Card Qualit-ies

September 27, 2020

I have barely posted about CCGs for months.  For the obvious reason that I usually post relating to what’s going on, whether that’s TV shows or some form of gaming.

In a recent design meeting for Traveller, we spent hours and produced one card.  One less than two cards.

But, my takeaway is that we really should have recorded sessions all along.  I’m only kind of a professional CCG designer/developer and realize that there are all sorts of things I could do better, but the conversations we have around philosophy of card pool are the sort of thing I would have wanted to read about.

Quality 1

What ate up a huge amount of time was trying to cost a card.  I really need to post a Dev Corner post for Traveller with different content, so I’ll not get too deep into Traveller mechanics, but we have two main attributes on a card that have nothing to do with what the card does:  cost and EV (Expense Value, aka how much money the card is worth).

Generally, lower cost = better card, higher EV = better card.  We have given really powerful/annoying effects the dreaded 0 EV and given narrow use cards 2+ EV so that people could have their cake (hosers/specialized) and eat it too (not waste deck slots on cards that don’t help you win).

We ran over different possibilities for whether the card should be 0/0 [C/EV], 1/0, 1/1, 2/1, 2/2, 3/2, and even 1/4 as I had an interesting philosophical point about how our game differs from a bunch of other games and how that changes decisionmaking, which is something we care about with our game.

Now, most of the discussion was around 1/0 and 2/1.  EV-1 is the norm in the game and dominates the card pool.

So, with N/0 values, a card can not be used for money (barring various esoteric plays).  It only produces value when played.  This is unlike other cards in the game where there’s a decision whether to use the card for money or not.  What it means, thusly, is that a 1/0 card will always be played for its effect.  It may even just be used ASAP to clear it from hand and to get some value out of it, but one of the ways to tell the skill level of a player is whether the player assesses that holding on to a card is more valuable than playing it.

Contrast with, for more extremeness, 3/2.  Now, one of the things we talk about is also the concept that cost doesn’t mean a lot in certain philosophical ways as you play a card when the cost is worth it, but that’s a concept for another time.  Here, could pay a lot to play this card or could use it for solid money.  This creates a decision and having at least some decisions in a CCG is a good thing.  (I have played games with no decisions and they are less … quality.)

But, these two values don’t just make for tactical decisions.  In CCGs, tactical decisions are whether to play a card or not with all that that entails.  In CCGs, there are strategic decisions of … dum, dum, dum … constructing your deck(s).

I kept trying to think of how 1/0 v 2/1 v 3/2 would impact how many copies of a hoser I’d run in my deck.  Traveller doesn’t seem to have much of a defined metagame, and hosers are metagame dependent to a significant degree, so it’s difficult to claim how important the effect is, but this hoser nails some interesting as well as common plays in the game.  At 1/0, it’s 0-2 copies, methinks.  At 3/2, ignoring something going to go into later because I still have 2400 more words to get to, 1-3 copies.  But, at 2/1, I think it’s more 0-1 copies.  That’s interesting, assuming you want to be a game developer.  Yet, I don’t think the 2/1 is a worse card.  And, this gets to the crux of why this is interesting – it’s not obvious how good cards are.  One would think a card that slots more often is a better card; pretty compelling argument to me which is why I claim constantly that staple effects in games are better cards than more powerful effects that go in fewer decks.

Now, what’s missing from that analysis is “How many different decks would this card go into?”  The 1/0 might see more copies in the decks it goes into, but I see it going into fewer decks.  EV-0 is not a trivial drawback; well, maybe when we have a Worlds and everyone’s decks are filled with EV-0 cards, I’ll be proved wrong, but, until then, I’m like the most successful Traveller CCG player who has ever lived (unfortunately).

Similarly, the 3/2 would go into fewer decks as there are plenty of ways to get EV-2 if that’s what you really care about.  Or, maybe not.  Maybe the effect is not good enough to justify a random card slot and 3/2 goes into more decks because EV-2 is more useful than the effect usually is, which brings us to …

Quality 2

There are a bunch of CCGs with generic cards.  By generic cards mean cards not associated to any faction in the game.  Magic has artifacts and land.  Almost everything in Traveller would fall under this definition of generic, which is why a smaller card pool can produce so many more decks, but that’s like a post for another time.

However, Traveller has mechanical groupings.  Crew have skills.  Heroic Actions require skills.  Upgrades go into limited slots.  Connections same.  Gear has to go on crew.  All sorts of limitations that inform deckbuilding decisions.  Events, though, are just like events in Babylon 5 or whatever in a bunch of games – more genericful.

This hoser is an event.  I pointed out to our lead designer that the history of B5 saw that the proliferation of events led to severe space competition [get it, space, B5, Traveller, the final frontier] for events.  There were tons of events I wanted to put in every deck.  Meanwhile, B5 was/is a faction game, so there were a bunch of slots taken up with running the best faction cards (for your strategy).

Already, you could run an absurd number of events in Traveller because not only are they genericful, but they are all money.  There’s no such thing as a dead draw, except for the promo event with its EV-0.

As we add more such cards, the competition for slots becomes fiercer and fiercer and the trend should be to see this card less and less barring brokenness in the game, like cheesing Diverse Dynamics wins left and right.  And, yet, that’s true of every card that isn’t overpowered.

It’s very easy to design an event in isolation as it can do whatever you want and there’s some guidance in that it’s a transient effect.  But, in terms of how events fit into a card pool, that’s much more challenging if you care about seeing every card serve a purpose.

Speaking of overpowered and cards serving a purpose …

Quality 3

Why must bad cards exist?  Not to test player skill.  Not to sell cards.  Not because of IP the game is based on.

Bad cards *must* exist because it’s impossible to make cards equally useful/powerful/use-powered.

Goodness/badness, in other words, is just an inevitable byproduct of making cards that do different things.

However, I got to thinking about something that I’ve been exposed to in the past, maybe even explicitly by someone else rather than in thinking about V:TES metagames.  Metagames are dependent upon a consensus on what is good or better than good.

Metagames are a good thing … I posit, anyway.  They give analytical types a hook into investing thought into the game.  Stale metagames are, of course, crap, as play is not only boring, but there’s no reason to keep thinking about how to take advantage of the meta after a certain point.

I realized that I don’t want every single Traveller card to be just as … *sigh* … “good”.  If that were the case, then there would be zero predictability around deck construction, which means I have to ignore what opponents might do.  Furthermore, the new player is advantaged by there being guidance when it comes to deck construction, assuming of course that the new Traveller player plays it like a CCG and doesn’t just run fixed decklists all of the time.

Now, this theoretical problem of any card and any deck being equally as commonly played doesn’t exist in the real world.  We didn’t hit upon some weird magick of making a game where everything is everything and everything is nothing.

Misdirection should not be an EV-2 card.  Llaegzko’s is undercosted one way or the other.  Dwight Cain is the most discarded card e-e-e-ver, etc.  (Of course, DC can only be discarded if in a deck, so … Traveller!!)

Reason why this quality came up was thinking about how certain events are just better than others and how we want this card to have a purpose in the game even if we don’t want the card to see play all of the time.  That, plus extending the thinking beyond this card, beyond events, to the core concept of deck construction in a CCG and how to fit exactly 60 cards together (yes, 60) into a coherent whole.

On the flip side, we obviously don’t want to print coasters.  CCGs are full of coasters, and they are often offensive.  Now, some folks will play terrible cards because they are terrible or because the art is some hot chick or because the title of the card is funny or whatever, so we can make terrible cards that aren’t coasters (though Traveller is not going to have much in the way of hot chicks because we respect the IP, see one of our future games for, um, hotness).

We made some bad cards.  That was inevitable.  We talk frequently about how to make them better.  As much as Wheel of Time adding cards that started in play was a horrendous mechanic philosophically, that did end up redeeming a whole class of card in the game.  That’s where I want to go with the bad cards in the game is find a way to make them less bad because of other cards, not errata/reprint them, not write them off forever.

This card’s costing was debated as much as it was to where we produced 99 less than 100 cards in that session because we are mindful that we’ve overcosted other cards and also that we don’t want it to be too good, even if there’s an interesting philosophical point about the card being like 1/4, where the opportunity cost of using its effect is massive (well, EV-4 is diminishing returns on EV-2 or EV-3 because … Traveller!!).

How to get to 2000 words in this brilliant analysis about cards’ roles in CCGs?

Card Psychology

This should totally be a different post, so …

Discord

One of the effects of remote gaming is how prevalent Discord has become for me.  To tie this into CCGs, the Shadowfist server has gotten me more interested in ‘Fisting, though not with others since …

Hold on, before changing topics, one more comment about Discord.  Discord is fine for playing stuff.  Discord is not good for acting as a game forum.  People treat it differently from subject based forums, spending ridiculous amounts of bytes on gifs, chatting, and the like where there’s a lack of structure to how information is presented to where I can focus on what I’m interested in.  If a subject thread in a game forum is “Fantasy Football”, I can just ignore it if I want.  It is really hard to come back to conversations or find relevant information when people just spent 200 messages going into irrelevancy.

Since …

Online Flopping

Mentioned before that I don’t like flopping online.  I’m an in person flopper.  Far more than I am an in person chucker.  I’ve chucked a lot online, but I hated JOL and never grasped any app for playing CCGs with other people.

Wait, with other people?  Oh, the irony.  I was addicted to Shandalar.

