Mike Shea, 26 December 2009
I recently spent a great deal of time and energy researching the purchase of a new TV and I found the whole experience to be painful and irritating. My Mitsubishi still runs nicely and looks good but the lack of 1080p and the lack of HDMI put a new TV on my wish list. So I combed the web, read a lot of reviews, and bored the piss out of my friends discussing the most important merits of 120hz over 240hz - which largely amounts to bullshit if my research is correct.
There are so many models of TVs these days with so many new features that even a guy like me, who wrote his own home theater blog for about four years, couldn't make sense of it. I ended up spending a lot less than I had allowanced and got a TV with the core features I wanted: 1080p, 52", and 120hz so I can watch DVDs and Blu-ray without any 3:2 pulldown. I ended up with a Sony 52V5100 and I'll let you know if I like it next week when it shows up.
The entire process of shopping for a TV reminded me of the TED talk by Dan Gilbert called "Why Are We Happy?" This is an amazing TED presentation that is definitely worth 20 mintues of your time to watch it. It can change how you perceive everything in your life. In short, manufactured happiness - the happiness you might trick yourself into feeling - is just as powerful as "real" happiness you might feel from actual improvements in your life.
This thought actually changed how I ended up buying my TV. Instead of buying the top-of-the-line LED-lit 240hz 55" TV for $3200, I spent less than half of that on a 52" model from earlier this year. My reasoning? I'll be less critical of one I bought on the cheap and it likely will make little difference in how I enjoy my entertainment. If I ended up buying the top of the line TV, I'd be far more critical of any weird performance problem it had even if that problem would have very little bearing in my daily use.
I found the same to be true with my new Onkyo THX receiver. I got this receiver to replace my old but high-end Yamaha receiver. I didn't expect it to sound much different but when I selected THX mode for music and tuned it with the auto-calibration, it sounded MUCH better to me. Now maybe it's just knowing that well-calibrated and the little red THX logo that makes me think I like it better, but that's as good as actually sounding better to my ear so who cares if it's real or not?
Now I did have a problem where one of the speakers wasn't hooked up right and I was astute enough to figure that out just by hearing it, but I'm guessing that most of the little effects of a receiver like this get lost when you're deeply into the latest Terminator flick.
Using Dan Gilbert's findings as a guide can really change how we think about things. It can guide our decisions in a lot of new directions we might not take simply by knowing what sorts of things make us happy and what sorts of things do not. Having a lot of choices, for example, usually means you're not as happy with whichever one you pick. This is a HUGE problem when there are about 800 different possible TVs to buy. That's simply too many options to be happy with any of them; we'll always end up second-guessing whatever choice we make.
So instead of buying something based simply on a pile of arbitrary statistics, consider buying it based on what you know about yourself and your own view of happiness. Even better, ask yourself if you'll really be any happier with whatever it is you're purchasing or if it's all a trick of your mind.
4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons has a clear focus on “encounters”. Each encounter usually (not always) consists of a setting, like a big room, with a bunch of creatures carefully calculated out to meet the challenge of the party. This is the style we’re used to in 4e, but it doesn’t have to be the only style.
Today we’re going to look at three ways to make your adventure feel more old-school than a typical 4e encounter-focused adventure. Many of these tips come from the most excellent article called Zen and Old-School D&D. Let’s take a look at some tips:
Use Puzzles, Not Challenges
An old-school adventure uses puzzles that must be noodled through by the players at the table rather than skill challenges that must be overcome by the characters and their skills. Instead of a statue that requires five successful arcane or athletics checks to defeat, you have a statue that must be struck by the four swords of the four other statues in the room. Instead of a door with a tricky mechanical and arcane trap, you have a riddle. Old-school adventures focus on the minds of the players rather than the statistics of the characters.
More Battles, Less Monsters
4e encounters typically follow a series of kill rooms with a big pile of nasties that total to the player’s level + or – three. For that old-school feel, ignore the experience budget and throw out fewer monsters. Let the battles go fast and furious with a single high-level elite or a small pack of four minions and their underboss. You might have to houserule some of these smaller parties to make sure the group doesn’t simply storm through them all the time, but a whole pile of these will still do a good job wearing folks down. Try running an elite five levels higher than your party with some minions as backup.
Pay Attention to Mundane Gear
Did the party remember their 10′ pole and their 50′ of rope? Do they have enough torchlight to keep the place lit? Get rid of those sunrods and go back to the way things were when a dwarf had to sacrifice a shield to hold a lantern and life and death balanced on whether the party brought enough oil. Make sure to let your players know before you’re going to start being a hardass about their mundane items.
Run Some Battles Without a Battle Map
4e is a game clearly focused on tactical battles using maps and miniatures, but not every battle needs to be that way. Build a mix between a skill challenge and a traditional battle and throw away the map for this one. Have the PCs focus on skills as well as attacks to defeat their enemies. Perhaps the battle happens on the back of leathery-winged drakes or between two runaway mining cars. Maybe the party is hanging from ropes leading up into a secret chamber from a drop two hundred feet below. Set up some radical situations and return to the imagination as your battle map.
These tips aren’t meant to completely overwrite 4e’s typical system, but every so often you might want to try some things out and see how the old-school style feels to you and to your players. Give it a try!
I'm about to leave the office for the last time this year and head off on holidays. I've got one more blog-post queued up -- a review of a kids' book that'll go live tomorrow morning -- and that's all you'll hear from me until Jan 11. I'm not going to be taking in email while I'm away. If you send me a message, you'll get an autoresponder telling you to try again after Jan 11, something that I picked up from danah boyd. It's the best answer I've found to resolving the problem of coming back from a nice, relaxing vacation to find 20,000 emails waiting for you. So this is me, signing off.
Thanks for an outstanding 2009, filled with many weird turns, delights shared, pains commiserated over, victories and defeats. I'm off to spend a couple wonderful weeks with my family, and to leave Boing Boing in the hands of my kick-ass co-editors. I'll see you next year.
I'm sure it'll be a doozy.
(Image: Lonely Hammock, a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike image from *Micky's photostream)
As someone who plans on attempting to fly out of Minneapolis this Fridayin open defiance of the snow-filled forecastthese seem like a great way to pass the time while stranded at an airport.
TED for the holidays
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