Category Archives: musings

3D Printing!

Getting into keyboards in turn led me to give 3D printing a try, because when you do the more DIY keyboard stuff you end up with a lot of things where it’s the easiest or only way to get certain parts, and I didn’t want to bug my roommate to print stuff for me quite that much. There are several kinds of 3D printing (including ceramic, metal, and various kinds of food), but if you’re a hobbyist and don’t have thousands of dollars to throw around, the two types you can get right now are filament and resin. Resin printing can produce much more detailed prints, but it requires dealing with toxic chemicals, so I went for an entry-level filament printer, specifically an Ender 3 Pro, which cost me a little over $200 or so.

Filament printers (or more properly FDM–“fused deposition modeling”) take in a plastic filament and push it through a heated nozzle that is placed so that motors can precisely move it along the X, Y, and Z axes, building up an object in layers. There are several different types of filament available, but the most common is PLA (polylactic acid), which has a relatively low melting point, produces reasonably durable prints, and is non-toxic. (It’s not edible, but it is food-safe, and gets used to make compostable drinking glasses, albeit compostable via industrial processes.) You can print with for example ABS (a very common, basic plastic frequently used for keycaps), but it creates a burning styrofoam smell and fumes, which is why I’ve never used it. (Better quality keycaps use a plastic called PBT, but it has significantly higher temperature tolerances, which I suspect is why it isn’t used for 3D printing.) Most other materials have other issues with things like adhering to the print bed or adding wear and tear to the printer nozzle.

Resin printing meanwhile uses a vat of liquid resin, and it has a device–either an LCD screen or a laser–that uses UV light to harden a layer. It then pulls the print up slightly and repeats the process until the print is done. The ability to print an entire layer at once means that it can potentially be faster than FDM printing. On the other hand you have to wash the finished print in alcohol and cure it in UV light, and you should be wearing protective gloves and have good ventilation for the whole process. The level of detail these printers can produce is exceptional though, and they can do things that FDM printers either can’t manage or struggle with.

3D printing is a time-consuming and finnicky process. If I print something on a paper printer, issues are rare and it only takes a few seconds to spit out a printed page. With 3D printing it’s very easy to end up with a print that takes several hours or even multiple days, and printing failures are to be expected, especially when you’re starting out. I had a lot of failing around as I got the hang of bed leveling and so on.

Most 3D printers have you take your 3D model (usually an STL file, though there are some other formats out there) and put it into a “slicing” program that lets you set parameters and convert it into a series of instructions for your particular printer. You can tweak things like the level of precision and the amount of infill (how much of the interior of the object is filled in; at less than 100% it generates a honeycomb pattern to save on filament while maintaining a strong structure), arrange the model(s) on your printing bed, and change the scale. From there you put the converted model onto an SD card, stick that into your printer, and tell it to start. The printer is essentially just following a series of instructions–it doesn’t have sensors to detect issues or anything like that–and more advanced users have found ways to tweak those instructions in interesting ways. One guy set it up so that his printer would print a part, use the side of the printing nozzle assembly to knock the finished part off the printing bed into a container, and repeat.

Boxy Miku, in the Cura slicing app

There’s a massive amount of stuff you can make with a 3D printer, even if you don’t have any clue how to do any 3D modeling. There are a number of sites with free models, the biggest of which is Thingiverse. For any given thing where normally you’d get a plastic item made in China, chances are you can 3D print something. (Food safety is a little tricky because although PLA itself is food safe, the crenellations that 3D printing creates can trap bacteria, so it’s necessary to apply a food safe coating.) That in turn means that 3D printing has exciting possibilities in terms of a more sustainable lifestyles, since it would let us cut down on how much stuff we’re shipping halfway around the world, and it naturally works best with a biodegradable plastic. Of course, the technology needs become more reliable and less technical for the end user before it can gain widespread adoption. Right now it’s more the domain of geeky hobbyists who are willing to put up with the frustrations that come with it.

When I’ve asked people what I should print, more than once I’ve gotten a sarcastic reply that I should print a 3D printer. That’s a very involved project with all the wiring and such involved, but it’s actually something you can do! Hobbyist 3D printing is mostly open-source, plus people just generally like that kind of silliness. There are also quite a few mods for printers that you can 3D print, and in particular I found that adding an extruder knob to my printer made changing filament much easier. There are also a lot of accessories for tech items (for example I printed a stand for my HomePod mini), household items, and figures of pop culture characters.

