Skull Con

June 20, 2022

Skull Con was a one-time event held at Walker’s Bluff Winery in Carterville.  But, then, for anyone who plays True Dungeon, they already know this.  It’s in Southern Illinois because TDHQ is in Carbondale.  To participate, had to have a specific token, so it was analagous to invitation only.

There was an earlier event – True Dungeon Celebration – held in the same place, so other people had a better idea what the place was like.

At one point, the Western branch of our group had four Skulls as there was a thought that Andy’s brother could go, but his interest in TD is too casual, so Andy sold his second Skull.  I would cover Dave and myself with my two.  Dave had to do a family thing, instead.  Neither Andy nor I were patrons, so the addition of a patron event to this promised event wasn’t of any value to us.

We decided to pass on some flights early not realizing Russia would invade Ukraine.  After that, became a lot of angst over flights, only complicated by our ride from the airport to the Carbondale hotel preferring we fly through Nashville when there were far better flight possibilities through St. Louis.  There’s a small airport near Carterville/Carbondale that does flights to Nashville and St. Louis.

Eventually, Andy and I were on Alaska Air from Oakland to Seattle to St. Louis and Andy was on Cape Air from Marion to Nashville, then American to DFW to SJC where I was STL to DEN to SJC to arrive about half an hour later.  Our flight from Oakland to Seattle got canceled.  We rearranged to have same flight from Seattle to STL but fly out of SFO two hours earlier, giving a very long layover in Seattle.


I wake up from my alarm at 1AM.  I finish packing, prep the house for absence, get out the door close to 2:30AM.  I get to Andy’s around 3:10AM never having driven there before.  As I wasn’t supposed to arrive until 3:30AM, I sat outside for 20 minutes as it was very pleasant temperaturewise.  Per the plan, his wife drove us to SFO, where we got there in under an hour.

Meanwhile, Jim and Blaine were driving from Raleigh, NC to Meet Me in St. Louis, um, meet us in St. Louis.

Andy’s wife had vouchers for the Alaska lounge, so we hung out there quite a while.  Had a bunch of sausage and had a decent grapefruit juice and grenadine mocktail.

They check into our hotel.

We arrive at STL.  It is oppressively hot.  So, so miserable.

We get settled into hotel and try to figure out where to eat.  My first BBQ choice isn’t open.  My second BBQ choice is about to close because weeknight in St. Louis means 8PM is late.  We end up at Salt + Smoke.  After having gorged on sausage, which was not in my mental travel plan, having a heavy meal was going to be harsh.  But, the point of staying overnight in St. Louis was to try to engage some with St. Louis on the trip as I had never been to Missouri nor Illinois and, if I’m going to go somewhere in the world, want to feel like I’m actually in that place and not just passing through.

So, we shared ribs and hush puppies.  I thought about getting a pound of brisket, which I would have done if circumstances were different, but I got a double cheeseburger instead.  And, thus, began the trip’s blandfest.  I dumped a bunch of BBQ sauce on my burger.  My brisket chili side got mostly a mustard BBQ sauce to give it any flavor.  Ribs were better than those (the chili was a tasteless paste), but the thing I enjoyed the most was my Coke as it was a good sweet Coke.

We retired for the eve.


Wanting to interact with the Gateway Arch in some way, especially as it’s a few blocks away, I set out to walk over to the park and either take a picture or touch it, like how I’ve never been inside the Sydney Opera House, but I’ve touched it.  It was fine temperaturewise.  Maybe had something to do with how it was raining …

Jim and Blaine were part of a major fetch quest.  So, we head out to get sourdough bread.  Two people from the San Francisco Bay Area head out to get sourdough bread in St. Louis.  We head to Little Italy because other options are either not open or lacking in the sourdough.

I made a critical mistake here.  This was the perfect opportunity to “do something” in St. Louis by going into a bakery and not buying anything.  But, I’m so used to not caring about going into stores that I waited in the car.

We proceed on to Carbondale to hit TDHQ to check in and do some transmutes (well, I had some transmutes to do, unimportant ones) before hitting the hotel we couldn’t check into yet.

We get there, and I had my next case of dissonance between mental picture of how things would work and reality.  Oh, not in terms of not having anything to do but check in and do transmutes as I figured workshop tours weren’t going to happen, but in terms of how busy things were.  I somehow thought the whole weekend endeavor would be much more … open.

Because I didn’t have slips in my bagged stuff, I stood outside and slipped my bags.  The weather kept changing as I was standing there from decent when clouds blocked Sun to unpleasant and back and forth.

Having wasted everyone else’s time, without getting a Critical Hit Soda from the truck parked at TDHQ, we were finally off to get food.

I had researched some places.  I don’t like making decisions that affect other people, and I don’t like most food, anyway, so I avoid deciding where to go.  I didn’t realize how indecisive this group is.  We ended up going by a Mexican option that I found.  I say go by because it was a grocery store.  It may have been closed, too.  But, since I wanted to eat someplace comfortable, I was happy to go elsewhere.  We went to some Mexican place nearby.

The chips and salsa was okay.  The chips really needed the salsa, but it was fine.  Jim hated his nachos.  My enchiladas were what I wanted in terms of components, but the entire plate was pretty tasteless.  I dumped a bunch of salsa on it and ate chips with it to give some textural variation.  It was food.

We go to the liquor store next door for sour beer as part of the fetch quest.  Andy has next to no idea what’s going on with the fetch quest.  That I don’t partake of alcohol outside of cooking or on special occasions sipping something for toasts hardly mattered.  That both questers don’t partake made this funny as Andy was beer consultant.

We go back to TDHQ to pick up my transmuted trade goods.

We go to hotel to check in.

Eventually, the Nicks arrive.  They shall heretofore be referred to as the Nicks.

So, outside of Dave, we had our entire team together for the first time, including Garry Shambling, our growing Shambling Mound.

We went over to Walker’s Bluff as other folks had transmutes to do.  We watched the very short meta puzzle resolution that got everyone blessed for our runs as Raven, Laz, and Mike stacked skulls.  We eventually had the buffet at 7PM.  I’m not surprised that places have inferior versions of food for their group events than their normal food.  But, there were virtually no choices.  Either burger or chicken burger.  Three side choices.  No dessert options.  It just felt bizarre.  Their tasting room had stuff you could order that was vastly superior in terms of options.

We did our run.  It was six of us plus two folks related to each other.  I played druid to get polyaction in.

It was hot.  The dungeon was pretty miserable (until you got to room 7).

Room one, I poly into earth elemental.  In VTD, this would have been cooler as the monster did sonic damage, but in person is so much less mechanical.

Room two, I poly into air elemental.  We didn’t realize this room was dangerous as we critted right off the bat, preventing the everyone takes lots of damage monster attack and the physical damage immunity effect.

In two combats, I think we Quick Striked twice and won combat after two full rounds.  We also were close to time in both cases.  Damn, in person play was slow, more like what people online claim about how much time you have where I’ve routinely had combats that were far more rounds than the essentially three we were getting in.

Room three, I tried to recall AD&D 1e psionic attack/defense matrix and couldn’t.  I had minimal involvement in the puzzle, as is typical in my in person play.  It was fine.

Room four, my least favorite room, though I really hadn’t thought much of the dungeon to this point as the first two rooms lacked decorations and really felt like you were in a winery rather than a TD dungeon.  I turned into a fire elemental.  The magic immunity(?) meant nothing to me.  By this point, the elf wizard and I had talked as he didn’t realize we had meaningful healing in the party, so he had started doing more maho.

Room five was my favorite set up, but the execution had some problems.  It was just way too slow.  I turned into an ice elemental and was the only one sliding against the fire monk, but the group couldn’t even take out the ice monk.  In VTD, this would have been so much more mechanically interesting.  A major reason I prefer VTD to in person play is that combat is so vague in person.  I have no sense as to what’s going on in terms of crunching numbers.

What in person play has that VTD doesn’t, of course, is sliding.  Sliding can be interesting.  I think I critted on my first slide in this room, though it didn’t matter.

Room six was a perfectly fine puzzle that I had no engagement with.  If it didn’t feel incredibly derivative of prior puzzles, it would have seemed much cooler.  Also, having different colors that didn’t matter brings back bad memories of prior puzzles where colors did matter.

Room seven had the coolness.  The layout was very awkward.  The NPC was a really good aesthetic.  I polyed into earth elemental again.  All three Freezing Orbs I cast through Quick Blessing succeeded, so I dealt about 320 damage myself (before any DR).  Everyone survived due to Sacrifice and bad rolls on Cavadar’s part.

In epilogue, we found out about the curses.  The obvious preference was to get curses as it’s a collectible token.  I didn’t get cursed.  Treasure was trash, as usual in 2022.  The bonus reward for the meta puzzle being solved was meh to me.  I despise the design of Mystic Orb.  I found the methods of acquisition obnoxious.  It’s just power for the sake of power.

