Where To Start Doctor Who?

Elsewhere, the question of where to start Doctor Who came up. Actually, several elsewheres in the span of a month, so I thought maybe I should share this.

Unlike most TV series, this is a surprisingly complex question, because not only is it long-running, but the tone, style, and arguably even genre, have changed significantly over the decades. Furthermore, Doctor Who varies greatly in the level of continuity, with some runs being very continuity-heavy, and others being almost entirely episodic. Also, there have been periodic “soft resets”, where the production team made a conscious decision to make the show more approachable for new viewers, and/or wanted to make a significant change in the tone of the show. None of these jettisoned any of the previous continuity, but references to stories before the reset were minimized, at least initially. Then over time, in addition to building up a new mythology, inevitably elements of stories from before the reset gradually crept in more and more, so that in the long run, there’s just one everchanging continuity to the whole series. 

So “the beginning” isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone. In fact, it’s probably a very poor choice for most people. Depending on where you start, you’ll get very different experiences, and maybe one chunk of it is more for you than another. Most people are probably better served starting with the modern series and then, if you get hooked, going back and watching the classic series later. The obvious starting points there are (in order):

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Information Literacy Friday: Statistics is Hard

Undeniable math”, “Statistical impossibilities”: these words do not mean what the non-mathematician-authored articles you may have seen them in think they mean.

One of the bigger problems I see in reporting, even with otherwise-excellent reporters in generally-reliable sources, is bad applications of or misunderstanding of math, particularly statistics. Add some bias on the part of the author—particularly where anything involving people or politics is involved—or a tight deadline, and it only gets worse. 

So, the information literacy lesson is: if you see someone making claims with math, and you, personally, can’t do all the necessary math to verify those claims, you should find someone trustworthy who can, or take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. There are several risks here:

  1. they might not understand the math, themselves
  2. they might be able to understand it, but didn’t fact-check in this case
  3. they might /think/ they understand it
  4. they might explain it badly (even if they understand it)
  5. they might understand the raw math, but be misapplying it to this situation

…and there are probably other problems that can show up. And note that none of these problems assumes the writer is trying to deceive you. But badly-understood or badly-presented math can certainly play a part when someone does want to mislead you. 

This doesn’t mean that you can never accept math as proof if you don’t have a Masters in statistical analysis. It just means you need to be cautious, double-check and cross-check claims like these, and seek out people who are experts—which generally the article authors aren’t, unless you’re reading a math or science journal.

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Dungeon World Magic Items

Just a few magic items I created for our Dungeon World game last night that I thought others might find useful.

Ring of Invisibility

 0 weigh

When you put this on, you are invisible until you touch another living being. Roll +CHA. On a 7-9, also choose 1; on a miss, both:

  • your invisibility ends if you make any noise
  • you are blinded while invisible

Lucky Knucklebones

0 weight

When you toss these, roll +Wis. On a 10+, choose 2; on a 7-9, choose 1:
  • treat your next roll as a hit (7-9) instead of rolling, so long as you still have the knucklebones.
  • hold 2. you can spend this 1-for-1 on future rolls, so long as you still have the knucklebones.
  • the next time you miss a roll, treat it as a 10+, but the roll after that automatically misses, so long as you still have the knucklebones.

Undetectable Pocket

0 weight, worn
When sewn to an article of clothing, it creates a pocket that can hold small items. This pocket is unfindable by any search, and anything in it is also undetectable.

Band in a Box

4 weight
This small footlocker is fitted with heavy straps, making it as easy to carry as any box of that size can be. When opened, a selection of instruments emerge from the box, held by invisible, insubstantial musicians. These musicians will join into any music that is being played, providing perfect accompaniment, and providing a +1 to any actions accomplished due to this music.   
If a bard opens the box, roll +CHA. On a hit, they can choose the instruments that emerge. On a 10+, the instruments can play at the bard’s direction even if they stop playing, but the bard must start the tune with them. 

Ring of the Spotlight

The wearer can call down a powerful spotlight on them at any time. The light is bright as day (but is not sunlight), and lasts as long as the wearer doesn’t leave the area, or until they dismiss it. 

Sword of Direction 

1 weight
This sword contains a trapped faerie. Ask it any question that could be answered by a direction or location, and roll +INT. On a 7-9, choose 1; On a 10+, both:
  • the sword will direct you to the answer
  • you get a feeling for how far away the answer is.

Fan of Fleeting Memories

0 weight
When you fan this at someone, roll +Cha. On a 7-9, choose 1; on a 10+, choose 2:
  • They forget that they have met you
  • They forget what they have recently talked to you about
  • They forget what they recently saw you doing

Clockwork Crow

0 weight
Send the crow to somewhere, and it will observe and then return to you, and you can see what it saw.

