Game Health

Greetings, pandemic-quarantined people!

To give you a glimpse of what my brain thinks about at 3 AM when sleep alludes me, let’s talk about the different kinds of game health. You may add another tool to your belt as I have done to lend a lens towards your own game making 😁

Define Terms

Health in games is one thing: A resource that, when low or without, prevents the player from doing what they want with their character.

(For the purposes of this post, I’m including mechanics that “give you bad things” as health as well, where the absence of the “bad thing” is a measure of health.)

Usually, health is the most important resource to a player. Though it might come back or prevent it’s own loss, any less health is not what the player wants. If health is absent, some common “costs” for allowing the resource to be used up include:

  • Losing progress/time (restarting from a previous point in the game as if the player had done nothing, or requiring time away from accomplishing a goal)
  • Losing abilities (prevention of a few or all actions the player can take, or reducing the efficacy of actions)
  • Losing another resource (something valuable for other things or because it is rare is used up)

Since game designers have been creative over the years, that’s a short list. Whatever the case, something valuable is taken from the player and their efforts to play the game.

Here’s a longer list abbreviated of what “kinds” of health a game has:

  • Number of actors (units, currency, pieces, bits of a required resource, etc.)
  • Cardiovascular and muscular endurance
  • Flesh and blood
  • Metal or chitin armor plates
  • Energy or “shields”
  • Mental strength
  • Time to complete actions

Health is always abstract in its representation, yet always concrete in “if you cross line X, you will receive consequence Y that makes it harder to accomplish your goal”.

Health might be regained in a few ways or not at all. Allow me to skip the latter case to show a few ways health comes back:

  • Automatically with time
  • Using a game item or action
  • Not losing more health for a time

It is important to note that a game may have multiple kinds of health for the player, which may also be different between players.

OK! With those out of the way, I have a proposal:

Shields Armor Personal

The proposal is this: There are only 3 kinds of health in a game. I name these after games of conflict that have the most complexity as it comes to health implementation:

  • Shields
  • Armor
  •  Personal

Shields are a kind of health that automatically recovers over time. In the game, these can be depicted as recurring money income, generated energy, or other temporary-yet-perpetual health. This is the first health to be used. This health may be lost if not used, the game capping the amount being held at a time. The loss of shields isn’t a game-ender as shields will come back, but their loss may prevent other actions or allow more valuable health to be removed.

Armor (I was tempted to call this “plate”, but SAP is a nicer acronym 🙃) includes health that is impervious to a certain amount of reduction. If an action would remove 3 health but armor is at a 4, nothing happens, while a removal of 6 would be reduced to 2. Armor itself can be lessened, or be exchanged as the cost of preventing even more important health from being reduced.

Personal is the most important health. It does not come back on its own and is the direct measure of how poorly positioned a player is to keep playing the game as they have been. Without it, the player may not take actions towards their goal. It’s the last health to be taken from if Shields and Armor are present.

These kinds of health can be combined together or doubled-up with the same kind of health. Take Sanity from Call of Cthulhu as an example: Sanity pairs with Hit Points to balance mental and physical ability to act.

(If it will help your memory, replace SAP with the 3R’s of health: Regenerative, Reductive, Required.)

Why SAP Works

It comes back to the investigation of the definition of health: There is health that comes back or is temporary, there is health that reduces or resists reduction, and there is health that determines the actions available to the player. Plus, SAP is in order of application!

Further yet, be it the shield-armor-health of a Protoss warrior in the game Starcraft, properties and money in Monopoly, or the real-world APS-hull-crew of a tank or carapace-clothes-skin of people, SAP is repeated over and over again in systems dealing with a thing trying to do things.

Lastly, SAP balances player attention. Shields grow on their own so long as the player continues to play. Armor might be permanent and minor or major and replaceable. Personal gets better over time if left alone, but is the most critical to not let run out.

Therefore, SAP is a highly useful tool when considering health in a game and the order by which different kinds of health reduce. Further, it breaks out of abstract games into the real world, providing insight into the levels that protect the functioning of a thing.

What do you think? Share your insights and tools so better games and a more efficient way to look at the world can be unlocked! 👍🏻 Cheers~

Remember

Thought today was going to have a pithy post about … it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that on September 11th, 2001, 2,977 American people died from an extremist attack of foreign origin.

That morning in mid September has been undeniably the definitive event for at least the United States this millennium, if not the world.

In the last several months, more than 188 thousand Americans have died of a preventable pandemic. In the last 7 days, more than 4998 Americans have died.

Yet, extremists continue to act, even today, to undermine united efforts to save the lives of Americans, if not outright act against those efforts. Thus, when the majority of the developed world has begun to open up, to travel, to enjoy the company of each other, the United States remains off the world stage, other countries closing their borders to a sick, unwell country.

In as much as the United States did in response to September 11th, America has had an inversely proportionate response to the current tragedy. This may be because the extremists happen to be Americans themselves.

We will never get back the lives of September 11th, or those of COVID-19. However, we may still prevent more loss to the latter. Address falsehoods as they rear, share information from WHO, expect others to follow guidelines, be patient, and wear your mask.

On this anniversary of a horrific tragedy caused by extremists, I ask you to do your part in refuting the cause of extremists in perpetuating the senseless deaths of our ongoing tragedy. 

BITS – An Introduction

You’ve seen me talk a lot about BITS, an original rule set for tabletop role-playing games (RPGs). It’s about time you got some more insight to it!

BITS, or Body-Interaction-Thought System, came about first when a colleague and knowledgeable friend mentioned how cumbersome the classic Dungeons and Dragons type of old-school RPG systems were.

