways?

Everything above is true whether you chose speakers you personally sympathise with but don't want to say so, or speakers you massively disagree with but want to engage with. However, there's definitely an awful trend that when talk about free speech, they don't mean "lets invite some communists" or "lets burn some american flags". No. They mean, "lets find some supposedly-intellectual research which has been seized on by a rallying cry by the alt-right".

People attacked by the alt-right have done MORE THAN THEIR FUCKING SHARE of being attacked with little recourse. If you're convinced that inviting speakers who are incredibly threatening to a certain proportion of people on campus is necessary, can you at least choose some DIFFERENT subset? Invite some revolutionaries who want to guillotine people with inherited wealth. Invite some over-the-top animal rights types who want to bomb all non-vegans. Or, preferably, find views which are *controversial* but not *immediately threatening* to make your point with.

I originally tried to list some views which were very controversial to the point I can easily imagine protests etc about them, but (a) from all over the political spectrum and (b) not personally threatening. Some of which I secretly agreed with, some of which I hated. But I decided that would just cause a worse argument right now.

No we actually want to hear them, we're not just being controversial for the sake of it, honest

Scott talked about, if you actually *want* to hear a speaker, you should use different criteria than if you're trying to air controversial views. If you're being controversial on purpose, I feel you need a greater weight on "not harming people" in addition to "does this help or hurt freedom of speech".

But if you really want to hear a speaker, even one I find vile, I generally don't think banning them is that useful -- provided you do sensible things like, advertise to people who actually want to hear them, and for fuck's sake don't try to make it at some mandatory event, or even some organisation-wide event, to show you just want to have a speaker, not that you want to force a speaker on people who will be harmed by it. Most of the "bans" have been because people have been deliberately bullying people they expect to object, not because they were genuinely trying to have a quiet meeting and then got invaded by protesters.
jack: (Default)
Abi got me into Clickie Zoo (Tironium Tech/Idle Tycoon). A while back I completed the main series of achievements. There's a few achievements for specific things which I haven't bothered to fill out.

But I spent a while fascinated by how big I could get the numbers.

The top level gives 1 gem every 15 seconds (gems are premium currency used to buy various permanent upgrades). I don't think there's any way of increasing that. I've upgraded most of the permanent upgrades as much as I can.

The passive income seems really small compared to what I get elsewhere, even with all of the in-game and permanent upgrades I can easily get. So I could throw more resources into it, but I don't *think* it's going to exceed other ways of making money.

For a long time, breeding animals was the best way of making money. My previous high water mark involved breeding the top animal and selling it to expand its enclosure so I could breed it more, and using temporary boosts to increase its breeding rate, and "fill a random enclosure" until I got lucky and it was the top one.

But now I upgraded the "animal sell price" permanent improvement to where it's more than the buy price, and after getting the net gain for a single round trip to about 10% of the sell price, just spending a few seconds clicking "sell buy sell buy" gets more income than waiting for animals to breed.

Unfortunately, with the top animal, you can only buy/sell in units of 100,000 which is much more than I got any other way, but when you get more money than that, the rate you gain money is limited by the amount you can buy at once, not the amount of money you have. (Although, expanding the enclosure size to >100,000 is really quite expensive too).

Right now the best actions available seem to be:

1. Just waiting for the 1 gem every 15 seconds income, and ploughing it into some permanent upgrades (whose price steadily gets more expensive).
2. Buy/sell trading the best animal to accumulate more cash.
3. Using buy/sell to build up a new zoo and sell it for gems. (This gets gems faster because you're not limited by the size of the enclosure so much when you can keep moving on to the next animal. The gems you get are logaraithmic in zoo size, so building up a small zoo repeatedly is about as good as one big zoo.)

And the goals I wondered if I'd reach are:

1. Go up from 1 Nonillion dollars to see if the game has an abbreviation for 1 decillion (or in fact, see how far it goes before running out if it were possible).
2. Increase birth rate to 100% and see if it crashes/goes infinite. Unfortunately, it seems like even if the birth rate is 100x what it starts at, that might not be that lucrative compared to sell/buy, when I originally hoped that would be the most lucrative thing.

