Fight, Right?

June 24, 2020

I asked myself an unusual question recently.

Do I enjoy RPG combat?

I certainly have complained a bunch about combat.  As a player, anyway.  As a GM, I’ve noted that I now have much better understanding as to why there’s so much focus on it – it’s a group activity with variety supported well by systems.

I continue to drone on interminably about how I feel like I’m losing touch with systems besides L5R R&K.  I used to spend a lot of time studying Conan d20.  I built a character with so many options at combat that I didn’t know what to do at any point.

I’ve even played D&D campaigns.  I’m sure respewing, but the ones I recall are AD&D 1e running through G series, 3/3.5 with homebrew to do merged classes where I was a Paladin/Rogue … exactly what I should be, 4e.  None of them lasted particularly long, which is why I hardly feel terribly qualified to speak to D&D mechanics in practice.

What I recall of D&D style systems is way more focus on position.  Speed mattered, but position mattered in hefty ways where position is pritnear meaningless in L5R play.  “Roll Initiative.  How far away are they?  You can melee attack whoever you want.”

Feng Shui 1e was a lot of manipulating shots.  Aim for enough shots to retain an action on shot 1.  Now, I was playing a simple character in the one campaign I played, where those with complicated Fu Schtick action needed to think more about what they were doing.

RuneQuest was either spell or swing.  This gets into something I’ll delay talking about for a bit more.

V:TM/V:TR/other WoD:  usually did straightforward stuff, mostly use disciplines because I like supernatural powers and don’t get terribly excited by shoot somebody with gun or whatever.

Savage Worlds:  tried to think of different things to do, like tricks, but I never played SW in a campaign, so I shouldn’t even be bothering, except I did run a SW campaign.

Shadowrun and whatever:  not enough consistency to make the effort to understand how combat works.

The reality is that a lot of my RPG play isn’t home play.  Home play was dominated by Conan d20 and L5R, could even say L5R 4e.  I’ll learn mechanics of games but only when it feels worthwhile to do so, much like I’ll write RPG fictions when it feels worthwhile to do so.

But, even Conan d20 fades away in my mind where specific combats aren’t remembered in any sort of mechanical detail.

I like combat.

Oh, not a bunch of the time.  A bunch of the time, it’s tedious or pointless or arbitrary.

L5R Party Combat Guide is an actual useful post, where the more I try to explain combat to people unfamiliar with L5R 4e combat, the more I want to just point them to that post.  The key to that post is providing examples.  It’s the “what now, mechwarrior?” approach to making decisions.

So, there are different reasons I got to thinking about combat and whether I liked it and what I liked about it.

Let’s talk about World of Dance.

Due to the lack of sports (mostly), I’ve been watching stuff I wouldn’t think to have watched.  Now, like many a human, I am not desirous of partaking myself.  But, I can be impressed by all sorts of human achievements.

With a couple exceptions, I thought it was pretty easy to figure out who the judges were going to like in the current season.  I don’t get why they don’t like CBAction more, but it might be due to technical flubs, like proper spacing, that I might be seeing.  Otherwise, they are way more entertaining than others.

What makes for good combat?

Can read all sorts of blogs for the answer to that, but you don’t even need to do that. You already know what you like in combat and what you don’t, and I’ll now bore you with what I like or don’t.

Repetition is repetitive.  Where I grew to really enjoy L5R 3e/3r was that I might never take an action due to the party nuking the enemy.  What I didn’t have to deal with was the same action round after round, which is why I really disliked 4e changes, as low XP play is far too grindy.  Not so grindy at SR-3 play, but getting off on a tangent.

Actions matter.  RuneQuest failed to interest me combatwise not only because I’d always do the same things but so many rounds were unproductive.  Savage Worlds can easily fall into this IME, as I’ve both been a player and a GM when players just couldn’t take foes out.

Decisions matter.  This ties into repetition and action relevance.  L5R 3e/3r was crazy brutal at times, but I still felt like decisions mattered.  I give 4e a lot of grief, but the nerfbat and additional stances and guard maneuver all make combat much richer.

I may bring it up that I want to see reasons for fighting besides just killing things, but, actually, just killing things works when the combat is intense.  Combats that just consume resources are annoying.  Combats where I don’t want to do anything as opposed to ones where I am amused by not doing anything are annoying – see most True Dungeon combat when the party is fully tokened-out.

www.campaignmastery.com/blog was interesting me on various topics – I got pulled to it by the post about PWYW, aka the current most recent post.  Having an economics background makes me somewhat interested in understanding economics things.  While not the site I most recently looked at, I was reading the post about GM fudging.

Single choice builds.  I saw this with Conan d20.  One strategy is so dominant that the tactics don’t matter anymore – just keep using Kamehameha with 20x Kaio-ken.  Blah.  Why Yusuke Urameshi is less interesting to me as a fighter than Kurama.

Loser builds.  I saw this with RuneQuest and, to some extent, with other systems in much more limited play where the party is just better off without your PC as the encounter would have fewer enemies and be more in the favor of the party.

But, anyway, GM fudging.

How videogames fudge results is compelling.  Why GMs fudge may be less so.

www.robhobart.com is another site I was checking out recently.  Sure, finding the HoR1 mods is exciting for many.  But, I was interested in reading the commentary on the early mods, not really thinking about previously how HoR1 was a RPGA product in terms of how someone would structure play.  I also read most of his articles on how he would change L5R mechanics.

We agree on some things but not others.  One thing we agree on is death blows, um, that death blows, PC death.  I can use a mook rule that nameless dudes don’t explode on damage.  But, any system with hit points, has a death threshold.  Some just hide it better than others.  Feng Shui makes it pretty hard to die, though my campaign PC should have.  Conan d20 is actually pretty antideath with Fate Points.  FPs are far more defensive in nature than VPs.

So, yes, GMs fudge in a variety of ways, like making bad decisions in combat.  And, GMs should hide that from players so that players feel a real sense of accomplishment.

All of that was basically to get to:  I like feeling a sense of accomplishment in combat.  I hate the “Suddenly, something stops the fighting.” mechanics built into a few HoR mods, seems more common than it used to be, far more common.  Now, will I, as a GM, do the same thing?  Yeah, but I try to not make it obvious that the combat never mattered in the first place, like so many HoR combats.

World of Dance didn’t get much play above, so here we go again on our own going down the only road we’ve ever known.

You know better when you see it.  You also crave variety, where moves you see with one group not done by another carry far more weight.  Bunch of hot honeys in high heels is entertaining, but you know it’s not going to win over better dancers.  You also compare one group against another.

A boss fight isn’t the same as a horde fight.  A survival fight isn’t the same as a ticking timebomb fight.

So, I really should play some other RPGs to recall what it’s like to not just be “Full Attack, free action draw wak, five raises for extra attack.  You may want to cast Force of Will on me.”  I have this sense that combat in other systems tends to be far inferior to 4e combat, but, at the same time, I’ve enjoyed one-shot combat and I’ve enjoyed campaign combats (sometimes).  My practical knowledge of Hero System is not even on a 8-, but it would be really interesting to understand how Recovery and END control play out.

More fighting!  Well, if it’s good fight, not bad fight.


Spirited Nigh

June 20, 2020

All I have these days is HoR and Traveller.  You would think I’d spend more time on the latter, but I’m inclined to want to spend time on things that aren’t work.

I tried looking around at things like AD&D modules or whatever to get inspired about something gaming related, as I not only feel like I focus overly much on L5R 4e but my going back to reading rpg.net and whatever heavily suggests I’m very detached from any RPG play besides L5R 4e.

I ended up glancing at G1-3.  That was not inspiring.  But, then, given that I’ve complained in the past about how terrible D&D style modules are for presenting to me *adventure* rather than room descriptions, treasure descriptions, new monster stats, and new magic item stats, that’s not exactly surprising.

So, I got to thinking about Rokugan 1600 a bit as there is a group running a sequel to HoR2 and for other reasons.  I keep thinking about what it would be like to run a Southern Front campaign where the war against the Shadowlands is forefront.  Not because a war against the Shadowlands is the most interesting thing ever but because my severe changes to the clan dynamics in R1600 are not prominent on the Northern Front, where they should be front and center on the Southern Front.

Which led me to pick up Enemies of the Empire.

Which led me to remembering how interesting I find the Spirits chapter.

Oh, I would really like to know more about the Five Ancient Races, as I’d like to have pre-Taint trolls be used somehow, and that’s a struggle with what material I have seen.

But, not only do spirits ooze supernatural without getting bogged down in how a Shadowlands monster is in your local totally not near the Wall town, there are really interesting ideas and writeups.  Ideas would be hengeyokai, as the shapeshifter mechanics in EotE leave a lot to be desired.  Writeups are things like Hannya.

I love me the humor value of Hannya.  I wrote a mod(!) that I playtested(!!) and abandoned, as it was for HoR3 and HoR3 ended, that included Hannya because they, like a bunch of other stuff, are ridiculous compared to the normal L5R experience.

L5R could really use more development of the supernatural that isn’t some hot young woman or some decrepit old woman being a monster.  Though, Hannya are, admittedly, hot young women who are monsters.  Hilarious monsters.

For those that don’t know, rather than waiting to eat you while you are distracted, Hannya want to pretend to be humans.  They strive to be good at human things.  They just go berserk when humans beat them at stuff because they never get that good at human things.  Well, maybe.  I find them even funnier because they have things like Agility 6.  Mechanics are defeating thematics, here.  Any sort of normal nameless Rokugani is going to get totally owned by someone with a Trait of only 5 (well, and R-1 in the relevant skill).

There’s nothing foxier than Kitsune.  Arguably my favorite family, though their origin is not nearly as cool as what they are all about.  But, there are nigh infinite possibilities for animal spirits.  Gaki Mura had animal spirits confusing the gaki situation, which the PCs took forever finding out about.

Terrible for a R1600 game but so much material for something else.  I’ve mentioned in the past the idea of all of the PCs being hengeyokai pretending to be samurai.  That still seems a solid premise with some expansion on the shapeshifter mechanics so not everyone ends up with Painful Change and Can’t Drink Alcohol or whatever.

That’s a far more coherent campaign hook than something where there’s only one named hengeyokai running around.  Of course, could just change the hook to be that everyone is descended from animal spirits and not actually be animal spirits.

Werewolf meets L5R.  More appealing to me than playing Werewolf.

So, on a related-only-because-I’m-struggling-with-any-sort-of-gaming note, I am struggling mightily with nailing down what second HoR4 character to play in mods I can’t play my main.  I thought it was going to be a Fuzake Shugenja.  I keep reminding myself Shiba Bushi has an interesting SR-1 technique.  Minor clan this, Yasuki Courtier that.  I was thinking hard about how to be a relevant IR-1 character because this is an alt that’s not going to get much XP to advance.

