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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Books, books, books

I have been reading several things lately, with reading mostly winning the time conflict with gaming prep and computer gaming:

 The new D&D PHB of course, which I am mostly liking so far. I wish they had gone with less subtle page numbering and larger type in the index, but at least they toned down the background texture this time around. Aging eyes and all that. I mostly like the art, aside from the giant-headed, tiny-footed mutant halflings. The remix of the rules is interesting and nowhere too deeply annoying so far, though I'm sure I'd fiddle with it a bit if I were to run it much. I've knocked together a sorcerer and a rogue so far in running through character generation to drive rules reading. Of the Hasbro/Wizards D&D versions, its the one I'd most likely want to run at this point. I'm happy playing Pathfinder when somebody else runs it, and also enjoy the Labyrinth Lord games I've played in on Roll20. I'm still a big fan of dragging out my tattered LBBs and ancillary stuff and riffing with impromptu variants.

 Just finished 1636: The Devil's Opera, yet another in the Eric Flint 1632 series. Good enough. If you like the series you'll like it, but it isn't the place to start.

  The Science of Discworld: reading more of the Pratchett interludes than the science bits, but both are pretty good.

 Still slowly reabsorbing EPT, as I grind out more dungeon contents and start to think about where to plunk the thing down on the map and what sort of cursory scenario to wrap the dungeon crawl in.

 Getting close to the end of Black Halo, Sam Sykes second of the Aeon's Gate series. I'd read the first, Tome of the Undergates, a couple years ago and rather enjoyed it. Black Halo gets a bit repetitive of some of the themes, but overall is a fun take on the D&D adventurers as misfit outsiders that society barely tolerates, and a bickering, dysfunctional party of PCs. It strikes me as more of a DCC than D&D setting, with characters afflicted by various curses and personality issues, nasty side effects for overtaxed wizards, and a world that leans towards the swords and sorcery end of the spectrum.

 The other night my daughter and I watched an Italian/Polish (TV?) movie about the siege of Vienna in 1683, which got me thinking to re-read Tim Powers's Drawing of the Dark a historical fantasy about the first siege in 1529. The book holds up well, at least for the first 40 pages or so, as much as I read tonight. It might make a good setting for Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Honor + Intrigue in its more fantastical guise, or maybe Savage Worlds/Solomon Kane.

 My copy of Honor + Intrigue turned back up yesterday in a bit of housecleaning, so I've been paging through it again. It's really quite a nice swashbuckling rules set based on the rules engine from Barbarians of Lemuria. Some friends and I have been batting back and forth the idea of running a game, not sure whose campaign idea will win out, probably whoever actually implements a starter scenario first.

 Lastly, over the weekend I was reading a rather dry history book with some serious possibilities as source material for use in either of those last two games or anything with a strong historical element from late medieval through at least the pike and shot period, A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder, by J.R. Partington. Mine is an old, used, deaccessioned library copy, but you can buy the paperback reprint on Amazon and it is worth it if you want authentic pyrotechnic recipes and delivery devices for your alchemists, or details of historical manuscripts and period books on the topic. It's also been scanned by Google if you just want a taste of it.

 And while I haven't read more than the beginning of the G.R.R. Martin's first Song of Ice and Fire book, some years ago, I have been binge watching the Game of Thrones series in a few bouts of several episodes at a time, and plowed through another three episodes in season three about a week and a half ago. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ruby on Rails: Ajax upload form loses form params - debugging post mortem

In a rails application I work on, I encountered a form that stopped submitting correctly after it had previously been working. It was a rarely used web form last used in production some months ago.

Fill in the form, submit, get back a validation error on a field that was filled in being blank.

Start investigating and find the params posted to the controller include the authentication token, but not any of the values filled in on the form.

The form is submitted via Ajax, using the Malsup jquery.form.js plugin to jQuery and includes a file input field.

The bug reproduces in both Firefox and Chrome. Looking at the post in Firebug and Chrome's Developer Tools shows a Request Payload of
[object FormData]&authenticity_token=our_auth_token_string

This I initially mistook as being an object that wasn't parsing in the tool for some reason, but when I added
puts "content_length: " + request.content_length.to_s puts "raw_post: " + request.raw_post.to_s
to the controller's create method I saw that it was literally receiving the form payload as the string "[object FormData]".

