Desirable Distance

March 17, 2020

As a child, I got significantly sick reasonably often.  As an adult, deal with seasonal allergies but hardly ever have to deal with colds, flu, et al.  Occurs to me in this day and age of social distance that I don’t interact with a lot of people on a typical basis.  Sure, one coworker is always sick due to her kids, but I used to be two cubicles away and am now a sea of carpet and three rows away, well, were I actually going into an office.

As is normal during a pandemic, I have been traveling.  Had an amusing time driving to Petersburg to pick up tokens.  Got there early, so did what you would expect and went to buy some flower seeds.  We decided not to pass a box between two cars with different states’ plates in an empty parking lot of a BBQ restaurant while looking side to side to see if anyone was watching this movie moment.

No mahjong.  Everybody is sniffling, coughing, sneezing, or whatever.  Allergies, colds, or whatever confuse the issue.  All of this while the point of the trip is the birth of my father’s first grandchild.  Wash hands, indeed.

In the absence of Shadowfist Thursday due to early morning Friday flight and needing to clean up at home, absence of Traveller until shelter in place is over, and whatever else, I’ve been thinking about L5R characters.  I’ve been thinking of writing a HoR module (again).  Oh, the likelihood of my doing it is incredibly low, as I don’t like doing work nobody appreciates, but it’s something to think about when the news is almost entirely related to one thing.

Of course, conventions and other events, such as a Grand Prix (VTES) I was planning on attending, are not happening and there’s tremendous risk for anything this year, including kind of large events, but that’s depressing to think about.

While family would watch Office, the type of thing I might have suffered through when I was growing up when it was required to watch TV at all times after school and on the weekend, I did try watching some Southpark, but most of it was episodes I’ve seen, even though I’ve missed a bunch of seasons.

What is the point I’m getting to?

Of course, we need distractions.  Whether working on decks or working on characters, gaming has given me plenty of distractions.

There’s no particular reason when I have long stretches of nothing else to do that I shouldn’t be writing up RPG material.  Creating gets to be a chore at some point, but flipping through ideas is fun, and we all could use more fun.

My current kick is trying to figure out how to develop a Frog Clan NPC, whether to develop the City of the Rich Frog.  Having studied more deeply the Kaeru School used in HoR4, it’s not actually bad.  Beat down with a pipe is, obviously, the first thing anyone thinks of when it comes to samurai.

I have a vague plot in mind, but I’m unclear how to best introduce the NPC.  There are different possibilities, where some ways are far better than others for making a NPC interesting to PCs.  I have an idea of how I want the adventure to end.  One of the challenges with a modular structure is making sure there’s enough material in the middle that is actually interesting without so padding a middle that an adventure feels overblown.

Distance.

Beginning, middle, end.  Neither too close nor too far.

“Distance” of a NPC to the party in the beginning (and, in the end).  What does that mean?  It means that how you introduce a NPC establishes a level of connectivity to the PCs.  Do you want to establish an equal level of connectivity to each PC or not?  I recall from HoR3 that one of the better NPC engagements in an early mod was elective, that some PCs had distant distance and others didn’t.

Does the NPC save the PCs (at introduction)?  Well, that’s usually a bad idea as players don’t like NPCs being more competent than they are.  Does the NPC need saving?  That might be good, but I’ve saved NPCs in a group situation where the connection was too diffused across an entire party.  Multiple NPCs are a good thing for letting PCs focus on the ones they care more about than others, but that just gets complicated with too much backstory for those who don’t care to engage.

Well, besides having more time to work on cleaning the house or whatever, maybe there’s an opportunity to actually write out entire adventures.  And, if they don’t get used in a living campaign, they can be used when I feel motivated enough to run some L5R again.  Or, reskin to some other genre.  After all, there’s nothing new besides remixing what has come before.  Well, I haven’t seen Frog Clan march on the capitol …

St. Patrick’s Day, as well.  Em, I don’t have anything.  I’m sure I’m far away from the two women I know with birthdays today (in more ways than one).  I am wearing a shade of green at the moment, though it’s not one of my preferred shades.  No snake thoughts.  No Pendragon thoughts.  I have a friend in Ireland that I’ve corresponded a bit with recently.  I could help him more with reviewing his writing.

Other distance themed stuff could be how most of the people I update with life events through IMs are in China.  Yes, I realize nobody uses IM anymore, but saying my DMs are open reminds me too much of a line out of Wheel of Time.  This doesn’t have anything to do with gaming, though, so something of a blogfail.

Not the most informative post, but I think this lays some groundwork for a follow up after I flesh out a Frog or four for a future offering.


Roll & Defeat

March 12, 2020

L5R RPG mechanics time.  This time, it’s personally pathetic.  Sore grapes, sour loser whining time.

So, I’ve experienced something akin to what happened Sunday before.  In fact, I’ve GMed something akin to our play Sunday, before.

Do not run a ten competition, single session … session.  It will be the pain.  It will be the grind.