But, I had another thought.  I have been calling people out for being way too mechanics focused.  Mostly, by people, I mean me, and, then, telling everyone else how I’ve been too mechanics focused.  What I should do with an alt, who isn’t going to have much stage time, is focus hard on trying to have a thematically interesting character.

One idea was even to use mechanics to drive a theme.  Instead of trying to min/max some minor clan concept, I max/min to have a lovable loser.  Sincerely trying to be good at stuff but just being horrible at pritnear everything.  After all, IR-1 tables are not going to have a lot of pressure for mechanical competence, which is the driving factor in what I do with my main.

So, still stuck in a L5R 4e frame of mind, but that’s obviously because I play L5R 4e and I have all of these other RPGs, CCGs, and … Dragon Dice and True Dungeon tokens I haven’t been making any use of.  Plus, I got a bit tired of general RPG theory even though I’m seeing lots of people post about similar topics around GMing, probably because the blognescenti all tend to read the same things in the blogosphere.


Bracketology – RPG Style

June 14, 2020

Got into a recent conversation which brought up the importance of the difference between tournaments and competitions.  I didn’t make the distinction in a recent post, but that’s the advantage of not hitting every note, am I right-eous?

Competitions are reasonably common in L5R play because nobles are bored and don’t always get into killing things or investigating crimes.

A competition would be along the lines of “Roll MNO, high roll wins.”  For L5R, maybe raises matter, maybe they don’t.  Maybe there’s more than one roll.  As mentioned in another post, Kidai came in a tie for 13th in a kyujutsu competition.

Tournament is different.  Tournament has a bracket or pools or whatever where specific matchups occur.

And, this is where you get drama, narrative, dramatic narrative.

Preferably leave time enough between rounds for people to screw (with) the competitors.  On the other hand, you don’t want people Meditationing over and over again as that removes Void Point management as an interesting mechanical feature of tournaments.  Other systems may not have this feature in the first place, of course, but, then, other systems don’t tend to be as good as L5R.

How to determine matchups?  It depends.  If a matchup is interesting no matter how it shakes out, then can randomize.  If some matchups are interesting and others are meaningless, put some thought into the bracket and plan ahead for who would face whom, including if the PCs lose their matchups.

But, keep in mind that a matchup may be better if later in the tournament than earlier, and it’s okay if a matchup doesn’t occur if that also tells a story.

All of this takes time, of course.  So, where competitions can be balanced against other events, tournaments should be the focus of any adventure.

So, what happens when PCs don’t care about participating?  That’s when not participating has to have something to do that relates to the participants.  Tournaments need to be the focus of what is going on.

Why?

Because they inform personal character journeys in ways that competitions and investigations and fights don’t.  Too often, a NPC relationship is either romantic/”romantic” (or not) because the NPC isn’t doing anything else that a PC can insert into.  Rivalries, friendships, obligations/debts can all be formed through one on one matchups.  There’s also ranking one’s achievements.  Combat is typically a party thing.  I may have had a PC who one-shot oni with a war fan, but that was assisted by a spell.  Tournaments focus on individual prowess, but, far more than competitions, enable ranking prowess.

Mechanics

Of course, one on one matchups need involved mechanics.  OTOH, you have limited amount of time and limited interest in watching other people roll dice, so the mechanics need to play quick.  L5R 4e duel mechanics are fine for tournaments.  L5R 3e duel mechanics are brutal for tournaments if you play out every duel, at least in something like a HoR mod played with anybody outside of a tight group.

Let’s say you either hate 4e duel mechanics or you are doing something weird like not playing L5R 4e.  Abilities should matter when the abilities are relevant.  Combat enables all sorts of abilities, but you don’t have time to play out full combats … unless you have everyone play out early rounds simultaneously.  Btw, having players who aren’t busy roll for NPCs might work, might not.  Does I think tend to produce more antagonism for another player to use up things like VPs and Luck than it does for a GM to do that for a NPC.  Getting back on point, going to have to figure out how to fit a special ability into an abbreviated subsystem.

Of course, some events don’t lend themselves that well to one on one matchups.  Poetry duel may work, but ikebana duel is going to get old pretty fast.  Combatish things are more likely to work as a lot of systems have offense and defense as two separate character sheet features.  Besides, more PCs are going to be combat relevant than be rock gardening relevant.  Boardgames work well for matchups.  I got to play against my “friend” in a shogi tournament, after she helped teach him some techniques earlier.

In a home game, can play out some matchups and see how different mechanics would work, as you have a greater fudge factor on how the system should work.  For something like HoR, just going to have to deal with how well something has been playtested plus any on the spot adjustments that make sense for special cases.

Where a competition can just be about calling raises and hitting a fixed TN, even if a tournament could just come down to whoever rolls higher on G: Shogi, it’s more interactive if the opponent is somehow setting a TN or otherwise creating a defensive value.  Still, I’ve enjoyed games tournaments that were just high roll each round, so it’s not impossible to do something simple.

Recent conversation I was talking about led to me coming up with theoretical mechanics of the TN being an opponent’s STA x5, with raises adding more successes and a race to acquire a fixed number of successes.  It meant two different traits would matter rather than being all about whoever has the highest single trait.

Interestingly, I think small dice pools and big dice pools make for better results in L5R R&K.  Small means high variance at times, but you feel like you have a chance even if someone rolled really well.  Talking about 4k2 vs 4k3 type situations or even something like 4k3 vs 5k3.  Big dice pools have diminishing returns plus law of large numbers.  Thinking 10k7+3 vs 10k8+3 or whatever.  It’s the 5k4 vs 7k4 type stuff that seems to not work all that well.  Certainly, 6k3 vs 8k4 is ugly unless you get an unlikely result of 6k3 barely beating 8k4.  The bigger dice pool is going to feel frustrated if not a NPC.

Awards

Tournaments are oriented to a single winner.  While competitions also usually have a single winner per competition, the lesser nature of those means that it’s okay for an award in a competition to be significantly less than one for a tournament.

Status, like making the Topaz Champion an Emerald Magistrate, is something that a tournament would award where a competition would hardly go that big.  But, you know, players want different things.  I want something distinctive even if it never has any mechanical impact.  A manuscript on dueling techniques from the point of view of the greatest Shiba duelist in history … whoever the hell that is.  It can turn into a plot hook.  Shiba Isawinner’s descendant is trying to learn to be a great poet, and Isawinner put in some poems while cutting down Kakita/Mirumoto.

But, at the same time, don’t overlook bragging rights.  The advantage of a tournament over a competition is simply winning has cache that competition victory doesn’t.  It should also be far more memorable because the navigation to the finals should involve a story, which is far more memorable than a dice roll.

Losers

Obviously, a tournament without a PC in the finals is less desirable.  But, even this can work if the winner beat down a PC, cheated a PC, or otherwise made beating some other NPC meaningful.

Hopefully, NPCs are sufficiently interesting that players have some rooting interest in one or more NPCs as well.

So, you lose, like early.  Could have a trite story like some NPC saying “You totally got cheated and here’s the proof.”  Could have some other, NPC loser be all like “I failed my family, seppuku for me … um … okay, then, give my family this note that totally tells of a secret buried treasure in the dungeon of droll.”  Can have “Well, you sucked, but I have something for you to do now that you showed how sucky you are at, like, life.  I want you to go find a teacher to make you suck less, it will only take an entire season …”

NPCs

PCs losifying each other is just not that fun to me.  This is where NPCs have to be compelling enough in some way to act as winnifying/losifying fodder.  PC vs PC can certainly happen, but it should probably not happen in the first round to build the match up some, no matter how much of a mismatch it could end up being.

Now, what NPCs need for tournaments isn’t necessarily the same thing as what they could use in other cases.  Though, actually, since the point of the tournament structure is to build hooks into narratives, maybe … a totally different blog post can get into the “tournament way” of creating NPCs to make them interesting, what with their opium addictions and Seven Fortunes Curses and blackmailed hostage servants.


Activity Junkie

June 7, 2020

I played with a player who was an action junkie [RIP].  It would be frustrating some of the time due to losing any sort of narrative coherency to run off to whatever seemed like it would lead to the most dice-rolling.  Sometimes, it would help push the action.

In playing with a group whose pace of play is extremely different from what I’m used to, I realized that I’m a junkie, too.  Not of action but of activity.

I can’t stand playing RPGs where things aren’t happening.  It doesn’t need to be rolling dice for the activity junkie.  It doesn’t need to be mechanical, at all.  Just needs to feel like you are doing something.

“What’s going on?”

The question of the player not paying attention, perhaps.  I know I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have in a recent game, which I’ll get to in a moment.  But, it’s also the question that arises when the group loses focus on what is happening narratively.  Whether it’s getting sidetracked into jokes, which is fine, or too much or too little description or unclear decisions made by players or whatever, “What’s going on?” gets followed by “Here’s what I do.”

What I was doing the last couple days was play two HoR4 mods.  Backfilling more so than usual.  The first group uses text only and we spent 13 hours playing a mod, to the point where it ran 2 hours into the mod I started yesterday.  That was already distracting enough, then there was a swirl of activity in the house that meant I was paying hardly any attention to the second mod.  That was weak on my part, but I guess it was okay for everyone as the second mod didn’t seem to really require me to do much besides reduce the number of nameless enemies to speed up combat.  Or, maybe I missed out because I couldn’t give my full attention to the parts that could have been developed.  The second mod took 4 hours, btw, using audio.  That is about the length I think an online, VOIP mod should take.

And, yet, the second mod felt like it ended suddenly and anticlimactically.

The first mod had elements I liked and felt much meatier than the average HoR4 mod.  The author happened to be a player for the second mod, so we talked some afterwards.  The mod he wrote and the mod that got published weren’t quite the same thing, but there were still things for us to talk about.

The second mod had elements I thought were really interesting.  It just overmechanized those elements to set up what was supposed to be the climax.  I could totally see taking the concepts in the second mod and using them for some other adventure, arguably you could base a whole campaign around the ideas, maybe a military campaign set in … Rokugan 1600.

The first mod worked out.  It was a bit awkward at one point, where my wanting to engage with mechanics led to the possibility of taking spotlight time away from another player.

I got to make a Sailing roll.

I can see all sorts of possibilities for how to develop the Imperial Navy in HoR4.  I also only take it somewhat seriously because I don’t expect to have any impact on the campaign.  Well, the “campaign of the mind” (TM, R, C, XYZ, BBC, …) is often good enough.

