Laborless Weekend + [Classic] ConQuest 2001

August 31, 2013

I should be doing some gaming this weekend, but I don’t know how many years it has been since I wasn’t at a convention on this weekend.  Last year, Los Angeles, year before that Celesticon, years before that ConQuest/Pacificon.  There may have been one year that I wasn’t at a con, but this weekend goes back to the days of the Clarion, even the Dunfey long, long ago.

Going to muse for a while, will post a classic V:TES report at the end.

In theory, I could have had Shadowfist last night, my online L5R home game today, boardgames Monday.  But, I’m just looking at BattleTech tomorrow for the totality of the weekend.

Nor have I done much gaming since getting back from Gen Con.  Played one session of online L5R.  Ran one session of local L5R home game.  Sudden trip to Toronto had something to do with that.  Half the usual V:TES suspects being caught up in other things through August has meant a dearth of that.

It’s funny how I won’t miss something until suddenly I do.  Well, maybe not that unexpected.  When I’m thinking of one thing, like still thinking about Gen Con or thinking about L5R, it’s much easier to forget that I haven’t played V:TES in a while.

With some time to breathe and after a conversation with Brad, who is at the con I could walk to this weekend, started thinking about what I want my schedule to be.  Tuesday L5R has become a fixture.  Friday has not been the usual with the GM in SoCal for the Summer.  Saturdays, online L5R.  Sundays, looks like BT in the morning and will eventually get back to V:TES 1-2 times a month.  Monthly FSTH campaign I’m running, monthly Shadowfist is an option.  Theoretical online HoR3 play, when there are mods – I could actually use a couple.

The only real unknown would be Friday, given that I can’t see adding more (routine) gaming on to the schedule.  But, that’s how things are.  What do I want them to be?

CCGs should be played regularly.  Sure, there have been years when V:TES was rare, more of a con thing (so odd that it became a non-con thing).  Assuming I start building decks for Shadowfist, should play more than once a month.

The two RPG campaigns I’m running I don’t feel compelled to run – GM endurance has never been my thing.  Saturday afternoon (for me) online L5R is a good anchor.  Sunday morning BT is something I don’t know if I will find compelling.  I think I’d like something fun on Tuesday nights, something fun on half my Friday nights, Saturday’s game and/or HoR3 most Saturdays, and a switch between heavier and lighter commitments on Sundays.  Thursdays are another reasonable slot for doing something, except I like not being overly committed on weeknights in case I have work stuff I need to get done.  Thursdays can also be used for HoR3 online play, as online players seem to have wildly varying schedules.

Relating in some hard to describe way, I don’t feel terribly invested in anything at the moment.  Gen Con should have been the high point of investment in my HoR3 characters, but, as I said, there just wasn’t that much takeaway for me from GC2013.  In my Saturday game, I’m coming off of a personal stuff climax, while the group is still flailing about.  The less I play CCGs, the less invested in them mentally.  Running RPGs is mostly a chore with moments of “I could do this cool thing”, where what inspires me to run in the first place often doesn’t end up coming to pass, whether because my interests differ from my players’ or because I just don’t execute my visions well enough.

One more ramblegraph.  My ideal with RPGs would seem to be coming up with a vision of the characters and what would happen and, then, hand things off to someone else to actually run.  Sure, it’s a truism that GMs run the sort of game they want to play in, but I think I end up running games that don’t turn out to be what I envisioned as I (or people like me) am not playing in my own game.


V:TESwise, this had to be one of the strangest cons for me (and Prince Brad).  Outside of the tournament, I didn’t play any games. BradN didn’t play at all.

I suppose the silver lining is that I have 3 decks I’ve yet to play, but given a choice, I would have much rather played casual games than the tournament.

Five of the nine players made the final table.  Of the five players with 0 VPs, Dave Sisson got in through tiebreakers by being fortunate enough to play at one of the four player table sweeps and the five player table sweep.  There was much amusement at his good fortune.  I got in as the second seed though I was the only one of the top four who didn’t sweep a game.

Chris went first with BradN’s City Gangrel rush deck.  sBrad (not Butts, how many do we have again?, I think there might be three sBrads including BB) went second with weenie stealth bleed with some Suhailah toolbox.  Dave went third with BradN’s Might of the Cam deck.  Cy went fourth with !Ventrue toolbox. I went fifth with !Malk stealth bleed.

After Chris brought out Huang on turn one and dropped Fame on turn two, I *slowly* transferred, offering no targets for a couple turns.  Brad beat Dave down continuously throughout the game with Hacks.  Dave frightened various people with evil votage – Banishment, Protect Thine Own.  But, no Might, which was helpful as I eventually decided to bring out a fourth vamp.  Cy was in a comfortable position and took his time building up.  I eventually decided that I needed Kite out to TMisdirect after seeing plus bleed from Cy.  Chris focused heavily forward even with stealth bleed behind him as he wasn’t terribly familiar with dementation and I bled *very* conservatively – one bleed a turn for one or two, just using Kindred Spirits to keep my pool total decent with Fame hitting us all for a while. Between my (occasionally) more than token bleed and Fame, Chris’s pool was in the yellow region.  But, Brad being beaten down with rush was in the danger region, down to 5 at one point.  Dave dropped Anarch Revolt when he was hurting, hoping someone else would get rid of it.  No one had the interest and/or the time.  With just Arika and no Deflections, Dave fell first.  I finally decided to go for the kill on Chris, even though I would have expected him to continue to look forward in the main.  I had enough to oust and keep Kite up for bounce, which proved to be unnecessary.  Cy was low with Brad coming.  While he had mucho intercept, Brad had a little more stealth, and the expected bounce wasn’t there.  With just Brad and myself, it was a tap out bleed race once I purged a couple TMs.  I topdecked enough plus bleed to win.

I think I had a decent name for my deck, but I forgot it if I did.  Anyway, it wasn’t particularly interesting.  It was a tight 75 card !Malk stealth bleed.  It was the sort of deck I would have played at Gen Con if I somehow generated enough interest.  The main point I was trying to prove was how good Direct Intervention and Sudden Reversal are in the current metagame as utility defenses.  However, they didn’t come up often enough when I wanted them for me to believe I came close to proving that.  I think I did discover why !Malk don’t do better in general. While you can hurt your prey bad with dementation, you lack the 3B (big bomb bleed) of dominate.  In an earlier tournament, I couldn’t get through a bloat deck.  In the first round, I couldn’t get past Greta.  If you beat someone down enough, you really should put them out of their misery.  I can post a decklist if someone wants, if it’s a quick (I’m definitely breaking the deck down) request.

Getting back to the lack of games, I remember a time when the games were continuous throughout the cons, going into the wee hours.  I miss that.  Anyone have ideas for how to get some of that back?

