January 8th, 2009 | Tags: , ,

I’ve had a chance to use the current demo version of the D&DI Character Builder (which is limited to only the first three levels), and it is a decent tool for making the choices necessary to create a character. The program filters out options that you don’t have the prerequisites for thus making choices easier, but this will become more difficult as more races, classes, powers, feats, and equipment becomes available. So it would be very helpful if there was an additional way to filter down the presented options. But that isn’t my main issue with the app — it is the output.

In Digital Insider (#18), Bill Slavicsek includes the first page of the character sheet and one page of power cards for a level 30 ranger. And while the demonstration that the app goes that high is nice the pages clearly show that the Character Builder does not generate useful data.

Feats1) The Feats, Race Features, and Class Features sections:

The first failure here is that Wizards is trying to combine two sets of useful data resulting in a useless blob:

  1. List of all the character’s abilities and selections
  2. Quick reference summary of available abilities or bonues

When constructing a character or referencing the build it is always useful to have a list of all the feats (or any other selections) made for the character, but during play this information can be largely useless.  For example, under class features Prime Shot is listed and under Feats Improved Prime Shot is listed — but when in combat all I care about is that I have a +2 bonus to hit with ranged attacks if no ally is closer to the target.  The result is that even with ~30% of the page devoted to these sections, there is still not enough space to include the full list of feats and features and the necessary descriptive text to understand what the feat or feature provides.

Second, this information is also frequently a duplicate of data stored elsewhere on the first page of the character sheet: the bonuses for Defensive Mobility and Combat Anticipation are in the Defenses section, Sneak of Shadows is reflected in the Skills Section (training in Thievery) and should create an additional power card, the bonuses for Improved Initiative and Skill Focus (Perception) are included in the Initiative and Skills sections.  Space on the first page is very precious and should not be wasted on unnecessary duplication.

Third, the data is not categorized in a way that makes it useful during play.  During play grouping abilities by origin is not useful.  This requires me to look in several locations on the character sheet to find a particular ability which at high level might be modified by data that has another origin.  As in the example above, Prime Shot and Improved Prime Shot are listed in two different sections of the page instead of being grouped together or, preferably, combined into one line item.  Wizards seems to partially recognize this, because as I point out above much of the information is duplicated in domain specific sections, but they failed to follow through.

Skills Section

2) Wasting space with Addition

The current character sheet is the same sheet that was designed to be filled out by hand, thus it has boxes to add the expected bonuses for a particular score to ease computation.  But for a computer generated character sheet this becomes wasted space. The skills section takes up about 1/6th of the first page of the character sheet but it could easily be reduced by half with the removal of the unnecessary computation space.

I do appreciate being able to see where a particular score comes from (such as a +29 to Acrobatics), but that can be accomplished by a separate printed page that can be carried with your character sheet and referenced as needed.  This reference page would also be able to have significantly more space to explain all of the applicable bonuses and their origin.

Healing Section of WOTC Character Sheet

3) Healing Section is too small

In 4E encounters take longer, which results in more damage taken and healed during combat.  This means that it is necessary to have a large box for tracking the character’s current hit points.  The box on the WotC Character Sheet is very small, which requires that the player write very small or make frequent use of an eraser — both are suboptimal solutions.  Several classes also make extensive use of temporary hit points (Helllock, Barbarian, Battlerager Figher) and will need significantly more space than is provided.

Even at the start of the Heroic tier of play, characters will encounter numerous temporary conditions (buffs and debuffs) with short durations.  The single Current Conditions and Effects line isn’t even close to be able to track your buffs let alone your debuffs — which means that the DM has to keep track of the debuffs and several of the buffs can fall through the cracks unless someone remembers.  By providing a large space with room for info on a condition and its duration players are better armed to track their own state.

Power Card

4) Conditional & Additional Effects

On each attack power card there is an Additional Effects section that includes some optional or conditional bonuses/effects that could be applicable to the power.  Unfortnately this space is quite small.  There is room for three short lines of text, which is sufficient for the first few levels of play, but it will quickly become inadequate.  This 30th level ranger has 10 feats/features that provide conditional bonuses or optional effects (3 attack bonuses and 7 damage bonuses).  There is no way to know about most of them from the tiny provided space, and as I pointed out in my first point above, the character sheet doesn’t display that information either.

