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Other RPGs / Dune d20: A Dream of Rain
« on: October 01, 2015, 04:22:21 PM »

Anyone ever play this? Thoughts?

Off Topic Fun / Political THEORY thread (spinoff from Politics thread)
« on: September 30, 2015, 11:32:16 PM »
Original discussion

Thank you for the link, and for debating me in a civilized an thought-provoking fashion.  I tire of forum line-by-line refutation, so allow me to post my thoughts in paragraph form once again.

I find the the idea that a nomadic lifestyle makes intergroup violence unnecessary to be far-fetched.  First, being nomads does not mean that hunter-gatherers never stayed in the same place, or returned to somewhere they'd been. It is much more consistent with animal behavior and that of modern nomads to stay in an area for a few days, weeks, or even a whole season, often cycling seasonally in a local area.  Territorialism can be found in nomadic animals, such as wolves, and I do not believe it to be a learned trait in humans, but rather an evolved one; as such, 10,000 years of agriculture would not be enough to change that.  It takes up to 100X the land to feed hunter-gatherers than it does to feed agrarian people, and moving people are infinitely more likely to run into each other than non-moving people. Given all the above, it seems rather likely that violence between groups over resources or land would be common.  Steven Pinker lists several reasons for violence among humans in The Better Angels of Our Nature, all of which would be just as valid for nomadic hunter-gatherers:
Pinker rejects what he calls the "Hydraulic Theory of Violence" – the idea "that humans harbor an inner drive toward aggression (a death instinct or thirst for blood), which builds up inside us and must periodically be discharged. Nothing could be further from contemporary scientific understanding of the psychology of violence." Instead, he argues, research suggests that "aggression is not a single motive, let alone a mounting urge. It is the output of several psychological systems that differ in their environmental triggers, their internal, their neurological basis, and their social distribution." He examines five such systems:

1. Predatory or Practical Violence: violence "deployed as a practical means to an end"[2]:613
2. Dominance: the "urge for authority, prestige, glory, and power." Pinker argues that dominance motivations can occur within individuals and coalitions of "racial, ethnic, religious, or national groups"[2]:631
3. Revenge: the "moralistic urge toward retribution, punishment, and justice"[2]:639
4. Sadism: the "deliberate infliction of pain for no purpose but to enjoy a person's suffering..."[2]:660
5. Ideology: a "shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good."[2]

I also find it hard to believe that hunters (trained killers), armed with weapons, with no laws or doctrines telling them otherwise, would hesitate in the least to use their skills and weapons against other humans if they felt threatened or offended or that they had something to gain from doing so.

Concerning Chimpanzees: Given the complex cognitive mechanisms involved in organized warfare, we could not have taught war to them. While we may have caused the scarcity that led to chimp wars in recent times, they either developed war on their own or received it from this guy.

Overkill hypothesis: The theories of human over-predation and extinction by climate change are not mutually exclusive.  There are several extinctions that are not adequately explained by changing climate alone, but do line up perfectly with human arrival. In all likelihood, both were significant contributors to the extinction of many species.

You might find this article interesting. It's a pseudo-review of Steven Pinker's Better Angels, which makes the case that violence in all forms has steadily declined in all forms (form war to slavery to spankings) since the beginning of history (and pre-history).

No problem, I can stick to this format if you prefer. Usually I find breaking a post up makes it easier to clearly respond to specific points, but as my last post shows, that's not always the case.  :D

First off, I have to question the line of reasoning that goes from "wolves and other nomadic animals display territorial behavior" to "I don't think this is a learned trait in humans." Why do you assume it isn't a learned trait in wolves as well?

We seem to be getting into the "nature vs nurture" debate here, which is a thorny and deeply contested issue in scientific circles--partially because many scientists tend to divide up along "party lines" based on their fields of study.

(click to show/hide)

My personal position on the matter is that while animals (including humans) might have some natural inclinations, social and environmental factors play a much bigger role in determining behavior.

