Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summon monster lists in Pathfinder RPG

The summon monster lists of 3.5e never made much sense to me, since the monsters tended to be of fairly widely varying power levels. The summon monster spells in the Pathfinder RPG seem a little more systematic.

For these generalizations, ignore the CR boost provided by the fiendish/celestial creature template, which occasionally puts creatures outside of this range. Summon monster I generally summons CR 1/3 to 1/2 creatures, with the exception of the CR 1 riding dog. Summon monster II summons CR 1 creatures, with the exception of the less powerful giant centipede, while summon monster III always summons CR 2 creatures.

Summon monster IV summons creatures of CR 3 to 4; summon monster V summons creatures of CR 5 to 6; summon monster VI summons creatures of CR 7 to 8; summon monster VII summons creatures of CR 9 to 10 (mostly 9); summon monster VIII summons CR 11 outsiders; and summon monster IX summons outsiders of CR 13 to 14.

So, for example, when putting together an alternate summoning list, a CR 2 axe beak would be an appropriate creature to summon with summon monster III.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Every key Westminster system parliament hung

This blog follows electoral reform somewhat lackadaisically: mostly I reckon electoral fusion is the likeliest way to enable third parties to survive and complement the major parties in the US, which has a first-past-the-post presidential system with a strong status-quo bias, rather than the parliamentary system in which most multi-party systems thrive.

But it's interesting that the London School of Economics blog points out that the results of the 2010 Australian elections mean that first-past-the-post electoral systems, the Alternative Vote (aka instant-runoff voting), and other systems of proportional representation have led to a hung Parliament in every major country using the Westminster system.

Every key ‘Westminster model’ country now has a hung Parliament, following Australia’s ‘dead heat’ election (LSE):
Thanks largely to the success of the Greens in attracting one in every nine votes, Australians now have a lower house (called the House of Representatives) which is completely hung, for the first time since 1940.

...For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government. Following Duverger’s Law their allegedly ‘majoritarian’ electoral systems (first past the post and AV) will typically produce reinforced majorities for one of the top two parties.

But now the table below shows that four of the five key countries have coalition governments in balanced parliaments where no party has a majority. The one exception is Canada, where the Parliament has been hung since 2004, across three general elections.

The linked paper has some interesing conclusions about Duverger's law, the premise that first-past-the-post voting systems lead inexorably to two-party systems (while conversely, proportional representation leads to a more diverse system of parties):
Few propositions in political science are as well known as Duverger’s association of plurality rule systems with two (or few) party competition and an accompanying ‘hypothesis’ (more tentatively) linking proportional representation systems to multi-party systems.

...While the DL literature undeniably opened the way for us to explore some fundamental underlying regularities in the operation of all elections, we have argued here that it extensively misattributes competition space effects to electoral system differences. Using the key concepts of the number of observable parties and 'effectve competition space', we developed a series of precisely measurable tests for Duvergerian two-party drift, and also contrasting predictions of how district-level performance should be structured if results are random or reflect only equi-probability influences (that is, assuming that all logically possible vote combinations across parties are elikely to occur).

When the ‘number of observable parties’ is just 2 or 3 we can predict the district-level results by assuming equi-probability With only two observable parties, outcomes should followbi-nomial probability distribution, defined essentially by the mean vote for the largest party (V1). For three observable parties, outcomes outcomes should reflect the multi-nomial probability distribution, defined by the mean support for the two largest parties (V1 and V2). This approach means that most of the ‘strong’ cases conventionally cited as evidence of Duverger’s Law (sucperfect 2 party district-level outcomes in many US Congressional districts) can be fully and more parsimoniously explained in ECS terms, rendering them inadmissible as support for DL effects.

Both the theoretical argument and the preliminary data from India, the UK and USA reviewed here, suggest that as more and more parties enter competition so strong automatic pressures come into play that make it less and less feasible for two-party drift to occur. Again it is not clear that any reference to electoral system effects is needed to explain multi-party vote outcomes – the driving force here is simply the increase in the number of parties getting a tiny 1 percent of the vote each and the impacts of such changes on the shaping of competition space. we might turn around Sartori’s famous (and loaded) question (2005, p. 107): ‘How much feebleness makes a party irrelevant?’ A clear implication of our approach (and of the data reviewed here) is that every small party getting enough votes to enlarge the competition space can be very relevant indeed for the evolution of party systems.

