Betwixt

I have this sense that something in the last week should be remembered better, so I’m just reviewing the last week’s worth of gaming.

Last Saturday played Winter Court: Kyuden Hida, SoB08 of HoR3.  It went quite a while.  Even if we would have played faster, the mod seemed to have more depth than most of the HoR3 mods.  As with every Winter Court mod I’ve seen for HoR, I believe there are too many characters and, especially, too many characters that don’t matter.  I realize that a living campaign needs to have diversity to cater to a large group of players, but it’s really hard on the GM whether the NPCs have interesting stories or not.  I think I’m getting more and more feel for my main character, who has played about half as much as my alt.  I rebuilt the character specifically for the mod since the character didn’t need to be finalized until after the mod, when I had played it three times.  I did a really good job of predicting what was important, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on taking an obscure skill that would have been useful, which would have been amusing even if the die rolls would have suggested that it wouldn’t have mattered.

Sunday, we expected four for V:TES.  I don’t really need to explain events, as Brandon http://brandonsantacruz.blogspot.com/2011/05/update-and-game-re-cap.html has already done so.  I do need to do something about breaking down some of my lamer decks.  The 3e-only deck is fine if I didn’t also make it a 4cl deck.  The Stray Bullets deck is just not something for me to give other people until I identify whether it’s viable or not.  Games like Wings of War are always funny with me since I’m so bad spatially that I don’t really know where plotted movement takes me.  The Greatest Fall deck had an interesting crypt, since only my favorite vampire mechanically in the game was the one I least wanted to bring out from my uncontrolled region, but the library was fairly dull.  I should probably make some changes on my Jyhad-only 4cl Toreador tap vote deck, but I guess it’s matchup dependent no matter what, where I badly want my prey to have titled vampires.

It was late enough in the day that I didn’t feel up to posting many of these comments on May Day.

Not knowing whether one of the regulars was playing my HoR2 campaign Tuesday, I prepared to run one mod and had another printed as a backup plan.  Went with the backup plan, which nobody seemed happy about.  It’s an uninspired mod that was okay for me when I played it resultswise but not all that interesting.  That lack of inspiration coupled with how I think my group is just really bad at investigation made it drag and nothing all that interesting happened except an ending that I’m sure is fairly rare.

Only Andy out of my players will probably read this – I don’t understand why following up on leads and asking the right questions is such a challenge.  I’m perfectly fine avoiding investigative mods/situations (to the extent it’s possible in a campaign where investigation is the primary activity) if the party isn’t interested, but the party is so close so often on doing what it’s expected to do (and probably wants to do) and then goes and does something else that doesn’t end up being terribly productive … and never comes back to a far more productive line.

Thursday, I blew off class to do boardgames with the old South Bay group.  First up was Scepter of Zavandor, a variation on Outpost.  I like the game.  It has some of the problems that Outpost, which I hate playing because it’s so limited and unforgiving, has.  It probably lacks the variety that I perceive it has for me at this stage.  So, it’s not great by any stretch of the imagination.  But, there are enough roles that I haven’t played a lot of different strategies (subtle as the differences may be), so my fascination with strategic variety is stimulated.  Well, whatever.  It’s good to not be bored with a game.  Speaking of bored with a game, we played Settlers because it was easy.  It was a blowout, as many of our Settlers games are, as I couldn’t care less what actually happens in Settlers games anymore.  I spent the entire game working on largest army and never got to three soldiers – that’s not a comment on the quality of the game or my competitive effort – it’s just a note that relates to how I find the game completely unsatisfying, whether competitively or not.

Yesterday, I finally made an appearance with Jeff’s RPG group.  We played All Flesh Must Be Eaten.  It went well, especially from a narrative standpoint.  My rancher character got to use First Aid a lot when the vet kept getting the crap beaten out of him by zombies, .50 caliber machine gun fire, and whatnot.  I never took any damage.  After all, the driver is probably never going to get hit by machine gun fire going through the engine block, right?  On the flip side, I could never find a gun, so the only damage I did was a two-fisted blow to the back of a head of a zombie … for 1 point of damage.  Go Strength of 1.  Go Strength of 1!  The two jocks kept leaving us behind, since their Ferrari and motorcycle lacked the problems our stolen vehicles had.  The trucker never ended up driving a truck, but he did get to shoot some zombies … Perhaps we could organize our resources better – M-16 to the rancher who has Guns: Rifles and a low Strength, truck to the trucker, vet tends others rather than getting tended to, etc.

Next week, with the group, is likely to be RuneQuest, where I get to hack and slash.  Been a while.

