Monthly Archives: March 2015

D&D Assignment [Joel Gustafson]

If a good format isn’t broke, I won’t fix it. Pardon my blatant copy of Carol’s layout.

Exercise: Create 2 characters from different ability values

Character 1 – Anna

14 con | 12 str | 6 cha | 16 int | 11 dex | 9 wis

Anna is a brilliant mechanical engineer, but her curt, snappy exterior makes people think she’s mean and insensitive, rather than just busy or impatient. She was at the top of her class in college, although many resented her for it. Her few close friends would say that she’s actually a wonderful person, but she thinks her life is too busy to develop too many “unnecessary” relationships with others. She is very dedicated and focused on her job, and although she occasionally has existential crises about the impact and value of her work, they always pass. She drinks a lot of coffee, and was an avid fan of the BlackBerry.

Character 2 – Charles

16 con | 11 str | 14 cha | 9 int | 6 dex | 12 wis

Charles is an easygoing, amiable high school senior who never quite recovered from puberty. He’s clumsy and awkward, but is talkative and self-deprecating enough to make light of it with anyone. He’s a great public speaker and is an ametuer stand-up comedian. He’s an insightful, dependable friend, even though he struggles to apply himself in the real world or in situations where he has to focus and be productive. He strongly believes in family values and patriotism, and he often volunteers in the community. He’s still not sure what he’s going to do for college or a career, but he doesn’t want to be bored by a lot of academics.

Anna and Charles wouldn’t be friends, but they would clash either. Anna simply isn’t invested in developing friendships, but isn’t overtly mean, so their interaction would depend on the circumstance. They’d never sit down for lunch together, but they’d work together if necessary. Anna might get frustrated with Charles’ lack of drive but she’d pick up the slack like she’s used to doing. After meeting, Charles would walk away thinking Anna is a strong, independent woman, and Anna would walk away thinking Charles is an idiot.

Chosen character – Charles Dorn (Character Sheet)

Class – Bard

Charles is a Bard. He was the youngest of all his siblings and it was clear from an early age that he wasn’t as analytical or ambitious. He realized in adolescence that he wanted to be a Bard, but his parents insisted that he try to “apply himself” in something “useful”. He respected his parents and gave it his best shot in school, but he never understood the lofty ideals that they wanted him to pursue. After convincing his parents that he would be a total failure, Charles left home to adopt a simple, straightforward, happy life of a Bard specializing in comedic entertainment. Making people happy makes Charles happy.

Race – Human

The human race is diverse, but it is fraught with ambition, politics, and serious talking. Charles doesn’t like any of it. He prefers not to trouble himself with drama, which isolated him as a child. His family was very aggressive, always trying to squeeze value and capital out everything they could, and always reaching for the next rung of the social ladder. So when Charles expressed to desire to follow that trend, he was mocked by his community as a drifter, a loner, and a dimwit. In reality, he just wanted to be content. He knew how to read people and make them laugh, and that’s all he thought he needed.

Alignment – Neutral Good

Charles is kindhearted, genuine individual, but he has no qualms about deviating from authority or disregarding standards. He didn’t fit in with the society he grew up in, so he abandoned it without regrets. He tries to do the right thing, but sees no reason to go out of his way to do the legal thing.

Alignment Characters 

  • Lawful Good – The Lone Ranger, Superman, most childhood heroes
  • Neutral Good – Forrest Gump
  • Chaotic Good – Robin Hood
  • Lawful Neutral – Claire Underwood
  • True Neutral – Beorn
  • Chaotic Neutral – Sherlock Holmes, Ferris Bueller
  • Lawful Evil – Darth Vader, most organized leader villains
  • Neutral Evil – Frank Underwood
  • Chaotic Evil – Moriarty, The Joker, most psychopaths

Pick two people from the given list. For each one that you pick, write down what you think their strength, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, and constitutions scores are.

Starlord:

11 con | 12 str | 13 cha | 10 int | 9 dex | 9 wis

Serena Williams:

15 con | 14 str | 10 cha | 8 int | 16 dex | 9 wis

Trick++ documentation: Faux Mentalism

My trick was a sleight of hand trick that involved a card force and a false mentalism component.  The effect is to know a card chosen by a spectator seemingly by reading microexpressions from their face.

The trick has multiple slight of hand components.

First, you need to shuffle the deck in such a way that you know what the bottom card is.  This is done by riffling through half the deck with the same motion used to cut the cards prior to a riffle shuffle.  However, when half the cards have been riffled from your right to your left hand, look at the card on the bottom of the right hand half.  Then, shuffle the cards, taking care to release cards first from your right hand, keeping the card you’ve seen on bottom.

Further shuffles can be done to enhance the misdirection.  It is possible to do an overhand shuffle that moves the bottom card of the deck to the top, which can then be reversed again, keeping the same card on bottom.  To do this, start with do a normal overhand shuffle, but make sure that you end up with only one left (the bottom card) which you then place on top of the shuffled deck.  The second shuffle should start with you pulling off the top card only with your thumb, then shuffling the rest of the deck normally.  Thus the bottom card stays on bottom.

During the entire shuffling routine, make consistent I contact with the audience and discuss the mechanics of reading microexpressions.  This will distract their attention from the giveaways in the shuffles (looking at the bottom card of the riffle shuffle, pulling off single cards for the overhand), which is very important. I didn’t do a great job at the banter.

 Movie on 3-15-15 at 11.16 PM #2

You now have a deck with a known card on the bottom.  The next step is forcing this card on the spectator while giving the illusion of free choice.  There are a variety of forces, and I used one that is particularly easy to learn and has good angles.  It is complicated to describe in words, so I will simply post a video of me performing the move.