So, having done the dungeon once, I enjoyed room 7 the most, which helped my overall feeling towards the dungeon, I thought the puzzles were fine even though I didn’t really do anything [again, typical].  Our group was enjoyable.  Oh, our bard was a younger person who asked about 80s pop rock songs.  I offered up two songs that she had just heard recently that she wasn’t particularly familiar with.

We did get dumped out into the darkness of what’s a very confusing layout.  We managed to get back to the hotel through the deep, dark (and hot) night, where I’m not sure we could say it was Paradise By The Dashboard Light.


I had a run at 10:48AM.  Jim had run at 1:24PM.  Jim and Nicks had patron run at 7:12PM.  Jim and Blaine had Grunnel’s Gift ritual at some undefined point.  We ended up going over to Walker’s Bluff as group rather than have me jump on someone else’s traversing.  I told my best hat ever story to the Nicks.

We got there too early to transmute stuff.  To this point, I hadn’t had a Critical Hit Soda soda as there was too much water to be had.  I had four trades to do at the con and had only completed one on Friday night.

I cashed in some Aragonite for treasure draws – all trash.  We hadn’t done anything about figuing out tinker toy sets.

So, while the quest to complete sets to transmute Totem of Heroism was an activity to do, it also was a distraction from doing other things.  I was very much trying to push to get stuff completed as I like getting things over with.

My run was only me from our group.  I knew BC to a minor extent.  I met Rob.  Our bard had never played in person before.  He was borrowing from his quartermaster, and I could tell he was underpowered for this level of play (not nearly as much as if this was a VTD Nightmare).  Oh, neither of my runs were Epic.  Given how easy they both turned out, Epic might have been more interesting, but …  I’ll come back to this.

So, I asked him if he wanted to borrow more stuff.  I’m reluctant to loan out weapons to people I don’t know even though his options were not exciting.  I tried to focus on places that didn’t really change his build but just upped numbers.  I “lent” him Goggles of the Deadshot as he was more ranged oriented than melee and Boots of the Four Winds to just up his damage by four.

I was thinking going in that I’d play like paladin, but, when I got there, only options left were two wizards, monk, and rogue.  I went wizard as I had a melee wizard build already in the app.  I was +21 to hit and +41 damage with melee, +21 spell damage.

Room one was much the same.  Room two was not.  In my prior run, we smashed monk’s face magic item immediately so never knew how much it mattered.  Here, we took 34 damage each before I critted with my staff.  Room three I probably did about as much as I did first time around, which worked well as I knew the solution and my trivial involvement didn’t spoil anything.  Room four, still didn’t cast a spell.  By this point, people realized I had the highest physical attack damage bonus in the party.  In one of these rooms, I hit on a 3.  In one of these rooms, I critted, then immediately slid too short to hit on next round.

Room five was different.  This time, I focused on ice monk because I knew of the fire monk’s retribution damage and because I had generally the best saves in the party and figured the reflex save for fighting the ice monk wouldn’t affect me.  They did their elemental shield things by dumping gems on the boards.  Like everyone else, I liked that.  I just slid right through the stuff.  We still didn’t kill either monk.  In the moment, I forgot about the option of a late Lightning Storm to try to multitarget murder.

Room six, I pointed out like one, minor thing and the group solved it just in time.

Room seven, I stole the barbarian’s crit by bumping him out and critting myself.  We won without any real deaths – paladin had to Sacrifice.

I still have my wizard card.  My wizard card with zero spells marked off.  While it’s possible to cast and not have any marked off, I never actually cast a spell.

So, neither run was hard.  But, that was fine because it also wasn’t stuff like effortlessly crushing monsters and because in person play is much more about puzzles than combat for me … … …  Perhaps you see why I vastly prefer VTD.  Where I mostly ignore both combat and puzzles in in person play and just spend much of my time looking at the dungeon decorations, in VTD I actually find combat interesting and can find puzzles more interesting when I do things like solo runs before doing other runs so I can see if I can solve stuff on my own.

I actually had a lot of good slides.  I had some bad ones.  Now, rogues’ flanking helped immensely with crits, but I did some pretty sweet bumps at times to get others into 20s.  I played two spellcaster classes and cast a total of four spells in combat, one of which was healing (needlessly against one-punch monk).  Since it had been so long, I wanted to slide to see how it felt.  It felt better than it had in the past.  I think the intense studying of numbers in VTD has helped me care somewhat more about people getting hits or crits in person, even if I still have little sense how I contribute to combats outside of smashing magical face items or adding my 100 damage on a crit with a staff.

The bard was extremely happy with his first in person experience.  When we left (into sunlight), he was talking to people about wanting to play again immediately.

Then, I had trades to complete.  Then, I had nothing necessary.

I talked with Arnold for a while as he gave me some ammo and I gave him some Traveller stuff for his friends who like the game.  Endgame came by for our reverse transmute trade.  I traded him an extra Drue’s +5 Baton of Focus for various stuff.  I sold Arnold’s friend the +3 Baton of Focus for under list price as I already had one I was trying to get rid of.

I found Arcanist for my final trade.  A trade that didn’t seem to make a ton of sense as it largely didn’t affect either of us, but I was done with required stuff at just after 2PM on Saturday.

I found the team, that had finally done something about trying to complete tinker sets.  I put together the stuff to transmute a Pharacus’, which was useful not just because I would rather 2x Pharacus’ and 1x GCoD than 1x Pharacus’ and 2x GCoD but because it allowed me to turn a bunch of tokens into a single token, aka cut weight.

We continued to have tinker stuff going on, then headed over to the tasting room for food as I kind of needed to eat something at some point during the day.  Oh, I had finally gotten my first Critical Hit Soda soda between final trade and meeting up with the team.  I got lemonade with grenadine and peach puree.  It was good.

We ordered food.  They were out of the Caesar Salad, so I got the Creole Burger instead to go with chips, which was unwise as it was yet another heavy meal, but chips alone wouldn’t have done it.  I got my second CHSS with lemonade, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, no cherry because they were out, and grenadine.  It was not good.  It was very watery where I tasted everything with CHSS #1 and barely tasted the lemonade base with CHSS #2.

Food was okay.  Andy’s fries were cooked better than mine in that some of his were actually crunchy.

I had played a couple hands of hearts earlier.  I avoided playing Codenames not because I dislike the game but because I’m offended by the idea of jumping through a bunch of hoops to do a game convention only to play something could play at any time anywhere.

I did play Galaga.  Yup, arcade machine.  I didn’t come close to the high score, which was in the 130,000’s.  My second go was only 70,000+.  Only two tries, some three and a half decades (probably) since I last played, while I was trying to screw the knob on the joystick back on during my first try while simultaneously playing, gives various excuses for not displaying the culmination of vast amounts of quarters being traded for joystick action in my misspent youth.

The three of us who lacked patronhood went back to hotel.

Andy, neither a patron nor a double runner nor a Grunnel’s Gifter, had nothing he needed to do on Saturday.  Blaine had only the single Friday run and GG.

Saturday was the end of the con.

I enjoyed the event.  I actually quite enjoy hanging out with people, even people who aren’t gamers but mostly gamers so I can tell geek stories and have people understand them to some degree, though I talk story about other things which only likely made people realize how poorly I suit this world.

But, it was horribly executed.  I sent a message to Endgame when we were trying to sync up for the trade that my take on the event was that it was busy and dense with nothing to do.  There were way too few events.  The staggered times on Saturday meant less coordination of our group, though my missing out on a great breakfast place was fine as food doesn’t actually matter to me a whole lot.  Seriously, the con started 3PM Friday and was done Saturday night.  No trivia.  No auction.  No True Grind.  No effort to mix players outside of Trent’s Thursday night side pizza get together which we weren’t going to as I wanted to spend time in St. Louis.

I barely met people I didn’t know.  Now, it made sense to spend a lot of time with teammates that I hadn’t met in person before, so that did reduce trying to spend time with others, but the format of the event would have seen me largely not meet people if things were different.

I didn’t even get out to the cool fantasy themed park in the Carbondale area because Walker’s Bluff is so isolated and there weren’t like tour groups organized for people who didn’t have a car to just run off.  I suppose we should have gone there instead of hotel Saturday night but forgot about it as I was still wondering whether it was better to wait until Jim was done or just bag the day.

The location is just terrible for people flying.  Not because of the flying, though people who don’t fly don’t seem to realize that folks like me do things like get up at 1AM to fly only halfway across the country to end up someplace at 6PM.  Because of the 2.5 hours from St. Louis to Carbondale or trying to time using Cape Air.  It’s just so awkward.


Leave day.  Andy has to go to local airport.  I had ride worked out with dragon6483 and Kermit.  We go to Miniature Market first as I didn’t need to get to airport until quite late.  They get me to airport with like three hours before my flight.

I finish a massive water bottle Kermit got me as Pelor forbid I waste even water.

I’m fading.  At various times over the weekend, I would nod off as the lack of sleep was brutal.  Finally fly to Denver.  Andy and I exchange texts while I’m stuck sitting on tarmac in Denver waiting for our gate to clear while he has a real flight delay.

