Anakin, Daenerys & Math

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way – I love Star Wars (including The Last Jedi) and have enjoyed the Game of Thrones novels and television series so much that I analyzed the contents of the books to predict the series’ future. The following article addresses major plot points from the final season of Game of Thrones, so if you’re somehow not up-to-date on the final season’s details… congratulations on coming out of that coma and welcome back!

Anakin Daenerys

I’ve had this article in my mind since Dany’s ill-fated destruction of King’s Landing because I lived through many – and let me say again, many – discussions and debates about the adequacy of a prominent fantasy character’s heel turn. Fourteen years ago, the world finally learned what it was the pushed Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force, and the response was, “Wait, that’s it?” Ken Tucker at New York Magazine phrased it this way:

Worse yet, after all these years, Anakin/Vader turns out to be a petulant wuss, a brat who chooses evil because he didn’t get the Jedi promotion he wanted. Instead of meaningful anti-heroism, we’ve got this bitter fellow gulled by the ego strokes and patently false promises of Ian McDiarmid’s Senator Palpatine.

TPM Teaser PosterFor many in my circle of friends back in 2005 (before social media got its clutches into all of us), Anakin’s turn immediately felt – for lack of a better word – lame. We grew up with Vader being the end-all, be-all of menacing villains only to see him ultimately redeem himself by saving his son, Luke, and destroying the Emperor (or so we thought). We were then introduced to the premise that we would see Anakin well before he turned into Darth Vader, and the possibilities of watching him become Darth Vader were intoxicating. The theories about how and why Anakin turned into Vader provided endless hours of speculation for my friends, which were fueled by one of the most-effective movie posters in recent decades.

The Phantom Menace did not give fans much of an answer about why Anakin ultimately chooses a path of evil in his future, though I never understood why the Jedi could not rescue his mother! Attack of the Clones gave Anakin some scenes to demonstrate that he feels misunderstood and held back; not to mention the anger that he unleashes after finding his mother murdered (again, why couldn’t the Jedi help her out?).

I remember talking with friends about “that look” that Anakin gives before murdering Tusken Raiders. That felt like Vader; the scene indicated that Anakin was capable of terrible things, and the relationship with Padme demonstrated his willingness to break rules and keep secrets. It set the stage for his transformation into Vader in the next film.

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Iddy Approved: Monsters & Heroes of the Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book

Monster Coloring Book
“Color Me Badd!”

Many moons ago, I was given a free copy of both Dungeonology and the Monsters & Heroes of the Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book. (Thank you, Wizards of the Coast and Greg Tito!) Since there are already a bounty of useful reviews about Dungeonolgy, which is a nifty book to be sure, I decided to write an article about the later while incorporating some psychological concepts.

It’s what I do.

The adult coloring book industry has mushroomed in recent years and many book stores have entire sections devoted to this activity. Coloring is often marketed as a relaxation device to adults, which seems intuitively accurate. Engaging in a hobby that requires attention – anything form woodworking to knitting to painting miniatures – forces us to tune out extraneous variables and lock in to one thing.

Save Versus Multitasking

Multitasking is a bane of my existence. Earlier in life, I thought I was truly proficient in multitasking. I doodled in notebooks in high school while taking notes and listening to the teacher during classes. I achieved good grades (except for that one Biology class), and figured this was evidence that I could juggle multiple cognitive tasks well. As recently as this week, I get up before work to walk on the treadmill while watching a hockey game on the television AND playing Hearthstone on my cell phone. The good news is this never ended in an injury. The bad news is I probably do all of those things poorly.

I miss a lot of details from the hockey game.

I make countless misplays in Hearthstone.

And my posture is likely terrible because I look down at my phone for the better part of 30-45 minutes while walking.

One could say that I was multitasking well because I combined exercise with my enjoyment of professional ice hockey and video games. Another point of view is that I’m doing a disservice to all three activities because I’m not focused on any of them.

Now that I have a newborn in the house, multitasking is even less effective. I’ve tried to balance feeding him while doing other things.

It doesn’t go well!

Coloring as Stress Management?

