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Topics - jhkim

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Media and Inspiration / Fuzzy Math?
« on: March 04, 2008, 12:02:04 am »
This is split from John Morrow's post on "Fuzzy Math" in the thread "Which game has the most rabid haters/critics?"
Quote from: John Morrow
Then there is Whole Math a form of child abuse (along with its equally evil twin, Whole Language):

   It emphasizes word problems and understanding the concepts behind mathematical operations, rather than necessarily getting the right arithmetic answers for these operations. It has been widely used in the United States - particularly in California - since 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics released standards that recommended children be taught the ideas behind math, versus focusing on calculation.

One should be wary of small Wikipedia articles like this that cite no sources.  I believe this is referring to the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics published around 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  For example, that Wikipedia article suggests that fuzzy math was used "particularly in California".  However, the more detailed and referenced Wikipedia article on Reform Mathematics states: While the standards were widely and nearly universally adopted by the mid-2000s, at the same time many schools, school districts and even states such as California effectively rejected the standards, instead adopting rigorous traditional content and skill based standards and supplementing or replacing standards based curricula with Saxon math and Singapore Math.  I'm not sure which of these is correct, but as a parent in California with a son in public schools, I've never seen anything resembling what the fuzzy math article claims.  My son has learned his additional and times tables just fine.  

I believe the actual 1989 document is available in PDF from the Institute of Educational Sciences of the Dept. of Education.  I just read it, and it seems pretty reasonable.  Most critically, it frequently cites research into the results of teaching strategies.  Here's a sample from the report:

In addition to de-emphasizing complex pencil-and-paper computational operations, some traditional algorithmic skills are recommended to be developed later in the students coursework.  This deferment is in order to support a better fit between childrens' developmental readiness for instruction and to allow for more time for maturation of conceptual understanding to precede skills acquisition.  

Operations with fractions, for example, are one of the few areas where American students do relatively well on international comparisons in the early grades.  However, this seems less attributable to better instruction than to the fact that other countries tend to teach these skills later in the curriculum.  The year fraction operations are introduced, their students immediately jump ahead of American students -- presumably based on the laying of a sound conceptual base in the earlier years.  Conversely, operations involving multi-digit addition and subtraction tend to be introduced later in the U.S. curriculum.

Now, I don't know what data they were looking at, and it's possible that they completely misread it.  However, I'm also certain that this would be taken as "dumbing down" because they're teaching fractions later -- by people who have absolutely no idea about the research behind their claims.  

In my (admittedly limited) teaching experience, one of the most eye-opening parts was seeing solid research being done into how well different educational strategies worked, rather than just arguing over anecdotal evidence of what different teachers liked.

Quote from: John Morrow
"In a typical fuzzy math class, children are placed in small groups, and encouraged to develop their own methods of solving arithmetical problems, presented in sentence format."  And, remember, that it's not important that they get the right answer, just that they invent their own methods to solve the problem.  Yeah, I want to fly in an airplane designed by one of these kids when they grow up.  :rolleyes:

We wouldn't want to require kids to get the right answers or learn grammar or anything.  That might hurt their fragile self-esteem.  And, yes, they are really teaching kids this way in schools.

Personally, I constantly see candidates who are able to give memorized answers to rote questions, but unable to critically consider and solve practical problems presented as such.  As far as candidates go, I consider this to be a far more pressing problem than not knowing their times tables or other memorized facts.  And I have often seen skilled physicists or engineers mess up on basic arithmetic, and as far as I can tell it doesn't correlate with their overall ability.  

Now, I suspect your answer will be that the "fuzzy math" recommendations of the 1989 report have nothing to do with developing critical thinking, and are instead completely brain-dead nonsense with the teacher never giving any instruction to the students.  There may well be bad teachers, but as far as I can see there's nothing in the report to encourage such.

OK, so in Educational Roleplaying thread, some people were bringing up the idea of role-playing as psychological therapy.  That seems like unrelated baggage to the topic of education, so I'm making a separate thread on it.  