I’m pretty sure that the difference is that I’m not super into competing with other people, so the less social aspects of everyone else being a user rather than a here-er removes enough of my interest that I just can’t see ‘Fisting on Lackey or whatever.  However, I’m fine with competing against myself and/or super-cheaty computer AIs such that I can solitaire my life away flop, flop, flop.

Whew.  Two grand.


Motive

September 20, 2020

I was struggling with a topic.  I had thought of something about best or preferred … something, but I didn’t know where I would go with it.

Inspired by a recent event, I thought of something that bothers me in RPGs.

IC vs OOC interpretation results

That’s an awkward header.  One could argue that there’s always a problem with distinguishing in character versus out of character under certain circumstances.  In character might be perfectly happy to drown baby Antichrist.  OOC has to process that sort of thing.

There are RPGs where your character is you, at least in terms of personality/mind.  I find that playing characters that think the way I do, including modern sensibilities, et al, work better than when I try to stretch to think like someone else.

But, okay, being a different thinker is normal.  No L5R character is going to think like I do.  It’s just a different culture and world view.

Where the seemingly worst problem occurs or, at least, where today’s worst problem occurs is when you have a roll in a game that informs how your character thinks in a way that the player would not.

As an example, the failed or, even better, botched Sense Motive roll.  Whereas an Awareness/Interrogation roll in L5R to detect lies is sticking to facts – character is lying, character doesn’t seem to be lying but it’s hard to tell, you are pretty sure character isn’t lying – and the player can make decisions based upon incomplete knowledge, rolls that are of the type “you think she’s planning a coup”, “he’s going to jump off the highest tower in T-94 seconds”, or whatever causes a player to run into the problem of trying to play towards a situation that isn’t actually believed in.

Now, one could alternatively argue to keep die rolls a secret.  Have GM make Sense Motive rolls or whatever similar skill.  Except, this rarely happens in my play, and that has it’s own burdens, such as reducing the amount of mechanics players get to fiddle with.

I have played Gullible L5R characters, where I just believe whatever the villains tell me pretty much … right up until the point that the party members say something different and I do what the party thinks is best.  If I were alone, I could get used, but that happens too rarely to matter.

What bothers me about situations where characters believe one thing and players don’t (or mostly don’t) is that it’s not just a role-playing challenge for the player who rolled poorly, it leads to party conflict.  I’m not a fan of party conflict.  Really, really not.  Others may enjoy this sort of thing.  I enjoy resolving plots and protecting honeypots and, occasionally, annihilating enemies with extreme prejudice.

May seem strange as I like soap operas.  But, I don’t like soap operas for how people mess with each other or hide things from each other for no reason.  I like soap operas for the “wait, aren’t these two lovers actually siblings/parent-child/grandparent-grandchild” or “yup, I’m a spy who works for this totally cool spy agency” or whatever.  And, anyway, the soap opera elements are ones involving NPCs, not other PCs.

It’s interesting how this problem only occurs in certain games.  In L5R, really just ferreting out facts without rolls giving conclusions, at least in my play.  Obviously, D20 has a skill called, um, Sense Motive where the GM can make up whatever, though botches aren’t always a thing, so can leave things at “you don’t get any sense”.

Now, players can be loons.  Best a game can do is not produce mechanics that feed into the lunacy, but that isn’t on the game system.

That was pretty much it.  I know, like 400 words shy of another devil getting her wings.  I mean, I should point out that GMs can anticipate the problem of characters thinking nonsense when players don’t and try to stick to factual statements rather than feed speculation.

So, True Dungeon transmuting …


Ghosts

September 7, 2020

Theme for today is quite à propos of recent events.  Whether it’s interesting I’m not so sure.

Saturday evening was session one of new RPG endeavor.  Why not call it a campaign?  I’m not sure it’s intended to last past a few sessions.

Witch Doctors.

Name of mystery is … wait for it … stay on target … Ghosts.

Boom goes the mic.

Session one was strange, not because we are playing modern supernatural but because it was dominated by a NPC appearance.  Everyone was discombobulated, including the GM, as the game became far more soap opera-y than planned.  I think there was general agreement that the scene would have made more sense if there were fewer PCs, only ones that even knew who the NPC even was, or if the NPC was a major villain or rival to the entire group or if the scene had come later in play, after there had been more setup.

I finally did something magickal in WD.  It didn’t screw me.

So, what’s a general principle that can come from the specific?

With more players, there needs to be more immediate action.  One of the reasons I got to embracing combat more was because our local L5R group got so large that combat gave some activity for everyone to engage with at the same time.

I’m a fan of soap opera, but I don’t feel like our characters have been defined enough to get into interpersonal relationship drama when that’s not the intent of the game.  This is part and parcel of why I prefer starting play, then defining character rather than trying to determine who everyone is before they start interacting.  We don’t have any context to know how our characters should interact with each other.  Three of them are family and those players worked on the family dynamic, so that may be fine.

The daughter in that family was the one who bothered to let me know there was an adventure afoot, and she talked to me like I was a business acquaintance of her parents.  That seemed weird to me.  I don’t normally call my parents’ friends Mr. X.

Just very awkward.  Whereas, in my Gen Con game, it was hardly ever awkward.  I noted to the GM afterwards that I find that campaign play just has such different features to one-shot play.  While this sort of occurrence might not be a good example of those differences, the ability to eat up time on unproductive activity is a feature of campaign play.  So much less urgency causes getting bogged down in … stuff some people don’t care about.

Switching gears, played V1b yesterday.

True Dungeon V1b, that is.  Virtual True Dungeon’s first dungeon in its second incarnation.

We talked about doing 15 token builds at Nightmare.  That was my plan for a group of five or more players.  Looked we were going to end up with four for a while, so we switched to 18 token builds under the theory that, if you exclude treasure enhancers, a 15 token build with five players is really 60 token decisions, so four players times 15 plus three, leads to 18 token builds.

We ended up with five players.  We had five … wait for it … course correct, course correct … ghosts.

Boom Chaka Laka.

The fifth player had never played TD before.  So, we made her suffer through trying to do the puzzles we already knew by herself for as long as possible.  Our first combat was pointless as we equipped a token that made it impossible for the monster to hurt us.  We still d(r)owned her in the first round … because NM is not actually that hard.

The second and last fight proved challenging for us to win because we weren’t terribly efficient.  Still, it was just eating damage that was manageable.  Andy was using my rogue legendary, and he kept dealing exactly 68 damage with crits in combats, which worked well for murder.

I ran Iktomi’s as druid, so I kept polymorphing into elementals, even in puzzle rooms as the puzzle rooms were dealing typed damage for a change.  Maybe the intent was to make tokens matter more in puzzle rooms?

The two puzzles we weren’t familiar with proved pretty straightforward once we got over the awkwardness of trying to interact with the physical objects through our golem.  It’s perfectly fine to me to have half the puzzles be easy for me, especially if they aren’t easy for everyone, but I didn’t think any puzzle in V1 was difficult.  I was expecting Nightmare to make puzzles more challenging to complete, with only maybe one of them possibly requiring more effort than at a lower difficulty.

Of course, we are way overtokened for NM.  Need to come up with even more constraining limitations when playing NM.  But, Epic is apparently available in VTD going forward, so we are gonna be Epic next time.

Speaking of next time.  I only did one run of 1a and one run of 1b even though the cost really isn’t that high.  I’m just not that much of a fan of the dungeon.  The puzzles would be boring to do again.  The first combat was okay on 1a, but I have no interest in any of the combats.  They don’t look that good (even the first one due to lighting, angle, resolution, etc.) and don’t have particularly interesting decisions.  I suppose we could make the combats more interesting with weird builds, like we did on our Blowgun Run.

I’m hoping the aesthetics, at least, of V2 are better.  Also, maybe a more coherent story as the switch to high tech stuff made zero sense to me in V1.  Puzzles are constrained by our inability to physically manipulate anything.  Combat is made worse by lack of physically sliding, and I’m not sure how that gets overcome.  I imagine the first combat in V1 would have been way more interesting in person, though I imagine it might also not have been done in person for obvious reasons.

Ghosts

Do ghosts make for good challenges in L5R?

Ghosts, normally, are unremovable through combat.  You have to roleplay a way out of the problem.  That seems like it could be good or could be bad.  I often find puzzles to be failures in RPG play because they are too easy or too hard and not really a particularly interesting group activity.  Challenges like a ghost can end up being too puzzlelike.

Or, maybe not.  Maybe my RPG play is so conditioned to not thinking through challenges and just dicing through them that it’s the players’ fault for not coming up with better solutions.

This is an area Witch Doctors can educate.  WD is intended to be low-roll.  Rolling is often dangerous as the thresholds for best outcomes are high.  You don’t roll Diplomacy to talk to somebody, you just talk to them, kind of like the old days before systems had skill lists or today with systems that lack skill lists.  (WD has skills, though.)

Other times when ghosts appeared in RPGs?

I can’t think of a lot.  Sure, there are cut scenes with ghosts.  But, actually interacting with them is not particularly common.  Of course, I’ve played Wraith and Orpheus, but that was in the long, long ago when my mind was in better shape.

Feng Shui, you can be a ghost PC pretty easily.  Not that interesting to me, though I could see a cool story arc being some other template, dying, then coming back as a butt-kicking ghost.  I’m sure other people have done that in their play.

