Saturday, October 9, 2010

DM Dream List

I've got a bug in my ear. "Celebrity DM" Chris Perkins was asked an interesting question: "If you could DM anybody, living, dead, or fictitious, who would you choose? He chose Lovecraft, Obama, Oprah, his interviewer, and Gary Gygax. Sadly, he chose not to elaborate. Intrigued, I decided I'd make my own list, with explanations and apologia. Throughout, I'm choosing them based not on who they are individually as much as who they could be as a roleplaying group. Therefore, any overlap should be strictly synergistic.

I choose Dante because I want someone who pays attention to political maneuverings, and also because I want someone who can completely immerse himself in the game, who could take the threads I'm offering and run with them. Dante demonstrates his ability in the Commedia to incorporate earlier ideas and spin them as his own, something so wholly necessary in roleplaying games that two others on this list will have that feature.

I pick Shakespeare not primarily because of his writing ability or his creation of many characters, though those things are quite helpful. I'd love to play in a game he DMed more than any other person on this list, but that's not what counts here. Many say that what made Shakespeare such a great playwright was that he was first an actor; his plays are still widely loved by actors for the freedom they cede to the performers, the variety of interpretations they allow. I want a player in my game who can fully embody a character, to make it his own--not simply play somebody else's character, but create it on the fly. And, of course, I think he'd like to hang out with Dante, too.

Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years as monarch of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, arguably the most powerful person of her day. At the same time she oversaw politics and wars, she managed her family and, when necessary, ceded power to the people. Every group of players needs a leader: someone to organize and strategize. I pick Victoria over either of the Elizabeths for a reason: Elizabeth I was a political actor primarily, even though she fought the Armada she will be remembered primarily for her politics; I've already got Dante for that. Additionally, she was in many ways a tyrant--not someone I want to sit across the DM screen from. For all of Elizabeth II's diplomacy, she doesn't wield enough actual power to be a strong leader. Persuasion and logic, sure, but not muscle. I imagine she would enjoy meeting and spending time with Dante and Shakespeare, to boot.

Yes, I know that I'm losing any gusto I have on this one. It's my list, so back off. After such incredible luminaries of the past, my fourth player needs to be Doctorow. For one, he seems like a person I'd just like to hang out with (Shakespeare would be another--but not necessarily Dante or Victoria), but that's only a secondary reason to be on this list. Doctorow is both a writer and a programmer. The writing he's done has been primarily from taking older concepts and spinning them off into completely new ideas. Additionally, he's collaborated with other authors more than occasionally, and is quite vocal in his praise of other authors. He even teaches at the Clarion SF school, showing his dedication to helping others. This should make him great for not only creating and maintaining his own character but also for working with the others in this group. Add to that his programming background, and he could help explain the rules to the others, a thing of no mean importance. As an activist and a contrarian he could also balance Dante and Victoria if power struggles or, with his seemingly limitless cheeriness, hurt feelings. Finally, he's he only person I've mentioned so far who has actually role-played (in the modern sense). I imagine he'd like to meet Shakespeare and Victoria, and also Dante. His directness might rub Victoria the wrong way at first, but if they're on equal footing socially, she'd get the hang of it; she was strong willed, but adaptable.

4. Tie: Genghis Khan or my brother Will
Okay, sure. Have I lost all my street cred? Out of anyone in the world, and I can't choose between Genghis Khan and my own brother? For one: we need someone focused in both tactics and strategy, and could also get along with the people. He also was capable of organizing and getting along with others, which is an important skill. As for my brother, for one, he's my brother, so that's nice: someone I can depend on—not to obey me as DM but someone who's already a known quantity. Furthermore, Will has expertise I've seen in understanding new systems quickly and easily, and often showing off how awesome he could be, both in the rules and in his characterization, as if his single modus operandi was "just be awesome." How would they work with the others? Genghis Khan would get along tolerably well with Dante (a former soldier) and Victoria (a head of state) Of course, depending on which age Victoria would be, he might also hit on her, but she's a girl in a game group, so that's practically a trope, and she could certainly handle rebuffing him. Will, great at just walking up to people and being cool, would get along with everyone, especially as a historian: the guy was a double-major in history and philosophy with an English minor. He would probably embarrass himself less around Doctorow than I would, honestly.