I experienced it in both HoR play, running the Topaz Championship.  I experienced it with Princess Police’s Winter Court.

Confining ourselves to recent R&K from AEG, so 3e/3r/4e, here’s a hot take – the system(s) isn’t perfect.

Single roll variance can be extremely high.  It’s a reason why character vs. character rolling can easily work badly.

It’s why Sunday felt to me like a massive wasted opportunity for having my character gain additional definition.

We had six PCs.  We had nine events with distinct benefits.  PCs were not expected to participate in all of the events, though there was no penalty for doing so besides opportunity cost of recovering Void.  Note that the lack of additional role-playing time when sitting out an event is also a problem, but there was no way we could have finished playing what we needed to even with rushing some things and skipping others, let alone add more individual PC time to the affair.

Of the seven prelim events one PC participated in, the PC won more than six.

Why?

Single rolls that meant too much.

Single Rolls That Mean Too Much

This is fine when it’s talk down some god into making Rokugan safe for xenophobia again.  When it determines whole competitions and those competitions matter in some more than minor way, it’s going to produce … random results.

CCGs with “random” boosters don’t have random boosters unless the publisher screwed up (VTES 3e?).  You print off sequential cards from sheets with a randomizing effect to make it not completely predictable.  This is how you get reasonable distributions.

Random makes for many of my bad feelings towards playing various RPGs.  See how obnoxious Runequest die rolls were, constantly.  Dice manipulation mechanics are my sort of mechanics because they allow me to mitigate randomness when I deem something important.

L5R has Honor Rolls, Void, Luck, more esoteric stuff.  I spent three VPs and a Luck on one of the events, not realizing quite how irrelevant that was since I was still rolling stuff after someone else had already won.  I burned, in about three hours of play, my HR, three Lucks, all of my Void (including recovered Void from Meditating) each day.  And, none of the rolls I succeeded at mattered.

Entire competitions came down to single rolls, including in cases where multiple rolls were required to succeed, as a single high roll would win tiebreakers.

Btw, one could argue duels are single die rolls, except they aren’t.  3e dueling was an exercise in managing resources and thinking through how a duel would end, plus more than one stat mattered.  Even 4e duels, which are largely a matter of how many explosions happen in a focus roll, in competitions, are routinely part of multiple duels, where resource management matters.  Save VPs to use on more elite competition (in the same day).

So, the obvious thing is to not use single die rolls to resolve things between characters, right?

Multiple Die Rolls May Not Solve The Problem

In the Princess Police’s WC, we had numerous events we could partake in.  As it seemed weird to just keep doing event after event, we focused on things we expected to be good at or had some reason to care about.

One of my few events was Kyujutsu.  I went into WC with an IR-1 character who had enough XP to be solidly in IR-2 if I spent them differently.  I’m sure there were still Reflexes 3 PCs at the time.  My 8k5 Kyujutsu roll was somewhat better than the other PCs’ rolls.

The Kyujutsu event had four rolls.  They used different traits/Void so that they wouldn’t just be dominated by the best Reflexes characters.  Seems reasonable.  The effect of doing something like that is to promote how many skill ranks a competitor will have as that cuts across all rolls.

Agility, Reflexes, Perception, Void.  For me, 2/5/4/2.  Okay, that spread suggests that someone else can easily win as I’m playing an unbalanced character, one, and, two, fewer Void Points means less dice manipulation.

I didn’t win.  I managed to barely make it into the top third, tying for 13th out of 37 competitors.  In the only skill in which I normally keep five dice and have as many as three ranks.  I rolled 36 in the first round, high was 52.  I rolled 42 in the second round, the round I need to make up ground, high roll was 80.  I rolled 20 in the third round, where Perception failed me, being only 42 behind the 62 of the high roll.  I did unusually well in the fourth round, 39, only being 33 behind the high roll of 72 in the fourth round.  Only the NPC rolling 72 in the fourth round placed in the top four with ties (unless I missed a tie), coming in first.

In my two other events, I came in sixth out of 10 competitors in knives and I’m not sure how the athletics event played out.

Suggests that events with 37 competitors probably aren’t going to be won by any one PC?  Sure.

Tied for 13th.

Totals of multiple rolls suffer to a lesser degree than everything being based on a single roll.  When I am 42 “points” behind someone in a round, I’m not going to make that up.  Sunday, I got through an event I found out I really wanted to win after the fact with a total score of 48.  I lost by around 70 pips.  Out of four PCs, I was fourth.  Admittedly, I had already burned an HR (which shouldn’t be used in fair competition), three Luck, and all of my VPs that day going into the event, so I had to roll straight 4k3 three times, which meant success shouldn’t have happened.

Too many die rolls …  But, before getting into that, let’s talk about raises.

So, L5R has raises to make competitions not be a fluke high roll.  Make decisions and manage resources to accomplish most raises and hope to win any tiebreakers.

