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Jun. 19th, 2019 @ 12:32 pm Almost nothing is according to the rules. Everything is "what everyone thinks is ok"
This is something else I always knew in theory but never internalised.

By brain has a great tendency to glom onto "the rules". I always wanted to know what's officially allowed, so I can do that, and not have to constantly worry if I'm transgressing. You may notice I've always tended to worry about "breaking the rules" way too much.

Everyone has this in their own way. Most people's idea of "the rules" is much less fixed than mine used to be, but people get REALLY upset when reality fails to confirm to what they think the rules are!

But I always felt like there had to be fixed rules. For everyone. That people could tell you. That's sometimes stood me well: when there are good rules, I'm good at following them.

And sometimes that's true. Often the law acts like that, although often it doesn't. So do policies, or competition rules.

But usually, in practice, what's "according to the rules" is "what everyone thinks is ok". However inconsistent and nonsensical that is. That usually works out sometimes. People learn their jobs from the people around them. They learn "allowed" behaviour by what people object to. Doing what someone wants is better than doing what someone says, just sometimes neither of you know.

But seeing the "real" rules instead of the "notional" rules is sometimes like hearing a conversation behind the noise of a road drill. It's possible, but the other version constantly inserts itself into my awareness more.

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Jun. 12th, 2019 @ 10:15 am My Brain: ADD-y? Depression-y? Something else?
Figuring out if your brain is "normal" or "functioning well" is notoriously finicky. I've been going through another large batch of introspection recently. "Too much introspection" may itself be a problem.

I'm adding the regular disclaimer -- I'm talking about how things *often* feel. The fact that I'm talking about it almost always means I feel *better* and am able to think about it. This isn't something that is new because I'm talking about, really it isn't, it's something I can see, only by contrast with having less of it. And, even by just mostly ignoring all these, I've still had a very good life -- if you know me well, please don't feel bad that this is sometimes there too.

ADD-like effects

There's SOMETHING. Lots of people have pointed this out. But what I'm not sure of is, is this a problem that I would benefit from fixing, or have lots of tea and coping strategies added up to a successfully functioning adult?

I'm counting "coping strategies" that take a lot of energy as "a problem" and coping strategies that don't take a lot of energy as "successfully functioning adult" FWIW.

Similarities:

* When I can't concentrate, I can't concentrate, it's like a wall, and after even a few seconds of trying, my attention skitters off to something else.
* Lots of caffeine seems to be good for me, and if anything help me sleep, not prevent me
* Very small distractions tend to very much derail my concentration

Differences:

* Problems concentrating don't seem to be when work is "boring" (that doesn't help, but it doesn't seem to be a big problem), but when if it seems like it isn't worthwhile or most commonly, if I don't know if it'll succeed, or I don't know what I'll do next. That seems really different to what most people describe as ADD-y problems.
* I've always had a big problems getting things done to deadlines. I would often absolutely freeze up and be unable to work, like I was terrified when there was no reason to be. But I never had the problems many people describe with schoolwork: "here's a long list of things, work your way through them steadily" was great, that's what I was best at!
* I talked about small distractions, and finding it hard to concentrate, but... those all apply to people sometimes. Most people find writing fiction hard to do! Most people get distractable and forget things when they're tired.

Depression

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Jun. 10th, 2019 @ 04:34 pm Detailed analysis of a dnd puzzle room
Tags: , , ,
Some spoilers for both groups of players (telling you stuff the other group found out, and confirming which of your guesses were right.) If you're interested in what went on behind the scenes, please ask me and I can talk through a non-spoiler version (or if you read this by accident, let me know, it's not a big deal as long as I know).

I talked about the puzzle rooms before, but I'm going to go through in more detail, to compare the amount of type of prep I did to that of other GMs reading.

What I wrote down

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I don't usually write up in this level of detail because obviously, it takes a lot longer than it did to write the planning! But it's interesting to do sometimes, so I can consciously notice what I was doing explicitly, and what I was implicitly doing in the background.