Regarding your claim that it takes significantly more land to support a hunter-gatherer tribe than an agrarian society, does this statistic assume exclusive use--or is it merely stating the obvious fact that you have to range a lot farther when your food sources aren't all clumped into one place? What about other species that compete for similar foods? How could our ancestors have survived if it really takes all that just to feed a single tribe, with nothing left for any other organisms with a similar diet?

That said, I really doubt that nomadic societies would be particularly territorial except in times of scarcity--because they would have no incentive to try and claim resources beyond what they could use and carry with them. Territorial behavior is counterproductive when you have neither the need nor the ability to utilize that territory.

Even allowing for the creation of temporary camps and settlements, the fact that you need to be able to pack up and go discourages accumulating anything beyond what you can travel with. What's the point of stockpiling if you're just going to have to leave it behind? I'm not sure "stockpiling" as a concept would even occur to such people, or seem beneficial if it did.

Similar to the discussion of chimp behavior, I'm not contending that warfare or territorialism were unknown. Rather, I see it as a tool in our ancestors' tool box that only got pulled out when conditions favored it--and that prior to the neolithic revolution those conditions were not particularly common.

Granted, humans have a long, proud history of making stupid, sub-optimal decisions--but I doubt we would have been so successful as a species if we were continually flipping the bird at natural selection. :p

Also, bear in mind that a stateless society does not necessarily mean a lawless society. It's totally possible for an anarchistic tribe of hunter-gatherers to still have laws and social doctrines that they've agreed upon. The difference is in how those rules are enforced. Instead of doing something silly like making a law that says "no violence" and then using violence to enforce it, you simply rely on social pressures and sanctions to address problematic behavior.

If Ogg is being a violent dick to the other members of the tribe, they just stop helping him. In a group that interdependent, even a subtle snub is likely to get the message across. If he keeps it up, pretty soon he's going to be fending for himself. Sure, he could try using violence to bully them or steal the food they're no longer sharing, but there's many more of them and as you pointed out they are trained killers. They should be capable of defending themselves, and if this plays out enough times it will start to reinforce a tendency to cooperate.

Note that nowhere in this scenario is aggression required to uphold these laws. Refusing to help or cooperate with someone is a purely passive action. Violence may be required to defend against aggression, but maintaining the social order does not require the initiation of force.

By comparison, hierarchical societies reward aggression--whether tacitly or openly. A child raised in such a society learns on a very basic level that violence and intimidation are the legitimate means of getting what you want and becoming successful. Sure, we may tell kids to use their words, but every single authority figure in their life--parents, teachers, police, etc--uses physical aggression, the threat of physical aggression, and social dominance based on the threat of physical aggression to enforce* their will on others.

(click to show/hide)

Of course, because of this upbringing, we tend to see this behavior as normal and inherent--especially since we're taught (brainwashed really) that violence is bad and our societies are more peaceful now that we have (violently enforced) laws to keep us safe and well behaved. Arguably, the sheer epic-level bluff check involved in flinging that degree of BS constitutes aggression in and of itself. It's a clear violation of the "attempt to obtain from another via deceit what could not be consensually obtained" clause of the NAP.

Trying to claim that modern societies are less violent when everything we do is rooted in violence and rewards further violence is just laughably ridiculous. Of course, a lot of people do make those claims--similar to the way many racists and homophobes vehemently deny being such. My pet hypothesis is that the cognitive dissonance involved in holding irrational beliefs which so directly contradict observable reality messes up one's ability to reason, but I don't pretend to be an expert on psychology and I've never attempted to test it in any rigorous manner.

What our society has done is to partially supplant overt violence with threatened or implied violence, so on the surface our cultures appear less aggressive. For instance, if you get stopped for speeding, an officer may write you a ticket. (Or he might shoot you a bunch of times, it really depends.) Now, on the surface that ticket looks nice and peaceful--but in reality, that ticket is a threat that force will be used against you if you don't comply with the officer's demand for money. Functionally, it's no different than being robbed at gun point--the ticket stands in for the gun the same way paper money is supposed to symbolically stand in for the value of goods and services. Try deciding not to pay the ticket, and see how long it takes for an actual gun to be brought out.