However, I'm not sure there's any good way to reach those than what I'm doing, and getting there that way would be a grind-fest of months, so I'm thinking I will shortly declare myself officially done with the game :)

ETA: Oh yes, you can also trade animals for gems, but only once every two hours, I don't think that's enough to make a difference.
jack: (Default)

It varies, but in several editions of DnD, the official way skills work is: if it matters if you succeed on a task (say, picking a lock) first time, the task has a difficulty assigned, and you roll a d20 and add your skill, and if your number is as big or bigger, you succeed.

If it seems just obvious your character can probably do this, the GM is encouraged to just let it succeed. If you care about mechanics, there's a very similar concept "take 10" which allows you to not roll and just assume you got 10 (provided you're in an everyday not hectic situation), ie. just assume you got an average level of competence most of the time.

Likewise, if you could do it *eventually* by exhaustively trying everything, the GM is encouraged to just assume you can do that, even if it takes a while. The mechanical equivalent is "take 20", ie. assume you take 20 rounds, but eventually get 20 on your check. That's what you'd guess, but it's what the rules actually say in several editions.

Since you can usually figure out what the "obvious" thing that happens is, there's not that much benefit to having those specific rules (they're only half there in 5e). They're far from always realistic. But they do the right thing some of the time, while giving a default to use if you're not sure if the mechanics matter or not.


Implicitly the way it works is you're *either* quite high variance, or perfectly consistent.

It's not quite like that, if you roleplayed a mundane day-to-day activity repeatedly N times, you would assume you'd SOMETIMES screw up, even if it was something you could usually do, even if not as often as when people are attacking you.

But some situations, I'm not really satisfied with it.

If you're trying to pick a lock, or checking to see if you spot a hidden door, etc, then:

* If you roll every time, the party effectively have the value of the character with the best skill rolling perfectly, because they'll get there eventually
* If you assume you use 10, then the result is always the same: the character who's best at it ALWAYS spots it first, and the GM knows in advance exactly which locks and doors they'll succeed at.

Both are too deterministic, which takes away some of the fun for me: I *want* it to be a bit random. This lock is a bit harder than it looked from the outside. You get a bit of lockpick jammed in it. The party wizard just happens to remember an obscure lecture on magically concealing doors and notices a clue the rogue missed.

I've sometimes thought of this as "you roll, but if it doesn't make sense you'd succeed better a second time, then you don't get to reroll". But that's confusing and hard to track. Has the rogue tried this door already? If they have, why can't they try again?

My idea

It turns out, I actually want the take 10 and take 20 rules to work as they are, but maybe the difficulty should be randomly determined on the spot. Eg. instead of saying "all these doors are difficulty 15", say, "are difficulty 10+d10". Or a smaller variation, or occasionally a larger one.

That way there's a random element. Which doesn't matter if they're in the heat of combat, but does mean, there'll be some where "I can't get this one, we have to smash it" or "would one of you useless louts like to try to help?".

I could even generate a slightly different difficulty for different characters or different parties, although I'd probably only do that if it seemed to matter (and might simulate that in a more streamlined way, eg. dropping the difficulty for each party member, but choosing randomly who succeeds, the expert or someone else). That way you'd occasionally get a meaningful variation. And most of the time they'd deal with the encounter right then, only if they came back to it and it mattered that it was consistent would you have to track what you generated the first time.
jack: (Default)
Mostly first-level combat. Again, a medly of stuff I've stumbled into, please do suggest things.

Delegate whatever you easily can. Get someone else to track initiative order so you don't have to! And look things up if possible, when you want to check an official rule.

Keeping my session notes in tabs in notepad++ on a smartphone works surprisingly well. I can keep a relevant section easily visible, but not very visible to anyone else, needs little table space. And I can google for official stats for monsters if I need ("it's a... panther. OK, just one sec. Ok, 7 damage.").