I got the 1 Favor and 1xp I needed to rank up, just not in enough time for the second mod.  But, I’m getting off track.

Activity

So, a few posts ago, before getting all nostalgic about cons not happening this year, I was getting into ranting about how it’s other players, rather than GMs, who often make RPG play suboptimal.  Let’s try to address a bit of this in c&cing with “activity”.

I hate arguing.  I used to think I enjoyed arguing in life, but I think I lost any interest when it became clear how it didn’t help produce productive change.  I have a poli-sci minor.  I have lost so much interest in politics precisely because it’s just empty debate without a move towards addressing obvious problems.  So heavy.  Let’s get back to gaming.

I don’t want to argue about rules or about what PCs did or did not do.  I guess I’m fine with arguing such things as which buys/builds are best just as I’m fine with arguing which cards are best/worst in CCGs or the like, but that’s usually an activity outside of playing an adventure.

Adventure …

Ultimately, I think the idea is that when you play a RPG, you go on an adventure.  Just as reading a book or watching a movie or watching a series of TV episodes takes you on an adventure … of the mind.

Activity that isn’t facilitating adventuring seems bad.  Seems because I’m inclined to try to keep the sweeping generalizations under control given how irritated I become by the pundits using them for real world problems.

When I know a system, I like fiddling with character builds.  When I don’t know a system or don’t care about a system, I have little to no interest in character builds.  That would seem like something obvious.  However, I’ve been forced to fiddle with character creation or development when we could be playing.  I have some tolerance for one-shot character creation because it can be an interesting activity, but most character creation for one-shots just wastes valuable time.  The standard should be providing characters to the players.

Researching rules.  Confirming something is fine.  Trying to learn rules while playing is pain.  Players arguing about rules is often worse.  It’s why I try not to argue about rules even when the GM has it wrong.  Adjusting to rules variance when playing something a bunch, like, say, a L5R living campaign, is just bogey for the course.

Not focusing on what is going on tends to drive me nuts.  Sure, there are plenty of times I’ve checked out from what’s going on because it didn’t involve my character (and I didn’t care) or the game got dumb or whatever, but those times should be rarer than they are and, the rest of the time, the other players should care what’s happening even if it doesn’t involve their characters.  I take notes.  I take notes not just to recall story or recall numbers but also to stay engaged in what is happening beyond my PC’s perceptions.

PvP is something else I have almost no interest in.  Friendly duels, sure.  True antagonism … seems like I hate this all of the time.  This is one of the reasons I think I’m done with LARPs unless there are a bunch of hot babes or some other hook.  It’s not because there’s a lot of antagonism in my LARPing, it’s just I’m not interested in even dealing with other players in any way besides either “Team Good, huzzah!” or “What does your PC think about massage duels?” or “Teehee, we so stupid!”

Should seem obvious that I’m not into conflict.  See how self-aware I am, virtually enlightened [… hot babes].

I mentioned above too much description.  Long descriptions are actually distracting.  Just like I skim through long paragraphs of description in my fiction reading, I don’t need being read something like … one of my blog posts when trying to decide what to do next.

I have to have some tolerance for PC activity that doesn’t interest me, as I often try to engage in PC activity that doesn’t interest others.  Kite-fighting.  Shopping for tulips.  Peasant dancing.

I don’t have to be that tolerant of people who can’t make decisions or who want to roll back decisions.  Well, not inside head tolerant.  Life is a series of decisions, then suffering the consequences of those decisions.  Gaming should be making quicker decisions and suffering the consequences faster so that we can move on to more massage duels that somehow don’t happen a lot in the mundane world.

Taking way too long to resolve things.  Players should learn mechanics over time.  I don’t actually understand how players don’t learn a lot of the mechanics used in games.  Sure, I had to constantly look up Conan d20 Grapple rules even though we used them all of the time.  I give a pass on everybody not understanding grapple mechanics in any RPG.  I give a pass to ditching grapple mechanics in all RPGs even ones based on professional wrestling [well, maybe not, I haven’t actually tried to understand the mechanics of games like Kayfabe].

Not just basic mechanics that get used constantly but also character sheet values that get used constantly.  If I have to look up Goofy of the Emperor 1, my SR-3 technique, then that’s fine because it allows everyone to laugh uncontrollably at how bad and irrelevant it is.  If I have to guess what my ATN is, fail.  If I have to look up my Initiative dice pool, fail.

One of the reasons to eschew certain systems is that Auditors & Accountants is not a fun game.  Should eschew turning reasonable systems into such.

I have mostly positive views towards player metagaming.  I do it all of the time, after all.  I may not have much interest in manipulation, but I am not devoid of the skill, and I will choose to say certain things at times to try to get other players to do certain things.  For instance, I wrote “Challenge him!” in a recent session.  Manipulation at its finest.  Though, I don’t think the player understood what I meant.

Sometimes, though, I don’t like people interfering with the narrative in my head.  I don’t always want to make the best decision if I didn’t think of the best decision.  This is not a major problem area, I’m just struggling to remember what annoys me in sessions.

Anyway, petering out.

Do stuff.  Doesn’t have to be stupid stuff.  But, I play games to be entertained.

Actually, that’s not specific enough.  In a RPG, play an adventure.  Eating, joking, maybe even massage duels are all fine during game sessions, but play an adventure.

Which leads into the next topic:  GMs, run an adventure …


[Classic] Gen Con 2004 [8/26/2004]

May 31, 2020

I want to keep pushing these out as I always get concerned with preserving for posterity … when I bother to remember how many things I’ve only ever sent to local lists or posted on old game forums or whatever.  Gen Con’s cancellation has me recalling that there’s no reason these reports shouldn’t be more widely distributed.

The last time I played The Zero Movement.

First time playing Armageddon – the good time that got me enthused about fighting corrupted Seraphim while on the side of Benjamin Franklin and the Norse Gods.  I even have written down my legendary [sick-ness] hand code system.

First time playing Heroes of Rokugan!

Not realizing P.F. Chang’s was a chain that existed anywhere besides Indianapolis!  Still unclear why it would exist anywhere besides Indianapolis.

I bought stuff … at a convention.  Oh, the wacky days when you could fit into Gen Con’s exhibit hall.


Thursday:
Four Colors Al Fresco – This is a free, downloadable system http://www.tiltingatwindmills.net/alfresco/index.html about pulp style superheroes in an alternate, Renaissance Italy. This was my best game. It’s a highly narrative system that reminded me of both Maelstrom and The Zero Movement (the latter due to storypath cards). It’s not clear how innovative and good the system is, but it seems worth exploring. GM and players were good. One player’s character was a thespian master of sound and spoke in rhyme. The player did an excellent job of speaking in rhyme. My character was Firefly, the chick field commander of our group who could manipulate light and emotions. Some of the characters were a little silly, so I might just use the system for a different world or tweak the world a bit.

Feng Shui – Pretty standard. The GM had 24 characters for us to choose from with pictures of actors from various movies. I chose a transformed tiger as played by John Saxon (the white guy in Enter the Dragon). Considered some others. Malcolm McDowell from Clockwork Orange sounded interesting. This was a pretty ineffectual group. “Charles Bronson” kept not being able to take out a single mook in the opening combat. Our thief (Sissy Spacek) got captured when we tried infiltrating the base at the end of the adventure. We couldn’t take out the one mook guard guarding the door to the lab before he set off the alarm. For some reason, half the party kept shooting at the helicopter that a couple of us were on (I was piloting). We did end up succeeding.

The Zero Movement – The designer and GM was concerned since he was running the adventure out of the orientation kit I bought last year. Fortunately, I hadn’t read it, so on we went. This wasn’t as good as my first experience playing the Tarot based inner city teenage magic using manipulators of fate RPG. But, I can pinpoint some reasons that had nothing to do with the system or the GM. A guy I know from Immortal was playing and I like him fine as a GM but not as a player; I tried to restrain myself because I didn’t want to hog the game with my greater knowledge of the characters, system, et al; the players just weren’t as smart as the ones the previous year – one player played the court card that represented my character which could have been hugely useful for some trivial effect.

Plot of adventure was your typical possessed video game zombifying teenagers. I tried guessing my destiny? card and the session card. Knew I had a bad destiny card, but I guessed something like 7 of Disks when it was Queen of Wands. I did nail the session card’s suit (Wands). Something like 5 of Wands which in this game’s interpretation is Strife or Violence or something (I could look up, but I don’t know that anyone cares). Well, the GM said this was the most violent game he’s seen of this adventure or in general or something. I would like to play the system without the world.

Friday
Immortal – I was ready to give up on Immortal, at least at Gen Con, this year as last year was not good and I have some problems with one of the designers and the management of the game. This game was surprisingly pleasant. It was insanely easy, maybe we were just efficient even though we were kind of chaotic. But, I’m much more liking the way the system works, much smoother than days of yore. My character’s himsati was a caracal who could manifest dragonlike aspects, BTW.

Arcane – This was my weakest game. It’s not hard to figure out why as this was a RPG in beta that the GMs/designers created with the idea of trying to fix D&D. The system is way too mechanical, realistic, and fiddly for me to want to play. Some people like massive number crunching RPGs, so I don’t blame them just for that. I don’t necessary blame them for throwing together way too many things as the system seemed to combine d20, Champions/GURPS, Pendragon. But, their execution of whatever it is they are trying to achieve just isn’t there. For instance, a lot of effort goes into figuring out combat both your character sheet numbers and resolution, yet the system is so insanely lethal (much more than L5R) that our “14th level” characters would die in a single attack. Why bother?

Magic system is sort of interesting having an Ars Magic spell creation element (good description would be Champions if you had a variable power pool) as you created spells out of word combinations on the fly. I will say that the game plays a lot better than it’s described. Speaking of description, I was really tired and so part of my pain during the session was the hour long description of how the game worked before we started playing. The actual game was okay, though to give you an idea on the lethality and other oddness of the system, I killed two baddies with one attack and couldn’t kill a third dude just as strong the rest of the combat while one player character died in a single attack. Personally, beyond just polishing stuff up, I’d overhaul the game, simplifying for one thing tremendously. Actually, if all they ever do is use it for their own games, who am I to criticize? But, I can’t see it getting published in the saturated market.

Armageddon – I thought I understood the Unisystem having played a bunch of Buffy. This was quite a shock due to everyone being so grossly powerful. I had the choice of two characters and decided to go with the Knight Templar. So, Armageddon’s world. Pretty much every supernatural thing is tossed in. The baddies are the servants of Leviathan, a mad god (extradimensional god), led by the Dark Apostle Johan Goering. Power level is ridiculous. The “good” guys are an alliance led by the archangel Michael often running around as a chick calling herself Michelle, Odin!, and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin!?#! There’s something like an alliance with Gabriel and the angelic host and Lucifer and the inferanal host. Basically, it’s our world’s supernaturals against extradimensional preternaturals and their servants. US Army is on our side as Leviathan’s forces have conquered a lot of the world.