“I’m sorry.
No new decks.
Takes a day
to put cards away.
there’s the sex.” – From the Collection of CCGers’ Laments

Gen Con 2013

August 20, 2013

I don’t have a lot of time to recover as I have a business trip, so I’m going to be less coherent than usual.

Redeye to Indy gets cancelled.  Get on more normal time flight … on other airline.  Amazingly, luggage is there.  No other logistical issues.

Though, room was small and not so great for other reasons.  Don’t want small when have four people in room.  Will try harder to book a double, next year.

Thursday 9AM

HoR3.  Glimpse Beyond gets replaced with Your Heart’s Enemy.  At first, Chris, Mike, Andy, and I all at same table.  Chris and Andy pulled off for second table.  The question is whether to avoid spoilers or not.  I guess I can since the actual goings ons in the mod weren’t all that.  My HoR2 main would have been all over what we end up doing.  But, it wasn’t a bad fit problem, it was more a too much to do problem.  Wasn’t opportunity to have a lot of amusing things happen, we ran an hour over the time slot, and we didn’t really play things out completely because of the time.

It also had awful rewards.  It reminded me so much of part four of Shipping Lanes from HoR2 – great idea, set up for an interactive, terrible payoff.  Now, this was much better in terms of the stuff you get to do, but the mod seemed hell bent on trying to punish you.

Thursday 2PM

One of the issues this year for me was that I had a very tight schedule, having 11 games in the “eleven slots” – morning/afternoon/evening Thursday/Friday/Saturday, morning/noon Sunday.  I was going to hit the exhibit hall after the morning game, but, instead, was rushing to my 2PM, which I was 15 minutes late for.

I found the GM.  Nobody else showed up.  But, two of the GM’s friends filled out a table of Gods & Heroes.  Not sure what the official name is, but it’s the same game I played the two years previous.  The concept is that all mythologies share common features of challenges, character archetypes, etc.  You can easily reskin the game.  So, two years ago, it was Greek Mythology, last year, Norse, this year, Indian.

Now, each game was completely different.  The Greek game was wild (and the best).  The Norse game was far more dour.  This session was just silly.  Indian elements were sparse.  And, I think that’s a problem of embracing the reskinning idea too strongly.  I really wanted to play this to see what an Indian Mythology game would be like, not to be shown how you can play the same mechanics in a vaguely Indian setting.

I’ve also grown less enchanted with the mechanics.  Legend Points are too sparse, in that you get one for the whole session unless you can activate your fatal flaw.  I like playing the Cunning Hero, not just because I like trying to be cunning, but because the Cunning Hero gets a good number of skills.  I played the Wise Hero for the first time, and, while I could do magic, I felt skill deprived.

Why was this silly?

We start out with the Ganges drying up and the Raja or Sultan or whoever wanting heroes to go fix the problem.  So, two NPCs present themselves.  We try to argue for us being deserving of the honor by having our Strong Hero face their Strong Hero.  Ours loses.  We follow the other two hoping they face all of the difficulties for us and I detect the Monsoon (“The Storm”) coming, so we head for shelter.  We end up at an idyllic castle with only a mother and daughter and a husband who is out.  Our Strong Hero is an incredible lech, so he keeps trying to make moves on the women, only to discover that the mother is a witch who takes the form of one of the demonic statues out front.  Our Fast Hero discovers the daughter is a witch.  I mostly help the Fast Hero – electrocuting the daughter with a lightning bolt, for instance.  We loot the place and flee before the father shows up.

We camp in some ruins where a monkish dude is dicing with a rakshasa.  We convince the monk that the rakshasa is cheating and they both disappear.  We take some god money as it’s obvious the monk is Ganesh.  We find out that a rakshasa prince is drinking the Ganges, and the way to take him out is to be purified, so we go looking for a temple.  Ka (sp?), the talking snake, talks to us, offering a deal to give the location of a temple in a lake for helping it get some treasure from the Garuda “people” (bird people).  We sort of agree and climb up the tree to the Garuda village.  Ka goes for their eggs when I was promised gold and stuff, so we turn on Ka.  After the Fast Hero gets some coals down his throat, he dies, and we are Garuda buddies.  Our Strong Hero tries to have intimate relations with one of the birdfolk, and we are flown to the temple.

The other two burned the boats to prevent us from following, but that didn’t stop flight.  We fight them in a very, very long fight.  Realizing they are the actual heroes and we are the ones who will write history, we chase down the fleeing Wise Hero of their party and torture and murder him.  Then, because it’s why we were here, we get purified by the priest.  We head off to the rakshasa prince and take him out, with me finishing him off with a holy rock.  Ganesh appears to explain that he lost a bet on ownership of the Ganges due to his gambling problem and we take the bones of the rakshasa back to make a shrine that will improve our fortunes.  By the by, the Strong Hero used a Legend Point in this fight for a very not suitable for children or non-perverts attack on the rakshasa prince.

Amusing but not as compelling.

Thursday 8PM

Before this game, I actually have 45 minutes or so to hit the exhibit hall, which is the only time I ever spend in it.  I bought nothing at Gen Con.

I’m also already fading as I slept like crap the night before, a consistent problem.

This game ends up being Kuro, a Cubicle 7 game.  Cubicle 7 takes French RPGs and translates them into English.  Kuro is modern Japanese supernatural horror.  Being tired, I’d prefer to play either the male model or the salaryman, but two others want to play them, so I end up with a role more suited for when I’m in a more regular state of mind – 17 year old schoolgirl.

Along with a detective, we all end up on a bus.  I miss my stop because “OMG, Sho-kun!!” is on board.  We all end up in a cemetery, then in a pocket dimension.  Takes us a while to start exploring as the detective is all like “this is weird”, which I never understand.  Look, either the weird world you are in is real or it’s fake (dream, nightmare, drugs, whatever).  Either way, why would you act differently?  I got incredibly tired of Jon-Tom Merriweather and Thomas Covenant going on and on in their books about how the world wasn’t real.  So what?  Either way, be awesome!  Don’t waste your time being a curmudgeon.

We start exploring and realize technology won’t help much and that there’s this daughter who committed suicide and the bus driver was her father, who got murdered by locals because the locals thought he was molesting her.  Feral dogs live in a market.  We end up at a warehouse where a bunch of victims of an oni (because I can’t escape Japaneseness) are sealed up.  We let them loose and put a salt ring around us.  They are zombielike.  We are trappedlike.  One thing my character is awesome at is running and dodging, so I sprint out of our circle to distract them so that the rest of the party can do stuff to get us out of oniworld.