Ghost Rider – sometimes cool, sometimes silly.

Ghost in the Shell – not that interesting to me.

Ghost Peppers – I don’t like chilis because I like having a hard time eating food, I like chilis for providing a more interesting taste to food.  I actually don’t know what a Ghost Pepper tastes like.  My latest kick is to use Anaheims more than Serranos, while wishing I could get Fresno Chilis from my preferred grocery store.

Well, I’m sure I’m missing some other ghost things to comment upon, but, hey, it’s not even like close to Halloween, where this would have been ultratimey.


Legendary

September 1, 2020

So, it’s not that I haven’t been doing gaming things, it’s that it’s really hard to focus these days.

I’m typically pretty bad about advertising Kickstarters I back, but here’s the latest:

Legends of Avallen

I didn’t do much playtesting, but I didn’t see any reason not to back it.

Keeping with the theme, I actually own far more True Dungeon Legendary tokens than I ever thought I would.  Here’s something I considered for instant classic status, but whatever:

So, my expectations and the payoffs on them for class transmutes:

Bard:

I expected bard to have bardsong bonus and any action while bardsonging. Bonus was temporarily higher, which got pared down to minimum it could have been while still making any sense. In terms of printing my expectations, met them just about, ignoring that there’s also the saves ability, an ability I’m okay with in theory.

In practice? In practice, WLL just comes across as grossly overpowered as it feels like there’s zero cost to it. If anyone wants one, btw, I have one. Of course, might as well wait a couple days to see what eBay prices it at.

It doesn’t offend me because it was logical how it would work. It doesn’t enthuse me (admittedly, this may be a shock, but enthusiasm isn’t really my thing). It’s just +4/+4 all of the time on every run that has a bard, as I can always loan mine out if people I play with don’t have one.

Druid:

Not any particular expectations. I would like to play druid more than I do, but the competition is too fierce, so I didn’t worry about what it did.

End result? I find being able to unpolymorph undermines the theme. Otherwise, Shaman’s Belt, GSN, Iktomi’s are the only class transmutes I really like. I think they are far cooler than everything else because they at least try to do something different rather than just increasing power. Btw, I probably don’t need Greater anymore given that I have Iktomi’s, which I don’t think I’ve gotten to use, yet. Of course, narrow use with druid is very different because druid is already my favorite class to play.

Rogue:

No personal expectations as I have no interest in playing rogue unless playing True Grind, and TG is too hard to plan for. Sneak Attack mastery seems the obvious way to go. Began my not even bothering to comment on some of these tokens as it didn’t matter to me how it turned out.

End result seems to be fine. Solved a bunch of taxes rogues have to pay for sneak attack. Probably does too much damage, but … to paraphrase myself … I just don’t care how much damage is done at BiS play. Nighmare is pathetically easy where I expect I could solo it, so the only play where BiS is even a consideration is Epic or TG, and I hear that it’s not much of a consideration there, either. I also have one of these … to lend out to my friends who like rogue way, way more than I do, and, yet, neither of my friends has run it, either.

Barbarian:

I have a like/dislike with barbarian. What I mostly dislike is that I don’t care that much about smash face. One of my favorite runs of all time was N2, where I finally got to slide my woodie +1 Quarterstaff to prove the point that any 2h weapon is absurd with barbarian (note that I have a +3 Deathcleaver I sometimes play). What I wanted was more focus on Damage Reduction and less on crushy crush because anyone can crushy crush where DR is interesting.

End result? I have none of UR, Relic, nor Legendary. I would use them if I had them, but I have zero interest in acquiring any of them. All they do is add damage. I no longer care about adding damage.

Monk:

No expectations. I actually learned to really enjoy monk … ranged monk. I use my whatever +2 crossbow and shoot things with 50+ Dex and I don’t have to carry more than one token through the dungeon. Number of other people who play monk this way appears to approach zero. I mean, I was sure the monk stuff would be grossly overpowered because it would somehow increase damage, but whatever.

I do own Ring of the Drake. Of the 2020 standard URs, there is precisely one mechanic I like. If you read this far, you can surmise that the only good UR effect in 2020 standard URs in my mind is Shurikens Returning. In my mind, a “perfect UR” is “When attacking with shurikens, gain +2 to hit, +2 to damage, crit 19-20, your shurikens have Returning.” That is a distinct build, where I crave variety and not power. I couldn’t care less what the relic and legendary do – they can summon a pony who tramples the actor playing a monster in the dungeon for all I care. Now, if you give me super crossbow monk bonuses, I’ll … consider that awful because the whole point of shooting things with my crossbow monks is to not do good things. It’s to consider whether to bother running with a 60 Dex or not or, probably by next year, 70 Dex.

Paladin:

Expected the best one handed weapon available to paladin. Wanted to stay in theme and have nonattack mechanic. Of paladin abilities, I like Sacrifice the most and, of course, will always use Lay on Hands. I find Guarding to be largely useless to where I was on a run where the rest of the party suggested I equip anything else as they didn’t care if they got attacked. Still, in 2020, every run I’ve made has involved Amulet of Guarding, and it has done precisely nothing. Rant aside, having a sword do something with Guard was unnecessary because I don’t feel like these tokens have to do everything. A wrist/hands/fingers/back/feet/bead/whoever cares slot token someday in the future can make Guard better.

I have Ava’s. As I have no intention of trading it or selling it, one could say I value it at about $1000. I don’t like that it adds to Lay on Hands because that’s a thematic fail. I would value it the same if it lost that ability. Grace is good enough for me, as my saves idea was awkward to implement.

Ranger:

I was happy that the decision went to push ranged ranger. Sure, I prefer ranged ranger as I don’t care a lot about sliding (and, yet, own Charm of Shadow Shot). But, it seemed a path to keep ranger OPness in check, where ranged monk … would have never *flown* [ha, haha]. I was not expecting Con bonus. I thought making Favored Enemy mean something would justify the ability existing at all, but it has the same problem Turn Undead has – irrelevance.

I find the Con bonus clunky. I neither like Animal Companion from the standpoint of second slide as that just makes it a variant of CoSS, which I already don’t really care about, nor from the standpoint of consuming polymorph potions, even though I don’t really need to horde them. Overall, I have the relic and would use it, have some interest in legendary just because I enjoy ranged builds and want to build that Dex 100 ranger build in two years. Scrolls not that interesting to me compared to expanding upon spell use, but, really, it would make more sense for paladins to cast spells than rangers, so I never expected spell benefits. I even told myself to remember to start combat by casting with my ranger build and I forgot I had spells.

Overall:

I just see it natural that people’s expectations would only needlessly build. Being the best possible token you could run was not going to be enough, had to be the best possible token for the class until the Sun goes red. I’m most happy with Iktomi’s. Ava’s next, I suppose, though the dropoff is pretty far. I’m not surprised by what people want and what they get not matching, so I’m not surprised by the massive level of negativity to the process and the results.

One of my friends will probably be enthused by cleric stuff – after all, he has the advantage of, one, not caring what gets made, and, two, not seeing what could have been made. I would be fine running wizard stuff, but I don’t know if I’ll make any effort besides offering Widseth’s for the legendary if I don’t get rid of it any sooner. Fighter actually kind of interests me simply because my take on fighter is, predictably, not like anyone else’s (who comments). I want to run a 14 token, 4th level fighter build with the legendary on a private run where people don’t care if I goof off.

Why post something here that I posted on the TD forums when probably anyone who reads here interested in TD is likely to read the forums?

I’m supposed to be developing for Traveller.  I spent more cycles commenting on TD token development for 2021 tokens recently than on Traveller.  That seems nature’s loser of me.

While it is, there are two reasons.  First, I could really use being entertained rather than doing anything like work – I have no real responsibility to make True Dungeon better, but I’m struggling with nailing down mechanics for how to make Traveller better, sooner.

Second, I would go back to how openendedness with creation is bad.  Sure, I mentioned this just recently, but this is another example.  TD token development is in a pretty narrow design/development space.  Most of what I comment upon is actually technical fixes on tokens rather than trying to promote my own ideas for tokens.  If a token is particularly OP or useless, I will throw out alternative ideas.

Traveller is much more open for me.  That just makes making decisions more difficult.  Sure, a lot of what we do now is within the context of a game that exists (it does, it really does), so that can help with focus.  But, we come up with far more mechanics ideas than we use.

Not sure how I tie playing HoR4 into my theme.  My character is hardly legendary.  The last mod was fine, had some good structure in one way but with some thematic weirdness.  We had fallout from the prior mod that was … different.  Just got to move on.

Gloomhaven.  No, I haven’t been playing online.  An old friend found this blog by searching for Gloomhaven thoughts, which is totally legendary – that my few thoughts on a game that other people talk way more about were noticed.  Actually, I have my Frosthaven box.  I assume I’m only getting one.  I haven’t actually opened it seeing as I don’t tend to make much use of my Kickstarter rewards and I have no one else to play with in person where physical product matters.

We caught up quite a bit.  I contacted another old friend I hadn’t talked to in years.  Text messages, there.

Speaking of virtual product, couple things coming up this weekend, including our second run of Virtual True Dungeon.  I might run a legendary I haven’t played with, yet.

Sports being back is weird.  The Needle is still what I’m most interested in, but he’s sucking.  I should be finding NBA interesting, but it’s not penetrating as it usually does in terms of the story lines.  Even finding it hard to tie this into gaming, somehow, more a state of mind thing.

