Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Day

Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." There is something in the universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, "Truth crushed to earth will rise again."

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fatherhood and motherhood: a definition

I was talking with K. about my daughter, and about how having daughters is a new experience for me because I've only ever had sisters before. And I feel like explaining my definitions for relationships because you can't understand how I feel about my kids without knowing how I think about fatherhood.

Okay, first thing. Fundamentally, "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." (D&C 93:29) That is, I don't think fatherhood or motherhood is fundamentally rooted in an act of creation ex nihilo ("the people who made you exist"), because the gospel tells us that there is no creation ex nihilo. This is true for earthly parents ("I lived in Heaven a long time ago, it is true") and even for spiritual parents. So what is a father or a mother?

My working definitions are these:

Parent (father or mother): someone from whom you will inherit traits. Someone you will grow up to resemble. In a spiritual sense, Heavenly Father is and always has been willing to be our Father in every sense, but some people (like Cain) choose Satan for their Father and inherit what Satan has and is (nothing) instead of what the Father has and is (everything). Hence they are called the "sons [and daughters] of Perdition [which means 'loss']."

Siblings (brother or sister): someone who shares one or more parents with you. Can also be used metaphorically for those for whom you feel an inbuilt kinship, a sense that you have similarities, whether or not there is an identifiable parent in common from whom you both inherit those similarities.

Friends: people with whom you get along well, but who aren't necessarily headed to the same metaphorical destination you are. They're growing up to be someone else.

Family Pets: adorable creatures who are to be appreciated for their own sake and treated kindly, but aren't expected to inherit anything.

Children (sons and daughters): someone whom you intend to inherit from you. Someone whom you're trying to help become more like you. From this angle, there is nothing weird about the fact that Jesus Christ, for example, sometimes refers to us as his children even though we usually think of him primarily as an eldest brother. He has a paternal interest in us by virtue of wanting us to follow in his footsteps (which were also his and our Father's footsteps before him). But I think he doesn't mind at all if we think of him as a brother and not our father.

Spouse (husband or wife): this is kind of a special relationship because you're sort of mutually inheriting traits from each other as you jointly develop towards your ultimate metaphorical destination. Your spouse's role is neither to be an influencer (like a parent) nor an influencee (like a child, though of course it's not strictly one-way), but sort of both at the same time. Choose your spouse as carefully as you once chose your parents.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On Admitting Ignorance and Asking Questions

From another discussion:

How Admitting Ignorance Might Have Prevented A Nuclear Holocaust.

Excerpt from Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis

Most accounts of the missile crisis attempt to answer the central questions by comparing competing hypotheses, examining specific details of the deployment of missiles in Cuba or the blockade for clues to governments' goals and intentions. On the assumption that actors do what they intended, the details of actions taken and comparisons of the costs and benefits of the different options provide evidence about intent. Yet despite the best efforts in analyzing the behavior of the Soviet and American governments in this case, including our Chapter 2, anomalies and inconsistencies abound; "inexplicables" invite attention through the lens of organizational behavior.

As a point of departure consider the troublesome Jupiter IRBM missiles (15 in all) deployed to Turkey under Turkish control, along with their nuclear warheads, which would remain under U.S. control. Originally a highly publicized gesture of reassurance to allies fearful of the Soviet ballistic missiles being fielded in the late 1950s, the crude liquid-fueled Jupiters, along with F-100 fighter-bomber aircraft and their nuclear bombs, were by 1962 part of NATO's plans for defending Europe, specifically the eastern flank—namely Turkey. These pieces on the chessboard greatly complicated the challenge President Kennedy faced in managing a confrontation with the Soviet Union over Cuba.

Unraveling the more important threads of this story requires entry into the arcane world of military acronyms or, as a colleague has named it, "acronymphomania." The term refers to the practice prevalent in Washington, especially in the Pentagon, of using acronyms that many participants in discussions do not understand but are afraid to ask about lest they expose their ignorance. In the case of Turkey, the most important acronyms were: EDP and QRA. These stand for: Emergency (or European) Defense Plan and Quick Reaction Alert.