It is far more efficient to have your conditionals stored in a single easily referenced location rather than trying to repeatedly cram them onto each power card.

5) The Senses Section

Wow this has to be one of the most pointless sections of the character sheet.  Even the most math-illiterate newbie can add 10 to get the passive senses score — and more importantly this is info that the DM should have on hand without having to ask the characters for their score.  It just needs to be cut.

Doing it right

Soon I’ll follow up with a post showing my current character sheet and how I resolve these issues.

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December 10th, 2008 | Tags: ,

From Reason:

This Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will host a reenactment organized by the Supreme Court Historical Society of the 1908 case Muller v. Oregon, a landmark Progressive Era decision where the Court unanimously upheld Oregon’s law limiting female laundry employees from working more than 10 hours a day.

This “progressive” victory was made on the following basis:

The Brandeis Brief made much the same point, claiming that since women were responsible for bearing future generations, their bodies were in some sense collective property. “The overwork of future mothers,” Brandeis wrote, “directly attacks the welfare of the nation.”…

Writing for the majority in Muller, Justice David Brewer followed Brandeis’ lead. “As healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring,” Brewer wrote, “the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race.”

Although shocking this isn’t much different from other oppressive views imposed on us be government for our own good: smoking bans, fatty food bans, campaign finance reform, gun bans, etc. All are efforts, largely by “progressives”, to sacrifice our freedom for the good of the state.

Meet the new tyrant, same as the old tyrant.

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December 9th, 2008 | Tags: , ,

Yesterday, I finally read about the sit-in that is going on in Chicago. The basic story is that the workers at a window and door manufacturer got screwed by their employer, Republic Windows and Doors. Republic has been losing money and finally went bankrupt after Bank of America canceled Republic’s line of credit — probably because BoA didn’t want to throw good money after bad. You may not have heard but there has been some recent financial trouble because banks lent money to people they shouldn’t have, so it is good so see a bank acting responsibly to ensure that they don’t lose more money. Unfortunately the employees got the short end of the stick — Republic folded and laid-off all their workers with only 3 days notice. The workers staged a sit-in at the factory demanding their 60 days severance and accrued vacation time.

The workers do deserve their money, but Republic has no money to distribute, so the workers are demanding that Bank of America “loan” Republic the money to pay them even though there is zero chance that they’ll get the money back. It is of course a stupid idea, but I don’t want to heap scorn on the workers (or even their union) because they’re just trying to get what they deserve. I do have nothing but scorn for the politicians that have rushed to embrace this cause — particularly Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D).

The governor rushed to embrace the cause and has even ordered all state agencies to stop doing business with BoA until they accede to the workers demands. Nice. This is exactly what got us in the financial crisis in the first place — government pressure on business to act in an irresponsible way to achieve a social end. The actions of this douche just piss me off.

But then I saw the news this morning: Governor Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell an appointment for Obama’s senate seat.


Sorry, I usually try not to enjoy the misfortune of others — but the his tears are so sweet. I love it when corrupt politicians get what is coming to them, and this douche just adds another layer of joy to his misfortune.

And of course most reports either fail to mention that Blagojevich is a Democrat or do so in later paragraphs…

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December 5th, 2008 | Tags: , ,

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition — a victory for common sense over regulation. It’s kinda sad that even though it has been 75 years since the end of Prohibition, there are still numerous local/state/federal limits — from state liquor boards and stores to the setting of the drinking age to 21. I have sincere doubts that these unwarranted restrictions are not going to be lifted any time soon since they are generally popular with both the right (for “moral” reasons) and the left (for “health” reasons). And now the restrictionists/prohibitionists have moved to smoking and fatty foods as the new way for government to control our lives.

In the past I have been a committed drug warrior — largely because of my fairness/retribution instincts — but I’ve been largely convinced that the “War on Drugs” is completely idiotic. The billions spent by all levels of government has done nothing to make people’s lives better, has lead indirectly to the deaths of thousands, and directly to the murder of innocent citizens at the hands of the police. The complete inability of the Drug War to accomplish anything positive demonstrates, again, how counterproductive government action can be.