It seems to me that a lot of what people are objecting to as "mixing" of psychological role-playing and casual role-playing is really a problem with therapy itself.  i.e. It's not like role-playing skull-fucking the corpse of a cabin-boy would seem any better if it were done by a professional psychiatrist as therapy.  It would still seem fucked up to me.  

Maybe my bias against therapists is showing here.

Media and Inspiration / What's Your Beef With Post-Modernism?
« on: January 09, 2008, 03:52:21 pm »
OK, so around here I've seen some bashing on post-modernism, and I thought it'd be something to discuss.  Of course, post-modernism means very different things to different people, so I'll give my perspective.  

For me, post-modernism in art means the reaction against modernism -- specifically stuff like sculpting a featureless black sphere or spattering paint on a canvas and having experts debate endlessly about what the artist meant by it.  Post-modern art tends to have a lot of symbolic material in it, like decoration in architecture or collages in visual arts or sampling/imitation in music.  

In philosophy, I'm not too familiar with Derrida (who is often cited as central) -- but I've read some of Roland Barthes which I liked along with Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend on the philosophy of science.    To me, these have seemed like a refreshing reaction against the often elitist and revisionist views of pre-WWII.  

For example, I've seen people attack Feyerabend in particular as anti-science, but really it is against the mystification of science.  Prior to post-modernism, the history of science was enormously revisionist.  Historians would "explain" the "mistakes" of a scientist as the result of personal flaws or failing to live up to their theory of science, and praise the successes without question.  The post-modern view is much closer to how science works in practice than prior views that I've seen.  

I suppose some people's problem is that they feel that post-modernism goes too far in breaking down dogma, but I don't think feel that way.  I think it is a good thing that traditions should be questioned, rather than simply being accepted as dogma.  For example, I think institutions of science would be stronger if scientists considered it their duty to justify and explain themselves to the populace -- rather than expecting to be above question.

From this thread on combat systems, alexandro put in the comment,

Quote from: alexandro
If it the denies the PCs the choice of entering combat, than it isn't an RPG, unless there is a really good ingame justification for this. This means games like Settlers of Catan aren't RPGs (even though you may roleplay your settles), because it limits you to certain actions and you can't just decide to start raising an army and attack the neighboring settlement or poison their grain supply or whatever. The same applies to all games, where there is a limited game environment (so the Descent and Heroquest board games can never be RPGs either).

So, meta-game restrictions over what you can or can't do...  As I see it, these usually fall into two categories: genre enforcement rules with no particular in-game explanation, and game play rules.  

Two examples of genre restrictions spring to mind for me.  The first are AD&D1 weapons and armor restrictions, which have no in-game explanation.  3E explained them as lack of proficiency, and gave penalties for armor use if untrained or using magic -- but in the original PHB it just said that they were "not permitted".   The second would be Champions rules on gadgets/"foci" -- where you can only temporarily use items unless you pay XP for them.  

Typically game play restrictions are house rules on things like "don't attack other PCs" or "don't split the party excessively" or "don't turn evil" (though this could be a genre rule as well).  In some rare cases they are made official by a game.  

What do people think of restrictions like these?  My feeling is that the problem comes when they are too intrusive on suspension-of-disbelief.  i.e. As long as we arrange the game so that it is reasonable for the PCs to not want to fight each other, a "no PC/PC fighting" rule would be fine.  Genres rules get a bit of a pass in the same way that some genre tropes permit suspension-of-disbelief even thought they don't quite make sense.

Following some recent discussion, I'm curious about GMing trends.  A couple people at Story Games attributed their preference for GMless games to the problem that they were the only ones in their group who would GM.  So I'm curious how that compares over here.  Specifically, does only one person GM for your gaming group?  

Topics for commentary:  If you've been in both multiple-GM groups and single-GM groups, are there big differences that you've noticed?  I've pretty much only had multiple GM groups, at least for any significant campaigns, so I don't have any direct observations.

