Samurai Squad

I’ve played an unusual amount of Heroes of Rokugan recently, two mods in the last week.  I commented recently to people I play with online that, while it’s obvious that the more you play the more you get into the campaign, I didn’t realize how pronounced the effect was.  I’m constantly in touch with the campaign due to weekly local play, where I either GM or superfluously hang out while another GMs an adventure I’ve already played.  But, I haven’t been as jazzed about my (main) character in ages.

Then, I had a few other observations from the unusually prolific recent play.  There are my usual views on party composition – unlike home play where a GM can adjust challenges, the living campaign challenges are largely out of a GM’s hands, so metagaming party composition is important.  Combat tactics was something I spent a good amount of time thinking about.  Sure, it may be ironic that someone who favors combat as an activity so much less than others thinks more about it, but it is an outlet for analytical thinking.

I guess I’ll start with some comments on recent mods.  I will do a new set of rankings on subjective desirability and attempted objective quality for what I have played to this point.  But, first, I enjoyed both recent mods I played – Cold Hands, Stone Heart (SoB15) & Tear Away the Darkness (SoB22).  I especially enjoyed the former.

One of my complaints about HoR3 – yes, I have a variety, no, I’m not trying to grief staff by regularly pointing them out – is that too many mods are underdeveloped.  The underdeveloped ones tend to just be short at least one scene or major challenge.  Some play okay but seem to hint at far more than what you end up doing.  I got really tired of investigative mods from HoR2 because they felt like they dragged, but it wasn’t due to having too much to do, simply that what you did had too much sameness to it.

SoB15 was not one of the underdeveloped mods.  It gave me plenty of opportunities to do the things I enjoy … going to try to avoid being spoilery.  The rolls in the game made my character useful mechanically.  It had one or more themes that speak to me.

Meanwhile, SoB22’s enjoyable experience had a lot to do with relief.  I keep telling folks that I really want to read the mod to see whether it’s as harsh as it seems and how it scales for different groups.  I’m a big fan of smiting evil in L5R – as the first Shadowlands mod for the campaign, there was evil to be smited.  I didn’t have as much of a thematic experience, but I got to use my analytical mind …

Latest thoughts on HoR3 mods:

Scenario Stars Rank – Quality Fun Rank – Fun
SOB07 3.5 1 4 2
SOB00 3.5 2 3.5 4
SOB18 3 3 3.5 6
SOB15 3 4 4 1
SOB06 3 5 3.5 5
SOB09 3 6 3.5 7
SOB13 3 7 3 10
SOB12 2.5 8 3.5 8
SOB20 2.5 9 3 11
SOB11 2.5 10 3.5 3
SOB19 2.5 11 3 13
SOB01 2.5 12 2.5 16
SOB14 2.5 13 2.5 14
SOB08 2.5 14 2.5 15
SOB21 2.5 15 2 17
SOB04 2.5 16 3 9
SOB16 2.5 17 2 18
SOB10 2 18 1 21
SOB03 2 19 1.5 19
SOB02 2 20 1.5 20
SOB05 1 21 0.5 22
SOB17 n/a n/a n/a n/a
SOB22 pending pending 3 12

Moving on, party composition.  Fairly sure I mentioned some elements to an effective party in another post.  Some additional comments and some reminders.

First, the more shugenja, the better.  Shugenja are just superior to other schools for the usual reason that magic is almost always better than the lack of it.  Supernatural stuff dies to Jade Strike like it totally doesn’t to a lot of other things.  Tempest of Air, though I believe GMs are too generous with how many enemy targets and how few friendlies get hit by it, wins fights, including fights that wouldn’t otherwise be winnable.  Fires of Purity is broken.  Path to Inner Peace is essential.  Commune is broken.

After that, we get into specific roles.

Always want a talker – Awareness at least 3, preferably higher, at least 3 ranks in Courtier and Sincerity with Etiquette being important if less so.  Why Sincerity?  A lot of adventures come down to convincing someone to shake off possession or the like.

Hunter – I used to call this the Perceiver but most folks realize the importance in Investigation where too many people don’t value Hunting highly enough.  Picking up trails is essential in a number of mods, more so in HoR3 than HoR2.  The Hunter will have Perception at least 3, preferably higher, at least 2 ranks in Hunting, preferably at least 3, at least 2 ranks in Investigation, preferably 3, should have Battle too since Battle is the only other Perception skill.

Brain – Intelligence 3+, Sage, Commerce, Medicine.  Engineering makes sense but isn’t rolled that often.  Yes, a number of party brains get by without Sage, but Sage is so stupidly good that it really should be part of any character who plans an INT of 4+ and gets the party by while the character works up from INT 3 to INT 4.