Let’s see:  anything else recent?  Not so much.  No VTES, no Shadowfist, no looking back at something ancient nor unboxing something new I won’t do anything with.  Mostly True Dungeon rearing its Madness.


Collaboration In RPGs

August 11, 2020

What?!?  Not some weird injoke for a post title?

There are two games I played at vGC that have Discord servers for playtesting.  I haven’t engaged hardly at all with one, and I’ve engaged a lot with the other, to where we are looking to start up campaign play.

Last week, I started thinking about an idea for a blog post, something to do with positive reinforcement, but I can’t summon my own memories to recall what specifically I had planned on spewing.

Instead, broader subject of collaboration.

I’ve written about collaboration in any of my posts that involved Odyssey TCGMGtCM and I’m sure it came up elsewhere.  But, let me see if I can examplize for elucidation.

I have participated in attempts to have PCs fit together.  The instance I can recall that involved Fate annoyed me as it was heavyhanded and mechanized things that didn’t need mechanizing.  There was the vague attempt with The Princess Police initially that didn’t cause anyone to do anything different from what they normally would do as far as I could perceive.

What do people normally do?

Build PCs in a bub- [don’t use that word] echo chamber.  Now, one of the features of our Witch Doctors session at vGC was that we came up with ways that our PCs related to each other, though I don’t know that it changed anything for anyone in terms of character sheet.

So, I suppose I should step back.  There is thematic collaboration, and there is mechanical collaboration, and the two can easily interact.  Our WD game had solid thematic collaboration, while mechanical collaboration might have happened intentionally or unintentionally in that the other characters’ magical effects complemented each other, even with two of them being pretty similar thematically.

Mechanical collaboration involves things like mechanical niche protection.  My main Conan character was a ranged combatant because melee combat had been covered by two other characters.  For the pending WD campaign, I’m trying to avoid having magick similar to any other character’s, which is one reason I’m interested in exploring Sigil – the practice of embedding spells in objects that others can use.  I haven’t heard of any other player using Sigil.

Thematic collaboration is less to me about personality/goals/whatever niche protection and more about wanting to play together when player to player and wanting to develop the setting when player to GM.  This is where I haven’t seen much progress for this new campaign, with the exception being to pick Washington DC as the locale.  I’m still not clear what decade we are playing in.  I seem to be the one most concerned with this, where the GM just likes the idea that people can text each other, which limits timeframe massively.  Maybe everyone else just assumes it’s essentially modern day or recent past, and I’m the only one waiting for something explicitly stated.

That lack of clarity on something pretty easy to define is the sort of thing that concerns me with campaign play.

I may be really gun shy when it comes to campaign play.  I don’t care about a lot of stuff, like even using magick in WD, in a one-shot [baking FTW!].  I’m just tired of campaigns that aren’t as good as they should be.  And, while my best campaigns may start out rocky and get much better over time, it seems to me that skipping the rocky part is possible.

Maybe it will always be the case that campaigns become more coherent as play achieves a certain point, and success is toughing it out until you get to that point.  Of course, can’t always tough it out to get to that point.

So, I have a character concept.  The character concept informs what sort of magick he would likely do, but it doesn’t necessitate because anything can be explained with enough effort.  IOW, there is always an infinite number of possibilities for characters, it’s just a matter of shrinking a range of ideas into a specific idea.

What I find interesting is how much the GM tries not to limit what players come up with and how much other players find massive openendedness freeing.  I can imagine that players of D&D style games find it refreshing to have more freeform character creation, but the sort of player interested in WD doesn’t strike me as the sort of player who wouldn’t have tried any number of other RPGs that felt less constraining.  I could be wrong, of course.  Or, maybe it’s not so much the system but the style of play that others have run across.  I can see where my campaign play is far more codified than my one-shot play.  I guess I just have a lot of one-shot play to draw upon (to the extent that I remember things, anymore).

Anyway, so player to player, I have little idea what’s going.  I hear some about magick effects people are going with, a little about professions.  There was some talk of everyone being family, which I’m fine with, but I’d like to know sooner rather than later.  I guess we have time, but I feel that whatever other people do impacts what I do, which gets into a party being more than just a collection of PCs.

For instance, if you were to create a superhero team, would you have all bricks?  All energy projectors?  All gadgeteers with big brains?

The original Avengers had Thor – mostly brick, Iron Man – pretty similar actually to Thor as a flying brick with some energy projection, Ant Man and Wasp as two size changers – not sure Wasp had energy projection yet and note that Ant Man and Iron Man are both brains, and Hulk – brick with maybe some brain.  I doubt anyone would form a similar team, today.  Of course, most teams aren’t going to be created to make use of existing characters.

Now, that example is mechanical.  Let’s look at it thematically.  Thor is magical and is not human except when he was stuck in human form to humble him.  Iron Man was techy and weapons oriented.  Ant Man and Wasp were a couple with similar powers defining them as something very different.  Hulk was a monster who also got humanized at times.  Hulk had the most obvious internal quandaries where his two forms didn’t get along.  Thor had a different version of two lives.  Seems like this is a better example of a diverse team when focusing on the thematics.  X-Men style teams feel much more diverse mechanically and far less so thematically as their personality traits have never come through that clearly to me when doing team stuff.  Fantastic Four has more clear diversity of personalities and diversity of powers.

Then, there’s player to GM.  I’ve started floating ideas for magical effects.  I have not gone into much detail with my character concept even though there are way more details than I’ve mentioned because I want to be adaptable to the rest of the party.  I would imagine everyone else would wonder why I’m doing that.  “Play what you want.”

Except, I don’t want any character.  To me, there is a pool of characters of infinite size with infinite customization.  I view that other people feel more strongly about what they want to play, so they should make their decisions first.

And, this may be yet another fail of collaboration.  I have touched on this with the rest of the group, but I haven’t explicitly pointed out that I think other people care more about characters they’ve never played than I do.  It takes me time to understand my characters, which is why I find overengineering thematics of new characters unproductive.

Is it ironic that the more freeform characters are the more collaboration is required to make sure the characters work as intended?  I can just say I’m playing a 40xp bushi in L5R and, mechanically, there’s probably no particular need to discuss anything, though there could be a huge difference between playing a Phoenix and a Crab thematically.

It’s not just initial character creation.  What’s the pace of advancement?  That informs expectations (and could inform initial character creation, as well).  What advancement decisions do people make in good systems where you get to actually choose how you advance?  What happens when a character gets replaced?

Those are mostly mechanical in nature.  What sort of stories are we looking to tell?  What happens when the story moves in a different direction?  Is it preplanned to move in a different direction to where players should not be confused by campaign changes?  Gaki Mura was a good example of not clarifying when the portal to Gaki-do would get closed in the campaign and what things would look like afterwards if it closed prior to the end of the campaign.  That campaign actually probably should have just stopped at the closing of the portal, then let the players decide whether to start a new campaign as a sequel or not.

I find that people suck at collaboration.  Whether it’s work or play.  Because I perceive this, I think I’m much more sensitive to perceived lack of it than other people are.

But, then, I’m not clear why it’s hard.  It’s not black or wh- [dude, can’t use that phrase anymore] … it’s not curved shapes or angled shapes.  Can just do somewhat more than is done and keep moving towards more rather than less.

Well, that didn’t seem all that useful.  Should include more examples.  Guess I can just write this same post another time with different examples …


[Classic] True Dungeon V1 Feedback [2020-8-3]

August 9, 2020

Instant classics.

This post makes far more sense if you had read the thread it was buried in.  Someone else was complaining about lack of wow factor, for instance.  People complaining that 1d10+10 produces way too many crits and/or that the monster ACs were way too low on Nightmare.  But, I had some of my own views, too.


Let’s see, various things based on single, Nightmare run.

1.

I thought the quality dropped as we went along. Besides some stuff in last puzzle room, the later rooms were really uninteresting. I wasn’t into the later aesthetic at all. I completely lost what the story was and wasn’t understanding the later aesthetic.

I didn’t care anything about the intro, transitions, or even find the earlier aesthetic all that. It was only when my friend asked a question about room one that I even realized that the main part of room one was live and not a recording.

At times, things looked better in smaller view. I particularly noticed it with the last room that looked better when it was harder to see. Speaking of which, the perspective is wrong in the last room. The camera should be looking up, not looking down … at a minimum.

But, then, other people find TD aesthetics much more interesting than I do. Only a few things *pop* to me, like the Felurian room even without Felurian or N2, which I just thought was beautiful, but I like ice/snow more than lava or whatever.

2.

Epilogue room. I bring this up next as it relates to being critical. I was confused as to why the epilogue room existed, until I realized that TA looks for people to comment about stuff in the epilogue room. I only consider the epilogue room for getting the correct stuff for our party, as I don’t like commenting on TD when other people around. Other people don’t understand how negative I am normally, and I’m going to dwell on things I don’t like, which can suck the fun out for people who thought it was awesome.

I’m willing to give feedback off to the side, but that’s not easy through Zoom meetings.

3.

I agree about lack of wow factor. I actually don’t care about animatronics and costumes. I like a really good looking tree and interesting lighting, by the way.

Again, I thought before the nauseating spinning in room one while waiting to move forward that it was a recording. And, I thought the first few rooms were the best looking. Where N2 had sections of room I just liked to wander around in even when combat was going on.