Movie on 3-15-15 at 11.20 PM #2

 

Now you’ve forced the card on your spectator, who believes they have chosen a card randomly.  Go ahead and give them the card face down and set the rest of the cards aside.  Now is a good time to shift the tone of the trick to one of quiet focus.  Tell the spectator to visualize their card, imagine it turning over and revealing itself, and to clear their mind of everything else.  Then step through the possible card values and suits, feigning intense focus and mental strain.  To enhance the illusion, I pretended to get a poor reading the first time and repeated the values twice.

Finally, you can dramatically reveal the selected card.

 

D&D Assignment [Jonathan Bobrow]

Question: How would you characterize the moments in this account in which stats are referenced or dice are rolled? What is happening in these moments? How do they differ from the rest of the account? How do they differ from each other (that is, how are the stats lookups different from the dice rolls)?

Many of the moves in the scene simply progress as deterministic actions, i.e. walking down a hallway or looking around to find items, events we can expect to be easy and not left up to chance. Other actions in the story such as ability to move a stone, are clearly dependent on status of the player, a value that seems variable over time, dependent on fatigue or adrenaline rush, natural ability, and gained strength or experience. Lastly, some actions seem purely up to chance. It seems that the upcoming battle is going to be chaotic and the probability of a win is just that, a probability, so the dice are rolled to see if chance is in our favor today. While it seems like the stats lookup can be combined with the chance aspect of a roll, in this case, the players have earned their ability to perform certain aspects and therefore don’t even need to roll. One could also think of these moments as the probability of failure is so slim that there isn’t an appropriate dice worth rolling.

Character 1 – Guy Barkley

16 strength | 14 wisdom | 12 charisma | 11 constitution | 9 intelligence | 6 dexterity

Guy Barkley, an 8th grade history teacher and Gym (Phys. Ed) teacher is a loyal friend. Guy has always been a reliable person, the one to go to with a great memory. An avid football fan, he remembers all of the great games and even most of the obscure ones too. When not reading history books in his spare time, since history is not just a subject he teaches, but a subject he loves, he can be found in his garage lifting a 50 year old set of lead weights. Strength training is both a skill and a pastime for Guy. While I wouldn’t ask Guy to help me with a ship in a bottle, or even write on the chalk board, he types up all of his notes (pointer fingers, one key at a time), I can always rely on him to carry equipment to practices or help me with big moves. In college, he didn’t appear to be the theatrical type, not a writer or director, but he loved the task of set building and enjoyed the great history of the theater. An elephant never forgets would be a great motto for Guy. 

Character 2 – Brandy Karmic

16 constitution | 14 intelligence | 12 dexterity | 11 charisma | 9 strength | 6 wisdom

Brandy Karmic, a famous sculptor of her time, invented new techniques for sculpting forms in the physical world while designing in a virtual reality. Brandy was a stellar student from Berkeley’s New Media Arts program. Always looking forward and thinking about new ways to incorporate technology into her work, she is gifted with steady hands and more importantly a steady regimented soul. Her routine is to be asleep by 9pm every night and get up before sunrise at 4am. Every morning is started with 30 minutes of meditation before going for a run and then working in her home studio. She handcrafted a set of tools that allow her to sculpt forms not thought possible with traditional tools. Her out of the box thinking stems from her ability to lucid dream with regularity, as her relationship with past arts is quite shallow.

Interaction

Would these two characters get along?

Both Brandy and Guy are affable people, so I imagine they would enjoy each others company. In fact, Brandy’s creativity would be a wonderful complement to Guy’s lack there of. Brandy might be too regimented to hang out with Guy on a regular basis, but surely they could join forces in the right situation.

Moving forward with Guy Barkley

Class – Warlock

Guy comes from a long line of Warlocks on his mother’s side, but even as a young child, Guy favored his time with his mom. His service as a history teacher is a task in commitment and training, as he cannot simply brute force his way through a lesson. His great memory serves both him and his director well. In his spare time, along with brushing up on history, he practices spells that seem wonderfully silly as his huge hands try to guide a tiny wand. While mixing chemicals from beaker to beaker is not his specialty, as witnessed by broken glass on the floor directly below his chemistry set.  As for his knowledge of spells, he is a one man encyclopedia.

Race – Tiefling

Growing up a Tiefling, Guy, originally Therai “Guy” Barkley, knew of the rich history and struggles his family had sustained as a less accepted culture in society. This history and lack of acceptance only made guy push for more acceptance, teaching history and trying to prevent iterating the past. Guy is more trusting than most Tiefling’s and is easy to befriend, in turn, making a lifetime friend. However, his weightlifting and training come from an early desire to defend himself if need be. While it is tough to imagine Guy harming a fly, it is no stretch of the imagination judging from purely physical traits. As a teenage, Guy sanded down his horns, trying to appear as unthreatening as possible, and perhaps fit in, but as an adult, Guy wants to show that people of all walks of life can live civilly.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly… (those were the groups, right?)

Lawful Good – Desmond Tutu, Madiba (Nelson Mandela)
Neutral Good – Tom Bombadill, Charles & Ray Eames
Chaotic Good – Richard Feynman, Nikola Tesla
Lawful Neutral – Taylor Swift
Neutral – Frodo, Boo Radley
Chaotic Neutral – Kanye West
Lawful Evil – Dick Cheney, Saruman
Neutral Evil – George W
Chaotic Evil – ISIS, Most villains in films I don’t like (they seem unjustified, too difficult to relate to), any sociopath…

Lawful Good

It is clear that Guy’s interest in treating everyone equal and knowing his families past would lead him to live an ethical and moral life. While he may not be in the top left most Good and Lawful, Guy definitely tries to do what is right by him as well as others. As a teacher, it is tough not to be looked at as somewhat altruistic.