See also the LSE guide to voting systems.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For re-reading of Nehwon

I always think of the Nehwon stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as coming from a much later fantasy tradition than the sword-and-sorcery of the 1930s pulps, since Fritz Leiber continued writing these stories through the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s. Several of the anthologies were published in 1968 (Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, and The Swords of Lankhmar) and 1970 (Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death). Leiber created Fafhrd following the excesses of the rather inhuman Conan; Fafhrd may be a northern barbarian, but he is usually the more cautious and circumspect of the pair, with an uncanny singing voice.

My first reading of these stories was in the order that the anthologies have come to be arranged in: first, Swords and Deviltry (Vol. 1); then Swords against Death (Vol. 2); Swords in the Mist (Vol. 3); Swords Against Wizardry (Vol. 4); The Swords of Lankhmar (Vol. 5); Swords and Ice Magic (Vol. 6); and The Knight and Knave of Swords (Vol. 7). But this seems a faulty way to read them; it implies that the stories present a sustained fantasy narrative, when they rather are very episodic and diverse in tone and style.

I've been considering rereading these stories in order of original publication, skipping from book to book to learn of the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as they were revealed, in order to break up the illusory suggestion of a narrative flow. In a way, this approach also shows how old many of these stories are. For rough comparison, Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936; H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Clark Ashton Smith turned toward sculpture around 1935. Leiber and Harry Otto Fischer began constructing the world of Nehwon around 1937, and Leiber published the first Fafhrd/Mouser story in 1939.

So here follows a listing of the anthologized stories in order of original publication. It's not a bibliography exactly, but more like a cheatsheet for ordering the 36 stories in the anthologies. For example, "Scylla's Daughter", originally published in 1961, later became the first part of The Swords of Lankhmar. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the ISFDB Wiki, Galactic Central's magazine list of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Wikipedia were useful references.
  • "The Jewels in the Forest" aka "Two Sought Adventure" (August 1939), Swords Against Death
  • "The Bleak Shore" (November 1940), Swords Against Death
  • "The Howling Tower" (June 1941), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sunken Land" (February 1942), Swords Against Death
  • "Thieves' House" (February 1943), Swords Against Death
  • "Adept's Gambit" (1947), Swords in the Mist
  • "Claws from the Night" aka "Dark Vengeance" (Fall 1951), Swords Against Death
  • "The Seven Black Priests" (May 1953), Swords Against Death
  • "Induction" (1957), Swords and Deviltry
  • "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (November 1959), Swords in the Mist
  • "When the Sea-King's Away" (May 1960), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Unholy Grail" (October 1962), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Cloud of Hate" (May 1963), Swords in the Mist
  • "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (August 1963), Swords Against Death
  • "The Lords of Quarmall" (January and February 1964), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Stardock" (September 1965), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" (August 1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Wrong Branch" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "In the Witch's Tent" (1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)
  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (March 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Snow Women" (April 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Circle Curse" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Price of Pain-Ease" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sadness of the Executioner" (April 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Shadowland" (November 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Bait" (December 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Beauty and the Beasts" (January 1974), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Under the Thumbs of the Gods" (April 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Sea of Stars" (September 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Frost Monstreme" (August 1976), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Rime Isle" (May and July 1977), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Sea Magic" (December 1977), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mer She" (December 1978), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars" (March 1983), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mouser Goes Below" (1988), The Knight and Knave of Swords
It was in issue 11 of "The Dragon" that "Sea Magic" appeared, a year after TSR published a Lankhmar board game. TSR included the Nehwon pantheon in 1980's Deities & Demigods and a Lankhmar campaign setting book for AD&D in 1985.

It's a pity, as well, that my cheap ibooks paperback editions from 2003 are already turning yellow and brittle with age. Hopefully the Dark Horse editions will be more durable.

Further comparison: The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Succumbing to Warhammer

Well, I usually go to GenCon for the RPGs; in 2010 it looks like the collapse of the 3e bubble is nearly complete. There were some good deals on old stock from Goodman Games, but there were many fewer clearance sales.