That works well.  I run by the market calling out “meow, meow” to get the dogs to attack the “zombies”.  The others get the daughter’s body and put her on the bus, which means her father can drive us out of here.  Except, the detective is rear guarding and gets swarmed.  I run over and try a kick to a knee and get grabbed.  Detective facepunches that one and tells me to run.  So, I hit the bus.

The Salaryman happened to be a Shinto expert, which is the only reason we have an idea of what’s going on or how to solve the problem.  He’s praying in the bus, so I start praying.  Sho, the adorable cuteness, stops propping the bus door open when the detective gets his jaw ripped off, and we start moving.  Oni pulls out katana and swings at the bus.  Salaryman and I do not roll well on our praying rolls, so the GM gives the other player an option.  He can either get killed by the oni or he can drag me in front of him.  He goes with the latter, and I get half-decapitated.

Sho and Salaryman escape.  What was particularly amusing about this ending was that I kept trying to hook up with Sho but Sho kept touching the Salaryman for various reasons, so it was a true happy ending.  Western audiences kind of hated it, though, what with the virgin getting slaughtered.

Sadly, in the interest of brevity, I can’t go into all of the jokes about my trying to figure out ways to make myself more appealing to Sho.

Friday 9AM

Back to HoR.  One Will Fall.  I let the table know I have a game at 1PM, so we try to move relatively quickly.  Solid experience.  Chris played at my table and he got the most exciting stuff of jumping over the front line in combat to go after a shugenja only to get Strike at the Rootsed … and never hit again.  Still kind of weak rewards but not the hose job for how we played it.

What was interesting was that three of the people playing were players I would play the Battle Interactive with, so it was good prep.

We finished just at 1PM, so I had to rush over to the other hotel, again.  I really hate the JW Marriott because of its location.  Everything else about it is nice, I heard the food is good, not that I ever have time to check that out, but it’s so inconvenient.

Friday 1PM

Psalms of Atlantis is a game that the GM is writing.  It’s ancient Greece as part of Atlantis.  I was an extra player by the time I arrived, so two of us had similar abilities.  Mechanics were offputting and stuff that I would have found more interesting – use of astrological signs, for instance – didn’t figure that prominently.

The plot was that our diverse group – couple Athenai, Spartan, Ephyrean, Kadmiean, Kadmiean fearer – were gathered together by a priest of Athena (Olympian Gods disappeared 30 years prior) to investigate disappearances.  The Cult of Morpheus was suspected, but I couldn’t figure out why.  By that, I mean, in character, I asked why they were suspected.  Other than the cult “infiltrating” and being “nefarious”, I never found out what they had actually done to be considered nefarious or suspect.

We talk to some folks who know the people who disappeared.  Kadmiean and his women (the two female PCs) hang with other Kadmieans, well known disreputable sorts.  We all converge on an alley, where we get ambushed and the rest of our party ambushes the ambushers.  We win easily, with my never attacking anyone.  We get clues that lead us to a private spa.  We hang there for a bit.  Guy who pretends to be retired magistrate gives us info to find the secret dream entrance where we don’t have enough time to fight the minotaur.  We free folks.  Guy turned out to be a thief.

I talked to the GM a bit about his game.  This was one of two games I most wanted to sign up for.  I liked the setting.  The mechanics were just kind of awkward.  It didn’t help that characters get much more competent and we were playing newbs.

Friday 8PM

Big break, not that that helped me much.  Really could have used a nap, but I was too lazy to go from the HoR area to my hotel.

Qin, The Warring States.  Same GM for the other Cubicle 7 game.  Same couple of players from the night before.  Same situation of one of the players wanting to play the same character I did.  I commented on it after the game as I thought it was so funny to find someone with such similar tastes in games and character types.

Once I realized this was going to be Qin (I prereg so far in advance of the con, I don’t remember what I signed up for), I was quite interested in this, as I actually own Qin but couldn’t get a feel for the mechanics from reading it.  The mechanics seem okay, with a clear exception.  Two of us had dice manipulation abilities, and they seemed horribly broken.  I didn’t need to use them, but the other guy (playing the only female character pretending to be a guy) used them all of the time because 1 Chi for a power is cheap.  He created tons of crits and the flip a positive result into a negative result is crazy swingy.

I played an alchemist.  The others were badass martial artists.  I was the healer.  I got off a decent joke early to our boss, not the humorous sort.  We set out to get his bride with a bunch of tribute.  We knew we would pass the bamboo forest, where bandits lived, so we knew we would face the bandits and their leader, Yellow Crow.  Knowing that, I suggested we try to pretend our tribute caravan was a trap, leading to the situation of being essentially a trap since we are heroic level martial artists that is pretending to be a trap.  My spiritual clone of a player decides to make up a song about Yellow Crow.  So, we get lyrics rhyming Crow with slow and chap with trap.

My other main contribution is that the others go stealth mode while we dress up some gold statues or whatever as people and I lead the caravan into the ambush point.  Wei Tai, a giant man with a giant hammer, with a foot on a giant log blocking the road, approaches me.  He asks me about the caravan and I start describing the tribute as, “Made of gold and rubies or something.  Beautiful noblemen daughters are watching the silks and furs.”

I ask the GM if I can use my alchemy to do the opposite of my schtick – do poisons rather healing potions (for physical and spiritual health).  He’s cool with that.  So, while the others are fighting in the woods, I share a drink with Wei Tai.  We toast to the famous bandit Yellow Crow.  I ask the GM if I can get a second “alchemy action” since the others get multiple martial arts actions.  He’s cool with that.  So, I propose a second toast, “To the Empress’s dimples!”, a joke that Chris will get.  This is anti-Chi draught, btw.  GM asks me how much Chi loss, and I decide on -6 per drink because I’m a genius and have 32 Chi to start out with.  As it happens 12 Chi is what Wei Tai has and he collapses from lack of spiritual energy.  I replace the tarps and wait for the others to win their “fights”.

They do and come back and we have to decide what to do with out prisoners.  They decide to keep Yellow Crow but lose Wei Tai.  To speed things up, I take him into the woods and stab him repeatedly in the eyes.  Coming back, I point out that it’s appropriately taoist to murder others because “Not murdering people is also an action.”

Normally, I’d have other stuff to do once we got to the bride’s palace, but another player did a bunch of the stuff I would normally try to do – my fault for not playing the only chick in the party – and a bunch of soap opera stuff sort of happened.

A key thought after the con was that games that end well are thought of more highly than arguably better games that don’t end as well.  Both my Cubicle 7 games, with Clinton Boomer (author) as GM, were among my first tier of games this con, but the potential for this one was a lot higher, as romantic martial arts suits me better than horror.

