A group for fans and supporters of Matthew D. Brown and his stories. Updates from around the web posted regularly.
September 12, 2018 in news-and-updates by Matthew Brown
I have no idea what I want for my birthday but world peace would be nice. Rather than force people to struggle to come up with something when I’m clueless myself, I have a whole other idea. For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. I’d like to raise at least £100 for The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. That’d be a birthday present enough for me.
Don’t get me wrong. If you want to buy me a new car or a working time machine or something, go for it – but, really, this will be more than enough.
Stick around and I will explain just why this charity matters to me and why it should matter to you too.
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation
While walking through a Park, Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, were brutally attacked. As a result of her severe head injuries, Sophie entered a coma, never regaining consciousness. She later died. The attack is thought to have been provoked by the couple wearing gothic fashion and being members of the goth subculture. In other words, she was murdered for the “crime” of being different.
I’d love to say that this was some isolated incident. It is not. I can tell you that first hand. Mostly I just get silly comments about my hat which is really not so different from the comments I got about being the “biggest” (which I wasn’t) kid in my school. For me, this is just background noise. For others, not so much.
As a long-haired weirdo myself, this is a cause that hits just a little too close to home. I have never been anything less than deeply uncomfortable with intolerance at the best of times but this could so easily have been many of the people I know and love. I cannot tell you all of the ways this story gets to me. I’m a writer but I find myself lost for words.
In the wake of this tragic act of hatred, Sophie’s family established The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. The charity provides educational group-works that challenge the prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures. They also campaign to have the UK Hate Crime legislation extended to include people from alternative subcultures, lifestyle or dress
I hope that you’ll consider contributing as a way of celebrating with me. Let’s see if we can put together a hundred quid to make the world just a bit more tolerant. You can donate via the Facebook donation page.
August 26, 2018 in descriptions by Matthew Brown
For a change of pace, today, I thought I’d bombard you with some descriptive quotes. If you are looking for something fun to post on Tumblr you have my permission to use these quotes on the condition that you properly credit me and link back to a relevant page (this one is good but other links are given with the quotes – note any odd spellings because they do happen).
These quotes are all descriptions of things. I plan, as one often does, to post a collection of other quotes in this or some other reality at some point in space and time.
The last descriptive quote is one I want your opinion on. It will make sense when you reach it. (Maybe).
A bad shirt
He was wearing the kind of bright pink floral shirt whose only purpose must surely be to ensure that its owner never went on dates.
He knelt down in that way people do when they want to make as little contact with the ground as possible. Unsurprising, given how filthy the floor was.
The cupboard’s owner was about as organised as an explosion in a firework factory.
In the centre of this chaos, was what Jack assumed might be some sort of paperweight carved from an extremely large chunk of chalk. In fact, it was an extremely large chunk of carved chalk temporarily serving as a paperweight, which is not the same thing at all.
A clue was desperately trying to navigate the streams of his mind and arrive in his consciousness. It was not having much luck.
Large ripples shot across the surface and a shimmering bright rainbow of yellows and whites radiated downwards casting dappled dancing lights across the walls and ceiling. No one knew it, but some of the brighter spots of light slipped their dimensional moorings and found their way to two entirely “other” locations where they mostly got chased by cats. Cats, of course, can see these things while their owners usually cannot.
Somewhere other than here
Before they could get to three, the sphere expanded slightly and enveloped them. They found themselves somewhere new. A bright green sky stretched cloudlessly overhead. A rich orange field beneath their feet. Red and yellow things that one might call trees (they were certainly unlike regular trees and much more like huge balloons on large trunks) marked the edge of a field.
What I have been going back and forth on is the subject of injecting information in brackets. I have toyed with the idea of putting “they were certainly unlike regular trees and much more like huge balloons on large trunks” as a footnote. After all, one of my favourite authors does that.
On the other hand, simplicity is better and that aside comment is exactly what brackets are for.
So, brackets or footnotes? Let me know what you think.
August 16, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
A few years ago, I spent 13 hours on a coach and stumbled off in excruciating pain. That pain never left me. Not completely. I had not realised it yet but my muscles were becoming too willing to tense up and deeply disinclined to relax again afterwards.
The day my life ended
I was at a geek festival in Wales somewhere. A group of us had travelled up because both Brian Blessed and Professor Elemental would be there. Also, the marketing company made it sound a lot more awesome than it actually was. Not that the weekend was bad, just over-sold.
I knew something was wrong when a lady in a wheelchair gave me her walking stick because I needed it more than she did. Still, I muddled through and had the foresight (nothing to do with being too tired to leave for lunch) that I was in time to get a seat for the panel with Brian Blessed.