My first flight was okay, only two seats on each side.  Second flight someone was in middle seat.  It sucked as it nearly always does.

So, I was supposed to get in like half an hour later than Andy into SJC.  He got in more than a half an hour later than I did.

His wife drove us back to their place.  Then, maybe due to adrenaline, I was not too tired to drive home.

The tiredness actually hit me much more today.

I would absolutely not want to do this same sort of thing again.  I would happily take all of the hanging out talking with people, especially teammates, but this event wasn’t just a mess of travel logistics but prevented me from going to Origins where I could have hung out with VTESfolk and gamed vastly more.

I spent more time in cars driving from and to St. Louis than I did playing games, even including Galaga.  I don’t know how to emphasize how absurd that is.

Now, this event was probably not terribly different from say my going to Gamehole Con.  But, GHC is not a one time ever event.  It’s not in a state I had never been to before or involved going to another state I had never been to before.  (I got to tell my first ever Gen Con pizza story to dragon6483 on the ride to St. Louis.)  I could have had pretty much the same experience at GHC and played way, way more TD.

My expectations weren’t high, especially with how obviously disorganized things were, but it still failed my expectations as I’m a scheduled event sort of gamer not a social butterfly sort of gamer who finds pick up boardgames interesting.  I actually enjoy talking about and thinking about gaming more than the act of gaming much of the time, but I still go to conventions to actually play games, and there was four hours of TD in what took two vacation days and wrecked me physically with all of the heavy meals and lack of sleep.

Have this event in early Spring (maybe my hayfever won’t kick in outside of this area), have way more organization to enable people to do more special stuff and not just stuff they could do anywhere, enable people to do everything together not segregate people by having events only some people can do, be longer, have better dungeons in a better location as I actually don’t find the winery a good location – the immersion is way worse than is typical for in person play.

Alt Kill

June 11, 2022

I was pondering how annoying the discrepancy in effectiveness of L5R 4e weapons is and how trying to do the easy fix of having R-7 in any weapon skill explode 9’s on damage doesn’t seem to enthrall people enough.

When I thought of an alt way to go about making everything else suck less.  Well, see below for whether everything else or just the stuff that sucks.

Path: Exotic Weapons Expert [Bushi]

Technique Rank:  Any (ronin), any above SR-1 (other bushi)

Replaces:  Anything that qualifies

Requirements:  Rank 1+ in chosen weapon group

Technique:  To Not Suck – Choose a Weapon Skill other than Heavy Weapons, Kenjutsu, or Kyujutsu.  You gain a number of Free Raises when using the chosen skill equal to your Insight Rank.

So, interesting thing about Kyujutsu is that it does definitely cap out on damage.  Without some technique or Kyujutsu 7, the most arrow damage can be base is 6k3, with yumi being 5k3.  Now, Strength isn’t that great a Trait, but it is interesting that even Water builds don’t gain as much as they would if meleeing it up unless committed heavily to the missile plan.  I played an archer with STR 4.  I think I used the bow damage mechanics correctly at the time as he used a yumi, but I don’t recall if I thought I’d gain an additional +1k0 to damage by upping STR or not.

Still, if you are good at missileing, then you still have a lot of tactical use.  Rather than upping STR (or Kyujutsu beyond 5), in fact, the yumiist just keeps being Reflexive for the good stuff.  Now, there is the concept of STR 4/Kyujutsu 7 for yumiist or STR 5/Kyujutsu 7 for daikyuist or maybe there’s some cheat Unicorn bow in some book I’m overlooking as my Unicorn concepts aren’t archers (or I’m ignoring some Book of Air thing I’ve forgotten about).

Then, the whole on horse, not on horse thing is really annoying as well.  So, if you want to strip out Kyujutsu and suddenly make Tsuruchi Archer much more badass, go for it.

Anyway, the reason for the Free Raises was to make Extra Attack maneuver better, as a static bonus wouldn’t accomplish the same thing for most characters.

This could be patched on to any NPC to have that NPC legit be useful with some non-tetsubo, non-no-dachi weapon.

Is this in reaction to my runnning around tripping enemies with a smoking pipe?  Yeah, probably.  9k4+FR/4k2 just doesn’t do much of anything at this level of play.  I can’t afford Agility 5 at this point, nor should I need it.  Staves 7 mastery is trash.  Staves 6 to have 10k4 attack roll is funny, maybe funny enough to do.  But, still 4k2 damage with no exploding 9’s.  Well, 5k2 damage, as the next buy is STR 5 because STR is like so awesome …

That’s it.  If you want to wuss out, can make it half IR rounded up.  Note that IR is intentional.  Figure popular with the ronin crowd, especially any ronin that lack simple attacks because … ronin suck.  I suppose I could have named the post the path name for clarity, but, then, people will get this weird idea that the post titles mean things.

BC 2022

June 6, 2022

I expect absolutely nobody to understand this post title.  Over time, I won’t get it, either.

One of the things about having a bunch of RPG play this past weekend was it also got me thinking about mechanics I’d like to change.

More specifically, with L5R 4e since four of the five things I did on the weekend were using this system.

Emphases – provide Insight, give better benefits like both 3e and 4e benefits, or do both.

Not so much a change, but I want to see more magic items [*gasp*] and more magical effects, like curses (okay, or blessings).  I may have mentioned it before, but I keep thinking of Rings providing Magic Resistance, whether something like same Ring or opposite Ring or just like Fire Ring provides MR since it doesn’t do anything.

I played two HoR mods Saturday.

Should my Frog have died again?

Well, as we talk about, if the GM was motivated to kill PCs, could kill them all of the time.  Not any closer to Meido than any other PC this time around.  Now, if I hadn’t raised Earth to 4, he would have died in one attack.  Got the favorable result of being reduced to Down where we had no shugenja in our parties (same party each time) to allow him to fight in wound penalties and get eviscerated.

Then, duel to the death.  Duel to the death with one rank in Iaijutsu as a R-4 bushi.  Opponent rolled horribly on Assessment, so no bonus.  Opponent beat me on Focus by 22 …  He used all of the Free Raises for damage with his Reflexes 3, so he missed my temporary 45 ATN.  I didn’t miss, Lucked my damage from 30 to 38.  He beat me on Initiative 40 to 39.  My ATN dropped to only 35.  He missed … twice.  I switch to Full Attack and hit with my first attack and the duel ended.  I hit with my 7k5 Full Attack.

Yup, standard high rank dueling – Iaijutsu 1, Kenjutsu 1.  I had to calculate all of my katana stuff, as I had never used a katana with this character before.

The dice were ridiculously kind there.  If I had his stats, I would have made sure I hit, of course.  As a PC, I would have Luck back up or Honor Roll back up to hit.

I liked the first mod.  Sure, when you feel challenged and succeed, RPGs are vastly more fun.  But, the mod felt meaty, unlike so many HoR4 mods, and it had decisions that felt like they mattered even if some of the decisions didn’t feel like meaningful ones.  It actually could have used more scenes as it introduced NPCs that you never really interact with but should.

The second mod just felt like moving from train station to train station.  The climactic fight that I basically didn’t participate in had lots of extra meaning for our group.  While I’m hesitant to spoil things at this time, maybe after Gen Con I’ll remember to explain why.  Or, if for some reason someone I play with who wasn’t on this run reads this, can talk about it offline.

It felt sparsely populated with things to do.  NPCs didn’t matter at all.  There were no real decisions.  It was okay.  Yet again, the weakest character doesn’t get anything special while the strong get stronger, which is really aggravating.

You know, I haven’t spent a lot of time ranting about how HoR play is a rich get richer and screws those who are behind.  But, anyway, it is what it is.

That was exhausting doing two online mods back to back.  I checked off the only necessary buy for my 350 point character.  I know what the next 16xp goes into, which won’t somehow make him do meaningful damage – he finished off a major enemy with two attacks that did 9 damage and 13 damage … because the rest of the party did like 240 wounds before I attacked.  It was funny to use a katana and deal way more damage than primary weapon.  I do as much damage unarmed as with magic pipe.

The weapon discrepancies in a game that shouldn’t be about equipment are just so obnoxious.  Just fixing the exploding 9’s problem would do so much, though still nobody ever has a reason to use a k1 weapon.

Sunday morning did a bit of stuff in PBP game.  Where at one point had no real advancement ideas beyond not be a moron because XP were kind of random and paltry, once we started getting XP in bigger chunks, now have numerous things that would look to advance.  I’m one Insight from IR-3.  Will go with regular Shiba Bushi 3 rather than a path, where I only made up my mind after a recent battle against gaijin bandits, where if one of the NPCs or the other PC had gotten into trouble, I would have gone Shiba Yojimbo, but they didn’t, so float on free Void whenever I make my next XP expenditure.

I guess I could get emphases to not rank up, but I don’t actually have a reason not to rank up even though my hightest weapon skill is R-2.  Yup.  I’m almost a R-3 character whose highest skill is 3, and that skill is Lore: Cartography.  This amuses me, though not as much as it once would have.

