Feb 29

What you need to know about D&D

If you’re wondering how D&D 4th Edition is coming along, there have been some interesting news items on the Wizards of the Coast D&D website. A recent editorial in the online version of Dragon Magazine (yes, it still exists!) said “4th Edition is close on the horizon — and fast approaching.” A February 13 news item on the website was a bit more specific:

For the next several weeks, you’ll be seeing fewer 4th Edition Design and Development columns than normal. This is because the writers, all of whom are members of the R&D staff, are busy finalizing the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. As a result, we’re scaling back the number of online articles. Once the three core rulebooks are off to the printer, we’ll get the R&D staffers back on their regular schedule.

WotC is running a convention-like event called D&D Experience in Arlington, VA this weekend, featuring the first public 4E games (and a seminar at which WotC’s 4E plans for the whole year will be laid out). A two-page handout titled “What You Need to Know About D&D” (but informally referred to as the Quick Rules Primer) was prepared for this event, and WotC has made it available for download in PDF format. It contains some intriguing information about what’s different in the new edition. Here are the section titles:

  1. Character roles are more clearly defined.
  2. Powers give you more combat options.
  3. Attacker rolls against a static defense.
  4. Standard, move, and minor actions.
  5. Healing gets an overhaul.
  6. Short and extended rests.
  7. Attack!
  8. Action points give you an extra action.
  9. Movement is quick and easy.
  10. Saving throws are straightforward.
  11. Durations are easy to manage.
  12. Reach (usually) isn’t as threatening.
  13. A trio of “c” rules you might want to know. (These are Combat Advantage, Cover, and Charging.)

This is going to be a very interesting year for D&D.

Feb 18


In the latest Dork Tower strip, the characters tackle one of the classic stupid questions: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Why do I call it a stupid question? Because it is. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles were laying eggs for millions of years before the first bird appeared on Earth. Obviously, the egg came before the chicken. I don’t understand why anyone thinks this question is remotely challenging.

Okay, actually, I do. Generally, when people treat this as an insoluble conundrum, their unspoken assumption is that “egg” really means “chicken egg”. So eggs laid by fish and reptiles are excluded. I see no reason to limit the question that way, but fine. Even if we accept that interpretation, answering the question is no problem. It becomes a simple matter of definition. Here’s how I would handle it:

SILLY PERSON: Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?
ME: Define “chicken egg.”
SP: An egg that a chicken hatches out of.
ME: Okay, by that definition, the very first chicken hatched from a chicken egg. So the egg came first.
SP: No, wait! A chicken egg is an egg laid by a chicken.
ME: All right, then the chicken came first. Obviously.
SP: But —
ME: I think we’re done here. Why don’t you take this amusing quiz?

Feb 05

Prophecies: long distance

In 2061: Odyssey Three, Arthur C. Clarke wrote:

The coming of the jet age had triggered an explosion of global tourism. At almost the same time — it was not, of course, a coincidence — satellites and fiber optics had revolutionized communications. With the historic abolition of long-distance charges on 31 December 2000, every telephone call became a local one, and the human race greeted the new millennium by transforming itself into one huge, gossiping family.

Clarke made that prediction in 1987. While it hasn’t come true in a literal sense, I think he’s not far off the mark. It’s been years since the last time I paid for a long-distance (LD) phone call. My family’s mobile phone plan provides us with an ample pool of minutes. And it doesn’t cost us anything extra to use them for LD calls. So we make all of our LD calls on our mobile phones, and we’ve come to think of LD telephony as free.

Do we even need an LD carrier? Well, not under normal circumstances. But the cellular phone networks can become unavailable as a result of either excessive demand or power failure. The most likely scenario for either of those events is a disaster of some sort; New York City experienced cellular network collapse on 11 September 2001, and again during the Northeast Blackout of 2003. Unfortunately, it’s in exactly that sort of situation that you most want to place LD phone calls.

So it’s prudent to have a backup plan for doing so. But it’s silly to pay a monthly fee for an LD plan that you hope never to use. A few years ago, I called MCI (our LD carrier) to find out what could be done about that. The customer service representative offered to switch us to a plan that had no minimum fee, and I agreed.

Yesterday, I received a card from MCI informing me of a new monthly minimum. Beginning March 1, we would have to pay a $5.99 per month even if we made no LD calls at all. It was time to cancel. At first I had difficulty reaching a live human at MCI, but after ten or fifteen minutes of listening to elevator music, I remembered the gethuman 500 database that I wrote about a few months ago. Following the instructions on that site, I reached a customer service representative in a couple of minutes. After verifying that it was no longer possible to avoid the monthly minumum fees, I canceled our account.

I assumed that our LD backup plan would now be to use a 10-10 dial-around service if the need arose. But when I started to research the available dial-around services, I learned that there are still some LD carriers that have little or no monthly minimum. The best of these seems to be ECG, which offers an interstate rate of 2.5 cents per minute (much better than the 7 cents per minute I didn’t pay MCI for the calls I wasn’t making). I signed up.

ECG does charge a “regulatory recovery fee” of 59 cents per month. That’s not quite the free LD that Clarke predicted, but I think I can live with it.