[Classic] Gen Con 2008

August 27, 2012

As I said, I can’t find a full write up of Gen Con 2008’s gaming (I do know what I preregged for) and what notes I have suck.  With a few edits, this is an e-mail I sent to someone about the games.

* * *

By far the most interesting thing was my last game on Saturday.  Besides L5R’s living campaign (5 mods and a quasiLARP), I did True Dungeon, a modern churchcentric horror, and two betatests (which should go nowhere).  The first one wasn’t terribly interesting except the party was Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China), Peter Venckman (Ghostbusters), Carl Kolchak, Daphne Blake (Scooby Doo), and Anita Blake [me] … on the Love Boat.  The Saturday game, OTOH, was described by one player as “this is the most fucked up game I’ve ever played” and he didn’t mean it in a bad way.

Game was a huge mixed bag as the GM was horrendous, but oh the concept.  The concept was that we were dreams in the real world – everybody loves the concept, the mechanics and how you should play the game …

One person dropped out while the GM was explaining because she understood his words but couldn’t get the abstractness.  Our characters had three archetypes.  Mine were: guardian angel, sage, owl.  Another’s were:  heroic warrior, beacon of light, and, eventually, double-edged sword.  The other guy’s, which he knew immediately he wanted to play, were:  book, door, endless hallway.  Early on in our adventure we entered a dungeon we created and the GM was saying we had gone into an incredibly abstract place.  In that dungeon, we created prisoners that the book captured in his endless hallway where they remained trapped until we met the Queen of the Faeries and the book had them sing to her before it let them either exit to the streets of the city or to the faerie mound.

The quote of the game was:
GM:  Explains that there is a man sitting at a table (must be important).
PC:  “A man or a layered archetype dream?”
GM:  “Yes.”

I was having huge problems trying to wrap my head around the spatial problems of standing right next to a beacon of light and with whether we were supposed to be creating the world or falling short of that and just modifying it.  Lot of other insanity, like my PayPaling to myself missing people, quests, and a monster from The Dragon’s bank account so that the PC’s could get back what they had lost in their dreams – the heroic warrior was missing quests, I was missing people who needed my protection or guidance, and the endless hallway was missing the threat in its perpetual chase scene.

It was one of those I couldn’t stop laughing moments at one point.

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Flaming Falcon

August 23, 2012

As mentioned in my last post, I created a solitaire game on the flight back (the second leg, from Cleveland).  No, it’s not called Flaming Falcon, though …

I was asked what it would be called, and I think “544” is good enough, though 544 Flaming Falcon came to mind.  This is a joke nobody could possibly get.  It involves the Q Manual from the James Bond 007 RPG, the entry for the Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer, and how I wanted something with better stats.  Thus was born the Ferrari 540 Flaming Falcon.

Anyway, 544 refers to the maximum number of points that can be achieved in the game.

What inspired this?

I’ve really become a fan of the philosophy that restrictions breed creativity.  The restriction here was that the airplane tray is small, too small for a number of solitaire games I play or even dealing poker hands.  I needed something that took up a minimal amount of space while doing something new and different, as I wasn’t in the mood for a bunch of solitaire bridge.

Also, too many solitaire games either have the problem of obvious decisions or no decisions.  For instance, if you play Microsoft’s solitaire game, a tableau may have no decisions.  In contrast, while FreeCell is solvable if you spend enough time studying the tableau, that’s boring and it’s interesting enough to just start moving cards around.  Actually, I suppose I could say I hate Spider Solitaire because the decisions are undermined so by the randomness.

Rules

Shuffle the deck.  Draw 5 cards.  Each turn, until the last, draw a card, reveal a card, and either try to match the revealed card or bury it.  You can match the card in one of two ways.  You can either match it on suit, in which case it goes into one scoring pile, or you can match it on its numerical value, where it goes in another scoring pile (I did numerical matches face up and suit matches face down in one pile to save space).  You continue to do this until you get down to one card in the draw pile, which you reveal rather than draw.  You may match cards in your hand based on value or suit, burying any that you don’t match.

Scoring

Cards have values equal to their face value, with aces being one and jacks, queens, kings being 11, 12, and 13, respectively.  Cards matched by value are worth 10 points each, regardless as to their face value, so 20 points for a pair.  Cards matched by suit are worth their face values.  Cards buried subtract by their face values.  The total number of points available is 544.  The total number of points if matching all cards by value is, of course, 520.  The total number matched by suit is only 364.

Based on a number of plays, it seems that 400+ points is a good score.  My high is 446.  My second and third high scores are 444 and 440.

Strategy

There’s nothing terribly complicated about the strategy.  The point of solitaire games is not to agonize and create paralysis by analysis problems but to eat up time that is otherwise mindnumbing while feeling some sense of accomplishment.  Well, I like having some sense of accomplishment, which is why I rarely play games where you just run on autopilot.

Yes, there’s a luck factor, that’s not a problem to me.  You will likely lose some cards early, before your hand gets huge.  The decisions early on about how to match on suit are the most agonizing, however, there’s an element of how to play the hand at the end when you have a wealth of options.