3D printing has a lot of potential to be of benefit to tabletop gaming. My roommate has a resin printer specifically to supplement his Warhammer 40k armies, and there are tons of models for miniatures, dice towers, board game storage solutions, and so on. People with 3D printers are still enough of an exception that it’s not ready to be the main way a given game gets into people’s hands, but it’s an option that a publisher can put out there if they want (potentially with a greater customizability), as well as a good way to do prototyping.

A thing I realized is that 3D printing is one tool, and just as you can do an entire piece with just a pencil or go on to add other materials, a 3D print can be a starting point, after which you can go on to add things like sanding, painting, coatings, hardware, LEDs and other electronics, etc. That lets you overcome a lot of the limitations of 3D printing, adding different colors, capabilities, and so on rather than just sticking with the single-color, layered look of basic 3D printing. Among other things my roommate 3D printed a Blue Spirit mask from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and then finished it with sanding and painting to produce a really excellent cosplay prop.

3D printers that can handle multiple types of filament or outright add coloring are still relatively new and expensive, but given how fast the technology has developed–from bleeding edge tech with limited industrial uses to an open-source technology you can get into at home for a few hundred dollars in about a decade–it’s undoubtedly going to become cheaper and more accessible.

The amount of stuff I want to 3D print has been enough that it’s going to take a good while to work through it all, and lately I’ve been hearing the whine of stepper motors all day most days. It’s not something I’d recommend everyone get into given the expense and frustration it can entail, but it can be relatively cheap, and there’s all kinds of neat stuff you can do with it.


I haven’t been posting all that much to this blog, but then the world’s been on fire (literally in some places), so I haven’t been able to get nearly as much done as I’d like in the first place. About the only hobby that I’ve been able to pursue without any big impediments is mechanical keyboards, so I figured I ought to write a bit about them here.

An Epomaker keyboard (with “Miami’ SA keycaps), 9-key macropad, and a CTRL (with “Atlantis” SA keycaps)

Mechanical keyboards are called that because they use mechanical switches instead of the cheaper membrane switches that are common on more basic keyboards. Computer keyboards evolved from teletypes and electric typewriters that got adapted for use as the interfaces on early computers, and the IBM computers that became the basis of the DOS/Intel/Windows platform originally had heavy mechanical keyboards with buckling spring switches. Over time, cheaper membrane switches became the default, and in recent years the push for thinner keyboards in laptops has also led to even the keyboards for desktops often being thinner types that use the scissor switches (a kind of membrane switch with a scissor-like mechanism that allows for a thinner profile). One of the most prominent examples is Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which is included with most desktop Macs, and is basically a MacBook’s keyboard repackaged as a thin Bluetooth device. These aren’t bad, especially when the aim is to have the keyboard be light and thin, but when space and weight aren’t at a premium, mechanical keyboards have a lot of advantages. They’re more ergonomic, last longer, look better, and just plain feel better to use.

The current Apple Magic Keyboard

The shift to thinner and cheaper keyboards, combined with certain patents on key switches running out, helped create a niche for more premium keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are now a pretty deep hobby that you can get into, ranging anywhere from just buying a better off the shelf keyboard to designing your own. I haven’t gone that far, but I do have a bit of a collection already, including a bunch that I soldered myself.

There are others, but the main type of key switch in use in mechanical keyboards is the MX type that a German keyboard company called Cherry created. While a Chinese company called Kailh has become a massive player in this industry, Cherry is still around, and there are a number of other manufacturers, and even people who’ve done small batches of premium switches. Switches come in different colors, which are a code for their actuation force and whether they’re silent (not literally silent, but not clicky), tactile (with a bump you can feel as they press down), or clicky (which some people prefer, but can be obnoxious for people around you). Key switches typically have an actuation force of around 50 to 70gf (gram force), though I’m one of the relatively few people who prefers much lighter switches, and I have two keyboards with Gateron Clear switches (35gf). I like them a lot, but they did take some getting used to so I wasn’t pressing keys accidentally all the time.

Cherry MX key switches

I got into mechanical keyboard by way of steno (thanks to the Open Steno Project), which is how I ended up with 2 keyboards that are solely for steno (a SOFT/HRUF Splitography and a Georgi) and 3 more that can do steno as well as QWERTY. I now use steno enough that it feels a little annoying to not be able to use it to get a whole word out with one chord.