Our mission is to rescue/eliminate an avatar of Thor who got captured by adepts of Leviathan. The party consists of a psychic firestarter, a true immortal in thought ship power armor, a sorcerer who summons elementals to fight with, a Nephilim, and myself. Speaking of my character, you might think my character was a gun bunny fixer sort. Sure, there are those things, but he’s also got supernatural powers in the form of healing (really important for the bloodbath that is this game), pumping attributes, and brutal angel hosing not to mention mystical shielding and being able to make things invisible. Also, personalitywise, this character is hilarious. Let’s just say he’s kind of fucked up. He saved the Dark Apostle from drowning when Johan was a kid, he’s cruel, he’s so obsessed with defeating Combine plots that he was the person who caused the 2000 tech bubble burst, he’s under the delusion that people are only tools to be expended in the good fight. In the party, only the Nephilim seemed to give a rat’s ass about people, though she was a total horndog for some reason.

Game starts out with a shopping trip. This was like the best RPG shopping trip I’ve ever been involved in. We could get up to class 3 body armor. While people were debating whether to bother with body armor at all or what level, I requisitioned my guns. Handgun was just finding out what the stats were, sniper rifle was the .50 caliber sort. Then, I had my choice of either a grenade launcher or a rocket launcher (they don’t have that many). I kind of like the grenade launcher flexibility, but how often do you get to get a rocket launcher. GM points out what I probably want to take, I take that, and I get 4! rockets. d10x10 damage with the target dividing its armor value by 5. To give an idea, I have 42 life points normally. Almost every meaningful attack in the game would one shot me unless I triggered something like my healing powers.

So, off we go to Mexico. We get dropped off outside the village and have the true immortal scout for us as we close in on it (he has 95% invisibility and flight). He finds a zombie patrol. Twenty zombies … with assault rifles. And, promptly gets shot down. Fortunately, before the zombies wreck us, the psychic burns them all. So far, so good (true immortals are kind of quick to heal and hard to kill) with our plan to sneak into town – I’m sure no one will notice the burning cornfield. Next up comes not just a Seraphim but a mutated, adept Seraphim. I snipe it in the head and that doesn’t do much. The party starts trying to beat on it. Realizing I can probably regenerate my magical energy pool by the time of the next fight, I say screw it and do the “I was born to punk angels” thing and activate the Key of Seraphim. Well, besides all sorts of anti-angel perks it gives, it allows me to direct damage on angels bypassing any defenses. I go conservative and pump 40 Essence into my attack … 40d6 damage. I was just going to take the “average” of 3 per die, but he wants me to roll a d6 and multiply. Well, that kind of blows until I roll a 6. 240 damage applied and that knocks it to the ground. The rest are struggling to finish it off, missing on their cut off its tentacles attacks, decapitate it attacks, having the burn it attacks not work so well since angels have resistance to fire. I blow my last 15 Essence and roll a 5, doing another 75 damage. Eventually we banish it. Seraphim = powerful. Maybe not as powerful relative as in Testament, but it was funny how the zombies gave us issues and the angel didn’t.

Plan’s still working, I’m sure no one knows we are coming. BTW, I come up with some codewords/hand symbols for our party so that we have good tactics.

Tequila; hand symbol is the drinking/chugging beer symbol, curled hand several times to mouth; meaning = kill them all.

Hitchhike; standard thumbing hitchhike; strategic withdraw as we kill them all.

Hang Loose; Hawaiian thumb pinkie waggle; we have to talk to them before we kill them all.

I’ll mention the final one later. We scout the town and discover 40 dudes chanting some spell in the cathedral (our target). Sorcerer summons her giant fire elemental and we burn all but one of them. The Nephilim saves one of the guys cuz he’s cute and all. We later discover they were pawns coerced into casting some spell. Oh well. We fight some, I get to use my rockets, and we succeed in rescuing the avatar of Thor. Good times.

Misc. notes: I asked the GM if it was normal for a party to basically try to slaughter everything it came acrossed and he said no. The GM commented that this was the first time he’d ever had two party members go off and have sex during a game (Nephilim and true immortal). Final codeword (no hand symbol as yet) is Purifying Fire = mission accomplished.

Saturday
Dark Ages Vampire – We started off as mortals, pretty much students of the University of Paris in 1215. Three part thing: pre joining vampire society; joining vampire society; the mission. Couple of us are ghouled, others vamped. Mission is an investigatory thing to a nearby town to find out who is moving in on Paris. It’s the Knights Templars, BTW, under the Settites direction. We might continue this as a PBEM game. My goal is to turn on the vampires, but we’ll see.

Silver Age Sentinels – Odd in two ways. First, a family of 5 played in it including some kids. Second we used fast play random character creation. Oh, the silliness of random character creation. I had an occultist! powerhouse, one of four powerhouses in the party of eight. Our defects were quite amusing. One character lost his powers in hydrogen gas, another had to eat garlic, another was vulnerable to wood. I had backlash, if I failed a power check I took 20 damage. Power check on what? My second highest rank power. Which would be … armor. I’m ridiculously hard to hurt unless you find my achilles heel. Named my character Galatine, BTW, and had the description of the defect be that I had a sort of undulating metallic skin that occasionally moved inwards. I tried being comicbookish in my play, doing stunts and whatnot, but the kids were pretty dumb and just pounded things, often ineffectually like the energy projector using his fists rather than his atomic vision.

Sunday
Heroes of Rokugan – A living campaign for d10 L5R. I didn’t realize that at first and thought it was just a bring your own character. I figured it out and got a template character from one of the GMs. Lion Courtier. An idealistic, can’t lie, *gullible* Lion courtier. Pretty standard adventure. The Crane courtier at one point suggest we visit the mines. I ask why. She says because it would be relaxing. Oh, okay, let’s go. We talk to a servant about where they might be and the servant wonders why we’d want to go to the *haunted* mines. Because the Crane said it would be relaxing and she was sincere, wasn’t she?

There’s 9 levels of damage, the last three being Down, Out, and Dead (you have to fill up the rank’s boxes to suffer that affect). We get into a 2 on more powerful character plus 15 support guys fight and our Tattooed Man goes Down. I fill all but one box in Dead. Hey, pretty relaxing. They leave us and collapse the mine entrance. Whew! Later fight we get quite lucky as the Crane, besides being useless in combat, is Epileptic, the Tattooed Man is currently crazy and dies, and I’m nearly unconscious. Shugenja goes lightning on the baddie’s booty and the Sparrow does some slicing and dicing and we survive … even mister Dragon as the shugenja happens to know a spell to keep someone alive who had just gotten waxed. Success is ours. We so could have easily have been wiped out if the GM didn’t go easy on us. Epilepsy, in a courtier, sounds as bad as gullible; she did have a fit when she was trying to get us help.

Missed my last game. I picked up Angel, Armageddon, Authority (Silver Age Sentinels variation based on the absurdly powerful supers of Authority), Corum, Vampire:TR, World of Darkness, Testament (high fantasy in Biblical times) d20. Didn’t pick up Conan (I had reasons) and Mongoose was out of the Classic Play Adventuring? book.

If you want Thai food in Indy, Wok-n-Go is the place. P.F. Chang’s is expensive yuppie Chinese but tastes fine even if the place is bizarre in its service (snooty). I think that’s kind of it for useful info. Oh, I played 3 pick up games of V:TES; I don’t think they were particularly notable in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure someone will say something useful on the newsgroup about what actually happened in the tournaments.


ConKubla

May 25, 2020

Like many a convention, KublaCon 2020 got cancelled.

We were talking about it through email.  I noted that I was not even terribly aware that this was Memorial Weekend due to the lack of need to prep for things Kubla and the weird time effects that come with pandemic lockdown.

I figured I’d honor the lack of KublaCon (no, not trying to compare to honoring fallen soldiers, just kind of coincidental) by talking about old conventions on this weekend, as, locally, we’ve always had game or entertainment conventions on three-day weekends.

I couldn’t find anything good to use.

I couldn’t find anything about the Highlander convention I attended, which I think was on this weekend.  I was a significant Highlander fan, much more so the TV series, and I’ve even watched some episodes recently as a station has an episode weekly.  There was a bagpipes group that came in through a main conference room, where I was one of the few people who had shown up for the convention at that point.  There was a card game of sorts where I think this predated ManaFest ’95, so it would have had to have been either ’95 or ’94, again, if this convention was even Memorial Weekend.

I placed second in the event, as I recall.  I won something.  I don’t remember what, now.  The mechanics were kind of iffy.  You chose a sword, which gave two stats (otherwise, this game in development didn’t have any real variety) – initiative and, I think, to hit bonus where smaller sword meant you swung earlier but larger sword meant more likely to hit.  You targeted a body part, usually the hands at first to reduce your opponent’s ability to hit back, eventually going for the kill later.  You rolled a d20 to see if you hit.  I just remember that most of the gamer types playing learned to quickly go with the two-handed sword as it was more likely to affect your opponent – I believe it was because you had a pretty low percentage chance of hitting, so you really wanted the +2(?) to hit from the THer.  I do recall someone went with one of the faster swords to try to get a hit in first to hit the hands to cause a to hit penalty first.  I recall a sense of inevitability as getting hit made it harder to hit and it didn’t take a lot of hits to lose.

I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it much more than the Highlander CCG tournament I played at ManaFest ’95, where the nature of the demo decks … and the fact the game wasn’t good even when real cards got published … made playing tedious.  The demo was great.  I think I was playing Duncan and set up a decapitation pretty quickly, maybe against Connor.

I have emails about GameCon on Memorial Weekend before KublaCon replaced it.  They are all about logistics.

I did find an email with a KublaCon report that was really old.  It was done with a text file attachment.  The text file attachment is gone.

I haven’t been enjoying KublaCon much in recent years.  Oh, I enjoy getting to play Shadowfist, but Shadowfist is pretty much the only thing that I get to play, anymore, as Traveller events take up prime gaming time and I just don’t have the energy to go to local cons on Fridays and Mondays if I can help it.  Admittedly, it was only a couple of years ago that I helped run HoR events and had an interesting aftermath to that.  So, it’s not like I can’t do other things, I just don’t have much interest in doing anything besides Traveller and Shadowfist at Kubla.

