Thursday, July 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy in D&D Gamma World: Rocket Raccoon

Like most geeks, I am extremely excited about Guardians of the Galaxy. The latest Marvel Studios film is a brave leap into the lesser known characters of the Marvel-verse. Until Dan Abnett, Keith Giffen, and Andy Lanning's run on Annihilation the Guardians -like Alpha Flight - had been an acquired taste of a small niche of comic book fans. Abnett and Lanning populated the new Guardians with a strange group of characters - otherwise comical characters - and put them in extreme circumstances. Following after Tolkien's model, the Guardians' narrative within Annihilation is that of the "common man." Sure Rocket and Groot are a competent pair, and Drax has been a Marvel heavy hitter in the past, but none of them match the cosmic might of Firelord, Silver Surfer, or Nova.

It made for compelling stuff and now that same band of misfits - and not those who bear the power cosmic - are going to be featured in the upcoming film.

I asked my friends in the Social Network-verse what game system they would use to run a Guardians of the Galaxy campaign and received some very good answers. Some would run it in Hero System, others in Savage Worlds, and still others in Bulldogs!. I am intimately familiar with two of those systems, and almost chose to create statistics in Savage Worlds, but in the end I chose Wizards of the Coasts' excellent D&D Gamma World as my game of choice. As I was thinking how to stat the characters in as simple a fashion as possible, the ideas just leaped out at me. Groot was a "Giant Plant" and that's all I needed to know to stat him. I'll likely attempt a Savage Worlds conversion in the future...and a Marvel Saga and Marvel Heroic as well as purchase a copy of Bulldogs!...but for now, I'm using D&D Gamma World. It should be noted that all characters will be 10th level as most Gamma Supers should be.

My first entry is none other than my twin daughters' - History and Mystery - favorite Guardian...

Monday, July 07, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons: 5th Edition and "Zones of Control"

Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post discussing how every edition of Dungeons & Dragons had miniature use as a part of its default mechanics assumptions.

Let me repeat that in clearer language. Every edition of Dungeons & Dragons is a miniatures based tactical role playing game.

As I wrote in the earlier post, this doesn't mean that those playing without miniatures were "playing the game wrong." I've played in at least one adventure in every edition of D&D and there are plenty of rules my gaming groups have either ignored or added to make our own experience more fun. Here are just a few ways my groups have modified game play:

1) None of the 1st Edition AD&D campaigns I've played in has ever used the Weapon Speed Factors or the Modifications for Armor Class.
2) I've played in 1st Edition games that used "Spell Points" for spell casters.
3) As a Game Master, I've disallowed non-Lawful Good Paladins in 3.x and 4e.
4) I had a DM who used Arduin's Damage System in his AD&D Campaign.
5) I've never used the initiative system from Eldritch Wizardry.
6) I give every race a second wind as a minor action (Dwarves get it as a free action) to speed up play.
7) One campaign I played in had us set our miniatures on the play mat in "Marching Order." No matter the shape of the room our characters were attacked based on that formation in Bard's Tale-esque fashion. We could have been in the center of a room 100' x 100' and all of the melee attacks would have been targeted at either the front row or the back row without anyone attacking our Magic Users in the middle.

Every one of the games I played with these groups was fun and thus none of these groups was playing "wrong." None of these groups played games to the rules as written either. No one - with the exception of organized play - should play to the rules as written. Role playing games are written to be adapted to play for your local gaming group. There are two key elements that allow for this without "breaking" the game. First, there are no winners and losers in D&D. The only way to win is to have fun and changing the rules for your local group is one way to create fun. Some changes are fun for a short time before they create more boredom than fun - in general - so there is room for advice regarding power scaling and Monte Haul campaigns, but the aim is to maximize fun. Second, most role playing games - excepting a couple of innovative Indie games - have a Game Master who moderates the game and who has absolute authority in rules interpretation in the local gaming group. So long as the Game Master is fair and focuses on keeping the game entertaining for the players in his or her group, then what rules are included or left out don't matter much.

Man...that's a lot of prefatory information. You can read the older post to see how each edition of D&D has implemented the use of what are called "Zones of Control" or "ZoCs" in great detail in the older post. The short version is this:

Original Edition (Chainmail): Once engaged in melee a unit was stuck until death or a failed morale check.

Original Edition (Alternate Combat): Not locked in combat, but adds "flanking" rules in Greyhawk Supplement. Swords & Spells supplement adds attacks of opportunity.

D&D Basic (Holmes): Attack of Opportunity against those leaving combat.