The physical experience does matter to me because I’m not that visually inclined to where staring at my computer even more than I already do does a whole lot for me. Last puzzle room had beautiful stuff, though it would have popped more if done differently in layout.

Suggestion for future: more snow falling or the like for me, others may think that makes things look more like a bad videogame, though.

4.

Our combat was probably more enjoyable than combat was for everyone else as we finally got around to our inaugural Blowgun Run(TM,C,R). We didn’t suck, we blew … a lot.

But, yeah, combat felt monotonous. The automated die rolling produced too limited a range of values. I would constantly be rolling 19s, when I only could miss on a 1. Difficulty of hitting in Nightmare was way too low, as rolling d10+10 is far, far easier than actually sliding.

We had 8 players and I Guarded two players every room. Guard never triggered. While this is a common TD problem, would be nice if Guard could ever actually do something.

Getting afield from V1 specifically, but I think there should be far more rooms with multiple monsters with different forms of attack so that more abilities are relevant.

While trying to bring the sliding back in or something might make things more interesting, I do realize that that involves significant technical hurdles that don’t exist with a random number generator.

5.

The puzzles had to be too easy. Normally, I’m not that great at puzzles, but I understood the three we encountered quickly. On the one hand, I don’t like being baffled and we still ended up taking meaningful damage on one of the puzzles as people tried other stuff. On the other, the clues were probably too obvious even before you get to the rogue clues.

6.

I enjoyed it. But, then, what makes me enjoy TD has little to do with aesthetics or air hockey shuffleboard or tokens or NPCs. What makes the experience better or worse is mostly about my fellow players and the esprit de corps, whether succeeding or failing. Our group enjoyed stuff. Our traveling DM was enjoyable to be around.

We have some interest in doing V1, again. Try the other path. Virtual play does make it easy to introduce people who wouldn’t make the effort to travel to a con, so I imagine VTD sticking around as a supplement to PTD.

Put another way, for all of the criticisms, we would still do V1 again, so it was clearly worth it to us, but, then, we also have lots of treasure enhancement to mitigate the real cost (in theory, anyway).

Btw, Virtual True Grind should not be that hard, though I imagine for some it might feel way too much like just playing D&D online. I guess the benefit is getting more use out of a larger pool of tokens for those of us with way too many tokens.


Gen Con 2020 – Oh, The Horror!

August 3, 2020

So, I didn’t hold out much expectations of the virtual experience.  It was a lot more like GC normally is than I thought it would be, e.g. I was constantly tired.  It was a lot more interesting than I expected.

Number of people I e-met mentioned only attending because it was virtual.  Certainly, very different experience for people outside the US, but I can see how pGC is a huge logistics nightmare … in that pGC has been a huge logistics nightmare ever since numbers started rapidly rising, even ignoring how annoying hotel reg and event reg were in olden days.

GC 2020, though, wasn’t just about virtuality, it was the horror con.

Not horrible, horror.

I’m not a horror fan.

And, yet, three of my seven RPGs were horror, with a game I wanted to play but couldn’t due to conflict with something I had to play being dark fantasy that might have been horrorish.

Thursday

I had signed up for HoR4 Thursday 1PM EDT.  Tangent time.  Eastern schedule with True Dungeon, VTD, being Central with my not being in either of those time zones did not help trying to navigate a coherent schedule.  I dropped my ticket for this because I signed up for it to help bolster Eric’s chances of playing as he couldn’t make any of the other slots.

So, Thursday got off to a slow start.  I ran some errands and waited, impatiently.

Thursday 7PM EDT – Pendragon

I’ve played weird Pendragon pritnear every time I’ve played Pendragon at a con.  This was far less weird.

On the plus side, I got to play a character with Venery-20.  Awareness-2 (notice skill), Religion-1, Swords-15 (highest combat skill), Venery-20 with a +10 bonus when flirting.  The GM made use of player storytelling to create challenges later in the game.  I got to toss my curly blond hair and convince a regular handmaiden to try to knife Morgan le Fay during the climactic battle, timing it kind of off in that an innocent (well, it wasn’t made clear who I venery-ed earlier so innocent may be the wrong word) got born away by magical defenses to possibly Hell.

On the minus side, it didn’t feel all that meaty of an adventure and the twist wasn’t surprising and our engagement with the world was more repetitive than it needed to be, where more Venery could have been in the offing.

Decent.  But, I actually enjoyed the bizarre Pendragon games I’ve played before, like the one where a Venery of 20 would have not involved a whole lot of handmaidens.

Friday

Friday 10AM EDT – Legends of Avallen

Oh, me.  My life may not be terribly interesting, but it does not strike me as normal.  Look, another fantasy Britain game.  This game is in playtest.  This game looks to start characters off as ordinary nobodies and layer in mechanics as you advance.

I got the privilege of being able to … finally … play a farmer.  Talked to the designer after the game and the conclusion was that farmer was broken as written in this session.

Website

Much more my type of art than art of certain other types.

It went well.  We had two main scenes and a tunneling scene.  One was dealing with mundane stuff.  The other involved a lava tree.

So, I took notes of my games, plus this was one of my Discord games, so I could get even more data, yet I feel differently about writing out the narrative of these games.  Maybe it’s because HoR narratives would spoil things, and I feel like any description of something that may get rerun is spoilery.  OTOH, I feel bad about not writing out actual stories of what happened rather than notes.  Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.

We didn’t get much into the setting, like I didn’t even know what the non-humans’ places were in the world.  This also ended early.  The mechanics could use work as they are too engine-y.  For me, there was also too much emphasis on stuff.

Had a big break between games, so I slept a bit around lunch.

Friday 7PM EDT – HoR4 Heroic Inspiration

I liked the concept.  I enjoyed my game.  Elegant artisan.

It was still underdeveloped with not a satisfying ending.  Felt like the subplot could have been developed more or the plot could have pushed to a more dramatic ending.  For a moment, I wondered if this mod was going to be like my geniusy idea for a different type of mod, but it didn’t come close to what I have thought of.

The other problem with this mod is that it really wasn’t a good way to introduce new players to HoR.  Maybe not the worst way to introduce to L5R, but it was … different.

Decent.  And, that would have been my midcon grade – decent.

Saturday

Saturday 10AM EDT – Alter Arms

This was one of the more notable events on the schedule pour moi.  Japanese superhero stuff from back in the day – for me, Kamen Rider and Kikaider (Condorman!!) more and Power Rangers less.

Another game of starting off as weak and advancing not D&D style but during play.  We created characters.  I understand why in this game (another playtest), but I keep coming away from games where I create characters with the thought “I often enjoy games where I have to create characters less”.

I was thinking of trying to have a Kikaider like character.  I randomly got the Curse ability, so I ended up being a Lore type character, which meant more magic, less machine man.

Only three players, which helped both in terms of three player games generally being better and because this game was hard to process, so more players would have likely meant understanding even less of how it was supposed to work.

We started on a bus.  Alien foot soldiers – Crimson Troops – started trying to kidnap various people in our traffic jam, so Beef Cameraman (not me), Hirotaka (salaryman, also not me), and Ian (concert musician, possibly me) fended off some androids.  Then, around the corner comes Riptid, the tentacle dude being fed golden fluid through canisters, along with more Crimsonites.  I was planning on transforming into Virtuoso and using my blue energy viola to crack the canister cases for Magical Ninja Knight (Hirotaka) to rod Riptid into Crashing.  I never got the chance, though I did use my Defender ability to absorb damage dealt to Magical Ninja Knight and get an XP.

Magical Ninja Knight first used Possess to have Riptid clear some Crimsonites.  Beef transformed into Field Journalist and dealt with the rest of the Crimsonites.  Riptid turned out to be an alien being controlled by the, um, invading aliens through the use of the golden liquid.  Riptid joined Sentai Supreme (TM,R,ABC,XYZ,C,24).

We went to the park, where many dropships were located.  Beef went to interview the invaders.  The rest of us snuck aboard a dropship under the theory that Beef would get captured or he would layeth the smacketh downeth and jump aboard when he was done.  We eventually went to meet him as he encountered a named bad guy, and he jumped aboard and up to the mothership we went.

There, we crashed into the hangar, got some intel from a resistance leader, had to escape from more Crimsonites, though we did a pretty bad job of it.  I finally ripped some wiring out of the ship and shocked the last couple after Beef mostly dealt with them.

To the golden liquid container room!

We encounter a non-invader who didn’t want us messing with the gold … mine.  Deadbolt.  We all did our random second transformations, where I was less effective as Maestro with dense flesh and more effective transforming back to Virtuoso and using Curse to set up Star Magical Ninja Knight’s and Undercover Journalist’s Super, Team Move to put an end to things right when we needed to wrap up.

The GM did point out something I was thinking – too many mooks.  Just ate up time, while trying to figure out how to thematically tie in random mechanical gains with transformations was already a timesink.

My other problem besides that it was a rough intro to a not-intuitive system, well, and, that I was envisioning a different type of character than ending up with more like a Sailor Moon character was that there was a tonal inconsistency.  Pete and Steven were both going for something much more comedic than I was.  I can do silly, but I was really hoping to try to capture an experience more like watching V1 and V2 get joined by V3.  The breadth of character types just strikes me as too breadthy, while character concepts are too openended for an intro to the mechanics.