Raises & Competitions

Routinely see this not work.  It’s mostly not due to the fact that some characters can call far more raises than others or even when dice pools are significantly different, it’s because there’s too little granularity.  Characters are often within bands of probability.  Within a band of probability, it’s very easy to beat one other character in raises and very hard to differentiate yourself from a group.

Then, if a race or series of targets or whatever and you get behind another character, how do you ever recover?  It’s anticlimactic.  Missing a roll also does that, but even making rolls can be a situation where you can never compete against another character.

Still, raises are a mechanic and the problem of high rolls exists, so it’s the conceptual preferred way to conduct events.  Also, role-playing either in the event or outside the event can be an opportunity to get free raises for doing stuff, so that’s a way to defy the dice.

Too Many Rolls

The Kyujutsu event from Princess Police was something of a too many rolls in a single event situation, though multiple Reflexes rolls where you call raises would have made four rounds more palatable.

Whether it’s making the same rolls over and over or making a panoply of rolls covering different functions in an event, there are a couple of problems with too many rolls.  One, they take time.  This can be mitigated by having fewer events.  The more events, the fewer rolls you have to use, even making an event come down to a single roll, which is why you limit how many events you do in a session.  Two, they change the value of Void Points, Luck, other dice manipulation.

Isn’t that a good thing?  Don’t you want the skill Monkey to Toku all of those TN 25 rolls to victory?  Luck is cheese!  Screw the cheesemeisters!!  Reward those who pile XP into Void 4 or, almost never seen, Void 5!

Maybe.  But, it’s an important thing to understand from a session management perspective.  You can make awful decisions by not thinking through or not realizing how events work.  I didn’t realize every event Sunday had a desirable prize or that three of them had amazing prizes for my character.  Now, that does involve the GM providing some insight [sic] into how things work, if the GM gives a crap who does what.

In a reasonable amount of time, in order to allow for a reasonable amount of rolls, no more than three competitions in a session and don’t have all three the same day.  Something like Topaz split over multiple sessions with two events per day until Iaijutsu on last day is what comes to mind.

There’s another aspect of too many rolls which comes up more noticeably only when you have many competitions.  It becomes discouraging to roll badly on relevant rolls over and over again.  Anyone can put down that the whole point of dice is variance in a smaller sample size.  When you just fail again and again, you are reminded even more of how much you suck at faux-life.  This can also come up in things like combat, of course.  It happened when I ran Solomon Kane that the PCs in general and one in particular just couldn’t make successful rolls and the player loses interest in what’s going on.

Rewards

I don’t see that everyone needs participation trophies.  Some of us are losers.  But, the more opportunities to be rewarded, the more unrewarding losing becomes.  I Honor Rolled in a duel in Princess Police and that was dishonorable.  But, it was ridiculously frustrating to be let down by dice over and over again.

In a winner take all, like becoming an Emerald Magistrate for winning Topaz, losing is a way of faux-life.  In a “here are nine flavorful prizes, where most don’t even do much mechanically”, losing just comes across as a wasted opportunity.

Remember (assuming you’ve read everything I’ve written), I don’t want to truly be challenged by failure in RPGs, I just want to think success is a lot harder than it actually is.  After all, if I wanted more realistic situations where failure was far more likely, I don’t need the faux in faux-life for that.

Some of the reason is that failure isn’t interesting narratively.  There were so many possible story hooks that could have come from winning any of the events.  Yet, all of the narratives I can think of in my brainspace are low impact because losing was the normal result.  Sure, if you can manage to set up events where you are expected to win and losing is the result of cheating or someone else being awesome or whatever, something that makes it feel personal, then losing matters.  That is rarely the case in competitions I’m involved in.  Losing is just spending time not doing anything that mattered.

Anyway, many of my thoughts on the problems with competitions as set up and executed in some of my play.  Some have been done far better than Sunday or WC.  Some had far better personal results for me that made me enjoy them even though they weren’t set up well, such as when I won the iaijutsu competition in HoR2’s Topaz Championship playing a Tattooed Monk.  I just keep coming back to how I had no control over winning 10 competitions and how winning certain ones would have bolstered directions I wanted to take my character in, while losing at everything means I feel just as disengaged with my character’s thematic interests as I felt prior to spending hours rushing through dicefests of diciness.


Eleven Decks, Eleven Notes – Part 6

March 10, 2020

Ascension … to a higher level of house rules.

We had planned to test stronghold mechanics quite a while ago, but we didn’t play for several weeks.

You start with a stronghold that gives you one faction resource in your pool, one power each turn, one additional power each turn for each BfV.  The power is part of power generation, so foregoing power generation or replacing it defeats the freeness.  You don’t start with one power because you just get it, anyway.

Broken.

We had done some other mechanic that led to more power and this had a similar feel.  You just had more power most of the time.  BfV becomes The Hungry Lite.

Joren (Jammers) -> Don (Syndicate) -> Justin (Pacifism) -> Ian (Ascended)

I feel Don getting established enough that I Shadowy Mentor his Nihilist and attack Joren.  Eventually, Shadowy Mentor gets Cat Stanced to a Buffalo Soldier.  Looking at the deck, I didn’t play much.  I had multiple Operation Killdeers in hand much of the time.  Played mostly small stuff and a Might of the Elephant.