Of course, there are a few people I'd simply refuse to DM, not for personal reasons, but for gaming reasons.

I would never play in a game with I would never play in a game with Machiavelli. Never. Even with apologists who say that he wasn't horribly ruthless and evil, I think that "not evil" still isn't good enough. When roleplaying, I don't want to have to metagame for control, I just want to play. If Machiavelli were to show up at my table, I'd rather walk away than play with him.

Neither would I ever game with Enrico Dandolo. While I respect his canniness, he seems like a person who, in a roleplaying setting, will do what's best for his character—not just in spite of party interests, but spitefully in direct opposition to party interests. He seems like one of those players who'd say, "Well, it's just in my character's nature to sell everyone out to the necromancer." Certainly not.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


So I took this quiz from the Pew Forum on general religious knowledge. Yes, it is Christian-slanted; no questions about Zoroaster or Sikhs here! Of course, so are the United States, the subject of the survey. Disclosure: I got 15/15 correct, because I’m awesome (Sin of pride).

Anyway, a few things cropped up in the post-quiz results pages. Really interesting things. One of the best statistical tricks I’ve found for ferreting out weird things is reversing a statistic. Take, for example, that 93% of self-described Mormons think that Joseph Smith was a Mormon. It doesn’t seem weird until you realize that 7% of Mormons think that he was either Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu, the other four choices. I guess I hope for Catholic, as it’d be closest for a second choice, but still—seven percent of Mormons didn’t know that the founder of their faith was a member of their faith. Seriously.

Other tidbits:

  • 90% of Jews closely associate Moses with the Exodus—10% of Jews associate the Exodus with Abraham, Job, or Elijah.

  • 81% of Mormons know that the golden rule isn’t in the 10 commandments, compared with 62% of Jews.

  • 6% of Jews don’t think the Sabbath begins on Friday.

  • 10% of Jews thought that Ramadan was either the Hindu festival of lights or the Jewish day of Atonement. I’m leaning towards that Jewish 10% mostly thinking Ramadan is Hindu, but one can never tell.

  • Less than half (47%) of Hispanic Catholics think that Catholics think that communion is only a symbol, not the literal body and blood of Christ.

  • Who knows who Job is: 7/10 of all Mormons, almost 6/10 of all White Evangelical Protestants, just over half of all Black Protestants, and just under half of all Jews.

  • Most people know who Mother Theresa is: 85.5% of all people who aren’t Black Protestants or “Nothing in Particular.” Only 66% Black Protestants thought she was Catholic and 77% of the “nothing in particular” crowd. The other choices were Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, and Hindu.

  • That means, by the way, that 12% of White Catholics and 17% of Hispanic Catholics didn’t know Mother Theresa was Catholic.

  • 17% of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants think that the Supreme Court allows teachers to lead class prayers. 84% of those two groups also think that teachers are not permitted to read the Bible as literature in schools. Based on my fuzzy math, does that mean that 2.72% of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants think that the Supreme Court OK’d prayer BUT NOT Bible as Literature?

  • Non-mormon Christians don’t know much about Pakistan’s religion—an average of 36% don’t think that Pakistan is primarily Muslim.

  • Atheists blow everybody else out of the water when it comes to Buddhist knowledge—62% know that Buddhism focuses on Nirvana, while only 35% of everybody else.

  • Atheists similarly triumph over knowledge of Hinduism, with Jewish knowledge of Hinduism coming close behind (72 and 62%, respectively). Everyone else’s average: 35% Other options: Islam and Taoism (in Taoism’s sole mention. I imagine only 2% across the board would know anything, including connecting it with the Te Ching).