Memory can play a part, if you care enough about maximizing score.  I’m not big on memory challenges in games, but I find that it’s a low hurdle for this.

If I seem vague about how to maximize scores, I think it’s worth allowing people to discover a bit on their own.  I definitely got better at the game as I thought through what should be done.

Variants

It’s easy enough to vary:  change hand size, change value matching points (down, up would be less interesting, methinks, increasing the luck factor, though I think there’s an optimal point and 10/20 seems like it might be about it), etc.


Gen Con 2012

August 21, 2012

There’s a reason I write this blog.  Well, probably more than one.  But, if nothing else, it acts as an archive for me.  I was reminded of the importance of this when Gen Con ended and Andy and I got to talking about one game I played four years ago, which was an example of an amazing RPG experience.

There were none of those this year, but here’s what happened:

Wednesday

Get in half an hour to 45 minutes late, didn’t really matter as I had my convention badge and event tickets already.  In fact, because Andy was will call, I pretty much had to wait for him, anyway.  What was quite noticeable was that there were fewer people at the hotel, then it seemed like fewer people at the con as will call’s line was much shorter.  I talked to staff and apparently attendance was higher than last year.  Andy breezed through the line and we decided to eat at some place that wasn’t Steak & Shake – my go to place since I need things like burgers at 7AM, possibly had all of my meals there last year.

Another roommate was supposed to get in, but it turned out he had a flight cancelled and would arrive the following day.

Thursday

There was confusion with the HoR staff about when I was volunteering to GM.  Thursday was going to be all day for me in the HoR room, which was in the convention center again for the first time in a bunch of years, likely due to AEG’s influence.  But, I was unneeded in the morning, so I sat around until the exhibit hall opened and did my dealer’s room stuff.  Mostly, I got my promos – True Dungeon free pull, Gen Con die.  My pull?  Turkey Leg!!  I so win at life.  I bought something at the “buy 1, get 3 free” booth, looked at stuff I wasn’t going to pay retail for, and did a demo of Blindside.

Blindside is a checkers/shogi/customizable board boardgame.  Hexagonal, the board can be pulled apart to configure in various ways, including leaving a hole in the board.  Pieces are discs with spaces for removable arrows, up to six.  The arrows show which directions the pieces can move – the way a number of pieces were set up for the demo, it reminded me of the generals in shogi.  They also determined how far the pieces could move.  Chits on certain hexes were “spinner” locations where you could change direction in your movement.  If you land on an opposing piece, which can only be done with maximum movement, you take one arrow from the piece and teleport it to a spinner location.  You can jump pieces, taking all arrows from opposing pieces in the line that you jumped it.

My five arrow piece took many arrows.  The demoer said that it was normally 17 captured arrows for a game, but it quickly became apparent that that seemed like too many.  She agreed and said her games are often 10-12.  The problem is that you are reducing movement range of pieces as you capture arrows while also burying pieces in the corner of the board, so the game slows rather than accelerates as it goes.  My reluctance is not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with how it plays, but that it’s inelegant.  There are too many moving parts what with the ability to change the board shape, the way pieces can be configured, where you place your spinner locations, etc.  It just seems like too many options to get people to take it seriously, like people take chess variants and, even, checkers seriously.

Back to sitting around fanning myself in the HoR room until the afternoon slot occurs.  I volunteer to run New Beginnings and realize that I have like 3.5 hours to run a mod I expect to take 6.  I let the beginning drag a touch since the players are new to HoR, and then, try to rush through the rest of the mod.  I end exactly when our slot was supposed to end.  I forget to turn in my GM report sheet, but Andy takes it over Saturday night when I find it.  Things went well.  Only one person seemed to know the canon storyline any to this point, so he appreciated how the story diverges from canon.

Thursday night was Welcome to the Second City, an intro adventure to the L5R (not HoR) boxed set campaign set in the colonizing base after the Destroyer War.  The event was $32.  There was supposed to be sweet swag.  I was thinking they might give out copies of the boxed set … until I found out that they ran $80 retail.  Instead, we got stuff I don’t think I care about, the main thing apparently being a coupon for a promo card for the CCG, that I gave away to one of my L5R CCG playing roommates.

This turned out to be my best game.  Because the ridiculous Spider Clan exists in canon, there was the option of playing Spider.  Since the Spider Clan is so ridiculous and no normal people allow them in a campaign, I figured this was my only time to play one, so I played Daigotsu Anzai, Indiana Jones (Phobia: Snakes, explorer) with a limited memory.

The characters, by the way, were atrociously designed.  They were obviously designed by people who don’t know the RPG and made no sense for newbs; or, really, at all.  Chris D., sitting next to me, pointed out his Crane had Wary, which gives a bonus to Investigation rolls versus surprise, … and no Investigation skill.  I had Daredevil, which keys off the Athletics skill, … and no Athletics.  The most offensive thing about the Spider monk wasn’t that he was blind.  The funniest was probably the Deathseeker, with Bitter Betrothal even though the reason he’s a Deathseeker is that he got his betrothal killed, but who had the Sacred Weapon advantage!!!  The HoR campaign doesn’t even allow that advantage (normally) and here is a disgraced dude trying to get killed in action running around with one of the clan’s, um, sacred swords.