Saturday 9AM (kind of 8AM)

Battle Interactive.  I sat with Darin, Sheryl, Stephen – three I played One Will Fall with – and their friend Laurel and Andy.  We went after the Temple District.  With four rank 3’s and two rank 2’s, we didn’t try to get crazy.  We started with a rank 3, found that easy, went to rank 4, which was so easy that the GM threw more stuff at us to give us more to do, then did rank 4 to wrap while the next table did the special rank 5 for the Temple.  They were much stronger than us, so that made sense.

Darin and Stephen play rank 3 Hida.  Sheryl a rank 3 Isawa Water that is married into the Crab.  Laural a rank 2 Isawa Fire.  Andy is still rank 2 Void Shugenja.  To balance that brokenness, I’ve been a rank 3 Suzume Bushi for a bit.  So, Hida Maro, Hida Ada, Kuni Reiko, Hida Matsuro, Asako Otari, and Moshi Shigeo.

Really, this wasn’t the most interesting BI.  The first fight’s most amusing moment was the fire shugenja fireballing the gongringer to cause the gong to fall out of the watchtower.  After we cleaned up, our GM, Ben Fredericksen, let us roll Engineering to beef up the barricade we had to get past, which was cool, especially when I didn’t roll badly, something I seemed to do a lot of at HoR at GC2013, and got a 46.

The second fight was straight up and really weak for a 4, so Ben threw more guys at us, which hurt some due to their leader being skilled.  Otari was able to Tempest of Air off doors to the inner city and crush some nameless horsemen to finish things up.

Final round, we had to guard the door to the inner sanctum.  Kept being told that if anybody got past us, the other table was dead.  Things did not go well, as Otari failed an Honor Roll on a Tempest of Air to knock some dudes over.  Maro took enough damage that Ada dropped Blessed Wind to heal him.  That hurt when archers did 26 wounds at the end of a round, putting me in Out.  We thought we might be done when a priest shows up and starts exploding the remaining bushi.  Maro almost dies.  Sheryl thinks to heal me, but I suggest Matsuro instead, which is far more useful when he gets a bunch of damage and has to be the evil wizard tetsuboer.  Reiko finishes off the last regular dude with a wakizashi, when everyone else is less than functional, and we win.

But, even with the last encounter being challenging, it still didn’t feel all that compelling.  I think it also hurt that the Unicorn table wasn’t close to being done with their mission, not finishing until more than half an hour into the next slot, which was 1.5 hours over theoretical end time (interactives should always be the last slot of the day because we know that they won’t finish on time).  The announcements were also not that enthralling, nor were the rewards.  Gee, I’m sailing under my clan champion to fight the Empire’s enemies and I don’t rate a couple points of Status?  Not that Status means much to me.  Getting back some Honor from pointlessly losing it in Your Heart’s Enemy would have been better.

Saturday 2PM (well, 2:30PM)

This was unfortunate.  I was playing Divide and Conquer, the new introductory mod.  My new goal with my alt character is to play every introductory mod with him since I have no incentive to go to rank 2.  I might have already achieved that goal, playing him in New Beginnings, Ancestral Dictate, and Divide and Conquer.  The unfortunate bit was that at least four of the other players had pregens and no particular interest in HoR.  So, for me to be the only one both interested in the back story of the mod and interested in the events, which I was ridiculously well suited for, as everyone knows Tattooed Monks are experts on go, poetry, iaijutsu, and hawking, was not as fun as playing with people who cared about HoR and their characters.  I ignored the combat, as that gave other people things to do.  I did pick up a dai tsuchi, which I was ready to use, but the combat ended.

I think it was not terribly satisfying for the others, which decreased my enthusiasm.  After all, being good at stuff is all within context.

Saturday 6PM

The one better thing about the previous slot was that we finished up quickly, so I got to my 6PM on time.  I showed up earlier than anyone else, in fact, except the GM’s helper.

This game was truly awful.  It wasn’t the system, which was Supernatural (Cortex).  It was the lack of coherency of the plot, the reliance upon NPCs, the frequent conversations between GM and assistant (playing) about stuff that happened in their home game, disengaged players, and general bizarreness.  I haven’t watched Supernatural in a bunch of years.  I do know they spend a lot of time with one or more angels and that they have changed over time (they being Sam and Dean).

But, and I won’t do justice in my description here as I need to get to bed, I don’t think a voodoo priest (my character) being summoned by an angel spell, having Mabh, The Fae Queen of Air and Darkness, show up after ditching an angel, figuring that being teleported to Colma by an angel is less costly than by the Queen of the Fae, channeling a Reaper (which is what?) who kisses her knowledge into Jim Colt, Sam Colt’s descendent, who ends up in a vault in Heaven where an Eclipse in a Bottle that will send the world into the Abyss, which is being sought by Asmodeus, the last lord of Hell and Lord of the Abyss, which is no longer protected by Diana(?), who is bleeding out her angel juice, that the three of us who aren’t demonspawn suck out of her, …

Eventually, I would have gotten to how I swapped the Eclipse in a Bottle for a Dos Equis or how Bobby and Jim looted Heaven’s vault before Mabh showed back up to help slay Asmodeus.

Whatever.  Sucking Diana’s Angel Grace (which is?) while she lay dying and while a really stupid angel comforted her – does it get any sweeter than that?

So, what’s the lesson?  One problem had similarities to the previous slot.  Having one player know vastly more about what’s going on is not fair to the other players.  Having NPCs be essential to everything is bad, which is why a lot of GMs have the conceit that NPCs who should be more useful aren’t.  Having a game based heavily on an intellectual property is not a problem … until you start having your home campaign have its own stories that only one player knows.

Sunday 8AM

Pure storytelling game.  This was okay, but it had way too many players.  The main problem for me was that I’m not as into these sorts of games as I used to be.  I enjoy the creative storytelling aspect of that to a degree.  But, the been there, done that of it all makes me less interested.  Also, creativity at 8AM on the Sunday of Gen Con is not optimal.

Was sword and sorcery themed.  I could explain a bunch of things, but it will only kind of depress me.  My concept was the firstborn prince who wanted nothing more than to retire to the clergy.

I didn’t do a whole lot, having to constantly be respectful of other people’s time.  That was kind of a theme of GC2013 – I didn’t do that much, even in games I did things.  In HoR stuff, I didn’t roll all that well and didn’t do much personal stuff.  In Kuro, I had little to do until I started running and dodging.  In Psalms, I was a clone of another PC, so I tried to let him do things I would normally do.  In Qin, all I did was poison myself to victory.  In Supernatural, I had little idea what was going on much of the time.

Sunday 12PM

The third of my better games.  This was another RPG written by the GM.  Babylon is set in historical Babylon with a bit of a Shadowrun thing going on in that necromancers can access all knowledge through talking to the dead, in that there’s some theoretical technology running around, and in that there are professional black ops agents running around to prevent the employers from being identified by the dead.