My Georgi steno keyboard

My current main keyboard is a GergoPlex Heavy, a split ergonomic keyboard designed and hand-assembled by a Canadian guy who goes by Germ and does weird keyboards as his side hustle. It only has 36 keys, but with layers it can produce any standard keystroke, and with the firmware tweaks I did it can switch to a steno mode to boot. One of the nice things about these kinds of keyboards is that you can customize the firmware relatively easily, and adding a new layer and hotkeys to activate it isn’t too hard. An open-source firmware package called QMK is very widely used, and even has a GUI “configurator” so you can do basic firmware tweaks without any coding at all.

Japan has a whole DIY keyboard scene (自作キーボード), and there’s even a brick and mortar store in Ueno called Yusha Kobo that I’m definitely going to visit whenever I finally go to Japan again. From what I’ve seen online, the scene there is big on small split keyboards, and the Corne seems to be both popular and one of several such keyboards from and/or relatively popular among hobbyists.

It’s not exactly a cheap hobby (I’m typing this on a $230 keyboard after all), though there are certainly more expensive ones. It’s possible to just get a basic mechanical keyboard for $40 or so and call it a day, but I was very quickly tempted into getting more and better keyboards and pretty keycaps. There’s still a ton that I could spend money on if I really wanted, like fancy hand-made cables and resin wrist rests, but as of now I’m getting to the point where I’ve about got my setup just right for the foreseeable future. Granted that entails not only the GergoPlex but a RoMac+ macropad and a separate numpad (a Setta21), but it works for me.

While you can just walk into Best Buy and pick up a decent mechanical keyboard off the shelf (though those are mostly gaming-oriented, and you can get ones of comparable quality for cheaper elsewhere), a big part of the appeal of the hobby is that you can customize your keyboards in all sorts of ways, most of which are pretty easy (and many of which aren’t too expensive). If you buy a new set of keycaps, you can give your keyboard a new look and feel in about 15 minutes, and there are now a lot of boards with hot swappable sockets, so that you can change out switches, either to replace ones that aren’t working or just to put in ones more to your liking, without having to pick up a soldering iron. You can also do all kinds of stuff with the firmware, especially if you know how to code in C, so that you can get a keyboard to produce most any keypress or combination of keys. Germ went as far as to create a library for combos and chords for QMK firmware, which he’s used in several of his keyboard designs.

Mechanical keyboards are an odd hobby in that there are almost no brick and mortar shops for it. There are a few things I’ve used for keyboards that I’ve gotten locally, but all of the keyboards, keycaps, switches, and other electronic components have had to come in the mail, and a lot of them came from China and were pretty much impossible to get any other way. There are some domestic stores that cater to hobbyists like 1UP Keyboards, MKULTRA, Spacecat Design, etc. I’ve had good experiences with them so far, though they do tend to have very limited stock, so it can be a little frustrating to sift through product listings that are mostly sold out.


The other day I randomly decided to look into ways to type faster. There are things like the Dvorak keyboard layout (and some newer alternatives, most notably Colemak), but the differences in speed between those and a QWERTY keyboard seem to be relatively minor. There were several attempts at creating chorded keyboards–where you use combinations of keys to produce text–but none of them really caught on, so that the hardware is hard to find and overpriced. I eventually arrived at stenography.

steno machineStrictly speaking, “stenography” is a term for any method of quickly recording text, and thus it also includes things like shorthand and even speech-to-text technologies. The most recognizable form of stenography today is court reporting, which is usually done with a stenograph machine, also known as a stenotype. Stenograph machines have been around for over a century, dating back to the late 1800s. They now have a standardized 22-key keyboard, and a trained operator can use chords to produce text. To get certified as a court reporter in the U.S., you have to be able to type at 225 words per minute (fast enough to comfortably record conversations in real time), and exceptional stenographers can reach 400 or more WPM, compared to 216 being the world record for QWERTY typing. Even if you don’t get anywhere close to being qualified as a court reporter (which typically takes 2-6 years), with a few months of practice at steno you can get significantly faster than you’d be on a QWERTY.

Continue reading Steno!

General Update

I decided to revamp my Patreon, switching to a (cheaper) monthly formal where I do Ewen’s Tables packs every month. It’s been fun to work on, and generally reinvigorated the whole Patreon thing for me. I put together a “project inventory” post listing and describing the various projects I have cooking, and man there are a lot.

