Author Archives: colinmcd

Final Project Documentation — Let There Be Light

Magic Final Documentation

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Script of the trick:
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*magician stands next to a table with a black TV screen (facing the audience) and a black box*

The wizards of legend had amazing powers: the ability to make things disappear, the ability to move things without touching them, the ability to fly. In comparison, the “magic” performed by current magicians is trivial: sleight of hand and clever contraptions to befuddle people. But I wanted to return to the time when being magical meant being powerful. As powerful as a God. And on the first day of creation, what did God say? Let there be light.

*magician waves hand over device sitting on the table in front of him*

*device starts shining brightly*

Of course magic is only magical if it transcends boundaries: the laws of physics, the expectations of common folk, and sometimes… real physical boundaries.

*Bring audience member on stage, hand them a silicon box made to look like steel*

(to audience member) This is a metal box, correct? Go ahead, pick it up and feel it. Can you confirm it’s made of real metal? Awesome, thanks. Go ahead and place that over the device. Now for those of you out there who aren’t big physics nerds, it isn’t possible to send any sort of signal through solid metal using any of the technologies in our cell phones, computers, and everything else. You see, metal reflects electromagnetic waves, so for anyone who thought I was doing something tricky with wireless communication, explain this one.

*wave hand over box*

(to audience member) Now, go ahead and remove the box.

*device is shining, cover it up again*

(repeat procedure, asking audience members whether to turn it on or off each time so they you know you truly have control over whether it turns on or off)

*excuse the audience member back to their seat*

When it comes to light, I’m a bit biased. I have a particular source of light that I prefer above all others: fire. That’s right, I’m a total pyro, proud of it. My runescape username was actually irishpyro94 for all of middle school. True story.

Now, as a natural element, fire is inherently more difficult to control that manmade light sources like those I was controlling before. This doesn’t always go well, so I’m going to back up from my target a little bit in case something goes wrong. *looks at people in front row* Um, you guys all turned in your liability waivers right? Ok, good.

*walk to other side of stage*

Alright, who want to see some fire!?

*gesture as if shooting a fireball a la Dragon Ball Z, TV screen suddenly turns on, showing a picture of a blazing fire, sound effects*

*applause*

Thank you!

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End script
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This trick gives the illusion of generating fire and light at one’s will. The script above describes the ideal version of the trick which I didn’t have time to fully implement unfortunately. I will describe the technology I used to perform a first approximation of the above.

There are two primary technical components: an infrared-based module for the up-close magic and a Bluetooth-based trick for the fire trick. I will discuss the infrared technology first.

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INFRARED
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IR Transmitter
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The magician needs an IR LED attached to his wrist with an appropriate power supply hidden up his sleeve. In my trick, I used a breadboarded Arduino circuit. I powered an Arduino Nano (http://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardNano) from a 9V battery. Then I passed the 5V rail through an appropriately sized resistor to limit the current, then through the IR led and finally to ground. I taped this LED to the bottom of my palm near my wrist, positioned such that it was covered up by the sleeves of my coat unless I extend my arms in front of me, as I do when flourishing my hands over the device in the trick. The LED I used turned out to be highly directional, only shining in a narrow beam. A better choice would be an omnidirectional light source, though then the magician would need a way to tell the LED when to turn on (as opposed to my setup, where the LED was always on). This could be accomplished with a flesh-colored flex sensor on the magician’s palm that can tell when the magician’s hand is flexed open.

IR Receiver

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The device that actually lights up needs only 3 components: a power source, an IR sensor, and a light source. I used an Arduino Nano powered via USB from my computer, though in the ideal performance the device would be battery-powered. I used an IR sensor with an integrated thresholding circuit, but the sensitivity could be better tuned if a discrete photodiode was used with the output current being read by a microcontroller that does the thresholding calculation. For the light source, I used three standard LEDs, one of each red, green, and blue. This results in an interesting iridescent effect because your eye doesn’t know whether to interpret the light as white or as discrete colors.

Ideally, this device would be packaged in an interesting way, perhaps to look like an orb or crystal ball of some sort, like the one in Gandalf’s staff that he used in Moira and to drive away the Nazgul during the Gondorian retreat from Osgiliath.