Dread, Only Longer (part 1)

Most people seem to think of Dread as a one-shot-only game, but when we wrote it we intended to create a campaign-worthy game that created particularly intense individual sessions in that campaign. We wanted a game that gave a pay-off in a single session, but one that also worked for longer games.

In chapter 3 of Dread, there is a section about how characters change with the ongoing story. Elsewhere in the book, we talk about how to craft a setting and scenario that makes room for the loss of characters, which is far more common in Dread than in many other RPGs. But, based on the talk I see online, very few have even tried to run a Dread game longer than a couple of sessions.

I’ve even heard people assert that it’s not possible to play an ongoing Dread game. So clearly we didn’t share enough in the rulebook about how to create long-term play. We talked about choosing a sensible setting to justify bringing in new characters on a regular basis, but not enough about the details of how that works. The secret, as in so much of Dread, is in the questionnaires.

So this is the first of a series of posts, talking about some of the obstacles to ongoing games of Dread and sharing some tricks to address them. Let me set the parameters: I’m not talking about a single story that takes more than one session to complete, and may or may not be survived by all of the characters. I’m talking about “campaign-length” play of potentially dozens of sessions, or as long as you want to keep the game going (the Walking Dead tv show has made it to 9 seasons so far). But nothing I’m going to suggest will hurt a single-story game. At worst, doing these things will be extra effort that won’t pay off in a shorter game. And I’m going to assume you’ve read the rulebook, so I may reference things written there without going into detail about them.

Let’s start with the obvious: what do you do when a character is removed from the game, but the game goes on? We’ve already shared some short-term solutions (letting them play a while longer as a “dead person walking”, coming back temporarily as a ghost or similar), and you could even stretch them out over multiple sessions. But I’d advise against it. Having no agency in a game for an hour at the end of the night is one thing; having no agency for several sessions would be tedious at best. And eventually you’d simply run out of characters.

So what we need is to bring in new characters. There are several parts to this, but I’ll start with: why is this new character here? How do you explain new characters showing up, probably repeatedly, and getting involved with the established characters?

One way to do this is to hint at the new characters within the questionnaires of the old. When you’re planning an ongoing game, make sure that every character you create has a connection to at least one character who isn’t another player character but who would make a suitable player character. Then, if your character is removed from the game, you’ve already introduced a new character you can bring in, and who has a connection to the other characters and the story.

In other words, at least one question on every character questionnaire should be about someone else. Possible categories include:

  • family who would come looking for the character if they didn’t return
  • a protegé
  • a mentor
  • teammate
  • classmate
  • close friend
  • old college friend
  • the fellow members of your scouting troop
  • the person who first alerted the character to the existence of supernatural threats
  • a fellow captive
  • the character’s next vat-grown body, waiting to be activated
  • a squire
  • a sentient familiar
  • someone who owes your character their life
  • fellow cult members
  • members of the same knightly order

And there’s no requirement that you use the connection from your character if they leave the game. Since every character should have at least one connection like this, you could use each others’ connections.

If the setup of your story makes sense, some or all of these “backup characters” could be part of the story right from the start. The main characters could be just 4 or 5 of the students at camp, and as each one is eliminated, the player takes over another camper. This works particularly well with a situation where there is an isolated group that is larger than the player group.

But even when there aren’t other people around, there are usually ways to introduce them, maybe between sessions, maybe right away.

Which gets to the other part of replacing characters for long-term Dread play: there needs to be somewhere for those extra characters to come from. Because that’s the one kind of Dread scenario that doesn’t work for multi-session play: one where there’s no way to introduce new characters. If you want to have a longer game, don’t back yourself into a corner with no way to add new characters. For the rest, campaign length play is possible so long as you want it.

Micia delle Ombre – Catarina Anna Orgoglio

Lost: Ω

  • Power: Not Entirely of this World: she stands apart from this world
  • Weakness: Magic of other realms can always reach her
  • Quirk: can always interact with intangible items—and them with her

Known: d6

  • Gifted student of math and engineering: she would be a master engineer, if she weren’t 13 and unapprenticed

Dynamic: d6

  • Expert swordswoman: deadly with all forms of swords and daggers
  • Talented dancer: she could be a professional dancer

Static: d10

  • Power Stunt: Phasing: by concentrating, she can pull a little further from the world, becoming intangible so that she can pass through anything or let anything pass through her
  • Flaw: young: at only 13, she doesn’t have any authority and is often not taken seriously by adults

Passion: d8

  • Power stunt: Draco: her otherworldly nature has given her an unbreakable telepathic bond with a small dragonette the size of a dog


Catarina is a young woman living in Roma, the daughter of successful tradesmen. She showed an aptitude for her father’s engineering, but also a mastery of her body that let her quickly learn to dance and fight as well as many who have spent decades honing their skills. She had always been a bit of a distant child, seeming out of touch with the world around her despite her physical gifts and brilliant mind, and as she grew she discovered that it was more than a personality quirk: she is partly of another realm, and can “phase” out of touch with the regular world, enabling her to pass through objects. This otherworldliness also let her befriend a small dragon who is now her boon companion. 