I later failed to get Professor Elemental’s autograph (that would not happen until a few years down the line).
Finally, I shuffled onto a coach and got did the 13 hours home again. By which time my spine was doing it’s best to twist the muscles around it into a giant ball of red-hot suffering.
It was bad enough that I went to see my doctor who took one look at me and said, “ankylosing spondylitis.” Which sounded like a magic word J. K. Rowling rejected while writing Harry Potter. Apparently, it means, “you are truly buggered; get ready for loads of pain”.
Many tests later, and the diagnosis was confirmed. My immune system was eating my spine. That, in itself, is not actually painful. However, all the muscle tension it triggers hurts like hell.
Mornings are the worst. I’m utterly useless for a few hours after I get up. Some days I never get to the point of being much use to anyone.
Still, I had pills and worse things happen at sea. Right?
The hard part
What no one warns you when you get a diagnosis like this is the way everyone you meet doubts you.
In the years that followed I would face an ongoing fight to prove to HMRC that I was not, in fact, faking it. To be fair, they treat all sick people like evil scroungers. They are, at least, equal opportunity bullies.
Along the way, I would have to educate my friends that despite appearances I was unable to bloody stand or bend and was not, in point of fact, just a lazy git. I mean, I am a lazy git; don’t get me wrong – if someone else will do stuff for me, I will let them. It just so also happens that I was also becoming unable to do stuff without a lot of pain.
Over that same time, the distance I could walk would shrink like that one episode of Star Trek. Some days have less pain and I can go further and some are worse, and I can’t. When certain bus stops began to see the edge of that distance reach them, I really started to worry. I’d love to say I have an answer but beyond fighting my own body, I do not.
Where is the upside?
Despite having more “me time” and thus, in theory, more writing time, I get less writing done. I feel like my whole life is that static warp bubble and it is only getting smaller. I sort of muddle through and some week I even get things done.
We writer types are supposed to be god-like and aloof or something; but most days I’m just a geek in need of stronger medication. Sorry to end this post on such a downer, but I do not have a way to spin out a happy ending from this story. Maybe because this is not the end. Not yet.
August 15, 2018 in tpk by Matthew Brown
Click grabbing headline aside, I really am going to talk about the difference between different skill types.
I’m going to draw my examples from both S3 and Pathfinder but really these should apply universally. Skills in RPGs can be expressed along a few binary axis:
- passive vs active
- constant vs at-will
- critical vs non-critical
Passive vs active skill types
This is a binary distinction. For the most part.
Skills that are active
Active skill types are any ability the character has to choose to do. For example, “detect evil 4 times a day”.
What separates these skills out is that they should always be 100% about player agency. The GM should never be the one triggering them.
In S3 the lines between talking about what you are doing and doing them are blurred, a GM might roll a check secretly as the player is talking but that is still active player triggering.
For the most part that seems to cover all skills, right? Wrong. Although abilities of the character are usually under the full control of a character there are some skill skills that are working even when the character makes no choices…
Skills that are passive
Passive skills and abilities are those that happen without any thought going into it. For example, knowing stuff, recognising stuff, and perceiving stuff. Against stealth checks perception acts much like AC, you don’t need to know that it is even happening until the GM tells you the result. That’s a passive skill.
Perception in both Pathfinder and S3 is a passive skill as are all the knowledge types, detection, and sensing abilities (sense motive springs to mind). You cannot rub your head to make yourself know better nor can you say a command word to avoiding knowing stuff. You just know it.
Passive skills should be activated by the GM or Narrator. Either roll for your players and tell them the results or get them to roll a bunch of skills every time new information is about to appear. If characters have something “as a constant ability” in Pathfinder, that’s a clue to you, the GM, to treat it as a passive skill.
It is not important to make a complete list of passive skills types as long as when you are running the game, you recognise when – in this instance – a skill should count as passive.
Constant vs at-will skill types
Now that you are aware of the passive and constant difference you can probably see how constant maps to passive and at-will to active. As a GM or Narrator of a game, you need to keep track of constant abilities. The closest S3 has to constant abilities are statuses. Like Pathfinder’s constant abilities, statuses must be tracked – per character – by the person running the game.
Constant skill types modify things for you the GM/Narrator. They actually change the nature of the game. Because of this, it is really important to keep track.
I’ve been in games where the party has been in a room for a while and someone says, “I cast detect magic” – to have this conversation unfold:
GM: Are you ready to move on?
Player 1: I cast detect magic
GM: You detect magic with a strong necromancy feel to it
Player 2: Well, this changes everything. Maybe the litch was here. Let’s look for clues again.
