Friday, August 21, 2009

Contacting Other Planes for Dummies!

Only a wizard without a friend in the cleric business would ever bother with this spell. The risk of being reduced to a village idiot for a few weeks is simply too great, even when it's only a 5% chance.

But occasionally you need to ask a question without involving a cleric (especially if it's about a cleric). For those times you can sequester yourself in a nice safe spot, get a friendready to cast Break Enchantment (as if wizards had friends) , and expose yourself to the outer planes in a quest for knowledge. I can imagine times when doing so makes sense.

But I can't imagine any reason to ever contact the Astral plane. You have a 44% chance of getting a correct answer and a 32% chance of getting a lie or a random answer. How does that help?

Think about it this way. If I tell you a fact that is 50% likely to be true and 50% likely to be false, how much information have I given you? The answer is not 50% of a fact, or 25%: it is none. You have no more information than you did before you asked the question. An answer that is just as likely to be false as to be true is not an answer that is half-likely to be true: it is a random answer. And if I wanted random answers, I could just roll some dice.

Now, if you could ask the question over and over again, until you had a statistical distribution, then you could extract some information. But the spell pretty explicitly says you can't do that.

Contacting greater deities reduces the chance of misinformation to 10%, which is almost low enough to tempt a player into acting on the information. Notice I said a player; an actual wizard, with an INT of 20 and a career successful enough to get him to the point where he can even cast this spell, would never take such an ill-considered risk. Any question that can only be answered by gods is going to have supreme consequences for getting it right - but that invariably means there are dire consequences for getting it wrong.

The problem here is that the game designers simply didn't understand basic probability (or risk vs reward). The spell should have a 10% chance of failure at the lowest levels, and at worst a 1% chance at the highest levels. This might actually tempt a wizard to take a risk. As it stands, the only people who would act on information that is just as likely to be false as it is to be true don't need to fail the save; they're already drooling idiots.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I'm writing the Wizard's Shop section of Ye Olde Shoppe, and it's reminding me of how annoying D&D is.

The alleged "puporse" of cantrips in the first place (or 2nd place, since they were introduced in 2E) was to provide "flavor." Wizards ought to be able to do minor magic spells that don't go boom; after all,what did they study all of those years as an apprentice?

However, it quickly became apparent that Prestidigitation was the most game-changing spell avaialbale to a 1st level wizard.

In 3E they layered nn the disclaimers: it can't duplicate any spell, it can't create anything useful, it can't distract or fool anybody, and its effects only last an hour. They might as well said, "it can't be used outside of a dungeon." Apparently wizards learn these petty tricks, and then stop studying or improving them so they can learn useful stuff like Magic Missle.

There's a book called Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World. Its about how a new color, and a new dying process, literally changed the world. Yet we're to believe that wizards, who all have huge INT scores, actually decided that duplicating a crossbow bolt once a day was amore profitable use of their time than revolutionizing the world of fashion.

Nonetheless, even in its crippled form, it still changes everything. There's no point in spending hundreds of gold to import rare spices when a 1st level wizard can duplicate them by the pound with a wave of his hand. True, they only last for an hour, but he can use metamagic to make that two hours, and how long does a meal take to eat, anyway?

Grand balls would be forever changed; ladies would retire briefly every hour or two, to return with fresh makeup and an outfit in a completely different color scheme. Dental hygiene would be greatly improved; polished teeth signify your status as a noble just like jewlery and fine clothes

The medieval world hadn't quite figured out the distillation process. Prestidigitation gives it to them for free. "Here, clean this lb of liquid of all the water in it." Never mind what effect this would have on chemistry.

And yet not a single published module describes these amazing changes to the world. Well, except for Eberron, but that's just silly.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9

Just saw District 9 at the theater. It was refreshingly un-Hollywood, despite hitting every single Hollywood trope, cliche, and formula.

So how long till there's an RPG game out for it? Or a console shooter...