That is what cracked it open. I went to the old bit of JavaScript where we put the authenticity token in for Ajax requests:

  $(document).ajaxSend(function(event, request, settings) {
    if (settings.contentType === "application/json") return;
    if (typeof(AUTH_TOKEN) == "undefined") return; = || ""; += ( ? "&" : "") + "authenticity_token=" + encodeURIComponent(AUTH_TOKEN);

And sure enough, we were expecting a string there, to which the authenticity token argument could be concatenated. Since it is now a formData object after updating the jQuery version from 1.7.x to current recently, the concatenation was casting it to the object as a string form that you tend to see first when alerting variable contents in debugging and the variable happens to hold an object. Rails only kept the parseable portion as params.

So that function needs revision to only add the authenticity token to if it is a string and it needs one. Off to write the Karma Jasmine test that should catch this and then fix it...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Empire of the Petal Throne dungeon take two getting traction

 That temple level was not shaking out as interesting enough the way I conceived it so it's going on the backburner for awhile, until it morphs into something more amusing. Another map IS in the works and today I got a third of the rooms detailed, before and after drawing up Shadowkarst, yay for progress!  Looking forward to running it and eventually posting it, fully keyed. This time, the map is staying rough until I write it up, and then the pens will come out for detailing, as carrot to drive the write up.

Anybody up for some old school EPT on Google Hangouts/Roll20 later this month?


Breaking out of a map drawing rut and posting hiatus, here is one I like enough to post.

Friday, July 11, 2014

EPT dungeon level in progress

Started designing an EPT dungeon level tonight based on the map "Temple of the Weeping Moon". I hope it comes out worth posting.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Variant Character Creation for Empire of the Petal Throne

I have still been mucking about with EPT at a low level. After that character creation experiment a few weeks ago, I came across a blog post in which the author talked about stat roll mirroring as an approach to use instead of something like 4D6 and drop lowest for D&D. I forget the author or blog, but he called it twinning. Under this scheme if you don't like your rolls, you can subtract ALL of them from the max roll possible + 1, no picking and choosing, and get that set of inverted rolls.

 Another way to add some flexibility between the roll X stats and assign the rolls as you like and roll for each stat in order is to write down an ordered set of rolls and then pick any stat as the first stat and apply them in order starting there, and wrapping around at the end of the list until all are filled.

 Taking these two together, there are nine percentile rolls to make to set up a starting EPT character, the six basic stats, original skills, professional skills, and starting Kaitars. Throwing the last three in there as an additional minor help. It is nice to have a good skills roll, and Kaitars may be a handy "dump stat".

 For example:
Here is our template:
Original Skills
Professional Skills
 With percentile rolls: 34 12 13 90 75 73 35 96 55
 Interesting mixed bag there, the average is 53.7, so not going to mirror it.
Let's say we want a Warrior, and are more interested in attributes than skills.
So we start with the 90 for Strength
STR 90
INT 75
CON 73
PSY 35
DEX 96
COM 55
Original Skills 34
Professional Skills 12
Kaitars 13
 This character will be a peasant or other relatively untrained fighter at first, but has a good attributes profile for a non-caster and will be good once levelled up.

 A high professional skills character that might be decent from these rolls:
STR 73
INT 35
CON 96
PSY 55
DEX 34
COM 12
Original Skills 12
Professional Skills 90
Kaitars 75

 Rescuing one of the lamers from the previous set of roll-ups, need to roll three more:
Dorik hiAkaliyalalu
STR 07
INT 19
CON 21
PSY 96
DEX 02
COM 49
Or Sk 45
Pr Sk 19
Kai 13

This is a perfect character to mirror the rolls, subtracting each from 101:

Kirod hiAkaliyalalu
STR 94
INT 82
CON 80
DEX 99
COM 51
Or Sk 56
Pr Sk 82
Kai 88

That's very powerful as is, or could be slid some to improve the PSY stat if planning to be a caster.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tried out Dominions 4