Maybe you will get amused … I mean that is kind of the point of my being a member of the blognoscenti … by my six R-2 skills:  Kenjutsu 2, L: Theology 2, Courtier 2, Sincerity 2, Commerce 2 (SOP for Shiba Bushi), Investigation 2.

At some point, being able to draw a katana as a free action will be important.


Yes, not L5R!?!

We spent forever planning, which I never understand.  I play RPGs for heroic adventuring.  No part of heroic adventuring involves caring about plans.  If your plans work well, that’s boring, anyway.  This is why I have no interest in heist games, even if I’ve had okay one-shot heist games.  We spent like an hour actually doing anything that mattered.

I finally got blasted with an energy attack.  I’m not sure what would happen if I didn’t have a decent force field (for my “weak force field” power) up with my additional soak against energy attacks, as the Crusaderbot was still rolling 11 dice on damage after my soak.  Other than taking three levels of bashing damage, nothing really difficult occurred.  PC botched a roll and initiated self destruct, then that eventually got turned off.

For the first time in months, though, I did spend XP after the session.  I bought one dot of Intrusion and the Electronic Infiltration specialty for 4xp.  That just leaves me 28 unspent XP.  I could go from average human strength to being as strong as Spider Man with 21xp.  But, I’m not a brick (yet).  I could spend on dumb stuff, but maybe I’ll actually want to get better at something that matters someday.  I could get better at something that matters, but I don’t feel any reason to get better as I don’t fail enough.

I didn’t pick up Intrusion because we fail at Intrusion.  It just fit thematically really well given how many times with our Intruder PC and how often I’m in “What happens if I just flood this electrical system with lightning?” situations.

It’s okay to not advance mechanically.  What would be preferred is more happen during sessions.  Then, I’d have more things to react to for advancing esoteric stuff, like maybe doubling down on Genius-ness.

Iron Empire

We actually haven’t played this campaign that much.  Wedding stuff and conventions throughout the first half of 2022 have led to a lack of momentum.

So, we did have some play not that long ago that set up the next story arc.  Gaki time.  We have no supernatural characters.  We do have guns, though.  I tried to shoot a gaki in the head and … missed because I failed a Fear 2 roll.  Two out of three PCs are Earth 2.

I did get to pray to Ebisu whose blessing I have and feel that he’s got his eye on me.  It’s this sort of thing I want to see far more of with L5R.  Fortunes are interesting – there is a reason my Shiba Bushi’s only disad is Fascination Fortunes.  Supernatural leads to unknown, leads to variance in play, leads to mysteries that aren’t murder mysteries.

While our party is pretty awkward – private conversations with NPCs or my yojimbo PC not having nearly as much to do, far more play was played.

Advancement with this game is strange.  The idea was bursts of XP between chapters.  The new plan is intermittant XP gains.  But, it’s hard to know what I want to do with XP as it would be nice to build on strengths or shore up weaknesses, but it doesn’t seem likely to be able to do both.  I keep looking for Sage on my character sheet.  I’m sure I intentionally didn’t take it, but it’s hard to play L5R without Sage.  “Don’t have Lore: Spirits.  Don’t have Lore: Theology.  Don’t have Lore: History.”  Sure, in HoR play, where you know you get 4xp a mod, you can plan buying up your R-1 skills, but my home play at the moment doesn’t have clear XP patterns.  Also doesn’t have a clear “this is who I want my character to be in the future”, which should be a good thing, but I’ve gotten so used to playing campaigns where mechanical competence matters that I’m not used to just going with the flow and not trying to hit thresholds of viability.

Well, in L5R play, anyway.  I have no sense of thresholds of viability in Aberrant play, thus why the only things I prioritized was not being one-shottable by pretty much anything and having an attack that would do more than one die of damage when I hit.  I’ve played so much L5R 4e, that I naturally gravitate to certain numbers.

I said to the other PC in the PBP game that if this was HoR I would have had Kenjutsu 7 a long time ago.  I wouldn’t have been a R-2 bushi with Earth 2 and Reflexes 2.  But, in our Iron Empire game, how important is Earth 3?  I have no sense.  I’d rather get a 4 in some trait (or Void!) than care about Earth 3 because “round” characters aren’t as interesting to me, but characters dying is a problem.

Well, that was a dense gaming weekend.  Four full slots of RPGs with some additional PBP.  I did think of other gaming things at times but can never hit “must blog about” level on those other things.

KublaCon 2022

May 31, 2022

I did three gaming things at Kubla this year, the year Kubla returned.

I skipped Friday as I commute to this con (even though I haven’t needed to for a long time).

Thursday/Friday, I did review and work on Shadowfist decks.  I had forgotten that I had so many decks already built, where some of them seemed like decks never played.

I built two new decks, stealing Dockyards from other decks I had played with the old South Bay group and didn’t really care about.

I really wanted to build a deck around:

So, I dusted off my cards … yup, went there.

Why?  Stealth isn’t Superleap.

The “big stick problem”.  I find that I can be scary with Lotus decks.  I gots power.  I gots Fighting.  I gots character kill.  I gots lots of losses.

Because people are scared.  So, they get in the way of beef.  So, they attack you and you either lose stuff or spend your characterkill and your charactersteal on defending.  Well, maybe you don’t.  I do.

Because I’m not that good at Shadowfist.  Merlin, who ran the tournament, has a unique Lotus deck that has strong late game because it can just keep recursing while having power generation outside of sites.  Now, I often have power outside of sites … as catch up events.  What I almost never do is some sort of power engine that isn’t site structure dependent.  I’m very much oriented to limited resources.

That may sound familiar, but there’s a difference to VTES.  In Shadowfist, not having certain cards matters a lot as cards, decks, games are much swingier.  When I get serious about tournament decks, I do things like 40 card, tempo decks.

This was a 40 card, trying to be tempo deck.  It wasn’t that good.  But, then, small sample size.

Anyway, didn’t ever explain why this demon gets around the big stick problem other demons are saddled with.  Evasion enables getting by defenses.

Is Stealth good evasion?  Maybe not that good.  Against a single column, might have a bunch of Fighting to still deprive Huichen Kan of glory.

Now, what happened when I played this deck is that I attacked like once with my first Huichen Kan, then it got Shadowy Mentored.

The other deck I build for Kubla was a Noriko Watson deck.

This is my kind of card.  Not because I’m into razor girls, though if I knew more …  I like cards that are weird but in a less overt way.  This is a promo card.  Yes, a unique promo card – the bane of CCGs.  I have a collector mentality even if I don’t try to complete my Shadowfist collection.  I do like chasing cards even if unique promos are dumb and unfair and completely unnecessary for having cool chase cards.

Trying to process what this card is intended to do requires far more analysis than so many other cards.  Then, I love the cost.  In faction games, I like out of facton stuff.

So, I didn’t really try to leverage the damage bonus against Sites, and I didn’t work that hard to increase Fighting/damage for Ambush/Amnotbush.  I mostly focused on something I like to do a lot – do lots of High Tech stuff.

I went with Dragon to have Techie Apprentices and to have “Is That All You Got?” to bring her and Marauder Lord back.

We started a game where I played this deck and called it when people showed up for the tournament.  It was functioning.  I played this in a game the day after the tournament, so I’ve clearly proved that Noriko Watson is the best character ever as I remain undefeated when putting her into play in my increasingly failing memory.  I’m pretty sure she was in another deck I had built at some point, but I don’t remember putting her into play, probably because that deck had only one copy, while this deck had three copies since I relatively recently picked up two more copies.

The game I won, and I only won like two games all weekend and the other game was a disaster where the other players never were able to do anything, had me not drawing any sort of meaningful character, just a bunch of foundation characters, for the longest time, but my site structure was robust as I was using all of the tech cheese.

First turn, FSS, foundation, Manufactured Island.  Play another FSS.  Play On the Wire to gain 5 power around turn three.  Keep playing 1-Fighting dudes because … my deck construction peccadillos.

So, Saturday morning I get my pastrami sandwich from Lucky’s – an actual habit when in my old hood.  And, near SFO is certainly my old hood.  I went to Burlingame Intermediate School and lived in Millbrae close to Millbrae Avenue long before I worked in South San Francisco.  Used to ride the bike to go to Burlingame Bowl before they tore it down when living just off Broadway (in Burlingame).  Lucky’s can do good sandwiches, though everything is location dependent.  This one’s main problem is that there bread can be too dry.

My bread was too dry.  They didn’t have sourdough rolls, so I got Dutch Crunch.  Good Dutch Crunch is, um, good.  A lot of Dutch Crunch is not good, being too dry and get flaky rather than having that good crunch.  If not for that, would have been pretty desirable.  Had a bit too much pastrami as sandwiches are all about getting the balance right.

Also got some pears and some peaches and a nectarine.  I had the peaches and nectarine at the con.  The nectarine was decently hard, so I …

Right, the tournament.  I sucked.  I find three-player Shadowfist hard to get comfortable with, as my play style in multiplayer games is all about table regulation to create the perfect harmonic balance of wasting time.

