Thursday, 26 January 2012

Misc, January 26th 2012

OU module: have been and had a quick look around the micro-site for my latest module. As the module is finishing this year they have decided not to update the aesthetics and navigation; a pop-up appeared to tell me that the site was designed for IE5 or later, and that my browser might not be able to see everything. Considering I am running Firefox 9 this seems to be a curious oversight on the part of the site maintainers.

Wedding: a friend of mine is getting married this weekend! Which is really nice, and so I am trying to make sure that I don't forget my camera. I'll remember everything else. The camera, I will forget. Or I will forget to charge the battery. (excuse me a moment...)

Reading: I'm reading a short story/novella by Adam Roberts on my Kindle called Anticopernicus, which is pretty good. I'm plowing my way through Getting Things Done by David Allen (something I have meant to do for a long time but have only just got around to). Already this is starting to blow my mind. In conjunction with another book that I bought recently for the Kindle called Discardia this could be just the wake-up call I need to get things on track and productive.

(and I just had an Amazon delivery in the last two minutes of two books that I ordered with my birthday vouchers: the final Joe Pitt novel and A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster! Things to look forward to)

Finally: I've been noodling around with numbers about dice rolling ever since I mentioned it the other day. And there is the beginnings of a tickle of an ideas. At least for starting to get a regular kind of expression for probability distribution with an AdN kind of situation (where you have a certain number of same-sided fair dice). Give me time...

Midweek Excitement

The area on the OU website for my next course has gone live! Admittedly at the moment there is not much there, but pretty soon there will be details on all the various things that one can do to "start writing fiction" (the name of the module).

I've taken part in National Novel Writing Month several times, and if you look for things with the "flash fiction" label on here you will see some of the little short stories that I have written. I'm hoping that I will get two things from this course - no, actually, three. First, I want to be one step closer to the BSc; second, I want to feel like I have some kind of integrated thought pattern on actually writing fiction, which is, after all, what the module is about. But probably most importantly, from this module I want to build up the habit of writing. I want to want to write - whether that's fiction, or blogposts, or letters, or things on my workblog, or even just things which are for work. 

I want to want to write.

So: let's see what happens.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Games Night review

Last night's Cyberpunk game session was good; my GM was amenable to me switching in my Fixer, who in some ways is a bit more capable for the scenarios that are unfolding. We have three ongoing conflicts that need resolving.

Firstly, we have been asked to "provide" a person from a certain organisation to P's character's corporate masters. We have had some dealings with other shady individuals related to this, and some limited successes against to them. The extraction plan for this is alright, but perhaps there are things that we could do that would make success more guaranteed.

(incidentally, we have a strong motivation at the moment as P's character has incurred some sizeable debts at the expense of his corporate masters; some of those debts can be laid at the feet of mine and D's characters, some can not)

Secondly, we've been asked to assassinate someone on behalf of their rivals. However, the assassination/disappearance poses huge risks. We have also discovered some materials that could be used to blackmail the rivals in some way. Is this a better way to make some much-needed money?

Finally, we have been asked to smuggle some contraband across the Irish Sea and into Soviet Liverpool. Huge risks, but a big pay-off. The plan so far is going to get us killed, I'm sure of it. If we smuggle it ourselves we take enormous risks. If we get someone else to smuggle it our risks are lessened, but we lose control. The plan at the moment is to have someone unknowingly smuggle it (a Party official whose car would not be searched anyway) and then steal the contraband back. Hugely risky.

What to do, what to do?

Last night was a lot of fun because we did lots of planning and brainstorming, lots of researching too. Previous weeks, which have involved violence and sneaky legwork have been good, but for most of yesterday we were throwing ideas around to try and come up with good plans of action. Roll on next week!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Games Night

So tonight is games night! We are currently playing a hacked Cyberpunk 2020; the setting is a parallel 2011, a Soviet Liverpool of Russian corporations, cyborgs and dirty dealings.

I am thinking about switching in a different character; I've contacted my GM (who was also the best man at my wedding) to see what he thinks. My current character is a kind of take on a Nomad. His "Family" is a digital one, in some respects he is more of a private investigator/freelance spy than anything else. I tend to call his "Family" skill "Network" or something similar. It then becomes more of a skill based on what his "Network" can offer or provide.

I'm not sure entirely how successful he has been in terms of his character class - given that, actually, I've not defined "Network" very well - but he has been pretty good at getting himself into and out of sticky situations. Given that the other two players' characters have all been knocked out of play (no-one has died but several have been benched in-game for a couple of weeks), it seems like it might be good to switch out Simon Anderson, freelancer, and switch in, Davey Smith, fixer.

Oh, and another thing: I need to get a 12mm handcannon like my fellow players have kitted their characters out with! I haven't thought much about weaponry in-game, tending to hope that I won't need more than a simple pistol. After all, how crazy would it be to see people running around a city with huge automatic weapons? But this 12mm pistol does 4d6+1 damage!! You only need 8 points of clear damage in a single attack to completely mess-up a body area, and for an NPC/enemy that is usually a knockout.

Anyways, just some thoughts ahead of the weekly game. Come back tomorrow (if you're interested) for what happened!

The Fourth Degree

I started a degree with the Open University last September under their Open Degree programme. I have a long term goal of completing another degree by the time I am forty (nine years to go!). So far I have finished one 10 credit module, which leaves me with 350 credits to make up. There are some restrictions to what I can study, but only in that I need to get certain numbers of credits at certain levels.

My first module was on computer games, and while I enjoyed learning about the industry and development I was much more excited by the philosophical side of things which was covered in the first few weeks and the historical side of things. In a few weeks I will start another 10 credit module on writing fiction, and I am currently planning to take a module on the "story of maths" in May.

