March 31, 2013

In January, I spoke of PC, mechanical advancement in RPGs.  This time around, I have in mind to speak of thematic accomplishments.

My average convention one-shot experience is better than my average home campaign experience.  When it came to details as to why, I could think of some.  I didn’t do a very good job of tying those details together, however, to get a principle for increasing enjoyment.

After running one of the sessions of my new campaign, it was pointed out to me by two-thirds of my players that the reason a particular session was better than others was because it felt like the party accomplished things.

Since then, I’ve been thinking within that context.  I used to look at campaigns as opportunities to have fairly serialized adventures, as I love continuity.  However, between thinking about convention games and thinking about where home games run into problems, I’m increasingly interested in moving towards a more episodic model for my own campaign.

Too often, what ends up happening in a home game is that the party doesn’t have clear goals or a clear path to accomplishing what goals it does have.  With an overarching plot, the goal may involve so many steps that even making progress doesn’t feel like progress.  Either way, by having more sessions be self-contained or be part of mini story arcs, the party can get some quick wins to feel like thematic progress is being made.  (In contrast with my January 6th post, where mechanical progress is the topic.)

Consider a convention one-shot.  It will end, one way or the other.  The party has to make progress within a limited amount of time.  Further, the party is unlikely to get bogged down in things that don’t relate to the plot, knowing this is the one chance to achieve plot resolution.

But, there’s more to convention play that I think moves things along.  Players are less invested in their characters, so they don’t worry as much about role-playing them correctly, all of their miscellaneous abilities, what stuff they have, or even if they survive.  The focus is more on seeing the plot through.  And, the PCs tend to be simpler in function because the players aren’t experts on their own characters.  Then, challenges tend not to be as mentally taxing, whether due to GMs realizing that action is better than thinking or because they know that they might end up with an 8AM or midnight slot where nobody can think too clearly.

One-shot adventures are more linearly constructed.  Heroes of Rokugan mods get some grief in local quarters for being too constrained, but at least you know what you need to do (usually) and, with better GMs, I’ve gotten to satisfy my personal interests, which is not something I can say about all of my home campaigns.

My experience is that players aren’t nearly as interested in player-driven play as GMs think they will be.  I don’t have problems with linear adventures; it’s the quality of the scenes I care more about.  The tactics, how to deal with the scene, can be player determined where the strategy, what the party should be doing, can be largely predetermined.

More episodic adventures will likely have a predetermined plot.  I don’t want to play in or run a campaign entirely modularly because I like the sense that the world goes beyond and evolves with the PCs.  But, I do like the idea that there’s something of a beginning, middle, and end to any session, even if time constraints force completing things over a second session.

Because.  I want the players to feel like they are accomplishing in-character goals each and every time they play.  Well, feel like they have the ability to accomplish their in-character goals – failure is an option.  It just shouldn’t be the case that the players are more invested in experience points than they are what is going on thematically.

On to the next problem – establishing goals …


Bushi Analysis – Basic

March 22, 2013

Still catching up with various ideas from recent weeks.  This post was inspired by a thread on the AEG forums, where I mentioned something about bushi schools having dead ranks (i.e. ranks with terrible techniques) and someone asking which ones … which I never answered there.

Why not answer it here?

This is a very basic analysis to start out with.  No paths, no advanced schools, only the major clan bushi schools in the main book, no kata.  What is included is a non-quantified adjustment for things like:  superior Honor; superior equipment (mostly heavy armor); superior starting skills (as trivial as this sort of thing is).

Countdown …

12.  (tie) Kakita Bushi & Mirumoto Bushi

Yes, two of the most iconic bushi … no … schools period in the game are at the bottom. Unplayably bad?  No, of course not.  Just inferior to every other option.

Mirumoto Bushi got the big end of the nerf hammer from 3e to 4e, as most folks know.  What did it in was a dead rank 2 technique since dueling is not only nowhere near as common as people expect – it’s flat out rare in both my experience and based on responses in a thread I started asking how common dueling is in other people’s games.  Its rank 1 is often the subject of discussion.  It’s weak early, which is where most of campaigns are played at (which will get mentioned again).  The spell part is the best part, and that’s hard to quantify.  None of its techniques are actually that good – I don’t even rate the third attack at rank 5 that highly.