Now pick two people from the following list… For each one that you pick, write down what you think their strength, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, and constitutions scores are. What’s the closest class to what they do in real life? What race’s traditions or aesthetic matches them? What alignment are they?

Neil Gershenfeld

16 wisdom | 14 constitution | 12 intelligence | 11 charisma | 9 dexterity | 6 strength

Class: Wizard

Race: Human

Tina Fey

16 charisma | 14 intelligence | 12 constitution | 11 wisdom | 9 dexterity | 6 strength

 Class: Rogue (I know it is tough to separate Tina Fey from Sarah Palin)

Race: Elf

D&D Assignment – Dana Melianwë

*I used Carol’s structure to keep it organized somehow.

Character 1 – Arthur

16 constitution | 14 strength | 12 charisma | 11 intelligence | 9 dexterity | 6 wisdom

Artur is a Harvard undergrad student of Business Studies on Boston. He is 6ft tall and has a perfect body (or at least that’s what he thinks). He strikes the gym every single day, and he actually believes there is nothing more important than keeping your mind and body in sync. Well, but if you are looking for someone to go out with or something, I can introduce perhaps another friend? I mean, don’t get me wrong… Artur is great. Is just that well, he sometimes seems a bit full of himself you know? That “I’m a Harvard student” thing, he can be a real jerk with girls. And though he is kind of interesting, being all tall and strong, he sometimes fails to fall on common sense.

Character 2 – Dana

16 wisdom | 14 constitution | 12 dexterity | 11 intelligence | 9 charisma | 6 strength

Dana is finishing her biology graduation on Australia. She is really nice if you get to know her actually. She is one of these people that you feel like know something you don’t, you know? Like if she understood the meaning of life or something. She’s into botanics pretty much, but she also spends some time on an wild animal shelter there. It’s amazing how she’s got the handle of it, seems like she is talking to those creatures, it’s insane.

It’s curious how she is that kind of person that you would never notice walking on the street, with that old jeans and (always) brown or green shirt. She is vegetarian and sometimes people get away from her because she tries to pull up with that maybe a bit too much. But if you can get past that Dana is definitely a cool person to hang with.

Interaction

Would these two characters get along?

Hm… Probably not. I mean I’m pretty sure that Artur would pull his charmer thing with Dana and she would just give him that “what are you doing?” look. That would be fun to watch though. I believe they could work on someway but they don’t strike me as good friends. Artur would be bothering dana with those vegetarian jokes and she would just pick up a book or something and stay in the corner until he was finished with it. But either way, in complicated situations they would both put their difference aside and work together, perhaps to solve that particular problem and then back to not being friends.

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Chosen character – Dana Melianwë

Dana_img

That artwork is from Leanna Crossan, and I’ve modified her right eye only to look like Dana’s

Dana – Character Sheet (PDF)

Dana’s Background

Dana Melianwë, daughter of Quillathe Melianwë – the Hands of Light, descends from a long line of druids.They reside on a simple and small village, apart from Human Civilization, located in sacred soil, above the ruins of Eiellûr. The village remained isolated for thousands of years from the Common World, being visited occasionally by travelers from time to time. It is a very calm place, a temple of healing ruled by a small group of ancient priestesses that conserved the old costumes of the first wood elves.

It’s been said that during the years of the sun, when the days turned to weeks and nights turned to hours, Quillathe received a visit from a strange elf, whose skin and hair shined like the sun itself and eyes that sparkled like the stars on the sky. He was injured and the story’s been told as Quillathe was the only one that could help him in his pain. There’s nothing but rumors, which say she locked herself at home for what would feel like 28 nights and days and spoke to no one except on asking for more herbs or sheets. People from the village could hear screaming of agony and ask for help, but no one dared to try and interrupt, not even the elders.

That unusual noise attracted the attention of a group of orcs passing near the forest. For the first time, they were able to track that sound and find their way to the village, hidden deep in the woods. On the 28th night, there was an invasion. The orcs attacked the houses with their relentless rage, and raped women and children, murdered men and mercifulness destroyed everything at range of their arms and weapons.

Nobody knows exactly what happened then, but once again, stories tell that there was a great light, so strong that blinded the attackers, making their eyes bleed golden blood, as they screamed in agony. Out of Quillathe’s house, the stranger emerged, completely naked and twice the size of a regular elf, they say. He reached his hands to the skies and turned the moon into a sword, that he used to slay the orcs one by one with no mercy on his eyes.

Stories are tricky, for they are full of magic and unexplainable facts. But what is known, is that the morning after, there was no trace of the attack, but the pain and grief on the villagers hearts. The stranger disappeared leaving no trace of his presence. One more thing happened: after this day, Quillathe Melianwë never spoke again. She embraced silence and even the day Dana was born – 8 months after the event – nobody ever heard her voice.

Dana was born with a strange mark on her back, resembling a new moon, and a blind right eye, both silver, which increased the speculations of what was already a suspicion: that stranger was Corellon himself.

She was raised like the other kids, and learned the old ways just like any other young elf on the village, learning and understanding the nature in it’s beauty and wisdom. On a very dark night though, Dana looked at the reflection of the moon on a lake and felt like it talked to her, revealing her a path, blurred by the moving water. She understood she should leave the village and head to the unknown, to perceive her destiny that was already traced.