So, the takeaways from all this are what?  HoR is HoR – it isn’t likely to be perfectly suited to a particular group of players.  I’m still working on how to better suit my players.  I think the Shadowlands mods, the more I reread them, are more what the campaign should be like as they are less likely to drag.  I need to be building more interesting (to play) decks for V:TES and not lend out decks that only “work” when I play them.  Maybe I need to find another boardgame to be a staple of play so that I don’t get stuck playing ones I really have no desire to ever play again.  Unfortunately, most of the few I own fall into the category of not being ones I actually want to play.

Finally, the RPG book I ordered on April 13th has finally shipped.  Not that I’m doing a good job of delving into material I buy, but I really should do more to support the industry, so putting in an occasional order for something, even if it takes a month to ship, makes sense.

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7 Responses to Betwixt

  1. Andrew Haas says:

    Probably right about me being the only one to read this stuff, lets see.

    HoR3: The mod was cool, I have really mixed feelings about the structure of NPCs in HoR3. They’re basically placeholders and its very much up to the GM whether you can interact with them in a meaningful way. They remind me of all the “filler” characters in a PC game like Oblivion or Dragon Age. They’re there to fill out the world but they don’t serve much purpose beyond that, they have minimal background material and basically your only possible interaction with them is to get their backstory out. You’ll probably never see them again, they exist basically in a vacuum, and your interactions with them are extremely scripted. They don’t serve as a gateway to any side plots and interacting with them doesn’t affect your character in any meaningful way.
    They serve a necessary purpose as without them you end up with a strangely empty world where you can instantly spot the important people because they’re the only ones with names and descriptions. Yet because I know my interactions with them are usually so meaningless I am tempted to just ignore them and thereby speed up the mod.
    Now kudos to you because you’ve given us a method to pick out NPCs we think would be interesting and bring them into the campaign on a recurring basis, which is awesome and turns the window dressing NPCs into important characters. So, Hooray Ian!
    HoR3 is a bit different this way especially when playing online, I feel much more compelled to “Do” the mod for other players (and the GMs) sake rather than take a trip through Rokugan (smell the flowers, ask how everyone is doing, etc.)
    Anyway, HoR3, I like how my character is developing, I have a sort of story arc planned out for him and I like the fact that I’ve been relevant to the success or failure of the party in nearly every mod so far. I’m really hoping to get involved in a regular HoR3 group because that might allow me to form PC-PC relationships and also because the online play is a total inconsistent mess which I’ll avoid talking about now. I was talking to a fairly large group that plays in Reno and I might be able to join them, which would be great.
    HoR2: Not sure if you noticed but my character was pretty much systematically excluded from the main focus of that mod. While I don’t mind meta-gaming some stuff it seemed to be pushing it to have my character try to help Joel’s investigation that I didn’t know about into people I didn’t really know were suspicious. So I just talked to some more NPCs which is fun and gives me the option of following that up with a fiction. The follow them into the forest option seemed attractive but with Kagetoki’s lead I had no reason to do something dishonorable when I had no real misgivings about the targets. I did enjoy it, just not as much as some/I could have.
    I like side plots and alternate goals but they seem hard to come by for non-scorpion players. So when your Scorpion player doesn’t cut me in (which is totally fine and makes sense) I’m left with not much to do, which is why I made a point to get seduced by Shosuro Chizuri, specifically hoping she would give me something super secret to do. Result: memorable hilarity and character development.

    Vtes: I’ve been really slacking on deck building for a long time and I’m determined to turn that around next week with at least one new functional deck and probably one rebuilt one. Its difficult to get inspired to buy new cards though as there are few deals to be had and what seems like much less out there from the bigger sellers.

    Paying $9 for three cards that go into one deck which is unreliable plus a another $3 for shipping out of Eastern Europe is not a great prospect especially when you’re also not going to see the cards for 2+weeks.

    Glad to hear you liked Wings of War, its cool in that you have airplanes (an interest of mine) in a pretty easy to pick up intuitive game where you can add more complexity as needed. I’ll have to grab some more figures for next time so we’re not fiddling with the cards quite so much.

  2. iclee says:

    The point of a lot of NPCs in HoR is not that they matter to the plot but that they matter to your character’s personal stories. While some of them have some sort of mechanics related to the mod, the burden of making them relevant is on the player and not the GM. It actually makes sense – people who want to develop their personal stories can engage NPCs that nobody has to engage, while those who just want to succeed the mod can ignore them.

    As for the HoR2 mod, Kagetoki didn’t include other people on what was going on and you all suffered for it, minorly since you didn’t lose any XP, but the mod is not supposed to be so exclusionary; it’s actually quite vague as to who gets the letter from Kougi. However, it does tend to be more exclusionary than most; when I played it, I didn’t follow the two on their hunting trip and I never talked to the Crane, at least I don’t think I did. That you all stayed in different places was an odd decision, but one that exists. As a low rank mod, it should probably make more of an effort to keep the party together.