The silicon box mentioned in the script is an interesting touch that I wish I could have implemented. Silicon is transparent at IR wavelengths, but opaque to visible light. I tried to leverage the fact that it looks like metal to convince any skeptics in the audience.

Here you can see the IR system in operation.

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BLUETOOTH
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The final part of the trick involves “lighting the TV on fire”. This is done through Bluetooth signalling between the magician and the computer controlling the TV. In the script, I described a TV monitor to display the fire, but in the trick I performed, I used a laptop. Using a larger screen is better for dramatic effect, and if it can be powered wirelessly using resonant magnetic induction, that adds another impressive element to the trick, that would be extra impressive. Then there could be some banter about the energy of the fire powering the screen or something.

Bluetooth transmitter

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On the magicians side, there is an Arduino Nano wired to an HC-05 Bluetooth module (http://www.amazon.com/Bluetooth-converter-serial-communication-master/dp/B008AVPE6Q). The Arduino is continuously reading in analog voltage values from a potentiometer voltage divider circuit. These 0-5V voltages are converted to a 10-bit binary value (0-1024 in decimal). This decimal value is sent to the HC-05 using the SoftwareSerial Arduino module, and the HC-05 automatically transfers those values to the device with which it is paired. The magician need to discreetly rotate the potentiometer dial counterclockwise during the “fireball throwing flourish”, thus signalling to the TV to display fire. Alternatively, there can just be a discreet button and the Arduino can wait for it to be pressed, which would have been way simpler and more robust than the potentiometer method. Lesson learned.

The code for this is found at https://github.com/colinmcd94/magic/blob/master/magic_analog_tx/magic_analog_tx.ino.
For anyone who wants to use bluetooth communication for any reason, I have a skeleton file for using HC-05 with Arduino+SoftwareSerial here: https://github.com/colinmcd94/magic/blob/master/magic_bluetooth/magic_bluetooth.ino.

Bluetooth reciever
I paired my Mac with the HC-05 module, which is fairly easy to do from System Preferences. If the pairing initially fails, click Options and enter the code 1234 into the box. This is the default code for all HC-05 modules.

[Screenshot 2015-05-17 16.11.33

My computer was running a shell script that connected to the HC-05 serial port using the stty command and received a data packet every 2 seconds or so. This script can be found at https://github.com/colinmcd94/magic/blob/master/fire.sh. You can see the values written to the terminal change as I rotate the potentiometer knob, and when the values falls below 100 (corresponding to about half a volt), my computer opens Safari and shows a video of fire. This is a webpage I wrote available at http://mcdonnell.mit.edu/human/magicfire.html. It uses bigvideo.js to display a video across the whole screen.

Here, you can see the Bluetooth system in operation. You can see the decimal voltage readings being transferred to the shell script running in Terminal, and the “catching fire” in action.

2015-05-17 16.16.07

Magic and the Soldier Design Competition

This past Monday I missed class to make a presentation to a panel of nine judges including the dean of West Point and head of the MIT Physics department as part of the Soldier Design Competition. This program is run through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and pits teams from West Point against teams from MIT to compete for prizes, trophies, and the occasional defense contract.

The team I was a part of is building a hierarchy of drones that can be used to sense or image important battlefield information and relay it to soldiers on the ground or remote command-and-control facilities. The hierarchy includes a “nanodrone” less than four inches on a side, a foldable tricopter capable of carrying sensor payloads up to one kilogram, and larger fixed-wing drones will powerful radios for communicating information back to base.

The obvious magical analogy to make here is omniscience. Synthesizing biometric and positional sensor data from individual soldiers, visible and IR battlefield imaging, acoustic gunshot localization, LIDAR environment mapping, and any other sensing capability using drones as a mobile backbone gives troops and generals alike perfect situational awareness at all times. This is the message I alluded to throughout my presentation and stated explicitly on the final slide.

I also used showmanship techniques to emphasize my points. To demonstrate the small size of nanodrone, I brought one of them onstage. But unlike the other teams that hauled large prototypes across the floor, I carried mine discreetly in my suit jacket pocket. As I verbally extolled the small size of these drones, I pulled it out of my pocket with a flourish and handed it to the judges.

