I Have No Mac And I Must Scream

So, it’s been 48 hours since my left arm got cut off. By which I mean, my computer died. (It ‘s an extreme analogy, but it really does feel like I’ve lost a limb.)

It’d take more time than I care to spend to explain how much of my life is contained in my computer. All my work on Storm Knights, going back to 1999, all my work on Infinity, all the movies I painstakingly made from my DVD collection, the 60 GB of thoroughly tagged MP4 songs I made from my CD’s…

It’s literally tens of thousands of hours of work. All at the mercy of some silicon, glass, plastic, and metal.

I hate that.

Here’s my theory of data: this universe hates you. It hates your data, and wants to destroy it. It will lie in wait until you give it half a chance, then pounce and destroy every single bit of 10,000 hours of work.

(This is true, by the way. It’s called “The Second Law of Thermodynamics“.)

So, I backup. Religiously. OS X Mountain Lion saves every single revision of (nearly) every document, in the document file itself, so I can go back in time and see everything I’ve added, changed, or deleted, and recover it, if necessary. (Which it has been, at least once.) That’s not all.

Time Machine makes hourly backups to a P.O.S. NAS I mistakenly bought. Plus every night, a script I set up copies my essential files — Infinity, Storm Knights, and some stories I’m working on — to Dropbox, to be stored in a Data Center somewhere. Then once a year or so I backup all those files to CD (lately, DVD). And just this year I backed up all my CD and DVD backups to a h-u-u-u-g-e SD card.

Is this necessary? You bet your sweet ass.

Just this year, I found out that all my notes from my 2002-2004 “Mythepolis” D&D campaign had vanished. The folders were there, but each and every file was just fsck-ing gone.

Hundreds of hours of work. Gone. Knee to the groin time.

Fortunately, back in 2004, after the campaign wrapped, I’d included that folder in one of my Torg burns, basically on a whim, and so it was on the SD card.

Yeah. “There but for the grace of God…”

Motto of the story, kids: if you work in digital, and your work is at all valuable to you, back up. Often.

If you don’t, some day your data will decide to vanish, for no readily identifiable reason, and you will be stuck. With a good backup plan, even if your left arm is cut off, you can recover from the disaster.

Minimum basic plan:

  • External HDD for regularly scheduled backups, no less than once a day.
  • CD or DVD for yearly backups.
  • Some kind of Cloud storage solution for persistent, offsite, “three nines” storage.

(Disaster Update: just got the FireWire 800 cord, which will let me backup everything from my computer’s internal HDD’s. Yes, even with the above paranoid backup plan, some things fell through the cracks. See what I mean about this universe hating your data?)

One Perfect Thing, Made Real

A couple of years ago, over on the Torg Mailing List, I posted a write up of the technomagical virtual-reality Grid of Tharkold. This became the “One Perfect Thing” at the core of my vision for the cosm.

Here’s how I imagine it: there is an infinite blackness. In this blackness, there are points and lines of light, each representing a flow or source of magical energy.

Each techno-magical computer is one dot of light. Each network circuit is a line of light. And a building full of computers is a fine mesh of dots and lines, throbbing with light as messages pass about.

Thus, the geography of computers in the real world determine what the virtual world looks like, with one small exception: the virtual world is built upside down. The top floor of a building is the basement in the Grid, and the ground floor is the top of the structure.

What this means is that the deep, infinite blackness isn’t wholly black. Because above you, in the night sky, is the other side of the planet, and all the systems and connections there are glowing.

There are stars in the sky of the Grid.

And now I know what that looks like.

Popular Science wrote an article, “This is What The Internet Looks Like“, detailing an effort to visualize the nodes and links of the Internet as a 3-d map. There are even apps for iOS and Android, which allow you to pan and zoom around the giant sphere.

See, their map of the Internet looks exactly like what I imagined the Grid to be — points of light in an infinite black.

Douglas Adams wrote of his experiences writing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy novels at the same time the BBC was making a television series based on his original radio plays. He saw the characters and sets, and revised his novels based on those images. “A thrilling, if expensive way to write”, he said.

I imagine, but cannot prove, that George RR Martin is having a similar experience, as HBO makes television seasons based on his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. On the set and on the screen, he gets to see Westeros brought to life.

And in the “Making Of” featurettes for Watchmen, artist Dave Gibbons gets to walk around sets that perfectly depict his drawings on the original comic series. The Gunga Diner. Archie, the Owlship. Hollis Mason’s office, filled with memorabilia of the Watchmen. On the videos, he looks stunned, and humbled.

Now I understand why.

When I imagined, and first described my vision for the Grid, I thought it would look beautiful. And in my mind, it did. Now, thanks to Peer 1 Hosting (the company that made the map) I can see my Grid, more or less exactly as I imagined. And it looks beautiful.

It is unexpectedly touching and humbling to see something I imagined come to life, even if it had nothing to do with me or my ideas. I don’t understand why that should be, but it is.

So, if you’re wondering what the One Perfect Thing at the heart of my Tharkold is, download the app (or visit their website) and take a look.

(Disaster Update: Still waiting for the FireWire 800 cord, so I can backup everything on my computer’s internal HDD’s. After that, it’s on to the computer shop for repairs.)

Still Going Strong, After All These Years

So, here’s the skinny:

I was watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead, when my computer did a weird freeze. Force rebooted, gray screen. Nothing else.


Did some extensive troubleshooting, nothing worked. Big problem.

How big? Hardware issue, might have been a problem with the RAM. I had to swap modules to test the RAM, and when you’re pulling $600 worth of RAM sticks out of your machine and swapping them about, hoping to God you don’t fry one with static electricity, that’s a strong indication of a big problem.