I sat on this problem for awhile, pondering ways to automate and streamline the work of the world building, dice juggling, and stat monitoring. Nothing really “worked”…

Until I noticed that the universe of Warhammer 40K was made purely of the elements of Muscle, Machine, and Mind 🤯

Looking at other RPG systems, I saw the 3Ms everywhere. All game systems divide into physical ability and performance, manual dexterity and know-how, and mental strength and intelligence.

For reasons I care to let you read or listen about, the 3Ms became the 4Ms, “Maybe” joining the ranks and becoming a dump section for anything narrative in a game.

I tried 4Ms for a few more things, but I couldn’t get Maybe to always feel “correct”, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to give up Muscle, Machine, and Mind!

What resulted was BITS. Body relates better to physical performance, Interaction better for manual work and social charisma, and Mind handling magic and intelligence. And in these things, any attributes or stats in any game can be put 😎

Further, I discovered a common theme of ‘4’ showing up in games, where every number could be normalized on a 0 to 4 scale. Thus, any single BITS value is rated 0 to 4 on a linear growth curve (0 to 1 is short, 3 to 4 is long), meaning any fictional creature in a game has at maximum a total of 12 for their values, while any single value is at most 4. (Great for balancing and restricting the dreaded Power Creep!)

BITS uses 2 6-sided dice (2d6) for every roll to see if a fictional creature succeeds at what it wants to do. The expectation is to keep things simple – 2d6 are easy to add together, they are the most common dice type, and having everyone roll only 2 dice for everything is elegantly simple (checkout the probability curve that games such as the famous Powered by the Apocalypse system uses).

When rolling, the “additions” to the roll are kept in a very exclusive list:

  • Add a single (or no) BITS value, 0 to 4.
  • Add 1 for any other creature that spends valuable time helping your creature act.

“Maybe” hasn’t gone away completely, either. The current test-case conversion of D&D into BITS has “Luck”, a fallback for whenever a roll needs to happen that doesn’t seem to fit into the Body-Interaction-Thought set, or is an event that a player would have no chance to react to. It means no values are added to the roll.

But what does a person need to roll to succeed?

“Threat” is the WIP term for the success threshold. Every creature and environmental obstacle has a threat which corresponds with their total BITS value (if a creature) or difficulty (hazards). Any action against this creature or hazard must roll (with additions) at or over the threat. (Easy, ya?)

Scaling threat has been a major undertaking with BITS and may not be done yet, so it goes for now as follows:

  • Roll a 5 for easy actions.
  • 7 for moderate.
  • 9 for hard.
  • etc.

Players max out at 13 threat. Simple!

The rolls may be altered (rerolling for dis-/advantage) or may lead to automatic successes/failures (doubles over/under threat).

Regardless, how effective the action is deals with how much over threat a roll is. Using damage from a weapon as an example, weapons only have a low base damage X from 1 to 4. However, for every degree of success over threat, that’s extra damage to add! No extra rolling for damage, no variable dice for damage, and a counterbalance of using tools and picking fights!

If you take damage, you must have health! Or, as it is in BITS, “wounds”, which you add any damage to (reduced by an armor value). Once you reach your maximum number of wounds, well, 💀💀💀

I aim to have wounds traceable with 6-sided dice for easy counting, so maximum wounds have been necessarily low… I will need more playtesting later-/post-pandemic to understand the implications of that, but you get the drift – everything is to be easier, simpler, and more accessible 😉

When your creature acts is also streamlined. Everyone rolls, adding their highest BITS value. The highest final number goes first, but then if the result is even or odd, that changes the direction of the turn order (to the player’s left or right). If it’s the Game Moderator’s (GM) turn, they take a turn for every creature not controlled by a player.

The GM does more than moderate – they arbitrate, describe, listen, and help ensure the quality of the game. They’re also the player I aim to develop the most automation tools for 😁

Together, the GM and other players take on adventures meant to be self-contained missions that offer opportunities to pursue other adventures. The players gain XP for trying more difficult adventures, which increases their BITS values, which leads to getting more treasure in the adventure, which allows better equipment to be bought, which allows more difficult (and epic!) adventures to be undertaken, which gives more XP. #Cycles 😎

And that’s a quick and dirty introduction to BITS! I have grand expectations for this theme-agnostic system, but am taking humble steps to make sure the foundations are solid before releasing the full set.

After reading all that, what are your thoughts? Any glaring holes in this design? How would you improve it?

Share your impressions and let me know if you’d like to be an alpha-reader. (Don’t worry – the system is split into short, topical guides.)

Take care of your own goals in September! Look forward to more design talk of BITS in the following weeks 😃 Cheers ~

August September Goals

Another month, another post.

How have your goals been going? 🤔

Mine have been somewhat splendid! But don’t take my word for it 😉 Read ahead for the work, followed by the work ahead in September!

August Goal Review

  1. BITS of DnD Draft 1
    1. Won. And what drafts there are! Started with a 40-pager of a ruleset… then threw it out. Now writing a tiered set of guides for players, which brings me to:
  2. BITS of DnD Final Draft (For Beta Playtesting)
    1. Failed -ish. I wrote a “core” draft. Trashed it. Now I’m rewriting a simpler, concise set of instructions to guide play. I have a game, but it’s in need of a little more tweaking before blind playtests 😁
  3. GD ST Outlines
    1. Failed. In essence, I forgot about it 🤷‍♂️ Instead, I rewatched Avatar: The Last Airbender while tweaking and playtesting BITS at home!
      However, I have an outline of the major events I want to write about. I have a GD ST world of factions and people and technology that will be an anthology… just not yet.
  4. Housekeeping
    1. Won. Sis moved, COVID risk mitigated.