“Ranger” – a new category for me, someone who can control range, more specifically, prevent a target from getting out of range of the party when in pursuit and who can affect enemies at range when melee isn’t effective.  This isn’t as essential as the others, and shugenja typically fill this role by accident what with Tempest of Air or Water spells increasing actions/movement or Earth’s Stagnation/Grasp of Earth.  Fire has a harder time with this as Fires from Within is actually not that effective damagewise.

Grappler – grapple is broken, sometimes it’s the only way to deal with problematic enemies.

Murderer – massive damage is the party’s friend, good to target with buffs from shugenja.

Taking my characters’ roles as examples, we can see a bit why I’m so reluctant to play my alt (nevermind not wanting an XP suck for my main).  Typical online party for me is:  Utaku A’Nen, Kitsuki Ketsumei, Ide Xiao Xi, Kitsu Kagami, and Moshi Shigeo (moi).

Ketsumei is the talker.  Xiao Xi and, now that Ketsumei has Hunting, Ketsumei are the hunters.  Xiao Xi and Kagami are shugenja.  I have become a much more useful brain now that I’m INT 4, though I lack Sage.  I don’t think Kagami has Sage, which means no Sage in party.  I think Kagami can ranger, though my recollection is that we don’t ranger well.  A’Nen is a mild grappler (less mild outside of combat).  Xiao Xi can probably grapple well.  Xiao Xi murders well; I’m okay at slaughtering.

Now, my alt, Hoshi Takumi, is best at talker but inferior to Ketsumei.  Two talkers is okay but not thrilling, depending upon what is given up.  For instance, two Air shugenja talkers would be fine because they have shugenja brokenness.  Takumi recently went to INT 3 and is a Sage!  But, he’s been pretty much behind Shigeo at all times as a brain.  Takumi is only a demibrain and will likely never rise to quality braindom.  Takumi also offers nothing else in these categories, though he is a moneypockets, which is a category that’s occasionally useful.

Bottom line, a solid talker and demibrain isn’t as useful to my typical group as a demibrain (Shigeo lacks Sage!), front line fighter, and demimurderer.  Take Ketsumei, though, out of the party and Takumi’s value rises astronomically due to not having niche overlap.

Combat tactics.  I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on combat tactics in this post.  More, there are some bad tactics that amaze me.

Frequent bad tactic – attacking someone who has already gone in the round when there are enemies who have yet to go.  Another, though this is more of a 4e phenomenon due to the awful inversion of the wound chart from 3e – not murdering the wounded, aka spreading damage rather than concentrated fire.

Spellcasting – yes, any spellcasting tends to be highly productive, but not splitting Jade Strike, splitting is far more damage output than calling raises for damage, wasting spell slots on easily winnable battles, and not healing the damage sponges, er, bushi are the main criticisms I have.

Initiative and stance manipulation should be much more common; I’m particularly guilty of forgetting that Center Stance exists, though I rarely see it being a good idea for my character.  Typically, initiative is going to be manipulated by Void Point expenditures, well, speaking of spending Void, people seem to overlove spending VPs for damage soak when ATN boosts are likely to be better defensive return on investment.

Everything is situational.  Most fights aren’t deadly enough for a total party kill, but that’s what gets people dead.  Fight a tough fight and all of those bad habits actually matter.

And, those are my primary HoR thoughts today.

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8 Responses to Samurai Squad

  1. Andrew Haas says:

    We already talked about this a bit but I just got to read this now. I agree that Tempest of Air is often not ruled right by GM’s. Its area of effect is a cone with a width 1/5 of its length. That means at 15′ away the base is 3′ wide, generally not going to catch two enemies unless they are Ashigaru standing shoulder to shoulder. If I call two raises to make the base 25′ then the ratio becomes 1/3 and thus 5′ wide at 15′, still a stretch to catch two opponents.
    Basically it realistically should only be catching more than one enemy when they are
    a) far away (~30′)
    b) grouped closely together (ashigaru spear wall)
    c) in a hallway

    Non-sensical combat decision making drives me crazy. Considering how long combat takes there’s no reason not to spend time thinking and conversing with your group.

    Knockdown enemies before they get to attack, not after. Delay attacks against enemies until after you’ve knocked them down or grappled them. If you’re casting Fires of Purity on someone pick the party member that is going to hit and be hit most often, not the most vulnerable. If you can ask someone to delay their attack until after you’ve cast FoP on them. Remember to use void points wisely, not reflexively.

    If combat is done right, winnable fights go quickly and difficult fights become winnable. Do it wrong, and you should die.