After verifying it was definitely a hardware issue (when 3 different hard drives with 3 different OS installs all fail to boot, it’s hardware) and verifying it definitely wasn’t the RAM, I called Tech Support.

Told the guy what’s up. Said I read the TechBase article on the problem. Detailed the steps I’d taken.

Guy said, and I quote, “Uh, okay.” Pause. Pause. “Did you do X?”


“Let’s do it again.” We did. Didn’t work.

“It’s a hardware problem, you’ll need to bring it in for repair.” Which I already knew.

Here’s the funny thing – the guy sounded intimidated. I swear.

According to him, no one reads the TechBase before calling in — they call in first thing. And no one does the six troubleshooting steps the TechBase suggests, much less remembers them and can describe them in detail on the phone.

I know Tech Support, I worked Tech Support for some of the biggest names in computing. So, when it came to troubleshooting my computer, I knew what I was doing. Even when I knew squat about the problem, I knew where to go to get info on the problem.

I felt for the guy. Quite possibly, I was better trained on basic troubleshooting than he was. That’s why he was intimidated.

Even so, it was nice to find out that my years of convalescence haven’t rotted my brain so badly, I can’t run down a glitch and troubleshoot the hell out of it.

After all these years, I’m still going strong. It’s a good feeling.

(2 day ETA for Amazon to deliver the cord I’ll need to backup the HDD. After the backup, I can take it in to be repaired. No idea how long that’ll take. Sucks, but there you are.)

Worst. News. Ever.

My computer just died. From the troubleshooting I’ve done, it looks like some component on the motherboard failed.

Until I get it fixed, all my Internet access, and any notes or work I can do, will be through my iPad.

There’s no ETA on a fix. Before I can send it in, I have to buy some components that will let me back up the internal HDD. Which could take some time.

I’ll be back up and working ASAP. Wish me luck.

Conclusion: No Design is Perfect [pt. 7]

No design is perfect; all design requires compromises. Anyone who says differently is lying.

The question is: “What compromises you will make and why?”

5-Success, as a compromise, compromised core aspects of the system, the same aspects that made the mechanic simple, direct, and obvious.

Moving back towards that ideal, simplifying the system, required making the resolution system more complex (counting by 3’s instead of by 5’s). On the whole, it’s a compromise worth making.


Q: Why is Non-Lethal Damage a separate rule? Why doesn’t it just deal Fatigue damage?

A: Non-Lethal Damage (and Stress) could be restructured to make this work at human-scale combat. But it breaks down for Supers.

See, the “buying actions with Stress” rule is pretty cool. And a Super being able to buy 10 extra Actions (with an Endurance of 50) is awesome. But having to do 50 Fatigue to knock them out sucks. Hence the 5 SR = Unconscious rule.

Q: I thought your goal was “no tables”. Don’t these rules require, at minimum, 2 tables?

A: That is a goal, though there is an implied caveat: “unless absolutely necessary”. In this case, they’re necessary.

Q: Aren’t these rules a little complex, particularly the Non-Lethal Damage and Impaired rules?

A: Maybe. The core of Combat — the Damage Chart — is as simple as can be. 1 Wound per SR is just too simple to be believed. (0 SR = Fatigue is a little more complex, but not that much.)

Non-Lethal Attacks are used far less often, and like specific skills the player using them should have the rules to hand.

I’ll be honest: maybe these rules are too complex. I‘ll playtest to see, keep thinking them over, and take any and all feedback into account. Where possible, I’ll simplify.

That’s the best I can do.

Non-Lethal Damage [pt. 6]

The last modified mechanic.

Non-Lethal Damage

Not all attacks kill. Some just knock someone unconscious. This happens in movies all the time.

Non-Lethal Damage uses the exact same Success Rating method as Lethal Damage (and the rest of the system). Its meaning is slightly different.

Non-Lethal Damage

SR Effect
Failure You Failed
0 SR Fatigue (2 Stress, 3 if Encumbered)
1 SR Fatigue
2 SR Fatigue
3 SR Impaired
4 SR Incapacitated
5 SR Unconscious

Of all the mechanics thus far discussed, this one is the least obvious. That is a weakness, I’ll admit, but the mechanic works, even if the internal logic is a little intricate.

Here’s the logic:

We need to be able to knock people out in one blow, without it being so easy as to make it the go-to move in combat. Low results can’t achieve it, but should do something. Moderate results should do more.

So, Impaired -> Incapacitated -> Unconscious. Doing 3 SR 3 times will knock the person out. (And 4 SR twice, or 5 SR once.)

But why Fatigue? Because enough Stress will cause the target to be Impaired, and even more will cause them to be Incapacitated. Eventually, you can just beat them Unconscious, even if you can’t get 3 SR.

At the lowest levels, Non-Lethal Damage is inferior to straight combat. At moderate levels (3 & 4 SR) it’s a little better, and at the highest level it’s exactly the same. Overall, it’s not notably better or worse than Lethal Damage — in combat.

Out of combat, it meets the design goal: to allow people to sneak up on another person and knock them out. This is possible because of the Total Surprise rule.

Total Surprise means the target can’t defend at all. (No Passive Defense.) So, their Skill Points don’t matter.

Toughness 9, Skill 9 = Defense 18? Not against a Surprise Attack. Against the Surprise Attack, you defend with Toughness 9. That’s 3 SR more against you, enough to turn a 2 into a 5.

Conk! Unconscious.

(Concluded in part 7.)