Also, an aside regarding statistics: there are a lot of overt forms of violence that go under-reported for various reasons. Whether it's cases where the victims are hesitant to come forward, such as with rape or domestic abuse, or situations where the violence is not adequately tracked or recorded--such as with police violence against citizens--there is a lot more direct physical harm going on in modern societies than is apparent on the surface.

In short, I think Steven Pinker is mistaking as inherent various modes of behavior which are conditioned into us by the structure of our present society. I also think he's overlooking a lot of subtle but widespread violence in modern cultures, as well as some not-so subtle violence that gets swept under the rug. Even if it were to be proven that these mechanisms are an inborn part of our neurology, I still contend that hierarchical societies reinforce and amplify these tendencies in a way that stateless societies do not.

I don't want to get into "nature vs. nurture" too much, as I consider such debates to be ultimately pointless.  I think "nature" does a lot more than we give it credit for (I do love evolutionary psych), but since we can only control "nurture" it doesn't matter whether it's 5% or 95% of what makes a person, we still should treat every situation like "nurture" is 100%.

I'm not actually sure what you mean by this question: "Regarding your claim that it takes significantly more land to support a hunter-gatherer tribe than an agrarian society, does this statistic assume exclusive use--or is it merely stating the obvious fact that you have to range a lot farther when your food sources aren't all clumped into one place?"

As for other species with similar diets, well, most of them died (the predators anyway). Either we killed them to reduce competition or we were just so much better at hunting that we drove them into extinction by eating all their food. They aren't mutually exclusive, though the second one is most likely the bigger contributor.  That's actually one thing the "overkill" and "climate change" hypotheses agree on, IIRC.

Being nomadic does not mean they never slept in the same place twice. I find this possibility extremely unlikely and it would be really inefficient of them to do so.  But if you're staying in the same place for weeks or months, it would certainly be of benefit to get more food than you can travel with. You also mentioned relative scarcity - with no (or very little) food surplus, one failed hunt constitutes scarcity.  Even if they sometimes had surpluses, they had almost no storage, so a small run of bad luck could easily put the tribe on the brink of starvation.  I'm sure they were well aware of this, so a little bit of stockpiling would make perfect sense to them. For these people, the main activities of every single day were devoted to food - to find another group of people hunting the herd you've been following is very much a direct threat to your continued survival.

While I won't argue with you on what constitutes violence (since I quite agree that implied violence counts), I'd still take implied/threatened/indirect violence over actual physical violence any day. Being injured and killed is a hell of a lot worse than being told what to do. I think most people in any time period would agree ("Give me freedom or give me death" notwithstanding. There are limits). What Pinker is claiming is that real physical violence has declined since before the Neolithic Revolution. I still call that a win, and I still call it less violent in absolute terms.  I also do not see any reason to believe that implied violence would be any less pervasive in primitive societies than it is today. We know how gangs operate, and other organizations outside of the established order; in almost all of them the violence and threat thereof is more overt, if not more present. We also know that many of the primitive tribes we've come across throughout history have had leaders (official or de facto) whose only qualification is being the best warrior. Raising children through the implied threat of violence wouldn't be any different in early societies either.  It took thousands of years for societies to evolve to even the imperfect version of democracy we have today, and previously the threat of force was more overt, and it was actually used much more often.  Violence and threats of violence may be the most reliable way to get someone to do anything, including getting them to cooperate. Not to stir the "nature/nurture" pot, but other animals are the exact same way.  I don't see the social contract as deceitful either, because everyone has a basic understanding of what will happen to them if they refuse to follow it.

Min/Max 3.x / [PF] Investigator class
« on: September 29, 2015, 01:54:57 AM »
I love skillmonkeys and jack-of-all trades characters, but I hate the combat playstyle of the Rogue. My favorite class in core has always been the Bard, and my favorite class in 3.5 is the Factotum. Looking at the Investigator class recently, it seems like the descendant of the Factotum in many ways. I've seen mentions of really effective support/buffer Investigators that trick out their Aid Another action and (presumably) use Infusions to buff allies in other ways.