    • Christian ward says:

      I would note, though, that combat tactics are highly situational, and somewhat depend on party composition. Tsuko -always- attacks one of the strongest targets that is a clear threat, and always while they are standing. His understanding of things (and the voice in his head) tells him that he can’t hit someone while they’re down, because there’s no challenge in that. Yes, knocking down opponents is awesome, but for X reason or Y, characters don’t always get to do that. Also, note that a knocked down enemy is knocked down, no matter if they already went or not. If you ignore the guy who just hit you, he’s still going to get to hit you again. Amusingly, the statement that you should always attack the person under you in initiative because he’ll be the next person to swing does in fact forget that, unless you kill them both, each guy is going to get a swing in.

      Also, Tempest of Air is given some leeway for the sake of it working as intended over working by the rules. Otherwise, there would be no reason to ever take it.

      • iclee says:

        Your point about combat being circular is an important one. Without gang ups and without one-shots, then, it is a matter of everyone who came before also comes after.

        As an example, if we have PC1, PC2, PC3 versus N1, N2, N3, where the initiative order is N1,PC1, N2, PC2, N3, PC3 and where the N’s always attack their counterparts because they are more noble, virtuous, and pure then scuzzy PCs, we get a situation that’s not too far outside the norm. Further assumption that the N’s are interchangeable and that they fight about as well or possibly a bit worse than the PCs.

        N1 attacks PC1. Now, PC1 has a choice. I contend that attacking N1 is the worst possible decision. If PC1 wastes N2 or N3 in one attack, then either PC2 or PC3 is free from a “counterpart attack” and simply trades targets to go after N1 (or N2 in PC3’s case), who is effectively after the PC in init at this point. If PC1 softens up N2, then nothing much changes and N2 beats on PC2. But, if PC1 went after N3, now, PC2 can cripple/nuke N3 and PC3 can trade targets.

        I quite despise the wound chart inversion in 4e because it punishes people who want to fight individual fights by making wound penalties difficult to inflict. It basically makes L5R combat too much like D&D combat, even though wound penalties do still occur.

        While tactics should vary by the situation and situations vary a fair amount, there are advantages to having some sort of strategic plan going into any given fight. As much as it may seem that I don’t want to be effective in combat with how I build characters and as much as easy combats bore me, I actually don’t want others to suffer, so I think it’s important to have at least some sort of idea of what constitutes good/bad strategy and tactics. Do I constantly make tactical errors? Sure, but I hope to learn and get better so that it never costs the party.

  2. Chris Damour says:

    Ian, you do know that I bought Xiao Xi with Sage, right? <> Along with Large, Crab Hands and Luck. The original idea was he was sort of “Conan the Librarian”.

    • iclee says:

      I may have realized you had Sage at some point, but I hadn’t noticed it recently. Maybe we just haven’t played that much together recently. We did play 20, 21, and 22 together, which would be three of the last four mods I’ve played, so I guess it’s not that; I guess I just haven’t noticed.

  3. Christian ward says:

    Just a note about the wound inversion.

    In combat, I’ve found that it is very rare that the wound inversion matters overly much. The thing that frustrates me with it is more that it becomes harder to take people alive, and more importantly there is not a nice cushion between down and dead. Players tend to be in the fights longer in my experience, and more capable of doing things in those fights for longer. In most cases, I’ve benefited from that inversion, too. It used to be, in 3rd ed, I would force myself to throw 4 points at Strength of the Earth with every character, because if I didn’t do that I often found that I would be hit once and then never be able to contribute to the fight again. With the current system, I can take a hit or two and still be able to push forward before things really start looking bad. There are some things that 4e did wrong, but I don’t think that, overall, wound inversion was anything more than a neutral gain. If the NPCs are tearing up the players, the wound inversion likely was bound to be irrelevant, and it does make the fights slightly more interesting in my opinion.

    An interesting phenomenon created by this is the fact that fights tend to start a bit slow and then suddenly snowball into deaths. Unless you do ridiculous damage in the first hit or two (at Origins, I think my lowest damage was something around 30), the first couple of rounds are really about feeling out TNs now, maybe getting some lowball numbers in. After that comes the slice and dice, and I’ve found that with proper use of maneuvers, enemies tend to go down amazingly fast. An interesting thing is also the people who seem to think that full attacking is now worth it all the time because hitting is frivolous. I keep trying to remind people that if they full attack, someone is going to call ridiculous numbers of raises in response and ream them. And yet, so few heed my words -.-

    I suppose my point is that the wound inversion is probably not quite as terrible as most make it out to be. It changes the strategy of the battle from 3rd ed, and most importantly it doesn’t actively punish people for not having high reflexes ranks, like 3rd ed did.

  4. […] Samurai Squad for previous rankings of HoR3 […]

  5. […] Anyway.  Following up from my review of Book of Fire, I wanted to spend some time thinking about theoretical characters fitting together in a theoretical party.  First, let me list party roles, based on what I wrote in Samurai Squad. […]

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