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Exercise: Try to think of one or two examples of well-known historical, public, or fictional figures who match each category

I used characters from the series Game of Thrones 🙂

Lawful Good: Eddard Stark / Brienne of Tarth / Jon Snow / Samwell Tarly / Robb Stark / Missandei
Good Neutral: Davos Seaworthy / Daenerys Targaryen / Catelyn Stark
Chaotic Good: Arya Stark / Bran Stark / Tyrion Lannister / Robert Baratheon
Lawful Neutral: Sansa Stark / Jaime Lannister / Stannis Baratheon / Daario Naharis
True Neutral: Jorah Mormont / Ygritte / Asha Greyjoy
Chaotic Neutral: Theon Greyjoy / Varys / Bronn / Shae / Margaery Tyrell / Melisandre /Khal Drogo
Lawful Evil: Tywin Lannister
Neutral Evil: Cersei Lannister / Petyr Baelish / Viserys Targaryen
Chaotic Evil: Sandor Clegane / Joffrey Baratheon / Ramsay Bolton

Trick++ Documentation: Magic Deck

Here’s the documentation for my Trick++ last Monday, which was constructed around a deck that had NFC chips embedded in all of the cards.

Inspiration for this trick came from several examples of computer vision/card recognition tricks I came across online, which creates an interesting performance dynamic: it’s only the computer assistant – not the magician – who knows what the chosen card is. Since I was toying with NFC communication for a separate personal project, it was a natural extension to magic tricks. NFC is obscure and new enough that most people aren’t aware of it (much less anticipate it), unlike cameras or microphones that we’ve been trained are “everywhere”. NFC was the perfect combination of secrecy and subtlety.

Actually constructing an NFC-tagged deck was more work than I anticipated. RFID decks are available online, but cost ridiculous amounts (>$100), so I was forced to build my own. I purchased a pack of 75 NFC stickers from Amazon for $40 (25-pack available here), which was still more than I’d hoped, but much more reasonable. The tags (including the plastic sticker casing) were 12x19mm and just 0.157mm thick (cards, for comparison, are just over 0.300mm), and could store 144 bytes. I found an old, low-quality deck that I wouldn’t mind losing if I messed up and was made of paper stock, not plastic. Then I got a glue stick, an Exacto knife, a needle-nose pliers, a lamp, and a long Sunday afternoon.

The process wasn’t bad once I practiced on a few Jokers (may they rest in peace). Paper stock cards are easy enough to split open from the corners, and I didn’t need cut very deep to slide the chip in with the pliers. I also alternated corners, to try to reduce the thickness increase in the final deck as much as possible. After the tag was in, I used a toothpick to “paint” the inside with glue, and then flattened out the card and put it under a heavy stack of books to set. After iterating through all 52 (miraculously without any card fatalities), I went through them again with the knife to trim any glue left on the edges. The final deck was also slightly thicker than a normal deck, so I omitted 6 cards when performing it so that it appeared the same height. Here’s the final result:

IMG_20150312_132744512

In any sort of ordinary handling, the chips are effectively invisible. If you examine each corner very closely (and get the light to catch just right), you can notice warping, although I think that is more of a result of the glue than of the chip.

IMG_20150312_135209

The deck itself was only half of the trick. On the software side, I used a generic NFC reader-writer on the Google Play Store to write each cards’ name on it. The format I used was a two-character text string, like “4h” for the Four of Hearts or “td” for the Ten of Diamonds.

Once the cards were all encoded, I build an Android app that automatically launched itself upon contact with any of those cards, and displayed the appropriate card image. The app filters for the ACTION_NDEF_DISCOVERED intent and for text-only tags, and will launch itself whenever the phone comes in contact with one regardless of if the app is open or not (thanks Android!). The code was extremely hack-y, relied heavily on examples here and here, and I’m deeply embarrassed for ever having written it, but it is available here if anyone would like to use it for themselves. Otherwise you can get the .apk here.

Here’s a short video of the app in action:

Having created the mechanics of the trick, I then needed to construct a performance around it. I felt like I really under-utilized the potential here – there are so many possibilities that the deck opened up I hardly knew where to go to properly take advantage of its strengths.

I practices a few variations in which I would have the volunteer pick a card, which I would wave around and casually bring it near my phone in my pocket. This was rather awkward, since it’s not a natural place to leave your hand hanging, especially when it’s holding something so important. Also, “checking” my phone later on aroused a lot of suspicion.

I eventually settled on a routine built around me leaving my phone face-down on the table, then slapping the card down on top of it. Forcefully slapping things on tables seems to be a common theme in a lot of magic tricks, so it didn’t arouse too much suspicion in my practice runs – most people thought it was just showmanship, not a critical part of the trick itself. Here’s a video of one of my practice runs:

But I couldn’t just let a volunteer pick a card and then immediately slap-reveal on the phone – that would be far too obvious and, much worse, far too short for a trick like this. Instead I decided to try to purposefully obfuscate the performance so that the audience would have theories. I decided to start with a complex, unimpressive trick – a performance that would hopefully leave the audience with several theories. My original plan was to perform the same trick three times, with each repeat explicitly whittling down the possible theories until none remained. In class, on a whim (that I regret taking), I decided to only perform it twice. Here’s the final presentation, complete with spur-of-the-moment patter that tried to “explain” why I’m slapping the card down on the phone:

… “Now… It seems like some of you think this is just a magic trick. And your suspicions are well-founded – I mean, I got see the card myself, and I could have interacted with the phone in all sorts of ways. But to show you that this is, in fact, a legitimate scientific experiment, I’m going to do the trick again…”

I need to say “um” less often.

I’ll probably stick to my NFC deck for at least the midterm project, and am really searching for ideas on how to expand the presentation. How can I take full advantage of this technology?

What would you do with a magic deck?