A vignette from the tapes of the missile crisis deliberations captures Kennedy as he discovers EDP. On October 21, in one of the few direct presidential orders of those two weeks, he dictates that a special order be sent to Turkey giving commanders explicit instructions. They should not fire their nuclear weapons, even if they were attacked, unless and until they had a direct order from the White House. At the meeting on the morning of October 22, the Deputy Secretary of Defense reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff object to sending out such a special order and thus that none had been sent.

Kennedy repeats his instruction: "We may be attacking the Cubans, and a reprisal might come. We don't want these nuclear warheads firing without our knowing about it." Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze responds, explaining that the Chiefs thought such a special instruction "compromises their standing instructions." Eager to avoid conflict between the President and the Chiefs, Bundy and Taylor attempt to move the conversation along, observing that a reminder to commanders to be sure to check their standing instructions requiring presidential authorization for the use of nuclear weapons should suffice.

But then Nitze let the cat out of the bag. "They [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] did come back with another point, and that is: NATO strategic contact requires the immediate execution of EDP in such events." Many participants undoubtedly wondered: what do "strategic contact" or "EDP" mean? In most discussions, however, that much acronymphomania, especially from authorities who presumably know what they are doing, would strangle questions.

Not with President Kennedy, who persists: "What's EDP?" Nitze replies, "The European Defense Plan, which is nuclear war. So that means . . ." Kennedy interrupts, "Now, that's why we ordered that [special instruction] on that."

Backpedaling, Nitze tried to explain that the standing order did require presidential authorization. Yet Kennedy pushed to the deeper point. "They [in Turkey] don't know . . . what we know," he said. "And therefore they don't realize the chance there will be a spot reprisal. And what we've got to do is make sure these fellows do know, so that they don't fire them off and put the United States under attack. I don't think we ought to accept the Chiefs' word on that one, Paul."

Recognizing that he has dug himself into a hole, Nitze tries to stop and move on: "I've got your point and we're going to get to that." The Cabinet Room erupts in laughter. But sensing the president's skepticism, Bundy says, "Send me the documents, and I will show them to a doubting master." More laughter. In the end, an hour later, the instruction Kennedy wanted was sent. It said unambiguously, "make certain that the Jupiters in Turkey and Italy will not be fired without specific authorization from the President. In the event of an attack, either nuclear or non-nuclear . . . U.S. custodians are to destroy or make inoperable the weapons if any attempt is made to fire them." The instructions were kept secret from the Turks, Italians, and other NATO allies.

Kennedy's caution was well founded. While Nitze and the Chiefs were certainly right that presidential authorization was legally required in order to authorize any use of U.S. nuclear weapons, all—including Kennedy—knew that the president had, by earlier order, delegated some of this authority to NATO entities in the event of attack. There were at least two reasons for such predelegation. The first was that a Soviet nuclear attack might well kill the president and other leaders before they could issue orders for retaliation. So to keep the Soviets from being tempted by this scenario, launch authority was delegated in advance if such a contingency occurred. (Presumably, the Soviets should know about the arrangement, although it is not clear anyone told them.) The second reason for predelegation was that some allied governments, such as Germany, sought proof that all NATO nuclear weapons would be used under certain predetermined conditions, so that Soviet attack would be deterred by a more automatic response that left little to chance or whims of an American president. To address the first concern the Eisenhower administration had predelegated its nuclear use authority "in the event of a nuclear attack upon the United States," authenticated as such if possible. To address the second, Eisenhower had predelegated the authority to use nuclear weapons for the defense of U.S. forces based overseas if there was "grave necessity," subject to required consultation with allies.