I'm currently playing in a game set in Harn using the Burning Wheel rules.  Our group had been using HarnMaster for a while, in various editions, but despite the jerk-like talk from some BW fanatics, we agreed to give Burning Wheel a try for this campaign.  

One of the features of BW is the "Let It Ride" rule, which basically forbids repetitive rolls on a given skill or stat.  If you made a roll in Stealth, you keep that result for any future uses.  So, why do I like this?  As I expressed in this post on the "Ridiculous armor-wearing" thread, I hate repetitive rolls.  

I don't give a shit if it's to my advantage or not, it's fucking boring.  So if the GM goes "Roll Perception" and then if we fail says "Weeeellll.... Roll Perception again" -- it's stupid!  Either give us the fucking clue that you want to, or get over it and move on.  

For similar reasons, I liked the "Take 10" and "Take 20" rules of D&D3.  They cut back on needless rolling.  In the first D&D3 campaign I played in, there was a point where we were going to search for secret doors and I just said "I take 20".  The GM was at first taken aback and then angry, as though I was cheating somehow.  He tried to emphasize that it would take a long time and that we shouldn't do that because it would be boring for our characters.  

(For reference -- this was inspired by Pundit's "What I've Read post where he quoted Malcolm Sheppard's criticism of BW and blindly endorsed it without having read BW.  Malcolm makes a point about how it doesn't really protect the players, and that thus they should really like making repetitive rolls.  Obviously, I disagree.  

There is vagueness in the Let It Ride rule about when the circumstances have changed enough to require a new roll.  I think it could be phrased better, but the thrust of the rule as a whole is still useful for my enjoyment.

So there's a July Minicon next Saturday (July 14th) at End Games in downtown Oakland in California.  After some pondering, I'll be running a Truth & Justice game and a Spirit of the Century game there -- both events that I have run before.  

The minicons have a bit of an indie games rep, but there is a range of games played.  Currently, the line-up looks like this:

10AM: Warhammer FRP, Exalted 2ed, Dogs in the Vineyard, Truth & Justice, homebrew

3PM: Paranoia, Spirit of the Century, Star Wars d20 (Saga ed), Dog Eat Dog, Agon

8PM: Spirit of the Century, Dogs in the Vineyard

There's still open spaces in all three slots for people to run games.  Anyone in the Bay Area interested in running or playing?

So the Indie RPG Awards have come to the end of their official registration period. There are 32 games (and 11 supplements) registered -- compared to 39 games in 2003, 41 games in 2004, and 29 games in 2005. However, when I review the list, we're a bit short on free games. I think it's a bit natural that people aren't as pushy to promote free games since, well, they don't make money on them. But the Indie RPG Awards do have a special award for Free RPG, so I'd really like to get some more of them onto the list. So I'm extending things a bit to look for more qualified free entries.

So, what were the best Free RPGs of 2006, in opinions of theRPGsite-ers?  

Right now the only two submissions I have are Greg Porter's EABALite and a Norwegian game "Inntil Vi Sinker" (which sounds potentially cool, but I can't read it :confused: ).  For what it's worth, last year the winner was Perfect20, a D20 variant by Levi Kornelsen.  

P.S. You can post suggestions directly on the Indie RPG Awards Registration Form if you're so inclined.

From Sending the police after the PCs., I wrote:

Quote from: jhkim
My current Call of Cthulhu campaign is Victorian London rather than modern-day, so they have a police force but it lacks many modern qualities. The PCs are all reasonably upstanding middle class gentlemen, and I gave them a friendly contact fairly highly placed on the police force. (Inspector Craig, who believes in the unknown to a fair degree, though they aren't sure of his loyalties.) So while they have had troubles with the law, they haven't had any trouble over little stuff. When they got in trouble, it was for big things rather than petty charges.