D&D Assignment – Leah Skellpester

Lots of text to post for the assignment, I hope this post doesn’t get confusing! 🙂

Question: How would you characterize the moments in this account in which stats are referenced or dice are rolled? What is happening in these moments? How do they differ from the rest of the account? How do they differ from each other (that is, how are the stats lookups different from the dice rolls)?

These are moments when a DM needs to know how well a character performs specific tasks. A character with fabulous strength is less likely to fail in tasks that require brute force, but when other factors are involved she may have different results. The rolling of dice adds the factor of chance to the narrative, keeping it interesting and less predictable.

Exercise: Create 2 characters from different ability values

Character 1 – Leah

Str – 6 | Dex – 14 | Con – 12 | Int – 16 | Wis – 9 | Cha – 11

Leah is a bright young girl who is very curious and often impulsive. She likes to dismantle and rebuild things, sometimes breaking people’s things in the process. But she doesn’t mean harm – it’s just a matter of not being capable of measuring the consequences of her actions well enough. She actually has a good heart and just doesn’t care much about rules. Sometimes people get mad at her, but they most often tend to see her as a kid with a free spirit, so the mischief is easily forgotten by those who know her well.

Leah is good with manual arts and crafts and can move swiftly. She would be a smooth dancer if only she cared to practice it, but chaotic dancing suits her tastes better. Her interests involve understanding how things and minds work, observing and learning by imitation. Money is not important to her for the wealth and status, but as a resource useful to fuel her need for exploration and knowledge.She doesn’t take good care of her own health and physical strength, often forgetting to eat and sleep. For this reason she is physically fragile and prone to illnesses.

Character 2 – Sean

Str – 16 | Dex – 12 | Con – 11 | Int – 9 | Wis – 14 | Cha – 6

Sean likes to explore the world. As a young boy he learned to love the outdoors and practice sports. Physical activity makes him happy, but he also tries to cultivate a healthy state of mind and look for peace and wellness whenever possible. He is not too fond of reading, writing or studying for prolonged hours. For him, those are static or indoors activities, and he favors being outdoors, always on the move. Sean almost never engages in arguments with people who think differently, and tends to just leave them talking to themselves. People usually see this as an anti-social behavior, and see him as aloof or weird. In truth, he is just trying to let people be what they want to be, and look for his own interests.

Sean and Leah have in common their will to explore things and their openness to the unknown, but their practical interests are very different. When they became friends, Sean began trying to protect Leah and convince her to take better care of her health, while Leah would try to awaken his interest in intellectual activities and stories. Since none of them are controlling and both like personal freedom, their personalities rarely conflict with each other.

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Chosen character – Leah Skellpester

Leah is more or less like this - in halfling size

Leah is more or less like this – steampunk in halfling size

Class

Leah’s creativity and love of technical knowledge and exploration could be appropriate for the professions of rogue and wizard, but I think the focus on magical things, not magic itself, is more related to the rogue than to the wizard. She likes mechanical things that may or may not be magical. Also, Leah is not much of a dutiful student – she prefers trial-and-error method and passion as motivator. Bending the rules is not a big problem for her, if that is needed in her explorations.

Race

Leah is a halfling who had great influence from gnome culture. Her father used to travel as a merchant to a neighbor gnome village and she ended up making friends with gnomes from a toy shop. There, she learned from their curiosity for tricks, magical items and mechanical things. People in her own village tend to see her as weird because of that, but the toys and trinkets she brings them put an end to any teasing comments once the other halflings start marveling at them.

Alignment

Leah’s alignment is chaotic good. She prizes freedom, curiosity and choice over honor, dutifulness and obedience. She may trick people for pleasure, but never knowingly harm them. She also tends to go out of her way to help someone in real need. She hates people trying to control her actions.

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Exercise: Try to think of one or two examples of well-known historical, public, or fictional figures who match each category

Lawful good – Batman
Neutral Good – Dumbledore
Chaotic Good – Iron Man
Lawful Neutral – Angels in Hellbalzer
True Neutral – Death (Sandman)
Chaotic Neutral – Hulk
Lawful Evil – Magneto
Neutral Evil – Poison Ivy
Chaotic Evil – Joker

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Exercise: Pick two people from the given list. For each one that you pick, write down what you think their strength, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, and constitutions scores are.

Ron Weasley
Str – 8 | Dex – 14 | Con – 14 | Int – 12 | Wis – 8 | Cha – 14
Human Wizard – Neutral Good

The Bride (Kill Bill)
Str – 12 | Dex – 18 | Con – 14 | Int – 14 | Wis – 12 | Cha – 14
Human Fighter – True Neutral
Background could be ‘Criminal’. Her stats would need to be a bit overpowered. =P

Siri++ (Trick++ Documentation)

Here’s my documentation for Siri++, which was performed for the first time in class on March 9, 2015. The video of (most of) that performance is available here: In Class Siri++ Performance

The basics of the trick involve fake shuffling, a stacked deck, and my digital assistant (a pre-recorded audio track). This trick was fairly topical, since it involved references to the first trick I performed, the most recent Apple keynote, a recently released Netflix show, and MIT. But the trick is generalizable to nearly anything. Any slight of hand or algorithm based card tricks can be augmented with a “digital assistant”. In this instance, Siri was “working against me” and causing trouble, but you could also have a helpful version. Below is a video explanation, a practice video, the raw soundtrack file, and instructions for how to make your own Siri dialogue & script video.

A video based explanation and demonstration of my trick is available here:

A home practice of the trick (without the minor hiccup from the class performance) is available here:

The video that plays the audio clip, and shows me my lines during the trick is available here:

Since the stacked deck and fake shuffles are fairly ordinary, the remainder of this documentation will describe how I made the pre-recorded audio, as well as the raw script video. I used a Mac, and will be talking about specific Mac applications, but this could easily be done on Windows using analogous programs.