When I was less experienced, I would have needed to write down a lot of the specific things that here I just kept in my mind. Or if I was writing an adventure for someone else to run, I would have to spell out the extra detail I only verbalised now, because a lot of the good things about the encounter were the general idea of how it should play out, not the specifics.

Although even then, a lot of what went well was because I knew the players and know how to slot appropriate connections in as I went along. A published adventure can't easily do that. The best you could do is list the treasure as what was definitely there, and then offer the GM to fill in whatever felt appropriate, with some specific examples for them to use if they didn't have a better idea. Things like, here's some prompts (for things connected with the room, for things with an interesting backstory, for things that are of particular interest to the players somehow)

In terms of "puzzles" I think the most important thing is to give the players some experience of "trying different approaches and seeing what works", but make sure that the encounter being satisfying doesn't rely on them being able to figure it out logically. And single-answer puzzles are usually bad for this, unless you build an adventure about them with going asking different NPCs what they think the answer might be, etc. In this case, because I wanted a like-Labyrinth-film feel, I went as close to "single answer puzzle" as I could.

I think I learned how to do it better in future. Partly by using puzzles sparingly, but mostly, how to do it well when it comes up. Now I think of it, some of it is sleight of hand: it's giving the *experience* of solving a puzzle, but actually, having a fallback so it matters less whether you SUCCEED or not, as long as you give it a fair try.

Of course, that's for *most* DnD games where the PCs are supposed to be reasonably successful. Sometimes you want to play a gritty deadly tomb of horrors dark souls game, in which case you can go for "they may never solve it and that's ok, it's up to them if they want to push their luck or not" approach.

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Jun. 8th, 2019 @ 10:31 am Roleplaying: Plot developments and pacing
PLOT DEVELOPMENTS

Both groups learned some significant facts about the background of the world. The way the labyrinth sometimes connects different places in time, and the kobold legion they encountered had taken advantage of this to flee a post-apocalyptic future into the past, in the hopes of setting up an endlessly looping permanent kobold civilisation without the "and then the world expires and all is blackness until the beginning comes round again" bit.

And which gods think approve of this and which don't.

And both had some more extended contact with the kobolds (in reluctant negotiations or capture-and-interrogate ways). And both found some of the macguffins they'd been looking for.

PACING

The last couple of sessions have been pretty fun and satisfying (a few previously-mentioned frustrations aside), but I feel like, not quite as satisfying as I'd hoped. The one with the "investigating how the fungus creatures got in to massacre the mines" I think was still the best, I think because it had a lot of intermediate goals, but the more recent sessions have all been reasonably good, even if not perfect.

This is my first longer campaign, really. I wrote myself into a corner a bit. I originally hoped the players would just find hooks and challenges in the labyrinth, and explore off their own bat, finding new areas and getting money and levelling up being the rewards. But it didn't work out like that.

I naturally built up the things that were going well and sidelined the things that weren't clicking, so that made the game go a lot better. But that meant a lot more NPCs, plot, etc than I originally intended. Which is good, because it went well. And has mostly settled down to needing "not much prep". But partly it means that I'm crafting more of a story and less of a sandbox, which the original design is less suited to.

And partly, it means we've got lots of different story hooks or goals and not enough clear player-bought-into goals. If I did this again, I'd try to find a way to make clear progress towards goals (either with explicit missions with subgoals like "follow the clues" or "search areas to find", or with explicit goals for exploration like "level up when you find X thousand gold pieces").

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Jun. 7th, 2019 @ 09:35 am Roleplaying: Puzzle Rooms
Both of my parties found the location of one of the MacGuffins, each hidden in a "challenge" room, i.e. a chamber in the dungeon designed in-character and out-of-character to present an interesting challenge and reward to the players.

One was a not-library filled with wooden boxes, which shocked you when you opened one, and a guide who partially answered questions about them, with the aim of finding the MacGuffin in one.

The other was a set of altars, bowls, and knives, with instructions to let a drop of blood into the cup on the altar, which produced various magical effects, and the aim of figuring out what was the "right" way to do that.