The Dungeon Zone is now finished and up for sale! It was really fun to work on, and I’m really pleased with the zany 129-page book I ended up creating.

tdz cover

I also got into making zines in a big way. These have been shorter works (though still fairly ambitious in some cases, especially when it comes to the ones about the histories of RPG companies), which I’m offering in the form of hand-stapled booklets through Etsy, plus PDFs through a few other places. They’re fun to work on, and they let me express myself about basically any topic I want without too big of a commitment of time or money. I was also able to get metallic silver cardstock for my zine about Palladium Books, which was really cool. I’m hoping to do a table at a local zine event some time this year, and I’m currently working on a zine about Maid RPG.

2019-01-04 13.27.32

Channel A was successfully funded on Kickstarter (though it was a narrow thing), and the manufacturing process is just about done, so the game should be going out to backers in the next month or so, followed by retail!

channel a ehp

Working on Small Company Big Mess (a zine about the history of Guardians of Order and Big Eyes Small Mouth) led me to think about how I would make an “anime” RPG now, which led me to start on a game called Chocola Anime, aimed at as I put it “colorful, melodramatic anime adventure” (think Tenchi Muyo!, Fullmetal Alchemist, Symphogear, etc., and not Ghost in the Shell, Attack on Titan, or Pop Team Epic). The system so far is kind of a mashup of PbtA, Fate, Fudge, Blades in the Dark, and a few other things. It’s not something I’m working on very intensely or seriously, but I really like what I have of it so far.

For the past two years I was working in a contract job at Facebook, and the contract came to an end a few weeks ago. I just got a job offer for a contract job at another tech company, so I’ll pretty much be continuing with the status quo, albeit with the addition of a daily commute. I’m looking forward to getting back to work and (after two years of a mostly-telecommuting job) actually going into an office and having face-to-face contact with coworkers.

I Hate You: A Cartoon Game

Growing up, cartoons were a pretty massive component of my mental landscape. I was a socially awkward loner (today I’m significantly less awkward, but possibly even more introverted), and I largely filled my time by being a media junkie. TV was the major source of content available to me, and as my family graduated from rabbit ears to cable, I watched so, so many cartoons. There was then-current stuff like the Disney Afternoon, Muppet Babies, and the first generation of Nicktoons, but also old Looney Tunes shorts and episodes of shows like Tom and Jerry, Pink Panther, and Rocky and Bullwinkle that stations put on more or less as filler. In high school I got into anime in a big way, and while that filled a whole lot of my viewing time, I never completely stopped watching cartoons. Today we have brilliant stuff like Steven Universe, Regular ShowStar vs. the Forces of Evil, and Gravity Falls, though if I get too much into talking about those I’ll stray from the original point of this post. The major thing I’m winding my way towards discussing is that I’m working on a mini-RPG inspired by old-school cartoons called “I Hate You: A Cartoon Story Game For Two Good Friends.”

Cartoon Precedent

The first RPG I played was Palladium’s Robotech game, but the first one I ever owned was Toon: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game, designed by Greg Costikyan (of Paranoia fame) and published by Steve Jackson Games. I got it by doing a special order from the local B. Dalton Bookseller, which was a store that still existed at the time. (That particular one became a Waldenbooks, then a Borders Express, then finally closed.) Toon is a great game that provided me and my friends with a lot of fun times, but some parts of it hold up better than others. It does a great job of explaining how to play–the “Toon Commandments” are a lot like PbtA Principles–and brilliantly codifies and explains a bunch of cartoon conventions. Kyle Miller did a ton of great art for the books that managed to capture the general feel of old school cartoons without directly aping the styles of existing ones.


Continue reading I Hate You: A Cartoon Game

D&D is Weird, and That’s Fine

Even though back in my Yaruki Zero book I had an entire section about D&D, I’m still grappling with it. There are a lot of reasons for that, the biggest being that it continues to dominate RPGs, even as there are new developments in how people relate to RPGs. Podcasts and other online media have given us actual play shows with a heightened level of polish, to the point where they can develop their own fandoms, but I still find myself feeling the need to remind people that RPGs other than D&D do in fact exist. D&D is also genuinely a very deep an interesting topic though, and we’re belatedly starting to get a clearer picture of its history.

Despite its position of dominance and its massive cultural reach, D&D is a very strange game, even within the weird niche that is tabletop RPGs. It’s not a bad game, but it is an incredibly specific one, in countless ways. It’s situated in a “dungeon fantasy” subgenre that it created, and despite its massive popularity, in many ways it sits outside the mainstream of tabletop RPG design.

