Tuesday, January 10, 2012

5e announcement, more on game vs. sim, Wisconsin recall

Howdy, folks! Time for another exciting issue of Atomic Dragon Battleship! Thanks for stopping by. So the big news this week is obviously the Wizards of the Coast announcement of work on a new edition of D&D. I was involved in that work to some (relatively small) extent, but I can’t really say more right now, other than I was pretty excited with the general direction and I’m looking forward to seeing how things proceed going forward. Oh, and I came up with the codename this time around! That was kind of cool.

Gaming: To continue my thoughts from last time about simulation vs. game… One thing that really confuses this discussion is the conflation of the term “simulation value” – how accurately a system or rule models whatever the reality of the world is – with “simulation,” which I define as an open-ended activity for exploring a situation (such as a fantasy world infested with monsters). As pointed out in the comments on my last post, 3rd Edition D&D is generally high in its aspirations to be a simulation with a robust set of physics behind it, but often falls down in the exact simulation value it achieves in the particulars. For example, a housecat can easily kill a 1st-level human wizard in 3e. Well, believe it or not, it’s a better simulation than what’s available in some editions of D&D, even if the simulation value is unacceptable. In earlier editions of D&D, the housecat isn’t even given stats—if you said, “My wizard attacks the housecat!”, the DM can’t resolve that action with anything other than fiat. (This assumes the core three rulebooks, BTW; I’m sure housecat stats eventually crept into most editions of the game.) 3e is a more robust sim because a resolution is available. 1e and 2e simply overlooked these things, or *counted* on DM fiat, while 4e made a conscious decision to NOT model the wizard-housecat battle, because part of the core philosophy of the system is that heroes should be matched up against appropriate monsters. That’s a very gamist view (or, if you like, a sim of heroic fantasy movies/novels, not a complete fantasy world). The simulationist view is that if you go into a place where you might expect to find a cat and attack one, you’re now fighting a cat.

   Now, inaccurate simulation can be maddening. Poor sim leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. We want the simulation to respond to our inputs in ways that are logical and make sense. It drove me nuts in Civilization 3 (or was it 4?) when I discovered that planes and artillery could no longer sink ships, because as it turns out, they really can. (Civ 5 corrects this, thank goodness.) All editions of D&D model most things we care about pretty well. But when we look at high-sim versions of D&D, I think it’s not the value of simulation as an activity that we’re arguing about—it’s the accuracy.

Politics/Current Events: There is a fascinating election taking shape this year, and it’s not the one you think: It’s a recall election for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker’s the guy who muscled through a change in state law back in March of 2011 effectively disestablishing state public sector unions, in case you don’t remember the story. Many of my Wisconsin friends are fervent Democrats, and it would be hard to overstate how much they loathe Walker after the events of last spring. Remember SEIU filling Madison with protestors? The Democrat state legislators fleeing to Illinois? It was the biggest story in the country for a few weeks. The Democrats need to reach 540,000 signatures on a recall petition by January 17th to set up the recall election for June, and it seems certain they’ll reach that number.

   In fairness to my Wisconsin friends, Walker’s move against the state employee unions, if upheld, definitely would result in a political advantage for the Republicans—state unions are big funders of Democrat candidates. I understand their concern. However, it seems to me that there are very sound reasons for limiting or banning unions of government employees. Public sector unions naturally work hard to elect union-friendly governments… and when a union-elected government negotiates with that public sector union, who exactly is representing the taxpayer at that table? It’s an inherent conflict of interest. Heck, Franklin Roosevelt recognized this back in the 1930s . Here’s an excerpt from FDR’s 1937 letter to the head of the National Federation of Federal Employees on this very topic:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.

   What’s so wrong about recognizing that it’s a bad idea to let someone sit on both sides of the bargaining table at the same time? FDR got that. If you think that Scott Walker is stupid, crazy, or evil, don’t you have to explain why FDR wasn’t when he held the same view?

   Walker’s collective bargaining reforms are helping Wisconsin to solve some very difficult budgetary challenges. The mayor of Milwaukee admitted that pension reform made possible by Walker’s efforts helped save 300 to 400 city jobs this year. Local school districts throughout the state are now implementing much-needed reforms that were impossible under the previous arrangement. Whether you view Walker’s move as a callous, loathsome political ploy or simply necessary, it seems that Wisconsin’s financial prospects have been substantially improved by the legislation.

   The Wisconsin recall election may be the most important election of 2012 that doesn’t fall on the first Tuesday of November. It’s worth watching. If the unions (Democrats) prevail and recall Walker, the example will stymie efforts across the country to get bloated public sector unions under control. If the Republicans win, it may lead to a harder look at public sector unions all around the country. In my opinion, that’s long overdue.

The Finer Things: Six weeks until pitchers and catchers report! Football is great, but I love the stately progression of the baseball season. My two teams are in very different places this year: The Phillies are aging former champions trying to put together one more World Series run with the core of a team that’s been together for six or seven years now, while the Mariners are young cellar-dwellers who would seem to be out of the race before the season even begins. Strangely enough, I am not so sure they are. Young players like Ackley, Carp, Smoak, Pineda, and of course King Felix are an exciting nucleus for a young team. I think Smoak in particular is headed for a breakout season—he’s only 25, and he’s a switch-hitter with power. The Angels and Rangers are loaded, sure, but I predict a scrappy M’s team adding 10 to 15 wins to their 67 from last year, and improving in all aspects of the game.