Reason has been running several articles on this anniversary including: The Lessons of Prohibition.

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December 4th, 2008 | Tags: , ,

Caitlin Flanagan has a long piece on why girls love Twilight in the Atlantic. I won’t excerpt it because to understand her point the entire article seems necessary (and I can’t find a crystallizing excerpt).

In 8th Grade Social Studies a girl that sat next to me that was reading through a series of novels that all had the same base plot: girl has to choose between two desirable suitors. For each book she would give me a brief description of both suitors and ask me which one I thought she would choose. Every single time I was wrong — even when I realized that I was always wrong and selected the suitor I thought was inferior, I was still wrong. And after every wrong choice, she would roll her eyes and explain the one key factor that I missed. This “key” factor always seemed to be arbitrary and inconsistent.

My reaction to both the Atlantic article and those romance novels of many years ago is pretty much the same: “Really? That’s what girls think?”

So is it?

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December 2nd, 2008 | Tags: ,

After complaining, both Kent and I will be getting different office furniture. I’ll get a table (that I think was the center table in my old office) and a small set of drawers which meet my minimum requirements. I’m glad that this could be worked out.

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December 1st, 2008 | Tags: ,

I’ve been at the UW now for 7 1/2 years. For the first seven I was on the third floor of 4545 in a shared office, which wasn’t the best, but it was great for a shared office — with clearly defined sides. I had a nice large 5 foot table that I worked from and a sturdy, 60′s era desk as additional horizontal space and for drawers.

Six months ago as a part of the renovation of 4545, I (and my furniture) was moved to the basement — where I had my own office. Being in the basement didn’t bother me because I wasn’t anywhere near a window on the third floor and I had my own office that I could keep as dark and warm as I wanted. I got a lot done because very few people were around to bother me.

Then a few months ago I was moved up to the fourth floor to a cubicle. I lost all of my furniture, including my desk that was claimed by someone else that was moving the same day (but to an office) and my table that was sent to Sandpoint. I’ve put up with the noise, the air flow, the crazy lights, and the non-optimal setup, because I knew I was going to get moved again around the end of 2008.

The “final” word came down that we were going to be moved back to (a different part of) the basement and have our own offices, except for Darlene who was getting put in a super-cube. The area isn’t bad — I’m getting my boss’s old office. But instead of real furniture they are giving us pieces of cubicle furniture that Safeco “donated” (really ditched + tax deduction):

Neet-o Corner
Side & Stain

I’ve put up with a lot of crap, but this is entirely unacceptable. The furniture doesn’t fit well, it forces me to work with my back to the door (which drives me insane), doesn’t give me the legroom I want, and it is far worse than what I have in my cube! All I need is a large table — just like the one I was forced to give up. Some drawer space and a meeting table or couch would be nice — but not necessary. I’m getting tired of being in an overlooked group that gets bumped around and given garbage.

I am not accepting this.

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November 5th, 2008 | Tags: ,

California’s Proposition 8, which limits California to recognizing only marriages between a man and a woman, appears to have passed due to overwhelming African-American and mild Latino support:

According to exit polls, whites opposed the amendment 53-47. But blacks supported it 70-30, and Latinos supported it 51-49. The polls have blacks at 10 percent of the electorate for this issue, with Latinos at 19 percent and whites at 63 percent. (Asians, at six percent, opposed the proposition 53-47.)

it wasn’t too long ago that the courts had to intervene to allow interracial marriages. Kinda sad that just as we elect our first Black President, the African-Americans of California reject recognition of the relationships of another minority.

Although, in some tepid statements, Obama publicly stated that he was opposed to Prop 8, he also said that he opposes gay marriage. By straddling the fence and never investing any capital on the issue within the African-American community, it seems he doomed it to failure. I wonder if Ellen will be so friendly with him if he visits her show again…

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October 30th, 2008 | Tags:

Somehow I don’t think she appreciates the headline.

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October 29th, 2008 | Tags: ,

Charles Barkley plans to run for Governor of Alabama:

Brown: So are you going to run for governor?

Barkley: I plan on it in 2014.

Brown: You are serious.

Barkley: I am, I can’t screw up Alabama.

Brown: There is no place to go but up in your view?

Barkley: We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren’t going anywhere.


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