Wargame Origins

D&D evolved out of wargames, and there were more transitional forms than people realize. Wargames are roughly divided into miniatures and board wargames. Board wargames typically come complete in a box, with maps and cardboard chits, whereas miniatures wargames were a surprisingly informal and creative hobby, even though in the 60s and 70s they’d attracted a fanbase that looked down on anything not based in historical warfare. The vagueness of miniatures wargames caused a lot of disputes during play, which led to experiments with having a human referee. The referee role existing led to the referee making rulings on the fly, so that players could conceivably try things that weren’t in the rules. The rulebook might not have anything to say about whether units can ford a river, but a referee can make a ruling and the game can roll on. I think that’s a really interesting development for wargames, and in general it’s rare to see anything remotely like it in tabletop games other than RPGs. These days, while wargame rules aren’t always as clear as would be ideal, they’re closer to board games in that they generally allow for straightforward play without recourse to a referee. (And the most played wargames today are ones with copious fantastical elements.) While this was of course before the internet, the wargames scene communicated more broadly through zines, letting these gamers communicate these ideas around the country and beyond.

white box
…And Some Friends and Polyhedral Dice Even Though They (The Dice) Are Hard To Find Because It Is 1974

Continue reading D&D is Weird, and That’s Fine

Tools for Dreaming: Publishing

Apart from some appendices that aren’t really ready, this is the last chapter of Tools for Dreaming, which is advice on how to go about getting your game out to the world, with an emphasis on self-publishing (since that’s by far the most practical way to go about it these days). Much like with the previous chapter, it’s basically stuff I’ve figured out through trial and error, and I’m sure someone with more experience could fill in some stuff.

There was a time when publishing an RPG meant you had to either find an existing publisher or take out a second mortgage. Nowadays publishing is vastly easier, and can range anywhere from putting a PDF up on a website for free to running a Kickstarter and doing a traditional print run.[1] Turning a game into a fully realized book can be really satisfying (though a lot of work), but don’t feel obligated to go that far. I’m generally of the opinion that (almost) anything worth making is worth sharing, but you don’t even have to do that if you don’t want to. If you do want to share it, you can do any number of things less involved than a fully-illustrated book.

One of my self-published games is called Raspberry Heaven. It’s the result of a decade of off and on struggle to figure out how to make an RPG for charming slice of life stories about schoolgirls in the style of manga like Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch. I went through three radically different versions of it before Jonathan Walton’s game Restless game me the inspiration I needed to finish it. The result is a game that comes as a set of 6”x6” cards, and it’s a weird story game with no GM or stats involved. It hasn’t sold a lot, but it’s more important that I achieved something as a game designer, and now I have a fun game I can play with friends. Continue reading Tools for Dreaming: Publishing

Tools for Dreaming: Games Given Form

This chapter is my attempt at providing advice on stuff like layout. It’s something I’m still working on myself, but I’ve at least distilled what I’ve learned (with a lot of trial and error) here.

The next chapter gets into the details of publishing per se. This chapter is about how to take an RPG you’ve created and make it into something you can show to the world.


Like a lot of things in most any creative endeavor, there’s not really any single way to decide on a title. It depends a lot on your particular project and the audience you’re going after. For a retroclone intended to evoke old-school D&D, an alliterative title with an ampersand in the middle could be a good way to communicate what you’re about. Titles like Dogs in the Vineyard or Thou Art But a Warrior may not grab your average geek, but that’s totally fine if you’re going for a different crowd.

While keyword optimization can be kind of obnoxious, it pays to google potential titles to see if there’s anything else out there already, and generally if it’s possible to find your game online. Even if you’re unlikely to get into legal trouble, a name that resembles something else makes it harder for people to find your game even if they do know the name. I like the title of my card game Channel A overall, but it’s also the name of a Korean TV channel, so to find it online you have to search for something like “channel a card game” unless you really want to dig through posts about Korean pop stars.