I played a RPG at DDC this year, and it reminded me that I’m really not that into playing RPGs at local cons anymore.  When you only play one, the chances of that one being good or being really bad are not that great.  Stuff in the middle is just too exhausting to be worth it.

Kubla had been my con for food.  I would hit the dumpling place, the Japanese place with potato croquette, the deli, the Lucky’s that often makes very good deli sandwiches, the Chinese place with 200+ items on the menu, including borscht, the local market where I could get some unusual groceries, Royal Donut which is within walking distance of where I grew up, drive by Village Host Pizza where I had some good food and some terrible food and used to play arcade games a ton when I was growing up.  With the dumpling place being nowhere near as good as it used to be, I’m not as enthralled with the food options, plus the famed deli’s sandwiches actually aren’t really any better than Lucky’s’.

Also, I get more food enjoyment out of DDC’s Bagel Street Cafe, with the fruit smoothies to go with my pastrami sandwiches, though DDC will no longer have that, since it’s moving next year, assuming it happens next year.

Anyway, I can keep mining for Memorial Weekend material, but the point of posting today is not to carp about what hasn’t been good but to pay respects to local conventions in general for having been important to me over the years.

Speaking of paying respects.  I was watching some Black Sheep Squadron and started internet searching some stuff.  The end of my search resulted in pulling up info on Julia Hunt Catlin Park Depew Taufflieb.

I’m someone with pretty tenuous relationships to the country’s military – my grandfather I never met worked for the Navy (and helped NASA) while my grandfather who was a really important figure in my life worked for the Army for a while around WW2, then there’s my great uncle who died not that many years ago who met Louis Zamperini on their way home as he flew in bombers in WW2 including bombing Iwo Jima.  I find military history fairly interesting.  Actually, could say there are analogous interests in other areas of human endeavor that mean a lot to people.

It’s rough for a lot of people these days, including a number of KublaCon staff.  But, it should get better.


[Classic ] Gen Con SoCal 2004 [12/8/2004]

May 24, 2020

Keeping with my nostalgia kick on things Gen Con, I was going to post my regular Gen Con 2004 report until I found this.

The Charmed game!!  Oh, verily.  Back when I could remember more of the inanity.

It occurs to me that this limited distribution report back in 2004 is not kind to some of the people I encountered.  I usually end up pulling punches when it comes to criticizing people or things like people.  But, the Charmed story is too good not to rehash, and not only am I 15.5 years older than I was back then, so is everyone else.


This has some V:TES content, I’ll frontload it so that the stuff offtopic to the V:TES list can ignore.

I played in the Friday night V:TES tournament. We started with 8 and gained a player. Kind of unfortunate as we would have had 10 if he showed up on time.

First table had Dean Garrison (Dementation stealth bleed with Thaumaturgy combat support) -> Paul Johnson (mostly Obfuscate/Presence stealth bleed with Doctor Streck as the star player) -> myself (Harbinger intercept combat toolbox) -> Preston Poulter(Ingrid/Stanislava VP sniping vote with a bunch of bounce built by Paul).

Dean probably should have ousted Paul, but he was too passive at times. While I gave Paul’s deck a lot of grief popping out Mattias first (though he had no Settites, possibly in the entire crypt), getting Mr. Winthrop on him, playing large amount of wake and bounce (I had metagamed in this respect for stealth bleed sleaze), I just couldn’t hold out forever given that his deck was fairly focused on going forward. Preston didn’t do much all game, apparently thinking I’d block his votes. He did oust Dean who got too many bleeds bounced to him around the table and almost get Paul with his large amounts of lose one for every minion votes, but he failed and Paul got 3. I drew one Blood Doll out of 5 the entire game.

Second table had … forgot his name, maybe Mike (not Courtois who was running) (Etrius Purge) -> hi -> Alex Harmon (weenie Sabbat with BHness and Eventness) -> Dean.

This could have been so horrendous. My predator brought out Etrius, then followed up with Cameron or some other Lasombra little guy. That caused me to start prepping for Purge. Couldn’t stop the first and only one since it was at 5 stealth and I couldn’t Dreams into a DI, but he got greedy with Etrius when I was tapped out and I torped him, blocked the rescue attempt, and he seemed to not try to stay in the game transferring low which let Dean easily oust him as I could always bounce back to make sure the deck that totally screwed mine was gone. That left two decks I can handle easily. I had Aranthebes in play, so an endgame with Alex’s deck was a guaranteed win. But, I had nothing to fear from Dean with my copious amounts of untap/bounce. I get 3.

Final: Our Rodney and Alex are the low seeds, Preston inserts as Alex’s predator, I screw up and insert opposite from Preston. My thinking was something like wanting to be Rodney’s predator and wanting to be far away from Preston as he had the only table control elements. I certainly didn’t want to be his predator since he bloats too much and I figured I could handle Alex’s weenies easily especially when Preston did massive pool damage with Uprisings and Empowerments. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that Preston didn’t have a good idea how to play his deck and I overestimated my ability to deal with Alex while underestimating the positive aspects of being between Preston and Alex since Alex would eventually get ousted or burn out and Preston was deathly afraid of my intercept. Paul, of course, chose to be my prey.

Alex won but probably shouldn’t have as Preston’s deck violates his both with the votes and the bouncing of stealthed bleeds where Alex only has some Ministrys for defense. One of those Ministrys blocked my Aranthebes, but that might not have mattered as Paul likes to screw with me even though I’ve only played with him like twice in my life – he kind of likes to screw with lots of people though I’ve yet to see him screw with Alex. I tried hard to support Rodney, but I didn’t cut back Alex’s weenies figuring Preston might do something, anything productive the whole game and had to wall up. Preston still could have won, but the DIs and DTs flew fast and thick. Close endgame between Paul and Alex too, but Paul had just spent too many resources on killing Rodney and Preston and the events that Alex finally drew didn’t help (Blood Weakens, The Slow Withering).

So, more generally:
Hotel: I have no intention of staying at the Parkside Inn again. It wasn’t awful, but it was too seedy. In order of importance in things that should have been: shower temperature not fluctuate wildly at all times; less noise from neighbors, parking area, and street; other. Possibilities for next year might be Anabella around the corner so roughly same distance from convention center, Marriott, Coast, 1-2 places on the Anabella side of the block, Best Western.

Gaming, or lack thereof:

Thursday morning I have Sui Juris. Six hour RPG, should be a new system. Why don’t I know? Nobody showed up. With two games cancelled in preregistration, this makes 3. So, I sign up for a 10AM game and a 2PM game since Sui was basically taking up two blocks. L5R intro (RPG) at 10; GM shows up. I didn’t really care about this getting cancelled as it wasn’t suited for me since I’m familiar with L5R. Four. Middle Earth (the I.C.E. version) at 2. Pure dungeon crawl with 9! players. Each combat took forever. D&D orcs go down in around one shot. MERP orcs take about 5 criticals (which could be 5 hits) before they go down. I’m playing an Animist (cleric) with massive heal capability. Just to do something during the 3 hour game, I and the other animist take on a troll and 2 orcs by ourselves for a couple rounds. I do get a couple damage in on the troll before it takes me out of combat and the mage comes up, sleeps him, and the party coups him. Another fight involving some general guy, but it ends pretty quickly with the mage unleashing an ice storm. Whatever.

Thursday night is 7th Sea. I’ve done plenty of 7th Sea at cons and I’m not terribly enthused anymore due to the need for a good GM. Sometimes it goes well, a lot of times it’s rather lacking. This was interesting in that the visuals/props were beyond scope. The guy had an entire miniature island that could be pulled away to reveal the dungeon underneath (plus ships, of course). Problem being that this was basically a dungeon crawl. There was some roleplaying, but the roleplaying seemed forced and not terribly relevant. Oh, BTW, my character was a seamstress/prostitute.

Friday morning is Vampire: The Requiem. Decent game. Very funny a few times. We were *not* a smart party. We start out with a mission to waste some vampire dude in the city (not our city) and get poisoned as motivation. We finally figure out how to find the local vamp populace, get into a fight with sentries outside of Elysium, go inside, and cause a frenzy (player didn’t realize what he was doing). Now, this was just insipid, though possibly not terribly bad to the plot, but the GM kept telling me that it was nowhere near as bad as the other session he ran in terms of party incompetence. Another funny thing was how we run across the target of our mission and one! party member splits off from the party and takes him out! Oh well, mission accomplished even though we have no idea whether we really wanted to be manipulated into doing someone else’s dirty work.

Friday afternoon was one of my games cancelled in prereg. Friday evening is the V:TES tournament.

Saturday morning is supposed to be a superhero game using the Better Games System. New system? No. I asked the Steve Jackson booth about the game since nobody had shown up and they told me a) the GM was sick and b) it was an old system as the GM liked the older RPGs for their purity. Five.

Saturday afternoon was another game cancelled in prereg, but I signed up for a Buffy game at the con to get in more gaming. Interesting thing with this RPG was that it was run by Stan Lee’s righthand man and what he’s trying to do is create a new Slayer series set in New Orleans set after Buffy. He’s got Joss’s go ahead. Okay game, but it was overscripted (shocking, I know). It didn’t help that the players were too passive, so we kind of followed a pretty linear adventure.

Saturday afternoon was one of the games I was looking forward to on my prereg schedule. “Charmed, I’m Sure” Unsurprisingly, this was a RPG set in the Charmed world. Maybe a bit surprising, it was using the D20 Modern system. This game was atrocious. Now, it was hysterical atrocious, so that was something. We got plenty of players, which wasn’t a sure thing as they were sitting at another table.

To my left was the only other reasonable RPGer. I got the sense she was more the D&D, hack and slash type than the story type but not extreme. No, save that for the others. To her left was The Lump RPGer. Unless forced to, this type of player can sit through an entire adventure and do next to nothing. To his left was the I’m Bad and Like to Kill Things sort. To his left was I Find Everything Oh So Funny and Can’t Be Bothered to Focus On the Game type. Finally, we had psychogiggly girl, with the stress on psycho.

Character choice. There’s 3 witches, an occult specialist, a whitelighter, and a shadowchaser/bounty hunter. When lefty chooses the occult specialist that means one of the guys will be playing one of the witches. My turn to choose comes around and I go for the smartest character left who is the aspiring artist witch. She’s chaotic good. After seeing psychogirl play, I know now that I can never do justice to chaotic. Lump chooses whitelighter, the other women take the other witches.

First thing we do – decide what type of motorcycle each of us rides.

I may have to let that sink in. Because psychogirl has to have a harley, all of the sisters have harleys (different colors of course). Whitelighter goes for a moped.