My son David has been following the computer game Dominions 4 for several weeks lately. It is a complex fantasy themed classic turn based 4X game, heavy on game, light on graphics and glitz. He was extolling to me its depth of play so I took an interest too and bought us a couple copies in the Steam sale. Last night he gave me a tutorial on the basics of play in which we played Ulm, a heavy armored kingdom, on a midsized map in the middle period. We played for about four hours, and had fought several battles and captured one "Throne" by the time we had to stop. It was interesting. I now have a handle on the basics, but he assures me we have only scratched the surface, and I can see that from all the stuff in there I have already seen but not done yet. So far, it has been a fun game and I could see playing quite a lot of it. I look forward to playing against him once I have a bit of a handle on strategy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Empire of the Petal Throne refactored experience points table

In rule 600, it is clear that the basic experience system is based on OD&D. You get one experience point for each Kaitar obtained, with an exclusion for winnings from betting in the Hirlakte arenas, an obvious patch for some player that tried it. And 50 points for each HD of each slain hostile being.

Kill XPs only go to the last one to hit the target, explicitly not to the one doing the most damage.  It's curious as this leads to infighting regarding kill stealing and the like. It's probably not a big deal, since kill rewards are likely to be swamped by treasure XPs even at the 50/HD rate.

Treasure sharing is also discussed in rule 600 on experience points, perhaps because treasure is the main source of XPs.

Rule 630 gives a classic, D&D like upscaling by doubling XP progression table. There are two oddities. One is that after doing the doubling progression all the way up to level 9 (with a bit of flattening to reach levels VIII and IX, oddly only for Magic Users, given the D&D antecedents where they were deemed to need the most per level), the table does not just flatten out to needing the same for each subsequent level, it drops precipitously to a flat 10,000 for each subsequent level (though affected by rule 620). That is a huge drop, even accounting for rule 620.

Rule 620 appears to be a variant on D&D's rule about high level characters fighting low level foes having their experience points reduced for it. But instead it applies more simply to all experience points gained at the level, so the characters get a double whammy going up to level IX, both a doubling of the amount needed and a scaling divisor that makes it even harder. A campaign played straight up is going to have to pour gold through the PCs' hands to keep them levelling up to IX. Since it is a flat effect, there is really no good reason to bolt rule 620 onto the table in 630, other than to make 630 look more like D&D. You have two rules doing the same thing, the intrinsic doubling and then the experience point reduction patch.

It all says to me that MAR Barker was not a systems guy. I'm wondering if the rule about levels X and higher being so much easier than IX is intended or a bug. If it is intended, why?

Here is the refactored combination of rules 620 and 630, run up for a few more levels, following the algorithm specified.
I am rounding away the awkward 1's at the beginning of each level, for simplicity. Add them back, with the appropriate multipliers to account for 620 if you care.
Level Total XPS Needed New XPs needed to reach next level
VII184,000224,000 (184,000 for MUs)
VIII408,000 (368,000 for MUs)1,200,000 (900,000 for MUs)
IX1,608,000(1,268,000 for MUs)100,000
X1,708,000 (1,368,000 for MUs)200,000
XI1,908,000 (1,568,000 for MUs)200,000
XII2,108,000 (1,768,000 for MUs)200,000
So level X is the easiest level to get since level VI. But then it bounces back up and XI, XII, etc take almost as many each as VIII. Overall it strikes me as the sort of hodgepodge you get when layering systems without thinking about it too hard, instead of actually designing software or game rules. The trailing comment about how the seeming impossibility of getting enough to go from X to XI, is another hint, when VII to VIII and VIII to IX are the really hard levels, since you have fewer assets and tougher goals. Trying to come up with a rationalization, maybe the trudge to level IX represents your character getting into the upper reaches of society/administration, but once in, your path becomes easier to accrue more power?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hit location percentages from real data

In his article "Fact-checking fight-books: comparing historic injury patterns to strikes in modern European sword arts" on the martial arts blog | The Art of Cutting, Randy McCall summarizes the results from a paper by Johann Keller Wheelock Matzke in which the injured skeletons from 5 battlefield mass burials are statistically evaluated for the location and degree of injuries due to weapon trauma. He has a link there to the PDF of the Matzke paper as well

Looks useful to me for the crunchier sort of RPG or skirmish game, if you want a hit location diagram that mirrors reality, with variation by weapon types involved. The hit location percentage diagrams on skeletons are particularly evocative.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An Alternate Professional Skills list for Fighting Men/Warriors in Empire of the Petal Throne

After yesterday's run through of character creation, the thing that really stuck with me is that the skill list for fighters is broken. Melee skills except for sword and dagger all come before missile skills, and plain old bowman will take the fighter that rolls a 50 6th level and 51-80 5th level.

