Miscellaneous geekery

Every well-shuffled deck of cards is in a unique order

The number of possible permutations for card order in a standard deck of playing cards, 52! (52 factorial, or 52x51x50x49 . . . all the way down to x1), is staggeringly large. How large?

Yannay Khaikin, who created this lovely video explaining the concept, says it’s this large:

Any time you pick up a well shuffled deck, you are almost certainly holding an arrangement of cards that has never before existed and might not exist again.

Seeing this mathematical concept explained through cards is one of the coolest things I’ve encountered all week.

Miscellaneous geekery

Returning to WoW after five years away

I quit WoW in 2011, but watching Sword Art Online (an anime series about players trapped inside a VR MMO) made me nostalgic for it. One of many things I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed about WoW was how pretty it can be; this screenshot is from Winterspring, one of my favorite zones in terms of visuals.

The game is leagues more casual-friendly than it was five years ago, too. I tend to play MMOs as solo games, which sounds weird but works for me. I like seeing other people, and I enjoy the randomness that injects into the game world, but I mostly do stuff by myself.

But dungeons? Dungeons are awesome now! Teleport in from anywhere, group with random folks across multiple servers (so, thanks to time zones, there’s almost always a group ready), teleport back out when you’re done. And the XP and loot is excellent.

So instead of ugh I remember how much of a pain this zone was I can just run dungeons for five levels until I’m ready for a more fun zone. Rock and roll.

Also, I can play a drunken dwarven monk whose dog carries his beer for him. Yes.

D&D Miscellaneous geekery

The D&D phonetic alphabet

After making a string of phone calls where I needed to spell things for the person on the other end of the line, I decided it was finally time to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet so I could stop doing this:

Okay, it’s five, P as in pork chop [shit, now I’m hungry], six, three, H as in hors d’oeuvres [why the fuck did I choose something that sounds like it starts with an O?] . . .

I typed up the list, stuck it to my monitor, and started memorizing it.

Then, over on G+, Adam McConnaughey mentioned “U as in unicorn,” and I started thinking about a D&D phonetic alphabet using monster names.

But not one designed for maximum clarity, like the NATO phonetic alphabet — one made with names that are funny, difficult to pronounce, fun to say, and, ideally, confusing for the person on the other end of the line.

One that’s full of terrible phonetic choices — like this little dude, who sounds like he was named by Mister Mxyzptlk:

I as in ixitxachitl

Here’s what I come up with using two of my favorite monster books, AD&D 1e’s Monster Manual and Fiend Folio:

Need to liven up your next grinding, soul-crushing, red tape-filled phone call? This should do the trick.

“Wraith” has a silent W, making it sound like it should be an R-word . . . but it’s the W. “Ixitxachitl” is clearly an I-word, but I always stumble over it when I say it aloud. “Gnome” is another sounds-like-the-wrong-letter entry. And so on.

If the majority of my monster books weren’t in storage, I bet there are at least a few other letters that could be made more confusing. Suggestions welcome!

Dice Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

Tiny dice purses

I have a container fetish.

Not a problem, mind you,[1] a fetish.

Browsing in office supply stores is dangerous for me. When we moved to Seattle, and everything I owned became, at some point, another fucking thing to haul across the country, I threw out a box full of smaller boxes.[2] I own more dice bags than anyone could possibly need. Ditto tiny tins for storing gaming bits and bobs. I blog about bags.

So when I picked up a pair of Flytanium anodized titanium d6s, the next thing I went looking for was a tiny container to keep them in. Not my regular dice bag, because metal dice are heavy and not always kind to plastic dice in transit, but something specifically for these dice.

As is so often the case when it comes to weird little things like this, I found what I was looking for on Etsy: tiny coin purses.

This little guy is the perfect size for these two dice. I love it.

The purse is lined fabric, and the outer layer is fairly thick. It provides plenty of padding for whatever the dice bump into, and it fits into my dice bag. And unlike a box, it keeps the dice from rattling.

The dice themselves haven’t yet been rolled at the table (at the moment, we’re not playing any games where 2d6 rolls come up often), but they’ve proven to be fantastic to fiddle with. I keep them on my desk, next to my high-tech worry stone, and they’re a perfect size and heft to keep my fingers busy.

They’ve also acquired a lot of character in the process, which you can hopefully make out in the photo. Anodization wears off with use, which I like, and on dice it makes sense that it’s going to wear off fastest on the edges. I can see some nice wear on the flats too, though; I love how that looks.