I'd really wanted to include things like this, as it's very appropriate to the underlabyrinth setting -- I was partly inspired by things like the Labyrinth film -- and a big DnD tradition.

I knew I was taking a risk because both the first two challenges were at the puzzle end of the spectrum, and this sort of puzzle is actually really hard to do well in a roleplaying game.

The problem is, if it relies on figuring something out, it's not really a roleplaying game, it reduces to the players pausing the game and figuring it out.

I think it works well when the puzzle connects to things in the world, where there's a puzzle to be solved, but the individual steps involve small relevant in-world decisions, like combat, or needing to successfully use a skill, or losing or gaining health.

I sketched these particular rooms out ages ago and then just pulled them out when the party found them, and was very pleasantly surprised how my off-the-cuff details worked out.

Both parties successfully navigated most of the puzzle. Gp 1 retreated when they were running low on health, but paid attention to the specifics and know exactly what they're trying next time. I really loved that they had a little chart correctly reconstructing most of my notes. Gp 2 got rather frustrated when it kept seeming they were getting closer but still not getting there.

I think there were some things I sort of did but could still have done better. I should have explicitly thought, "If they get stuck, what options are open to them? Is there an in-world way of getting hints for a sufficient cost? Or will going away and returning help?" And I deliberately tried to allow many indirect approaches to get useful information, but not instantly bypass the puzzle, but I could have been more explicit about what sort of things they might find out, so more of the things they tried I could have a helpful-but-not-insta-win answer ready.

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Jun. 5th, 2019 @ 05:19 pm Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
I've watched about a third of the way through the first series, so my thoughts are a bit premature.

Grim remakes

I quite like the trend of grim remakes. I think there's two main things I like. One is the same thing as fanfiction, of putting the same characters into a new setting often brings out new stuff out of the same premises, which is really interesting. The other is, making it "grim" or "adult", often means engaging with the premises more deeply: plumbing for implications the original shied away from; taking characters emotions seriously when the original had them more as a joke; etc.

And like fanfiction, it still benefits from all the character building in the original, people watching it often already have sympathy for the characters, and know how they'd react, so the new version doesn't have to re-establish all that.

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Jun. 2nd, 2019 @ 12:16 pm Bloody Jack and "kip"
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Bloody Jack

A young adult or children's book about a girl who is orphaned in the late 1700s, is lost in london childrens gangs for a bit, and ends up joining navy ship as one of the ship's boys. It's written very well. It's very reminiscent of Hornblower or M&C, but doesn't feel like a retelling.

Language in historical books

There's no choices without downsides here. Certainly when I've been forced to dabble in this region, even when I loved the result, it was not very defensible on many axes :)

You can use period accurate language, which is incredibly hard to get right, and will be hard to read for a lot of readers, and also likely sound fake since most people don't know what was accurate.

You can use "50 years ago" language, trying to sound "a little bit" archaic, and hope people will get the idea. I usually end up doing something like this or the following option, even if it doesn't really make sense.

You can use modern language but remove anything that "sounds" too modern. This is not very satisfactory, but usually works ok.

Or you can just use modern language. This usually throws people out of suspension of disbelief, even in works where you don't expect them to go for accuracy: even if you're using modern language, if you use slang from the last ten years without being deliberately tongue in cheek, it usually sounds weird to almost everyone.

The trouble is (as with most writing, but more so), you're trying to craft an *experience* of archaic language, not necessarily write accurate to what would actually have existed. But that means it needs to relate to people's expectations: they can do a certain amount of learning by reading, but your book also needs to be sufficiently accessible they can. But different people will have different levels of knowledge, so what seems right to one person, will seem impenetrable or too fake to someone else.

"kip"

According to my sources, "kip" meant a hovel (in Dutch?), then a brothel (maybe still does in Ireland?), then a boarding house, then a freelance place to sleep (both featured in down and out in Paris and London), then a short sleep.

Bloody Jack is using "place to sleep" in 1800 London, to mean the hideout where the children's gang stayed at night, or somewhere other than hammocks someone regularly slept on the ship. I don't know if that's from more accurate sources than whatever I found, presumably slang was ahead of what got wrote down. Or if it's deliberately using a milder archaism.