So taking a leaf from history, I'll organize skills along military battlefield roles, instead of specific weapons. It is not that different using an axe and a mace in terms of the skills and biomechanics, for example. By reorganizing this way, the progression is more natural, toward more heavily drilled and specialized combat forms and then leadership. A character will have all the basic combat skills a bit earlier, and the missile skills considerably earlier, with leadership skills a bit more fine grained at the top end. Later combat skills supercede earlier ones regarding weapons use, armor, morale, ability to lead, etc.

1  Skirmisher - Many ancient armies had their youngest members in the lightest infantry role, expected to throw things like javelins or rocks, and maybe melee briefly against other lights or disorganized/demoralized heavies. They can use bucklers, daggers, and clubs in melee, but not well, -1 to hit and damage with these. They can select one of the serious missile weapons in addition to the above. With archery, bolas, staff slings or slings they are -1 to hit and to damage. Crossbows are -1 to hit and an extra turn to reload. Reduce their range with all of these missile weapons by 1/2. They are not yet armor trained. -2 on morale rolls in melee situations. Simple maneuvers only, but are used to swarm outward and back and take advantage of defensive terrain.

2  Levy Spearman OR Warband: Levy spearman - Leather armor training, can fight in close order and use full shields. Decent at combat with a spear, a poleaxe or one handed weapons without particular skill or subtlety. -1 to hit with these.  Not particularly skillful in maneuvers. Not very steady. -1 on morale in melee. Can serve as sapper crew but not lead.    Warband, same but very poorly drilled and impetuous, no penalty with one hand weapons, no penalty on melee morale, -1 morale when subjected to missile fire. Cannot be a sapper crew.

3  Missiles - Armor training up to chainmail, can initially fight with full skill with one missile weapon, and -1 to hit and 3/4 range with others, gaining one additional weapon at full to hit and range at each character level after the first in which the skill is first gained. Trained to execute simple battlefield maneuvers. Can use bows, crossbows, slings, staff slings, bolas.  One handed melee sidearms without shield can be used at -1 to hit. -1 on morale in melee. Can serve as artillery crew. Can lead a squad of missile troops or skirmishers.

4  Phalanx - well drilled, all armor trained, close order. No penalties with spear or pike. Can use any shields. -1 to hit with one hand sidearms like swords, axes, maces, or two handed special pole arms like flails and halberds. Normal morale in melee. Can lead a squad of Phalanx or levy.

5  Legionary - extremely well drilled, capable of complex maneuvers like formation changes to allow line replacement without disorder, forming the tortoise or opening lanes to pass large enemies through their formation. All armor trained. Any shields. No penalties with one handed melee weapons, spears, javelins. +1 morale in melee. Can lead a squad of legionaries or any earlier skill type. Can be sapper crew.

6  Shock Troops - Fully skilled with two handed heavy weapons, any armor, well drilled. Skilled in breaking up spear and pike formations. +1 morale in melee. Grappling at +1. Can lead any combat infantry squad.

7  Fencer - +1 to hit, parry, and damage with a single sword or dagger and off hand empty. Can fight with sword and dagger together per the standard rules. Formed combat is not an issue. Armor is addressed by other skills by the time. +2 morale in melee. Not about leadership.

8  Junior Officer - lead a company sized formation up to around 100. More in a pinch at a penalty.

9 Sapper OR Logistics Officer - can manage entrenchment, mining operations, build mantlets, siege rams and towers OR  manage accounting for and supplying large formations

10 Catapult-Artillery Officer - as per the catapult/artilleryman skill in the book. Can command, target, and build artillery siege engines  OR Intelligence and Planning Officer

11 Command Officer - can lead a battalion sized formation, and includes whichever skill was skipped from 9.

12 Strategist - skilled in leading whole legions and armies, and includes whichever skill was skipped from 10.