September Goal Proposal

  1. BITS GM and Spell Guides
    1. Squeeze out information for the Game Moderator (a special player in BITS) and magic (really, a system unto its own) from the +40-pager written in August.
  2. BITS Monster / Equipment / Character Creation Guides
    1. Stuff to fight, stuff to fight with, and someone to fight as. Easier reference for anyone who needs it.
  3. BITS Adventure
    1. Gotta write an adventure for playtesters to play, right? It will involve a human mob, goblins, some orcs, treasure, caves, castles, and either a dragon, an evil wizard, or both! 🐲
  4. 100/5 Pushups/Pullups
    1. I’m 10 pounds down in muscle since before the pandemic. Starting with 100 pushups and 20 pullups in no more than 4 sets every day in the first week, I’ll increase the numbers by 100/5 each week to 400/35 a day.
      What does this have to do with my Financial Independence goals? Well, I need to be healthy in my retirement when I get there, so strength training it is 💪🏻

August missed some achievements, yet I feel very good about where my projects are right now. Great strides have been made, the way forward clear!

FYI – if you’re interested in giving feedback over the BITS system, send me a message. Extra eyes on are always appreciated!

Also, I’ve learned some things this August about “achievement addiction” and “hedonic adaptation”. Both are problems I’m actively addressing. Steps include actively restricting the things I attempt to do every day, limit the number of projects I have going on at once, being satisfied over unoptimized results, and taking time to, well, enjoy life 😶

I’ve scheduled in some “fun for fun’s sake” activities in September and am actively forgoing seeking out attempting to earn more money. Sounds strange, since FI needs cash to stay afloat – I need to update my mental attitude before then so I know how to stop after I’ve earned that achievement!

Anyway, take care of yourself. Act against the wrongs in the world and let no injustice go unchallenged. Cheers through next week ~

Making a Risk Map

Salutations ~

Part of last month’s goals were to make a Risk board game of the American Civil War.

The goal fell short due to the game not giving the right feel, but I sure-as-heck did the math to make the map 😁

For your reference, the game Risk has a map made of connected continents with various territories in each. If you control a continent, ie have a game piece in every territory, you get the continent bonus, which you usually spend for more game pieces.

The Data Set

It’s the continent bonus I calculated. To do so, I analyzed top-rated Risk games for the number of territories in each continent and how many connections every continent had with other continents. Here’s the list of games (pardon the formatting; yet to look into adding tables to WordPress):

  • Classic
  • Classic w/ a common community modification to connect the Australian continent and rebalance bonuses (ie “Connected”)
  • Star Wars Clone Wars
  • Starcraft
  • Halo (Ring, Forge, Hammer, and Anvil maps treated separately)
  • 2210
  • Mass Effect
  • Star Wars Original Trilogy

Online forums talking about Risk usually base the bonus on a continent’s connections (one territory in one continent connects to one territory in another continent). I feel we need to add territories to this calculation, however, as to control a larger continent requires the spending of more game pieces, thus larger continents are more expensive to get the bonus, regardless of connections (connections being a means for other players to disrupt your control of a continent).

The Equation

Because territories (required to get bonus) and connections (required to keep bonus) are so different in what they mean for a continent, I started my work with a linear equation for each continent for each game:

Nt * Ct + Nc * Cc = B
Nt = Number of territories
Ct = Territory constant for a bonus
Nc = Number of connections
Cc = Connection constant for a bonus
B = Continent bonus

We have Nt, Nc, and B for every continent. We need to solve for Ct and Cc, which we can do by combining the equations to eliminate those variables one at a time.

The Calculations

I assumed this would be straight forward for at least one of the Risk games. Spoiler: It was not 😑

Saving you some of the nitty-gritty calculations (you can do this yourself), let’s look at Risk Classic:

  • Continent – Territories – Connections
  • N. Amer.     9                       3
  • S. Amer.      4                       2
  • Europe        7                       8
  • Africa          6                       6
  • Asia             12                     8
  • Aust.            4                       1

This leads to getting multiple values for Ct and Cc, meaning how bonuses were calculated was a seemingly arbitrary affair 🤷‍♂️

OK! No problem! I’ll try the same thing on the other games…

The Problem

OK. We have a problem. They also churn out obviously tiered continents (some being better than others). For instance, the Connected modification to Classic Risk, while better, leaves us with 3 distinct groups:

  • Cc = 1.167 * Ct
  • Cc = Ct
  • Cc = 0.571 * Ct

To get around this, I tried averaging, normalizing, and a few other pen-and-paper solutions to make this work out.

Nothing worked out 🤦‍♂️

UNTIL I REMEMBERED:

~simplify~

The Solution

How does one simplify this sticky situation across multiple games? Some grossly off in in their bonuses? (*ahem* Halo Risk 😐)

The solution is to combine territories and connections 🎉 Doing that, we get:

(Nt + Nc) * C = B
Nt = Number of territories
Nc = Number of connections
C = Constant for a bonus
B = Continent bonus

That equation allows for each game to get to C = B / (Nt + Nc), so a constant can appear. Here’s what I pulled out, also weighting each with BoardGameGeek  ratings:

        • Game – Constant – Weight
  • Classic                  .400             5.58
  • Connected           .411             6.00 (Classic rounded up)
  • SW CW                 .419             6.01
  • Starcraft               .389             6.37
  • Halo* (Ring)        .398             6.44
  • Halo (Forge)        .396             6.44
  • Halo (Hammer)  .407             6.44
  • Halo (Anvil)        .383             6.44
  • 2210                      .411             6.69
  • Mass Effect          .391             6.81
  • SW OT                   .391             6.84
  • * Halo needed extensive recalculation of its bonuses – they were incredibly low compared to any other Risk game. I may update BBG someday with a rules correction for improved and more consistent gameplay.