One of their adventures included that the Deacon of Rochester Cathedral was being controlled by an evil power and involved in dark magics. To stop his evil plan, they snuck onto the cathedral with guns and dynamite -- planning to stop him and blow up the clay statue of Christ which he could animate. When two of them were caught in the aftermath -- now that's getting in trouble.
with the reply,
Quote from: Balbinus

Could you give us some more details of that game in a new thread?  It sounds interesting and it's a setting I personally have never got quite right.
I have a web page on the campaign (who knew) with session summaries, an (incomplete) character descriptions, and some similar stuff.  

The Golden Dawn Campaign

The concept is based on John Tynes' Golden Dawn sourcebook, but I've taken it a fair bit off from there.  There are a lot of resources for Victorian Call of Cthulhu which I've drawn on -- the Cthulhu by Gaslight book and the Sacraments of Evil selection of adventures.  

The main thing which I'm emphasizing is that here, as members of the Golden Dawn, the PCs are the cultists.  They aren't an evil cult, but they're the ones with all the secret connections, mystic power, and so forth.  The watchword of the game is that since the first scenario, evil has always spread indirectly from their actions.  

One of the themes of the game is that I'm taking all of the icons of British mythology, at first building up a potentially nice view of things, but then having them turn out horrible and twisted.  The cathedral adventure was a good example.  This is based on the published adventure Sacraments of Evil, but changed around.  The monster of a sort was a statue of Jesus.  In my version, though, the dean was not a random killer, but someone who genuinely believed in a new revelation he had and who tried to kill an evil man (the villain from the last adventure that the PCs had captured) for what he had done to an innocent girl.  However, the PCs knew that his visions were from an evil beneath London which they had awakened.

This is split from Is it the GM's responsibility to make the game fun? -- regarding a player's idea for handling time in prison.  

Quote from: JimBobOz
For example, faced with the prospect of the characters being in prison for their actions, when I said, "well, what are you going to do? Choose some other course, or...?" one player replied, "Couldn't we just assume we all go to prison, then fast-forward a few game years until we have a reunion?" That's laziness.

Quote from: JimBobOz
Basically, it's the wussy way out. "Hey, my character was wounded... can we just fast-forward to when he's better?" "Hey, my character wasted his month's salary in two days... can we just fast-forward to when he gets his next pay?" Actions have consequences. If the players' actions had the consequence of their becoming rich and famous, nobody would be asking for a fast-forward. No reward without risk. If you just want a story where your character always succeeds without trouble and any failure is glossed over or retconned, sit at home and write Mary Sue fic. Roleplaying games are about stories, and adventures - stories have ups and downs, not only only ups or only downs, and adventures have risks; risk is meaningless unless there are negative consequences from time to time.

Huh?  To me, your examples drive home the idea that fast-forwarding is a good thing.  

I mean, if a character is wounded and in the hospital, am I going to use up session time role-playing out the character sitting around in a hospital bed?  Fuck no!!  That's not the down half of an adventure story -- that's just boring.  The down part is when the character gets out and finds that the bad guys ransacked his place and kidnapped his family while he was in.  So, yeah, I'm going to fast forward until they're well again and get into more trouble.  Am I missing something here?  Does anyone role-play out time spent healing?  

I agree that there has to be bad stuff which happens to the characters.  Being in prison for five years is no damn fun for the character.  But that doesn't mean that you should make the game no fun for the player to convey that.  The game should always remain fun for the players.

Well, not really.  

But consider this statement:  Cheetoism is nonsense because it's about the Cheetos, not about the actual people.  

"Wait!", you say.  "Cheetoism actually is about the people, it's just that people isn't in its name.  You don't have to mention something in the name for it to include them."  Well, consider this from JimBobOz's thread...

Quote from: JimBobOz
That's because whether we like it or not, we're people first, and gamers second. When we game, as when we do anything, we express ourselves. If someone else doesn't like that self we've expressed, then we're in the shit.

It's why I say that the whole body of rpg theory is nonsense, because every single one, whether GNS, GDS, AGE, or whatever, doesn't mention this, what happens at the game table, how people get along. They think it's unimportant.