The mechanics were a lot more interesting and, seemingly, a lot more playable than Psalms.  Resolution used dominoes, which was a nice gimmick.  Characters were created without a lot of difficulty.  They were more competent than they seemed.  My taking Reincarnated, which allows the PC to spend a stone (resource mainly used for modifying domino values) to know any Knowledge or Craft skill, as a Gift was hugely useful.

We were all invited to meet with some dude.  Turned out the dude was dead and other dudes tried to kill us.  Our group made little sense prima facie, being a former slave, astrologer, necromancer, barbarian, and myself, a skilled surgeon.  Turned out that an idol got stolen by a thief who was captured by the king’s guards.  We needed to get the idol.  Turned out the thief wasn’t a murderer and had been framed.  The wine shop owner of the shop we were supposed to meet our employer turned out to be a member of the Cult of Mechanicus, and was the bionic woman.  I used surgeon skills and some Reincarnated engineering to shut her down, and we went looking for the idol (machine).  We faced a robot that I identified weak points on, and we got the thief released and got paid.

This had a better sense of place.  I’m a big fan of historical/historical supernatural, if not being terribly interested in technology.  This level of robots and cyborgs was okay as long as it wasn’t the main thing going on.  The necromancer got to talk to the dead.  The slave and barbarian fought.  The astrologer did a bit of magic but probably had the least to do.

I was extremely tired, but I couldn’t think of anything that was particularly wrong about the system.  I did think the game needed more Hubrises (disadvantages – a lot of my GC games used the term Hubris).


My non Steak and Shake food was nothing to write a blog post about.  My first tier of games was not great.  HoR was … subdued?  Muted?  I’m just not enthusiastic like I normally am after Gen Con.  I do think a horrible game is better value than a mediocre game.  Mediocre just gets forgotten.  Horrible is only painful for the hours it is being played.  Horrible makes for amusing anecdotes for years.

Reasonable Gen Con, but the lack of great games is concerning.  I might need to shake things up more and do some other types of things, whether that be different sorts of RPGs or non-RPGs.  Though, I actually did pretty much what I wanted to do.  I played six RPGs I’ve never played before.  I’d happily play more Qin or Babylon.  Kuro isn’t so much my thing, especially outside of a one-shot, Psalms may end up working okay or not, pure storytelling was a lot cooler back in the day, and I don’t think I need to play Supernatural ever again.

The Elemental Party

August 11, 2013

Just as a side note about how people don’t know how to abuse RPG mechanics, someone who should have a lot of play experience commented about being underwhelmed by Fire shugenja combat options, mentioning a bunch of spells that suck and not mentioning Fires of Purity, which is the only Fire spell that is necessary to cast in most combats.

Why be all negative up in this house to start things out?  Would further derail the thread on the forums and I’m not inclined to start a new thread.  Yet, it bothers me the dumb that people spread.

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.

Ranger (range control, not wilderness warrior)

This is hardly a scientific list.  I might also add:

Chasm Crosser
Food Taster

I am in fact not joking, so let me explain these a bit even though they aren’t at the heart of today’s post.


High Awareness.  Does the Courtier/Etiquette/Sincerity triumvirate.  But, also does AWA/Investigation (Interrogation).  Tends to be a massive information gatherer.  Convinces crazy/possessed/Tainted people/gods/creatures to surrender/off themselves/stand down/give the party cookies.  When people use the term “courtier”, what they usually mean is talker archetype as most courtiers are good at Awareness stuff.  For HoR play, this is one of the most important things to have in a party as various mods come down to one big talky roll (some have a combat option if talking doesn’t work but the combat option is so much more work).  For our Saturday campaign, we are talky weak, but that’s more easily handled in home play.


Perception/Investigation (Notice) is the most common roll outside of the likes of primary weapon skill rolls but could be the most common roll, period, for some characters.  Investigation (Search) is key to certain mods.  Hunting (Tracking) is hugely useful, in my play.  Given that the only other natively Perception-using skill is Battle, any character in this niche should have at least some Battle.


Lore skills, mostly through Sage since Sage is stupidly better than buying up Lore skills, but there are some Lore skills that might deserve more than a single rank.  Medicine, Divination, Calligraphy, Games: Go/Shogi/others, Craft, Commerce, Engineering, Sailing all are naturals for the brain, but the key is Sage and Intelligence just in case knowing stuff matters to some challenge.


Some fights involve pursuit.  Some fights involve fleeing.  The ranger is the one who manipulates ranges between the party and the enemy.  High Water (or effective Water, e.g. Usagi Bushi), ranged attacks, spells that affect movement are the tools of a party ranger.


For when the fight is ugly or needs to be won crushingly fast, you need to know who to drop Fires of Purity on and have hug the foes to annihilation.  High Earth is good for the Grappler.  Strength is obviously useful.  Agility isn’t that important in many cases due to using Full Attack to grapple, but some of the nasty foes, like Lost, may have high ATNs, so whatever a low Agility is for the party is not great.


For when the big bad is grappled, knocked prone, or about to eat a PC, you need the executioner to come in.  Also, murderers just speed things up immensely after a Tempest of Air puts random stuff on the ground.  Ono folks are naturals.  But, Kenjutsu 7 and a no-dachi or Heavy Weapons 7 and a tetsubo are fine.

Chasm Crosser

Getting more specialized, but I’ve been in a number of situations where the challenge was to climb, balance, swim, fly over an environmental obstacle.  Shugenja are best for this with their cheats, but a high Athletics (well, high Trait, which is probably Agility in this case, plus some Athletics) dude can tie off ropes and such.


As much as L5R isn’t supposed to be about money, it’s borderline hysterical how often filthy lucre come up.  While I detest shopping in most RPGs, that’s because you are shopping for useful stuff, where most of my shopping in L5R is for treats (I can’t say toys because “toys” often refers to major items in games).  How-e-ver, there have also been enough mods and home play situations I’ve been in where you simply buy yourself to plot victory that the shopper is a legit thing.  Plus, the beauty of the shopper is that you don’t even necessarily need anything besides Wealthy.  Sure, Intelligence and Commerce are good.  But, Wealthy has gotten me “plenty” of obstacle-defeating.

Food Taster

The least important of these roles, but having this role gives the high Earth PC something to do besides cast spells and grapple.  Basically, any time poison is expected, the Food Taster can try.  Traps and poisoned food are quite rare in my play, so this hardly ever matters – for example, I had an Earth 4 character with Jurojin’s Blessing who never once got to roll against poison/venom, even the one time he got poisoned.  Sad face.  Anyway, the other problem with this role is that a high Reflexes character might be better than a high Earth character for traps, as the REF character might just avoid a trap that the Earth character has to suffer through.