In the 1980s Steve Jackson Games developed a multi-genre RPG—not the first of its kind, but one of the most notable—and in 1986 they published it under what had been a placeholder title, “GURPS,” short for “Generic Universal RolePlaying System.”        That in turn made acronym titles kind of a running gag in the RPG world, with the likes of FUDGE (Freeform Universal Donated Game Engine),[1] TWERPS (The World’s Easiest Role-Playing System), CORPS (Complete Omniversal Role Playing System), SLUG (Simple Laid-back Universal Game), and there are more but we don’t have all day. Some are old favorites, some are well-supported small press games, and a lot are joke games. I won’t say you should never go for a title like that, but I wouldn’t personally unless it was a particular kind of satire or I had devised an agonizingly clever pun. Continue reading Tools for Dreaming: Games Given Form

Tools for Dreaming: Combat and Conflict

This is my attempt at exploring different issues relating to combat in RPGs, with an emphasis on alternatives to the traditional methods of handling it. Some parts are more developed than others. The “Shared Narration” bit is something I want to experiment with in a game (I’m working on a short RPG called “Zero Breakers” that’s basically a proof of concept for that), and I feel like tactical combat merits a longer and more sophisticated discussion, perhaps moreso than I’m really equipped to provide.

Perhaps because they grew out of wargames, combat has always been an important part of most RPGs. In actual play, they’re often not as combat-centric as the considerable page count devoted to combat rules might suggest, but RPGs that don’t make violent action a key component of gameplay are still the exception to the rule. Violence is so prevalent in the medium that it’s hard to remove or even alter the amount of violent content in a game without it feeling at least a little bit like a political statement.

Geek culture in general tends to have a disproportionate number of narratives that involve a great deal of violence, as well as games where it’s the most developed and enjoyable part of gameplay. It’s hard to pinpoint where that came from. A lot of the early greats of science fiction like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke didn’t have much violence in their stories, but then they were more on the intellectual end of SF, and the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek were what became iconic franchises. I’m not going to advocate for eliminating violence from pop culture or geek culture, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look at it with a more critical eye.

In real life, violence is chaotic, intense, and too often horrifying. Primal instincts sear it into your memory. Sometimes it arguably can serve a righteous purpose, but in violent conflicts between human beings, at least one side is doing something immoral. Fantasy violence is nothing like that. It’s often an exhilarating clash, as much about the stories and principles at play as the details of attacks and defenses. Continue reading Tools for Dreaming: Combat and Conflict

Tools for Dreaming: Randomness

This is the all-important chapter on randomness. I feel like it needs more detail and rigor about statistics, but that’ll require me learning more about statistics and probabilities. Right now this chapter is a lot about how randomness fits into the overall experience. There’s a short section I want to do but haven’t yet on “other uses for dice,” with things like using them as counters, stacking, roll-and-spend (a la Dogs in the Vineyard), etc.

The vast majority of RPGs make extensive use of randomness, and most of those use dice to achieve that randomness. Randomness isn’t a necessity, but it’s deeply ingrained and legitimately useful. It introduces a level of controlled unpredictability that can keep gameplay popping. However, it’s important to also think about where the randomness slots into the overall experience, and be aware of what the actual odds are.

Doing the Math

If you’re going to make a game where probability plays a role, you need to understand the math involved and make it work as well as you can before you even begin playtesting. Games tend to have enough moving parts that it’s hard to anticipate everything, but that’s all the more reason to begin with a sound theory. My own preferred approach is to keep the math simple and the numbers low. That’s partly because I don’t have that much of a head for numbers, and partly because it makes it that much easier to figure out what’s going on and fix things that aren’t working right.

A traditional RPG has an action resolution system, which is to say a set of rules to determine whether a given discrete action succeeds. From 3rd Edition onward, D&D’s action resolution system has had you roll a 20-sided die and add whatever applicable modifiers you have, and you succeed if your total matches or exceeds a target number. In the case of an attack, you add your attack bonus, and you hit if you can reach the target’s Armor Class, while for skills you add your skill bonus and need to reach a Difficulty Class. That mechanic itself is simple enough, but the things that go into it get a bit complicated, since a character’s attack bonus comes from a mathematical formula involving around 2 to 6 different numbers. Thus, the designers at Wizards of the Coast have the rather complex task of making sure that the bonuses that characters get add up to something that leads them to have a suitable ratio of success to failure.

There are many different types of dice (and other randomizers) that RPG designers have used over the years. The most important distinction is between flat and curved probabilities. If you roll a single die, each possible result has an equal chance of coming up. On a d20, the numbers 1 through 20 each have a 5% chance of coming up on any given roll.[1] On the other hand, if you roll two or more dice, it creates a probability curve, and results in the middle are more likely to show up because there are more combinations that can produce them. If you roll two six-sided dice, you only have a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 2, but a 1 in 6 (or 6 in 36) chance of rolling a 7. This is because there’s only one combination of two dice that can add up to 2, whereas there are six different combinations that can add up to 7.

Continue reading Tools for Dreaming: Randomness