AQA: A Munchkin's Dream?
AQA (Any Question Answered) is a text messaging service that claims to be able to answer any question that is texted to them, be it the location of the nearest florist, or a philosophical poser on the meaning of life.
You just text your question to 63336 and wait for the answer.
I was put onto this service by my friend Tony Lee, writer of a number of fine comics including Midnight Kiss and The Gloom. In a series of exchanges with AQA, Tony found that the reason why Frodo had not simply used the eagles to fly over Mount Doom was because it would have made it very difficult to spin the story over three books, that Zombies would win a fight between Zombies, Ninjas and Vikings as they had the advantage of already being dead, and that David Hasselhoff is indeed greater than William Shatner and Chuck Norris.
I had a little fun with the service myself, as well as using it for real on a couple of occasions ("Is there a comics shop in Kingston upon Thames?" and "How can you stop wine going off after you've uncorked it?"). But then it occurred to me that this service could potentially be an invaluable service for anyone who's suffering under a storytelling/method roleplaying/plain damn bastard GM who's banned all player access to the rulebooks under the mistaken impression that play enjoyment is enhanced by not knowing if you're facing a patch of discoloured mud or an earth elemental with enough power to turn your trousers very brown.
A bit of discrete texting under the table could obtain the information you need in order to live through the next encounter - assuming that AQA can indeed answer any question.
It was with this thought in mind that we devised a test, creating a range of questions that steadily increased in difficulty, and rating the responses both on accuracy and time taken (because it's no good knowing the stats of a creature five minutes after it's killed you).
To ensure that we rated the service as a whole, eliminating any variation caused by one particularly knowledgeable operator, we spaced our test out, asking the questions over a period of several days.
At least, that was the plan.
Question: In the game dungeons & dragons how much damage does a dagger do?
Expected Answer: D4
Answer Received: In the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a dagger does 1D4 piercing damage and has a 10ft range. It does x2 damage on a critical hit. It costs 2gp.
Time Taken: 8 minutes, 3 seconds
Comments: Well we started with a pretty easy question, just to "range in our sights as it were", and got a better answer than we were expecting. I'm giving them 11 out of 10 for accuracy, and 7 out of 10 for timeliness.
Question: In the game dungeons & dragons how can you reveal the true original form of a doppelganger?
Expected Answer: By using a true seeing spell or ability.
Answer Received: In the Dungeons & Dragons game you can see doppelgangers original form by using a true seeing spell or ability. This is also true if the beast is killed.
Time Taken: 18 minutes, 10 seconds.
Comments: Okay. Coming up with a better answer than me was funny the first time round, but now it's starting to grate. After all, no-one likes a smart arse. But I'll have to give them another 11 out of 10 for accuracy. However, they do score only 5 out of 10 for timeliness this time round.
It was at this point during the test that I had the opportunity to use the system "in anger" as it were, during my Thursday group's Eberron campaign. My urban halfling rogue/drop-out, Shop, was pretty banged up, and the fact that I'd ran out of healing potions and the other guys hadn't, triggered a discussion about exactly how much cash I ought to hand over in exchange for some of their remaining supply. (The standard list price we've always used for a Cure Light is 50 gps, but that's before you take supply and demand into account, of course).
Well I'd earlier mentioned my AQA test, so sure enough, some bright spark said, "Well why don't you text those ask any question people?"
So I sent the following text into the ether:
In the game dungeons and dragons what is the going rate of a cure light wounds potion when you're on the bottom level of a dungeon and down to 4 hit points?
...and got the following reply:
It's unlikely you could purchase a cure light wounds potion whilst on the bottom level of a dungeon. An enterprising goblin might sell you one for 100gp.
I'm not quite sure of the accuracy of that question, but it was timely (4 minutes, 55 seconds), and the claim that the price would be doubled caused great amusement to the rest of the guys. (I believe Bog Boy's exact words were: "They are tops!")
Question: In the game dungeons & dragons what's the easiest way to kill a rakshasha?
Expected Answer: The spell Blessed Weapon on piercing weapons for the Rakshasha (It used to be a 1-shot kill with a blessed crossbow bolt but 3.0/3.5 made it less interesting).
Answer Received: Sorry, AQA couldn't find the info. In the Dungeons & Dragons game you can see doppelgangers original form by using a true seeing spell or ability.
Time Taken: 2 hours, 39 minutes
Comments: Well that rather bizarre answer scores them 0 out of 10 for accuracy, and with a response time of greater than 120 minutes, 0 out of 10 for timeliness. Not so good.
Question: I just sent you a question to which you didn't know the answer so you sent me the answer to the last question I asked instead. Did you bill me for that question?
Expected Answer: No
Answer Received: Every text sent to the AQA service (on 63336) costs £1. See www.63336.com for more information. AQA can answer any question on any topic, 24/7.
Time Taken: 2 minutes, 57 seconds
Comments: Well although they managed to avoid answering what was, after all, a yes or no question with an answer that included either one of the words yes or no, their answer was pretty definite.
And whilst that might not have been the answer I was looking for I guess I'd have to give it a 10 out of 10 for accuracy. And it does get 8 out of 10 for timeliness also.
(Although I have to point out that saying that they can answer any question on any topic seems a mite cheeky when said claim is included in a message telling someone that they billed him £1 for failing to answer a question).
Curiously enough, some seven minutes after receiving the previous message, I received a new message:
AQA is sorry you are disatisfied (sic) with the reply. Each answer costs £1. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Rakshasas are most vulnerable to piercing weapons.
I was immediately struck by the fact that they had spelt Rakshasha wrong - although a quick Google search revealed that they were in fact right, and I was wrong, which might explain why they'd been unable to find an answer the first time round.
Oops. In fact, their second answer was more correct than the first, so I adjusted their score for question three to 5 out of 10 for accuracy.
As a completely irrelevant, purely co-incidental aside, I should point out that I can't take the credit for question three. It was in fact supplied to me by one of the extended CM gang, with me merely cutting and pasting the exact text of the question from his email, unchanged. I could never have come up with that question because I'd never even heard of Rakshashas.
Or Rakshasas, come to that.
I won't say who the author of the question was, because I don't want to embarrass him. But thank you. This article wouldn't have been the same without your contribution.
Question: In the game dungeons & dragons how do you activate the head of vecna?
Expected Answer: You don't. Your GM is trying to trick you into cutting your own head off and killing yourself.
Answer Received: The Head of Vecna is a hoax that one adventuring party played on another. It is not a magical item but a normal, ordinary, severed head.
Time Taken: 37 minutes
Comments: Well I'd give that a 10 out of 10 for accuracy, but only 3 out of 10 for timeliness.
Well the final adjusted scores came out at a very impressive 47 out of 50 for accuracy, but a somewhat less impressive 23 out of 50 for timeliness. So my general conclusion would be that AQA can provide very accurate answers - providing you spell your questions correctly of course - but that their response time is such that they'll often arrive five minutes into the mourning period for a now late, previously much-loved character.
I did actually think of one further question I could have asked ("Is it legal to copy and paste text from the D20 system reference document and then text it to people without including a copy of the open gaming license?") but I figured that this was the sort of thing that might get me banned from the service - something I might regret one day when stranded somewhere distant in the middle of no-where without the phone number of a minicab company to hand.
And I wouldn't want that.
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