If I track damage *done* to each NPC/monster on scratch paper, that allows everyone to know what's going on if they happen to be able to see, and establish incontrovertibly that I'm not fudging things that have already happened. However, it doesn't let people know precisely how many hitpoints are *left* which players should not know precisely (approximately how many is often obvious from the description). And if I do want to fudge a little, I can, eg. if the combat is dragging I can pretend a monster had one less hp than I originally intended, or shuffle around combined hitpoints between a crowd of mooks to keep things slightly simpler. I don't think I did last session, but I like to have the option if it would be useful.

As important to an NPC/monster as stats is their tactics: are they a predator who only attacks if they sense an easy meal? a thug who's used to winning every fight and will come in swinging but not know how to handle a combat that isn't going their way? an experienced soldier or adventurer who knows tactics, when to use cover, which enemies to target first, how to work together to gang up, etc. Don't always default to "attack until dead" or "attack inefficiently so the PCs don't all die", decide what's appropriate, and then roll with that whether they win or lose.

Likewise, do they unload with their most powerful attack first, if they're expecting a real fight? Or do they husband resources, assuming they may have many combats today and only falling back on their most powerful abilities when events start to go sour?

I don't usually have a mechanical meaning for "under half hitpoints" ("Bloodied" in 4e and 5e dnd parlance). But it's a useful metric for "does the monster switch tactics now", whether that's activating a new ability (whether they already "had" it but weren't using it), or going into a killing rage, or turning to flee.

Likewise, judge if and when opponents are likely to flee. If they *can* flee most opponents won't fight to the death, but some will. I generally eyeball this, if the fight is clearly going their way or not combined with how committed they are. A well-timed skill check can swing it though. I don't have specific mechanics for a number of hitpoints though, I assume NPCs can judge the tactical shit-hit-fan-ness as well as PCs.
jack: (Default)
I really love writing up roleplaying sessions as I've done the last few times.

What I notice is that even when the events are the same, the write-up is very different. The emotional beats of the campaign are, when will the party succeed, when will they find things out, etc. But it's very hard to make that resonate in a write-up. I'm not sure why, but it almost always doesn't work.

Whereas in my write-up, the resonance comes from playing up character/player tension and gm/player tension, humorously, often exaggerated, though based on the real events. I think partly, being in the GM's head, the tense bits of the story are different for me than the players. And that works better for someone else looking in.

Anyway, novels that take the basic worldbuilding of a roleplaying campaign can be awesome (cf. Wildcards, etc). But if you try to write up the *events* it usually doesn't work, too much of the best moments rely on player interaction that can't be shared in fiction, and doesn't provide the hooks to care about the characters fiction needs.
jack: (Default)

GM: ...and thank you for recapping last session.
GM: 1xp and 1gp to everyone for remembering (a) they were tracking the mutineers (b) to try to get the Plot Artifacts of Ancient and Mysterious Power before them.
GM: Not really.
GM: OK, are we all set? Have we all stocked up on quarterstaffs?
GM: And 10" poles? Or not, seriously, how does anyone carry those things??
GM: And forked sticks?
GM: This is a very useful forest.
GM: Anything else?
Princess: I still have the mysterious figurines I latched onto last session, right?
Princess: They're going to be important, right?
GM: I can neither confirm nor deny.
Kitty: We could talk to the toad-seals! Maybe they'd help.
Players: Can kitty talk to other animals?
GM: Duh. That's obviously much more interesting.
Players: But...
Players: In the last session, we trampled their eggs, roasted a bunch of them, and took their meat for provisions.
Animal-loving princess: Sorry!
Players: They may not want to talk to us.
GM: Yes, that.
GM: It's always worth asking. But also, they're in a different place where you're not.
Kitty: We could talk to the goats!
Players: But they're also not here.
Players: And also, see, killed, roasted, provisions.
Players: :(
GM: I'm sorry. Keep trying! You can absolutely talk to animals and it's absolutely relevant.
GM: It's just the first um all the things you tried happened not to work specifically. But it's still good!
GM: When I *planned* this island, I didn't expect the animals to be *able* to talk (I did plan for them to be dealt with by non combat if you approached it right).
GM: I'm working on it, ok?
Players: Anything else?
GM: Oh right yes, perception checks. Everyone add roll d20 and add your perception.
GM: Kitty, add, um, +5. Smell is good.
GM: Anyway, the general gist is that you remember to watch out for the menacing pair of eyes the foraging parties reported in the forest.
GM: It's tailing you, obviously.
Kitty: Is it a cat?
GM: I can neither confirm nor deny it being retconned into the obviously narratively appropriate species.
Party: We could... split up. To um, see if we can get close enough to it.
GM: Or you could not do that.
Party: Ok, *sigh*. If it's not attacking as a group, we'll just press on.
GM: Good call.