  1. I firmly believe that a sufficiently motivated & trained cat could kill a human. D&D is just the setting in which one might find such a cat.

    But, it's reasonably accurate in most cases to say that if a PC attacks a cat the cat either dies or flees. You don't need a whole stat block for that. At most, you need to flip a coin.

  2. I don't think FDR was saying that government workers couldn't or shouldn't be unionized (he also says "organizations of Government employees have a logical place in government affairs"). Rather, the argument was that laws prohibiting critical workers (law enforcement, air traffic control, transportations, etc.) from striking were legitimate.

    You ask who represents taxpayers in negotiations--it's the elected officials and senior appointed officials responsible for contract negotiation. Such officials should not be unionized, and to my knowledge they never are.

    I see Walker as symptomatic of confrontational and polarizing politics. As far as I can tell, the unions offered him every concession he wanted. But he didn't want concessions, he wanted to make a divisive political point (and to tilt the partisan playing field).

    I'm not in love with unions (government or private). I think that broadly speaking, global economic factors, voter "tax fatigue," and the recession have steadily corrected for many past excesses, and will probably continue to do so. I'm comfortable with that--unions need to face the realities of the 21st century.

    But I also think we need a little more compromise, civility and moderation in politics these days, and as far as I can see, Walker represents the antithesis of those things.

  3. I think you're still working under the idea of simulationism equating to "rules as physics," and I'm still unconvinced this is truly how you would apply it to a game.

    To crib off of 3e, as a player, I don't know how the rules behind the DM screen work. I don't know if the DM has meticulously created each NPC we face using the rules for doing so, or if he threw together a few numbers he eyeballed and called it a day. I don't know if he's rolled to see if each town has the items we want as given in table whatever to see if a town that size has the magical item...or if he just decided it on a whim.

    And as DM I can tell you I almost NEVER used the rules to make NPCs unless they were going to be big re-occuring ones, and as far as I was concerned those tables for towns never existed. But the thing is, as both player and DM, none of that - or the absence thereof - contributed to my ability to view the fantasy world as is or immerse myself into it. Tables and charts will never immerse me.

    When most people talk about simulation driven games, the primary suspect is GURPS. GURPS character generation can be a frightening then to behold, but when you're done, you've made EXACTLY the kind of character you want to make. The rules are all semi-cinematic but still intended to be rooted in "realism." Every aspect you could want in a game you can get through GURPS. Any type of setting or genre you want to simulate could be done in GURPS.

    I am, to put it lightly, not a GURPS fan.

    I don't think 3e is very robust as a simulation at all. I think it can look the part, but once you actually try to dive into it, you find the water to be very shallow. As I mentioned last time, there's too many "hole" in the rules. The profession rules are nonsensical, the economy is garbage, the pantheon is ill fitting, and the only setting to actually work with D&D-isms was Eberron. Everywhere else we're lead to believe that in a world of dragons and wizards we're still in semi-medieval era Europe where castles and flying monsters somehow work together just fine. And that's just on the idea of D&D as a fantasy setting - not even touching the bizarrities of, say, HP (I have 1 HP left, I'm fine!)

    But, and this is the key thing, *that's fine*. It's fine that 3e wasn't a good sim because D&D has never been a good sim. "Rules as physics" and simulation doesn't neccisarily go hand in hand. If anything, the more codified 3e got, the LESS "simulationistic" (not a word but bear with me) it grew. My verisimilitude was possibly at it's lowest when playing 3e, because every time I started to get immersed, the rules would do something dumb and I was dragged right back out.

    Regarding the last post and world-sim resources; Let's look at one of the things 4e changed away from 3e - Vancian Casting. You mentioned last time that the AEDU system was entirely gamist in philosophy...but then, so was Vancian Casting! Indeed, Gygax chose that method primarily as a means to balance out spellcasters. Now if he succeeded or not is a topic in of itself, but the primary function of Vancian Casting was that it wasn't intended as a sim element but as a gamist one. That's in part why I have a hard time viewing D&D in general as a simulation - much of the things that are now seen as "simulationistic" were, when put in, starkly gamist. It makes me wonder if the relation between gamist mechanics and simulation mechanics is one purely of age.

  4. Of course, I mention GURPS for a second reason - the D&D Next, as it's code named. There's very little info out so not really much to talk about, and I don't want to rumor or guess or whatever nerds are doing elsewhere, but the idea of D&D being modular that Mearls and Cook are drumming out reminds me of GURPS...but in a bad way. GURPS was built from the ground up to be modular, and a class based system works at it's worse when it's meant to be generic.

    Oh right; you had mentioned last time I nerded out regarding potential conversations; if you wanted to take my horrible and far too wordy essays out of stealing all the primo space here on the blog, I can be reached via email at ryusama0 at gmail.

  5. Unions are big Democrat supporters. Of course big brother will come and step in with plenty of misinformation propaganda schemes to turn the voters against anyone who stands up to them. They will suffer no rival, especially when it comes to their precious voting pawns. Not very Democratic of them IMO...

  6. You are using the term "simulationism" in a wrong way. The word as it's meant today in current RPG theory means creating a game with rules that have the purpose of "reproducing / creating the feel of a genre". An example is "On Mighty Thews" which is made for the express purpose of living Conan-style adventures. Simulationism is NOT trying to reproduce physics accurately. You got much closer with "gamism", D&D 4E is indeed gamist, though not perfectly coherent. Regards, Andrea