The Answer

We are left with two numbers: The weighted average (.399) and the median (.398). For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it .4 for:

(Nt + Nc) * .4 = B
Nt = Number of territories
Nc = Number of connections
B = Continent bonus

I adore when numbers come together ❤

TLDR; To get a fair continent bonus, add each territory and territory connection to another continent together, then multiply that by .4 to get the bonus for control of the continent. 

The Other Observations

Looking at a fair number of Risk games, I noticed some trends between the versions. (We will skip looking at copy-paste Risk games that only do a reskinning of the theme.)

  1. The bonus constant 40% (.4) can be ‘flexed’ down to 33% (.33) or up to 42% (.42) without skewing the fairness of the continent. Whatever percent is used, keep in mind that higher percentages are preferred (more reward for the ‘risk’ of controlling a continent).
  2. 6 continents is expected on a Risk map.
  3. Each continent has a minimum of 2 connections and 5 territories (4 territories is doable but extreme).
  4. Good design means connections are greater than 25% of the territories in a continent. (Bad design examples: Australia in Classic, North Atlantic in 2210.)
  5. Good design means there are more territories than connections in a continent. (Bad design examples: Africa, Europe, and Asia in Classic.)
  6. More game pieces means better player experience and faster play (long games is a common critique of Risk).
  7. Capping either the number of game rounds, putting in a score tracker, limiting the number of game pieces per territory, or all of these things also assist the slow play problem.

This was fun 😁 I may share later how I would “fix” each Risk game. Let me know if I should get on that sooner 😉 Cheers for now~

 

Pawn Prince v1.2

Salutations, reader! Welcome!

After community feedback, my piece mod to Chess has received an update! First in 5 years!

Version 1.2 is being approved by Board Game Geek now – you can find the full file shortly on BBG, which I highly recommend you to. (There are pictures in the PDF!)

To give you a preview, here’s the rules text in this little mod:

The Pawn Prince (Prince) replaces the Pawns in the A and H columns.  The piece cannot be captured by a piece moving into it from the 3 tiles immediately between it and the opposite color’s side*.  No other Pawn can become a Prince, as Prince’s cannot be upgraded themselves.

The Prince piece gains the base movement behaviour of any piece – same color or not – left or right to the Prince before it moves.  For example, if a Bishop is on the left, and a Rook directly ahead, the Prince only has the moves of a Bishop for that turn.  If a Prince is on a Prince’s flank, the Prince cannot move, since the other Prince’s base movement is no movement.  If no piece is to the Prince’s left or right, it cannot move!

For the special move cases of Castling, En Passant, Jumping, and Pawn Promotion,  these rules do not apply to the Prince even if the Prince is next to a Rook, King, Pawn, or Knight for which the special move cases apply. In the case of En Passant, the other player may not use En Passant on a Prince piece.

If a move leaves only a Prince and a King unit for a color on the board, the game ends in a stalemate unless the move results in a checkmate.

If the Queen of a color is captured, all Princes gain the permanent movement of Kings, but still cannot be captured by the forward facing tiles and may use the movement of any piece on their sides.

* A Knight’s capture path to a Prince is determined by the controlling player. That is, a Knight must move 2 tiles along an axis, 1 tile along the other axis.

I’m very excited that folks are still viewing and playing the content I’ve put together. It gives me a push to continue on my newest works (BITS being a great example).

It’s my pleasure to share this simple mod to a complex game with you! When you give it a play, let me know your experience – it’ll be invaluable!

Stay well! Cheers for now ♟

COVID and False Arguments

(In the following, we’re going to discuss death, disease, and dangerous rhetoric. This post is a heavy one. If you continue, know you are strong. Click on the links to be informed from official [ie legitimate] sources. Share as you will.)

Not OK. I started writing this when we were nearly to 150,000 deaths in the United States caused by the worse-than-lack-of response from federal and state leadership. Now, just 2 days before this post is meant to go live, 1 week later, we’re at approximately 155,000 deaths (~157,000 at time of posting), 4.7 million confirmed cases. You will understand any testiness that creeps into the following, as I have a bias for competence and human life. *deep breathe* We begin:

Overview: Situations Now and Before

The globe is in the middle of a pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen in a hundred years. At the time of writing (and I don’t expect this to change, except maybe with higher numbers), the United States is getting the worst of it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports approximately 150,000 deaths in the United States over 5 months from the COVID-19 virus when the first deaths were reported in March. The escalation of cases and deaths is exponential as the US continues to lack a unified effort between local, state, and federal governments to protect its citizens in the face of what is objectively a disaster.

That means approximately 30,000 people have died on average per month for 5 months. Again, these numbers are on the rise exponentially at the time of writing.

For reference, here are other especial deaths of citizens of the United States:

The Argument

The argument was posed in response to sharing this post on Facebook that compared COVID-19 deaths at the 4 month mark with plane crashes. The COVID-19 deaths at that time equated to approximately 50 plane crashes with all lives lost per week for 4 months. It concluded that those who govern would take action to resolve such a situation and no-one would take the deaths as a “hoax” or fail to take them seriously.

In rebuke of this, an argument was put forward that gained some minor support. In a nutshell:

  1. 135,720 Americans die every year from lung cancer, a preventable disease and the leading cause of cancer death. (From the original argument, it was rounded up to 150,000.)
  2. No mass hysteria or fear occurs in the country over these deaths.
  3. No prime time news coverage is given over these deaths.
  4. No knee-jerk federal control is implemented of of people’s use of the disease-causing products or behaviors.
  5. No preventative steps are taken restricting adults making adult decisions after statistics on lung cancer risks and death have been broadcast to the public.
  6. In comparison with COVID-19, the government administrations have fulfilled their duty to inform the American public.
  7. Any more action taken by those in power and leadership, including mandating masks and regulating public behavior, violates the foundational liberties of Americans (and is wrong for all this implies).
  8. The use of extreme imagery in regards to COVID-19 information is an appeal to emotion, a logical fallacy.