Read more... )


May. 1st, 2017 10:12 am
jack: (Default)
I don't want to count my chickens, but for the longest time, I've had the problem that when I have a day with no commitments, I feel like I have to take advantage of it and do all the things, and typically become overwhelmed by choice and expectation and end up doing not much.

Now, for almost the first time, I find that problem receding. I've no particular plans today, but I'm fairly confident, I'm going to spend a couple of hours hammering out miscellaneous todos, do some reading or watching tv, go for a walk outside, and maybe see Liv and Osos depending how busy we all are, and that's about all. Maybe I'll only do some of that, but that will still be good. But I don't fear I'll do *none* of that.

And that freedom makes it so much easier to do things -- to go for a walk or get into a project knowing that's time well spent, not time I intended to be doing something else.

I don't know if it will last, but despite a lot of angst about getting things done, I think having *some* month-by-month goals has been successful at making me feel *less* pressured.
jack: (Default)
How to adjudicate when the GM and player have diverging expectations?

Someone has to act as arbiter, and by default that's the GM, but when the GM decides, what should they decide?

I have no one answer, but a few principles.

If it doesn't matter much, get it out of the way quickly, and defer any discussion about the rules till later.

If the player had a particular expectation, try not to undermine them. I think this is one of the most important things to try to deal with in the moment.

If the player misunderstood an explanation and tried to jump across a 100" wide chasm not a 10" wide chasm, you may need to clarify some other things, but at a minimum, you probably want to say, "you'll just fall to your death, do you want to do something else?" not "are you sure?" "uh, yeah, why?" "ok, you fall to your death".

That applies whether you have someone who knows what the official rules say and was relying on it. If they've set up a shot that depends on the cover rules working the way the rules say and you've never previously altered, it sucks for them to have that yanked out from under them if you improv something instead. Or whether you have a new player who doesn't know what's covered mechanically or not, and tries to do something dramatic like swinging on a chandelier that in-rules doesn't provide any combat advantage. In both cases, the player shouldn't have a hissy fit, but also in both cases, it's your job to do the best you can in the spur of the moment to allow the player's action or give a good substitute. FWIW, I would allow the first player their interpretation of the rules that once, and if it kills an important NPC, I never rely on an important NPC surviving. And for the second player I'd do something like, "make a dex check, if you succeed, attack with a modest bonus (or choose to knock the enemy back)". That fits the sort of action they wanted.

If it's a one-off, it probably doesn't matter much. If it's going to come up repeatedly (eg. rules for hiding), get past the immediate problem, and then review the situation later. Check what the rules really say. Decide if you'd prefer those, or some modification. Check with the player if they have a sensible request, and if so, consider if it makes sense. Then make a decision, make it clear and stick to it.

If you're not sure which rule to go with? Look for easy to adjudicate (if it doesn't matter, you can always go with what's in the book). Look for fun -- the beginner is right, random stunts should TOTALLY be in lots of combat, and it's a flaw in the rules they're not. Look for ones that avoid breaking a tone you're evoking. Look for which way your players would prefer.

Part of this is just, how to make good rulings in the heat of a moment whichever side you come down on.

Part of it is, where do you draw the line between "what happens because of common sense" and "what happens because what it says in the rules". There's a gulf of people's expectations. Both in terms of tone (is this action adventure where heroes do things humans MIGHT be able to do? Or more like an epic norse legend, where great heroes wrestle sea-serpents?) and in terms of pedantry (do you expect the GM to allow an unconscious villain to have their throat slit? or rely on the weapon rules on how much damage that deals?). There's an amount you can stretch to accommodate different players, but only so far: beyond that, you just have to accept you want to play different things.