Coloring is an activity that is difficult to combine with something else. Perhaps one can listen to music or have a show or movie on in the background, but coloring requires you to stay in one place and focus on filling in spaces with different pens or pencils. Many of the coloring pages have intricate shapes and tiny details that encourage the artist to concentrate on his or her coloring efforts. This level of strict concentration on one activity can be soothing.

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Analyzing the PAX 2014 D&D Live Game

Minding my own business last week, I was passive-aggressively challenged by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish to return to my roots and perform an analysis on the latest installment of Dungeons & Dragons played by the members of Acquisitions Incorporated. My first blog post back in 2011 was an analysis of the Penny Arcade/PvP podcast to track the duration of combat in 4th Edition D&D. I followed this up with another analysis of a later combat encounter in the Penny Arcade/PvP podcast series. In those posts, I was able to add meaningful data to the (then) ongoing discussion about the length of combat in 4th Edition. Mike figured it made sense to task me with using the same technique to investigate combat in 5th Edition.

I had not yet watched the PAX 2014 Live Game of Dungeons & Dragons featuring Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, Scott Kurtz, and Morgan Webb of Acquisitions Incorporated. They were joined by a special guest, Patrick Rothfuss, and dealt with whatever Dungeon Master extraordinaire, Chris Perkins, threw at them. For those that have not yet watched the video, the two-plus hour session is below, and it is wonderfully entertaining!

Below, a description of the method used to code the first combat encounter featured in the PAX 2014 Live Game is given, and then data from that analysis is organized and discussed. Analyzing the session resulted in several intriguing questions including the surprising basic inquiry: Is the group playing Dungeons & Dragons?

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Game of Thrones: By The Numbers

SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains massive spoilers for the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series of Game of Thrones novels in the form of an analysis of the books’ content. As such, it also contains massive spoilers for future seasons of the television adaptation of Game of Thrones seen on HBO. Anyone who is not interested in learning about major plot points and the progression of the characters from the series should not read the post below. You have been warned.

You Know Nothing, Id DM

Original art created by Grant Gould. Arya Stark is awesome. Carry on.
Original art created by Grant Gould. Arya Stark is awesome. Carry on.

Numerous friends have encouraged me to read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels for several years. After holding out, I picked up the first novel leading up to Season 1 of the show appearing on Netflix (we do not have HBO). I enjoyed the writing and some of the characters although I could not believe that Eddard was killed – off camera no less. I kept waiting for him to reappear later in the book – perhaps the execution blow was a literal feint (keep this sentence in mind later). But poor Ned did indeed die and I ventured on to the sequel, A Clash of Kings. The second novel followed the same basic template and culminated in the riveting Battle of Blackwater. However, by the time I got to the third novel, A Storm of Swords, I was in the midst of moving cities and changing jobs.

The following conversation actually transpired about one year ago:

Grant Gould: So did you finish the books yet?

Me: No, I’m on the third one. It just got really boring.

Grant: Boring? That is the best book in the series!

Me: I dunno. I stopped reading a while ago. They were at some wedding and it was just dragging on and on. I lost interest.

Grant: <private heart attack>

Me: Are you there?

Grant: … yeah, just trust me and start reading again. The second half of that book is insane.

Yes, I stopped reading A Storm of Swords for several months because I was bored about 66% through the Red Wedding chapter. When I finally did pick up the book again to read it, Robb was executed maybe a page or two from where I stopped reading. I find that hilarious, and I can only imagine Grant was secretly dying inside when I told him where I stopped reading. He was kind enough to allow permission for some of his artwork to be included in this post. Please check out his latest sketchbook featuring a terrific Game of Thrones mash-up cover, Djorah Unchained.

I devoted the last few months finishing the series and concluded A Dance with Dragons while vacationing in South Dakota last month. I was able to enjoy the books spoiler-free but I after I finished the series, I had numerous questions and challenges regarding commonly held assumptions about the series.

When in doubt, compile data! What follows is numerous charts breaking down the content featured in the Game of Thrones novels. The data demonstrate how the structure of the story has changed over time, and how George R. R. Martin’s reputation for killing major characters is completely inaccurate.

And seriously – if you want to avoid spoilers – STOP READING NOW!

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Combat Speed in D&D Next

Over the weekend, I was finally able to play Dungeons & Dragons Next. Our group had first playtested the game over a month ago, but I had to miss that session. I jumped into the fray as Professor Giroux, High Elf Wizard. I enjoyed my time playing D&D Next, although I cannot provide grand conclusions regarding the game system for a variety of reasons.

