Work

This week felt pretty calm and relaxed, I worked on several tickets, paired a bunch, and we shipped some things. In particular, the “get emails about this page” button is now on a few more pages. The next step might be putting it on all the pages, or it might not. We’ll see.

We also had some chats about how a reorganisation is going to affect the team and what products we own. It’ll only come into effect after I’m gone, but I can at least help the team to prepare.

Speaking of leaving, I only have one and a half weeks left now. I had a call with the manager of what will be my new team at GoCardless the other day, and learned a bit about what I’ll be working on, at least for the first few quarters. Lots of scaling and distributed systems challenges, which sounds like it’ll be very interesting. I’m planning to brush up on distributed algorithms in my month off, so I can hit the ground running.

Books

I have a couple of books on the go, and received some more from Amazon today, but didn’t finish anything this week. Maybe next week.

Gaming

Ars Magica

Next week will, or should be, the final session of my Ars Magica campaign.

And thank god for that!

Ars Magica is a system I’ve wanted to play for a long time, and this short campaign has taught me the error of my ways. I should have stuck with simpler systems like Traveller and Call of Cthulhu, or Dungeons and Dragons. There are two main difficulties we’ve had with the system. One has been a group-wide issue, the other has just been a problem for me, the GM:

  1. The rules are just really complex.

    Every time a player wants to create a new a spell, we inevitably spend half an hour or so just consulting the rules trying to figure out how it’ll mechanically work. It really doesn’t help that there are essentially 50 different types of spell in Ars Magica, and they all behave slightly differently. And god help you if the player wants to create an enchanted item…

    Everything else is complex too, but there’s a formulae reference in an appendix. Which is great, except for all the mechanics where you have to roll something and then consult a table, as the tables are not in that appendix. So you have to flip back and forth through the book a lot anyway. And some of the rules are buried in prose, rather than being clearly delineated.

    I think these issues could be resolved with a new edition of the game. I don’t think you’d even need major changes, a 5.5th edition focussed on making small changes in aid of consistency and reference-ability would help a lot.

  2. It’s just hard to plan adventures for.

    An Ars Magica game is based around a physical community of wizards. Unlike most other systems, the player characters aren’t necessarily trekking off into the wilderness in search of treasure, they’re at home doing their own thing, and the game is more character-focussed. I knew that going in, but at least at the beginning of the campaign you don’t really have all those rich interpersonal relationships to generate soap-opera-style drama from.

    So I fell back on having adventure come to the players.

    But that just lead to another problem: why did adventure keep coming to this tiny out-of-the-way Scottish village where the player characters happened to live? It just stretched my suspension of disbelief that, month after month, fairies would kidnap children, or demons would move into the inn, or mysterious children would turn up on the doorstep, and so on.

    I feel like I could have avoided this problem by setting the game in an established wizard community, rather than the campaign being set in a new one. At least then there would be all these NPCs with their own stuff going on, which would give rise to stories.

I’m glad I tried Ars Magica, and got it out of my system, but I won’t be rushing back.

Traveller

Unlike Ars Magica, Traveller is going well. Really well. The players have decided to become space pirates. And so I spent some time making a piracy cheatsheet (based on the new rules from Pirates of Drinax).

This should be a lot of fun, and it should also be fairly easy for me to prepare for sessions:

  • I have the 10 Pirates of Drinax adventures I can sprinkle in whenever feels right.
  • And the 8 additional adventures from the Drinaxian Companion (we did one of those—an introductory adventure to teach the players the basics of space piracy—last session).
  • And the 3-part mini-campaign Shadows of Sindal, which takes place in the same region of space.
  • And all the sorts of troubles pirates might have: spies, pirate hunters, untrustworthy allies, disgruntled crew, etc.
  • Plus all the random tables in the various Traveller rulebooks for generating random patrons, missions, ships to pirate, and various other sorts of encounter.
  • And all the normal adventures that could happen in a Traveller campaign: just because the players are pirates now doesn’t mean I can’t throw a non-piracy adventure at them from time to time.

Space piracy gives me a lot of new material. And really, the only additional work it causes me is having to keep track of their reputation (which Pirates of Drinax and the Drinaxian Companion have systems for), as that will trigger things in the background (eg, if the players pirate in the same region of space a lot and word gets out, pirate hunters will arrive).

I’m very much looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

I’m also trying out a bit of an experiment. I was just going to track the various NPC and faction relationships with the party behind the scenes, but I’ve decided to actually directly show the players all that information, and give them handouts with the mechanics I’m using to do so. So the players can see, for example, that if they bribe Lord So-and-so X million credits, then his positive relationship with the party will jump up 3 levels, which means he’ll be willing to do tasks A, B, and C for them now.

NPC assets of the players

It’s very gamey. But my hope is that it’ll encourage the players to engage more with NPCs and NPC factions if it’s very clear (1) what rewards they can get for doing so, and (2) how to effectively do so.

Matt Colville released a video about rewards a few weeks ago which advocates for doing the same sort of thing, and this is what tipped me over the edge to doing it.

Miscellaneous

I upgraded to Windows 11 this week, and the major differences so far seem to be that the icons on the taskbar are centred, and all the UI components are slightly rounder.

It feels very mid-00s Linux, specifically XFCE.