Time for a buffet of thoughts.
I can’t help but revisit this topic. I prefer success as long as success involves some sort of challenge. Winning, in and of itself, is just not meaningful. But, others value results more than I do. And, it produces some unfortunate situations.
I value doing things well; I certainly don’t like playing poorly, which means I have success at some things at times. So, one situation that isn’t all that appealing to me is when I’m unusually successful and others aren’t and the experience is lessened for them because of it. My focus is on the play and how the play leads to results, not just the results themselves.
But, that by itself is not why I’m revisiting the topic. Instead, a different spin on this same difference in “utility” gains is that my viewing situations along a different axis can lead to very different approaches in the moment. For instance, it’s hard for me to empathize when someone else is having a challenging time, even when it may seem unfair, when I’m barred from participating in their efforts all together. I would rather have the challenge and fail than not be able to do anything at all. After all, the point of playing games is to play games. Just winning is easily achieved by doing anything that’s easy.
On a more constructive level, I see value in failure. Failure is so much better for learning than success. But, I’m thinking about something more specific – failure in RPGs.
RPGs are about stories. In the moment, it can be frustrating, irritating, or otherwise unpleasant to fail. I particularly get frustrated by failing at things my characters are supposed to be good at … probably because my characters tend not to be as good at things in general as other characters. But, constant success is not a very compelling story. If one is writing a novel (or producing anime or whatever), then failure builds up the value of later success. In theory, RPGs should work the same way.
In practice, failure has problems. First of all, too often with RPGs, failure means death, which should actually, arguably never be the case. Death as failure is a competitive game view. Stories are rife with heroic sacrifices, heinous betrayals, and whatnot. RPGs are about telling stories. Otherwise, can just go play an MMO or something. Even putting aside deaths, too many RPG plots are reliant upon success. I ran into this rather painfully with an HoR2 mod. Players didn’t try some obvious things, and they weren’t well designed for how to move forward in the plot, and the party was small. Yet, giving up in HoR mods is never satisfying.
In some post in the last year or so, I noted my epiphany that I wasn’t actually looking for difficult challenges in RPGs but, rather, looking to succeed at challenges that seemed difficult, regardless as to whether they were or not. Perception was more important than technicalities. That probably applies to competitive games, as well, since perception = reality and all.
So, it’s tricky. On the one hand, I should want failure at times to make for more compelling stories. On the other, I’d rather feel like failure was likely but succeed anyway. I do believe that RPGs lack the subtlety of experience in most cases where you can see how failure leads to something more interesting down the line. Plus, there’s so much “in the moment” when it comes to RPGs, even when a campaign lasts a while. Looking back, the failures in our Conan play were interesting, but they were oh so frustrating at the time.
The above went on longer than I expected. I got to thinking about how to enforce more heroic combat, i.e. combat where you have a specific enemy that you fight one on one rather than the party ganking dudes.
Something that’s funny about this is that facing off against your specific opponent is a comic book convention, but another comic book convention is to switch opponents for devastating attacks that your normal opponent isn’t prepared for.
Anyway, I got to thinking that having penalties to switching off could be a way to encourage focusing on your personal foe. In L5R, a mechanic would be something like doing -1k1 on attacks and damage against everyone besides your designated opponent (however that’s figured out). Time of War, which we are using for our Mechwarrior campaign, has a special piloting ability that works like this, where you get a bonus against one opponent and a penalty to everyone else while that opponent is fighting. Somewhere in L5R 4e’s mechanics, there may be something like this, as well.
Obviously, not every fight should be one on one. The big bad or big bads fights can be cool. As a GM, I’m also prone to not having specific foes for PCs because that’s too many elite participants in fights.
CCG Play Style
Playing Shadowfist recently had an interesting effect on my recent V:TES play. I was thinking about how to build Shadowfist decks once I have cards (again). The thought processes weren’t about what was effective … because I don’t know enough to know what’s effective. They were the sort of thoughts people have when they are learning about a CCG (and not focused on what is effective), which is to say that these thoughts ran to the idea of finding cards I wanted to play together and playing them together.
Not whether they would be strong or weak or different together. Just picking cards that read/look interesting and putting them in a deck and playing.
Now, Johnnies (CCGers who are more into combos) and Timmies (CCGers into playing cool cards) are already bent this way, the former for trying to find a way to creatively use a card, the latter for the feelings that happen when playing a card. As amusing as it is to consider at times, I’m a Spike. Spikes are about winning. In my particular case, as written about above, it’s not about my winning, it’s about knowing how to win, which I find fascinating even if I never end up applying such knowledge to my own play. Sure, I have Johnny and Timmy elements, as most do, but underlying the “I want to play this silly card/deck/whatever” is not so much an interest in being creative or an interest in the coolness of the play but how “silly” (“funny”, etc.) only has meaning within a context of what is not silly, aka what is effective.
Anyway, so I built one new deck for Sunday’s V:TES session, and it was very much outside of my current norm. It was a comboish deck that really just tried to do its thing, regardless as to how productive that thing was. For giggles, it was a Spiridonas + Renewed Vigor deck that bled once with Spiridonas … for one … before it got ousted by my “axe” not paying attention to my situation and having his 5 bleed get bounced into me when I was at 7 pool. One funny thing about the deck is that I’m pretty sure it’s better without Spiridonas and Renewed Vigor.
But, as pathetic as it performed, there’s something about just playing cards for the sake of playing cards. After all, I tend to play games just for the sake of playing games. Why should it be bothersome to run out some mess of a deck that I have little hope of winning with when, one, I’m not trying to play the best decks possible anyway and, two, I play decks all of the time that aren’t good for other reasons?
Note that much of the time the reason I play so many sketchy decks is either because I’m trying to learn something about cards or strategies or because I’m playing decks in opposition to goodness, e.g. Dominateless decks for clans with inclan Dominate. What I’m talking about today is not about learning or about making a political statement but simply about playing cards that sound like they would be fun to play.
Which may sound weird to some folks that I don’t play cards that I just think are fun. But, that comes about when I’ve played a CCG so much that I’ve played those cards at some point in the past just because it seemed fun or interesting. There’s a strong element of becoming jaded. Which, again, is why I like restrictions on deck construction that other people don’t embrace. As much as I know about a CCG, I know so much less about an environment where I can’t play what I’d normally play or can’t play what other people can play or whatever. This not knowing the metagame leads to making unusual choices.
Soon, I plan on doing a review of Book of Fire for L5R 4e. It won’t be a terribly useful review as my intent is more “Here’s what I would have done, instead.” Also pending is my updating my HoR3 mod rankings. I’ve let things slide as I’ve played so irregularly in 2013. I’ve also thought about how Time of War and other Mechwarrior products historically have gone in a particular direction that I think suits a different type of gamer.
Though, as I may be playing Shadowfist Friday night and running my FSTH campaign Saturday and playing more games Sunday, I may get distracted and think of something else to write about.