The adventure is the one out of the boxed set, basically.  The plot was nothing special and there weren’t terribly interesting things to do in town.  No, what made this awesome was my getting to play a low Honor character with Failure of Bushido: Courtesy.  In the middle of the mod, I constantly berated an Ashalan (generally considered good guys) about how he failed each of the tenets of bushido.  After that, because the party wanted to travel by elephan-tu, my Courtier roll, a whopping 3k2, was the one that convinced our Otomo patron to requisition an elephant, and we traveled into the wilds where we:  fought a tiger on the back of the elephan-tu; came across a wandering gaijin who did nothing but give us healing balm; got to the “evil” crystal, being used by the Ashalans to possess people, and fought possessed Bayushi, two tigers, and a great ape!  I got beaten up some by the ape, fortunately our elephan-tu was bull crazy and smashed face, ribs, whatever.

Good thing I never ran into any snakes, you know, like the one (non-venomous!) the Yoritomo PC, that nobody chose that had Phobia: Sailing and Doubt: Sailing, had as a pet.

Friday

On to non-L5R play.  Feng Shui, something that’s often hard for me to get into, even though it turned out to be a backup game for somebody at our table.  We were an adventurer’s club in the 1930’s, attending the World’s Fair in Cleveland.  I was a lucky wanderer, of a good family – Percy Chaff, Esq.  All of the characters had normal Feng Shui templates but obviously oriented to 1930’s flavor, so we had a magician, a reporter, cyborg, etc.  I run across an old explorer buddy who had claimed to have found Atlantis.  A mining thing at the tech exhibit goes nuts, so we go in to do the hero thing, I ramped a ’30’s bicycle through the window to get past the crowd.  The drilling machine is finally subdued but only after I rescue a damsel and use part of her dress to fend off one of the drilling capsules.  This was obviously a diversion and Germans make an escape with my old chum by u-boat.

We go to his house to look for notes on where Atlantis might be and find out that a section of the Rhein is important, so sneak our way into the area of Germany posing as a film crew.  In the river, is a portal to an undersea realm.  German soldiers have gotten there ahead of us and we must fight an awakened “war golem”.  Our sciencey dude and I run after the officer and discover an army of “golems” that we flee from, bringing down the house.

My notes are actually fairly sparse.  Quite a bit of action was done separately.  Still, it met expectations and the GMs did a good job.  Probably the amount of combat with so many players was what made it feel filling but also limited the amount of actual doing.

Next was Epic: Gods & Heroes, to be renamed next year.  I thought this sounded familiar and it turned out be the same system as the Greek Mythology game I played last year, only with a Norse setting.  I once again chose to be the Cunning Hero, as I had great fun with it in Greece.  I had less fun with it this time.  My cunning plans weren’t as cunning.  I had fewer props to work with.  I wasted my Legend Point, which I only ever got one of, on something that didn’t matter.  I couldn’t come up with a way to use my epithet of “Charmed In Life” to good effect, except in an awkward way at the end.

Anyway, our village needs food.  Before we can set out, other vikings attack us.  I oil up our dock so that I can get a couple of vikings to slide to their death into the sea … I’m not sure why they had to break their necks when slipping off the dock, but the point mechanically was to remove them from the fight.  As our best sailor, I naturally roll horribly and lose us for weeks at sea in our hunt for fat, food gifted Belgians.  Instead, we crash on rocks and get attacked by Draugr, intelligent zombies – the sea variety that can turn into seals, without being otherwise seal-like.  Yes, zombie seals.

We escape them, see a crowned, armored dude leading them and find a village.  The village is acting weird.  A villagewoman, Ava tries to warn us, but we act strange.  We stay at Sven’s house for the night.  Ava disappears and we find out from her family it was because she talked to us.  Olga, hottie widow gives us info that a troll that bothers her can let us know where the Sea King’s sea cave is.  Troll is into stories and riddles, so we hole up in an abandoned farmhouse (apparently with a bunch of food, the town is quite prosperous), and I do riddle battle with Bonegnasher.  He hints at a place of power, so we go looking for the “singing stone” and find a stone spire at a waterfall that has been corrupted to be used for necromancy as well as air and water magic.  I plant some flowers.

We go to the sea cave without using the waterbreathing talismans I procured for us with my Legend Point, and we do battle with the Sea King and his Draugr minions.  Ava is dead behind the throne, and the Sea King rants about his ex-wife, Olga, who murdered him and made him do the Sea King thing for whatever evil reason.  More details on Olga’s naughtiness are inscribed on the back of the throne.  We confront Olga, as the rest of the party thinks that Olga deserves more than a slap on the behind for her misdeeds and they slay her while I watch, our souls occasionally wrenched by her magics.