Joren’s Fanatics were a Killdeer problem.  He had The Lunatic Fringe to blow up sites.  Justin played foundations and Pacifists.  One of Don’s Nihilists had Fortune of the Turtle for a while, so it was unstoppable.  He eventually just dropped a couple states on somebody and won.

We dropped the power giving of the strongholds, left the faction resource effect.

Don (-ner Lake) -> Justin (Cops) -> Ian (Modern Ascended) -> Joren (Monarchs)

I kept forgetting Mountaineer’s main ability is to get larger.  To try to move through cards, I put states on smaller guys.  Thief in the Night got Hummingbird Kick.  Mountaineer got Butterfly Swords and Hummingbird Kick.  Did play Sergeant Troy Preston later to have three of my characters be able to pretty much walk right by Justin’s cops/agents.

Justin lost Chief Inspector Pang, so his offense ceased offending.  Joren used ambush a bunch.  Don would plan on eating somebody to Donner Lake to make things like Mars Program Executives bigger, but that didn’t last very long.  Eventually, Joren ambushed through stuff when we lacked copious amounts of stoppage that had been used earlier.

Faction resource thing seems fine, was relevant.  The possibility with strongholds is that they could do different things.  But, we already have an obscene power environment, so more power just doesn’t work.  Interestingly, our other house rules don’t seem anything near the problem that any mechanic of gaining one extra power a turn turns out to be, which might help validate them.

There’s a definite feel you get when a mechanic makes for a dumb environment, I think.  Our usual house rules don’t feel dumb, excessive in how much they provide additional options, but not dumb.  Now, they can be abused through deck construction changes, but we normally play four-player games where regulation commonly occurs, so it ends up balancing out.


Powdered Sugar

February 29, 2020

I was just reading various quotes I harvested to use as email sigs back in the days when I thought I could get away with such.  Some are better with context.  Some are just better …

The UV protection I have on is no match against foam noodles, sir!

So, I was thinking about the Tiger Clan, recently.  I keep forgetting that that can be one of my go to plans for when I need a new L5R character.  So, I bothered to pull out Imperial Histories and actually think about the techniques.

They are the bad.

And, this is where powdered sugar comes in as our theme for today.

I’m not much of a berry person.  Oh, I should say, I’m not much for eating berries.  I’m all into drinking berries.  In particular, strawberries don’t do it for me … even though I’ve picked strawberries [not a euphemism] in multiple states and multiple countries.  On a depressing side note, as I think about how cool it was to pick strawberries outside of Shanghai [still not a euphemism], are we really going to have to deal with a pandemic?

Getting off track.  Strawberries are simultaneously not sweet enough and not crunchy enough.  Now, I’ve had really good strawberry drinks, often made better with condensed milk (SCM) or, you know, sugar.

So, I like how Safeway’s $5 berry packs have relatively firm berries.  I can eat them neat.  But, so much better with a white sweet stuff I sadly have in massive quantities, in today’s case in a less granular, more powdery form.

Dusting powdered sugar on game stuff.  Yes, this is … a … game … blog.

Why have I lost interest in Yotsu-ing but am good with miyaself?

Because the difference between bad and boring and bad and amusing, where so bad it’s high in fiber and will stave off diabetes is more entertaining than soggy french fries.

I suppose I could get into the theme of the Tiger Clan.  I just can’t embrace the mechanics.  If the SR-4 was a SR-1 or SR-2 technique, then I probably could.  But, it’s not, and the first two techniques are so, so soggy.

Meanwhile, I read through the latest comment on A-Void-ing Mistakes, which got me thinking yet again about how it’s so hard for me to look forward to playing a shugenja.  It’s like having someone pick up Krispy Kreme in the morning.  It’s sweetness for the sake of sweetness rather than being an actual good donut, nevermind that donuts are food you eat right before you want to sleep, and, thus, are not morning food.  [How’s my analogy holding up, sir?  What analogy, sir?]

To be somewhat less indulgent, I tried skimming for some Imperial Histories mechanics to write about since it’s unmined territory.  I gave up after some number of seconds.  Though, one of the better things that came up in HoR3 was the idea of the pre-Rokugan world being cool and condensed milkish.  So, dawn of the Empire could be made interesting, though it could also have a post-apocalyptic feel (ironically) that would be annoying.

It’s how I prefer !Salubri vote over Ahrimanes vote.  It’s not enough to just powder the mechanics.  Have to bread them and deep fry them and dump tartar sauce all over them to make them palatable.

So, Yotsu Bushi analysis because there should be some actual analysis somewhere in here.

Honor is kind of funny given focus on Stealth and SR-1 technique.  Skills are awesomely interesting.

