Monday, December 31, 2012

How I do Google+ RPG Hangouts

I've tried many things with G+ RPGing, trying to get just the right mix of interaction and utility around the virtual "table." A friend recently asked me what I'd settled on.

Some people swear by 3rd party add-ons, including the excellent folks at .  (UPDATE: Since I wrote that last bit, I'm afraid Tabletop Forge is no longer your best bet, as they've gone away.)

However, I discovered that for my needs, less is more.  

Here's what works best for me:

Ahead of time, I gather art references, as available for a particular dungeon or session for the adventure in question, and put them in SkyDrive (Microsoft's free cloud stoarge service), which allows you to link individual pics via a public URL. (Dropbox and other services offer similar public links.)

I don't use minis, virtual or otherwise, but I do rely on sketching while describing settings and RPG battles; as a DM, I use pseudo Theatre of the Mind, with sketches as an aid.

I make such sketches on white board at my back while I play. Sometimes I cheat and use one at the office where I work, but I bought one at the store for around $18 for my home. I use the whiteboard to sketch the adventurer's progress in a dungeon (or other) setting, careful to make it large enough that A) it's visible through the g+ interace, and B) I can easily add general monster and PC placement if it becomes necessary to understand how a fight is progressing.

During play, everyone rolls their own dice, which requires trust  I suppose, but allows people to use the dice they love, and doesn't require me to force everyone to go through a dice emulator.

As play proceeds, I drop URLs of interesting pics (that I've uploaded to Skydrive, which creates public links), poems, or other pieces of text into the chat window.

I do use the Lower Third add-on, which some of my players also use, which is a great place to add the character's name and class, and even a picture.

This all seems to work like a charm! Even for casual gaming with my old high school friends who aren't game professionals.

I've gotten fancy in the past by logging in with a second computer/phone so that I could display a map on that, but frankly, the amount of juggling that required was a pain--the white board solution is, like Russian pencils in space, more robust.

I hope this inspires you to try a few g+ hangout games if you've been thinking about doing so. Good luck!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Car Insurance Model for Guns (with tweaks)

No one blinks at the idea of liability insurance for our cars. If fact, most of us have been the beneficiary of mandatory liability insurance, after we’ve been rear-ended at a stoplight or suffered some other traffic mishap.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that our guns should also require liability insurance. In fact, we believe mandatory gun insurance is something that both responsible gun owners and non-gun owners alike could get behind. Why? Because of how it would work.

Just as with cars, this plan would require annual registration and liability insurance renewal through private insurance companies. And guess what? There’s already a precedent: the National Rifle Association offers liability insurance to members. (The problem is, the NRA's insurance is not universally mandatory.)

This solution offers many advantages that all well-meaning people on both sides of the debate can appreciate. For example, the insurance market is a proven expert at weighing risk. If they don’t already exist, a gun insurance mandate would quickly generate reams of actuarial tables devoid of anything but solid, dry, actual odds of a particular gun or a gun in a particular situation being used to hurt someone, and find an associated liability price.

Just as car insurance premiums are based on both the driver and the vehicle, so would gun insurance premiums. So someone from South Dakota who’s hunted during deer season for years without an accident would have a much smaller premium than a first-time buyer looking to own an assault rifle.

And just like with insurance, taking comprehensive training, owning biometric gun safes (or owning guns with trigger locks, or even smart guns), and not possessing more than one or two guns would decrease premiums. Other factors would include the magazine size of the weapon, the age of the gun owner, how many children the owner has living in the same home, previous criminal record, and so on.

All of this means that if someone wants an arsenal of semi-automatic rifles, they can still have it. But the civilization they’re part of will disincentivize that kind of bunker mentality through the hand of the market.

And of course, like regular liability insurance, gun liability would provide some restitution for those hurt by guns. (This is liability insurance, so it wouldn’t replace stolen or damaged guns--that's homeowner's insurance.)

We also believe that stiffer penalties for unreported gun theft would be useful. Just like with cars, all guns would have be registered so they can be tracked if they’re used in a crime. We suggest that if your weapon is lost or stolen, you have 24 hours to report it. If you fail to report it and your missing gun is used in a crime, your mandatory gun liability insurance rises steeply. Any shootings involving a weapon registered to you that you have not reported missing/stolen results in a punitive fine (and even higher insurance rates). In addition, a civil suit could be brought against you if firearms registered to you are used in the commission of a crime. But, your gun insurance would help you deal with such a possibility. Specifically, it would pay out to cover damages leveled against you if your gun is used in a crime, by anyone, to pay for your legal defense and for any fines or civil liabilities against you.

As an aside, introducing mandatory gun liability insurance doesn’t mean we can’t continue to enact other sensible measures designed to moderate gun violence. Another front should include closing loopholes in current law that allow private individuals to sell to one another online or at gun shows, at least not without some sort of simultaneous proof-of-insurance requirement. Yet another way to stem gun mayhem would be via a national gun buyback program, similar to the Australian policy, which would prove especially useful for people who come into the possession of guns they didn’t seek, such as when people who discover they’ve inherited several guns after the death of a relative, but don’t have the interest or means to deal with them.

Those hoping for an easy solution should be patient, because as with any realistic answer, gun liability insurance (and other measures noted above) will take time to enact, and more time for their effects to spread to all corners of the nation. But this is a start. And over time, mandatory gun insurance would lessen the likelihood of both parking lot gun aggression by adult against adult, and more importantly, mass killings of kindergarten children in their classrooms.

The foregoing policy recommendation evolved following the events at Sandy Hook and other recent mass shootings, and incorporates the feedback from my social network and friends. If you think it is viable, do what I've done, and contact the vice president and your representatives with this proposal.)