It's important to figure out if that's happening or not. You can totally have a tone that has character drama all over the place, *and* swashbuckling *and* fart jokes (see: all of Shakespeare). But if 4/5 players want wall-to-wall drama and one wants fart jokes, it may well not work. And the same in reverse.

Likewise, you can easily have some characters who chose well-optimised powers for their class, and some who chose whatever felt cool, and as long as there's not a big difference in power, it's fine. But if some characters want to hand wave away combat to get to the character interaction, and the other characters want to use the class abilities they just levelled up into, it's a stretch to keep both happy. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.

But that's often the underlying dynamic when players react in very different ways, they're focussing on different parts of the adventure, and you want to give both what they want, but avoid what you give one player obviating what the other player wants. Eg. if conversation is always pointless when combat happens, people who want to learn about NPCs are screwed. If you let one character do things because they're cool, but everyone else sticks to the rules, the other players are eclipsed. Can you do both, or not?
jack: (Default)
I saw this recommended online somewhere and the premise was v my sort of thing so I gave it a go.

Bob is a hacker who gets lucky rich, signs up for cryogenic suspension, and at some point in the future is scanned and turned into an AI in a semi-theocratic-dystopian future. This is before that tech becomes reliable or cheap, so it's only used where an AI is needed and the subject doesn't have much choice, specifically running a space probe.

The generally comedic tone allows a lot of interesting premises to be examined which I've rarely seen in other books, like automatically using multiple copies of the most effective uploaded personality, instead of using each once each.

There's a bunch of space exploration which is solid and pleasingly up-to-date, but not otherwise spectacular.

Bob is an example of the sardonic-witty low-self-esteem hacker who shows up in lots of books. An archetype I like, but have got sick of. The sexist comments are fewer than The Martian, but still not zero.

If you like this sort of thing, you will probably enjoy it a lot, but if you don't, it probably won't persuade you.
jack: (Default)
A long time ago, there was a DnD module tomb of horrors, and every so often since there's been some controversy about it.

AIUI, it was the equivalent of playing a computer game on iron-man difficulty, with no saves, only one life, etc. It was designed for experienced players who wanted a really deadly challenge, often at conventions where there might be an audience.

The general features are (a) there's a lot of challenges that involve player decisions, not specific skills, whether the characters are appropriately really really careful about everything they do. (b) when something goes wrong, it's usually very deadly.

That meant, if you expected "fair" to mean "forgiving", it's really really not -- if you're the slightest bit incautious, you'll likely all die immediately. But if you expected "fair" to mean, "your death stem directly from your decisions" then it is more so than most adventures[1].

But if you don't know that, there is a lot of ire between people who loved it, people who think this is "the one true way" of how a session should be, and people who tried it and became incredibly resentful. It's good that the far end of a bell curve exists when that's something some people want to find, even if *most* modules should be somewhere left of it.

I did once play with a GM who played a few sessions of it inbetween campaigns. I liked the idea, although I usually like roleplaying with more story.

[1] There are some flaws where it might not be completely fair, or ambiguous descriptions, etc, but less than most modules at the time iirc.
jack: (Default)
DnD 4e and 5e introduced the idea of skill challenges. Basically a unified framework for handling various things other than combat or parallel to combat that should involve more back and forth than a single roll, like a chase scene, or defusing a bomb.

The idea is, instead of a single "defuse bomb" roll, you need multiple things, open the panel without setting something off, find the deadman's switch, choose the right wire, cut it.

And these might be things that require a variety of skills.

4e designed a version which really rubbed me up the wrong way. It optimised for designing a scenario that could be run mechanically for different groups and present a particular level of challenge, and assumed that each challenge would be defined by "achieve N successes before X failures, using skills A, B, C or D".

I've only skimmed the rules for 5e but it seems to be somewhat more freeform. Because I thought this was a *great* idea, basically codifying something that a good GM would do automatically, but I really didn't like the way it was hard-coded, and presented to the players up-front.