I was “charmed in life”, but once the bitch was dead, eh, time to move on to someone who wasn’t quite so evil and husband-killing.  With nothing impressive on my record for the adventure, the best I can come up with for a new epithet is “Jagr, Charmed In Life, Who Cleansed Odin’s Finger”.  My flowers of life battling the necromantic reconfiguration of Odin’s Finger, the basalt stone at the waterfall.

Going into the con, this is the point where I figured I’d have a read on how good the con was going to be, gamingwise.  Thursday’s not gaming to be available to GM, a mistake I won’t make again, I knew was going to affect things.  At this point, almost the halfway point, things were going well.

My first HoR playing slot was Friday evening.  I played The Price of Weakness with Andy and Steve (never did play anything with my third roommate, Mateo).  Steve was playing a messed up Shinjo – Insensitive, Antisocial, etc. as well as generally paranoid.  The GM messed with his paranoia throughout.  I did play with some others I’ve played with before.  There were three Mantis in our group, including myself.  We talked futilely to NPCs a lot, so we took a long time on the mod.  I see no great reason for spoilers since nothing I did was terribly notable, besides not failing an Honor Roll (I wasn’t going to).  This mod set up the battle interactive in the morning.

Saturday

The battle interactive.  This is what I most look forward to in HoR.  I think combat … no, this is a complicated subject, I don’t think I want to go into how I think about combat in HoR3 at this time.  Anyway, I like the team-based nature.  I like that it has story implications.  I fear what may happen.

Unlike the mods, there’s no reason not to talk about this event since it doesn’t spoil anything.  The peasants have an army.  Forces from Otosan Uchi, under the command of Seppun Muruyasu who had been appointed based on the results of the political interactive I avoided, led heavy infantry, infantry, archers, and cavalry.  I was in the heavy infantry group, assigned to the support table by virtue of being rank 2.  It turned out that support wasn’t what I was thinking of when choosing heavy infantry, and it was a bit messy trying to figure out how we could help the other tables.

The basic mechanics were that we needed to make skill checks each round in addition to engage enemy forces.  Our skill checks would send tactical bonuses (Battle pluses), healing (Medicine rolls), and so forth to the other heavy infantry tables.  The list of actions we could do was both encouraging – my Medicine roll is strong – and depressing – only infantry support got to do Engineering rolls, my character’s focus, and Intelligence/War Fans would have been the hotness last campaign with Jun.  The difficulty of the rolls was set by the tier of the encounter.  The number of successes by that and our number of players.  If you died, you had two choices.  You could either have a heroic death, or you could get a random disadvantage, which seemed to be rather terrible.

We start off with a unique encounter.  A rank 4 ronin shugenja and a buffed ashigaru lead a force of ashigaru against us.  We mostly or entirely roll higher than the shugenja on initiative, which turns out to be more important than we think.  We have a fairly easy, if slow, time of it with the enemy, as the shugenja takes like 250 wounds for us to put down.  It turned out that we were very close to getting people killed as the shugenja’s spells would have been heinous.  Instead, we skate and rush to get skill checks in before the end of the round.

Having realized we were in a lot more danger than we thought and still not having mastered how the support table works, where we can swap out players with other tables, we decide to take an easy encounter.  Too easy.  By far.  Because of the low tier, we needed few successes, which meant we did little to help others.  The encounter was so pathetic that they never threatened us.  I did fail to hit an ATN of 18 for a peasant, rolling a 10, which was sad enough, but with heavy armor on, was effectively a 5.  For comparison, someone attacking me needed to roll a 35.  The peasants ran off before our Phoenix void shugenja could guard the Phoenix Daidoji Iron Warrior, who was the only one getting hit, which would have been hysterical.

In the third round, we were the only table given the option of engaging forces sneaking on to our command tent, so we did a unique encounter.  It was brutal.  There was swapping right and, sort of, left (two guys out of six never left our table).  Six ashigaru had been buffed with four spells each from shugenja who lifecasted.  I would have rather faced the oni that another table faced.  I got taken out in the first round, never acting due to my low initiative.  Only the power of three Daidoji Iron Warriors, two of rank 3, eventually won the encounter as I got swapped unconsciously to another table.

In the end, I did very little.  I would have likely done far more if I was at a normal table or we thought through better how the support table was supposed to work.  Of course, it’s not like I did much in any other battle interactives, either.  I really need to either power up and be a mainline hitter or just die.

Saturday afternoon was the first chance to play Confusion at Court, so there were many tables.  Apparently, it was the first time Chris’s Ide and my tattooed monk had ever played together.  This mod is full of spoileryness, so I won’t go into the plot.  I have tons of notes, though, for a mod in which I did virtually nothing.

I had three hours between ending Confusion and my 8PM, yet-another-viking-game, game.  Three of us went to an Irish pub for food as I made an effort to try different places rather than live off of Steak & Shake.  As it happened (and happens in my strange, boring life), there was a major biker rally/race going on in Indy and we walked right through the biker area to the pub.  Food didn’t excite me.