Okay, with that out of the way, it’s time to talk about what I wanted to talk about, which is unbalanced, from a Ring perspective, PCs.  The rules are thus:  the PC will have one Ring at 5, a second Ring at 3, and the other three Rings at 2; Rings will not be split (e.g. no 2/3’s or 2/4’s); I will try to talk about non-shugenja more than shugenja.  One more “rule”, I’m going to be guyish about things, feel free to gender flip, as appropriate.

Earth 5

Start with the hardest or least useful PC.  I am an Earth-lover, but that’s because I like defense, resilience, resistance, persistence.  None of these help get crap done.  There are no meaningful skill uses for Stamina or Willpower.  Being the PC who makes your Fear checks all of the time only matters if you can murder whatever Feared the other PC(s).

Obviously, a shugenja with Earth 5 is awesome because there are so many quality Earth spells.  For what second ring to go with for the Earth shugenja, Water 3 for Path to Inner Peace and to be better at grappling (movement + STR 3) is best.  Fire 3 would be a wade into melee and get hit a bunch play, which is good if you drop Fires of Purity on yourself and run around Full Attacking.

For the bushi, Earth 5 Guy is your Shadowlands/Maho-Tsukai murderer, though lots of Maho has no saving throws, so this isn’t necessarily a great plan.  Fire 3 would be the best for actually being able to hit the enemy and, maybe, for a Lore: Shadowlands or Lore: Maho roll in the middle of combat to glean knowledge useful for attacking a weakness or avoiding a strength.  This would be a pretty boring character to play, however, as E5G would be pretty bad at skill rolls.

For the courtier, this is just a joke with exceptions for random things like Yoritomo Courtier running around Intimidationing everyone into compliance.  While I think optimal Ring action in 4e play, when other bases are covered, is Air/Earth, that’s AIR … and a 3 Earth, not EARTH and a 3 Air.  Non-talky courtiers, like shoppers, investigators, brains, also don’t gain much from only having a second Ring at 3.

Fire 5

This is an interesting character.  Maybe not a long lasting character.  But, this is totally a “doer”.  You do Horsemanship, Kemari, Perform: Dance, stab/pound/wrap/etc., Stealth.  You are the obvious brain, dropping knowledge on all things Sageworthy.  The question is what your second Ring is.

Air and Earth both help with survivability.  While Air is generally better, I’d be inclined to Earth 3 as being more consistent.  Also, will suck a lot to fail Fear when you might be the only PC with a good enough attack roll to hit some ATN 45 threat.  Water 3 is funny – I can see a cowardly pure offense PC who runs and hits enemies.  A grappler who never expect counterattacks could try Fire 5/Water 3, but I don’t see that being realistic.  Noncombatwise, I’d rather match brains with talkiness than brains with perceiving.

Fire 5 Guy is the dude I see being a massive showoff and being a liability in combat, so it’s actually a good courtly way to go.  Own go/shogi tournaments.  Dance the babes into your bedroll.  Humiliate the stupid in Trivial Pursuit, Rokugani style.  Antidote those poisons.  Craft non-crappy crap.  Win that yacht race.  Take advantage of those who fail at arithmetic and net present value calculations.

But, for all the fun that sounds like, keep in mind that you can be easily taken out in combat.  Either E2 or A2, which means either fall over or always get punched.  Even if we break the rules of this game and have a F5 with all 3’s in other Rings, going to seem much more powerful than actually are.

Speaking of seeming more powerful than actually are, I view Fire spells as the weakest, both in terms of versatility and power.  Outside of Fires of Pure Sleaze, I can barely get excited.  The Raging Forge should just repair items.  Tail of the Fire Dragon has some hotness.  Hungry Blade I’ve seen be crazy, but that could have been good die rolls.  Sure, when you can Light of the Sun, you seem supercool, but cool is not always hot.

Water 5

While a lot of GMs/mods have investigations use Awareness for certain rolls and, arguably, Intelligence should be good for investigations, you are the crimesolver (ignoring that shugenja just solve crimes by casting Commune with raises for clarity of pretty much any element).  You are the cluefinder, the evidencefinder, the ambush-noticer, and, of course, the tracker.

Speaking of ambushes, if the GM makes them more than just “you get surprised, -10 Initiative first round”, then think about how much Water can be used – detect the ambush, Battle your way into a superior position, outmaneuver your enemies with Waterpower, er, Waterspeed.

You crush the life and soul of your enemies through mighty thew grapples.

Investigation and Hunting have been so crucial in my play that every party should forgive any weaknesses of the Water 5 Guy.  Unlike the F5G, who is mostly doing his thing for his own vanity, the W5G is doing his thing to find your next victims.

Then, holy ay-carumba … Water shugenja.  Earth may have more spells I like than Water, but Path to Inner Peace.  While that was ’nuff said, there are also general gems like Reversal of Fortunes and undercast spells like Reflections of Pan Ku, Reflective Pool, and The Ties That Bind.  Also, water kami can be most picturesque in their Commune offerings.

But, what’s the second Ring?  Air 3 for less violent play.  Earth 3 for mucho violence.  Fire 3 for the thinker, “I perceive that the criminal is Small, Phoenix, and immensely strong.  Consulting my memory, that fits the description of the Master of Water.  Slay him, slay him quickly.”

Air 5

Not the One Ring, as that thing sucks what with Nazgul all over you and such.  No, this is the Best Ring, the Kaching Ring.  Not only do you get all of the Gossip, Conversation, Honesty, Seduction you can want, you get an ATN to frustrate your GM … *and* you get all the offense you need with yumi/fleshcutters.

Don’t notice your untied shoelaces?  Just AWA/Courtier to find out whether they are flopping all about.  Can’t read?  Just AWA/Sincerity your profound interest in having the nerd tell you everything you need to know.  Can’t fight except to win Initiative, shoot your fleshcutter in something’s eye, and skip around modest attack rolls?  AWA/Temptation folks to die for you.

If you do need a(nother) shugenja to get off a spell first, blow a Void Point and hand them your l33t Initiative.

To me, the obvious second Ring is Earth, just so that cheaty wizards who bypass your high ATN don’t drop you and because dice explode and sometimes you get hit … once.  As suggested above, you don’t need brains nor eyes – everyone else is your tool.  An exception I might make is for a shugenja who wants to have Water 3 for Path to Inner Peace or, sketchy as this is, Asahina Shugenja with Void 3 to keep the “This isn’t really the Hurricane Tattoo from 3e, but it’s just as absurd.” school technique up more often.