Don't let his male-pattern baldness fool you. Professor Giroux can BRING THE PAIN.
Who needs armor when you have robes as resplendent as these?

First, it was the first time I played with a DM other than the gentleman who has been running our Scales of War campaign well for the past two years. The DM for our session of D&D Next also did a wonderful job and I enjoyed his style. Second, it was the first time I played with the specific collection of players at the table. A new player joined the group for their first D&D Next session and I had not met him previously. He was also a good addition to the game, but attempting to compare two game systems (4e and Next) between two campaign settings run by different DMs with different players is like comparing apples to hand grenades.

There have been many columns on initial impressions of D&D Next and I’ll certainly offer a few of mine before the end of the article. But I wanted to focus on the specific factor of combat time, which is how this blog started way back when. Below, I present preliminary data collected during my first D&D Next session, which illustrates a vast difference in combat time compared to other data available on 4th Edition D&D combat encounters.

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Dungeon Mastering: Theory & Practice

Several moons ago, I posed the following question on Twitter, “What is your biggest flaw as a DM?” I also asked, “What is your biggest strength as a DM?” It should come as little surprise that more DMs responded to the Flaw than Strength question because people remember negative events better than positive events. I had every intention of writing about the responses I got from DMs but was distracted by numerous things – one of which was rampant speculation about D&D Next.

Perfection? Look closer.

I have read with interest the updates regarding the design motivations for D&D Next. Many of the articles have focused on theoretical issues such as archetypal characters, edition reunification and other specific rule changes. When I finally returned to the list of personal flaws DMs provided, I was struck by how little their responses related to gaming mechanics and rules and how much they applied to the practical issues of running a game. While specific questions like, “How should Turn Undead function for a Cleric?” are interesting and perhaps even essential to facets of game design, the focus on mechanical issues seems to overlook the needs expressed by DMs.

Below, I discuss the numerous responses I received from DMs regarding their “biggest flaw” and organize their responses in several categories. Since I do not have access to the materials that will be provided for DMs to run D&D Next, I returned to 4th Edition manuals – specifically Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 (DMG 2) – to investigate the proportion of content that addresses the most common DM flaws. I conclude by advocating for a new paradigm in future DMG manuals with clear education on not only game theory (e.g., rules, mechanics) but also practice (e.g., communication with players, managing the table).

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Disposable Heroes: What Does Save Or Die Really Kill?

Earlier this month, a spotlight was shone on the save or die game mechanic by members of the development team for Dungeons & Dragons Next. The vast majority of my experience with D&D is through 4th Edition, which is built with less lethality as the default option compared to earlier editions. For example, our group played a BASIC D&D game last year and the character I played died while I was away from the table during a 90-second roundtrip to use the bathroom. I left the table while the character had full health only to return to a corpse riddled by zombie teeth and claw marks. The lethality of the game has certainly shifted over time, and the developers of D&D Next are now seeking input about the utility of the most lethal aspect of D&D – save or die effects.

As a relative newcomer to D&D and tabletop roleplaying games, I find the save or die mechanic fascinating for all that it means for the game and those playing it. I have been playing computer- and console-based RPGs and other videogames since Atari and I cannot think of an equivalent mechanic to save or die. I have never played World of Warcraft or similar games, but I have learned if a character dies, his or her progress is not lost forever. The player – and character – continue to adventure another day. Even thinking about punishing games like the original Ninja Gaiden on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which resulted in a multitude of deaths, they still featured the same protagonist after the character died. No matter how many times the player was punctured by throwing stars or knocked out of the sky by birds, the player still continued Ryu’s journey set forth by his father.

Ignoring Raise Dead and other options, D&D is one of the few games I’ve played where character death is FINAL. Save or die effects add an element of chance to the finality; saving throws in 4th Edition, not factoring in any relevant modifiers, will fail 45% of the time. In earlier editions, the fail rate was less favorable to the player. Fail a save, and the adventure was immediately over for that character forever. This strikes me as an odd way to manage a roleplaying game in terms of fostering a level of attachment and emotional investment from a player.

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