Next thing we do is talk about our trip down to Capitola in a cantina in the hills between us and Santa Cruz (we live in Los Gatos). Since we didn’t play any of the trip, this was one of those awkward “you all roleplay now” moments. Biker gang is also in the cantina. Psychogirl detects evil or magic or something on the leader’s jacket and because they pay our tab, we follow them when they leave. We follow them down a path through the woods to a clearing. At first, shadowchaser and psychogirl sneak up and scope the sitch a bit. In character, I want to go home since we don’t learn anything important – we learn that the suits the gang meets with want the location of something. Shadowchaser and psychogirl, though, decide to go back to the clearing and get noticed by Razor, one of the bikers. He suggests they find a different camp site. As they turn to go, Razor remarks “BTW, I have some bud”. So, they buy it. One of the player’s comments was how this game was like WoD. My response was “yes, but with less angst and more drug use”.

We finally (every decision requires a “finally” before it) decide to leave the woods. As almost every plan we had was one of mine, we decide to compromise on going home and following these guys by waiting at the side of the road for them to pass us. Two bikers pass, nobody else does. We follow them to a remote spot under a bridge in San Jose. We watch them for a while. Getting bored, we leave the whitelighter to observe since he a) can teleport to us when something happens and b) can pretend to be part of the street lamp. Shadowchaser and psychogirl smoke the weed and go off to get some munchies and investigate … stoned, talking on their cell phones, while driving their harleys. Other sister, lefty, and I go home. Whitelighter’s moped disappears. He took it with him up to the elders earlier and apparently they really like riding around on mopeds in heaven or whatever ridiculous realm the elders hang out in in the Charmed cosmology (I can’t watch the show anymore both because it’s so ludicrous in cosmology and because they don’t even seem to try to act anymore).

Psychogirl is able to find a brooch at the clearing that gives us some clue what we are dealing with. But, we don’t find this out before the whitelighter stops observing the two bikers who went to some remote location, hung out, and left after about an hour having done absolutely nothing (diversion? bad plot?). Jesuit vampire cult. We send lump to talk to the elders again since, you know, that’s what the charmed ones always do. He comes back with “23 Los Altos Road”, so we have a cunning plan of going there and dealing with vampires. Before we leave, though, a new moped shows up in the driveway.

Moped, +2.

We finally get to Los Altos (you know, because we had so many other things we needed to do like accessorize with spiked collars, get our pepper spray blessed, break up some hockey sticks for stakes, get out psychogirl’s Mossberg shotgun). Who’s there? Razor. Buddy, dude. He’s reluctant to have us approach the place. I think, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, his story was that he was waiting for the rest of the gang before tackling the place. I roll a 25 on bluff “they owe me money” and he joins the party. We approach the front door, pull out our guns, and knock. No answer but the gardener peeks out from around the corner and then disappears again. Being brilliant, we decide to sneak around the other side of the building and enter from the rear. We hear a noise. Whitelighter transforms to find out what’s happening to his +2 Moped. Razor’s reaction, the first, “cool”, the second – transforms into a wolfman. We finally get around to the rear of the building and lump rejoins us. The skinny is that the vamps are in the basement, they have three lackeys – gardener, butler, chef, and “don’t go into the greenhouse”. We penetrate the rear to discover the chef hacking away with a cleaver on something. We formulate a cunning plan wherein the more combat oriented characters will enter and deal with the chef.

How to deal with the chef? Sis Mage Hands his cleaver away from him and when he turns around, shadowchaser, psychogirl, and werewolf blow him away with their respective guns. One dead chef later we penetrate deeper into the million dollar house (with a sun room). In the foyer, there’s a staircase up and a staircase down. We hear a noise from upstairs, must be the butler. The gunbunnies take up firing positions again, but some of us see the butler climb down outside. Actual player line “we’ll take care of the stragglers later”, so we head down.

We prepare to stake the four coffin occupiers when who should blow his fortitude save when popping the lids but the werewolf. That’s good for another laugh. As the rest of the group slowly does whatever, I stake my guy and glitterdust the gardener with his evil looking manacle/chain thing. Psychogirl blows him away with her shotgun. She can’t figure out how much damage it does and rolls a d4 at first, we correct this incredibly counterintuitive play and her line is “I hate dice”. Honey, if you ever play a RPG that isn’t dice-a-rific, I’ll be amazed. We finally stake the rest and that’s that. Huzzah for the heroes.

I ask the GM what the thing was the vamps and weres were looking for and he says the essence of a fairy. I ask him why they were interested in that, he answered “I hadn’t figured that out”.

Sunday I have Armaggedon run by John Pollack (Polack?), local guy I’ve played with often enough before and who’ve I’ve seen a couple times at the con. Didn’t show. Six.

Six games cancelled.

I spent absurd amounts of time hanging around with the D&D Minis crowd soaking in their analysis of the game because at least it gave me someone I knew to hang out with. I talked to a few other people I knew, like Merlin and the lead designer of Marvel Vs. I talked a bit to the porn actress at her booth, though I always had time to do that. I had plenty of time to get food, though Sunday I waited for people to finish a D&D Minis event which took longer than it should have.

I suppose I could have spent some time demoing things I would never buy or looking for a pickup Magic draft or something. I would have gotten oodles more sleep if I would have known my games were cancelled earlier.

Not a horrible con, but it was weak. Next year is going to be preThanksgiving which is more when they always wanted to hold it, so maybe attendance will tick up. And, if not, it may be the last one, so I plan on going again. I just might come up with more back up plans. If only a Type Per went, would have had tons of time for that. BTW, V:TES crowd, who is already down on cons, isn’t planning on showing next year.

I did finally get some good reasons for why they won’t consider running it in the Spring as they need time between events and run the big Star Wars thing around then.


Gen Con – Early Years

May 21, 2020

History.

Well, my history, anyway.

Well, a really bad recap of my history as my first Gen Con predated my oldest email that I have control of and it’s not like I took notes of Gen Con back in the 90s, and, well, one of the primary reasons for this blog is to not lose my gaming history.

There are other people who have gone to way more Gen Cons than I have, much longer unbroken streaks.  I don’t know that I can even prove an unbroken streak, though I did find emails that help fill in some of the later Milwaukee years.

I also have a four digit Gen Con ID#.

Possibly in 1996 or 1997, I went to my first Gen Con.  I think it was 96 because of when I met Andrew H., no, the other Andrew H., who I met through Ultimate Combat! and who got me into Jyhad.

What I remember of that first Gen Con was that I stayed at the cheapest option available as I didn’t have money and had no idea what I was doing as I was going by myself after, I think, Andrew had to cancel.  I wouldn’t have gone at all, I don’t think, unless someone else was planning on going as well.  I stayed at the University of Wisconsin, where I had to take a shuttle bus to and from the convention center.

So, you are craving food commentary?

In luck.  This was a classic moment of how my life works out.  I still use this story for … things.

I was staying in a dorm room.  Shared bathroom.  No refrigerator.  I had no idea about anything, so I decided to walk around one day when I had free time because free time was something I had back when I didn’t understand how to play games whenever I was awake at Gen Con.

I wandered in the hood of a pizza place.  Perfect – cheap food that I can eat throughout the weekend … as I don’t think I realized I didn’t have a refrigerator.  I get up to the counter and order two large pizzas with no cheese.  The guy asks where I’m from.  I say California(!!).  He asks me if that’s normal.

First time I’m ever in Wisconsin … and I order my first Wisconsin pizza(s) … and I order them without cheese … because everyone knows that Wisconsinites know nothing about cheese.  This is how my mind senses the perfect thing to do and unconsciously causes me to say/choose that “perfect” thing.

My real mistake was ordering onions on one or both of the pizzas.  I had to pick them off after a day or so.

I don’t remember any of my games, but I think I tried to get into an Immortal: The Invisible War game and may very well have done so.

The next year, I went with Andrew, Donna, and Magic’s first world’s champion.  We got a hotel by the airport and commuted in each day.  I had a better understanding of the cadence of the con and think this was the year that I tried to get into games in each of a day’s four RPG time slots – 8-12, 12-4, 4-8, 8-12.  I don’t remember being tired in the middle of my first game on Thursday; shocking, I know, how times change.

I remember that a bunch of RPGs were in one large room with curtains on temporary curtain rods dividing tables.  That actually worked pretty well.  This should have been the Gen Con that I played Wraith: The Oblivion with nine other players in a game meant for five.  We switched out playing our Shadows.  I just pulled my copy of the core book off the shelf behind me, a book I haven’t touched in years, maybe a decade or more.  It has a character sheet with my session notes on the back inside the cover.  I don’t know if it’s from this event.  Probably not, but I’ve played Wraith very few times as I didn’t like it much.

In 1999 and 2000, I stayed with Precedence Publishing.  First time I ever went to a Hooters was one of these years.  I think it’s the last time I’ve ever been to a Hooters.  I already blogged about my insane volunteering schedule from 1999.  When I didn’t stay with Precedence in 2001, it had a lot to do with learning a lesson about wanting to spend time gaming and not working.

I met Dave and Bernie through the Babylon 5 CCG, then met Bill.  In the early aughts, I went with some combination of them and stayed with Fred, a known VTES player one of those years.

What was most memorable?  I was doing a lot of B5 CCG stuff and some Wheel of Time stuff.  I wrote an article for Scrye Magazine, yes, I used to occasionally write for a game magazine, about the winning decks for a Wheel of Time championship.  I remember that clearly because the winner had played a Shadow Genocide deck that we had playtested against a lot, so we thought it sucked for winning, but, if you didn’t understand how to be cautious with your main character, you would get murdered easily.  I played in like one Wheel of Time major and managed to have a proxy in my deck that might have mattered a lot.  I only went 3-1 and was something like 5th or 6th.

My B5 experiences were modest and/or painful.  My fellow Californians did far better.  Bill got pissed when his infinite influence engine got ruled to not work a day before the North American Championships.

I did less RPGing, obviously.  I did Dragon Dice for years.  I got introduced to DD, of course, through Gen Con and was very interested for a while, though I hardly ever enjoyed actually playing.

I don’t see a lot of reason to get into the Indy years in this post.  The Milwaukee years have the least documentation and some of the more memorable events.

I went to SafeHouse one year.  I was bored out of my mind as I waited for my friends to finish drinking/socializing.  I watched people play poker.  I wandered around and around.  As I most recently told someone in Croatia, a bar is normally the least suitable place for me to be.

I liked Milwaukee.  Smallish city that was easily walkable without much in the way of awful neighborhoods in the middle of the night near the convention center.

This is a not very useful email I could find from 1999:

<< Also how was your trip back from Gencon?

Dead tired. Weird Midwest Express breakfast. Fairly smooth, though.