Yggdrasil was next.  The English version of the game just came out.  The original was apparently French, which was funny when we got a French-Canadian woman with a strong accent as a player.  Notable to me was just how Chicagoan our GM was.  Even I, who has little sense of regional Americana and a poor ear for accents, could not help but be Chicagoed by our GM, from the accent to the way of saying things to the body language to the pronunciation of certain words.

I’m normally good about notes and tracking who is who, but I got so lost in all of the names and relationships.  It was quite the soap opera, without the relationship mapping meaning a whole lot to us.  We were supposed to ensure the marriage of a Jute princess to a Danish king.  We come across some pirates attacking Jutes and wade in.  I spend the entire combat (one round) casting a spell to improve my physical defenses, while our noblewoman massacres pirates and her bodyguard flails impotently.  We learn that the princess’s ship has been attacked by pirates, so we head off to The City of Chains, where the pirate king rules.

Oh, I was playing a crazy druid.  Character stuff and play mechanics are complicated enough to not go into at the 3300 word count mark.

We run across a spy for our team and gather info on the numerous relationships between the king and queen, the queen and any man nearby, vassals, vassals of vassals, hirdmen (yes, hird, for hired men) on the queen’s side, berserkers on the king’s side, the prince … the what? … the Danish king’s son who has taken a personal interest in the princess, Danish sailors, couple of skalds, and whatever.

Our noblewoman meets with the king after her bodyguard tries to work with the queen.  I heal kitchen staff to have an excuse to be nearby.  Our lady suggests a more private meeting, which pisses off the queen, and excites the king.  She, then, explains our plan to liberate the princess that the king has as a prisoner, which upsets the king, more so because he was hoping for less talking and more fun.  King attacks her.  Player had a great line when that happens, “I never said no!”  Fighting breaks out between the hirdmen and the berserkers.  I walk casually through the fighting to come across the wounded noblewoman fleeing the king and heal her.  King is slain, prisoners freed, prince is thrown off a cliff in another city (what the?), and the queen runs off with our skald.

Good enough game, but I wasn’t feeling it.  I didn’t want to joke too much.  I was playing an outdoorsy character in an urban setting.  The mechanics weren’t all that important to what little I did, so learning the system wasn’t that interesting.

Sunday

8AM, such an awesome time for games.  People were feeling sick due to sleep deprivation.  Anyway, I got into a Doctor Who game, something that’s generally challenging, though not as bad now that there’s a new game out and the publishers are promoting it.

A very tired person played the Doctor.  She played him badly.  Not horribly, just uninspiredly.  The Doctor did too little and wasn’t entertaining enough.  A father and son played Rory and Rory’s nurse buddy Daniel, who was looking for his son.  A teenage? girl was playing Amy.  I played Lady/Madame Vashtra.  And, a guy who had to leave due to sleep deprivation briefly played Jenny.

The opening was that Jenny and I were looking into tunnel bats in Victorian London.  The Doctor and companions get time traveled to our time in a train tunnel.  We find out weird stuff about the train company – time travel circuitry on the backs of bricks.  We talk to the night watchman and find out that the previous watchman saw strange stuff and that Sir Arnold Heath, the owner of the company and nouveau riche due to designing an advanced steam engine after a mine collapse, will be holding a charity dinner the next evening.  We talk to Bert (Burt?), the previous watchman, and run across a waif, her scary “Mr. Rook”, and harpy monsters.  I fend off harpies while the others run around and we see a weird train, full of soldiers, go past.

We go to the charity event.  The poor folks, who were invited to be in the same building as the wealthy donors are asked odd psychic testing questions and given either a red ticket or yellow ticket.  We listen to a speech by a society woman basically saying how the workers are the fertilizer of our society, essential to enabling our society to grow.  Heath turns out to be nervous and guilty.  The Doctor talks with him while the rest of get red tickets and journey to a pocket dimension where a crashed police time ship of the Constant of Harmony, a society far far into the future, is connected up to a bunch of stuff and workers are being converted into steamborgs.  We run around a bit before meeting up with the Doctor and “Zorath” (Zorath 1), who is the conciliator behind the operation.  He claims that Pequod is a criminal conciliator he was taking back to the dawn of time, where he can’t possess anything.  It’s fairly obvious that this is really Pequod, but we take his spirit sucking cannon and hunter train to capture “Pequod” (Zorath 2, aka Zorath for realsies).  Doctor messes with it some.  We encounter Daniel’s kid, whose body is being possessed by Zorath, talk to him, fight steamborgs, soulsuck some corn fields, and return to the pocket dimension only to find it abandoned by Pequod as he goes for the TARDIS.  Heath is wandering about, so we pick him up, and off we go to the TARDIS.  We fight another train, I tongue Mr. Rook and eat him.  Amy fires the cannon, while Pequod was reaching for the TARDIS opened by Rory, and we capture Pequod.  Simon, the boy is reunited with his father, Zorath leaves the Doctor’s body and inhabits Heath to take us to the Constant of Harmony to get conciliator help, and Jenny and I clean up the mess left in London.