Midterm Documentation

My midterm project was a visual illusion that takes advantage of the limits of human perception. By creating videos that flash through a deck of shuffled cards showing one frame per card, the typical viewer can’t pick out a single card, which is shown for only 4 milliseconds. A card shown for 2-3 frames is visible by some viewers, and 4 frames is sufficient to be seen by the majority of viewers.

This trick is inspired by a trick popularized in the movie Now You See Me, featuring Jesse Eisenberg. Here is a clip of him performing the trick in the movie.

I experimented with many possible variants of the video to ensure that the video seemed smooth and homogeneous, while still maintaining a high success rate for the illusion. This involved showing the desired card for various numbers of frames and experimenting with blur to make the non-target cards less easily detected.

The video from Now You See Me had extreme blurring on all cards except the 7 of Diamonds, which was fine considering the dynamic action of riffling through cards. Because my video simply showed pictures of cards, there was no believable reason why cards in the middle of the video should be heavily blurred.

My final video involved a combination of longer exposure to the target card and blurring of non-target cards. The cards became steadily more blurred over the first half-second of the video, from zero blur to a 16 pixel Gaussian blur. About two thirds of the way through the video, my desired card was shown for four frames. The first and fourth frames were blurred (20px Gaussian), and the middle two frames were entirely unblurred. This allowed for clear viewing of the card for two full frames. This also still gave the impression that the scene was constantly shifting, as the jump from the blurred card to the unblurred card was mistaken for a jump to a completely different card. In contrast, simply showing the desired card for four frames was always recognized as a “blip” in the video by viewers.

To add the “Inception” component of the trick, I had to find a way to tell the computer which card to force a card on the spectator. I made an mp4 video for each non-face heart card (in addition to the seven of diamonds). By embedding the video into a webpage I was able to process keyboard inputs via JavaScript. On this page where I embedded the video, pressing a number 1-9 (let’s call it x) on the keyboard automatically changes the video src tag to show the video with the x of Diamonds as the target. This enables me to take a card suggestion from the audience (using a plant to guarantee a heart card) then force that card on the user.

I Final Cut Pro for all the editing, because iMovie doesn’t enable frame-by-frame editing. I downloaded a Zip of the card images from http://www.jfitz.com/cards/.

Here is the video of the final trick performed (courtesy of Jon Bobrow).

Hatch Raise Train

Hatch Raise Train
THE GAME

Colin McDonnell, Robyn Lesh, Kyrie Caldwell

A bright dawn breaks, and the shadows cast by great, leathery wings above cross your path. You breathe quickly in the frosty morning air, a grin crawling across your face. Today you have received your dragon egg. Today you will embark upon your tasks as dragon hatcher, raiser, trainer, master. Today is the day, and it feels like no other.

Your neighbors too clutch their new eggs. It is a point of pride that you will train your dragon to flight and fullest before others train theirs. With coins in your pocket and more than a bit of luck, your pride will be your family’s as well when your dragon takes to the skies, where it truly belongs. Your excited grin morphs into a mischievous smirk. You can already imagine the set of your neighbors’ jaws when they see your dragon in its triumph.

It is time, it would seem, to begin.​

Materials

1+ 6-sided die
75-square grid (the board), divided into 3 sections of 25 squares each
HRT item cards
HRT event cards
character pieces
money pieces or chips

How to Play

Phases
Every young trainer is racing to be the first to fly their dragon. There are three steps that must be completed before it is possible to fly a dragon: Hatching, Raising, and Training, representing 3 phases in the dragon’s life. Each player must move 25 steps forward to complete each phase.

Turn Structure
Each turn consists of three parts: the “money roll”, a “purchasing phase”, and the “progress roll”.

  • The money roll is a roll of a normal 6-sided die, which determines the amount of money units the player receives that turn. Money can be represented with pieces or chips at the discretion of the players.
  • The purchasing phase is the step where a player can spend money on items or multipliers.
  • The progress roll is a roll of one (1) or two (2) normal 6-sided dice (depending on the phase the player’s dragon is in) which determines how far a player moves forward on the board (corresponding to how far they advance through that phase of the dragon’s growth). The roll can be affected by items (which add or subtract a constant value) or multipliers (which multiply the roll by some factor). Multipliers are applied before items in all cases.