Oh, wait, the reason for mentioning getting my sandwich is that I got to the CCG room 1.5 hours before anyone else.  We could have easily have played if people would start gaming at 9AM.

After the tournament, played two pick up games, including first four-player.  That dragged.

Had to get set up for my Traveller demo at 6PM.

I had four people for my event.  Got some help from others, mostly Andy as I tend to be very helicopter demoer with games.  It was okay.  I had more people for this event than we had for any of the other three events we had on the schedule.

After done, sped home to feed the cat – primary reason I can’t stay overnight places.

Sunday morning, plan on getting a sandwich.  Just not from Lucky’s.  And, yet, I went to Lucky’s and got nectarines.  Three pounds of nectarines as they had a display further towards the front that had superhard nectarines.  The only quality that truly matters with fruit.  Turned out the larger, harder nectarines were also sweet.  Fruit victory!

Waited for Little Lucca’s to open.  LL is a well known chain in the area.  Giant sandwiches with quality bread.  While it’s possible that their pastrami is different, I have gotten it before, and it was fatty pastrami.  No.  Lean pastrami is the proper pastrami.  Well, if you fry it, can have it be baconfat, but I wasn’t going to go there.

I got Genoa Salami with sourdough, skipped the garlic sauce for obvious reason, did go with pepper sauce.  The pepper sauce was too sour.  Ate half the sandwich for breakfast and other half for lunch.  Then, there were the like four nectarines and a chorizo empanada.

Played Shadowfist in the morning after talking to a player for ages as the 10AM demo I wasn’t running didn’t need me.  Around when the tournament was supposed to start that had no one show up, I played Jeff with my Gazelle piracy deck to have a real test rather than show people the stupid starts the deck can get.  I bankrupted him on round three, with 13 AV on round two and 12 AV on round three.  I had some good draws for opening hand.  Never put Tactical Display in play.

Then, we played five-player Traveller.

For the first time.

It went faster than a two-player demo.  Of course, you have five people who run Traveller events playing.

It was a great game.  Three players qualified for victory in the final round.  Jeff was playing a piracy deck and might have gotten to victory threshold in final round if not for funny stuff.  Three times Liach, T’zen, and Giiar got played, and all three times it affected the game significantly by canceling or redirecting events.

Kevin beat his sister on tiebreakers after they tied on margin of victory.  Meanwhile, I was 18 VPs behind her.  In a game that is a race to 20.

Still, Traveller is clearly the best CCG ever as you can play meaningful solo whenever you want, it was intended to be primarily a two-player game, and every single five-player game I’ve ever seen was a great game.  Give Jeff and me a Nobel or something.

We were done around 5:30PM, so home to feed the cat.

Monday morning, I didn’t go to Lucky’s again.  I got Genoa Salami on sweet roll with no pepper sauce from Little Lucca’s because they wouldn’t give me samples of their Toscono [sic] Salami or soppressata.  Now, not only do I not eat a whole lot of alt-salamis, but I didn’t want some strong herb flavor or wine flavor or want a too chewy or not chewy enough meat.  Also, food I don’t make myself is expensive and it would have annoyed me to pull the meat off and eat it separately because it didn’t go well on bread.

I ran my demo.  I was the only thing going on in CCG room Monday morning.

It was great.  Only one person showed, we played constructed decks, I got to overexplain strategy, tactics, factoids about the game.  I screwed up (unintentionally) in hilarious ways that led to her winning.  If you don’t know the game, the story won’t mean anything, but let’s say I needed to play Bwap Advisors on final round, had two Bwap Advisors in my hand, and I couldn’t afford the cost (obviously of either).  She won 22 to 19.

Traveller – “I had no cards left and won!”  Yup, best game in the history of games.  Best game that will ever be made by mammals.

Then, Jeff and I “playtested” a “game” we are working on that is in “alpha”.

The distant spaceship (the playmat is just to define the play space, not a space game), the lock, the buddha, and the object in the lower left all represent play pieces, with the die in the middle as a victory point related goal.  What do you think the dice case is for?  What do you think the object in the lower left is?

Look at our awesome Traveller playmats.  The lower left object, buddha, spaceship, and lock all died at one point or another.  When this game gets published, this will be one of those images that shows the geniusnesses of game designers.

Two more photos that I posted to the Shadowfist Discord server.  They do speak for themselves.  In gibberish, but unaccented gibberish.

VTD 11

May 24, 2022

Before getting into VTD11 and thoughts on the VTD7-11 arc, here’s a question that is as profound as you want it to be.

Do you prefer difficult or challenging?

The connotations are obvious, but this came to mind when thinking about some play styles of people I play games with.

I’m guilty of converting challenging into difficult at times, even though I see it more clearly with others and wonder why they prefer difficult to challenging.

Let me see if I can construct an example.

Difficult – “Well, we don’t have snow gear, so we need to go pick up some in that last village 2 days in the other direction.”

Challenging – “Without best gear for this, take a (minor) penalty to the roll for Survival?”

Even though it’s “obvious”, the distinction I make in play is:  difficult is about making it harder to progress, which disrupts the narrative; challenging is about progress being harder, which creates variance in narrative.  Let’s say you fail the survival roll above, then you gain some condition or lose some hit points or whatever, but you still track your way through the snow to your destination.  I get really frustrated when groups don’t move forward, even if forward is falling off a cliff.

Anyway, does this have much relevance to VTD11?  Not terribly.  Sure, there was the discussion about whether a fish would be immune to acid or not that kind of got into difficult versus challenging, but it was such a trivial difference.

I did four runs of VTD11; I was only planning on three with seeing how they went before making any decision on a possible fourth.  One of the benefits of fewer Friday slots and more weekend slots is that there were a lot of completely open runs on Sunday in case I was interested in doing a solo run.  Or, maybe it was time of year and had nothing to do with that.  Regardless, there were a lot of empty runs on Sunday.

I did not have a Friday run, so the group started with …


Our theme for this run was 15 token max.  Given the 4 required treasure enhancers, I started calling this 11Free.  Now, even going from 12Free back before Platinum Nugget existed to 11Free is meaningful.  Nightmare, of course.  *Six* players.

Half the party had “Normal level” saves, so we were going to get wrecked if we had to make important saves …

We were reasonably chewed up but healed up for rm7.  First puzzle we failed.  Second puzzle we failed.  Third puzzle was easy.

Rm7 did not go well.  We started getting curses and were never close.  The barbarian not being able to crit was a problem.  Taking lots of damage due to failed saves was a problem.  I was running paladin with goal of protecting monk for as long as possible as monk is murder machine.  I had superhigh AC, but AC wasn’t hugely important.

But, it was interesting.


So, we had our Epic run immediately after.  We hadn’t had time to think about puzzles or strategy.  We brute forced puzzle 1.  With fully powered builds, where I was playing polydruid, we … got chewed up pretty hard in first combat.  But, we had tons of healing.  Still *six* players.

We intentionally made room 3 more difficult, though it may not have mattered.  We got room 4 puzzle.  We screwed around in room 6.  We … almost didn’t all die in room 7.  We were pretty close, where the fault was ours for not winning the fight.  We wasted time, possibly I was the main offender on wasting time, and time killed us.

But, it was fun.

But but, some players really wanted a survivor pin, so we picked one of the empty Sunday runs to plan a “roll the dungeon” run with Epic builds on Hardcore.

I had my usual Anti-Cabal run Sunday morning.


I debated whether to go with more defensive dwarf or try to max out damage with 2h build using Averon’s Deathcleaver.  I eventually decided on 2h build and tried to metagame much more than Saturday Epic run.  I still didn’t have a terrible AC for Nightmare.  My 2h build only averaged about 2.5 damage/round more than my 1h build, yet -7 AC and -7 Reflex save.  Must.  Worship.  At.  Altar.  Of.  Max.  Damage!

We knew all of the puzzle solutions.  Two of us were running Supreme Ring of Elemental Command.

We only had to deal with two rounds of curses in room 7.  I got my (Nightmare) survivor pin, which was my goal.  Got to see success videos for first time.

Where VTD10 Anti-Cabal run wasn’t that fun to me for reasons I don’t fully recall, this was back to usual where A-C runs tend to be my favorite runs.


Time to cakewalk a dungeon so that the other three could get a survivor pin (while I get my non-NM survivor pin, something I rarely get).

I never took a single point of damage playing murder (metagamed Epic build) monk.  I even used Horn of the Valkyrie in room 7 prep round and my Valkyrie buddy didn’t absorb a single point of damage.

We finished combat before curses randomly murdered players, so everyone got their survivor pins.

I wanted to post to the Discord server about how I felt the differences in challenge levels much more doing Hardcore after Epic and Nightmare, but my point is not superclear.  I can’t take Nightmare seriously … unless you run a run with like six or fewer players *and* you put some restriction on builds.  Hardcore was just embarrasing.  The amount of damage being dealt to us (that just got negated by Damage Reduction) sounded like Normal levels of damage.  My build could only miss on a 1 … on Nightmare.  We killed 75% of the monsters in one fight in the first round.