Player 3: Mr GM, you know I have detect magic as a constant ability, right? I should have know this when we walked in here.
GM: Oh yeah. I keep forgetting about your character’s unique abilities.
That’s a game-leading fail from not recognising the differences between skill types and how the GM/Narrator should respond to them.
Critical vs non-critical skill types
Up to now, we have been talking about when to apply skills. What you may not yet have guessed is we have moved on to dealing with the outcome.
Non-critical skill types
Are any ability where if you fail, you can try again. For example, getting the key in the lock. You missed so line it up and try again right away. You should assume a skill in non-critical unless you can work out a reason why this is not the case (we’ll get to that in a moment).
In Pathfinder, these are skills where it is acceptable to Take 10 or Take 20. The fact is that you would just keep trying until you got there. In S3, you should almost never roll on non-critical skills. There is no story reaction from trying and failing. So for easy narrative purposes count up the possible wins and just apply a reasonable value. Better yet, role-play the situation and let narrative flow do the rest.
Non-critical skills allow you to give the player the benefit of the doubt. Keep the story moving forward with the successful result or the discovery that the task is beyond them. Get to the interesting stuff.
Disarming a trap (in Pathfinder) with a DC of 12 when you have 8 ranks plus a stat modifier of 4 is non-critical because you cannot roll a fail. Your character would have to be drunk and on LSD to even take a penalty to make that roll interesting. Of course, they disabled the trap – it’s what they do. Get to the interesting parts.
Critical skill types
Critical skills are different. I told you to assume that all skills are non-critical. However, even a passable GM/Narrator should be able to recognise that some activities have a risk involved. If you fail (or if you fail hard enough) something bad or expensive will happen. These are critical skill types.
Climbing down a steep cliff could have a terminal outcome if you fail. Disarming a bomb is another thing you do not want to mess up. Bribing an officer of the law could go horribly wrong too.
When you encounter a critical skill it is not only okay to stop and ask for dice but good for the players too. It signals that the outcome depends on this roll. That raises the stakes and adds a moment of tension to the game.
In S3 the “easy” trap still has a failure chance. S3 is like that – failure is always an option. If the trap is important in any way, then make the player roll and make sure they know that it would be very bad to fail. Do this unless the CL/DR is so low that odds are the player will pass – in which case, treat it as non-critical and get to the interesting bits already.
Not all skills are the same
Not all skills are the same. Especially is S3 which actively encourages improve and role-play. GMs and Narrators, I hope you understand the difference between skill types or at least now have a grasp of them. In which case, your games should always be interesting.
August 14, 2018 in reflections-and-thoughts by Matthew Brown
Truly Tiny Gods was an idea I came up with years ago. A sort of automated story driven by code and user interactions. I never finished it and still think about creating it. I even registered a Facebook app that I never developed. Life got in the way.
This is what went through my head when I recently thought about re-doing Truly Tiny Gods. I went back over it and added some comments as quotes and titles to break the text up. Mostly that was to explain myself. My head rarely has to explain itself to anyone else.
Imagine if big brother met DnD pantheons and a bunch of truly minor gods had to live out their life on an island to compete for power. What if that was a blog or twitter account and users could “pray” to the gods to influence the outcome. It could be quite fun.
My stream of nerd thinking
This would be some form of a plugin that runs in one blog. You give it some “gods”, and following some pseudo-random system influenced by comments or such, it tracks the followers, powers, and relationships of the gods.
User interactions could influence the outcome of the god’s day. They could say, vote, in some way, to attach a portfolio (says lakes, or something) to a god. Votes could be in the form of comments or some other user desirable behaviour.
Some posts could be tagged for one or more gods using custom fields. That is assuming you can “SELECT * FROM posts WHERE custom field X is Y”. That could be used to allow user interactions with the gods.
I often express ideas in the form of SQL. It is a database language. SQL is just good for expressing the data I want and the form I want it in. If magic was real and cast in accordance to the mind of the caster my magic would look like SQL.
Each day, each god would do a thing. That thing would be reported using a randomly selected pattern for the thing. The pattern would be filled out using words from that god’s flavour words lists. The thing might change god stats, attitudes, and stuff.
I guess that means gods have flavour words lists. Guess I better think about what they are – stuff they are for, and stuff they are against. Yeah, that sounds cool. How about favoured animals, weapons, plants, etc… Yeah, that seems reasonable.
I have a whole theory of things and stuff. Ask me about it sometime. Basicly, things are useful and well defined and stuff is not.