This argument can be expanded to other chronic cases of death. It merely changes the number of those that die.

The Argument’s Falsehoods

Let’s begin with the argument itself before we compare it to COVID-19.

Point #1 will be addressed later in the article. For reference right now, lung cancer kills 11,310 people every month, or 56,550 every 5 months.

#2 – The mention that there is no general fear of lung cancer deaths is more a call-out to human simplicity. “Out of sight, out of mind” is merely a reduction to acting like infants, where the things not present are forgotten. A human has only so much higher functional bandwidth and attention, such that anything not immediate is quickly forgotten or excused. If we or an immediate familiar doesn’t have lung cancer, we aren’t thinking about it.

#3 – For lung cancer news coverage, we have November as an awareness month. Other than that, children learn smoking is bad in school. That’s about it, so true, there is little coverage. But is this a good point to be making?

Lung cancer deaths account for almost 25% of cancer deaths, despite $27.2 billion of federal dollars distributed to state governments in 2020 to counteract the leading causes of lung cancer, smoking and tobacco products (80% of deaths attributed to smoking). Maybe that is because lung cancer research only receives about 10% of federal funding.

For #3, it would not seem appropriate that this point is in favor of the argument.

#4 – Mentioning a lack of government regulation is the first completely false and misleading point in the argument. Whether starting on the federal level in the 1960s with warning labels (~60 years ago), or currently with how the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces regulated sale and production, or by recent example the regulation the current GOP administration signed into law in 2019 on tobacco products, this point is plainly, unapologetically debunked.

#5 – If talking about letting adults make adult decisions, there are limits. Again, we call out the current GOP administration signing into law on December 20th 2019 a raise in the minimum age of tobacco purchase from 18 to 21. (As a reminder, 18-year-olds are “adult” enough to sign contracts, go to prison for life, vote in elections, and kill and die in war.) It would also be a disservice to fail to mention that the Bill of Rights’s freedom of speech – a foundational aspect to civil liberty – is restricted in cases of fighting words, obscenity, fraud, and more.

It can be concluded that the point on leaving adults to make adult decisions free from government regulation is false. (Any case made that this is at best an anarchistic ideal or at worst a criminal mentality is beyond the scope of this article.)

#6 – What is the duty of elected officials in leadership? If we merely go off of the preamble of the Constitution, the original text reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Establish Justice? Insure domestic Tranquility? Common defense? General Welfare? These appear to be the best intentions meant by the Constitution. (I’m appealing to Occam’s Razor for simplicity and brevity.)

The document goes on to charge and empower Congress to create laws towards the Constitution’s intentions. Further, the “executive Power”, the president, is charged and empowered to command all military forces, make treaties, appoint judges and ambassadors, and convene or adjourn Congress.

It is action towards common goals, which does not include abandonment of those responsibilities when having passed on information to the general public. That is the duty of the GOP administration – best labeled as this as it is a simple umbrella to refer to federal government, and the Republican party holds a majority of Congress, the Supreme Court, and has the executive office.

If we consider that the only duty of the GOP administration would be the truthful, timely, and complete informing of the American citizenry of the COVID-19 situation, how did the administration do?

(The following chronologically-ordered mentions are taken from NPR’s reporting of public comment by Donald Trump, current sitting president.)

  • Claim to have COVID-19 under control.
  • The GOP administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard citizens.
  • COVID-19 will “miraculously” go away in 2 months when it is warmer.
  • COVID-19 is a “new hoax” from the Democratic party targeting Donald Trump.
  • Comment that the Swine Flu that killed nearly 13,000 citizens was poorly handled.
  • “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
  • National state of emergency declared.
  • Recommend to socially distance for 15 days.
  • Establishment of act to compel industries to produce supplies to combat COVID-19. Days later, admits to using the act as “leverage”. No industries compelled to produce supplies for another 9 days.
  • Claims America will soon be “open for business”. Encourages churches to be full on Easter holiday.
  • Claims to have not known the severity of COVID-19 despite WHO recommendations, international experiences of the pandemic, and guidance from the CDC.
  • Announcement that wearing face masks is a voluntary precaution, that “you don’t have to do it”, despite CDC recommendations.
  • “The president of the United States calls the shots” when incorrectly arguing that the president has the power over states’ rights to establish or life local emergency conditions.
  • Halt of funding to the World Health Organization.
  • Calls for various states to end their COVID-19 precautions (wearing masks, closing non-essential businesses) to continue economic activity.

I apologize, dear reader. I cannot go on. The above only extends to the middle of April. In that time, the virus was supposed to be under the control of the US, it was not that bad, it was a hoax, it was to just go away, it was leverage, responsibility for protecting citizens was given to the states, the states were told the could not take responsibility for protecting citizens, and “you don’t have to do it” in regards to social distancing and wearing face masks, some of the best protection against contracting and spreading COVID-19.

This argument that the duty of the government is to inform citizens is false by the letter of the Constitution. Even if it was, the GOP administration would have done better to be silent and remain out of the way of more localized efforts instead of giving incorrect information to the public and undermining global and US efforts.

#7 – Government mandates are wrong and over-reaching, so this point goes, as it regards requiring social distancing and wearing face masks.