Neither difficult nor challenging.

I find that when I play outside my group on full Nightmare runs, it’s much this experience where I question why I’m even on the run.  I just don’t get why folks don’t want to at least feel challenged.

Anyway, it was still fun for just hanging out showing how True Dungeon has a massive power gap.

Some quotes of a true genius:

V7-11. Overall, I’d say okay. Obviously, as time goes on, innovating becomes harder and harder. Had Plunder!, endless cargo hold loops, and whatever else wasn’t good. Had Cube, beach that looked like a beach, and whatever else that was good. So much less metagaming when not doing same dungeon two/three months in a row. Story was a story, disjointed and not exactly epic.

2021 wasn’t just better in terms of novelty and polish (which multiple months enabled in certain respects) but it seemed like 2021 had more energy in it. Things felt bolder, more striking in 2021.

Even if compare 4-6 to 7-11, even with 4 being a real weak entry in 2021, Vinnie’s monologuing, fog demon, rezzing Lenora, wraiths at door, Gib Gub’s first appearance, using Hood of Reflection (and Gaze Reflection) against basilisk, drowning Bog Beast in acid. Even stuff I didn’t like stood out more. Compare Gibbering Mouther to Hook Horror, though being memorable likely had a lot to do with three months of same fights over just one month. But, the only underwater fights were the merfolk(?) that didn’t look good and the electric eel … which also didn’t look that good (compared to other animated monsters). Only charm was merfolk. Totem Guardian was decent, but it needed to be mixed into a dungeon where that was a weird fight to go with something like a beatdown fight in rm7. Consider Totem leading straight into Kraken from a mechanical standpoint. Others have complained about internal consistency with 7-11 individual dungeons – the totality really feels like there was an outline with a bunch of filler. 3-6 felt like a travel progression that was telling a larger story even if 5 was way better than either 4 or 6.

I … don’t have the same enthusiasm I usually do for replaying the dungeons. I didn’t like 4 or 6 that much as they compared unfavorably to 2, 3, and 5, especially reduced interest in 6 after 6A where I thought 6A had the most interesting dichotomy between different paths, but I was interested in doing them more to try different things. I think part of the lack of enthusiasm is that there’s too big a break where not thinking in terms of specific things want to do, part of the lack of enthusiasm is that there were zero choices in 7-11 to begin with and less feel for variance in future runs, and part is that the dungeons lacked combats that felt all that challenging/novel. V7 final combat was novel. Obviously, if you know the puzzle solutions, it’s hard to get enthused about hardly any of them. We had VTD dungeons where you could do six combats if you wanted – guess play 7B and see if they create more variance.

I have clearer memories of various 2021 combats, though, that’s not really fair, as I did multiple months of the same dungeons, mostly three months of the same dungeons while also doing more runs per weekend. Could already see some loss of novelty, though, even last year. Final room combats in 2021 did a good job of feeling distinct. Having 6A have different wraiths swarming on one path from the door wraiths in 5ABC felt repetitive even if the mechanics were somewhat different.

2022 comes across as really wanting to tell a story. The irony is that I felt more like I was progressing through an epic story in V1-6 with “go to this location, deal with this problem, move to next location, deal with its problem” than the more tightly connected 7-11. Billy really doesn’t interest me at all; he might have actually interested me more if you could interact all friendlylike with him. Trying to avoid getting into too much detail as this isn’t a spoiler channel, but 7 felt rushed in what happens, 8 was tedious and claustrophobic, 9 was fun for the change from 7 and 8, 10 felt pretty pointless, and, as others have mentioned, 11 didn’t feel important enough.

Mapping It Out

May 17, 2022

While not actively playing as much as I was, there’s a gaming swirl.

Finally booked return flight from Skull Con.  That was so annoying, I decided to go to Gamehole Con this year since flights were cheap.

KublaCon is in a couple of weeks, which may have contributed to a dream of playing Shadowfist not real long ago.

VTD11 is this weekend.

And, then, there was Gen Con events.

A late mistake was made that would have vastly increased the success factor.  Event mapping was all about True Dungeon, of course, that is trying to fit TD around a schedule replete with HoR4.  With Saturday blocked off until at least 9PM and an interest in doing all five new mods, well, things could have gone worse.

One thing GC events brings up is that other people have very different interests from mine in all sorts of aspects of gaming.  I know, it’s hard to comprehend how people don’t think like me or, at least, want to be just like me.  For instance, there are people in the TD group that want to go inside the exhibit hall!!

Right this evening a discussion about which is the best rare treasure enhancer for people to pick up when I don’t think there’s any advice someone could give to an inexperienced player about what tokens to acquire.  To make good decisions, you actually need to know a lot about how TD works and what you want out of it.  Then, can easily still make bad decisions.

Eventually going to move off of TD, but I got to thinking about how often I want to play VTD7B-11B.  I’m not actually enthusiastic at all about redoing these dungeons even though I constantly mention preferring having two months of each VTD dungeon.  The gap makes metagaming harder to plan, which might be part of it.

So, mapping software.  In one of my games, coming up with a player’s map came up.  Since RPGs can only be played online these days, that means finding the best mapping tool.  Now, I’m all about quick and easy with click and select from dropdown or whatever functionality …

Because I’m not remotely artistic (in a visual sense).  I know – weird that I’m not great at everything.  I’m sure given a few dozen nanoseconds I could come up with something else I’m not great at.  I visualize well – I have a much easier time doing theater of the mind than pretty much anyone I know.  That also extends to audio as well, by the way.  But, I cannot turn what happens in my increasingly smoothing brain into a product for others to consume.  Actually, you all don’t even get quite a bit of what I think of for blog posts, whether never putting an idea in writing or doing things like telling injokes that only I get.

So, another player put together our map.  I can complain, of course, about things, but that’s unfair unless I’m actually going to do some work.  (Watching 20 minutes of a three hour video on how to do one’s first map is not doing any actual work.)

It’s interesting to me the subtle differences in my games.  In this game, GM thinks players should come up with a map, and I think comparing locations helps as I had a very different idea of where a few places were located.  Another difference with this game is a L5R specific one.

So, normally in my L5R play, authority is omnipresent.  The setting is all about being told what to do and what you can’t do.  So, when things like marriage come up in this game, I’m all like, “I thought my family would tell me who I’m marrying.”  Where we live – daimyo tells you.  Marriage negotiations – family/clan will tell us what happens.  This setting is far more frontier colonization, where we seem to largely be in charge of what we do.  And, that requires a lot of fighting against usual setting expectations.

Speaking of fighting, I’m tired of making decisions in RPG play.  That is, I’m tired of making strategic decisions.  Have something happen to my character, then I’ll tell you how I respond to that.  I don’t want to decide what to do today.  Tell me what happens to me today.

I’m a planner.  I work in a business planning department.  I recorded a screencast of how to fill out Gen Con wish list, which was promptly ignored.  I don’t buy generic tickets because I’ve already worked out my entire con schedules.  I often know what flights to book for a year at a time.  I’m tired of planning.  I want to just do stuff without thinking about what stuff to do and have things happen and react.

I certainly don’t want to discuss plans.  You want to assassinate the Emperor?  Sure, whatevers – should I make a Stealth roll now?

I realize this lack of wanting to think too much is along the lines of similar behavior that has driven me nuts in other players in the past.  Why aren’t they trying to do something?  Don’t they have any goals, interests, analysis on how to accomplish party goals?

Of course, it’s not like I won’t give people my analysis.  It’s just that I’m tired of analyzing – I just want stuff to happen, well, I want cool stuff to happen.  Random event tables may be okay but random decisions aren’t and neither are “You are now all duck clowns.”.

So, uh, maps.  I don’t use GPS.  Someone may claim it’s because I’m old.  Besides that, I look at maps (yes, mostly Google Maps, but not always e-maps) and figure out where places are and drive/walk directionally.  Sure, it’s been forever and I may have used this example, but I corrected people who lived in Shanghai on which direction places in Shanghai were in because they only thought in terms of subway stops while I looked at city maps and could visualize what cardinal directions things lay in.  I’ll get lost, more so close to where I’m trying to go, by not just using some directions device, but I’ll often discover I’m right near where I’m supposed to get.  Why should anyone care about this?  Because I care where things are located.  It matters to me whether something is West or East of something else.  Much like I care how words are spelled, including names of people/places.  Data accuracy.

But, then, I also function as a data analyst.  *sigh*

Mission Accomplishing

May 8, 2022

I played a HoR4 mod recently.  First time this year for this character.

It was rather hollow.

Most of the rolls involved Athletics to travel from one place to another.

Which got me back to the subject I can’t escape of feeling of accomplishment.

Do dice rolls give a sense of accomplishment?  After all, isn’t the point of dice that they provide random success/failure?

Think one answer is pretty clear, though it’s to a slightly different question.  In and of itself, dice rolling is meaningless.  It’s just a random number generator.  Don’t need a hu-man involved to generate random numbers.