Audio

Macs can speak back text using the “say” terminal command. For example, opening Terminal.app and typing: >>say “Hello World” will have the computer speak the phrase.

Instead of immediately speaking the phrase, it can be saved as a .aiff audio file using the flag: -o. Next, instead of reading text typed into Terminal, it can read from a .txt file using the -f flag. Finally, Macs come with a few different built-in voices at different speeds. You can also download (for free) higher quality versions of those voices (which simply take up more disk space). I found that the “Enhanced” version of “Samantha” was the closest to sounding like Siri on iOS devices. You can set this voice by going to System Perferences.app -> Dictation & Speech ->Text to Speech -> and then choosing “Customize” from the available options.

Therefore, I first created a script, and then made a text file with all of “Siri”‘s spoken lines. I then set the system voice to Enhanced Samantha, and ran the terminal command: >>say -f “script.txt” -o “result.aiff”

This produces an audio file of the script. However, there needs to be pauses between lines to give the performer time to respond. There is no way to set timed pauses during the terminal say command, so we’ll get to that with a separate application.

For audio file editing, I used Garageband (though Audacity, or any other basic audio editor should work). There was no exact science to this part, I simply played one line of Siri, then hit mute (so I wouldn’t be interrupted) while I said my next line. When I finished my line, I paused Garageband. The amount of time that had passed since Siri finished her line was the amount of time that my line. I then split the audio clip, and then added blank noise for that amount of time. I repeated this process for every line in the script. I then exported as an .mp3 file.

Video

I then wrote out all of my lines on different slides of a Keynote presentation. I then “recorded” the keynote presentation while I played the audio file, which tracked the time I spent on each slide/line. I was then able to export that recorded slide show as a quicktime file.

Finally, I combined the timed keynote slides and the audio saved from garageband in iMovie. I then exported the entire video. In in class for the trick, I was simply able to play the video file, and the audio was presented to the audience and the visual script lines were presented to me.

Conclusion & Expansion

This trick worked really well. There was a slight hiccup with a mistake I made during the first performance, and there was some cracking because of the speaker system. But the general concept works quite well.

There is definitely room for expansion. The obvious direction would be to make it nonlinear: either by having it actually respond to my voice (though and fortunately, the best voice recognition software out there (Apple’s & Google’s) are not accessible by 3rd party devs), or to make it dynamic, and subtly change what it will say based on a keypress on the keyboard, or a button on an iPhone app. Doing card tricks were Siri was able to reveal what card you had, and would be able to do it for any card, not just one, would be very cool.

What other ideas do you have for a digital assistant?

Assignment: Creating a D&D Character

Note: this assignment will provide you with a series of writing prompts as it goes. Please, combine all of those into a blog post and post it here on the blog when you’re done. If you’re confused about any of the steps here, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Have fun!

“You are sitting in a tavern. You look down and see a D&D homework assignment on the table…”

Hello and welcome to the D&D homework assignment.

In this assignment you’re going to learn about how role playing games depict characters and events in magical worlds using numbers. You’re going to conduct a series of exercises meant to give you a sense for how these kinds of games use numbers to make the fantasy they depict feel real for the player. Specifically, you’re going to roll a few D&D characters.

If you’ve never played D&D (or any other role playing game) before that’s no problem. This assignment will walk you through everything you need to do. If you’ve played D&D before, that’s great. Still go through these exercises while thinking specifically about how the game is depicting the story world using its numerical systems.

An Example of Play

First, though, let’s start by reading this short description of play from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition.

Notice how play chiefly proceeds in the form of an interactive story. The DM sets the scene, the players make choices, and the DM figures out how those choices affect the world and what the outcomes are. Sometimes in the process of doing this the DM checks various “scores” belonging to the players’ characters or rolls dice.

Question: How would you characterize the moments in this account in which stats are referenced or dice are rolled? What is happening in these moments? How do they differ from the rest of the account? How do they differ from each other (that is, how are the stats lookups different from the dice rolls)?

Write a short answer to this. It can just be a few sentences or even a short list of words.

Creating Your First Character

Ok! Now that you have a basic sense of what playing D&D should look like let’s start moving you towards being ready to play.

Start by downloading these two documents you’ll need for this process:

Character Sheet

5th Edition D&D Player’s Handbook

Print out the character sheet or open it in a PDF editor that will allow you to fill in the form.

The first place we’re going to focus is your character’s attributes. Those are listed along the left side of the character sheet and they are (definitions courtesy of wikipedia):

  • Strength is the ability of an animal or human to exert force on physical objects using muscles
  • Dexterity is the coordination of small muscle movements—usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers—with the eyes. Fine motor skills.
  • Constitution is a general state of health and well-being and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of sports or occupations. High constitution is generally achieved through correct nutrition, exercise, hygiene and rest.
  • Intelligence the ability to perceive and/or retain knowledge or information and apply it to itself or other instances of knowledge or information creating models about the world. Related to capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, creativity and problem solving.
  • Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.
  • Charisma compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.

The characters we create are going to start off with scores for each of these attributes. The scores will range from three to 18. Typically these scores are created by rolling dice (usually three or four six-sided die depending on the specific version of the game referred to as 3d6 or 4d6, respectively).

A higher score means more ability in that attribute. A character with a higher strength score is stronger, one with a higher constitution is in better shape, etc. If you want to get a vivid sense for what a particular score might mean in practice read this:
D&D Stats in Simple Language (don’t worry about the modifiers and other technical details in there; for now just pay attention to the descriptions and try to imagine a real person with those qualities).