Finally, we get to Hansel & Gretel – Bounty Hunters.  This is another QAGS game along the lines of my Happily Ever After game from 2009 where I played Rumpelstiltskin played by Danny DeVito as an employee in a private investigator agency.

I play Hansel, nobody plays Gretel.  Hansel is, of course, played by Dog, The Bounty Hunter.  Our agency posts bail for witches, who typically are up on charges of aggravated pedophagy.  One of them, Griselda, has not checked in.

From my right, going left around the table, my employees were:  Old McDonald, our driver, gimmick – Animal Empathy, weakness – Too Old For This Shit, played by Wilfred Brimley; Ariel, The Little Mermaid, our face, gimmick – National Treasure, weakness – occupational hazard, played by Lucy Lawless; Rumpelstiltskin, magician, duct tape and chicken wire, gambling, Mandy Patinkin; Red Riding Hood, job – bisexual gunslinger, hide in plain sight, clumsy, Selena Gomez; Lu, the Big Bad Wolf, tracker, courage, nervous around redheads, Robin Williams; Dorothy Gale, assassin, right tool for the job, homesick, Reese Witherspoon; Alice, statistician, Wonderland logic, “I’ll eat anything once”, somebody from the show Numbers.

My gimmick was “posemaster” as I don’t actually know a lot about Dog and mainly tried to channel Hulk Hogan.  Weakness – punching bag.  The only skill I chose that I used, the others were silly, was marketing.  “Hansel & Gretel LLC, we bring the authenticity to capturing fugitives” and such.

We go down to 1313 Gingerbread Lane to look for Griselda.  While I’m in the restroom and my character is posing, the party struggles to get into the house past the cat.  Eventually, they get the cat stoned with catnip, pick the lock on the door, and Red uses hiding in plain sight to sneak around inside, in some order.  We get some info.  We go by Witchiepoo’s place at 666 Gingerbread Lane, as she was the cosigner on the bail.  We find out that Griselda has been seeing a new guy and that they were dancing at the Red Shoes.  Glynda tells us a bit more about the exterminator, aka pest relocator, and we have lunch at the Red Shoes, where Ariel gets us favorable treatment, and Billy Goat Gruff is the bouncer.  Rumpelstiltskin illusions himself to look like Griselda while we are gathering info without telling us and I cuff her, my only successful roll to this point.  The valet parking guy points us to the Pied Piper’s pest relocation company.  The women go in, talk to the receptionist (Minnie Mouse) and wait for Dieter, the Pied Piper.  They intimidate him (he is played by Matthew Lillard).  Wolf smells children in the back, and we get him on procuring children for witches.  Only person likely to get Griselda papers to leave the country is the Grand High Witch (Angelica Houston).

Ariel, Rumpel, and I go talk to her, while the others sneak around back and infiltrate.  We have tea and the other two have pieces of gingerbread man for cookies.  The others find children in cages and attack the gingerbread men servants in the kitchen.  Yes, Alice takes a bite.  Eventually, we all meet up, run, and Dorothy ovens the Grand High Witch.  We never do find Griselda, who was upstairs.

The nature of this sort of game is, of course, humor.  And, there was likely more humor here than in other games at the con.  While I won best role-player for playing Dog playing Hansel with my frequent posing, comments about Gretel being the bitch in charge, my marketing plans, my narration of Hansel & Gretel LLC’s activities, my two best lines were at the end.

Ariel kept getting Griselda’s name wrong.  Usually Grimelda but sometimes other things.  When she finally got it right at the Grand High Witch’s, I stood up and proclaimed, “Hansel & Gretel LLC.  We get names right!”  Also, the group talked quite a bit when it was kind of obvious what to do, so at one point, I said, “Team, something we should talk about, there’s an awful lot of talking.”  The only other line I wrote down (too many in gaming, especially at something like Gen Con) was from Old McDonald, who had the skill survivalist – “I’ve been preparing for the gingerbread man apocalypse.”

Going to forget a few things, but I’ve got to end this at some point.

I invented a solitaire game on the flight home, so I’ll post something about that.  And, I tried to find my notes from Gen Con 2008 as I was telling Andy about the mind-blowing game from that year, only to find that I never did write up the whole con, only sent an e-mail to Berkeley John because one of the players reminded me so much of him.  I’ll edit my comments and post some details about that game because it was such awesomeness, even if my notes suck.  … and, that’s why I need to have this blog.


Give Everyone A Hand

August 4, 2012

This year, I’ve been doing card game design.  Leads to interesting thoughts.  I really need to organize them all for posterity, but, anyway, from the last design session, an idea for a V:TES variant came up.  By the way, I haven’t done a search of V:TES variants, so this might not be new.

It has been said that lacking Fortitude is quite the detriment to a high cap.  Now, there are other ways to multiact, from Truth of a Thousand Lies to Danse Macabre to Dual Form to … Rutor’s Hand.

The point being that if a high cap isn’t multiacting, why not play two midcaps or three winnies or whatever?  Obviously, high power specials, like extra master phase actions, titles and superior Presence, combinations of abilities (hard to go too wrong with 4 votes and 3 bleed, for instance), etc. all justify the value of particular high caps that don’t easily multiact.  But, what if all of the high caps with not so great specials could multiact?