Don't ever be afraid to admit that you don't know something. Some day, it could save the entire world from annihilation.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Simultaneous initiative in 5E

Simultaneous initiative

From another thread:

Originally Posted by Hemlock 
I abandoned cyclic initiative almost as soon as I started running my own 5E games; you don't need to roll initiative every round at all. You only need to roll initiative when something happens that puts the order of actions front and center, e.g. when two people have a Readied Action on the same trigger (Nox: "as soon as the lights turn on I'll cast Hold Person on the githyanki!"; Githyanki: "as soon as the lights turn on I'll run over and kill Nox!") or when their actions are mutually exclusive (Neogi Wizard: "I cast Fireball on Nox"; Nox: "I duck behind total cover").

In all other situations, initiative for the round is irrelevant and can be ignored, although some players like to roll it anyway and resolve things in initiative order instead of going around and resolving in table order (e.g. counterclockwise around the table). For large combats (eight or more combatants) I often have players roll initiative to keep it simpler, but for combats with only a few key players like the aforementioned gladiatorial combat against an ogre, you can totally ignore initiative unless there happens to be a round where both the ogre and the PC barbarian get in killing blows (which didn't happen), in which case you need to roll initiative to see who goes first.

Cyclic initiative (each player declares and then acts on his own turn during a fixed initiative cycle) is the wrong solution to the "too much rolling initiative" problem. The right solution is to just roll initiative as-needed instead of constantly.

[Again, the key problem with cyclic initiative is the way it forces 50-80% of the players into inactivity when it's not "their turn," though there are other problems too like how it confuses people when they run scenarios involving surprise or hidden combatants. But the main problem is that cyclic initiative creates a notion of "turn" which is distinct from "round" and then forces players not to participate in other peoples' turns.]

Originally Posted by CapnZapp
Sorry, you've lost me. 

Let's take a quick example. Four heroes on a cart are ambushed by half a dozen goblins hiding behind some bushes up the road. Let's not focus on the ambush rules for this. I just would like you to explain how you run the combat. 

There are four PCs and six monsters. A very commonplace and ordinary combat, wouldn't you say?

I get that each player is asked to declare his action. But where does the time savings come in? Do you have each player resolve his action by himself, once you've determined that there are nothing stopping that action from happening?

And do you always assume a PC acts before the goblin (or goblins) that he's attacking and attacked by?

Or what?

(On second thought, perhaps it would be best if you replied in a new thread, but I leave that decision up to you)
Ambushes don't add much complexity, so let's leave the ambush part in there.

The basic rules I use are pretty simple: declare actions in order of Int (lowest to highest) to represent that quicker thinking gives you a shorter OODA loop; all turns occur simultaneously, but actions within a round/turn sometimes need to roll initiative to find out which one goes first; some actions (like Dodge, or maintaining a held action) are considered whole-round activities instead of events within a round, and so they automatically win initiative contests; you can delay your action until everyone else commits to an action, but that makes you automatically lose all initiative contests. (Essentially, you declare Delay as your action, and then you get to declare a new action after everyone else goes.)

So in this case, four heroes are on a cart, and the goblins have all rolled high stealth and won't be detected. The heroes are alert and won't be "surprised", but they do lose initiative automatically (as if they had all implicitly declared Delay, which is the default action).

DM: as you're riding along past a hill past a narrow spot in the road, six arrows suddenly arc in towards you. [Rolls dice] Vlad, you catch a glimpse of a goblin's grinning face in the bushes here right before his arrow hits you for 8 points of damage.

Vlad: can I Shield? 

DM: it's only a 14, and I think you would have been alert for possible trouble and aren't surprised, so okay, you Shield. Lose 2 spell points instead of 8 HP. Cranduin, you're hit once too for 4 points of damage; two other arrows clang off your armor. Jack, you got lucky--two arrows were aimed at you but they both missed. There's a brief rustling noise and you lose track of the goblins' whereabouts--they're somewhere within the brush but you're not sure where.

Eladriel (Shadow Monk): guys, let me check this out. I'm hopping out of the cart and making a sweep through the bushes.

Vlad: okay, we'll Delay until she checks it. [Cranduin and Jack nod assent]

DM: El, roll your Wisdom (Perception) check to see if you spot the goblins.

El: 9. [wince]

DM: You don't see anything.