You can think of your character’s attribute as their heritable traits. Your attributes are what you’re born with. Everything else gets built on top of them.

For your very first character, you’re going to use a set of numbers I came up with. These are special magical numbers. They are:

16, 6, 11, 9, 14, 12

Assign each one of these numbers to one of the six character attributes.

Imagine what kind of person you’ve just created based on these attributes. What personality is created by combining these attributes? Do you know anyone in real life who matches this mix of characteristics? How would you describe someone like this to a friend? What jobs would they thrive in? What are some situations in which they’d be really out of place?

Write a paragraph describing your character as if they were a real person. Pretend you’re describing a friend or professor of yours to someone you know.

Now move the numbers around and do this again. Try to create a character who’s very different from your first character without just being the exact inverse.

Write a paragraph describing this second character. Would your two characters get along? How would they interact? If they were on a team would they complement each other? Would they be able to collaborate?

Pick one of these two characters that you’d like to proceed with through the next stages (or heck do all the stages for both, it really won’t take long).

Character Classes: Give Your Character a Job

Now that you know your character’s attributes, the next step is to give them a “Character Class”. This is the D&D term for what is basically your profession. So far as things like “entering a battle rage” or being “bound to a sacred oath” can be a profession.

Take a look at Chapter 3 of the Player’s Handbook. On page 39 it lists the 12 character classes included in 5th edition D&D along with a short description of each (don’t worry about the other columns for now; in fact ignore them, they are wrong and evil). The rest of that chapter also includes more details about those classes if you want to read up on them.

Now, the traditional way to pick a class is to match it to your characters best attributes. High strength score? You’re a Fighter or a Barbarian? High dexterity? You’re a Rogue. This is what shows up under the “Primary Ability” column in that table. But, to this, I say: bah! This method of coming up with characters is both boring and highly unrealistic. Is everyone you’ve ever met perfectly well-suited to their job? Do they each have exactly the traits you’d hope for in their given line-of-work and no mismatches? Have you ever had a stupid or uncharismatic teacher? Seen a musician who really believed in themselves and meant well but had no talent? Heard of a police officer or soldier who was weak or naive? Of course, these kinds of “contradictions” happen all the time.

In addition to missing most of the complexity of life, the traditional way of creating characters also makes for boring and predictable role playing. Some of the most fun characters to play are the ones whose attributes are surprising mismatches for their classes. Imagine a Rogue with low dexterity and charisma, but high intelligence and wisdom. Maybe they grew up in desperate circumstances and so even though they weren’t cut out to be a criminal they had to use their wits and street smarts to survive and so became a hustler and con artist instead of a sneak thief. Or imagine a Wizard with incredibly low wisdom and intelligence but very high charisma and dexterity. What if they actually can’t use magic, but convince people around them they can by sheer force of personality and a lot of skill at sleight of hand? Sound like anyone we know?

Notice how these combinations of attributes and classes got me started telling a story. I’m immediately imagining a bit of the character’s background, personality, and the kinds of actions they might take. This is exactly what we want to happen during the character creation process. It should start to develop its own momentum, as if you were staring to describe a real interesting person. Each choice you make should fit in with what you already know about your character, making them more well-rounded. You should feel free to make creative choices, but also constrained by the choices you’ve already made, compelled to come up with a story that makes your new choices feel consistent with your previous ones.

Select a class for your character. While considering options try imagining a person with your character’s attributes in each of the 12 classes. How would they have ended up doing that job? How would they make it work even if it might seem wildly inappropriate on the surface?

Write down your character’s profession on your character sheet. Also write a short paragraph explaining how their profession matches up with their attributes. Are they good at it? Were they a natural who always knew this was what they wanted to do? Were they forced into it by circumstance? Was it the result of a weird religious calling? Did they have some other prior life or career before doing this? Make up anything you can to make a coherent story out of these two aspects of your character

Pick Your Race (Uh, Creepy)

Next comes one of the worst and one of the best parts of D&D’s character system. D&D’s Race system is, frankly, kind of gross. The idea that a person’s race tells you something about their character is a sign of the racist elements in the fantasy tradition before and around D&D. If you read Tolkein, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the tall pale people from the north are good and the dark ugly people from the south are bad. This reproduces the attitudes of the colonial era in which Tolkein came of age and its one of the worst aspects of his legacy (and that of many other contemporary and prior fantasy writers).

At its best, if you approach it from a very generous mindset, modern D&D tries to use the Race system to mean something more like cultural background than racial identity. You can soften the racism of deriving personality traits directly from a character’s race by imagining that these are generalized descriptions of the mainstream societal values of each of these (partially geographically distinct) races. Dwarves are good at building things not because of some essential genetic racial qualities, but because they are raised in a culture that values building and passes on a certain set of traditional practices around it.

If you read Chapter 2 of the Player’s Handbook, though, you’ll see they mean race in the more troubling sense I’m trying to avoid here. They list nine races:

  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Halfling
  • Human
  • Dragonborn
  • Gnome
  • Half-Elf
  • Half-Orc
  • Tiefling

Like we did with the classes, I’m going to encourage you to take a more creative and interpretive approach to selecting your race than the official rules suggest.

Is your character highly intelligent but weak, somewhat unworldly? Consider making them a dwarf. What would it have been like to grow up as the one dwarf who loved books? How would being an outsider from that kind of culture shape your character’s personality? Did they always wish they could fit in? Or were they more of a rebel who grew to resent and hate the mainstream of their community’s culture?

Again, you don’t only have to go for straight contrast like this, just find something that you find makes an interesting story.