The SR-1 technique is actually kind of cool up until the point where you realize that the school pushes you hard towards Stealth 5+ where a bonus to Stealth rolls is dumb.  SR-2 is trivial.  Now, if it were bonus to hit, that could be a bit interesting.  SR-3 is a perfect example of how the school is serviceable but not enthralling.  This school could really use a signature weapon, like some funky knife or even just give simple attacks with ninja weapons and give this school the ninja tag.  SR-4 suits my interests, but it’s a poorly thought out mechanic.  For instance, I have to spend a VP at the beginning of a round to increase my ATN, so am I protecting someone at the beginning of a round?  If not, it’s blah as either damage reduction or like katana supercharging if the GM considers attacking to be protecting.  SR-5 is ludicrously narrow in scope.  If you want to make an ambush school that does something, should be like free action attack on first round.  It’s just silly that I’m going to feint, knockdown, and extra damage to get as much use out of it as possible, then hit round two and have no technique … at R-5.

Now, Imperial Histories does have far more interesting PC mechanics than, one might say absurdly, Great Clans.  Acolyte of Thunder is totally work checking out, though that setting is so epic level that it’s unsurprising that the mechanics there sound far more powerful.  Maybe I’ll mine the book more just because it gives me something to think about with 4e.  RPGs never die – see people running oD&D, AD&D 1e, or whatever.  But, the sad thing is that it would be far more likely to be me running something rather than my playing something.  And, I think I need to get away from thinking about NPC mechanics as it makes me care about NPCs in a way that doesn’t service the players.  But, that’s a (far better) topic for another time.

Doh!  I should have done a Leap Day themed post!  Could have gone on about Otomo (nee Usagi) Kidai some more and how he’s not a leaper but a lover … of nature.  [Please stop using that “joke”.]

Quick, what’s a leapy thing I can “riff” on?  I got to thinking about the Leap Years going back for a while and what my life was like during this period in those years, but that had like nothing to do with gaming.  Drat!  I’ve failed to even leap from topic to topic, which could have been a post, except the dearth of gaming recently has made me force ludicrous analogies.


Way Of The Land

February 23, 2020

My day job got kicked out of old offices (we no longer needed a warehouse in NorCal).  It took forever before we could work out of new office.  Last week was the first week of people actually using the office as a communal workplace.

I spent some time there.  No, I’m not going to go into the office because it’s not relevant.

I was walking to get lunch one day.  While walking through industrial areas with no sidewalks, something occurred to me.

Yes, I am a Miya Herald.

Consider this, Bat Clan.

I have superior area knowledge.  By that, I mean I actually know where things are unlike pritnear anyone else whose lack of area knowledge I’m familiar with.  I do things like map where I plan on going when I haven’t been somewhere before.

But, see, this is where I’m even more Heraldy than someone who takes Way of the Land.  Since I don’t print stuff out and just try to go off of memory and will eventually forget which roads to take from Portland Airport to Dallas (OR), paying a Void Point to gain Way of the Land is a more accurate description of how I function.

Do those who revere the Emperor lose Honor for attacking me?  Hmmm, I have no idea.  Half check mark.

I try to be objective when assessing situations and am resistant to influence.  Oh, sure, I can be manipulated.  I’m just resistant to attempts at influence, aka when I’m rolling Etiquette (Courtesy).  Check off SR-2 technique, please.

Growing up in relatively affluent suburbs, I’ve never had much in the way of situations with aggression.  The only time I’ve had a gun pointed at me, it was not someone I think who reveres the Emperor.  I doubt I have a lot of Void Points to spend, but maybe enough to power staying out of skirmishes and duels.  Check.

I don’t have enough insight for SR-4, so ignore that.  Interesting, but my father used this technique when he was in Nigeria.

Then, flavorwise, I will strike off on my own (see kayaking in Croatia or walking to Greek restaurant in Hayward – virtually the same thing) and deliver messages.  Well, okay, I usually deliver messages at work where I have claimed that business planning functions as a nexus of communication.  It’s more amazing how little other people bother delivering messages, as I think people should know and understand what’s going on.

Okay, nobody cares about miya.

The actual point to this was that I think I try to play different characters in RPGs, but it’s too easy to fall into playing things that are easy rather than that are hard.  Asako Librarian – easy.  Ide Emissary – easy.  Daigotsu Bushi Duelist eaten by a snake – digestible.

Another example – blood god.  Er …

Different example:  When choosing characters in convention games, I avoid tanks, bricks, killers, others that are oriented towards combat superiority.  I sometimes think about that.  I usually wouldn’t choose to play a sorcerer in FS, but it was available and I figured it would be an opportunity.  Sorcery is too openended for me in FS – almost as if magic is a “magic” problem, per my blog post Kill The Wizard on how PCs shouldn’t do “magic”.  Almost as if.

As others don’t seem to have as much aversion to such, things work out.  It’s almost as if some people are Hida Bushi non-duelist/non-poets and others are Miya Heralds.

Of course, I could belabor this post with tying this into competitive-mindedness, but that seems like overdoing the observation.  This will likely come up more after I play V:TES the next time, where I’m likely going to be pathetic.