Kakita Bushi gets the dull side of the blade for being way too dueling oriented and its rank 1 (seemingly) being highly overrated.  It too gets no real special technique.  It’s really a school set up for archery, yet why not just play a Tsuruchi at that point?

11.  Moto Bushi

I thought Moto would do worse, to be honest.  Every time I read the school, I’m incredibly unimpressed.  But, unlike the Kakita, it gets simple attacks at rank 3, which is long before rank 4 in my experience.  Its rank 5 is actually good, unlike ranks 1, 2, and 4.

10.  Bayushi Bushi

A hard school for me to quantify … got to stop saying quantify … judge.  If you want to go strictly by combat ability, this could be put behind Moto.  But, I see this school as having a lot of play value beyond combat.  A Soshi Bayushi double stacks Intelligence to be a party brain.  The school skills include highly useful social skills.  The rank 1 is good, better IMO than Kakita rank 1.  Just hurt by poor rank 2, 3, and rank 5 and not getting simple attacks until rank 4.

9.  Yoritomo Bushi

The most “weak early, strong late” of the schools.  Unfortunate for it in my rankings, in point valuing all of the techniques and doing some averaging/summing, I only counted rank 4 and rank 5 techniques for half the number of points.  The double kama thing is really not worth it until you get up to rank 4, as kama just do less damage than swords.

8.  Utaku Battle Maiden

The opposite problem from Yoritomo.  The first two techniques are mighty.  Then, you get into the “must be mounted” punishment part of the school.  Only the Akodo and Iron Warrior compare in the first two ranks.  Because of my weighting toward early career, shiotome gets a break.  Also, choice of riding armor and you get a free bushi with your warhorse.  In a home campaign, one assumes that the GM will allow mounted combat a good amount of the time, so it’s not completely falling off a cliff after rank 2.  And, if I ever do more advanced analysis, pathing into Calm Heart Duelist or whatever is entirely viable.

7.  Hiruma Bushi

I really like the rank 1 ability as I’ve often enough been in situations without food, jade, or whatever.  I can’t, in good conscience, however, say that it’s a good technique.  However, every other technique is.  Only the Shiba Bushi is more consistent throughout all ranks.

6.  Shiba Bushi

Mister consistency.  While the rank 1’s Void Point thing is terrible for combat, it’s a SOP for key rolls outside of combat.  I make the assumption that there’s at least one shugenja in the party to rate the rank 2 tech, otherwise not a school out of the box I’d expect anyone to play.

5.  Tsuruchi Archer

Personally, I find this school to be the dullest in the game.  I just don’t “feel” a focused archery build in a game about katana carriers and doing stuff outside of combat.  Sure, there’s doing Perception related stuff and being manhunty …

Getting away from the point of this post.  Given that I don’t think that highly of the rank 1, and the rank 4 and 5 are, respectively, bad and mediocre, why so high?  Simple attacks at rank 3.  Simple attacks with a bow.  If you are going to take advantage of ranged combat, nothing says taking advantage like barrages of deadly missiles.  Strong rank 2, as well.

4.  Akodo Bushi

Everything is great, except for the awfulness that is rank 4.  By great, I mean excellent (4’s on my 1-5 rating scale).  The rank 2 is versatile.  The rank 5 is supercool.  Other schools have similarly good rank 1’s, but only one school has better.

3.  Hida Bushi

I found it tough to decide between Akodo, Hida, and #2.  Hida gets the edge over Akodo by virtue of much better simple attacks (Akodo is limited to samurai weapons, ruling out k3 or k4 weapons), heavy armor, and having no dead rank.

2.  Matsu Beserker

The best rank 1.  Tied for the best rank 3.  Excellent rank 4 and 5.  Terrible rank 2.  Now, I don’t play in games where tactical movement is that important, nor would I run one.  It’s just too situational given that a Matsu is usually going to inflict so much damage with any successful attack that the victim isn’t likely to be all that important.  Or, if it’s something like a spirit or big bad or something terrifying like a bear, why is freezing it in place important?  Might not even matter due to the die roll to break out of it.

1.  Daidoji Iron Warrior

Sure, its rank 5 is crap, just a dead rank.  By then, one figures you found something better to do than go to rank 5 in this school.  Utterly broken rank 2.  Heavy armor, high Honor, high money.  Just the sweetest early career bushi school.