As you read through the race descriptions, try each one on for size. How would they fit with the character you’ve been building? What story would you make up to explain your character’s experience growing up within this culture? Maybe they were emigrants so they didn’t grow up amongst too many people of their kind. How would that change their attitudes to their race’s mainstream values? Would they romanticize them or be embarrassed of the traits that made them different from their surroundings?

Write down your character’s race on your character sheet. Also write a short paragraph adding to your character’s growing biography to incorporate their race. Try to sketch the outlines of their relationship to the “mainstream” of their race community. Did they grow up traditionally for their race or not? What is their relationship to those traditions, positive or negative?

Alignment

Where D&D’s race system is somewhat yucky, its alignment system is awesome. Once you learn it you’ll find yourself applying to real people. The alignment system consists of two axes: one ethical and one moral.

The ethical axis ranges between lawful and chaotic. According to 3rd Edition, “Law implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability.” Whereas “chaos implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility.” The moral axis ranges between good and evil, “Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings.” Whereas “Evil implies harming, oppressing, and killing others.”

Combining these two into a 3×3 grid yields the following possibilities:

Lawful Good Neutral Good Chaotic Good
Lawful Neutral (True) Neutral Chaotic Neutral
Lawful Evil Neutral Evil Chaotic Evil

Try to think of one or two examples of well-known historical, public, or fictional figures who match each category.

Write down the examples of each category that you came up with. It will be interesting to see how much we as a class overlap here. Can you come up with a realistic example for Chaotic Evil? It’s probably the hardest one…

Now select an alignment for your character. As should be familiar by now, start by exploring each option and imagining how you’d incorporate it into the existing portrait you’ve been building for your character. What stories can you come up with to make them make sense? Are there any alignments that seem to match particularly well with your character’s attributes, class, and relationship to their race?

Write down you character’s alignment on your character sheet and write a short paragraph explaining how that alignment fits into their wider biography.

Fill in the Details

You’ve basically completed the important parts of character creation from the role playing and storytelling perspective. You should have a pretty good sense of who your character is at this point. But there’s still a lot to fill in, particularly as it relates to wrapping the storytelling choices you’ve made with all of the numbers that are necessary to make your character playable within the systems of D&D.

If you look at your character sheet you’ll notice we’ve filled in nearly none of it. You’ve written all this great back story about your character, but haven’t filled in much of this sheet at all. Now’s the time to do that.

Rather than reproducing the instructions from the Player’s Handbook here, I’m just going to send you there to fill in the rest of the details. Refer to the sections of the manual that are relevant to your class and race in particular to see lots of the numbers that you need. If you’re a magic user (Cleric, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard) you’ll also need to choose spells from the appropriate section of Part 3 of the Player’s Handbook.

You’ll also need to select some basic gear for your character (see Chapter 5).

Note: many of the steps in the Player’s Handbook will call for dice rolling. If you see an attribute listed as, for example, the Druid is listed as having “Hit Dice: 1d8 per Druid level”, that means you need to generate a random number between 1 and 8. If you already have access to an 8-sided die you probably don’t need me to explain this to you. If not, feel free to use any programming language or computational tool of choice. Or, for efficiency, Wizards of the Coast’s online dice roller.

As you go through each of these steps try as much as you can to root your decisions in your understanding of who your character is.

Notice how the Handbook uses numbers to represent the differences between parts of its world. It tells you to add and subtract from various character attributes when you select a class and a race. What are those changes meant to represent? Do they match the story you’re telling about you’re character or do they water it down?

Write down one or two examples of these kinds of numerical changes the Handbook suggested that struck you as a particularly bad match for the character you were trying to create. Document them and then don’t do them! Don’t let the Handbook push you into stereotype. Its purpose is to translate the character you want to play into numbers that let that character interact in a structured way with other elements and characters in the shared world. It’s just a starting point.

And, finally, don’t forget to give your character a name.

Once you’ve completed your character, post their attributes, class, race, and what you’ve written about them to the class blog. As a bonus, also include your completed character sheet if you’d like with your items, spells, etc.

Fill out the rest of your character sheet using the instructions in the Player Handbook. If you are confused about any of the steps don’t hesitate to ask your classmates, search the Internet, slack us, email us, or otherwise get in touch.

Create Some More Characters

Since I spent almost 3000 words explaining how you should create a character the first time, you’re probably not eager to go through it all again. But what follows are a series of exercises to create stubs for characters. They’re meant to help you to gain more experience with how D&D’s systems represent various characteristics of people. You can do each of these relatively quickly, just writing down a quick set of numbers, a class, a race, and a couple sentence biographical sketch for each (where appropriate).

Roll a random character using D&D’s suggested method. For each character attribute, roll 4d6 (a six-sided die four times) and discard the lowest die. Add the other three together to produce the attribute score. Once you’ve filled in all six attributes, select a class, race, and alignment, building a story about your character as you go.

How was this process different from creating your main character before? How did the different distribution of the numbers you got for attributes change the process of coming up with the character’s story.

Write down your character’s attributes, class, race, alignment, and background sketch. Also write down some notes about how this time was different from last time. Was it easier or harder to come up with a story? Why?

Now pick two people from the following list:

  • Sailor Moon
  • Ron Weasley
  • Lady Gaga
  • Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Genghis Khan
  • Serena Williams
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Tina Fey
  • The Bride (from Kill Bill)
  • Neil Gershenfeld
  • Wolverine

For each one that you pick, write down what you think their strength, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, and constitutions scores are. What’s the closest class to what they do in real life? What race’s traditions or aesthetic matches them? What alignment are they?

Write down your answers so we can compare them with other people in the class who chose the same subjects.