And are you planning to meet up with Illka and Harri, since they are
spending a week in Mountian View? >>

Unless they get ahold of me, it doesn’t look like it. I don’t think I’m going to try and e-mail Ilkka. OTOH, we seem to do well with visitors. We had someone from Minnesota play in one of our tournaments. We had someone from the UK do a bunch of stuff with us. If only we could get people in the Bay Area to show up …

I’ve sent some messages out to individuals with the hopes of having a comprehensive Gen Con report. We need to have some of the stories. I think you may know something about a couple of them (from the tournament).

Note that we were talking about two Finnish players, Finland being a burning inferno bed of B5 CCG play.  Now, I just need to get out to Finland … oh, right, I almost did this year.

I said there was little reason to talk about Indy this time around, but who knows what’s going to happen to my ability to quote myself from 15 years ago?  Here’s a Gen Con report from 2005:

I’ll try to break this up a bit so that people can read what they care anything about.

V:TES –

Played a couple of pickup games after the con. First was 6 player with, I think, The Lasombra going first with weenieish Lasombra Potence rush (not mono-Potence like my joke deck). I was second with Abominable (anarch Abominations who learn Quietus). Dave Sisson played my Pariah and friends Path of Death and the Soul deck. Shane played disciplineless weenies. Bernie played my Nagaraja Graverobbing deck. Ben Peal played my Enkidu deck. Shane got popped between the two “rush” decks. The Lasombra got annihilated by Enkidu, which was hilarious considering what the deck’s actually supposed to do. We gave Dave some bad advice at one point, not realizing what he had in hand, and rather than draw the game out some more, I didn’t try too hard to survive as Ben won 4 VPs to Dave’s 2.

Second game, I think Dave went first playing my Lasombra demon deck (you know, the deck that needs more Shades). Bernie played my Hierophant deck. Shane played Nos Archon. Ben played his Corporate Hit Squad deck as seen in the Player’s Guide !Ventrue section. I played Daughters Suppressing Fire bleed. Bernie had all sorts of problems being between Gratiano and the Archon deck and kept Temptationing Shane’s Nossies. Ben kept himself hale but didn’t put a lot of pressure on me. Dave struggled with his deck and I ousted him. Bernie was weak enough that I could get him without effort. Shane finally was able to punk Ben’s Famed Miriam to take Ben out after Ben went low bringing out more dudes. I bled for tons to take Shane out in one turn.

Picked up the new Player’s Guide as some of you all may have noticed already. Ran some demos for WW to get Retribution/Spontaneous Power swag from Oscar. Reminded me how much I like the idea of teaching players CCGs and how much I hate the practice, especially for games with steep learning curves. Otherwise, had almost no idea what was going on V:TESwise. I can’t even remember all that Josh told me about the finals of Nationals.

RPGs –

My ten RPGs were: Read or Drown (Big Eyes Small Mouth d20 with homage to the Read Or Die anime); Fireborn; Heroes of Rokugan (living campaign for d10 L5R); Immortal; Beyond the Supernatural; Obsidian; Four Colors Al Fresco; Everlasting; World of Darkness (mortals); Armageddon.

Read or Drown was weak as the players were too silly. Fireborn I’m underwhelmed by. The concept sounds fine to me of playing a reborn dragon in modern London but the mechanics are awkward and the source material didn’t answer the questions I wanted answered, like where did the dragons come from and why are there these other supernaturals. Funny thing about the game, though, was I was the party traitor and didn’t even realize it because I didn’t understand the GM’s handout at all.

HoR was amusing as usual in the sense that my character just doesn’t suit the modules/situations he ends up in. Of course, my Lion courtier is going to run off to the Shadowlands to fight an evil angel (didn’t know L5R had angels) with a Crab magistrate, desert Unicorn and another Unicorn. The only time I attacked anyone was one of our own ship’s crew when I went mad from fright. Hey, cut off his arm. Immortal 3rd Edition, now downloadable for free off of invisiblewar.com or something, might work and Rick Don might be an okay GM normally, but these demoish games have way too little going on to bother with.

Beyond the Supernatural is actually a pretty old Palladium “there are supernaturals among us” that predates a lot of other stuff. Second edition just came out or something. I don’t have much respect for the Palladium mechanics, but this was my best game of the con. I’m actually getting to really like 3 player, investigative con games as the ones I’ve been in recently have had players who were all on the same page such that the plot moved along well with the party doing smart stuff.

Obsidian is a post apocalyptic, multiple gates to hell dimensions have been opened on Earth game. Had a bit of a Star Wars (d6) mechanic thing going. I was the party healer and our main struggle was trying to escape the 35′ demon in plate armor before it killed anyone it could catch. Didn’t do a ton of healing as some of the bad stuff was too deadly. One character died when a cultist caused kitchenware to erupt *out* of the victim’s body.

Thought the Four Colors game was going to be trouble as I wasn’t thrilled with the GM at first and it looked player shy, but we got a full boat. Amusing to me at least, I had the party leader character. Actually got a pretty cool story eventually, though the players were generally too passive. For those that don’t know, this is a free downloadable game of superheroes in Renaissance Italy.

Our party for the Everlasting game: x2 vampires, x1 gargoyle (real gargoyle not vampire variant like WoD), x1 faerie, x1 dragon, x2 gods/demi-gods, x1 angel. We created characters in the first hour with the GM being the owner of the company putting the game out. I was one of the godlings, playing what has to be the wussiest god ever. I figured with that many players and all of the cheesiness, that others would make combat monsters, so I tried for knowledge/diplomacy/supernatural. I used random character creation and got low stats but high completely useless to this game numbers. Besides the basic god package where you can control emotions and regenerate, my awesome godlike power for being a/the Milesian god of magic – Levitation. Not flight, oh no, just levitation. Fortunately, none of the 100 werewolves or so ever attacked me as I was so pathetic in combat that the GM was shocked I had a speed of 1 (think Champions speed chart). I wasn’t even better than the other godling in supernatural knowledge, diplomacy, or the like. All I ended up being good at was not becoming excessively lusty in the presence of werewolves, admittedly something the rest of the party found challenging to various degrees. Most notable thing about this game was how the faerie helped us out in negotations by passing a most magnificent note to the GM involving copious amounts of under the table sex with a werewolf leader (*during* negotiations). We came up with a quite productive solution to the whole vampire/werewolf war by setting up a duel between the leaders. With larger con games of the sort I sign up for, generally two things happen; either the game sucks or the game’s highly amusing. This tended toward the latter.

WoD game didn’t seem like it was going to go well either as the GM was simultaneously eager to move forward and easily distracted into long, irrelevant conversations. We got a couple RPG newbies and actually had an okay game investigating who beat up a neighbor in our apartment complex. I “won” the Nomads book, which doesn’t look terribly fascinating.

I really liked last year’s Armageddon game. Bit of gratuitous sex and way over the top violence. Not a lot of games where the GM leaves the choice of grenade launcher or rocket launcher up to the player playing the magically inclined Knight Templar assassin with brutal antiangel powers. This game wasn’t nearly as interesting as it was way too simplistic. We got tired of debating whether to kill some guy who surrendered to us, so the party “leader” blew his brains out. I incinerated the body when everyone else bailed only to release the giant praying mantis thing. I mismanaged my mana and, though secretly an exiled angel, was knocked unconscious during that fight. Rest was anticlimactic. I still find the over the top power levels in the game terribly amusing where a bullet to the head, antitank rocket, being set on fire by a psychic, elementals and Nephilim beating on you, true immortal in Iron Man like armor blasting you doesn’t really do a whole lot to one of the Mad God corrupted angels/demons. If only we had better guidance from Michelle (archangel Michael as a woman), Odin, and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin in fighting the Dark Apostle’s minions.

Elsewise –

I guess the rest of the stuff I picked up the dealer’s room isn’t terribly interesting to you all. Still recommend Wok’n’Go for your Thai food needs when in Indianapolis. Had an interesting CCG discussion with Kevin Tewart, lead designer or developer or whatever for Yu-Gi-Oh! (I know him from Precedence, same with Vs.’s Mike Hummel), not entirely for public comment. But, it was interesting that the big three CCG companies are WotC, Upper Deck, and … Bandai.

Assuming nothing weird happens the rest of 2020, more Gen Con stuff as I dig up more emails … or, maybe, just more Precedence Publishing related stuff as I dig up more emails as I have way more emails about playtesting CCGs than I do about Gen Con.


Friendliness Rating

May 16, 2020

So, I read some blog posts that under normal conditions I might not read and I got led to an interesting concept that I hadn’t seen much about before.

But, first, there was another concept that has been relevant to me in the past but I should try to take to heart even if I won’t.  The concept of making die rolls matter.  I do try to not make everything a die roll as a GM – if someone is supposed to be good at something, I try to let them just be competent at doing various things, however I don’t get the dice to meaning ratio right even then.

I will call for die rolls when I’m not sure how I, the GM, feel about something.  This is in my better games.  In my worse games, where players seem bored, I’ll have them roll because they aren’t taking initiative to do things.  Anyway, this not knowing how I feel about something would seem like a good idea.

Except, I don’t think it is.  I think there are things I don’t feel strongly about that shouldn’t really require any sort of die roll.  Too often, as a GM, I focus on specific anticipated payoffs and not a more holistic view of what a session can accomplish.  Can being a key word, there, as opposed to thinking about “should” accomplish.  Though, I still come back to the idea that maybe I should try being more structured rather than less as structure could provide more guidance than I often give.

So, the article I read referenced some other stuff and was referenced itself, so I’ll be lazy and claim general blogosphere as my source.  The concept was rewarding accomplishing things that aren’t the norm and eschewing rewarding things that are the norm.  The latter interests me less as it’s easy to get away from rewarding killing monsters and finding phat lootz.  The rewards would be given out based on things like making friends.

I really hadn’t thought about that.  As a player, I already find making friends/partners/”partners” rewarding.  But, I keep pointing out that the people I usually play with don’t seem to care about such things.  But, if the XP/whatever else qualifies as mechanical reward is tied specifically to engaging more with the setting and influencing the setting over murdering the setting, would that work better?

Genre is going to have some influence.  I mean, I’m fine with annihilation when playing a herald.  Suppose you are superhero of the mostly 4c type.  Is making a friend/getting a scientific philanthropic partnership going/whatever appropriate for mechanical reward?  Actually, I can see it.  I can see that fighting off supervillains so that your charitable organization thrives is more the point.  I can also see being a bit less hokey than making a friend and more directly superhero-y with how many people you save driving XP, though I can also see that being kind of painful as it should be fairly black and white how that plays out if you do it regularly.  “Oh, you only saved 4 out of 5 NPCs, not max XP this time.” would get old really fast.