So, why do we tolerate dice so highly?  Well, why do I tolerate dice so highly – some people are perfectly happy to play roulette or slots or whatever that takes zero skill?

Dice serve two purposes.  The results inform what decision to make next, and they are the culmination of decisions made previously.

It’s not just RPG play – games are about decisions.  I play games with large luck factors, but there’s still a decision making process … or it’s not actually a game in any sense that matters, it’s just a random number generator.

But, anyway, RPG play.  I’m rather guilty as a GM of wanting players to roll dice to make them feel like they are doing something, even though as a player I don’t see the purpose of rolling dice to roll dice.

Plenty of people for decades have pointed out that dice rolling is only for when there’s some consequence to the results.  And, yet.  And, yet, maybe the GM does have some consequence in mind when calling for a dice roll, but, if the player doesn’t perceive the consequence, it just doesn’t matter.

There needs to be a closer link to choice -> roll -> result than I perceive.

Ultimately, dice are just a tool and one that doesn’t need to exist.  Yet a ubiquitous tool.  So, how does this tool get used more productively?

I’m constantly thinking about how GMs, myself included, need to present to the players a situation where decisions appear to matter.  Oh, they don’t have to actually matter – if you can trick the players into thinking they have choices when they don’t matter, still winning (for everybody).

Let’s say I present to the party three candidates for Godking of Everything.  This could be good – get to know them, figure out strengths and weaknesses, tie interests to who gets the position, fight off others’ attempts to do things.  This could be awful – why do I care who wins, do I just roll something to win, what’s the point?

But, somewhere between the extremes, there are still so many pitfalls.  Is someone making compelling decisions as to how to proceed?  Do those decisions turn into meaningful results?

I keep thinking about how much more immediate Conan play was than so much of my more recent home play.  There was something obvious to do much of the time.  Because there was some short term goal, make a decision then stuff happens.  Dice didn’t decide what to do, but they affected how things went to some degree.

Though, it feels now if maybe not then that what happened was largely due to decisions.  It’s not like current play lacks decisions, it’s that the decisions seem meaningless due to lack of context or lack of seeing how the decision changes anything or lack of seeing why you would ever choose options available, so what creeps in is having random number generation decide what happens.  Which, coming back to somewhere above, when perceived, comes back to play feeling hollow.

Because one of my posts about accomplishments left off with players’ goals, I keep thinking of trying to focus on that as that’s related to this problem.  But, that seems a slightly different rant about how GMs think far too often that players want to decide what the game is about.  Here, it’s not the metadecisions but having the tactical decisions in play feel like they matter to achieving some sort of accomplishment.

Yup, just another side of the same coin of trying to have RPG play be more fun as feeling like accomplishing things is fun.

Growing Dragon

May 1, 2022

As someone who games a lot but doesn’t really have interactions with D&D, obviously not talking about some dragon.

So, I use the personal name Taiyosei repeatedly.  It’s getting lazy, but it be what it be.

Mirumoto Taiyosei is a Shiba Bushi in a game where I never was concerned with advancement.

Now, I’m concerned with advancement as I’m sitting at 148 Insight.

But, this isn’t about where to go to with one of my characters, as I’ve done that before, and it seems redundantly redundant.

Let’s chart a course of how got here, though, as maybe it will have some meager value.

Started with 40 points.  Because I’m over loading up on disads for points in anything besides living campaigns, one point of disads.

Different School, L: Ivindi, Sage eats up 10/41 points.  (Not actually a Phoenix, not a Courtier, so no reduction.)

Started with Void 3, so Earth 2, Water 2, Fire 2 (A4), Air 2, Void 3.  A “Fire/Void” build.  As the other PC at the start was a Kitsuki Investigator, let him cover Water and Air.  Then, he pretty much stopped playing.

So, Agility 4 is distinctive.  Or, it would be if the next player to join and only other active PC didn’t also start with Agility 4.  In this game, where we haven’t really been trying for some threshold of competence, that’s … funny.  With my concern more on just doing interesting stuff than in some sort of mechanical coherency, doesn’t bother me in the same way that having poorly constructed parties in home play often does.

It’s even more amusing that we hardly ever use Agility.  Most of our rolls are for investigating, with our Perception 2’s.  Combat is rare and involves things like getting beaten up by a tiger, then not doing anything to the tiger as it runs away.

Started with 18 skills.  Since it was unknown how we got XP or when, just wanted to be able to pump Void Points into rolls.

Speaking of which, the cadence of rolls is such that Shiba Bushi 1 comes up all of the time.  Without Luck or Honor Rolls, though, and failure is still frequent and, sometimes, funny.  I normally see L5R as a system of success where failed rolls on important things are like fumbles.  This is different where failure is always possible.  I rolled 6k5-10 against 2k2 and failed a contested roll.

Not that 18 starting skills is the worst thing in the world, in general.  A bit much, perhaps, where can fill in after some XP gains.

Only skill above 1 was Kenjutsu.  That turned out to be poor metagaming.  Investigation 2 would have been vastly more relevant.  Took some “Agility skills” with Games: Kemari, Horsemanship (more relevant when third PC a Unicorn), Stealth, Sailing, Jiujutsu (so far been useless).

Courtier, Etiquette, Sincerity of course.  Athletics, Investigation of course.  Tea Ceremony due to Void 3.

So, first buy was longest in making – Intelligence 3.  This “ensured” the Fire/Void build, let’s call it a Sun Build as that’s quite appropriate …

With that finally accomplished, it’s Commerce time!  And, Medicine.  And, Hunting because we trek through the jungle routinely even though third PC was more thematically Hunty.

Then, asked the GM whether the idea was that we would be Trait 2 losers who failed routinely or whether we should actually be like competent L5R PCs.

Raised Investigation to 2 as that seemed most thematically appropriate and was getting rolled most often, not something surprising to me at all.

Got a huge burst of XP.  So, asked other PC whether we wanted to be redundant or split up Water and Air.  Vaguely split up.  So, I bought Awareness to 3 under belief she would buy Perception to 3.  If original PC was around, wouldn’t have bothered with Awareness 3 unless play shifted to more social.

So, then, Mirumoto Taiyosei became Earth 2, Water 2, Fire 3 (A4), Air 2 (A3), Void 3.  Vastly less incompetent than at start.  Lot of 4k3 dice pools that can turn into 6k5 occasionally.  Still 6k4 attack roll with sword, though that hasn’t paid off.  Still have to take simple action to draw sword.

Finally, latest buys are:  Games: Go 1 as learning from boss; Games: Shogi 1 as learning from partner; Lore: Cartography 1 for see below; Commerce 2 because all L5R play eventually ends up about checking people’s books (at one point, felt just like being an auditor); Lore: Theology 2 because it’s only natural that Commerce and Theology rise together.

So, why Lore: Cartography when have Sage?

We don’t have any shugenja.  At no point in play has a shugenja done anything.  So, what am I getting out of Shiba Bushi 2?

On the one hand, Shiba Bushi 1 has been insanely useful as 3k2 base roll is trash.  On other hand, have zero incentive to go to SR-2.

However, this is a Second City game.  So, Imperial Explorer Path exists.  Next two buys are obviously Cartography 2, 3 to go up to 150 Insight and gain the vast awesome of … thematically being just like my partner.

Such awesome metagaming on our part.

So, Earth 2 is painful.  In one encounter, got knifed twice and staved to get into Hurt.  Surrounded by a mob with a +10 penalty to social rolls is … interesting.

I’m used to oblivious PCs, so PER 2 hasn’t bothered me a whole lot.  It’s never clear what success means, anyway, as play is very in the moment.

Awareness 2 was kind of annoying.  I was doing a lot of Meditation early on but not as much recently.

We are terrible at combat, though we can theoretically hit tigers, if they would stop running away after they win Initiative and ambush us.  We’ve rolled lower Initiatives than heimin in combat.  Good thing we rarely fight.

So, was there anything important in this advancement path?  Could have just as easily gone with Perception 3 or Awareness 3 instead of Intelligence 3.  Could have bought Investigation 3 like partner did.  It’s not going to be a similar path to anyone in a more fighty game, as Earth 2/Reflexes 2 is a great way to just keep dying.

Do I have any regrets?  No.  It’s easier, of course, to not have any regrets when never was concerned with mechanical competence.

So, besides going to IR-2 as an Explorer, any plans?  Not really.  Considered Courtier 2 before settling on latest buys.  Yes, play 300+ point character in one game and debate whether to go to Courtier 2 in another game.

So, glorious … I mean, Glory-ous.  Might be Glory 6 pretty soon.  Status 3 at moment as a junior Emerald Magistrate.  Honor has held around starting.  Infamy is 1.7.

Would like Earth 3 so not just going to die from any random tiger, but that’s s-o-o-o-o expensive …

VTD 10

April 26, 2022

Finally got a monster charm effect.  Finally had something that was kind of underwater hindrance related, I guess.

I did four runs.  Weirdly, two of those runs were Bloody(ish) Nightmare.