I already have a BA in Maths and Philosophy, and MSc in Mathematical Sciences and a PhD in Maths (all from the University of Liverpool), but after three years away from the learning side of higher education I decided that I needed more. I want to keep learning all through my life; I know that I am anyways, outside of the OU, but doing what I have come to call my "BSc in Interesting Stuff" has really given me some motivation.

After my "story of maths" module I will have a break for a few months, and then most likely start a big module on creative writing for the autumn. I'm currently trying to build a good writing habit (after years of "wanting" to do it) which I think will help all the things that I do work-wise in lots of ways. Creative writing definitely comes down on the Arts side of academia, but so long as I do plenty of maths and tech modules in the years following I will definitely come out the far side of the OU with a BSc.

And who knows... Since my original BA lead to an MSc, maybe this will be a BSc leading to an MA...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Tabletop Games and the Odds

I have been thinking for a while about probability in tabletop role-playing games. Mechanics that determine actions influenced by chance make for interesting times, but a few things recently have had me thinking seriously about what the odds are of things happening in games. The first thing that has taken my thoughts in this direction are the influences of the OU module that I took on games (mostly on computer games, but there was a good chunk of time spent on the philosophy of games). The second was playing Apocalypse World.

In Apocalypse World, virtually every action that has a chance element is determined by rolling 2d6. Without any modifier, one needs a 7 to get a "hit" (at least some kind of success), and a 10 or better to get a high hit. There are 11 outcomes (2, 3, ..., 11, 12) for rolling 2d6. The probability of getting a particular outcome is not evenly distributed though - you have to get 1 on both dice to get an outcome of 2, but there are six ways of making your required 7 minimum.

Without modifiers, any chance situation has a 21 in 36 chance of working out (at least somewhat) in the player's favour. More than half, actually, 7 in 12. This makes for quite a balanced sort of game mechanic (I think). But by the end of the campaign my character had a +3 modifier for whenever he tried to do something involving aggression or violence (my character's class was "Gunlugger"). So then from a 4 onwards he was going to get a "hit" - maybe not totally get his whole way on a situation, but he would be successful. What does that mean? Avoid a 2 and a 3 and I'm home free! (well, OK, more or less). Suddenly I have an 11 out of 12 chance of some success. Quite a jump. And the chance of me getting a high hit is more than 50/50.

So OK, enough of all that: this has lead me to thinking that there must be a simple way of qualifying the odds of getting X or more on 2d6. Or Y on 3d8. Or Z on AdN (arbitrary integer A, N (and X, Y, Z)). It is simple enough to draw some tables, noodle some numbers down and do it case-by-case. But my gut says that there is a formula. If this screams "Obviously!" then for now please don't tell me, I want to see if I can get this from working some examples and then generalise. More to follow on this, when I have time to work it out.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Dog Days

I have recently got into tabletop roleplaying games. I have read about the hobby for years and years, but never known how to break into it. Last autumn a friend suggested that I come along to a game that a mutual friend was going to GM and see what I thought.

After three hours of play my thoughts were mostly, "Wow."

We were playing Apocalypse World, a game by D. Vincent Baker, and there was a lot about the game that I really liked (I have written some blog posts about it before, here, here and here; I'm sure I will write some more on this blog as well). Recently our group has shifted games to an alternate present setting that is being run with Cyberpunk 2020 rules, which has been hugely entertaining - the mechanics of play are quite different, the setting is light years away from Apocalypse World, and our party has an unfortunate tendency to get severely injured (although not my character, I am happy to say!).

Over the last few weeks I have been reading through the mechanics and setting for another game by D. Vincent Baker, Dogs in the Vineyard. Again, vastly different to both games I've mentioned so far, but keeping the real streak of relationships and consequences of both games that our group have played recently.

I've never GMed a game before, but with some more re-reading and assimilation of the core of Dogs, I think I'm going to put myself forward to GM a campaign later in the year. The setting just calls out to me: gun-slinging missionaries whose word is law; travelling from town to town to keep the peace, calling the Faithful and casting out demons. Really, what's not to like? There are lots of dice used, but the emphasis with them is the random nature of the dice supporting the storytelling; it's really about a great unfolding collaborative narrative that is stitched together by the GM and the players (rather like the distinctive coats that the game's Dogs wear).

So anyway: I expect that over the coming months I'll be posting up some notes on here, as and when I get some ideas in place - although there won't be spoilers for the players who will be taking part!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


That was today. And it was great.
Lots of thoughtful and lovely presents from my wife and family, a quiet morning at home, a nice afternoon out in New Brighton, a visit with my mum and sister, and then returned home for a simple couple of hours with the internet on and Sleepy Hollow in the background.

I've started thinking and writing several posts connected with my OU degree and with games (of various types), and with any luck I'll get one or more of them up tomorrow. But now I'm going to go and look through my presents again!

Monday, 16 January 2012


There was a time when this was a blog about a man who was trying to do 101 things before he was 30. And something even more fantastic than those 101 things happened: I got married. And moved house, travelled across America, went to Japan and then went back to the US for my honeymoon.
I have continued occasionally blogging on my "work" blog. But nothing really personal or about my interests. I'm 31 in a few days, and over the last few weeks I've been thinking more and more about writing and what I want to write.
I'm starting an Open University short module about writing fiction soon, and so returning to blogging proper seems like a complementary thing.
All of this is quite a long and round about way of saying: I'm blogging again. I'm blogging about things that I've been thinking about, things that I might be working on, things that really interest me. I might go back to some of my 101 things. I hope to talk about maths things from time to time.
So, in short order, things that interest me:

  • Books
  • Games
  • Writing
  • Learning
  • Maths
  • Life
I used to go by the handle of zero_zero_one, but now it is NathanRyder. And that's all to say about this!