But when I get to bring them to a game, they’ll be riding in their cozy little dice purse.

[1] I can stop anytime I want.

[2] Some of which were, yes, full of even smaller boxes.

Miscellaneous geekery

A high-tech worry stone

I’m often full of restless energy, and I like to fiddle with things while I think. A year or so ago I finally figured out that, hey, maybe it’d be useful to keep some dedicated “fidget toys” handy to keep my hands busy, rather than just using whatever’s nearby.

I’ve tried and set aside a lot of different options over the past few months, and last week I found one that hits a lot of high notes for me.

Not just any worry stone

Most worry stones I’ve seen are smooth, sometimes with a recess for your thumb. I find textured (or mixed smooth/textured) things more fun to fiddle with, so I wanted something different. I considered a coin, but as interesting as coins are, they don’t always offer much texture — and the ones large enough to fiddle with tend to be heavy, too.

I wanted something light, textured, silent, air travel-friendly, and pocketable that wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in social settings. I also wanted something that would, if possible, convey to other folks that I’m not bored, just bleeding off energy.

I stumbled across a worry stone by SoCal Knifeworks, in their Etsy shop, and I love it.

A tiny ottoman

The top is polished galaxy green Kirinite:

And the bottom is green/black G-10 with irregular “bites” taken out of it:

I know Kirinite and G-10 primarily as knife handle materials, and I imagine that’s part of the reason this knifemaker uses them for worry stones: He’s already used to working with this stuff. G-10 and Kirinite are light, incredibly tough, and come in all sorts of flavors.

There’s a lot going on in the Kirinite, including sparkles, swirls, and occlusions; it’s hard to capture in a photo. The G-10, being composed of layers of fiberglass and resin, can have some texture to it depending on how it’s finished. My “stone” has a mix of polished and slightly rough surfaces on the bottom.

And it looks like a little ottoman:

Dimension-wise, it’s 1 11/16″ long, 1 3/8″ wide, and 3/8″ thick, and weighs almost nothing — just 0.7 oz. This is a great size and shape in-hand, but also for spinning on the table, standing on edge, setting flat so it won’t slide off the desk, and so on. I love fiddling with it.

It’s exceptionally well-made (good knifemakers are amazing with details!), with no sharp corners, a well thought-out shape and form factor, and a completely seamless transition between the two materials. I couldn’t be happier with it.

Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

Gaming bag additions and second impressions

I’ve had a chance to use my new Tom Bihn Pilot as a gaming bag twice now, and I’ve made a couple additions.

I can also confirm that everything I loved about the bag when it first arrived still holds true: This is a great bag!

Carrying it around has made me noticed something else about it that I really dig, too: the strap. I’m using the standard strap (which it came with), and I’ve found that when worn cross-body, I can keep the pad on my shoulder while sliding just the bag around to the front — the pad holds its grip, and the strap slides through it. That’s awesome for getting into it without taking it off.

Paracord silencer zipper pulls

Zippers are jingly! I don’t like being jingly. But Tom Bihn uses lovely zippers, and I didn’t want to snip off the pulls and replace them (the quietest option). So I knocked together some paracord (paid link) silencers:

The bag came with a baggie full of shock cord zipper pulls, but I prefer paracord to shock cord for zipper pulls.

I don’t know much about knots, so I used a simple overhand knot.[1] I trimmed the ends and melted them with a lighter to seal them up. (Folks who are into paracord crafts can do much, much cooler knots and finer sealing, but this is good enough for me.)

To add a bit of character, and to make it easy to distinguish the center pocket zipper from the two nearby front pocket zippers just by feel, I added a brass Hinderer Mount St. Helens bead to it. I love mountains, and Washington, and Mount St. Helens ticks both boxes. I chose brass because it’s one of my favorite metals, particularly because of how it patinas and takes on a life of its own through use.

By happy chance, the length that looked good to me — roughly 2.5″ — also happens to be just about perfect for keeping that center pocket pull from hitting the ground when the pocket is open:

That length is also pleasing in-hand, and makes the zippers a breeze to pull in both directions.

Hydration and tokens

I thought the Nalgene N-Gen (paid link) would be a perfect fit for the dedicated water bottle pocket, and it is! The mouth of the bottle is a bit bigger than I’d like,[2] but small enough that it shouldn’t be too easy to slop water all over myself while walking around.