This year, I got really nostalgic for the kind of strategy and war games that I used to play back in the day, but rarely play anymore. In the early 1990s, I used to play a lot of Axis & Allies, and later on borrowed some armies to play Warhammer with folks that played old Avalon Hill wargames from time to time. At recent GenCons, I've picked up dwarf, undead, and monster decks for Battlegrounds Fantasy Warfare (bgg), which is a great concept (I was hoping to pick up the Punic War deck, but Your Move Games was not at the convention this year). So I spent some time demo-ing strategy boardgames from Fantasy Flight Games. They were heavily promoting Battles of Westeros (bgg) this year, which I watched some demos of. I personally only demo-ed Tide of Iron (bgg) and Battles of Napoleon (bgg). Tide of Iron was OK; it seems like a fun enough game, but possibly overgeneralized and random for my tastes, although it did allow more than two players. Of the three, Battles of Napoleon seemed like the most fun and worthy game. It has relatively few unit types (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) that play over a large hex grid, but much of the strategic depth comes from the command structure and management. It looked like a lot of fun, but at $100, it's somewhat pricey for a game I'd rarely play.

At the last minute, I instead went in for Warhammer, splitting a copy of the Battle for Skull Pass (bgg, review) with a friend. Tonight we assemble and divide it. As another friend said, it's cheaper now, but more expensive in the long run ;)

Battle for Skull Pass includes small 500-point armies for the dwarfs and orcs & goblins and 7th edition rules.The more recent set, Island of Blood, includes small Skaven and High Elf armies and 8th edition rules, which were released in June (1, 2, 3).

Games Workshop has articles on collecting, modelling, gaming, and painting, errata and FAQs, and a nice map of the Warhammer world. There are fan forums like the 40k forums knowledge base
with basic information on gluing, painting, and stripping paint. Wikipedia has background on the game and the armies.

Mantic makes cheaper, ostensibly compatible figures and has a how-to section that includes assembling and painting dwarf and undead units at present.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Voter choice in primaries vs. parliamentary systems

Yglesias points us to Neil Sinhababu on getting your voter choice fix:
Whenever I talk to people who wish our system allowed for more parties, and thus more options in a general election, I tell them that they've got plenty of options -- they just have to get involved in primaries. ...I guess there are different ways of fulfilling voters' desires for more than two choices -- primaries and multiparty systems. Maybe part of the reason why so few countries have direct primaries is that when you already have a multiparty system, you've given enough scope for voter choice that you don't need primaries.

2010 has seen a lot of really interesting primary races, especially on the GOP side. The Jack Conway-Daniel Mongiardo/Trey Grayson-Rand Paul races here in Kentucky offered some interestingly contrasting candidates, and the "centrists" of each party didn't win out in the way that's usual. While it's not quite true today that primaries are the real election in the way it was during the era of machine politics, primaries are really important races. It's a shame people pay so relatively little attention to them.

But still I say: Electoral fusion!

Monday, August 9, 2010

An extensible number system

Earlier this year, I pointed to John Nystrom's 1862 proposal for a tonal (hexadecimal) number and measurement system to replace that of English in lieu of the metric system, and speculated that a system similar to Nystrom's could be used to generate a flexible number system that can be extended to describe any base. I've been noodling around with the idea since then, and here's what I've come up with.

Each of the numbers from 1 to 20 has a simple word that represents its basic identity. These words are simple consonant-vowel syllables; these should be generally accessible to speakers of numerous widespread languages, and contrast in place and manner of articulation as much as possible.

A table of the numbers and their names is below. The numbers are named as follows: "Ye" is 1; "bi" is 2; "sa" is 3; "te" is 4; "fu" is 5; "go" is 6; "mi" is 7; "pa" is 8; "ze" is 9; "du" is 10; "vo" is 11; "ki" is 12; "hu" is 13; "be" is 14; "su" is 15; "to" is 16; "fi" is 17; "ga" is 18; "me" is 19; and "pu" is 20.

The consonants are pronounced roughly as in English, and the vowels are pronounced as in Spanish or Japanese. A different orthography might be appropriate for English speakers: the word for 2 rhymes with "bumblebee", and the words for both 14 and 19 rhyme with "meh", but the words for 2 and 14 have different vowels. It'd probably be almost impossible to get English speakers to pronounce everything properly, though ;)

Each of these numbers can be used as the basis for a number system. To indicate that a number is the base, append "-n" to that number's name. For example, the word "du" represents the idea of 10. Thus, "dun" represents 10 within the context of the decimal (base-10) system. Effectively, appending "-n" to "du" means "10 raised to the 1st power".

This may not seem terribly useful. But the system can regularly extrapolate a word for any position in the number system as an exponent of the base. The decimal word for 100, for example, means literally "10 raised to the 2nd power". To do this, append "-l" to the word for the base, and follow it with the word for 2 ("bi") appended by "-n". So the word for a hundred is "dulbin". The word for 1,000 is "dulsan".

