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Category: Gaming

And a child shall lead them

I spent some time roleplaying with my nephew Sparky the last time he visited and again this weekend. He’s 12; it was an interesting experience.

I gave octaNe a try, on the principle that the mechanics wouldn’t be too complicated and it’d be good for him to get his feet wet with some storytelling techniques. However, I think I was wrong — he was pretty clearly looking for more structure while we were playing, although he certainly had fun. I’d been hoping that his experience with spy flicks (we were doing a James Bondian scenario) would be enough but it wasn’t really. Also, 12 year olds are not good at saying “Hm, I could do anything I want but I will restrict myself for the sake of the story.” Next time I’ll try D20 Modern or Feng Shui.

However, this weekend, he was running all over the house with sheets of paper with dungeons drawn on ‘em. When I sat down and played with him, it turned out he’d taken this little supersimple pen and paper wargame we play in my family and turned it into a dungeon crawl, with a single “PC” and a bunch of monsters and some very very basic move and attack rules. He was very keen on the idea that people should make up their own characters (“What does your guy look like?”) and he was meticulous about handing out treasure for various victories.

Kinda cool.

Farewells

I’m very sad to hear that Hogshead Publishing is going out of business. It’s not that they’re bankrupt or any such; apparently it’s just not fun any more, and I can certainly understand that. Still a shame.

Hogshead and its founder James Wallis have provided high quality gaming for the last decade. They started out as the holders of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG license. WFRPG has been an important alternative to D&D in the fantasy RPG genre in both mechanics and style. I believe the prestige class system in D&D 3E owes a lot to Warhammer’s career system, and the Warhammer world beats 7th Sea all hollow as far as alternate Europes go.

Hogshead also published the tremendously influential New Style line, which deliberately broke expectations of what an RPG was. I wouldn’t count all the New Style games as successes, but the line was bookmarked by Baron Munchausen and De Profundis and those two alone would make the New Style line important to the industry.

As if that wasn’t enough, Hogshead recently rescued Noblis from the abyss, republishing it in a beautiful coffee-table edition which raises the bar for RPG layout and design. Simply lovely stuff. (Fortunately, Guardians of Order will be picking up the Nobilis line with the full cooperation of the author.)

Hogshead, you’ll be missed.

Fast, furious, fragmented

John Tynes just released Meta Action, an incomplete set of rules for running modern action with the D20 ruleset. At first glance it looks interesting enough. It retains hit points, since it’s intended to simulate action movies and thus can be less realistic, but more or less does away with classes. Your Charisma bonus is added to every roll, since action heros are good looking.

Without revamping the combat system, though, I’m not sure the ruleset works. PCs are going to get hit all the time, particularly since you can pump skill points into your ranged or melee attack bonuses. A level 1 character with a 14 Charisma (say) can easily have a total of +7 to hit right off the bat. Even level 0 NPCs can be fairly deadly. Three goons with shotguns are terrifying.

The Dog Squad is neat, though. It’s a cool little campaign concept that goes with the Meta Action rules. There’s enough there to work with.

Probability rules

I have moved over to spamprobe for all my spam filtering needs. It’s an implementation of Paul Graham’s Bayesian spam detection algorithm, which detects spam based on word frequency analysis. It requires some training before it works well; you have to feed it a collection of a couple of hundred good messages and a couple of hundred spam messages so that it can build a table of spam words. Or, alternatively, you can train it over time and put up with false negatives and positives for a little while. But once you get those few hundred messages classified, you’re golden.

The really cool thing is that it doesn’t depend on a viewable list of spam words, as does SpamAssassin. I used to use SpamAssassin, and over time more and more spams were getting through, because it’s easy for spammers to look at the list of keywords that comes with SpamAssassin and avoid those words. What’s more, Bayesian filters evolve along with the spammers — if a spammer tries a new approach, but spamprobe catches the message because they didn’t go far enough, the words used in the new approach get classified as potential spam for the next go-round.

The downside is that you can’t really do a global install; everyone needs to train their own filter. Well. You could, but you’d lose a bit of accuracy. I suppose it’d be interesting to see a fairly decent sized site try. I wonder how many people get email at Flit’s site? (Just kidding.)

There are a bunch more Bayesian filters listed here if spamprobe doesn’t suit you for some reason. I get a few hundred emails a day and spamprobe has been plenty fast enough so far, though.