I’m tired. This point is wrong. Here’s why: Constitutional duties and powers of elected offices.

Of course, coming back to our comparison with lung cancer, restricting smoking indoors, banning adults from purchasing tobacco, and forcing tobacco product suppliers to print warnings make this argument’s point moot.

Do you need me to mention seat belts, smog checks, lead in your water, asbestos, age of consent, taxes, police, a standing military, firearm registration, education requirements, and food safety standards? No? Well, guess that may mean you’re a rational human being. We continue.

#8 – FINAL ONE. Huzzah! And it’s the logical fallacy of an appeal to emotion, to think of planes crashing in fire instead of people choking to death in hospital beds on their own fluids.

Did that last sentence get an emotional response from you? You may remember it better because emotion enhances recall. This is required as purely-factual information (point #6) had failed to prevent 137,000 deaths.

Since 137,000 deaths is a fact, and comparing a number of equally dead people by disease to that number by fire, there is no falsehood posed in the point (ie, no negative or misleading proposal). The benefit, however, is that there will be fewer deaths in the future if emotion can be used to get people to act appropriately rather than in ways that lead to more dead.

But most importantly, if we can’t agree that people killed indiscriminately by their hundreds of thousands is a bad thing, that we do not stand idly by while this happens, I don’t know how to teach you to care about other people 🤷‍♂️

The Conclusion

Lung cancer. It kills 11,310 on average every month.

COVID-19. 34,350 killed a month, averaged a month ago.

Lung cancer is terrible. It is preventable. We have failed as a society to save those who’ve died and will die because… what? Liberties? Economy? And every government for the last 100+ years shares the blame with the culture that condoned the mortality.

COVID-19 is terrible. It has killed at least 3 times the number who’ll die from lung cancer. It has been preventable. Could still be preventable. Yet more will die because… what? Liberties? Economy?

All that and more, it seems, a claim backed by the without precedent GOP administration’s abandonment of duty (if not outright maliciousness towards the general public), further while a cowboy culture in the United States will continue to claim more and more lives by individual belligerence regardless of guidance, fact, or seemingly moral discussion. The argument dismantled above gives proof that even when facts are provided, people will still choose to kill other people, belittling the act (or lack thereof to prevent the killing) all the way to justify themselves.

COVID-19 is not a joke. The death of another human beings, let alone hundreds of thousands, must be corrected actively, not passively. A life is not a statistic. To argue over whether a person should die or not, that exercising personal liberty for personal gain is more important than the health of  another, is… Well, villainous.

Any further discussion is a threat to public health. Thus, I will cease writing further on facts and leave the duty to competent, benign journalists and healthcare professionals. However, I reserve future calls to action on COVID-19, on lung cancer, on the ills of humanity that we as people must do something about.

You’ve been informed. From here, it’s simple. Waste no more time on “argument”. Give no room to those that would goad you to waste your life. Follow CDC and WHO COVID-19 guidelines. Act.

Do that, and you may save a life. You may save yours.

July August Goals

Hello hello!

Checking in for July’s progress (and boy, what progress!). As we look ahead to August, I think the momentum will be kept up. Let’s talk:

July Goal Review

  1. Invest in Family
    1. Won. Visiting sis and reaching out to family, I’ve learned a lot about them and myself. (Still working on myself!) A
  2. Invest in Games
    1. Won. I have a Draft 0 of BITS, specifically BITS of DnD, a conversion of the hit TTRPG, and am onto Draft 1. That, and I playtested various mechanics of a Civil War-themed Risk game – the playtest showed areas where the game wasn’t communicating the right ‘feel’, but I did mathematically deduce what the continent bonus should be in any Risk game (look for a post on that later! Spoiler: the constant for bonus value is .4).
  3. Invest in Investments
    1. Won. Read up on The Tao of Warren Buffet and The Intelligent Investor, both excellent and recommended reads. Sold objectively way overvalued TSLA stock, built an automated checklist for stock purchase worthiness, and discovered the glory of ImportHtml in Google Sheets (could give a post on this later if there’s interest). And I bought COBRA insurance! ~woot~ (?)
  4. (Wait, what happened to the interview?)
    1. Interviewed, passed the fourth and final round, yet when it was between me and another, the other won out. Oh well 🤷‍♂️ Gave me more time for other goals 😉

August Goal Proposal

I had in mind possibly blitzing a short story a week for four weeks, ~10K words a week, put them in an anthology or some such. While still on my mind, I’ve decided to finish (or get presentable) the thing that’s pestered my mind for two years: BITS. Check it out:

  1. BITS of DnD Draft 1
    1. As the title says. Get a presentable document prepared (there are still notes in Draft 0). Once that’s done, I’ll moved to the second goal:
  2. BITS of DnD Final Draft (For Beta Playtesting)
    1. By the end of August, I’ll have a playable ruleset that strangers should be able to pickup. This is the draft that can be applied to a general BITS ruleset and collection of design principles applicable for other IPs and games!
  3. GD ST Outlines
    1. GD ST” is a code name for a WIP retelling of a classic IP. My goal is to concoct ‘episodes’ (at least 12, preferably 24) that will be in a one-page outline form each. The outlines will be great for later use, should I begin a ‘short-story-a-month’ or similar scheme to get back to writing 📝
  4. Housekeeping
    1. This is particular. Travel is going to happen to someone in the household, so they will become a COVID risk. That, and my sis is moving, so I’m lifting and carrying for that. So, housekeeping! More chores than normal! These things I’ll be spending time on (kind of a cop-out, so should really be one less goal for August as was done for July… oh well 🙃).

July was an overwhelming victory. I’ve demonstrably improved in my financial knowledge and positions, some of my relationships, my game making, and in my understanding of SQL (this is a coding interview thing).