Daidoji Iron Warrior 1
Matsu Beserker 2
Hida Bushi 3
Akodo Bushi 4
Tsuruchi Archer 5
Shiba Bushi 6
Hiruma Bushi 7
Utaku Battle Maiden 8
Yoritomo Bushi 9
Bayushi Bushi 10
Moto Bushi 11
Mirumoto Bushi 12
Kakita Bushi 12

By rating (1 to 5):

School Rating
Daidoji Iron Warrior 5
Matsu Beserker 4
Hida Bushi 4
Akodo Bushi 4
Tsuruchi Archer 3
Shiba Bushi 3
Hiruma Bushi 3
Utaku Battle Maiden 3
Yoritomo Bushi 3
Bayushi Bushi 3
Moto Bushi 2
Kakita Bushi 2
Mirumoto Bushi 2

Each school rank (1-5):

School Rank 1 Rank 2 Rank 3 Rank 4 Rank 5
Daidoji Iron Warrior 4 5 4 3 0
Matsu Beserker 5 1 5 4 4
Hida Bushi 3 4 5 2 3
Akodo Bushi 4 4 4 0 4
Tsuruchi Archer 2 4 5 1 2
Shiba Bushi 3 3 3 4 4
Hiruma Bushi 2 4 3 4 4
Utaku Battle Maiden 4 4 2 2 2
Yoritomo Bushi 2 2 4 4 4
Bayushi Bushi 4 2 1 5 2
Moto Bushi 2 1 5 2 4
Kakita Bushi 2 3 0 4 2
Mirumoto Bushi 2 0 4 2 3

Obviously, there are paths to avoid the most egregious techniques.  Jade Legionnaire is a fantastic path to sub at rank 2 for those that don’t have a specific clan option.  But, that’s analysis for another day.


March 16, 2013

My Spider died.  That is, the Daigotsu I was playing in our Second City campaign got unlifed.  Crushed to death by a serpent in the middle of the night, with nary a peep to let the PC on watch know.

While not all that sad, it was a character that had potential, could have done a lot more in a different situation.  Funny build, not that that’s all that surprising, in that … I’m trying to get a few more “thats” into this sentence.  Anyway, archer and duelist build of a school that lends itself to Water Ring stuff – grappling, investigating, tracking.  Never did duel, which is typical.

Anyway, about the only thing worse than hearing about someone’s character is … no, that’s the worst thing with RPGs.  Still on the subject of L5R, though, a recent thread on the AEG forums got me to thinking about damage.

With L5R, there’s very little besides wounds to measure combat success.  Even games based around hit points tend to have things that require saving throws, like petrification, drowning, forced sleep.  L5R has conditions, but I see it ruled by wounds.  You would think I’d notice earlier considering how many silly situations parties get into where the party is trying to capture someone alive and has to manage damage not to accidentally kill enemies.

So … what?

If we consider wounds to be the nigh end all and be all of combat, I think there are possible insights into managing combat for both GMs and players.  I can already see a problem with this line of thinking since Tempest of Air is such an awesome spell because it knocks folks down not because it deals damage.

But, let’s try going down this path.  It’s easy enough to do multiplication of attack roll percentages against damage roll averages to get a metric of damage output.  But, how often do people match that up against the opposition’s ability to absorb wounds?

An Earth 2 character (or rough equivalent) has about 40 wounds.  Less to be out of combat (31, normally).  Earth 3 jumps that to 57 total and 46 to incapacitate.  Say 5 Earth 3 foes, and that’s 230 wounds to beat through.  Not that attack rolls scale with ATNs, but for this simple hypothetical, let’s say that attack roll percentages and damage roll averages are consistent.  Let’s say 60% hit rate with average 20 damage, for average of 12 damage per attack.  That’s about 20 attacks to put the fiendish five down.  With 5 PCs, that’s four attacks per PC.  Figure two rounds of not attacking per PC whether due to range, casting spells instead of attacking, or being taken out, that’s six rounds of combat.

That’s not sounding fast.  In 3e, an E3 character would take 37 wounds to reduce to Down, though there was a way to attack from Down.  Numbers become 185, about 16 attacks, about 3 attacks per PC.  Third Edition tended to worry less about range, so more first round attacks.