Kind of disappointing.  I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm because of the breadthiness.  While I may watch Power Rangers, I don’t actually like it that much.

Saturday 5PM EDT – Never Go Home

Finally, we get to a horror game.  And, this is most definitely a horror game.  Based on an artbook of WW1 supernatural monster stuff, this is an indie game of WW1 frontlines with supernatural horror added in.

My main takeaway was that this isn’t the game for me.  I can do Call of Cthulhu, where you can play for a while building up a story of investigation and dire confrontation, but I’m not a fan.  I’m even less of a fan of nihilistic horror.  I asked the GM what midrange goals might look like (long range being, of course, pointless as … you will Never Go Home).  There don’t seem to be any.

I play RPGs to play heroic adventuring … and romantic farce.  Inevitable doom doesn’t strike me as entertaining.

That being said, the session was decent – still grading at decent for GC2020V.  The story was okay.

We created our own characters.  Once you have played this, it should take around one minute to create the necessary stuff for a character.

But, it spent too much time on using the same skills.  The skill list is only like 10 skills long – I had points in three different skills – I never used any of those three skills, including the magic skill because I was interested in the supernatural side of things.

Which highlights another problem with the game – after playing twice, I still have next to no sense of what supernaturally the world is like.  Monsters exist, but they are essentially statblocks for all that they look different.  I have no interest in zombie movies because, er, I have no interest in zombies.  I like(d) vampires because vampires had intelligence and all sorts of weird abilities/weaknesses.  Monsters just seem to exist for no real reason besides … you will Never Go Home.

I’d vastly prefer to play Armageddon, where you fire rockets into the heads of corrupted Seraphim.  At least there, you get coherent stuff like Michele, the female version of the archangel Michael and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin teaming up with the Norse Gods to fight the Antichrist.  You know, like the year 2020.

And, the session was short.  We played less than 2 hours, though it didn’t feel that short.  We could have played more, but half the people dropped and the other two who stayed on started playing while I was on the phone with my friend talking about True Dungeon planning.

Saturday 10PM EDT – Witch Doctors

Another game in development.  Maybe this wouldn’t be considered horror, more like dark modern supernatural a la a bunch of things.  Like Chill and … a whole bunch of things.

Another game of creating your own character.  Again, all of these games in development I get why we are creating characters, but, at the same time, if the idea is to present the world and/or the mechanics, it’s so much easier to provide characters so that the players have fewer things to pay attention to.

We had four players.  One player created Morton, an Uber/o-app driver who wanted to be a racecar driver, the player’s wife created a mystery writer, Carol, another player created a ballerina, Vex, who was the sister-in-law to Morton, and I … I created a baker.

Because I’m into symmetry, I specifically avoided the magic system in this game where you play like magical investigators in a dark [whoa, whoa, whoa – can’t use dark], a grim world.  The other three all took Token, which is the magical skill and each had a spell.  Morton had psychometry, Vex had charm, Carol had calm.  I could, then, regret *not* having magic when magic mattered.

I owned a bakery in NYC, making me the affluent one.

Very openended in that you get 20 points to put into skills where you create whatever skill you want.  I had Baker at 6, Casual Athlete at 4, Tourist at 3, Linguistics at 4, Military at 3 (I was struggling to figure out a fifth skill for my immigrant baker who liked to travel, so I figured he was in the army for a while, thus the interest in still seeing the world).  Of these five skills, I think I only rolled against Baker.

The session starts with my old buddy John telling me about an incident back in 1951 (this being non-Covid 2020ish), where a weird mosaic in a fancy hotel caused people to go crazy and kill each other eagerly up until the hotel burned down.  John saw the same “seal” in an alley a couple blocks away.  He left to get away from the madness.

I relay the story to my usual customers of Carol, Morton, and the blueberry muffin loving Vex.  We go check it out and Morton fends off spiritual aggression as he nears the 3’x3′ mural on the side of a building.  We debate how to not end up with random hoodsters killing each other or themselves or whatever, and we come up with one of two obvious solutions.

We rent a pressure washer to wash the paint away.

The GM had mentioned before playing that no one had ever completed this scenario.  The playtest rules mention how brutal the world is.  We won most humorous table.  For one thing, Vex’s player’s accent was great, and she wasn’t hot, charming, good girl type but rather (probably hot) charming bitch.

As in-laws, Morton and Vex would just snark at each other.  Because we had such grounded, mundane character concepts, I couldn’t help also being snarky when characters overlooked obvious things like just Binging to get info off the interwebs.

I did take a picture of The Devil’s Seal before we washed it away.  When there was a question how to power the pressure washer, I noted we could just get a portable generator from Home Depot.  But, Carol either put a building superintendent to sleep or murdered him accidentally for us to get access to an electrical outlet for us to plug it in.

While Carol and Morton worked on returning the pressure washer, I printed out a picture of the seal and Vex and I got a visit at the bakery by “John”, who was menacing about defacing important art in the hood where he planned to invest.  He left, Vex went to check out Jamison Realty (or whatever), which had been run by the hotel developer from ’51 and was now run by his son.

Vex charmed her way through a bunch of people and got some info out of Jamie Jamison.  Carol went to talk to a symbology expert at NYU.  I reduced the price on the day old, experimental cornbread [so many injokes only like four other people will fully appreciate].  We found out that the society types who survived the massacre in ’51 had been committed to an asylum nearby, but, then, we discussed next steps.  With GM help, we decided to focus on John’s whereabouts/activities.

One of my regulars calls in to report weird stuff outside of a daycare place (I had urged customers to bring up anything related to the printout).  We head out there.  John is painting a new Devil’s Seal.  Vex gets shot as she charms him.  Carol gets shot as she successfully sleeps him.  Vex’s wound is serious and she is bleeding out.  I fail first aid and make it worse.  Eventually, Carol gets Morton’s first aid kit and stops the bleeding as Morton calls 911.

Victory is ours!

Back to the bakery for free chocolate croissants and something specially made by the barista at our coffee bar.

Duolingo, Candy Crush both things my character, Harry Brown, spent time doing as people were investigating.  Reference to Cupcake Wars (where he lost, but still good enough to cater Morton’s wedding to Vex’s sister).

I just can’t describe the games where the players play off of each other and the situation in amusing ways well.  You had to be there.  There were some jokes I missed between the other players.

Fight the dark-, em, grimness with tongue in cheek, as well as blueberry muffin in cheek.

Best game.  GC2020V still, overall, decent.  This made up for Alter Arms being kind of a mess and Never Go Home being too nihilistic.

Sunday

Sunday Noon EDT – Never Go Home

I didn’t think this was going to make me feel better about Never Go Home.  What made this really, really rough was that it was a spin on Christmas in the Trenches where the humans spent Christmas with undead monsters, while having extremely slow pacing.

I think I understood what was trying to be achieved.  One or both of these:  messing with expectations of whatever Never Go Home is supposed to be like; focusing on the psychological horror of war and not just the killing each other and maybe dying at any time horror of war.

It just dragged.  Far too much asking what seven players were doing where only one player was into the situation and did a bunch of stuff while the rest of us were confused as to how to engage with the story.  Had a good situation of horror that wasn’t monster related – kind of the whole theme was that the real horror is war and not monsters.  But, this gets back to my fundamental question:  “What is the point of *this* game?”  Put another way, “Why is there any supernatural element when the game seems to be all about how horrific war is?”  I’m not seeing how the supernatural aspects offer engaging stories, though Saturday’s game did more plausibly incorporate supernatural stuff into the session.

I get that the game exists because of somebody’s art.  I’m not clear whether there’s a coherent vision for why the RPG is the way it is.  Could be better than I think, as I’ve only seen positive reviews.  But, since it’s not my cup of needlessly corrupted, undead tea, I don’t care enough to find out more.  I’d rather play Toon.

Sunday 5PM CDT [C as in central] – True Dungeon V1

This worked out fine.  Logistics got worked out.  I liked the beginning much more than the end on thematic grounds.  What was most notable was that this was the first ever Blowgun Run (TM, R, ABC, XYZ, C, 24)!!

We blew … a lot.

I’d do another run, do the room we didn’t choose, change up some who is in the group as it seems like VTD is much easier for someone to try out than traveling to a major game convention just to play TD.

Aftermath (not the RPG)

What reminds me of other years is that this was a mixed bag in a mostly narrow range.  Some stuff was better, some worse, some probably going to be pretty easily forgotten over time.

Sure, it’s not traveling to Indy and lamenting the loss of 24 hour Steak & Shake.  But, I’ve done the same trip so many times that the nongaming of GC tends to run together, too.

Didn’t have like six sessions of HoR with late night TD.  Still, I was really tired with two days in a row of 7AM games, so that’s very GClike.

Avoid horror.  Much like how I did a lot of supers games in at least one year and did a lot of … whatever … in some other year, avoid things that sound dark-, eh, grim.


Show Business

July 26, 2020

I know I keep bringing up how I’ve been watching stuff I would normally never need to.  But, I’ll see if this all ties together into pure, unadulterated geniusness.

This morning, Utaku Zhe-Dong and Miya Tatakisu had a friendly duel.  You may recall the second name from somewhere.

Not an Iaijutsu duel.  Zhe-Dong used a bisento and Tatakisu used a yari.

