Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Superheroes, classes, and math

Today is the first day of classes at UIUC. I didn't have any classes today because all my classes are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In addition to working as a research assistant for Jeff Erickson, I am also taking two courses: Planning Algorithms with Steven LaValle and Numerical Analysis with Stephen Bond.

Additionally, on the gaming front, I'm about to start playing in a new role playing game campaign run by Dave, the owner of Armored Gopher Games. The game is going to be a superhero game, based on a rule set called the HERO System. The unique part about the HERO System is that unlike games such as Dungeons and Dragons where you have to pick from a given list of powers, in the HERO System there is a point system where you spend "character points" to create your own powers by picking from a list of effects (like "ranged killing attack", "energy blast," "entangle," and "transform,") and add in "advantages" and "limitations" to improve or restrict your powers (such as "armor piercing," "limited number of charges," or "reduced endurance cost.") As you can probably guess, there is a lot of math involved in this, which is why I'm excited about it. For example here is an actual conversation about one of the powers in the game, which allows you to have a group of "followers."

Me: "So, if you build your follower as an N-point character, you can have (2^k) of those followers for a point cost of (N/5)+5k, right?" (I am writing this formula on the whiteboard)
Dave: "That could be right, I don't know. You're talking in a foreign language to me. That's math. I don't speak math."
Me: (Pointing to a page in the rule book) "It says in the rule book that the follower costs 1 point for every 5 points it's built on, and you can double the number of followers by spending 5 points extra. Like it says in this example, if the follower is a 200-point character, he costs 40 points, and you can get two of him for 45, or four of him for 50, etc."
Dave: "Yes that sounds about right."

Anyway, we're going to be finalizing our characters on January 23rd, and then the actual game is going to start the second Saturday in February. I will post more on my blog about any more superhero action!


Dan Mont said...

Glad to see that both your school life and your gaming life are starting up again after the winter break.

Do you think your ability to formalize the trade-offs in the various games you play makes you a more effective player?

Alexander Mont said...

It depends on which game. There are games, like Dominion (that's the one with the cards that I talked about in one of the previous RPG Math problems) where that is very useful. Other games not so much, especially if other players can affect you. For example I was playing one game called "Bang", where players have hidden cards indicating which side they are on, and the goal is to kill everyone on the other side, and players can attack each other. I thought I was safe from the player before me because we both knew we were on the same team, but on his turn he killed me anyway because I only had one life point left so he through I would die soon anyway, and wanted to kill me to he could get the extra cards rather than let the person on the other team kill me and get the extra cards.

Another thing I have learned is that when learning a new game, I always ask to read the rules, rather than just listening tho the person explain, because they will inevitably forget something which then gets turned against me.

Dan Mont said...

In lots of games that are very mathematical, being able to sense people's emotions and motivations can be very important, as well. Take poker, for example, where knowing the odds of getting various hands is important. But that is simply not enough to be a good player. You need to be able to "read" and predict other people's playing styles -- even while they are trying to hide or misrepresent them.

So I guess the math helps more depending on who you are playing with, as much as the structure of the game.