No Shadowfist for a couple of weeks, thus the lack of posts on that.  No progress on making a RPG resolution system based on Shadowfist cards, though I thought about it vaguely.  Perhaps Gloomhaven has influenced my thoughts on resolution as I was thinking something that I’ve only just realized has similarities to Gloomhaven.  Speaking of which, coronavirus is apparently the reason we haven’t been playing.  I know, kind of tacky to bring up this triviality when people are suffering, including our business that sources most of its inventory from a nation I might have mentioned traveling to for work at some point.

So, I’ve become a reality TV watcher, not only watching The Masked Singer (US) but also Lego Masters (US).  The obvious relevance is that … okay … I guess I am going to get into how some people enjoy competition more than I, premature as that is.

I don’t like how reality TV is structured because I’m not into elimination.  I get that there’s a reason for it even beyond the calculated manipulation of our emotions through loss.  I’m not a builder.  I have plenty of thoughts on building campaigns, worlds, novels, whatever, but I don’t do it.  So, I’m kind of fascinated by those people who can create art.  I’d much rather see the Legotians all keep building different creations rather than getting into their departures.  Like a lot of people, I’d rather see more about how they build than the reality TV editing of focusing on human disinterest stories.  It’s like how the Olympics should be more about how you do a sport and less about kids cheering you on in your hometown.

It’s almost as if Good Eats is more interesting to me than Fire Masters.  Well, when talking about something useful like broccoli and not something useless like crackers.


DunDraCon 2020

February 17, 2020

There was only one major difference this year from last.  While that does have something to do with gaming, it’s not an on topic topic.

I tried to feel nostalgic this year, as it will be the last year that DDC is in San Ramon … up until they realize how awful the hotel I can walk to is for running a game convention and maybe think about moving back.

Really, as much as I get that the con has outgrown the hotel, I don’t see how the con has outgrown the hotel.  I can walk the halls at 7:30AM and find virtually nobody gaming.  I tried getting into a RPG and got into it.  Some categories of events have very little going on and there were unused conference rooms.  Sure, the hotel way sells out.  It’s a pain in the ass to get into events, though that’s also a function of there not being more events being run.  First, eliminate the 8 hour RPG sessions and that will free up more time for RPG rooms.  Second, there has to be more space that can be used for events.

It was hard to feel nostalgic.  I don’t remember that much from my 20+ DDCs.  They mostly blend together.  Actually, V:TES events were more memorable than a lot of things.

Interesting thing about my checking to see what people read of my blog posts is that someone was reading my 2017 post recently.  I reread that and realized the more my life changes the more it chronic hysteresises.

I got to the con a bit after 7:30AM Saturday and walked over to breakfast – see old posts for details as I desire being a creature of habit except when I don’t.  Talk to a few people before setting up for my Traveller tournament.

Tournament?

Yup.  They scheduled my tournament the day before my demo.  I could have complained, but Jeff did a demo Friday.

Nobody signed up.  Couple people showed up to demo the game.  There’s a reason I don’t make much effort to schedule tournaments – it scares people.  Not everybody.  But, foreshadowing.

We had a good visual setup with a monitor showing original art and we now have a banner.

I got lunch around 2:30PM.  I got into a game at 4PM.  Did you read the 2017 blog post?

Yup, Feng Shui.  Maybe I should read my own blog posts before conventions.

It was mediocre and I could complain about things not related to the system, but the system is just bad.

Now, if you understand how it’s bad and GM around the badness, it can still be cool and be FSlike.

Which edition?  It doesn’t matter which edition!

The system is just bad unless you understand it really, really well.  Combat is a slow, agonizing crawl of tedium.  I saw the vehicle chase mechanics used for the first time, and that was amusing, but there’s a reason I would be inclined to just use a different system when running in the Secret War universe.

It occurs to me that I should come up with RPG resolution mechanics using Shadowfist cards.  It could be The Zero Movement like where you can use cards narratively and mathematically.

Or, learn Hero system well enough to try it with cinematic rules.  Or, review my Feng Shui Tu Huo mechanics, which worked a lot better than I expected.  Or, Maelstrom … I should really go reread Maelstrom to refresh my understanding of the mechanics as it may have been easier when run by somebody authoritative much like Immortal, The Zero Movement, or whatever is easier to play than run.

Five combats.  Pretty much zero plot.  Too many players.  Flavorless schticks and/or a GM who wouldn’t work with the flavor of the schticks to do anything interesting.  All fixable features of the session.  But, I’m not even a fan of up die, down die anymore.  It’s too tied into having a static base value and a static base value is terrible.  It’s far too predictable.  Sure, switch from d6s to d10s and the predictability is greatly lessened, but you still are faced with the other problem – setting a challenge is incredibly boring.  If I set it below someone’s AV, then the player likely succeeds too easily.  If I set it at the AV, then the player fails too often.  It’s just not a good way to handle having a measurable chance at failure.  But, then, a lot of games don’t do that well, including d20, d100, 3d6 … unless you have dice manipulation mechanics.