A lot of my frustration with combat tactics as explained by other people in 4e had to do with unrealistic situations and unrealistic builds.  Welp, here’s your one on one skirmish that like never happens in mod play or my home play.

Yup, it’s that time … stancedancer time!

We didn’t share character sheets until after the event.  Best two of three using normal damage where we houseruled that it wasn’t lethal.  This was part of our narrative within the living campaign, and we invited others in the campaign to watch, but it had zero story impact to the campaign.

Day One

First round – Zhe-Dong Attack, Tatakisu Full Defense, Zhe-Dong wins Initiative by less than 10

Zhe-Dong hits once for ultimately 12 wounds.

Second round – Tatakisu VP +10 Initiative

Tatakisu switches to Full Attack, call two raises, do only 15 wounds, call three raises, miss by one.  Zhe-Dong declared Center Stance, but it didn’t matter.

Third round – Zhe-Dong beats down

Day Two

First round – as above, but Zhe-Dong wins Initiative by more than 10

Zhe-Dong hits once as dice roller was pathetic, for 22 wounds.

Second round -Tatakisu VPs for +10 ATN

Zhe-Dong ends it.


So, stancedancing almost did something on day one.  Probably not as the chances of dealing enough wounds to put Zhe-Dong into significant wound penalties were remote.  Taking four attacks before acting on day two was the more expected outcome.

Simple attack actions in human v human fights are so, so not good for involved fighting.  It’s just too concentrated.  Fortunately, human v human is almost nonexistent.  Humans v humans is far more common, as are humans v not-so-human.

Still, I found it interesting.  If the two of us were trying to kill each other, it should still have been a blow out, but I doubt I would end up missing.  Some other mechanical interesting bits.  If we went with lower damage weapons, that might have been better for me.  If we had on armor, I’m not sure if anything would change.

Mostly, though, it reinforced something I had already considered.  My ‘showoff’ build is actually a ‘showoff’ build and not remotely quality.  I had run through some scenarios of fighting Andy’s and Eric’s PCs and it pretty much came down to my needing to win Initiative and my needing to deal so much damage that they couldn’t return much fire.  Hugely important is that I only get SAAs in Full Attack.  That’s horrendous, as it means Hida Bushi always knocks me down unless in at least Injured, which a Hida Bushi might not even be in even if I get three attacks off first.  Knockdown kills Tatakisu.  Grapple kills Tatakisu.  Disarm kills Tatakisu.  Etc.

Not to spoil Zhe-Dong’s build too much, but my vast Void superiority didn’t mean diddly.  Initiative was crucial, and blind stance decisions on the first round force me into doing nothing on round 1.  Again, only SAA in Full Attack.  To go FA on round 1 and lose Initiative means it’s over.

And, yet, people seem to consider Tatakisu a legit build.  It’s been fun, where pure combat ability is not a worthy pursuit, so I don’t have things like Reflexes 4 to make combat more reasonable.

Speaking of legit, World of Dance time.

Styles & Emma going out made me feel bad as they are amazing.  But, they brought this on themselves.  As the judges harped on, both them and Oxygen didn’t put forward their best performances, requiring them to face each other with way, way better performances.  Both groups had better initial performances than their first duels.

Duels …

MDC 3 should have won their duel easily.  They have a lot of the physically amazing stuff and do a much better job dancing between crazy moves than some of the others who are also amazing at physicality.

I also am watching America’s Got Talent.  It’s far less entertaining because I don’t need to see the joke competitors.  I actually like being impressed at what humans can do.  But, that street dancing group that got the Golden Buzzer struck me as better than most of the groups on World of Dance.  Incredible physicality with interesting other stuff going on, though they didn’t unison as well as WoD performers.

Looking impressive matters … is today’s topic.

While Zhe-Dong destroying Tatakisu is how it should have played out for multiple reasons that became clearer over time, let’s say something fluky happens in RPG play along the lines of Tatakisu even winning day 1 but more like my Conan d20 character firing blind and critting the enemy leader to where an army ran away from our party.

Achievement matters to telling a story even if that achievement is improbable.  How many times do we read books or watch anime/TV/movies or whatever where the protagonist flukes to victory and we just accept it as dramatic and cool?  Yes, there are times when it feels cheap, predictable, or whatever.  But, success is usually the better story to predictable failure.

One of the things that saves character build imbalances in RPG play is that fluky stuff happens that allows poor builds to shine.  The perception that someone is pulling weight outweighs a party reliance upon the bestest builds.

Rald is the only one left and wrestles the ghoul off the cliff makes up for the Rald sits in a bathtub while everyone else is trying to keep the demon population under control.

I don’t know who is technically better in WoD.  I’m sure the judges give weight to things that don’t entertain me.  Now, I do have an aesthetic sense where I’m usually in sync with the judges on who was better, so it’s not like there’s massive discrepancies like there is with The Voice.  Dance is a visual medium, though I do like dance with good sound.  We can see what we think is cool.

And, that’s all we need.

Someone thinks Tatakisu is competent at his XP total (since people don’t normally see XP totals, maybe this is one reason people don’t realize how weak this build is), and it works.  People usually see the choppy chop and not so much the taking bisento to the body, and it works.

Doesn’t change that it’s a good idea to try to balance builds in parties so that players don’t get frustrated, as I’ve been on multiple occasions in home play, but sometimes the way to seem good is just to look good, which suggests that one way to bridge the gap in perception of relevance is to focus on abilities that are flashy, like flips into splits or whatever and worry less about foundational competence.


Falling Rok

July 19, 2020

Have you ever been in an argument about falling damage in a RPG?

I think I have.  More so, when I was picking up Dragon Magazines, I ran across extensive efforts to fix or defend AD&D falling damage.

Which, of course, I didn’t care about.

So, who better to enlighten the hoi polloi about how I’d do falling damage in L5R?

Why not just use the prescribed mechanics in the 4e core book?

I had a character fall down a mountain in HoR2.  It did a lot of damage.  A Henshin fully healed me because Henshin could do that in 3e.  But, that was then.

So, why bother changing falling damage with L5R?

Because I spent time thinking about it, and every central-thinking person is utterly fascinated by what I think about.  Actually, it’s more the thought process rather than the result that should be interesting.

So, you fall 10′ or 3m or one story or whatever.  My thought process was beginning with 1k1 wounds as per the RAW.  Now, 1k1 wounds is pathetic and should be largely meaningless, but, then, falling 10′ is pathetic and should be largely meaningless to magic … samurai.

It was the progression after that where I tried different numbers and dispensed with models I didn’t like.  I thought about doubling damage every 10′ and that was absurd.  I could do with 4k4 damage at 30′ but not so much 8k8 at 40′.

I thought about a cumulative sequence:  1k1, 3k3, 6k6, 10k10.  Too fast, again.  6k6 for 30′ is just not interesting.

What of the long tail?  While falling off a cliff or falling from the air are possible, maybe you just cap damage at 10k10 to where an Earth-4, unwounded character should survive without Void or Reduction.  That might be a bit low as an Earth-3 character could totally survive with Void.  With RAW, 250′ drop would be 25k25, I guess.  Not terribly interesting once you start getting past 100′ in RAW.

Anyway, where I left off was 1k1/10′, 3k3/20′, 5k5/30′, 7k7/40′, 9k9/50′.

Then, I got to thinking about a scenario where any of this would ever matter.  Would be a five story temple/palace/whatever where there would be fights going on at different levels so that people could fall from different heights, making use of my sweet, sweet falling damage rules.

Because, if it didn’t matter, can just use RAW if it ever comes up, which, to my recollection, it has never come up in my 4e play.

Is that it?  Not even 500 words, yet.

Oh ho, but what is the true topic for today?

Falling damage that is more lethal than RAW or … something even more fascinating?

HoR play has gone way up since joining an online group that plays through Discord.  I played a mod just Thursday.  There was some discussion of grappling … in a mod where we never did any combat nor did we do the fun type of grappling all Winter Court.

Ultimately, I ended up saying something about how I’m much more tolerant of RAW than I want to be.  There’s too little gain for how much work it is to fix things, and fixing things in RPGs is so often like fixing things in CCGs – unintended consequences that are just as annoying.

Sure, I would still use house rules, but my last set now just strikes me as my personal peeves rather than addressing real problems in play.  Void can be stupidly expensive.  It can be limited to once a round.  It can not do anything about Wound Penalties.  Glory can continue to not have any inbuilt mechanics, same with Status.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Effort for lack of gain.  So, sure, I would eliminate the grappling rules in home play, but there’s little point to dealing with them in organized play.

I pointed out that grappling PCs can be just as broken as grappling NPCs/creatures.  Tatakisu is useless in a grapple and so should pritnear any shugenja, though there is a question to the design team where whoever answered said they would allow an innated spell to be cast.  I guess I could live with that.  How does that work with maho?

Maho-tsukai actually aren’t close to being at the top of my enemy list.  They are way too swingy.  Cast something dumb like Blood Armor or Pain or “you instantly die and your soul is rent from reality”, and it’s just tedious.  Don’t cast anything good and you get annihilated right quick.  Really, enemies using elemental magic are far better balanced and interesting.

Ever cast Tempest of Air on a PC?  Oh, the GM glee.  Ever fight enemies with super-Fires of Purity?  I have.  That wasn’t as bad as an enemy with Kami’s Strength.  Holy Zokujin, Bat Clan!