Overall, the system is strict place-value notation, similar to East Asian numbers. Numbers larger than the base are said as they are written in positional notation, multiplying and adding as necessary. Within the context of decimal math, "dun ye" (literally, "ten and one") is 11. "Bi dulbin dun bi" (literally, "two hundreds, ten, and two") is 212. "Sa dulsan ye dulbin bi dun sa" (literally, "three thousands, one hundred, two tens, and three") is 3,123. Since "dun" is the word for 10 in a base-10 context, the decimal system is internally known as the "dunal system".

This system's main feature is that it can predictably extend any base up to 20. The octal, or base-8, system, is the "panal system", since "pan" is the word for 8 in a base-8 context. "Te pan fu" (literally, "four 8s and five") is decimal 37. "Mi palbin fu pan sa" (literally, "seven 64s, five 8s, and three") is decimal 491. In hexadecimal, "te tolbin" (literally, "four 256s") is decimal 1,024.

This is more limited than scientific notation, of course. But without resorting to scientific notation, in vigesimal, the system can count to more than decimal 2 octillion. In decimal, the highest it can count is one short of one sextillion.

For convenience and clarity, binary can be handled in a somewhat different manner, the short binal system. In short binal, 1 is "ye", 2 is "bin", and 4 is "tel". Subsequent numbers are created by appending "-b" to the name of the power of 2. For example, "sab" is 8 (rather than "bilsan"), and "teb" is 16 (rather than "bilten"). Thus, "teb sab tel ye" is decimal 29.

One clear drawback is the high level of rhyming. These words are more similar than the same words in English; the example of decimal 212 above adequately demonstrates how repeating the same sounds could be confusing. Of course, explicitly repeating the base might make it easier to break the number up. And the difference in scale between "dulsan", "dulgon", and "dulzen" might be more readily apparent than between "thousand", "million", and "billion", given that people often fail to easily conceptualize the difference in degree. Certainly, this is a limited system deficient for the purposes that John Nystrom envisioned (replacing the number system of a natural language); but it may be useful within the scope of its intent.

NumberNameDecimalHexadecimalVigesimalShort Binal
1 Ye ye ye ye ye
2 Bi bi bi bi bin
3 Sa sasasabin ye
4 Te tetetetel
5 Fu fufufutel ye
6 Go gogogotel bin
7 Mi mi mi mi tel bin ye
8 Pa pa pa pa sab
9 Ze ze ze ze sab ye
10 Du ye dun du du sab bin
11 Vo ye dun ye vo vo sab bin ye
12 Ki ye dun bi ki ki sab tel
13 Hu ye dun sa hu hu sab tel ye
14 Be ye dun te be be sab tel bin
15 Su ye dun fu su su sab tel bin ye
16 To ye dun go ye ton to teb
17 Fi ye dun mi ye ton ye fi teb ye
18 Ga ye dun pa ye ton bi ga teb bin
19 Me ye dun ze ye ton sa me teb bin ye
20 Pu bi dun ye ton te ye pun teb tel
21 bi dun ye ye ton fu ye pun ye teb tel ye
22 bi dun bi ye ton go ye pun bi teb tel bin
23 bi dun sa ye ton mi ye pun sa teb tel bin ye
24 bi dun te ye ton pa ye pun te teb sab
25 bi dun fu ye ton ze ye pun fu teb sab ye
100 ye dulbin go ton te fu pun gob fub tel
256 bi dulbin fu dun go ye tolbin ki pun to pab
400 te dulbin ye tolbin ze ton ye pulbin pab mib teb

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Downtown eats in Indy

We're leaving for GenCon tomorrow. Yay!

GenCon is fun if you work it right, especially to meet up with old friends who live elsewhere. But I'm not a big fan of downtown Indy; it seems like what a suburbanite's idea of what a downtown should be like. It seems so sterile, rather than being an organic neighborhood where people might actually live. And it is completely overrun with generic chain restaurants.

We always go to the Ram (link), a chain brewpub with a location next to the convention center that has always made a show of welcoming gamer nerds. The Shake 'n Steak nearby is a little cheaper, but always super crowded, while the Einstein Bros Bagels (link) is decent for a breakfast. The food at the Convention Center itself is expensive and truly wretched. We've tried to eat elsewhere from time to time, but such experimentation has led to some terrible experiences, as when (desperately hungry late at night) we wandered into a Hooter's that served one of the most disgusting greasy fish and chips I've ever eaten.