August shall not stop me, nor should it you. If there is help I may provide you in your goals, do reach out. Should you like to help in playtesting, proofreading, or just wanting to check on how things are, I deeply appreciate hearing from you 😊

As always, stay safe, stay healthy, remember that you are and that is excellence. Cheers! 🖖🏻

Improvised Role-playing Game

It follows this month’s goals that I invest in both making games and in family. This week, I did both!

This post has lessons for being a Game Moderator, or GM (referred to in the massively popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons as DM) and impromptu game-playing. However, I want make special note of just how much fun my sister, her partner, and I had with nothing more than two dice, a prompt, and our imaginations 😁

Try the following yourself sometime and have a great day! 👍

Mechanics

2d6. Or, two six-sided dice, are what’s rolled. Only the GM rolls dice when the outcome is uncertain or the attempt could be dangerous.

3-5-7-9-11 difficulty. Difficulty starts at 3 for very easy (this should hardly, ie never, be used; the player should just be able to do it), 5 for easy, 7 for moderate (the default if no difficulty specified), 9 for hard, and 11 for very hard. The GM bases the difficulty off of the game’s context, the player’s ability, and the action or actions trying to be done.

Roll at or above to succeed. Meet or above the difficulty to do the things intended.

Critically succeed or fail. When the 2d6 both have the same face value (eg 2-2, 5-5), consider that a critical. It’s a success or failure if the total value of the 2d6 is above or below the difficulty, having especially positive or especially negative consequences.

Have the option to reroll the lowest die for great context. If in the game story a player does something unexpected, has the high ground, or takes advantage in the game’s story in any other way, give that player the option to reroll the lowest die.

Playing

Two to six players, one being GM. You need a handful of players (two to six-ish), one being the GM. Players work together to clarify and act in the game’s story. The GM describes the environment and outcomes, rolls dice, presents obstacles, answers other players’ questions, and asks what the players are doing (this buys the players time to think of their next actions).

Non-GM players are themselves in the game. To judge how well they might do something, the players are asked about their past experiences and current abilities when such things might help them accomplish what they want.

Let the details reveal themselves. Whether defining a player’s character or the game world, let the specifics be asked for when they’re needed. This saves time and trivia. Want to know where the exits in a room are? Ask if there are any. Need to know if a player is strong enough to lift something? Ask for their experience and past examples of doing similar.

Let the very likely happen. If something is very easy, or if it involves nothing but the character themselves, those in the game story do it without needing to roll the dice. This goes for having certain items and being knowledgeable about certain things that the player would very likely have or know.

Talk it out. Again, as a player, ask for details and talk among yourselves. If unsure what intentions are, what something looks like, where things are, or how actions would be carried out, ask and talk it out. As a GM, you also don’t need to describe absolutely everything, either; ask players for how they commit their successes, where they were before, and what they’ve done previously.

Give a prompt. The GM can start the game off with the famous The Orc and the Pie game prompt from Monte Cook: “You see an orc with a pie. The room is 10 feet by 10 feet” and “what are you doing?” Regardless of prompt, it should have implicit or explicit obstacles to get around and goals to attain in a place.

Optional

Players roll their own dice. This though seems to slow things down. One person rolling (the GM) and reviewing the values is faster, especially since the GM determines the difficulty and any additions or advantage the players have. (That, and you need more dice!)

Players are someone else. Depending on the game wanting to be played, players can be lousy pirates 🦜 superior ninjas 🐱‍👤 bug squashing space marines 👾 or anything in between, original or taken from a popular story world. Being generic as possible helps here, but the bare minimum is that all players are familiar with trope.

Add or subtract from rolls. A roll may be given +1, +2, or -1, -2 for the abilities of the player in the context of the game world, such as being weak (usually a negative) or comparatively large (usually a positive). This was tried for awhile, but arithmetic usually slowed things down, it being better to give harder or easier difficulty instead.

Roll for who goes first. This is commonly called “initiative”, which determines which characters act first. When playing, I did this for the first conflict, yet that was over very quickly. As the game went on, we skipped initiative, instead giving each player and fictional character near-enough equal time in the spotlight to try something, moving on to other characters once they were done.

Have you done something similar? I want to know! The improvised game played was something I want to do again. Heck, I may (after the current pandemic passes) carry dice with me at all times just for the possible opportunities 😃

Investment Unicorns

Why, hello, there!

Jimmy here, with a short one (or at least, I’ll think it to be short) since I’ve more to figure out on this topic…

But! Maybe you’ll get some answers to investment questions on your mind or be able to answer some of the following 🙂

Definitions

When I say “investment”, I mean a stock or similar I’m going to hold for at least 5-to-10 years at least (my retirement horizon).

When I say “unicorn”, I mean what Warren Buffet does: Buy low when the business is quite expected to last long-term (ie decades). That ‘should’ be a rarity in this Bull Market.

What’s a “Bull Market”? It’s a time of elation and high emotion and high prices before a lot of sadness when the prices eventually go back down 😢 Simply, it’s a period of time in the stock market where prices for businesses go through the roof, whether or not the business is good at making money or has the capital to back up the asked-for price. In that, the price-per-earnings (P/E) ratio is typically high.

And lastly, “P/E” is an indicator on how much a company is being sold for vs. how much money it’s actually bringing in. 20 P/E is the rule of thumb for ‘fair price’ when the underlying company is expected to last a long time. 30 P/E is definitely considered high, while 40 or more is astronomical. 10 or less might be considered a steal, especially if the company has the long-term sustainability to flex profitability in the years to come.