Jack: I'm granting her Bardic Inspiration, and then I'm going to duck down too behind cover and Hide. [starts to roll dice--DM sees it and doesn't stop him because it doesn't look like anyone else is going to declare, and besides the goblins have already gone] 25!

Vlad: I'm going to stop the wagon and crouch down for partial cover behind the edge of the wagon, and Ready a Chill Touch for the first goblin that I see.

Cranduin: I'm going to hop out of the wagon too, to give Vlad some extra cover, and put on my shield and draw my longsword.

DM: Okay, you all do that. Next round. The goblins have all made their action decisions, but since you can't see them I'm not going to tell you what they are, though I suspect you can guess.

Vlad: still holding my Eldritch Blast.

El: Delay.

Cranduin: I'm going to Ready myself to charge over and attack the first goblin who shows his face.

DM: Okay, you'll be ready to attack the first goblin who breaks cover, as long as he is within your 30' movement range.

Jack: I'm still hidden for now, so I'll Delay.

DM: [rolls a handful of dice] Vlad! Three arrows aimed at you--does a 17 hit?

Vlad: Yes, but I'll Shield--oh, stink. I can't if I've already spent my reaction, can I?

DM: Nope. [consults dice, including initiative rolls] One arrow arcs in and misses you, and you blast him right back with Chill Touch. Roll please.

Vlad: 10, miss.

DM: Another arrow misses you, and then a third one, that 17, hits you right in the ribs for 6 points of damage.

Vlad: wait, I forgot about partial cover! My AC this round is 18, not 16!

DM: awesome for you! It hits the wagon right below your ribs.

Vlad: whew!

DM: all three of those goblins fade back into the bushes and you can't spot them any more. Cranduin, what's your initiative this round? The slowest of Vlad's three goblins had a 19 initiative and I doubt you can beat them.

Cranduin: [rolls] Uh, 3.

DM: ...well, I guess you're last. Three goblins also shoot arrows at Eladriel. El, there's one crit, which I assume you're going to try to catch [waits for confirming nod from her] for 11 points of damage minus your missile snatch, and then another 20 which also hits you I think, and then a clear miss.

El: [rolls] I block exactly 11 points of damage.

DM: Okay, you're hit once for 8 points of damage by the second arrow. Cranduin moves to intercept that goblin but he's too slow to hit it before it can try to hide again. However! One of the three that shot at you, the one that got the crit, rolls only a 12 on his Stealth check and you're able to see where he still is and point him out to Cranduin. Go for it, Cran!

Cranduin: [rolls] I got... a 9. Total. I miss.

DM: all right, that still leaves El and Jack with actions for this turn.

El: I attack that goblin, three times including Martial Arts. [rolls] One hit with my staff for 10 points of damage.

DM: And he goes down! Jack?

Jack: Can I very quietly grant inspiration to Cranduin without leaving my hiding place?

DM: Sure. You're like, [whispers furtively] "Fight! Fight! Fight! for the right!" [everyone laughs]

Jack: Okay, I do that.

DM: Okay, round three and you're still facing five goblins, as far as you know. They've got their actions ready but you don't know what they are, and... [etc.]

And that's basically how it works. As you can see, initiative is rolled relatively infrequently*, and the players are as fully-engaged with the game and each other as they would be in a social scene or other noncombat activity. Instead of spending 50-80% of their time sitting around doing nothing, not "allowed" to do anything because it's not "their turn," the players have the freedom to interact with each other and declare actions when they're ready to commit to something, or to wait for a better opportunity later by Delaying. You'll notice that one of the players (Jack's player) is apparently even still thinking more in roleplaying terms ("hide from the monsters!") than in terms of "optimal" tactics like readying attacks or making active perception rolls by Searching.

This style of play should be familiar to anyone who ever read the 2nd edition PHB, since it's almost exactly what AD&D used to use. The main difference is that AD&D didn't explicitly spell out the fact that sometimes initiative rolls don't matter and can be skipped, and it also didn't have the concept of Delaying. (I got the idea of Delay from fencing.)