Catarina is a not-quite-playable character. To be played as a Guest character, she should have 1 more Known trait, and her Static Flaw (or Power Stunt) wouldn’t come into play.

As a Main character, she would need 2 Known, 1 Dynamic, and 2 Passion traits added. Perhaps her brilliance gives her other aptitudes? Does her otherworldly nature connect her to any particular realm? Maybe she has a connection to the fae or to other mythic creatures besides Draco? A 13-year-old young woman with her talents and background is likely to have some strong passions about how the world does or ought to work—there’s nothing in her Traits about why she is a hero—or is she a villain? A more-experienced version of Catarina might have learned to use her phasing ability selectively, or to affect objects or other people.

Reviews are supposed to be helpful

So I’m watching a short little comparison/review video to find out more about a new-to-me Linux distro. And they’re comparing it to a distro I’m familiar with, so that’s helpful.
But the caliber of the reviewing is leaving something to be desired.


Distro A has a very Windows 10-esque interface, with a solid-black bottom bar that has an application menu (in text/list form) with a search box on it, and icons for apps (not sure if those are running, pinned, or both) running along the bottom on the left, and notifications and widgets on the bottom to the right, at least one of which can launch a panel that slides in from the right with more details. Window chrome is a little bit more macOS-like, with categories on the left rather than a tree, but fairly plain and traditional these days.
Solus Budgie default desktop with application menu visible Solus Budgie default desktop with file browser visible
So, it basically looks like Windows 10 without the Metro touches, Windows 7, or Windows Vista with less transparency.
The reviewer describes it as a “very modern interface”.
Distro B has a more iPad-esque interface, with a translucent top bar for notifications and widgets (on the right), a HUD for searching, a translucent panel on the left that serves as an application dock, and when you open up the application launcher you get a grid of large icons overlaid on the middle of the screen. File browser windows make me think a little bit of macOS: some categories pinned on the left side, a few view/control buttons on the top, but also a file path style display of location.
ubuntu default desktop ubuntu application picker ubuntu search heads-up-display with results ubuntu file browser
The reviewer describes it as a “very modern interface”.

What is “Modern”?

Beyond having a graphical desktop and some panels/menubars arrayed around it, some of which are always visible and some of which can be shown only when needed, there’s very little in common between these two. What even does “modern” mean, in this context? I would’ve thought something more iOS- or Android-esque (Distro B) would be more “modern” in the context of GUI design than something that is basically just a modest evolution of the 2001 Mac GUI (Windows 10, and therefore Distro A).
Unless we’re going with the formal art movement definition and they don’t mean “modern” but “Modern”, in which case Windows 8 is arguably the most Modern GUI with any real market awareness, what with the vast slabs of bright solid colors, flatness, and lack of skeuomorphic elements or even visual cues. And neither of these distros really look anything like that.


This is one of those reviewers who is “scoring” the things they’re comparing. So for each category, they decide which one “wins”. On the GUI front, the reviewer, after going on about how great both GUIs are, and acknowledging that UI has a significant subjective component, declares Distro A the winner. It’s not really supported by what they said, but neither is it contradicted. But I guess someone has to win, right?
Then we get to stability. They talk about how Distro A is pretty new but seems to be stable enough (with no substantiation for the claim). They then gush for several minutes straight about how amazingly stable Distro B is, and how it’s the distro that people use when they want a server that absolutely must not fail ever, and how Distro B has recently extended long-term support from 5 years to 10, and how the reviewer has used Distro B for years for critical production work and never had a problem.
They declare this a tie, awarding a point to each distro.

Mind you, I’m watching this for the info they’re summing up, not their personal opinion. I know that I can’t get a full overview of a Linux distro in a <10-min video. And I might not weigh all the categories that the reviewer chose equally. So I know that the score part doesn’t really matter.
But, yeesh! If you’re going to allow ties, apply them consistently. And maybe you should check to see if the scores you give and the evidence you provide match up, at least superficially.

The Bishop of Arezzo

Lost: Ω

  • Power:  “fighting with all the energy with which he so mightily endows me.”: Can absorb and store all types of energy.
  • Weakness: …but not energies from beyond the mortal sphere. 
  • Quirk: his eyes glow when he is charged

Passion: d6

  • Power Stunt: “like a hammer that breaketh the rock”: can release stored energy in powerful concussive blasts.
  • We are All Children of God: Tries to help everyone find their best divine self.