My question is this: can you make a good damage-dealing Investigator? What kind of builds would you use to do so? The class seems to have a good "nova" potential with a combination of mutagens, extracts, Studied Combat/Strike, and liberal use of Inspiration, but what if you don't want to use nova tactics? (I'll define "nova" as using more than 30% of daily resources in any single encounter)

General D&D Discussion / What's with the "Batman Wizard" thing?
« on: September 04, 2015, 09:28:20 PM »
Ok. I get it. Batman has a utility belt. He's always got the right tool for the job, just like a Wizard. But any further than that, the metaphor breaks down. Batman is obviously mundane. He punches things with his fists and throws bat-shaped shurikens. He is one of the few superheros that explicitly wears armor and has a belt full of technological items. I know what you're thinking. "But Stan," you say, "Magic is a metaphor for technology and Batman always has the right technological solution." And you'd be right. But Batman is a master detective who sneaks, climbs, jumps, tumbles, mixes it up in melee, and uses technology a la Use Magic Device. Technology that he doesn't make himself. Batman is some kind of Rogue/Monk/Ninja thing. His strengths are in his skills. And the Monk/Ninja thing makes sense with his background, having trained in East Asia under R'as al Ghul and his Ninja assassins. "What about armor?" you ask, and I tell you that a monk or ninja is still the same with armor, they just don't get the AC bonuses or speed buffs. And there are ACFs and Archetypes that allow monks and ninjas to wear armor. Far easier than taking armor proficiency and Arcane Armor Training on top of Improved Unarmed and every combat maneuver feat that Batman obviously has.

So What Superhero best represents a Wizard?
Well, my first thought would be Superman because he's absurdly powerful, as are Wizards. But you know who else is absurdly powerful? Sorcerers. And Sorcerers only have a few Superpowers, just like Superman, whose powers are inborn and unchangeable. Lots of power, limited versatility. His one weakness? Kryptonite, aka DC's Antimagic Field. Superman is also not super smart, and thus not intelligence-based. Lots of bad guys manage to trick Superman quite easily, because fighting him is impossible, but tricking him isn't any harder that tricking a normal guy.

If we cross the DC/Marvel divide we come across another hero who might be an accurate representation of a Wizard. The Hulk. Nah, just kidding, he's a straight Barbarian. I'm talking about Iron Man.  Yes, Tony Stark is mundane. But we've already established that magic is a simple metaphor for technology, and Tony Stark has a ton of tech at his fingertips. And he's a genius (aka high intelligence) who, unlike Batman, makes his own tech.  "But wizards don't wear armor!" you say. Except the Iron Man suit isn't really a suit of armor. It's a mobile weapons platform with its own capabilities, far exceeding a mundane suit of armor. It has scanners and its own intelligence and several different types of weapons as well as physical strength and imperviousness and flight capabilities. In our metaphor, it's spell armor. It takes Tony a couple rounds to get the armor on, like it takes a Wizard a few rounds to buff himself into a God. It's Tony's spellbook. Tony without his Iron Man suit is basically the same as a Wizard with no spellbook: a really smart mundane guy. The Iron Man suit is also subject to EMPs, lightning strikes, and other forms of Marvel Antimagic, but Sorcerer Superman never has to worry about not having his superpowers because they're in the other room. There is one last, defining thing that makes Iron Man the true representation of a Wizard.  Superman is stuck with what powers he already has because they're inborn. Batman is limited to what he can accomplish with his body and whatever items he has available. Iron Man, however, is constantly tweaking and redesigning his suit, giving it new capabilities. When his suit can't handle something he goes home and fixes it until it can, much like learning and preparing new spells.

Superman is, by default, the strongest and most OP superhero. Batman is my favorite for a number of reasons. But Iron Man is the closest approximation to a D&D Wizard.

Introduce Yourself / Oh hey
« on: August 31, 2015, 06:19:48 PM »
I'm Stan, my real name is Andrew, and I'm from Northwest Ohio (United States). I'm 25.
My favorite game is D&D 3.5/Pathfinder.
I'm was on the old Brilliant Gameologists. Since I haven't been able to find a group near where I live I've recently taken to Roll20 to play online.
If I were to stat myself out I'd be Intelligence-based with Charisma as secondary and low Wisdom. Decent strength, average Constitution, and low-ish Dexterity :D

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