And, so the Prehensile Tail Variant of V:TES.  There are all sorts of other names for it that could be used instead, but I didn’t like any of the ones I thought of off the top of my head, so Prehensile Tail it is.  Every vampire has a built in Rutor’s Hand mechanic.  In other words, once per the vampire’s controller’s minion phase, the vampire may untap.  This is in addition to everything else, so a vampire could still get a Rutor’s Hand, Shalmath can still use his ability to untap, Helicopter still does stuff, etc.

Clearly, this has far greater impact than just allowing high caps to multiact.  Actually, having high caps multiact isn’t what inspired the idea.  What really inspired this idea was, admittedly, a combination of thoughts that included how people gravitate to multiactors for superstar decks, but what started the line of thinking is having the game less dependent upon wakes.

Every midcap, Dominate bleeder can now bleed for 5-6 and still be up to bounce.  Every 3 cap with Celerity can equip with a .44 and rush the same turn.  Every “Hesha” can net a lot of blood.  Every Serpentor can call Regaining the Upper Hand and follow up with Enticement.  Every Baali can stop using Eluding the Arms of Morpheus for untaps.  Every “Pariah” can mean not discarding a master card (but, who would be so foolish as to not want to discard master cards?).

Broken?  Well, in comparison to what is currently possible, sure.  But, then, pretty much any major rule change would break the environment for weal or ill.

But, the more interesting questions to me are questions like:

  1. Will people reduce the number of wakes they play?
  2. Will decks get more toolboxy due to a greater variety of actions having value, leading to more diverse play?  In particular, how will voting be affected?  Though, combat may become more important as well, since it doesn’t matter a whole lot how many actions an empty vampire in torpor can take.
  3. Will people not bother with that and instead do things like hunt with The Hungry Coyote?
  4. Will uncontestable plays that advantage immediately untapping, like Atonement, get rather annoying or will the metagame not care?
  5. Will average crypt sizes go up?  Will it have an undesired effect and have them go down since winnies still have useful things to do, like The Embrace?
  6. Would Tupdog need to be banned?  Or, would Scourge of the Enochians be in every deck?
  7. Will Baleful Doll, Blessing of the Name, et al, be the best cards ever?

While any vampire can be tooled with Thaumaturgy and Rutor’s Hand or have Fortitude grafted for Freak Drive, all of that requires setup and some sort of blood investment, which effectively limits the multiact possibilities in the game.  Then, the importance of wakes in the game also means copious opportunities for vulnerability in defense that wouldn’t exist, theoretically, if everyone could just pop back up.  Though, we can see something of what would happen with this variant with Imbued, who can play a game of acting and being untapped at the end of the turn without a bunch of setup.

Note that I intentionally exclude allies from this mechanic.  Ally decks lose relative strength, which I’m good with.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing variant play catch on outside of storyline events.  I think this variant has great elegance, even if I have little idea what people would actually do in its environment.  Then, there’s the irony that someone like me, who has a low level of interest in untaps and multiacting but uses wakes prolifically, is the one floating it as an idea.


Five Rings

August 1, 2012

The Olympic Games are messing with my sleep schedule.  There’s just something about international competition at the highest levels with history that I find compelling.

There’s an obvious way in which the Olympics can be inspiring for one such as myself – how to truly draw upon the Olympics for Legend of the Five Rings rather than the questionable connection between the Olympics and L5R that led to card back changes.

In particular, I can see an Olympics style event in Rokugan …  Well, sort of.  It’s actually tricky when you get into the details, or seems so.

Rokugan is not an open society with fair opportunity for competition, which, admittedly, could be arguably said of even the modern Olympics where money is a huge factor in generating athletic representation.  Back in the day, based on what I know of sports in general, was likely far less of an open competition.  Samurai are not going to be competing against peasants or, in my view, monks.

The nature of the events is going to be shaped, then, by samurai interests.  Mechanically, that wouldn’t seem such a big issue given that peasant games and other peasant-y considerations aren’t covered with skills.  But, actually, there aren’t that many skills in L5R for what would be more athletic endeavors rather than combat-derived endeavors.  Gymnastics would be out as something samurai wouldn’t have any concept of, and the only samurai physical game with enough prominence would be Kemari.

Which brings up another issue – physical versus nonphysical.  Even the sports where you don’t need to have a cut body have physical requirements in the Olympics.  There is some logic to having a grand contest event in Rokugan including nonphysical events like the Topaz Championship does.  It would be rather simple to say that someone came up with an idea for having a Topaz Championship style event open to all of the best in Rokugan.  Except, that sounds a bit too much like the Test of the Emerald Champion.  Not exactly the same but close enough that such an event could reasonably ruffle feathers in a tradition bound society like Rokugan.

What is the point of doing contests, big or small, in L5R?  I see there being two primary reasons for contests and for why they are so popular:  using skills you don’t normally use; rolling dice in a challenge that is basically all upside.