Void 5

I’ve saved the least relevant for last.  Other than a Hoshi/Hoshi or some crazy Hantei/Tattooed Monk or maybe a Brotherhood Monk, I don’t know who is going to waste XP on driving Void to 5.  I played a Shiba Bushi with Void 5, briefly, and it was lame – GMs only put up with so much Meditation time.

Sure, Ishiken-do is the ulticheese, and you can do whatever you want once you can cast non-kami spells.  But, let’s pretend these guys don’t exist.

So, you only care about dueling.  You can’t imagine that any activity would compare with dueling.  You solve all problems – your untied shoelaces, your idiocy, your lack of bedroll partners – by exploiting one of the most obnoxious elements of Rokugani culture and duel everyone into being your slaves.  Maybe Void 5 works for you.

So, the main question I have for myself in this exercise is how I can enjoy playing Voidmaster.  Earth 3 means being pretty much inept at all skills.  Water 3 only covers the Perception triumvirate and Athletics, if those.  Air 3 makes me a pathetic talker wannabe.  I think I’d enjoy being the showoff wannabe, instead, especially if I were a Shiba Bushi.  I use my modest Agility or Intelligence and 2 Void Points to be decent for a couple of rolls.  This does not make good party value.

Now, the Tea Ceremony Master does have some use to a party.  If you can con your GM into letting you also have Inner Gift: Prophecy or some such where you get to use Void rolls to gain plot knowledge, that’s something.  I just find that Void doesn’t do enough to make up for weaknesses elsewhere to justify its 4e cost.

Book of Eyesee

Was that profound for playing characters oriented towards a particular Ring?  How about:  that much coverage, if maybe not the exact “advice”, being what the Book of … series should be providing?  That may not generate the dollar, dollar bills in sales that new spells and new martial arts will, but it’s crazy better than explaining to me in different words but with no different content what game elements – skills, advantages/disadvantages, equipment – do.

Review – Book of Fire

August 7, 2013

Time to get around to doing this.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t intend to spend a lot of time reviewing the actual product but want to get into what I think the product should have been.

To be fair, a lot of RPG supplements don’t end up providing as much of what I’m looking for as they could.  I look at some of my old supplements or adventures or whatever for RPGs and see lots of stat blocks and specialized game mechanics that are nowhere near as useful to me, as a GM or even as a fiction writing player, as detailed and interesting descriptions of the world.

Book of Fire is in the same vein as Book of Air and Book of Earth.  To jump ahead, I’d say it’s better than Earth and worse than Air, but it’s the format that I think has problems, even though the material in this series is mostly the detailed (and sometimes interesting) descriptions that I get more value from.


I like the cover.  It’s the same piece of art used for another L5R product, but that’s fine.


The introduction sections of this series do a good job of pointing out where I think the intent is good but the execution is flawed or unsatisfying.  The subjects in the books might be perfectly fine but come across too much like student essays.

The Symbolism of Fire is fine, but what am I actually being told that I can incorporate?  Stepping back for a moment, the value in supplements can be broken out into what a GM would find useful and what a player would find useful.  Additionally, another axis of measuring value is to measure mechanical value and thematic value.

Combining these together, we get four areas of value:

  1. GM thematics – Inspiration for GMs to craft stories that incorporate the material, whether it’s plots, NPCs, locales, scenes, or whatever.
  2. GM mechanics – Stat me up some monsters or NPCs or resolution rules.  Etc.
  3. Player thematics – Inspire players to want to build characters or add depth to characters that use the material, to develop stories for their characters that use the material.
  4. Player mechanics – Make my characters badass.  Give me toys.  Enable me to make more distinct character sheets.

I believe the series is trying to do these things.  I just think that the books spend too much time on low yield topics and don’t keep the consumer in mind clearly enough for those topics that could be high yield.

This section goes into skills, but what about describing these skills changes anything I do as either a GM or player?  These descriptions are things that one should have gathered out of the core book.  There are no mechanical spins on using these skills differently or even advice on where the skills could be incorporated into play in ways I wouldn’t already use them.  My view is that no RPG should have more than 20 skills because the only mechanics that matter are the ones that get used and characters simply don’t use more than 20 skills often enough.  But, if you are going to have a bunch of skills, especially the openended macro skills – Artisan, Games, Lore, Perform, Craft, did I miss one? – then give me a reason to care about them.  Not every supplement needs to do this, but the point of the series is to highlight each of the five Rings, and Fire is the element of Agility and Intelligence, which are what many/most of the skills in the game usually use.

For instance, Lore is given two paragraphs.  Nowhere in those two paragraphs are “Here is why your character should have Lore: War (or Lore: Omens or Lore: Nature).”  Lore skills suck in 4e because there are no mastery abilities besides rank 10’s Free Raise, because of the increasing cost of skill ranks, and because Sage is so very much more efficient.

Then, we move into Advantages/Disadvantages and which are Fire-y.  Yet another opportunity to not just say something but give the consumer something that they can work with.  Book of Earth was terrible about simply describing Advantages/Disadvantages as being related to Earth – so what?  At least here, there is commentary about doing more with them, though too much of the doing more is making Advantages less useful, such as putting a burden on PCs to live up to Higher Purpose and Prodigy.

So, what would I want instead?  How about new Advantages/Disadvantages that relate to the element?  How about combinations of them that explain particular personalities or other sort of makeups?  How about mechanics that relate to them?  One big problem that I have, which leads me to really dislike Disadvantages in L5R, is that the point costs/gains are so very wrong for so many Advantages and Disadvantages.  Luck, since it annoys me greatly how every character should have at least two ranks of it at its core book cost, should be 7 XP per rank.  Permanent Wound means permanently tear up your character sheet; if you happen to not get into combat to where it’s not a death sentence, then it’s not a real Disadvantage and shouldn’t be worth anything.

Why do we need a long explanation of the Full Attack Stance?  Or, put another way, why are you telling me about it and not showing me how to use it?

And, that is a key gripe I have.  Stop telling me things.  Show me!

I find that RPGs do a terrible job of guiding players on how to build characters.  There are far too few examples of not only the end to end process but even of how different aspects of characters work.  They seem to assume that players learn by doing and learn from more experienced players.  That works when a group is committed to a game, but, you know what?  There are a lot of RPGs that have been printed and quick start on something that sounds good may just get more people to play.  And, I don’t want to hear from people about how character advice would not be value for their money.  Given how little of it there is, spending some time on it is not going to take away from whatever these people want out of supplements.  And, I routinely run across people who have played a RPG for years who don’t know basic things about character builds.  Nor do I find these veterans to be all that great at doling out advice to people new to a game.