  3. Andrew Haas says:

    I think you’re underestimating the extent to which the GM plays a huge role in whether an NPC is relevant to a player, at least from my perspective. We can use our most recent foray into HoR3 as an example.

    You went out of your way to engage a NPC that would be of interest to your character, the GM did the perfunctory stuff and at the end of the mod things were identical to not talking to the NPC.
    I suppose you could write a fiction and see if the admins would do something for your character but you would know more about that than me. Chances are though that you’ll never see that NPC again though.

    This kind of thing doesn’t really encourage any sort of in depth PC-NPC interaction beyond engaging in staged dialog and maybe writing a fiction off screen to try and make the NPC relevant.

    Speaking of HoR, have you seen anything show up in the groups? I think the mods are in absentia. Another lost opportunity, why don’t they just the them to un-moderated? I mean, I know what they posted but REALLY?

  4. iclee says:

    Better HoR GMs make stuff up smoothly to where you didn’t realize that the NPC didn’t have a personal story. I don’t know. As much of a hassle as it is for me to GM a bunch of NPCs I don’t care about, as a player of these mods, interaction with NPCs were fine. I was hugely happy with interacting with a particular NPC that shows up in only one mod, and I found it amusing what was written about her when I read the mod. It may be because, in general, I like having NPCs to interact with.

  5. Brandon says:

    I kinda like trotting out old decks to see how they fare against new ones. The whole Minion Tap vs Villein thing is a little less relevant in casual play where people may be too lazy to use decks that require moving Villeins from one deck to another (as good as it is).

    Andy, I would take a look at what you can do with the cards you have, more or less, and try it out. You can always proxy a few cards if they are that important to the deck. I haven’t bought any VTES cards online since I don’t know when, other than for our tournaments in December. If you need any ideas or to bounce one off of someone, I’ll help.

  6. Azel says:

    I am intrigued about comparing mods for HoR2 or 3 vs. L5R 1e… This might be a side project for me.

    Quick question: was this another Living “X” game? I heard Living systems are like the torchbearers of RPGA or something. *shudder* They’re probably much better than my unpleasant memories and second-hand horror stories of the latter.

    Anyway, modules are often a mixed bag in my experience. Too often I get stuck with “guess what the author was thinking!” pixel-bitching and then I have to furiously hand-wave the party back into caring about the story hook again. Those bad experiences usually leaves me questioning myself as a GM or questioning my players (commitment/interest/?).

    Nowadays I’m thinking maybe it’s mostly the modules fault — or more likely how I’m using them. I’m trying now to envision them not as a GM crutch or party challenge, but as a floating fishing hook in a sea of alternate fishhooks. Helps me integrate them better in sandbox mode. That way, when players finally wiggle off the hook after much thrashing, they still have that same hook being reset with different bait and altered tackle being recast out there. Basically the module’s plot can be put aside until it becomes interesting to the party again. Who knows how this new outlook will help me, though.

    By the way, the Legends of the Burning Sands setting fluff is pretty nice on the macro scale. However, the card game narrative really intervenes heavily, doesn’t it? The micro scale narrative fluff is rather a put off. The LBS CCG is dead and I have no interest in picking off where it affects L5R CCG, so that was a miss. But the cultural faction fluff was decent, yet naturally I wished for more.

    • iclee says:

      HoR1 was owned by RPGA, which is why the mods are not publicly available.

      HoR2 was mostly done by Rob Hobart, who is one of the main writers of the game, now. He owned it and the mods and campaign info are publicly available.

      HoR3 is by a group of people who took over from Rob, who had run the first two, since he wants to do other things. Much of how the living campaign is run is the same or similar enough to HoR2. It’s not nearly as tight and mechanical as RPGA from what I understand.

      An extremely important thing I learned about running HoR mods is to read them backwards. Start with what affects how many XP the party gets and what results in certificates (good or bad) and work backwards as to how they can get there. Too often, the beginnings have description or flavor knowledge rolls that don’t impact success. Once the GM understands what matters to the party’s success, the GM can focus on the key points that determine it. This may sound mechanically metagamey, but that’s how living campaigns differ from house games. You don’t have to force the party along productive lines, but unproductive lines or just general faffing about shouldn’t be encouraged over productive ones. Parties still fail, whether due to a failure to figure out what to do or due to bad die rolls.

      The more you play the mods, the better sense you get of what’s important, at least from an XP perspective, which is the primary reward.

      Note while the mods may not handle certain possibilities well, like, say, offing a major NPC, the campaign is pretty open for players to do what they want with their personal stories.

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