D&D Basic (Moldvay): Adds "Defensive Withdrawal" similar to "5 foot move" or "shift" in later editions.

1st Edition AD&D: Attack of Opportunity for withdrawal and Rear Attack Rules (Page 69 & 70 of DMG)

2nd Edition AD&D: Similar to 1st (Pages 81 to 84 of Revised DMG)

3rd Edition D&D: See image below.

3.5 Edition D&D: See image below.

Pathfinder: See image below.

4th Edition D&D: See image below.

Each of these editions demonstrates the influence of tactical wargames on the combat systems of each edition. It should also be noted that each edition of the game adds new layers of complexity regarding what affects whether you are in a Zone of Control and whether you are flanking an opponent. Pathfinder, 3rd Edition, 3.x, and 4th edition all have creatures with reach that expands their Zones of Control and each of those games has specific rules regarding how conditions influence your ability to flank other combatants. If you read the earlier article and examine the pages of the 1st Edition DMG you will see that there are rules similar to those implemented by later editions, but you will also wish that the earlier edition had created cool graphic representations like those of later editions.

5th edition (in the Basic Rules) takes a big step away from the trend and is even more abstract than the earliest editions of the game with regard to flanking. I would argue that 5th edition is the first edition with takes "no position" with regard to miniatures and carefully crafts descriptions so that combat can be run either way without house rules or dropping rules -- though it does still refer to "squares" from time to time. The new edition still includes Opportunity Attacks - a firm Zone of Control concept - as described on page 74. But instead of listing a specific amount of distance moved as in Moldvay, 1st AD&D, and later editions it merely lists the need to use the "Disengage" action. The Disengage action can be used with a tactical map, but doesn't require one as it is more narrative in its description than the older "Defensive Withdrawal."  The Rogue class on page 27 hints at the flanking rules for 5th edition which does not seem to entail a good deal of examining to see if combatants align properly on opposite sides of an opponent in a way that require illustration. Under Sneak Attack, the Basic rules state that you can deal extra damage if you have advantage OR "if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn't incapacitated, and you don't have disadvantage on the die roll." That's a pretty big shift toward simplicity and away from map use. While it could be argued that the 5 foot rule implies the use of maps, one could easily assume that a creature engaged in melee has an enemy within  feet. If this replaces needing opposite sides for advantage, this is a boon for mapless gaming. It is easily adaptable regardless. So what does this make 5th edition's Zone of Control rules based on the Basic Set?

5th Edition D&D: Attacks of Opportunity (strong ZoC) and potentially with Flanking if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marvel Villains & Vigilantes [Civil War]: Ant-Man

While I am in the process of researching my article on the first edition of Villains & Vigilantes, I thought that I might try to emulate something that the early writers of Different Worlds Magazine did and adapt some Marvel characters to the system. While the article I am researching is the second in my series of reviews of the games in the history of superhero rpgs -- the first can be found here -- discusses the first edition of Villains & Vigilantes, all of the adaptations I make will be for the more commonly available 2nd edition of the game. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the 2nd edition is more widely available on ebay, from FGU, or a "revised revised" edition from Jeff Dee and Jack Herman at Monkey House Games. The second is that the revised edition is an easier game to play than the first edition.

My hope/plan is to emulate the Friends and Foes from the excellent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Civil War Sourcebook to see how well the V&V system represents the characters in that product. This being the first of the adaptations, I've already notice some major differences in how V&V works versus the mechanics of Marvel Heroic. In this case, the way that Growth works. The Size change power is one of the wonkier powers in V&V because of the way that weight affects hit points and carrying capacity. As adapted, Eric O'Grady would be a pretty effective Solo character against many of the characters published by FGU and Monkey House Games.  If you are wondering, here are the guidelines I used to adapt.

1) As much as possible translated powers on a 1 to 1 basis. If a hero has Energy Blast, then they will get V&V Power Blast. The only exception might be if they have Energy Blast at the d12 level, then I might increase the damage capacity from the base V&V power.

2) For "Enhanced" statistics of up to d8, I give the Heightened "x" power at the "A" level -- +2d10 -- as opposed to the B level which is +3d10. For characters that have d10, they get B, and for those of d12 they get both A and B.

3) Base statistics tend to be in the 10 to 16 range. For example, O'Grady is a covert expert etc. so he has a 16 Agility. Most of his other stats were 10 to 12 before the bonus from powers/training.

4) Specialties are treated as Heightened Expertise and give +4 to the area on attack rolls or "saves" that are related to the expertise. Ant-Man has "Vehicles" expert and so any rolls he makes to drive - Agility Saves most likely - will receive a +4 bonus to his Agility for those purposes.