All hail dice manipulation mechanics.  Or, just play Roll & Keep, where it’s fun to roll dice and where you can probability TNs and where you have raises.

So, in both reading old L5R forum posts and in a conversation with a dedicated L5R player, raises are not liked by various people.  I get it.  They don’t work well.  They work okay.  They work better in combat, actually, where they have more defined effects.  But, there’s a reason the Akodo R-5 technique is “The Final Lesson” and that’s cool even though it’s kind of dumb if you think about it.  Sure, call 10 raises and roll average and still hit, but it would have made more sense to probability that curve and call 8 raises.

FS has dice manipulation mechanics.  Actually, if I read 2e correctly, 2e does a way better job than 1e with spending Fortune Dice to add to a roll.  OTOH, 2e does a much worse job of varying number of Fortune Dice.  And, it still feels like a bad thing to get less lucky because you wanted to succeed at something, except when it feels bad when you don’t care if you are using the resource because it doesn’t have virtually any downside.

One last thing – FS mooks are not how you do mooks.  Yes, one shot enemies are fine … perhaps, in certain cases.  We took far, far more damage from mooks than from named characters (none of which, BTW, had names).  It’s just dumb.  It’s not interesting taking out mooks, not even when you can make a bunch of them Cheese It, which is a dumb name for fleeing when you hear it more than once in your life.

Sunday I ran my Traveller demo and was fortunate to get a lot of help as something I should be more aware of is that I can only demo for about three people at a time unless everyone is demoing at the same time and running through a more structured demo.  With DDC, I let people come early, show up in the middle, whatever, and I have to give the same explanations and answers repeatedly.  We could script the first two rounds, I suppose, but that lacks a creative feel.  If we script a demo, why not just stream it instead of taking time to show up to a con event?

We had eight people show up.  Then, four more people show up.  That’s also just like previous cons I’ve done where there’s either way too many people or not enough.

One person showed up for the “tournament”, where I had him play experienced players and he won more stuff than other people due to his achievement.  Essentially gunslinging.

I’d rather schedule gunslinging, but what about the hordes and hordes of tournament Traveller players itching to unleash their Missile Magazines upon each other?

Had dinner where we spent a lot of time talking.  Got home like 6:30PM.

So, so like an alloy of previous years.

 

 


Eleven Decks, Eleven Notes – Part 5

February 7, 2020

Probably should mention to those who don’t already know that Horizon has printed two new Traveller CCG sets.  Rogue’s Gallery with a number of more unique cards and Central Supply Catalog to expand mostly on Gear/Upgrades.

Getting to Shadowfist, after Thursday’s session, we talked about various things, including some additional thoughts on rules changes.  In particular, since it’s so easy to playtest, we plan on doing stronghold style cards where you have a source of one power every turn and one faction resource of your choice in your pool and where each Burned for Victory will increase the power gained every turn by one.

This is a less awkward way to do the “start with a non-unique foundation and a FSS in your opening hand, draw four random cards to complete your opening hand” mechanic, though it wasn’t entirely clear we were dropping that house rule (which I don’t use as I try somewhat to build decks for normal ‘fisting).  But, it also serves to, in theory, push a game to conclusion.  The Hungry may be broken, well, about the same level of broken as a hundred other cards, but the concept isn’t a bad concept.  Shadowfist can really use a drive towards completion when played very casually, as we play.

Which brings up yet another topic that could have been its own post.  One thing about my reading the old Bay Area site, stuff posted on Chimpshack, and, most recently, the Reddit I didn’t realize existed until like yesterday is that people who post thoughts on Shadowfist and people I’ve played with who are veteran players are really, really competitive-minded.

Sure, I played with such in B5 and V:TES – quite a bit.  But, I also had perspective from those who weren’t particularly competitive.  I don’t feel like I have perspective from those who don’t view Shadowfist as a tournament game.

That just seems so weird.  Not because Shadowfist is particularly oriented to wacky or that it had far more in common with the RPG than V:TES with V:TM but because multiplayer CCGs aren’t good tournament games.  They are really, really good at being customizable, sit-around-a-dining-table-with-friends social outlets that have winners and losers.  They often have all kinds of problems when played as tournament games, in particular collusion and/or the perception of collusion, which has come up with both B5 and V:TES tournament play.

Of course you can play them competitively and have like-minded groups and play tournaments and make Halls of Fame and be tied for 21st most tournament wins ever or something.  They just aren’t optimized for that.

Well, there are those who don’t know what a lot of cards do or don’t have any sense of how good a lot of cards are because they couldn’t replace CHAR in their decks or whatever and there are those who play Mermaid.dec.  When a player base is large, it’s diversity and more sales.  When a player base is small, it worries me as making it more difficult to find the fun when you scrape up a game.