I asked the L5R 4e RPG AEG Forum one time how often they see duels since duels get talked about to death on the forums while I virtually never see them and never see more than one duel in an adventure outside of tournaments.  It was pretty amusing how these people who will drone on about rank 5 vs. rank 5 or rank 8 vs. rank 8 duelists largely came back with statements along the lines of “Rarely happen, duels to the death not at all, mostly occur in tournaments.”  In other words, my experience, which is why I don’t consider being good at dueling important and why I see Tattooed Monks own in dueling even with a single rank in Iaijutsu.  (Their competitors are even worse.)

Might seem to have gotten sidetracked there, but the point is that, if Iaijustu contests are so damn rare, everything else is going to be even rarer.  Organized contests, therefore, are crucial for having people use their fluff skills.

I do need to get back to physical vs. nonphysical.  Because of the similarities of a “come one, come all, contest with the brightest samurai in Rokugan” event to the Topaz Championship, I’m strongly inclined to focus on physical contests and make it more akin to the Olympics.  This doesn’t necessarily make things easier.

The beauty of doing an event with a variety of individual events in L5R is that L5R is based around the concept of five rings.  In theory, it should be easy to come up with Air events, Earth events, Fire events, Water events, and maybe even Void events.  In practice, not as much.

You can have more variety if you include nonphysical.  But, I think you end with Ring bias problems just as you do with just physical.  By the way, on a tangent, the two out of the box skills I can think of that incorporate or could easily incorporate a combination of physical and nonphysical are Iaijutsu and Sailing.  Sure, anything can be mixed and matched – Stamina/Artisan: Poetry or Intelligence/Athletics (Climbing), which does end up helping round events out.

In the realm of physical, you are mostly talking about bugei skills.  Without getting into weird mixes, the only high skills that use physical traits are Games (only Kemari listed) and Perform (musical instrument playing, dancing).  Merchant skills don’t need to be included, the Mantis can keep sailing competitions to themselves.  Low skills are completely out.  Athletics is the obvious bugei skill to use, but just how many of the competitions should use it?  Defense is not easy to use.  Horsemanship is interesting; I’ve already considered having two divisions – “pony” for most samurai, “open” for Unicorn.  Jiujutsu is a reasonable competition.  I really don’t like weapon competitions, though, as it fails the “make use of underused skills” concept.

What of Iaijutsu?  I have two problems with it.  One, it is something you might find a tournament of or otherwise use, whereas climbing, running, swimming are extremely rare outside of the Topaz Championship.  Two, what does it fall under in the five rings model?  It’s helpful to give Void an event, but it also gives Air an event.

Speaking of rings and events, Stamina can get some love with endurance Athletics events – long climb, long run, long swim.  Strength can get love with not just Athletics and Jiujutsu but some sort of weightlifting event that I can see either being straight Strength or being Strength plus a bonus to the total equal to one’s Athletics rank.  I’m not as excited by making it a normal STR/Athletics roll as that makes it too similar to other events and doesn’t convey the same flavor of raw strength, no matter that weightlifting does require skill and not just brute force.  Agility can get some love from some sort of obstacle course Athletics event, Athletics (Throwing), Horsemanship, and … well, it’s not terribly important to Jiujutsu the way the game mechanics work unless you are using Jiujutsu for strikes rather than grappling.  What of Reflexes?  What events require reacting to something that won’t seem silly?  Kyujutsu would help for making Reflexes get more use, but again, I’m not enthralled with people using skills they would already have a strong use for.

Even worse, what of Void?  Actually, an idea that just came to mind is that athletes would naturally try to use Center Stance as often as possible.  While the rules on taking stances outside of combat are unclear, I’d allow it for certain events.  That helps get Void into the events, besides the obvious massive use of Void Points for rolls.  But, it doesn’t help establish “Void Events”.

In general, I don’t see a balance that can be achieved all that well, without getting funky in the nature of events, in terms of balancing Ring use.  I see Strength getting the most love.

In some ways, that’s a good thing.  The least used Trait in L5R is Stamina, being almost meaningless except for how it feeds one’s Earth Ring, which is important enough that people will “waste” points buying up Stamina.  It’s quite easy to have Stamina-based athletic events.  In 3e, Strength was the obvious dump stat since Water Ring was nowhere near as important as Earth Ring and Strength did hardly anything that mattered, though I don’t recall the grappling rules being used hardly ever in 3e and I don’t even know how they work.  Strength is much less of a dump stat in 4e with tactical movement mattering more, grappling being broken, and knockdown and disarm seemingly seeing more use.  It’s still not Reflexes, which a bushi can live entirely off of if built a certain way, or Agility (if you pretend that using weapons is better than grappling, it’s arguable that Agility isn’t actually better like it so clearly was in 3e).

From a thematic viewpoint, it would be sweet to have the Rokugani Olympics make great use of the five rings model.  From a mechanical viewpoint, it works well to have less used traits and skills get used much more.  How to reconcile?  That’s what I’m still working on.