Dynamic: d8

  • Power Stunt: “The Lord is my Strength and my Shield”: can use stored energy to supercharge his body with supernatural strength and durability.

Static: d10

  • Power Stunt: Cannot be harmed by energy attacks.

Known: d6

  • Respected instructor of the Medici Academy: poet, theologian, and orator.
  • Knows the inner workings of the Church.

The Bishop of Arezzo grew up hearing the stories of the nobility and divine purpose of the Church, and joined as soon as he could. Eventually, he was sponsored by the Medici and appointed the parish priest of San Giovanni in Florence. Later he became a canon of Pisa Cathedral and then the bishop of Arezzo. But then he was caught up in a conspiracy of political intrigue and assassinations—sanctioned by the Pope! Realizing that not everyone in the Church lives up to its ideals, the bishop used his extensive knowledge of the workings of the world to take on a new mantle as The Bishop, his mission to bring the noblest elements of the Church out into the world to do good. He won’t directly attack the Church because he still recognizes its divine authority, but he now knows that even Church members are fallible, and strives to help them live up to their best selves.

This is the first of a series of character sketches for Four Colors al Fresco. The goal is to give you a better feel for the world of Italia and show you what sorts of heroes and villains live there. Some will be complete characters, ready to play, but most will be incomplete. I want to give you inspiration for the many ways you can make a character that works in a pseudo-Renaissance Italy. You can take these characters and use them, adding any missing Traits to flesh them out. Or you can steal bits of them for your own characters. Or maybe one of them will inspire you to make your own character.

The Bishop of Arezzo is fully statted as a Guest character; if you want to play him as a Main character, he would need several more Traits.

Unreview: Star Trek: the Motion Picture

I rewatched Star Trek: the Motion Picture over the weekend. First time in decades. I still think it’s much better than its reputation, but this isn’t a proper review. Instead, a few observations:

I had forgotten about the shuttle flyby when boarding: Due to the position of the space station and the maintenance docks, they’re coming from behind the Enterprise. They take a wide arc out and around the docks to the front of the ship. They then fly into the docks, past the entire ship to the rear, presumably where the shuttle bay is. But they don’t actually head for the shuttle bay, instead swooping past and heading back towards the front of the ship, finally docking at the base of the neck. So they basically do two complete flybys of the entire ship for no reason…when they’re on a super tight schedule where every minute counts.

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Discovering New Music: Yello

I love discovering new music. Sometimes that music isn’t so much “new” as it is “new to me”.

If you’re in a certain age range, you know the group Yello, but you probably don’t realize it.

You’ve maybe never seen the video, but I’m betting you know the song. I encourage you to watch the video. It’s a delightful slice of the early MTV world where, as Todd in the Shadows put it, every music video was an experimental short film [apologies if I inadvertently paraphrased].

(By the way, you might want to check out Todd in the Shadows’ whole “One Hit Wonderland” series. Most of them are fun and interesting.)

But here’s the cool thing:


and this

and this

and this

and this

are all from the same band, with the same personnel.

They also have even more experimental stuff, both more ambient and more noise/techno in sound, and more pop-ish/melodic stuff in a couple different styles, but I couldn’t find shareable recordings.

So if you like some or all of the above, you might want to check out a bit more of their music.


A Galaxy Even More Far Everway

Many years ago, one of the games I created was a space opera re-imagining of Everway.

Yes, that Everway, the game with all the gorgeous art cards, 3 completely separate action resolution systems, and metaphorical character stats. The RPG aimed at new RPers that completely failed to get noticed by non-RPers, and which was derided by existing RPers as too wishy-washy and new-agey. And which was therefore pretty much completely overlooked.

However, I still consider it one of the best RPGs ever made, particular among the “traditional” style RPGs—which Everway is, just barely. I love the metaphorical stats, the inspirational cards (did Epidiah get the Eidolons in Swords without Master from Everway? I should ask him), and the more mythical, poetic setting.

But, while I absolutely love Everway, and fantasy seems easier for gaming to me, science fiction has always been my preferred genre. Now, Everway doesn’t seem like a good fit for a hard-science fiction game—metaphorical holistic stats and tarot-like interpretive  cards just don’t feel like the right fit, to me. But for space opera? Sure!

The product of these efforts I dubbed “A Galaxy Far, Far Everway”. It’s a game of world-walkers in a futuristic, science-fictional multiverse, with characters that come from every possible future.

Recently, the owner of Everway contacted me and suggested I make this available again, so I did some digging and found my files. I’m uploading this basically as-is. It’s not a complete game. But it’s a playable game, at least if you’re familiar with Everway.