Which of course is stupid. However you want to categorise our game tastes, calling them "Alphaism, Betaism, Gammaism" or whatever, if we get along well, then we'll sort something out so that we can both have fun in a game session. But if someone thinks I'm a dork, then he won't want to game with me, even if we're both Betaists, both Gammaists, etc.

OK, so what the fuck is up with this?  The argument seems to be that if I have any sort of categories of games or styles, then that means that I must not care about the people and think they're unimportant.  

I'm no fan of GNS, but you're not attacking GNS here -- you're attacking all theory and, by your logic, all possible theory.  To talk about games, you think that I have to keep repeating over and over "People are important; people are important; people are important."  If I pause for a moment to talk about the game and play and their features, then you leap in screaming that I must not care about the people and think the game is more important.  

That's bullshit.  I can talk about styles of gaming and still think that people are important.

So, I'm splitting off a discussion of game design from "The Error of Game Design Priorities" to talk about the basis for design.  

Quote from: RPGPundit
That "small set" is certainly much less small than, say, "Forge games which have been as successful".  That one would be a set of ZERO.

So I will take our experience over your theories which have never proven any success, any day.

Well, as I see it, you don't have to choose one or the other of experience or theory.  I'm in favor of keeping the successful games in print.  I have no desire to see D&D cancelled.  The same goes for Vampire, GURPS, the HERO System, and so forth.  If people buy them, keep selling them.  

The question is, though, what should new games be like?  

I'm of the radical opinion that new games should do something new.  This has jack-all to do with following any particular theory.  I dislike GNS as a theory, and I'd be happy with a new game design that runs counter to it.  However, whatever it is, a new game should try to do something different than what has gone before.  

Now, this is risky.  By definition, if something is new, then it isn't a proven success.  And indeed, more than 99% of new games aren't going to be successful.  However, that is how the current successful games came about.  In 1975, there was no established wisdom that fantasy games about exploring dungeons were a good model.  Yet D&D was a success.  Similarly, in 1990, there were no successful games where the PCs were evil monsters.  It ran counter to all the heroic traditions of games.  Yet Vampire: The Masquerade was vastly more successful than all the D&D clones of before and after it put together.  

So, for example, one could say that the only successful game at bringing in kids is the red box Basic D&D.  That's true enough -- but so what?  Basic D&D has already been done.  If you think that's the only good model, then just lobby to keep that game in print.  I would approve of that.  But if you want to talk about doing a new game for kids, then it should do something new.  Maybe a different setting, maybe different mechanics, maybe diceless, maybe card-using, whatever.  

Contrary to you, I have no problem whatsoever with theories.  Theories are good -- they lead to new designs.  Multiple theories should be put out, and all of them tested.  The problem is dogma.  If someone follows a set of principles regardless of what their playtesting and experimenting shows, then design suffers.  This is equally true of revolutionary dogma and conservative dogma.

So a common issue on this forum seems to be the contrast of big market-share RPGs and smaller market-share RPGs.  I'm curious how people read this sort of evidence in general.  On the one hand, I think it's important to look at this.  On the other, I don't think that it's reasonable to conclude that smaller market share always means worse quality.  Otherwise, one would have to conclude that McDonald's is the best restaurant.  

So it's tricky.  For example, White Wolf's Storyteller series was undoubtedly successful.  White Wolf has consistently kept the #2 position in market share for over a decade, and it's position has not significantly changed from 1998 to 2004, say (cf. Ken Hite's Out of the Box column where he regularly reports on industry numbers).  I happen to think very little of their game designs overall, but I have to give credit in some way and acknowledge the success of their designs compared to the competition.  

On the other hand, there are all the niche games.  I'd divide these into two big groups.  Some games -- like Hero System, GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, and others -- maintain a fairly steady stream of sales.   Others -- like Amber or Big Eyes Small Mouth -- have a small fan base but struggle to keep their main book in print.  

Basically, I think that the first order of market share is factors apart from game design -- i.e. does the tone and art of the game appeal to a niche, does it have a grabby concept, are the production values high.  With the right license, you can sell a shitty game.  However, game design is a strong second-order effect.  