* You can see that nothing would change no matter what order the initiative rolls came out in. The only time in the whole scenario when initiative matters is seeing whether Crandruin Readies an action in time to intercept one of the goblins before it can try to Hide again.

Read more:

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Spell points by formula: 5E variant rule


I have been using the DMG spell point system since the DMG first came out. I understand your issues with not liking tables, and frankly I don't see a big reason why you couldn't just interpolate a simple formula and use that instead. It's already a fairly linear progression. One formula that comes fairly close is: spell points = 4 * LEVEL ^ (1 + LEVEL/100), rounded to the nearest integer. At level 1 this gives you 4 spell points; at level 5 you have 22 spell points; at level 11 you have 57 spell points; and by level 20 you have 146. Those numbers are all reasonably close to the DMG numbers (4, 27, 73, 133) although somewhat underpowered at low levels--they don't quite catch up to the DMG numbers until level 16, except for an anomaly at level 2 and a smaller anomaly at level 4. But they do remain within 2 levels of DMG numbers at all times.

Spell points by level:
Level 1 (DMG) 4 (formula) 4
Level 2 (DMG) 6 (formula) 8
Level 3 (DMG) 14 (formula) 12
Level 4 (DMG) 17 (formula) 17
Level 5 (DMG) 27 (formula) 22
Level 6 (DMG) 32 (formula) 27
Level 7 (DMG) 38 (formula) 32
Level 8 (DMG) 44 (formula) 38
Level 9 (DMG) 57 (formula) 44
Level 10 (DMG) 64 (formula) 50
Level 11 (DMG) 73 (formula) 58
Level 12 (DMG) 73 (formula) 65
Level 13 (DMG) 83 (formula) 73
Level 14 (DMG) 83 (formula) 81
Level 15 (DMG) 94 (formula) 91
Level 16 (DMG) 94 (formula) 100
Level 17 (DMG) 107 (formula) 110
Level 18 (DMG) 114 (formula) 121
Level 19 (DMG) 123 (formula) 133
Level 20 (DMG) 133 (formula) 146

Furthermore, I doubt the missing spell points would be all that sorely missed, since spell points systems give greater flexibility and there is less pressure to conserve some of every type of slot. A regular PHB 9th level wizard with only a 3rd level slot and two 1st level slot remaining would be quite nervous; but a spell point wizard with 9 spell points left is likely is be relatively cool and collected because he can still utilize any of his memorized spells and still have power a 1st level spell like Shield or Expeditious Retreat for emergencies. If you gave me a choice between running a spell point wizard under this formula or a PHB spell slot wizard, I'd take spell points every time.

My opinions on the 6th+ level slot issue are mostly theorycraft, because I've only played characters at those level in one-shots. IMO the biggest impact of that rule is that it makes multiclassing more attractive; since you can't get multiple 6th+ slots per day anyway, and you already have plenty of spell points, you might as well consider investing two levels in Rogue or Fighter or Warlock or something somewhere along the line instead of sticking with pure spellcaster classes.

Aesthetically I don't like the 6th+ limitation because it prevents it from being a real spell point system; it's actually a hybrid spell slot/spell point system because you still have to keep track of slots 6, 7, 8, and 9. But I don't have an elegant solution either, because 5E does clearly intend to keep a lid on level 6+ spells in a way that it doesn't for spell levels 1-5. (E.g. Arcane Recovery doesn't work with them, Sorcerers can't create them from sorcery points, etc.) If you held a knife to my throat and made me come up with a solution now I would simply increase the cost exponentially after level 5 and drop the 1/day restriction: spells over level 7 cost (14 * 1.4^(LEVEL - 5)) spell points, rounded to the nearest number.

Level 6: 20 spell points
Level 7: 27 spell points
Level 8: 38 spell points
Level 9: 54 spell points

Only the mightiest wizards could ever dream of casting multiple high-level spells in a day, and doing so would drain them utterly. That seems like it would maintain the flavor of 6th+ level spells in 5E: they're rare and significant.

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."