I’ve got a host of tokens I use for games, from clay composite poker chips (paid link) to little glass beads to coins, but they tend to be heavy. Koplow mini poker chips (paid link) are about the size of a penny and come in a variety of colors, and a tube of 50 weighs 1.1 oz.

Here they are together:

I’ll be bringing this bag on the road to Go Play NW this weekend, and I can’t wait to see how it does as a day bag for a convention.

[1] More accurately, I used “a knot that seemed okay,” and then looked up what it was called.

[2] In between Nalgene’s wide and narrow options, but closer in size to the wide/standard mouth.

Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

My gaming notebook, pencil, and eraser

Over the years, I’ve used and experimented with a ton of different notebooks, pencils, pens, and erasers for gaming. I’m almost as much of a notebook and writing implement geek as I am a bag geek, and I enjoy the hunt for the perfect thing as much as I enjoy the satisfaction of finding something that comes close.

I’ve used the same pencil and eraser for about a year now, and they’re perfect for me in every way. I’ve used my current notebook for just over a year and a half, and ditto.

The notebook

I’m a big Moleskine (paid link) fan, so for the past several years my gaming notebooks have always been Moleskines.

I’ve found that the hardcover ones don’t offer me much more durability (the softcovers are plenty tough), and what little they do offer comes at the expense of comfort while writing — they’re too stiff to lay flat easily. I also used to use smaller ones (easier to pack, right?), but they made my hands cramp because they didn’t give me enough room to write.

The extra large, ruled, softcover Moleskine notebook (paid link) solves both problems: It lays flat, making it easy to write in, and it’s large enough (7.5″x10″) to make taking notes a breeze.

For the money, Moleskine makes a durable, high-quality notebook. The bookmark is handy, as is the elastic closure. They feel good in-hand, and they’re a pleasure to write in. I don’t bother using a pen for gaming notes anymore, but when I did I sometimes found their paper a bit thin for that, depending on the pen.

(Yes, I have terrible handwriting. All-caps is the only way anyone can read my notes, including me.)

The pencil and eraser

After mocking one up in paper so I could confirm that it wouldn’t be too short, I splurged on a Kaweco Brass Sport pencil (paid link) with 0.7mm leads. I’m 6’0″, and it’s just the right length for my rather large hands. It doesn’t look like it’d be long enough, but my grip ignores the back third of most pencils/pens anyway, and that’s all that’s missing from the Sport.

Brass is one of my favorite metals, particularly for things I use often, in large part because it patinas. I’ve entirely failed to capture the patina in my photos, but it’s there and I think it’s lovely.

I love the styling, but it’s also functional in a minimalist way: It’s a comfortable pencil to use, even for long periods. It only holds two spare leads, which isn’t the end of the world (though I’d prefer more), and it doesn’t have an eraser.

Lacking an eraser doesn’t bother me, since I’m happy to use a separate, much longer-lasting, stick eraser — specifically, the rOtring Tikky eraser (paid link). Absolutely everything about this eraser is perfect, and it’s miles better than any other stick eraser I’ve used.

Before I switched to that pair, I used a Pentel Side FX 0.7mm pencil (paid link). I still swear by these as disposable options, and I keep this one in my gaming bag as a loaner/backup.

I’ve used it for so long that the lettering has rubbed off, because it’s the best pencil of its kind I’ve ever used. It holds a half-dozen leads in the body, the grip is comfortable, and the action is perfect.

The twist ring at the top controls the retractable eraser, and the button on the side advances the lead. Those are both a big deal, because crappy pencils don’t have a retractable eraser (whereas this one lasts for years), and the lead is advanced by pushing the eraser — often, in my experience, while erasing.

These are little things! But little things make the difference between the almost-right tool and the tool that’s perfect for you. These are perfect for me, and I highly recommend all of them.

Miscellaneous geekery

Part of me is still skydiving

This past Sunday, I went skydiving for the first time.

It was a tandem jump at Skydive Snohomish, and my instructor Mike (who rocked!) and I jumped out of an airplane at 13,500 feet (2.5 miles). We reached our terminal velocity, 180 mph, in a few seconds, and spent about a minute in freefall.

It was totally amazing.

I’m still processing the whole experience. My stomach felt like it was at 13,500 feet for at least an hour afterwards. And in the same way that part of me is always hiking up a mountain, part of me will, I suspect, always be skydiving.