So here's some preliminary research on restaurants near the Convention Center. Mostly I've been using the IndyEthnicFood.com map, trying to get information on places that aren't too expensive, too generic, or serve what we already eat too much of.

The place I've always wanted to go to eat in Indy is the Brugge Brasserie (link, map), ever since sampliing some of their beer at events here in Louisville. They brew some fantastic Belgians, as I recall. The brasserie is a gastropub serving Belgian and European food. At 1011 A.E. Westfield Blvd., however, it is way to the north in Broad Ripple about seven or eight miles north of downtown. This neighborhood, though, appears to have a bunch of great restaurants and all of Indy's independent brewpubs such as Barley Island (link) and Broad Ripple Brewpub (link).

Two years ago, it was really nice to have lunch at a Japanese restaurant after a couple days of Convention Center food and pub grub. The nearest Japanese restaurant is Mikado. A block east is Sushi on the Rocks (link, map, menu) which has lunch specials under $10. At 235 S Meridian St., it is between Georgia and South St.

Noodles & Company (link, map, menu) is a chain that offers a variety of Asian-, American-, and Mediterranean-inspired pasta/noodle dishes. It looks like a meal here runs about $5-10. At 121 W. Maryland St., it's right next to the Convention Center between Capitol and Illinois Ave. The Pita Pit (link, map, menu) is another chain that has various sandwiches for $5-10 and is open until 9 or 10pm. At 1 N. Pennsylvania St., it is just north of Washington St. and about a block southeast of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. There's a couple of other places around Pennsylvania Ave. and Washington St., like King David Dogs (link) and Dick's Barbeque (link, map, menu) at 50 N. Pennsylvania Ave, which has meals under $10.

TaTa Cuban Cafe (link, map) sells Cuban sandwiches. At 137 W. Market St., it's about a block due west of the monument. Giorgio's Pizza (link) has sandwiches and calzones for just over $5 as well as pizza by the slice, and is on the eastern side of Monument Circle.

The nearest Indian restaurant that I can see is India Garden (link, map, menu). Most of its entrees range from $10-15. At 207 N. Delaware St., it's just north of Ohio St., about two blocks northeast of the Monument.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Epic feats of literature and memory

Given that historical epics were transmitted orally by rhapsodes, scops skalds, bards, and other singers of tales, it might ought be unsurprising that a person can memorize the entire "Paradise Lost". But since there's little tradition of this sort of thing being done in contemporary English, it's interesting to see exactly what it entails.

It's never to late to memorise a 60,000-word poem:
Pounding the treadmill in 1993, John Basinger, aged 58, decided to complement his physical exercise by memorising the 12 books, 10,565 lines and 60,000 words that comprise the Second Edition of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. Nine years later he achieved his goal, performing the poem from memory over a three-day period, and since then he has recited the poem publicly on numerous occasions. When the psychologist John Seamon of Wesleyan University witnessed one of those performances in December 2008, he saw an irresistible research opportunity.

...Just how did JB manage to pull off this incredible feat? He studied for about one hour per day, reciting verses in seven-line chunks, consistent with Miller's magic number seven - the capacity of short-term, working memory. Added together, JB estimates that he devoted between 3000 to 4000 hours to learning the poem. Seamon's team interpret this commitment in terms of Ericsson's 'deliberate practice theory', in which thousands of hours of perfectionist, self-critical practice are required to achieve true expertise.

JB didn't use the mnemonic techniques favoured by memory champions, but neither, the researchers say, should we see his achievement as a 'demonstration of brute force, rote memorisation'. Rather it was clear that JB was 'deeply cognitively involved' in learning Milton's poem.

Seamon, J., Punjabi, P., & Busch, E. (2010). Memorising Milton's Paradise Lost: A study of a septuagenarian exceptional memoriser. Memory, 18 (5), 498-503 DOI: 10.1080/09658211003781522

Basinger describes the experience in a way evocative of the ars memorativa, as a building he can enter and explore. Nine years is certainly short enough for a youth to learn such a poem, if it comprised the bulk of his formal education.

One might compare the case of a Muslim hafiz, who has memorized the entire Qur'an. The Qur'an has 114 chapters with a total of more than 6,000 verses, comprising some 80,000 words.