Speaking of Shadowfist player base, I’ve heard that there’s a Kickstarter planned for this year, its 25th anniversary.  Would have made sense to do something in the Fire Monkey year, as somebody likes monkeys.  Metal Rat could push Ascended and tech or, uh, the obvious return of Architects with more Arcanorats.

We played one four-player game.

Ian (Abominations) -> Joren (Fanatical Punks) -> Justin (AA Cops) -> Don (Syndicate Power)

I had a Gamma Beast briefly at nine fighting.  They usually were around seven.  Yes, that meant I had no real hope of winning.

I suppose I need to explain for those who aren’t hardcore ‘fisters.  I’m not much of a Timmy, but I sometimes play one in the blogosphere.  When building lots of decks for a CCG, I often will have some that are not so clever and really more like proof of concept decks where the concept is to be simplistic.  Oh, such may have some value for demoing or lending out or whatever.  My Lotus/Petal/Thorn deck is not a horrible deck, though it’s in a similar vein as this deck.  This is a horrible deck that really should only be used by someone who is trying to understand how the game works.

Name: Abomi-nation
Faction: Architect
Size: 40

Architect Cards (28)
Characters (25)
5x Arcanomoth
1x Assassin Bug
1x Desdemona Deathangel
4x Gamma Beast
1x General Gog
1x Gnarled Annihilator
1x Melting Flesh Squad
3x Napalm Belcher
5x Test Subjects
3x The Reconstructed

Edges (2)
2x Reinvigoration Process

Events (1)
1x Howling for Blood

Generic Cards (12)
Feng Shui Sites (12)
1x Blessed Orchard
3x Hydroponic Garden
3x Marsh
2x Maze of Stairs
3x Proving Ground

This is far less tech-y [sic] than Abominable Tech.  Essentially just play characters and they attack or intercept.  So, sure, it’s quite easy to have a 7F Gamma Beast.  But, a good deck would do other things than care about making huge Gammas.

Getting back to the game.

While Don wasn’t yet out of control, my first attack was right.  To that point, I had just been building up a bunch of Abominations.  Joren put effort into stopping my attack with a combination of Razor-Clad Fanatic and The Lunatic Fringe.  This started us down an unproductive path.

After losing resources, I mostly holed up.  I let Joren have his four Fanatics from Anarchy in the HK and Strange Bedfellows.  He added Russ Razor along with two Razor-Clads and a Buffalo Soldier, so his board was a mess.  I had Napalm Belcher in hand for ages where I could have cleaned things up.  But, I was mostly looking right at Don’s massive power pools along with being close to victory, leaving Joren to keep Justin under control.

Don put out Hirake Kazuko and kept stealing Razor-Clads even though my stuff was bigger.  He did finally steal a Gamma Beast.  Justin had 200 Guys to recover annoying cr-ops.  I even intentionally played a Gnarled Annihilator to put three dudes in play.  Don flew close to the Belcher Cave and the Belcher came out and killed Hirake, two Nihilists, a Mars Colonist, a Mars Program Executive, and made two FSSs in needing of removal before someone won.  Of course, this was because some of this stuff had significant damage already.

I could have made a bid for victory, but the board was still in needing of Neutrons, so I just smoked one of Don’s FSSs and BfP the other, staying at two sites for victory.  As time passed, I decided to push forward with the idea that Joren would regulate Justin, but I Belchered some of Joren’s stuff he was going to use for regulation and my Justin regulation with a second Belcher didn’t do much as he had an Expendable Unit.  Joren’s massive power pool was useless as it often is, so we couldn’t do anything about Justin when he went for victory.

Don played a ton of events and a Fortune of the Turtle to stop events from shutting down his attacks, but when he went from four sites and Hirake and two Nihilists and chumps to zero cards in play and one power, he stopped being relevant.

The takeaway wasn’t that playing a child’s deck was uninspired.  It wasn’t that I consistently don’t put in reasonable amounts of stoppage as this flaw is rather pervasive.  It was kind of the ideas we tossed around for how to further warp Shadowfist from what veteran players view it as.

It was mostly that I got playing Napalm Belcher out of my system and I never have to do it, again.

I’m not joking.

I only kind of hate Napalm Belcher.  That’s not why I see no reason to play it, well, okay, that is an argument for my not playing it as I can choose to not play cards I kind of hate as well as cards I hate.  Even when under the control of someone who respects “the narrative” [reference you are extremely unlikely to get based on discussion before playing that had nothing to do with CCGs], I don’t enjoy playing this sort of card.

What is this sort of card?

A card that feels griefy, for one thing.  But, it’s a second aspect that I’m thinking more of, as I’ll play some griefy stuff at times.  The card is too decision-controllish.  Yup, it’s too DC.  I’m an AC (amused cuckoo) style player.  I don’t want to have control over other players.  Even in two-player games, I control other players by winning faster than they can rather than depriving them of resources.  Sure, Napalm Belcher isn’t purely this sort of card; it just has more ability to be played this way than most.  I could have violated Joren or Justin at different points, and I did violate Don out of the game.  Having the ability to make those decisions isn’t enjoyable to me.