Sure, I’m rambling.  How interesting was falling damage as a topic?  I just thought it a waste not to address a topic that nobody really cares about.

I had a really clever … yes, still rambling about L5R … idea for a mod.  So, so clever.  Should be too much work for me to ever do anything about.  But, who knows?  So, I guess I keep it to myself.

I will hint at the idea in a way that is totally useless.  The mod we played Thursday was terrible.

Now, the author admitted as such.  But, what bewilders me is in what ways it was so obviously terrible.

First of all, the setting was completely wasted.  Sure, it was used.  Just not the interesting stuff that happened in a city where incredibly important canonical stuff happened.

Second, it was a Winter Court mod where nothing really happens.  Part of the problem is that it’s the Emperor’s Court.  Don’t send PCs in organized play to the Emperor’s Court unless there is something specific for them to do there that justifies having a bunch of high Status NPCs that you can’t meaningfully interact with.

Expanding on this, as it’s important as even people I play with consider this a big problem.  If you can’t do things to a NPC, then that NPC is not serving a purpose.  Far too much of HoR4 is being around kuge that you are just tagging along with.  To what purpose?  I think I know why.  The psychology of the staff misses out that they may be interested in these kuge but the rest of us aren’t.  Because we can’t have any meaningful interaction with them.  Can we seduce them?  Murder them?  Get them fired?  Replace them?  If no, then it’s “This is so cool because … you love L5R” not because it means anything to what you are playing at the moment.

What should have been the case is a group (reasonable number) of NPCs near the PCs’ Status that you can do these things with/to.  WC calls to mind lots of scandalous affairs, though, perhaps dumbly, my PC isn’t into other samurai when it comes to affairs.  Even if not taking advantage of thick walls, romance is fun.  Though, I think another feature of HoR4 is a staff dread of sexuality.  Admittedly, playing with strangers does make this stuff far, far less appealing than when you know the other players and know the GM well.

Third, the attempt to throw in some activities was terrible.  Again, tournaments should be played out as tournaments for reasons I’ve gone into in the recent past.  Yes, that takes time.  What else was going on in the mod that anyone cared about?  Don’t hint that stuff is going on that PCs can’t engage with.  Court mods should be for all of those people who love Games of Letters and Ikebana and whatever.  Not only was there a lack of ability to engage, but the rewards were a complete thematic fail.  If you are at the Emperor’s Court, you should be getting the insane stuff that was happening in the Princess Police.  You don’t gain a pip or two of Glory, you gain a rank or two.  You get unique items (even if they have no mechanical effects).  The useless Noticed By system turns into “yo, yo, yo … youse totally Ally material”.  Not my idea but interesting, you use the Favor system to dole out Favors for accomplishments.  Something to justify because, again, why is this an Emperor’s Court?  Why is this not hanging out with like Status 2-3 hotties who totally want to “blackmail” you?

Wow, so off topic.  But, this did mean exceeding 1000 words, so another angel gets her wings.


Legality

July 12, 2020

What I’m most interested in analyzing is what HoR4 experiences I liked the best and which I didn’t like and to go into why I wouldn’t do something similar to what I did with HoR3 where I put a lot of effort into rating mods with HoR4.  But, this is kind of a fail topic for this blog for a couple of reasons.  The first one being that I’ve already mentioned vaguely what interested me and what didn’t.  The second one being that I don’t have substantive analytical content on what’s good or bad about HoR4 mods.

So, I got to thinking more generally about what people like.  With Gen Con Online events available to peruse, I have been working on a schedule.  I’m more interested than I thought I would be as I see pretty good variety in RPG events, and it’s not like I’m going to use my time effectively to do other things that week.  But, why should the reader care about any of this unless I post what interests me specifically, which I can do after I see what I get into, rather than drone on about how a description on a game I’m not playing was interesting?

So, I got to thinking about a feature of HoR play that doesn’t make any sense to me.  For reasons I don’t understand, the campaign admins aren’t concerned about rules consistency.

For instance, rerolls.  I tried finding specific references to the inability to reroll rerolls, which might have just been something I remember from L5R 3e, and I can only find a single reference – Bitter Lies Swordsman path’s technique.  It’s up to the table GM to decide what can be rerolled.  Why?

How is that a good thing?  Do people not understand that mechanics matter in living campaigns?  If they didn’t, I would have saved almost all of my thoughts about the campaign, as 90%+ of what I think about with HoR4 is my character build and how to spend XP.

Even with esoteric abilities where it’s easy to remember to bring them up before playing, might as well have a single way they work unless you run into a question that hasn’t come up before.  Certainly can’t go through a litany of “Do Wound Penalties apply after rolling damage on a knockdown/disarm attack or before?” and similar questions which are handled differently constantly.

Rules lawyering gets a lot of negativity.  I don’t remember what I’ve said in the past on the subject.  So, that gives me an opportunity to speak in favor of knowing what the rules are.  Sure, disrupting play is obnoxious.  But, I don’t find this to be the case in my HoR play.  Someone looks something up, makes a decision, moves on.  I don’t mind that when there’s ambiguity on how something works.  I don’t really care whether you can Luck the same roll three times in a row or Luck an Honor Roll or even whether you can Void an Honor Roll – I just want to know it’s going to be the same way every time because …

Because a crucial element to playing RPGs is decisions matter.  This is where railroading gets so much grief – people are feeling their thematic/narrative/whatever decisions don’t matter.  Mechanical decisions matter, too.  They can matter for how a character is built, for how a character advances.

Of course, a player should try to find out ahead of time how things work.  One of our HoR4 characters isn’t going to be able to make a bunch of rockets – perfectly understandable, not because everyone is a troublemaker but because some people are.

Ranging into other arenas, it’s crucially important to understand how cards interact with each other and with rules in CCGs.  I have mentioned this before – the Zathras Infinite Influence Engine was ruled not to work at the last hours before a major tournament.  We don’t think it was even the right ruling, but it was brought up at least a day prior and was mentioned at least in passing prior to the convention.

Some rules suck.  Campaign house rules are desirable.  On the spot house rules to deal with something dumb make some sense, especially if they are pro fun and not anti-fun.  My only just learning that there’s a clarification that Be the Mountain is not supposed to be able to target yourself is a ship I feel has sailed.  Nobody I know thought that and anyone who has ever cast the spell I know of has cast it on themselves.  Plus, that’s pro player while only being kind of broken.

Chain rerolling is pretty obnoxious.  Honor Rolls are broken, though I maintain in a good way.  Luck is the most broken thing in L5R to begin with, then just make it better?!?  If you can Luck the same roll multiple times, every PC is pretty much required to have max ranks.  It’s like taking at least one rank in Investigation – it’s just part of your starting build infrastructure to be a viable character.

Speaking of this tangent, I was running a mod recently and nobody had Luck.  It was not surprising as lots of people don’t care about cheesing their builds.  It was just noticeable, where someone did Honor Roll, though I also find L5R players way under Honor Roll.  Any time you fail at something, you should be thinking of which reroll mechanic you might want to use and, apparently, what order you want to use them in.  Even dumb stuff like making a face at exceptionally bitter tea.  After all, you may only have an Honor of 3, so the only rolls you would HR are dumb rolls with low TNs to save that one pip of Glory.

I hate rules arguments during play.  But, I also hate it when people get important rules wrong.  You can change the rule for everyone so that Fear doesn’t apply to every single roll (for instance) or make it so that stance declaration can happen after you know everyone’s Initiatives rather than having to declare stances before Initiative is determined, but, until then, that’s how it works.  Wound Penalties apply whenever there’s a TN.  I’ve certainly benefited from a GM saying WP didn’t apply on certain rolls they should have, just means my player Honor is not as high as it could be.

I recently made the mistake thinking I could be in Full Attack after being reduced to Down.  As Down reasonable means you become Prone (barring some combat situation where it would be reasonable for something else), Prone disallows Full Attack, and the stance decision is at the beginning of your turn.  Not a huge problem and, again, in the player’s favor, which is less annoying.  But, now that I know, I’ll take this into account.  I might have to do silly octopus stuff from Prone to get a single attack in if I need to murder something RIGHT NOW!

Failure is an option.  It has to be, otherwise dice are dumb.  Sure, L5R is mostly about how much you succeed by with the occasional botch (failing a roll), but there still needs to be a failure.  Look at it from the GM’s side – what am I rolling any dice for if PCs always succeed at everything because every rule bends in their favor?  Can just be playing a RPG system without random results, instead.

Do the players a favor – make the experience consistent when it’s possible to be consistent.  If some weird situation comes up, sure, make up a rule and move on.  That HoR4 leaves whether you can even Honor Roll a roll up to subjective opinion does no one any favors.  It’s easy enough to say you can’t Honor Roll a roll where the action is disHonorable or that you can only HR a roll where the action would lead to Honor (this is horrendous by the way, as almost nothing people do as specific actions in HoR leads to Honor gains).  I never cared that someone Honor Rolled a Temptation roll or Forgery roll or whatever – Honor Rolls are goofy enough in the first place and characters who do those sorts of things regularly wouldn’t have much Honor, anyway, but I also have zero issue with saying HRing a low skill is right out.

So, a lot of people aren’t going to gain much from this post as home play is whatever the group decides – this is far more a function of living campaign play or any “bring your character to a game with strangers” situation.  But, it’s less the feature I find surprising as much as the attitude that it doesn’t matter how things work I find surprising.