Friday night was our group’s take on it.  With no dungeon familiarity, I ran monk for beats and had Dave run ranged ranger for general functionality.  We actually won the earlier fights and got destroyed in the final room without coming close.  Puzzle one was okay.  Puzzle two was okay.  Puzzle three was shrugworthy as got distracted by props that weren’t relevant.

Saturday midday was Epic run where we did reasonably well.  I played wizard.  I hate the dice roller.  While building skill checks into the software makes me actually do them, I hate spellcasting even more with dice roller as can’t just precast all of your spells to know amounts and state your total when it’s your turn.  Instead, let’s open a second attack phase for one player.

Saturday night was next Bloodyish, where I ran druid with Drue’s, and we failed room 4 by a lot … but won room 7!  I Spell Surged two Call Lightnings and cast three Freezing Orbs.  Think combat was six rounds, possibly seven.  This had nine players as Dave and I jumped on a forum run (I had some interest, but it needing players made me pull the trigger because I’m the nicest of them all).  Dave’s build had Hat of Muffling(!!) and Cloak of the Frog(!!).

Sunday morning was Anti-Cabal and we cakewalked Nightmare.  Two of us didn’t take any damage until room 7.  One went from 97 to 95 hit points after finally getting hit.  I had to decide whether to take my first hit of the game or not, decided to take it to deal 18 Retribution damage to Billy.  I Shadowskinned the only other successful attack on me during the run.  I ran Cloak of the Wind for shock DR, and it meant nothing as we were only on Nightmare, and I had lots of DR.

Would we have beaten Epic?  Probably.  More importantly, there would have been some actual challenge.  Metaing with DR was different.  I actually put Shaed into a build … I played!  Earcuff of Retort was ubiquitous.  I almost ran Belt of the Fey but am not using Hitchhiking Ghosts just to do that.

Getting back to the third puzzle – it was a waste.  I realize True Dungeon has puzzles that are lots of red herring and not lots of actual puzzle, but I’m only interested in elegant puzzles to begin with.  Having a cool map with all sorts of interesting features and having that be a distraction from the solution makes me feel worse than it just being an uninteresting solution.  Didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment when the group figured it out (not that I did anything).  I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment with any of the puzzles, though, since I didn’t do anything to solve any of them, anything that mattered anyway.

This is why I like doing a solo run before playing with others.  I want a shot at actually figuring stuff out on the off chance I’ll feel like I accomplished something.  Though, I mostly want to do solo runs after all of my other runs to try to solo Nightmare with maximum meta action.

Speaking of cool looking stuff just being a distraction from what matters … oh, let’s not go there.

In like 13 attacks as dwarf, I didn’t crit once.  A 10% chance of something means seven times doing it is roughly a coin flip.  So, without doing actual math, I had something like a 70% chance of 1+ crits.

Normally, Easter Egg stuff has some appeal, things like side rooms, etc.  But, in this last run, I was tipped off to some alt possibility, and all it did was annoy me.  It was the sort of thing along the lines of punch a wall 99 times to have something interesting happen.

The dungeon was fine.  Like VTD 9, it had a decent aesthetic.  I didn’t hate the first two puzzles, just thought they were banal.  Wasn’t that into the combats even though the final one actually had a lot of things going on mechanically.

Then, played Aberrant.  It was okay.  It just seemed pointless even though I got to murder some demon bats through the power of Armor Piercing.  My new lightning bolt is just about the right level of effectiveness in the play where it has come up, which is two sessions.  No plot advancement happened at all.

I just came away from doing game things on the weekend feeling like I didn’t really get what I should have out of doing them.  Gaming is supposed to be fun.  Not just in the moment, where I had moments of fun on my four runs, but before and after.  I should be excited by doing more.

There’s just something about TD that is irritating me.  Token dev was typically annoying.  Being forced to endure the dice roller just decreases my enjoyment of VTD so much from the high of last year.

Then, getting XP for my super and not having anything I want to spend it on because we never lose (so I don’t need to be more powerful) and group play doesn’t trigger any urgency on thematic advancement is not a positive thing.  My character does what I want him to do … mechanically.  Thematically, he barely does things.

There’s far more character development in my PBP game than anything else, where, until recently, XP were scarce.  We just got about a third of the total XP we’ve gotten from play in the last day, after having played for months.  Now bought up two traits to 3.

I just want to talk about gaming stuff.  No, that’s not true.  I just want to have intelligent conversation about gaming stuff.  While not having to be the person who initiates or decides or who does work.  I want to spew geniusness or be entertained.

Now, am I entertaining?


April 19, 2022

At times, I’ll think ‘I should use this current thought/conversation for a blog post.’  I just haven’t felt it strongly enough to execute.  Every day has distractions.

I didn’t play any VTES on Easter.  I haven’t played any VTES since Origins last year.

What I did do Easter is try to recover.  Get some sleep.  I didn’t have a lot of responsibility Friday and Saturday, yet maybe due to adrenaline or whatever, I felt a need to try to recuperate after Saturday’s wedding.

There were a bunch of games brought for the groom, best man, and groomsmen to play, but we didn’t play anything.  It would have been funny to do a VTES cube draft on the day before Easter – Brandon brought a cube.

Because of Easter, didn’t have Sunday Aberrant game.  Because of wedding, Iron Empire campaign has been on hold.

Did talk a bit about AdeptiCon, that the groom and best man had gone to and that I had not.

Didn’t play any pool while at the wedding site, even though the pool table was prominent inside the golf course’s clubhouse.  Whether pool would fall under gaming is also moot.

Have had my PBP game going on.  There’s some question as to how to spend XP as I find it hard to plan when don’t know when will get it or how much.  I’m fine with a game that isn’t about advancement.  Keeping two dice is amusing, in part because failure is far more likely than usual, which perhaps not so oddly makes success feel more important.

HoR4 is in catch up mode.  My catching up is queued behind earlier mods being run, so I haven’t been doing much.  The nature of creating characters with 300xp rather than evolving characters to 300xp is more noticeable when, um, it may happen.

Speaking of which, one thing I thought of blogging about was more campaign ideas for L5R play.  One idea I had was start everyone with 300 points.  Another idea was to have people build the character they have in mind without consideration for how much it would cost – this is something I read about with superhero play due to how systems don’t necessarily handle well enabling the vast differences between characters.  The ideas that people come up with for HoR4 concern me, though.  Of course, there’s an element of making fun of the setting that arises with HoR play anyway, so maybe people would make some effort in a home game to have characters that fit.

I just don’t see the point of zero to hero play with experienced players.  I do see that characters don’t become more than character sheets until played for a while, but I can see that no matter how powerful you start out.  My Kaeru has played around 10 times, and I have little sense of the character with virtually no hooks to lean into.  That is different from other characters who were less mechanically based.  But, with more play, maybe something will click.  I want games to be about what the characters do, where it doesn’t really matter how they advance even if I do enjoy advancement myself and am not enthralled with the idea of RPG campaign play where characters may change but never actually get better at things.

Would I enjoy buying up Games: Chaturanga as much if that’s the only sort of advancement anyone did rather than go from Kenjutsu 7 to 10?  I don’t know if part of the appeal of interesting buys is that other people don’t make them as often.

More recent sessions of Denver CRUSH have worked better.  In particular, the session before last was much more my thing – “I guess I have to shoot the succubus with lightning, now.”  There’s just such a large difference between having my characters do things and not.  Weird, huh?

So, I have nigh infinite amounts of balsamic vinegar.  I mean, you approach infinity after one bottle, and I have far more than two bottles.  I was thinking of trying to produce an analogy of having the wrong amounts of things and how that impacted gaming enjoyment.

But, that seems like too much effort.

True Dungeon token development has been going on since April 1st.  I could have used design/development thoughts brought up during this period as blog fodder, but it all just feels like much the same thing as what I typically spew, even if it isn’t.

Of the 20 ultrarares, I’d like to see 10 of them not make it.  Far too late for that, but it’s interesting how 2022 only saw four and 2021 around three.  While there are multiple reasons I don’t like so many of the URs, in general what bothers me the most about the 2023 set is that it’s not trying to be thematically consistent.  It’s just putting out mechanical constructs to appeal to people purely on mechanical terms.  The dagger that can be used by clerics, the scimitar that can be used by almost every class when every scimitar in history has been far more restricted by class, the latest reveal that acorns are shuriken.  It’s just forced.  I would be fine with the to hit/heal gloves if they were cleric only as can cobble together some thematic reason someone would have crafted such for clerics.  But, usable by all?  That’s just pandering with no internal consistency at all.

I don’t think people take me seriously …

I don’t think people take me seriously when I say I count Coup on how many token titles I create rather than how many changes I cause to be made.  Mechanical changes are just quixotic.  I had some good names for the Arcanum Shirt that is capitalized in this sentence because that’s going to be its terrible name.

This weekend is a TD weekend.  Maybe will be more enthused about the game after the usual bitterness that arises during development where often wonder why care about having all of these tokens.

Well, think I need to stretch a little bit more to hit the 1000 word count.  Victory!