Holy fucking shit!

Once we were at altitude, there was very little time to think about what was happening.

Mike and I were the first two tandem jumpers, but we were preceded by a team of five who exited the plane in formation, and a team of two doing some sort of headfirst freefall thing. From the moment the door opened[1], this is a rough summary of my thought process.

Hey, those people in front just fell out of an airplane! What the fuck! Hey he’s scooting us forward! Okay, my job is to tuck my feet under the plane. Hey, we’re about to fall out of an airplane! I JUST FELL OUT OF AN AIRPLANE!

That only took a few seconds, tops.[2]

There were two terrifying moments. The first was the initial drop, which I expected to be scary. The second was when the canopy opened, which I didn’t expect to be scary. What those moments shared was my body’s realization that it was falling towards the Earth from a great height.

The Fitbit knows

This is my heart rate today (thanks, Fitbit!):

That spot where there’s a gap in the graph, where it spikes from around 70 bpm to around 115, is when our plane took off. (“Oh shit, this is actually happening.”)

I’m pretty sure the spot where it spikes to 126 bpm is when we actually jumped.

The clichés are true

I’ve heard skydiving described as “the ultimate freedom.” That’s true.

Once we hit 180 mph, it felt like floating. I was so high up that the ground didn’t feel like it was rushing towards me, so even looking straight down didn’t feel like I thought it would. The part of my brain that should have been terrified after the initial drop hadn’t fully caught up.

I’d also read, and heard, that the feeling of skydiving is indescribable. That’s also true!

It was a jumble of terror, with my brain lagging well behind my body in responding to the situation at hand; exhilaration during freefall, which is one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever experienced; and a deeply chill, relaxing float down under the canopy, having a conversation with Mike about the sights, and skydiving, and whatever else came to mind.

I’m so glad I did this

Skydiving is something I wasn’t sure I could do. I wanted to see if I could do it, so I did it.

I didn’t even want to do it, except in the abstract sense, until a couple of years ago.[3] That was when I started hiking up mountains and learned to take considered risks around lethal drop-offs — and enjoyed it. Five years ago, I don’t think I could have gone skydiving.

It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The adrenaline was unbelievable. The mix of fear and excitement and anticipation and freedom and the wild rush of air at 180 mph and the knowledge that I was falling out of an airplane, towards the ground, faster than I’ve ever gone and higher than I’ve ever been before . . . is hard to put into words.

“Totally amazing” is probably as close as I can get. Two hours later, it still doesn’t seem entirely real. It doesn’t even sound real: “I fell two and a half miles, but, thanks to some straps, buckles, rope, and a fancy piece of cloth, I didn’t die.”

If the opportunity arose, I would absolutely do it again. And I’d happily do it at Skydive Snohomish — they were awesome.

[1] Which, as a lifelong air traveler, was just one more moment of weirdness. (“THERE’S A HOLE IN THIS PLANE!”)

[2] Thirty minutes afterwards, I noticed that my teeth felt sore — I must have gritted them like crazy.

[3] In an “I’d like to do that someday” sense, I’d always been curious about skydiving.

Miscellaneous geekery

A 1,700 year-old Roman Antoninianus

Back in 2013, I went looking for an old English coin in the basement, which I couldn’t find, and found this 1,700-year old Roman coin instead.

It took me an hour to go from knowing precisely dick about Roman coinage to being 99% certain about what this one is, when it was minted, etc. I love the internet!

I believe it’s an Antoninianus from the reign of Probus, minted in Antioch in 281 AD. The obverse (above) is a bust of Probus, and reads IMP C M AVR PROBUS P F AVG (“Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Probus the Dutiful and Fortunate Augustus”). The reverse (below) depicts the emperor receiving Victory from Jupiter, and reads CLEMENTIA TEMP (“Clemency of the Emperor”). Probus was assassinated in 282, the year after this coin was minted.

Had I been able to read much of that initially, it would have been easier to identify the coin. But I had to back into it from the bits I could read, paring down results that didn’t fit the other stuff I could make out. I felt like I was making a Library Use roll in Call of Cthulhu (paid link).

I also learned that the Romans minted a metric fuck-tower of coins in a billion denominations and variations. This one’s not worth much of anything, but it’s neat. I bought a little case for it so I could carry it in my pocket, which I did for a year or so; now it sits on my desk, alongside myriad other doodads.