  • Nobody knows anything about Jonathan Edwards. White Evangelical Protestants (15%) and Jews (12%) did best.
So what is the state of religious knowledge in America? Interesting. If you're a Black Protestant or Hispanic Catholic, though, I'd be concerned. Then again, when Atheists know more than everybody but Jews, it's egg in your face, Christian America. If you want to read Pew's report, check it out here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dunnit! and Systemizing the Game

I’ve had a long history with to do lists, as I play at productivity. I’ve tried paper lists on tiny post-it pads (sort of a mini-Hipster PDA), lists in my Moleskine, lists on yellow legal pads when I worked as a lawyer’s gofer, and then into computer versions like simple text files, displayed on my monitor with GNU Tomboy or Mac Stickies or Geektool. I’ve used The Hit List, SimpleNote, and Evernote, the latter two I still use for various things. However, none of these note-taking styles have felt, well, sticky. Here’s the problem:

1. I forget things.
2. Therefore, I write them down.
3. I forget where I wrote them down (see #1)
- or -
3. I forget to check my list (see #1)
- or -
3. I just stop caring

That’s a vicious circle if I’ve ever heard one. Add to that things like “I just don’t want to right now” or “Maybe this other system will work.” And so, as a result, three quarters through my semester and in the middle of the real grading season, I’ve found a new system. Of course.

It’s called “Dunnit!” (obligatory, excessive exclamation point in the title). It’s an iPhone app, and it sits right on my home screen. Weaknesses: no desktop syncing, iPhone OS only. Strengths: Free, with badges that display current tasks, and even (interestingly) Twitter support. Why am I even talking about this? OpenFeint support.

Yes, OpenFeint is for games. No, this isn’t a game. Not really, anyway.

There’s a well-known concept called “gaming the system.” My brother, for example, is really good at gaming. Not “can play any video game with ease” but “can min/max his way to some crazy hacked-out options in any tabletop RPG or complex board game. He’s good, and he wins, even at games supposedly without winners. I’ve frequently remarked to others that he should have been an accountant or tax attorney, because of his uncanny knack for ferreting out any loophole. He could make someone, and himself, a ton of money. Of course, accounting is boring, and tax law is boring, so the incentives are far off. It just doesn’t matter. And so, accounting never really (to my knowledge) appealed to him. He’s a history major, a nice humanities guy. What motivates him is caring about it. If he doesn’t care, he won’t do it. I have much the same problem with to do lists.

The central idea begin “gaming the system” is that all systems are inherently game-like, from the educational system to the DMV to tax codes to relationships. Call it ruthless or cruel, but it seems to be the case. There are complex systems. They have rules. Those rules are created by humans, and humans are fallible, creating many times when rules can be broken in spirit, but not in law. If I feel like I’m generally productive, but without a list that I’m checking off, I feel okay, because I’m adhering to the spirit of the list, just not the law. However, if I create a list of easy things to do just to check them off, I’m gaming the system, exploiting a loophole in the whole to-do-list business. And it’s what makes Dunnit! fantastic.

Dunnit! systemizes the game. It’s basically the opposite of all that. Instead of creating a system that people can ruthlessly exploit, they make the whole system of to do lists into a game. There are points. There are levels. There are rankings. There are achievements for crying out loud, like it’s an XBox game or something. What on earth, right?

Well right now, it’s one of the most arresting games I’m playing on my iPod Touch. It’s the ultimate game: get things done in real life, and get points for it. Others like Booyah! (again, obligatory, excessive exclamation point) have dabbled in this in the past. The conceptual world of Foursquare/Gowalla intersects at some points. These systems essentially say to a generation of die-hard gamers “you know how to hack out your games, but you don’t care about life, so here’s a trick: if you imagine your life as a game, you can hack that out too. I don’t know anybody that’s used The Sims to get relationship advice, but that’s the concept.

What Dunnit! does by making the whole thing a game is make me care about my score. I want my score to go up, so I get things done. I put everything I want to do in there instead of in The Hit List or a text file, because I never go anywhere without my iPod Touch. So I’ve got a list that follows me everywhere, reminds me constantly, and has made the system of a to do list into a game. Works for me!

As of the writing of this article, I have 5131 points at level 7, and am ranked #292 on the Dunnit! leaderboard.

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