Items
Items cost $3 each. Once purchased, the player draws an item from the item deck. Each item has an effect, which is a number between -4 and +4, which can be used to augment one’s own progress roll or to subtract from another player’s roll. Items must be used after the progress roll of the person to whom they are applied. Up to three items can be held by a player at one time in their “inventory”.

Multipliers
Multipliers cost more than items ($6 for 2x and $9 for 3x), and can be used to multiply a user’s progress roll by some factor. Up to three multipliers can be held by a player at one time. Multipliers must be played before the progress roll of the person to whom they are applied.

Differences between phases
The game accelerates over time as the dragon grows in size and intelligence.

  • In the Hatching Phase, the progress roll uses a single 6-sided die.
  • In the Raising phase, the progress roll uses two (2) 6-sided dice.
  • In the Training phase, Event Cards are introduced. These are random events that happen to the dragon during the dangerous training process. At the end of every player’s turn, they draw from the Event Card pile and follow the instructions on the card.

Endgame
The game ends when a person gets through all three phases (all 75 squares on the board) and finally flies their dragon!

Colin McDonnell D&D

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)?

The dice are rolled and the stats are referenced when there is a specific question to be answered regarding the storyline and the characters ability to manipulate some part of it.  For questions of capabilities (“can I do x”) usually there is a relevant stat that can guide the answer to the question.  For scenarios where a major plot point is being decided, chance is used to determine the branching of the storyline, such as when the players were looking for a secret door.

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?

 

Strength-16

Dex – 6

Const – 11

Intel – 9

Wisdom – 14

Charisma – 12

Josh is a cool guy.  He was sorta born to be a JV lineman, if that makes any sense.  He can take a few hits before being knocked out and he’s a pretty big guy, but can’t really stand up to the real football lifers for long.  I’m not sure if he’s been hit in the head a bit too much, but he has a hard time remembering names and doesn’t do well in school.  But he has impressive moments of insight and clarity into social problems and is trusted on the team as a bit of a life advisor.  But outside of contexts like that he’s pretty ordinary socially.  He can hold a conversation.

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.

Str – 11

Dex – 9

Const – 14

Intel -12

Wis – 16

Char – 6

Jon is a strange dude.  When you meet him or try to have a conversation with him he alternately comes off as rude or just antisocial.  He probably hasn’t been the cool kid in school because he’s a small guy, clumsy, not athletic.  But every so often, maybe because he’s so unattuned socially, he’s able to cut through the crap in a situation and know whats right.  And when he is really dedicated to something, he really gets into it.  He worked on renovating his room last summer all day every day for a week.

 

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?

I don’t think these characters would get along or collaborate well.  Jon doesn’t work well with people in general, and Josh is unassuming and a bit naive, which makes Jon even more rude.  They complement each other physically, but even together they’re no great shakes in terms of cleverness or toughness.  They wouldn’t be friends.

 

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?

Josh is a Ranger.  He isn’t ideally suited to be ranger, he could do with a bit more intelligence and hand-eye coordination.  His strength occasionally gives him an advantage, and his willingness to work with other people.  He is very kindhearted, and doesn’t like the long separations from other people required of his lifestyle, but he deals with it.  He was pressured into leaving his childhood home by his parents at the age of 14, who wanted him to see more of the world and leave the small town they’d lived in their entire lives.  They were always partial to the Rangers so he chose that path without appreciating the ramifications.  

 

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?

Josh is a half-tiefling, half human, half, but he grew up among a small subset of the population that lives peacefully in an isolated environment.  Josh’s half-tiefling body can only just pass fo a humans under heavy garments.  He has been identified as tiefling before while wandering through human villages and been chased away by armed villagers.  he has to be very careful around humans, and he’s become more and more cynical towards them over time, despite his good nature.

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:

Good Neutral Evil

Lawful Harry Potter Dumbledore Malfoy

(True) Seamus Cho Chang

Chaotic Aberforth Ollivander Voldemort

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?

Josh is Chaotic Good because he is inherently good natured but needs to be free of commitment because of his lifestyle.

 

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 your 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.

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.