Back in high school, my favorite teacher once said, “Everything is interesting if you look close enough.” It’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten, and it fits this sort of thing perfectly.

Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

5 years, 82 projects: My Kickstarter sniff test

Yesterday I was thinking about Kickstarter and how happy I am with some of the stuff that’s come in the mail this year, and I realized I should revisit a post I made on Google+ back in January — one that prompted some great discussion — and see if it still applied. It does, so I’m reprising it here on Yore.

I’ve been backing stuff on Kickstarter since 2011, and over the past five years my engagement with the site — and the “culture” of Kickstarting stuff, particularly tabletop RPGs — has changed. I’ve backed 82 projects as of this writing, mainly tabletop RPGs but also a couple of movies, some comics, several board games, and a few one-offs in other areas

These are my personal guidelines (not rules!) — a sort of informal sniff test that helps me decide whether to back a project. Some are weird, some may not apply to anyone else, and some I consider best practices.

No board/card games

I’ve kept just one board game I backed on KS, Swords & Strongholds — and I haven’t played that one yet. I have enough board games, and my track record in this area is terrible.


“First created, zero backed” is one of the biggest canaries in the Kickstarter coal mine, a big ol’ red flag that the project creator has no fucking clue what they’re doing. Granted, most gaming projects I’d consider backing don’t fall into this trap, and most gaming FC0Bs suck in all sorts of other obvious ways. I mind the 0B a lot more than the FC; everyone has to have an FC, after all.

No at-cost fulfillment

I totally get why offering backers an at-cost copy on DTRPG or Lulu, rather than handling fulfillment directly, is great for creators. But if I have to take the risk of giving you my money up front, I expect you to keep that skin in the game. It’s also inconvenient for me to have to essentially preorder, then order again; I’ll just order once, if the project succeeds, at zero risk to my wallet.

No spreadsheets

If I need a spreadsheet to figure out which reward level to choose, I’ll pass. I don’t feel like investing that much time in what’s essentially a preorder, and it can be a sign of excessive complexity in the project itself, leading to delays and other problems.

No paid autographs

It’s cool if you want to charge for signatures, but paying extra for one has zero appeal for me. I won’t avoid a project for having this option, I’ll just back it at a different level.

There must be a print option

I don’t read PDFs unless I have to, and I don’t back projects without a print book available.

Have your shit mostly done

This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.

Have actual risks and challenges

Don’t be cutesy (“The only risk is if I get hit by lightning!”), don’t boast about how many years you’ve been gaming (which has fuck-all to do with your ability to shepherd a project to completion), don’t say there are no risks. Do mention past projects, realistic hurdles, third party involvement (e.g., printers), and things like impending parenthood. Disclosure is good.

Limited clutter

The best stretch goals make the product better for everyone, and reward backers for taking a risk on your thing. Doodads, which generally involve additional parties and workflows and production hassles, can die in a fire. Make the thing better, and have a plan for wild success (i.e., some stretch goals in mind).

Some sort of sample

If I’m on the fence, being able to see part of the thing for free will help me get off the fence. If I don’t know you or your work, I probably won’t back without a pretty robust sample — a chapter, a draft, some excerpts, whatever.

My stats

Here are my Kickstarter backing stats by year, including 2016 to date:

Projecting a simple trend (average of 1.2 projects backed/month in 2016 so far) through the end of the year, it looks a bit different:

Those charts look like me mostly eating my own dog food[1] — there’s a board game project on my 2016 list, for example (one with a previous KS and a great track record, and I like the first set) — but it also looks like I’m headed for an uptick in backing stuff this year.

My guidelines have helped me choose KS projects better-suited to me, and that’s upped my confidence in backing things this year. I’ve passed up some fantastic-looking games because they only offered at-cost POD fulfillment, and I’m okay with that; I can always buy them later. I’ve ignored a host of gorgeous board and card games, and I’m okay with that, too.

I also tend to star instead of backing right away. I star, come back when the reminder lands in my inbox, and wind up backing maybe 10% of projects I’ve starred at that point.

There’s so much out there on KS now, especially in the RPG world, that I don’t even visit the site to browse anymore. Instead, I let my G+ stream be my filter, and generally only check out stuff I see other folks mention. That keeps the volume fairly manageable, and so far it seems to work.

[1] Guidelines, not rules!