5) All Heightened Statistics results will be rolled and not selected in order to emulate the way that V&V works.

Those guidelines will be used in all cases. I will minimize my own editorial decisions to add powers or increase them, because Cam and crew did such a good job adapting the characters for Marvel Heroic and I thought it might be nice to be able to play through the campaign they developed with V&V stats.

You can access a PDF of these stats here.

As you can see, O'Grady is kind of a power house. We'll see how he compares to Araña in a future post.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Aesop's Fables and Regression Analysis

Who knew that Aesop was a source on the challenges of causal inference? I certainly didn't before reading the tale of THE WOMAN AND THE HEN to my daughters History and Mystery earlier this evening. There are many translations of the tale, but the Barnes & Noble edition that we own has an interesting moral for students of statistics and their utility in researching observational data. Before I reveal that moral, let me give you a quick paraphrase of the tale.

The Woman and the Hen
I once heard of a woman who owned a Hen that laid a single egg every day. These eggs were of the highest quality and the woman always received a high price for them when she sold them at the weekly farmer's market. One day, the woman wondered if she might be able to get the Hen to lay two eggs instead of one each day and so collected some observational data regarding the Hen's egg laying habits. She found that by feeding the single hen one ounce of feed a day the Hen would lay one egg. She hypothesized that feeding the chicken two ounces of feed a day would cause the Hen to lay two eggs a day. She tested this hypothesis by feeding the Hen the two ounces of feed for two weeks. In the process of the experiment, the Hen became overweight and stopped laying eggs altogether.
I modified the story the way I did because of the particular translated moral of the Barnes & Noble edition:

Figures are not always facts.

The moral is usually presented as some modification of "don't be greedy," but the formulation in my edition got me thinking about observational data and how collinearity can lead to bad inferences.

In the case of our woman, she sets forth to rigorously measure some observational data regarding her Hen's laying habits and finds collects the following information every day:

Hen = 1
Food = 1
Egg =1

From this information, she clearly imagines that the relationship is something like the following.

Egg = B1 + B(Food)

Instead of immediately seeing the collinearity problem in her data - because she didn't have STATA, R, or SPSS - she assumes that her B1 value is 0 and that the independent variable is food. If she was a little craftier, she might have decided that the relationship is something akin to:

Egg = B1 + B(Food) + B(Chicken)

Which is probably a better hypothesis as far as an overall model goes, but one which still suffers problems of collinearity. She should have noticed this trend almost immediately since there was zero variation in her data. Which brings us to the central problem here and that is the N of her observation pool. One cannot make generalizable statements from a single case. This is often what people mean when they say pithily that "data isn't the plural of anecdote." As smart as that sounds, it can actually be a very wrong statement because in opinion data with a sufficiently large sample that is randomly selected that is seeking to understand what people believe, the plural of anecdote is in fact data. 

For detailed discussions of Verbal Reports as Data, you can read Ericsson's paper. Suffice to say that anecdotes can be data if they are in a properly structured and controlled experiment or rigorously designed survey instrument. 

All of which is kind of beside the point of our tale, as the woman's problem is with pure observational data using a single subject in a very controlled fashion. The problems here are collinearity, lack of variation, and a small N. Even given the small N, if we had some variation in production and food given we could make a sound hypothesis for this one Hen.  Let's create a STATA do file that gives us this variation.

set obs 100
gen chicken=.
gen eggs=.
gen food=.
replace chicken=1
replace eggs=1
replace food=1
replace eggs = 2 if _n >10 & _n < 35
replace food = 2 if _n >=20
replace eggs = 0 if _n > 55
replace food = 0 if _n >74
regress eggs food chicken

This gives us the following result with Chicken removed due to collinearity. 

Here we can see that the amount of food does have an impact on egg production, but this would be based on observational data that the woman did not have for her Hen. It should be noted that the above information also tells us that if we don't feed the Hen at all, we will still produce .29 of an egg a day. All of which leads us to the same conclusion as Aesop that observational data can be misleading, even when statistically significant and where there visually appears to be a relationship.

This was probably the nerdiest post I've ever written, and it is filled with some holes as the model really could be refined to be much better as could the do file, but it all points to the same moral.

Be careful to have a good theory when designing statistical models. Excluded variables can matter, as can a lack of variation in the data. The woman would have been better served getting two Hens, or by varying the amount of food in a way that was rigorously experimental and not based on a single treatment. So my additional Aesop moral is:

Replication if Vital.