Ideally, it should be obvious without specifying to the players. For the bomb, maybe each failure makes the bomb arm itself, then begin flashing, then finally explode. You don't know for sure how many steps, but you can tell things are getting critical. (And if you're aiming for fun rather than challenge, the GM can escalate or descelate the requirements according to how challenging this encounter should be compared to other ones that have happened this session.) It should be obvious which skills might apply, but they might lead to different paths -- a knowledge skill might open up an easier path to success, not count as a success/failure itself; different skills might stack or not; etc.

Or it ties into combat, each failure makes combat more difficult (it makes the platform you're standing on move dangerously or lets more enemies catch up), or you need to coordinate making skill rolls with other characters doing combat.

If you're improv'ing, that's all fairly easy to do, even though it's hard to spec in advance.

I said on twitter, skill challenges are a great idea, but I find it more fun if it's "how the GM designs the scenario" not "a mechanic the players need to be familiar with". Now I think of it, I see the same contrast with "what monsters you encounter". That easily can be pre-specified, and the players know, basically, the mechanics are "here's the monsters who exist" or "they spawn every two rounds" (as in 4e)[1], and know everyone faced a similar challenge. Or it can be improvised -- if the players faff around, the reinforcements arrive early, if they players have a lucky plan to bar a door, they can't come in, etc, etc. (as I'd like it).

[1] This makes sense from a tactical combat perspective, but I found very frustrating. Every 2 rounds skeletons climb out of a sarcophagus. No, you can't look inside. No, you can't judge how many skeletons could fit inside. No, you can't judge what sort of spell or effect is responsible (well, you can, but you can't expect it to matter). No, you can't try to block the lid. It's screaming "accept the premise and desperately avoid imagining being there". Except that if you do that, you have no way to judge "having the infinite spawning skeletons finished or will they continue" and are punished for guessing wrong. I feel like you could have 90% of the effect by saying "there's a pile of bones, a skeleton assembles itself out of them, there's still 3/4 of the pile left" or "the sundered skeleton parts begin to reassemble themselves" or "the air shimmers and a skeleton warrior sprouts from the ground".
jack: (Default)
Last post, I decided that what's "really there" for fundamental particles is typically a quantum thing, specifically, a probability wave of possible values a particle can have which appears to collapse into one particular place only when its interacted with.

However, this "collapse" sounds very suspicious. If two different particles emitted from the same particle decay (or something?) are known to have opposite spins, but not what those are, do you get all the usual wavelike behaviour, can each self-interfere, etc? Yes, of course. And yet, when you finally measure them, lo, the spins are still conveniently opposite.

Something that looks like collapsing to a single answer seems to happen, because when we measure them, we always do get a single answer. But that's not an event. If you measure one, does a spooky force reach out across the room to force the other to collapse at the same time? Does it collapse the value you measure, but still allow other properties of the particle to continue being multiple? That looks awfully like what happens, but it should seem wrong to start with, even before you ask "if you measure one particle, does the other know to wait until you interact with it, but store the answer you're going to find until then" and "if you measure them both a long way apart, does the collapse rush faster than the speed of light (aka backwards in time) to make sure both answers agree with each other?"

Any theory involving particles "knowing" or "waiting" or "choosing" depending on how you measure them sounds very unlike physics.

And yet, the particles go on behaving like probability waves until you measure them, and if they came from a shared source, then when you measure them, they DO agree. Just as if this spooky shit was happening. What might be going on?

Hypothesis 1

Whenever one particle collapses, a spooky force travels faster than the speed of light to the other particle, and then hangs around telling it what value it will have when it's finally measured.

This *works*, but hopefully you can see why it doesn't seem correct.

Hypothesis 2

Just like hypothesis 1, but we try to avoid thinking about it. This is not really satisfying, but it works and is a pragmatic default for many physicists. (Sort of Copenhagen interpretation?)

Hypothesis 3

Even while a particle is still smeared out across a probability of many potential positions/values, it has a hidden property which tells it how it's *going* to collapse when something interacts with it. Like, not necessarily "hidden", but basically some sort of determinism.

This is roughly Hidden variables interpretation (right?)