It's funny, why THAT grabbed my attention, when I know most of the other language is modern and at least as inaccurate. I guess, just because I knew a tiny bit about it, it drew my attention.

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May. 15th, 2019 @ 11:48 am GoT reactions, penultimate episode
I haven't been watching the latest season, I probably would have enjoyed seeing what happened, but I felt like I didn't have time to watch them as they came out, so I'd almost certainly hear spoilers anyway, and I'd rather just read some summaries so I can join in the reactions and watch them another time (or only in the next readthrough).

But unsurprisingly I have opinions :)

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May. 13th, 2019 @ 01:09 pm Tactical voting
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I think I'm sufficiently decided about the euro elections, but I had some left over thoughts.

D'Hondt method

Have I understood this right?

Suppose there's 7 seats available for a number of parties. Then every party whose vote share exceeds 1/7 of the votes, is guaranteed at least as many seats as they have whole sevenths of the vote share? That'd accord with what I'd do so far.

But if I were running it, then I'd say, give the remaining seats to the parties who are closest to one more seat than they already have (whether that's 6 seats but nearly 7 seats, or no seats but nearly 1 seat). But D'Hondt counts your remainder more, in proportion to how many seats you already have?

Why on earth is it like that? Is it supposed to avoid niche parties? Or is it just that it's longstanding and superficially reasonable, so when the voting method was chosen they chose the most FPTP like proportional system they could get away with?

East of England

There were several helpful "tactical voting guides" going around, but several seemed to concentrate more than I'd originally realised on "trust our subjective judgements without asking too many questions" rather than on providing data.

My natural choice would be Lib Dem or Green, mostly as a clear "Remain" vote. Which I prefer depends on circumstance, but I was also trying to figure out if it would make a difference if I wanted to increase the chance of either winning a seat.

Previously Lib Dem have held about 15% of the vote and I think got an MEP, although last euro elections they were at a lower point. The greens have previously been lower, but have been creeping up over time, especially if people are finally starting to pay SOME attention to mitigating climate change.

So it sounds like I'm right, if lib dem are around 15% and greens are lower it would be worth voting lib dem to make sure to push them up over the 1/7 boundary? But if lib dem were already higher than that and green were approaching it, it would be better to vote green to get *them* closer to a seat (unless lib dem were doing so well they were close to 30%).

But that's sufficiently precise it's almost pointless to try to predict, so I should go for whichever I prefer, or whichever I think has the highest support?

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May. 10th, 2019 @ 03:05 pm Friday Five: Sunny

 1. What made you smile this week?

Running a really enjoyable roleplaying session. Cuddling with Liv. Enjoying some sunshine. Thinking about my next creative project. Doing social things. OK, that's a lot better than it felt like!

2. What ingredients make a perfect Saturday?

I don't know in general, but I've recently been adopting "no responsibilities saturdays", which doesn't mean, don't do anything necessary, but rather do what I feel most like, whether that's pure flop, or doing chores that have been overdue for years, or starting on something completely new, or doing "one day, I always felt like I should..." (I know how lucky I am that this fix is plausibly available to me.)

3. What is the best thing you ever had for dessert? Share the memory or the recipe.

Ooh, I'm not sure, I've had some very nice ones. The one that stays with me is often the moistest of lemon cakes. IIRC Hilarita made one of the best ones, I keep meaning to ask if there's a recipe.

4. What is your favorite memory of your mom, or your favorite thing about being a mom?

For my mother, endlessly explaining maths to me on long walks, including a very memorable one in the rain, explaining binary. Buying a first pc, and first compiler. Being amazingly supportive, while always being non-pushy.

5. What are your plans for the summer (or winter, for those in the southern hemisphere)?

Ooh, not sure. I'll probably have some trips at some point. Hopefully nothing too involved, I need some easier ones. Hopefully enough time to go out on the weekend sometimes, to the lido, or along the river.

Gosh, I need to remember it's always ok to write "quick" posts like this, not only posts I've spent ages mulling over...

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