But, then, this doesn’t even take into account Void Points.  Assuming the common, if boring, use to reduce damage, the 230 wounds goes to 330 wounds if all of the fiendish five have Void 2 and use both points.  That’s like 8 more attacks, almost 2 attacks per PC, meaning more like an 8 or 9 round combat, which is along the lines of what I’ve experienced.

Nevermind that I’m not even bothering to factor in Reduction, which is rather common.

Is the lesson to not to throw E3 characters who spend VPs at parties?  I don’t know about that.

Again, L5R is very much about fights to the death.  I don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous post, but almost nobody has a reason not to fight to the death.  Samurai are happy to join their ancestors … in theory.  Bandits know they are just going to be executed.  Ditto maho-tsukai.  Monsters exist for killing.  Animals might flee, but animals are hardly the most heroic thing to be hacking to bits, even if bears are the scariest mofos in existence.  And, of course, PCs don’t flee because Honor says don’t be a coward.

If it was more plausible that PCs or enemies fled, then it wouldn’t be a grind through several hundred wounds.  In the absence of that, though, there is an element to keeping wounds down or having damage go up.  Multiple attacks for bushi is huge for speeding the murder rate up.  Again, as lethal as it was for 3e to have Raises for damage able to increase kept dice, it massively sped up slaughtering.  Plus, static bonuses to damage were more common.  VPs were less of an issue as two incoming attacks in one round might just explode somebody, where a 4e fighter will hang on enough for something like healing or just a tactics change to something like guard actions.

There are numerous other scenarios for just trying to put everything into a wounds paradigm that might bring up interesting features.  For instance, if you go with one third less wounds, E2 vs. E3 type enemies, but increase numbers of enemies by 50%, what happens?  In reality, this is even worse for PCs as the number of VPs increases even as the number of wounds stays the same.  This is why I dislike mooks using VPs for defense.  I don’t mind the 4k2 attack roll from the mook becoming 5k3 to be a tad more likely to connect, scares PCs a bit more.  But, increasing effective wounds by two thirds (31 to 51) is crazy painful – mooks exist to frighten players and explode in fine red mists.

Then, what of big bads?

Suppose a big bad has 100 wounds.  Say 5 PCs need to do 20 wounds each.  That’s two rounds.  But, what if the big bad has the Spirit quality, effectively doubling its wounds.  Okay, four round combat is cool.  Let’s say it has 150 wounds and Spirit.  What if there are two?  And, so forth.

Meanwhile, it should be dealing damage as well.  Suppose it hits 80% of the time and deals 25 wounds on average, for a 20 wound average per attack.  That’s 3 hits on a single E2 PC who spends VPs for reducing damage.  If it has two attacks, it squishes a soft PC on round two, then round three another drops.  This attrition is huge for calculating its expected duration of life.  If only a single attack per round, it will take forever to beat through the party, making for a rather tedious grind if the PCs can’t punk it fast.  But, what if it has one-shot attacks that take PCs out of combat?  Ah, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

Not that I’m going to cover all of the things this post could.  For instance, what makes combat dangerous to a single PC rather than a party?

A party might have hundreds of wounds to play with.  But, a single PC is going to hate being hit for two attacks for 30 wounds in one round.  For the E2 PC, that’s death.  For the E3, that’s watching others fight a lot waiting for a Path to Inner Peace … if the PC is smart.  If not, fighting in Crippled or whatever means being a single hit from perma-nap.

So, what’s the lesson for the player who doesn’t want a PC to die?

Don’t engage enemies with multiple attacks.  Don’t make yourself a target for multiple archers.  Avoid the tactics of ganging up that the party should be using on its enemies.  Ignore enemies with Nk1 damage while Nk2, Nk3, and Nk4 are still fighting.  Hope that the party shugenja remember that Path to Inner Peace is a combat applicable spell.

My poor Spider couldn’t really do anything – being grappled by a superior grappler (huge serpent, for instance) doesn’t provide any tactical options outside of how to spend VPs, Luck, and the humor of a 1k1 Honor Roll to try to get out of the grapple.  But, in a more normal situation, there seem to be ways to gauge threat level and duration of combat by not getting distracted and focusing as much as possible on damage/wounds.  After all, pretty much every fight is to the lifelessness!