In contrast, there are statements like this regarding White Wolf:  

Quote from: RPGPundit
How low they have sunk, that they are now slowly tearing each other apart.  The battle against D20 long since lost to them, they now are reduced to ideologically killing each other over the scraps of being able to show off their pretentiousness to each other in forums full of fellow-travellers. No longer even able to preach to the choir, they are proceeding to beat the rest of the choir's heads in to get at the gooey insides.

Basically, this is crap.  Amber is not the "loser" in a battle against dice-using systems.  It is a separate niche.  Similarly, White Wolf's games are not in a battle against D20.  The market, such as it is, supports both WW's games and D20 games.  

Moreover, I think the battle analogy is moronic in the larger picture.  The enemy which both White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast need to fight is other activities and anti-roleplaying stigma.  In particular, they need to make tabletop RPGs viable against online MMORPGs and remove the stigma of being a anti-social geek.  It is harmful to the market at a whole to squabble over the tiny share of dedicated role-players, making attacks on how stupid, geeky, or whatever another popular group of gamers are.

Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Subtext in Games
« on: October 13, 2006, 03:11:49 pm »
So over in the thread Anti-western, Anti-civilization, there was some debate over the importance of subtext in games.  I thought it made a more interesting topic in itself rather than Western vs anti-Western.  A brief sampling of some of the views:

Quote from: Christmas Ape
Not only is it fiction, it's a goddamn role-playing game. The views expressed in this product don't fucking matter unless they promise to make playing it un-fun for you. If they do, put it down and buy a different RPG. Why not rail about the fact that the world view in Call of Cthulhu makes our science foolish, our geometry absurd, and our claims of religious understanding laughable?

Oh right. Pundit LIKES CoC, whereas White Wolf to the best of my understanding stole his car and gaming supplies, then spent the rest of the 90's sleeping with his girlfriends.

Quote from: Mr. Analytical
I'm sorry but that's absolute bullshit.  If you watch a film, read a book, go to a play, listen to some music, watch an interpretive dance recital, subtext ALWAYS matters.  In fact, in some mediums the subtext is the point of the piece in the first place.

You might be content with wandering aimlessly through life thinking that The Road Not Taken is about some bloke walking home or that Don't Look Now is about some guy being murdered by a dwarf but the rest of us aren't that shallow.

Quote from: Mr. Analytical
Yeah, but the problem is that that's the very idea that I take exception to, so just asserting the negation won't get you very far.  My whole point is that RPGs DO have subtexts and DO have intellectual political leanings.

So, on the one hand, I agree with that subtext exists.  RPGs are written by people, who have views.  Those views will make a subtext of the background, characters, and rules.  They might express classical values of good and evil, or they might be revolutionary, or political satire (i.e. "commie mutant traitors").  But they are there.  

On the other hand, getting fired up about the subtext of an RPG makes it sound much more like stories rather than traditional games like Chess or Monopoly.  Does anyone get upset because of the collectivist themes of a magic deer in Talisman or the totalitarian economics of Monopoly?  

Should RPGs try not to have subtext or themes?  Or should they just not have subtext which you don't like?  ;)

OK, so here's my challenge.  I talked to Kory Curtis himself, and he totally gave his permission to do a D20 version of the Limbo Fever game.  Excellent!!  (See here and here for more.)  

Here's what Cornell Richardson had to say about it:  

"I’m helping him playtest his game Limbo Fever, which is all about the choices contestants in a dance competition face; basically, it all comes down to the question “how low can you go?”. We’re also using it to explore some heavy personal stuff. There was a moment where my Venezuelan limbo king dealt with his alternative sexuality, which was really a powerful moment at our table. I didn’t see the game going that way, but the Professor threw it in there. That’s the great thing about our Forge and indie games—unlike some other systems . . . we can introduce and explore different “themes” to our games any time we want!"

So who wants to help write it?  I think probably I should use True20 for it, because that's the best system evar, and could totally handle this.  Ideas?

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