Signs of Unicorns 🦄

So what do I look for that is an “investment” “unicorn” in a “Bull Market” (or any market)? A few things:

  1. A low P/E.
    1. For me, I have been foolish (we’ll look at that later here), buying company stock that did not have low P/E of at least sub-20. However, they’ve continued to grow in the longest Bull Market run in the last +120 years.
  2. A dividend.
    1. Having a dividend means the company will pay me periodically for owning it regardless of the stock price. To me, that sounds like passive income 💲
  3.  Brand.
    1. Is the name recognizable? Does the company do something very well? Do people talk about it in positive terms and use it on the regular?
  4. Longevity.
    1. This one’s a little tricky. Is the company earning money in a stable way for more than 5 or 10 years, is it expanded well into the market making it hard for newcomers, and does it have to reinvent product rarely?

To me, a unicorn has <10 P/E (a “-” or no P/E means the company has negative earnings), a dividend, is a popular brand, and has lasted and will last into the future. If so, I’m ready to dump 10% of my cash reserves into it pronto! (Another tip from Warren Buffet.)

Past Unicorns

I started investing in individual stocks back in November 2015, 4.5 years ago, well before I heard about Financial Independence or Paula Pant or ready up on investing vs gambling.

Buying into Activision, Sony, Microsoft, I was buying into companies that made or financed video games because that’s the world I knew 🤷‍♂️ The only other thing I kept in mind was to buy when the companies where going down more than 10%. But really, I had no idea 😶

In the last year or so, I bought into more things. More Microsoft, more Delta, more Exxon, more Google, more Tesla, etc. Some have gone up, some down. But I tended to buy willy-nilly just because the company seemed like it would be around forever (except for Tesla, which I thought was way too low a year ago when I saw Tesla cars parked in lines outside my office).

So how did all that perform?

Unicorns Jump

Let me show you how certain things have performed – we’ll forgo looking at individual stocks but at funds or markets as a whole (all from Vanguard, and investment leader [seriously, go read up on them]).

For the following references, I’ll post the 5 and 1 year gains (or losses!) as of July 15th 2020. I’ll also include the current P/E ratios if available.

  • My Investments
    • 5 yr: +30.01%
    • 1 yr: +26.87%
  • S&P 500
    • 5 yr: +51.72%
    • 1 yr: +7.41%
  • Vanguard S&P 500 ETF
    • 5 yr: +50.40%
    • 1 yr: +6.16%
    • PE: 31.50
  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF
    • 5 yr: +54.36%
    • 1 yr: +6.94%
    • PE: 26.15
  • Vanguard US REIT Fund
    • 5 yr: +1.00%
    • 1 yr: -12.26%
    • PE: 38.56
  • Vanguard Growth ETF
    • 5 yr: +94.97%
    • 1 yr: +25.25%
    • PE: 37.72
  • Vanguard International Dividend Appreciation ETF
    • 5 yr: +36.29%
    • 1 yr: +3.37%
    • PE: 22.31
  • Vanguard International High Dividend
    • 5 yr: +3.40%
    • 1 yr: -13.18%
    • PE: 11.86
  • Vanguard Total International Stock ETF
    • 5 yr: +2.31%
    • 1 yr: -2.36%
    • PE: 17.66

But what does it all mean???

It means I was dumb 5 years ago. As is the common suggestion, put currency into ETFs. (Seriously, do it.) With a heavy leaning to the US, we see the S&P and Total Market Vanguard funds even outperforming the S&P 500 itself. Growth companies have been ridiculous over the last half decade. My investments compare their measly 30% gains with the 50% realized elsewhere.

However, I haven’t done too bad in the last year. While the world has entered a pandemic, I’ve maintained well-above-standard earnings.

Now, I could let this outcome go to my head. “Why yes, I am that smart and can game the system! I gambled on Microsoft and Tesla, why not do the same again?”

Yeesh – May cooler heads prevail…

Unicorns Don’t Exist

I’ve had a good run, yet I’ve proven I perform worse than the market in the long-ish-term.

Now, as P/E ratios of major stock holdings race past 30, past 40, when a rocket-launching electric-car battery company is off the S&P but more valuable than any other business on it, when we near a massive US election in November, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic with millions out of work and hundreds of thousands dead… I am getting cold feet.

“No, Jimmy! Listen to Buffet! Buy stock for life! Don’t try to time the market!”

OK, fine. That’s a good point. Buy for life if buying stock. Act as an investor, not a speculator.

Then what do I do?

Well, even Buffet and his former mentor Benjamin Graham call out gross P/E ratios. When a business is overvalued to a silly extent (30-40+), it’s fine to sell if that money can go to a better leveraged investment.

There are a few companies that fit that bill in my portfolio (*cough* Tesla *cough*). Where the money (and any more I venture to stick into the market) can go to Vanguard funds. They consistently do well, have dividends, and some aren’t too icky with their P/E ratios.

If I do want to gamble (ie individual company stock), use another rule of thumb: no more than 10% of total cash in individuals. That, and have a defined exit strategy if I start to “make it big” or realize “I’ve made a mistake”. It’s like taking a little money to the casino and serves the same purpose of having fun 🙃

Your Unicorns?

I’ve covered that I’ve gotten lucky in the short-term, but have under performed in the long-term looking for my unicorns. In conclusion, I can say for me and most others seeking to invest, unicorns are very rare and far between, much like investors Graham and Buffet.

Going forward, I’ll put the time of searching for unicorns into rebalancing my portfolio into a Vanguard diversified ETF spread 👍

Have you found a unicorn before? Do you have one now? Why do you think you’re one? 🤔 Keep me posted – I’d like to hear your investment lessons if they’ve worked out for awhile 😉

Cheers ~