Time to think about data
I guess the gods will need a table each for all that data. Better think about some stats to track. Followers, power, smite, anger, love… That sort of thing. It’d be nice to add new ones as I think them up but that means two new tables. One for the stats definition and one to carry the actual stats. Hang on, the things affect the stats (and stuff) it would save a huge amount of headaches to know them ahead of time. I know, I’ll define them in classes. No, wait, then the database would have to carry a deserialised object blob. Yuck.
I’ll come back to that.
It might be fun to have the gods fall in love. I’ve already said that I want to track their attitudes. We could use some scale from -100 to 100. Although romance would be a different thing. Hmm… Maybe a flag? A flag dependant on the attitude scale? Are we using flags then? Do we need unlimited flags or a limited pre-defined set? I have not figured that out yet. Bother.
Come back to that too.
I mark things “come back to that later” a lot.
So what have we got so far? Some gods that have stats in a table and may or may not have stats and flags. That’s not much to go on. Other than some ideas about what I want, I have no ideas about how to make it work.
Let’s revisit the whole flag thing. If we made “is in love with” a stat, then we don’t much need flags. Maybe gods have really short memories? Yeah, that sorts that out. As we are working with WordPress, maybe gods could have taxonomies. Maybe gods are custom content types. That’d save a whole lot of dicking about with tables. Not sure if this is a great idea or a really bad one.
Better read up on custom content types.
Apparently, the only known way to deal with custom fields is the plugin Advanced Custom Fields. Everyone just defaults to it. What if I want to write my own UI?
The taxonomy idea seems sound but the development reading is a bit lacking. Toys with the idea of filling that space…
Well, okay. It looks like post meta (custom fields) could carry the stats and that I could define them as I go. That’s good. Add stuff as I figure it out. Things could be an array of class types with defined templates for “doing the thing” and conditions before the thing can be done.
More about things
Things would either act on the god’s own followers and stats or include another god and act on both. I guess that means the thing would need a get_god and get_other_god method. Perhaps all things could affect another god. Maybe things have the potential to pull followers from all the other gods? No, that seems like too much work.
As things change the gods, I’d have to be careful about the execution order in the code.
Talking of methods and code and such, I should probably set up a developer install somewhere to test my code. Breaking a production site would be bad.
This is suddenly looking like a lot of work for a “quick” diversion.
This is often the part where I stop. If I can get past it with the thought that I can keep it simple and get it done, well, maybe it will happen.
More ideas pop into my head
Oooh, what about wars? Wars would be great. It could cost the two gods followers but earn them “smite”. As a ready calculation, a war could cost each side 10% of the total opposition follower count. Thus, a god with lots of followers could wipe out a smaller god and take their stuff. That’d be awesome. If I make that a “thing” it would not need me to track “war” as a meta on both gods.
Another interesting idea might be the “did a thing in secret” thing. The other god could be the one that secretly sees it. That could get old fast without enough variety. Maybe secretly witnessed could be a theme that runs throughout the things? Again, that seems like hard work.
Oh, I have a funny idea. Add a report on a god detailing prayers answered vs prayers ignored. Something like that anyway. Perhaps also add, minor righteous smitings, fantastic dreams given, vague portents shown, doctrinal disputes among clerics, and so forth. Use a DNA based pseudo-random system so each god tends towards consistency.
DNA based pseudo-random system is where you take a string – the “DNA” – which you pull from and use as a seed for randomising. This gives consistant results which differ from one example to another. I use them for games but they are used for system generated avatars on blogs (among other things).
Didn’t TTG v1.0 use DNA? Yeah, I think it did. The whole god was generated from it. Hmm, that seems like a good idea. 32 hexadecimal digits seem enough. That’s the output of an MD5 hash. A specific set of say four digits could be converted back into a number and used as a seed. There is no cryptographic security needed, so this should be fine.
I could even use an avatar image program to create an “icon” for each god. Children of two gods would have similar icons…
Hmm… I like that. I don’t fancy the work it would require. I wonder if there is an open source library?
Any project that I end up thinking about will, eventually, have me think, “I wonder if there is an open source library.”
I need the loo.
Also, I want a cup of tea.
I might watch an episode of X-Files.
I indeed paused for ages. I also watch some of season one of X-Files. It has aged rather well.
The main class should have a “register of things”. “Thing” extends “abstract thing”. That seems sensible…
I got distracted. Like for ages. The way I just stopped typing means that someone probably decided that it was a good time to visit me. After all, writers and geeks are never “busy with anything important”.
This post was just sort of hanging about in my drafts. My headspace is not in the right palce to do this development anymore. However, if I post this now it sort of has no point. On the other hand if I don’t post it, I’d have wasted all that lovely research. Hmm… to post wierd rubbish or not, that is the question.
What do I want? Answering that question is the key to targetting your life on what you want out of it. We call that success.
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