This would be fairly satisfactory except that it turns out it's impossible.

This is not very mysterious or controversial, but involves more simple probability than I can manage to wade through. Look up the EPR paradox or the Bell inequality. The idea is, you choose something like polarisation angle that could be measured at many different angles. You randomly choose to measure at different angles for two particles known to have opposite polarisation. There are various correlations between the probabilities when you measure the two particles at an angle to each other (the detectors neither parallel nor orthogonal). You can prove that no possible hidden value would make all those correlations true at once, but QM does and that's what's actually observed.

I can't really prove this to myself, let alone anyone else, but AFAIK no reputable physicists doubt that it's correct, only maybe what it means, so I'm willing to accept it as true.

There are still edge cases, like, people argue whether the experiments have ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY proved this spooky collapse effect would have to go faster than the speed of light, rather than going at a possible speed (but depending what exact moment sets it off, etc). But I don't find any of that very persuasive. A spooky collapse effect which is triggered by measuring a particle and goes at the speed of light or below, while not ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY ruled out, doesn't sound at all likely. I don't think anyone seriously expects that if they make the distance apart in those measurements a bit bigger, they'll suddenly get difference results: that's not how you expect physics to happen.

Hypothesis 4

Those weird quantum probability waves don't only exist for tiny particles, they happen just the same for everything including macroscopic objects, humans, etc, but you can't observe the effects except for tiny things (because to see interference you need something isolated from other particles, and you need to be able to detect its wavelength, which is way too small for anything bigger than a molecule).

I'm still working on understanding *why*, if that's true, it produces the effects we see. But most physicists, even ones who don't like this line of reasoning, seem to agree that it *would*.

This makes everything above non-mysterious. How does the collapse effect move around? It doesn't. Every "collapse" is just another probability thing of a scientist (and all the other macroscopic stuff) interacting with a particle and becoming two never-interacting possible scientists, one observing A, one observing B. We know both happen. We know, when we measure things light-hours apart and then compare notes, that we will be comparing notes with the version of the other scientist who observed the opposite polarisation to what we saw, while our shadow twin will be comparing notes with the other scientist's shadow twin.

The multiple non-interacting versions of the macroscopic world are called "many worlds" or "parallel universes" which admittedly makes them sound very implausible.

It seems like, this leaves some things to ponder, but resolves a very large part of the things people find mysterious. And yet, many physicists really don't like it. I need to read the bits of Scott Aaron's book about different interpretations[1], because I trust him to know more about this than me and he doesn't seem convinced.

Footnote [1]

The hypotheses above are called interpretations. I don't know if my ones exactly map onto the real ones. The name is because they all predict the same results, and yet seem quite different.

You can argue, "they're the same", but I don't quite agree. See for instance space outside our light cone -- we have no way of observing it, so the hypotheses "it's got physics just like ours but with different stuff there" and "it's all purple unicorns" are both possible, and yet, the first one seems a lot more like actual reality.

In both cases, it sort of doesn't matter, but you can imagine (a) which answer is most plausible, most useful, easiest to work with, or least ridiculous (b) if we're wrong and there IS some difference, which one would actually be found to be the one that exists.
jack: (Default)
You should be able to select multiple pokemon from your reserves when choosing which pokemon to fight with.

When you're training a friendly gym, the default pokemon selection should avoid pokemon very slightly higher CP than the ones you're fighting that automatically reduce the prestige gained by 40%.

"Vaporeon used hydropump" should always come slightly before the special move takes effect, rather than slightly after.

If your pokemon is on 5% health and you switch to another pokemon and that one is knocked out, its default replacement should be the *next* one, not the one which will be knocked out instantly. (Is there a shortcut for "next pokemon" without going through the pokemon select screen?)

If your switch pokemon and while you're in the pokemon select screen, your previous pokemon faints or you forget which pokemon you started with, and you click frantically click a pokemon again and again trying to select it and nothing happens, it should select that pokemon even if it's the one already selected.

If you select "run away" there should be a quick gesture to do so in a single click, without needing to get to the "yes" button before your next pokemon is knocked out too.