Now, I tend to not want to associate mechanical rewards too closely to doing particular things in sessions because I’m more interested in an interesting narrative than checking off boxes.  However, does that mean I think there are certain incentives in place that players don’t perceive?  Am I thinking that running with a subplot is interesting while players are wondering what they do to get more engineers for their siege weapons?

I don’t try a lot of things, partially because I don’t consistently run games, but mostly because I tend to revert to business as usual in the absence of an external force.  I am aware enough that I try to call upon external forces when I GM, aka try to get players to provide direction on what they prefer.  Maybe not bother depending upon the nature of a campaign.

Sure, my other thought on forcing more player involvement is to … force more player involvement.  Gaki Mura had required player involvement and I think that piece of Gaki Mura needs to be used more often.

In my attempt to not just ramble philosophically about things I often talk about or that are overly vague, here’s another L5R campaign idea I had.

Well, before that, let’s look at an example of mechanical rewards for “friendliness” in L5R as L5R has an elite advancement system.

2-6xp available (I need to blog again about how I’d actually do XP in L5R to avoid the game breaking too quickly).  If you are respected by the Village of Generic NPCs at the end of the session, you get 1xp.  If you caused something to happen that made your daimyo seem cooler in the world, 1xp (this is tricky when every PC has a different daimyo, which is why I don’t like United Nations parties for L5R in home play).  If you reflected well upon at least one of the PCs’ ancestors, 1xp (this sounds cool because it creates a goal that gets players to give a crap about other players).  If you developed a NPC/location/setting piece in some way that was challenging and interesting, 1xp.

See, I’m full of geniusosity.  I just never develop nor use these ideas.  That’s what good GMs are for.  Be a good GM … so that I don’t have to be.

Minor Clan, Major Effort

The PCs are the leaders of a new minor clan.  Not one of the dumb minor clans in whatever 4e supplement.  A minor clan that … the players decided upon.  What’s the animal/maybe-not-animal?  What are your colors?  What is the cause of the minor clan being made and how does it view the rest of Rokugan?  What is its purpose?

Sandboxy in my mind, though I suppose it wouldn’t have to be.  I’m not as excited about the idea of a campaign designed to result in a minor clan, as that seems too forced and the burden of setting doesn’t shift to the players.  I want players to be involved in building the world.  Well, this really should inform the rest of the world.

Maybe this minor clan is the remains of a different one.  That means there’s history with other clans.  Maybe this minor clan draws together different clanner samurai, which I’m sure would seem like a normal way to go but which is kind of mundane.

I’m so much in my own mind about what players should care about, I think it would be really interesting to force a paradigm where I have to use what they care about.  Of course, one could argue any sandbox campaign is that way, except I don’t have the sense that people I play with truly grok play far into the sandbox end of the spectrum.  For one thing, I don’t recall ever being asked “How sandboxy is this campaign?” or “Are you thinking this is a sandbox campaign?”


The Payoff

May 9, 2020

One thing I thought about blogging about recently was that I finally played a HoR4 mod that didn’t feel like going through the motions to build up XP to create some C&C (TM) character – crackers & cheese, with the cheese coming from Luck 3 and two disads that avoid Bayushi Courtier techniques while giving 10pts., where one punishes two awful techniques that don’t do anything in the first place for Miya.

As it happens, Miya 1xp and 1 Favor away from IR/SR-4.  Favor?  A mechanic in HoR play, much better defined in HoR4 play, where I need 1 Favor to take a path to, of course, take Satoshi’s Legacy.

A facet of Satoshi’s Legacy is that suddenly Miya beya bushi.  Kata time … doo-doo-duh …

And, so I had a variety of things to spew about all around Miya.

Which I will, just not all because, you see, in researching kata from the Book of … series, it was interesting how many kata weren’t usable, how Book of Void doesn’t bother with kata, and …

… how there are actually a bunch of mechanics in a book like Book of Air.  Oh, many of them are irrelevant to PCs, but I found it interesting how long it took me to assess whether to deep dive on mechanics from Book of … books.

Perhaps someday, like the next time I need fodder for a blog post.

So, anyway, online play of RPGs is relatively easy these days, logistically.  I don’t need to drive home from the office to make a game scheduled more for people a couple of time zones East of here, for instance.

So, we played a HoR mod.  And, it was Glor-, I mean, it was Hon-, nope, not that either, it was narrativeful!  I had already started down a thematic path and the mod allowed me to push on that to the ultimate degree.  Wherein I totally failed an Honor Roll, allowing me to keep my character!!  So appropriate that Miya don’t prosper.

In every HoR campaign, I feel that there’s one defining mod for my PC.  That’s not remotely true, of course, it just feels that way.

I didn’t play enough HoR1, so let’s start with HoR2.  Journey to the Burning Sands was an inspiring mod, but it didn’t really define the essence of Ikoma Jun so much as give him a path to defining his essence.  Words and Deeds was so much better for his essences getting shared.  I haven’t studied it in depth, but I’m such a fan of Words and Deeds because I think it both combines being well conceived with my having a great experience playing it.

Also in HoR2 was Harsh Lessons.  Harsh Lessons is both a mod that I think is really well-suited for newbie play (both HoR and L5R if for different reasons) and a mod that can end up turning out really poorly, as it can be rather Harsh.  I played Harsh Lessons with my alt character, Isawa Ryota, and it inspired his whole essence, well outside of marrying another PC, though his essences got shared in a fiction that went well with him not spending a lot of time at home.

For my first character in HoR3, my alt character, the first political interactive was the essence setter.  There was the mod where he could have lost a major disad but failed to do so, but I don’t recall a mod having a lot of essence impact.  I could be wrong.  Similarly, I could be wrong about a mod have major essence impact on my main from HoR3.  I don’t know that my main ever had defined essence.  There were several mods I really enjoyed playing with my main in HoR3, but I enjoyed playing my alt more as he had more personality and, eventually, a story arc.

Nightmare War I’ve still only played like less than half of, but I found ideas in those early mods to be really cool.  There’s a basic concept established early that I could totally see doing in a home game, even though usual settings would make it difficult to justify thematically.

Sadly, battle interactives don’t really establish much for my characters, even though I play them all and am more fired up for them than anything else.  In the end, they tend to be wasted opportunities much of the time for character development.  However, Miya love for Matsu in HoR4 does come from a BI, and the irony of murdering some Matsu in another BI only helps the Matsu motif [does it qualify as a motif? arguably, yes].

The thing is, when you get 60 odd mods, there’s bound to be one that fits ideas you already had in mind.  There was an engineering mod in HoR3 (not to be confused with the siege weapons mod which has exactly zero built in Engineering rolls) that I played with my non-engineer character due to having two established PCs (a mistake in HoR as it produces situations like this) and the table rank being important.  Of course, if people would just listen to me and provide more information as to what mods are about, like where they start and whether there are any notable features that wouldn’t give away plot, would be more reason to run more than one PC.

I’m speculating that the mod that Voided Miya up is not a brilliantly written masterpiece of L5R moddom.  It feels awkward, for one thing.  But, it was the perfect play experience.  Get into a fight and Miya take Defense Stance on round one, not rolling Stealth when I would have succeeded 10 out of 10 times on the roll if I had, having the dicebot get fixed in time to blow an Honor Roll, facilitating a duel involving Miya’s deceased military commander with a PC whose Kakita Bushi was anti-dueling, and I’m sure some other small details to go along with the enormical stuff.

This is why we play RPGs.  Why we play the subset that is living campaigns.  I whined about not getting this sort of experience a couple months ago because I miss getting these payoffs when RPGing.

Now, I’m all Voided up to figure out whether I will have enough Favors/XP to afford picking up a terrible kata.

So, let’s talk about why the various kata are terrible for Miya.

Book of Air – Good kata for Miya, but it requires Air-4, which should never happen.

Book of Earth – Good kata for Miya, but it requires Earth-4, which should never happen, and this only works if the campaign is using the sidebar mechanics for out of school kata.

Book of Fire – This is hilarity beyond scope.  The best kata XP can buy and they require … wait for it … no, really, I have to set this up better, so wait for it.  Miya beya courtier.  Not a bisento courtier or a dai tsuchi courtier or a kusari-gama courtier but a regular old, “I guess I’ll fight with my Honor” courtier.  Sure, Miya will whip out his longer weapon at times when it seems appropriate, but he’s all about these last words – “Free action draw wakizashi.”  Now, everyone should be aware that the 1000 Years of Steel kata don’t let you buy up Meditation to 5 and violate people with your no-dachi/tetsubo/mai-chong.  They also don’t let you wak this way.

Book of Water – Ha, ha.

Book of Void – Read the nothing kata.  Read them.

So, Striking as Fire it is.  Yup, the garbage that is Striking as Fire.  But, that’s more perfection.  When you bu shi the bushi, you got to work the mechanics that much harder to eke out marginal combat benefits.  Of course, this only matters if I can justify wasting 3 Favors and 3xp on a crap kata.  I actually need quite a bit of XP to do what I want mechanically with this character, and I’m not clear how many mods are going to come out for the rest of HoR4.

A final comment about Miya, though I’m sure I’m missing something:  highest Ring, now?  The lesson here is don’t plan characters 200xp into the future – just roll with everything and nothing …

Bonus

So, one of the things about rereading sections in Book of … is that I don’t think there’s no content, just not enough content.  I’m fine with learning more about farming in Rokugan.

Anyway, I’ve had a bunch of ideas for L5R play, recently.  That’s the thing – it’s really, really easy for me to think of stories in Rokugan.  For instance, because I really should provide something useful rather than vague observations, I got to thinking about a campaign that begins/is about the slaying of the Fire Dragon.  Mechanically, PCs would gain cost benefits or freebies around Fire stuff because they would be the Chosen (by the Oracle) ones to fix the spiritual problem of one of the five rings losing its, um, it.

My first shot at Rokugan 1600 had a Water theme.  I can totally see running campaigns built around one element being predominant.  Of course, high fantasy style play.

Speaking of which, I had some thoughts on the next shot at R1600, though my thinking as a GM is really more “Let’s all establish what you guys care about first because I can easily come up with ideas that will entertain me around a lot of different stuff.  Not that – that’s a terrible idea.  But, you know, not stupid stuff allows me to create genius.  Whereas, left to my devices, my genius will go unappreciated.”

And, actually, part of my problem is definitely too many ideas at the same time.  There are so many elements I want to bring up in L5R play as there are so many things we don’t get hardly any of through HoR play that I try to keep straight too many unrelated narratives.