Show me the characters, PCs or NPCs, that use Full Attack Stance and not just write up some generic Matsu Beserker because, amazingly enough, most people aren’t imbeciles and can do the obvious.  Or, explain a scenario where a character may switch into or out of Full Attack Stance as the combat shifts.  I did that in my L5R Combat Guide post.  Why am I, instead, getting a bunch of words that amount to “People who use this are aggressive and offensive, and there’s a defensive cost to using it.”  Um, that’s actually just describing what the mechanics are, which, um, I can get from reading the mechanics.

Then, the last section in the Introduction is Fire-Based L5R Campaigns.  These are always frustrating.  Where I don’t need paragraphs of explaining in different words what skills, Ads/Disads, and whatever do, I don’t want two pages of how to run more thematic campaigns.

Give me frickin’ 15 pages of this!

Write out sketches of entire campaigns.  Explain what sort of challenges there should be, including at the mechanical level.  Give me an idea of what NPCs would be well-suited.  Give me examples of what wouldn’t fit.  And, inspire!  This the Book of FIRE, the element of inspiration.  Get me excited about something, don’t just lay out a few principles.

Yes, two pages is two pages more than other games will write on this sort of thing, and it’s two pages in every book, so it’s 10 pages or whatever about how to do different styles of campaigns.  But, c’mon!  This should be the ubermeat of these sorts of books.  The sample campaign settings in each of these books are great (conceptually), but they can be too specific to use, such as the Book of Earth setting.  Give me more modular tools to get me, as a GM, to build a campaign with this element as a theme or, as a player, get me to want to play in this sort of campaign.

The Fires of War

Look, I like the idea of going uberdetail on aspects of life in what is a highly detailed fantasy world.  But, seriously, I don’t need to be influenced to care about kenjutsu.  Nor do I need to care at all about knives in a game about guys who have katanas.  Hitsu-do?  Sure, fine; at least this introduces something new that a player or GM could make use of.

With kenjutsu and knives, what should be here is what was in Book of Air for kyujutsu, which is what cool things I can do with Raises.  The reality is that a lot of PCs are very, very good at Kenjutsu.  What gets boring is “I call 2 Raises for Feint.”, “I call two Raises for Knockdown.”, etc.  I’m not a fan of detailed descriptions of combat actions because they come across as so empty of achieving the idea of making combat more interesting.  Some people always find combat interesting.  Other people will find combat more interesting not with flowery descriptions of jumping through flaming hoops on the back of weretigers but simply by having more mechanical impact to their “I stab the goblin.” actions.

The Life of the Swordsman at War, on the other hand, is what I’m looking for.  I find that a major omission from the copious world descriptions for L5R is simply what people do for their day jobs.  We get birth, gempukku, marriage, death, but how about:  what does my daimyo want me to do when I’m not saving the Empire?

Now, as an example of what I keep harping on – so, you told me about ashigaru, now write up some damn ashigaru!  I’ve found that statblocks are only occasionally useful as a GM, as I usually play a game enough as a player to get how to statblock NPCs or monsters (to varying degrees).  But, how about two or three examples of different sorts of ashigaru?  How about giving me a sense of scale?  Third Edition and 4e are quite different when it comes to mookish antagonists.  Where a Reflexes 3, Agility 3, Earth 3, weapon skill 3 thug in 3e might be fine, as it will be hittable and Wound Penaltyable, this same thug in 4e is a beast.  It will take forever to be rendered nonthreatening (in relative terms, obviously, a rank 3 Matsu or Hida is going to crunch one or two of these guys a turn).

All of the various subsections are good, but, to be critical, they could be better.  I just am not getting quite enough inspiration for wanting my character or my party to be in these situations.  Okay, another thing about this series.  L5R uses the CFS – Challenge, Focus, Strike – system of adventure ideas extensively.  They aren’t fully developed adventures but summarized ideas for the setup, the development, and the twist.  Why are there not a bunch of CFSs for this section?!?  Or, a bunch of these in every section?

The Fires of Magic

I already know the families and schools that have an affinity for a particular element.  So, I need something besides a description of how a particular family is oriented to a particular element.  Do I get more in this book?  Yes, but it’s still too much tilted to explaining things that are easily figureoutable on one’s own.

And, why is the Asako section in here?  Just because they are Phoenix?

Which brings up something.  While it’s not appropriate to spend a lot of time on particular clans associated with each element, since clans get covered plenty in other supplements, it is appropriate to spend some productive time with the most relevant clans, including minor clans and including imperial families.  That seems to be the intent, though how in the world Otomo got so much content in Book of Earth, when it’s such a non-Earthy family, is beyond me.

In keeping with the show, don’t tell, philosophy, write up some Fire shugenja, not as statblocks or even as the normal writeups that L5R does but as “Here’s how a GM or player might go about building an Asahina Fire-Sculptor.” with what XP expenditures would make sense and what archetypes would be normal or weird for the schools.

Contrast the descriptions of families and the ways Fire is used in magic with the sidebar of Tsangusuri.  There are no mechanics in the sidebar, but this is hugely useful to GMs and players because it gives examples, because it gives details that people playing the game can easily incorporate.  My recollection of Book of Earth’s heavy weapons section was that it spent a bunch of time explaining meaningless differences in the use of the weapons, meaningless because there were no mechanics to go with the descriptions and because we already had descriptions of the weapons.  This sidebar describes what we don’t already know.  Spend more time on what we don’t already know!

One of the more obnoxious things the series does is explain how to use spells in exactly the way that people are already using the spells.  Give ideas for creative uses of spells!  Give ideas for spell combinations!

I played in an AD&D 1e campaign long after it was new.  The group was perfectly fine with munchkin play.  My magic-user/thief’s SOP for combat, shared by the other m-u/thief was to Polymorph Self, then Invisibility, position for backstab, turn into a storm giant, then backstab with the +12 damage modifier for having the strength of a storm giant (24, +6/+12), which got multiplied by backstab into oneshotness.

Given that that campaign was a hack and slash, dungeon crawl campaign, nothing wrong with that.  The point isn’t to bring munchkinism into L5R, the point is that players tend to always use the most effective spells, which are the most effective because creative uses of less straightforward spells are often undiscovered.  Let’s discover some interesting uses for the spells nobody uses, which may only be in combination or with specific builds, but that’s better than never seeing them used at all.

Nor does adding drawbacks to popular spells count as encouraging less common spells.  Sure, Fires of Purity is horribly broken.  That doesn’t mean you should punish players who use it with arbitrary “Fire kami no likey your excessive use of their most powerful spell.”  You punish them by spraying oil all over them as often as possible.  On a more serious note, I would very much rather see time spent describing situations where Fires of Purity isn’t the best Fire spell by far in the game.

Of course, one reason that supplements don’t go into strategy and tactics more is because the writers don’t necessarily know good strategy and tactics.  In my review of Conan d20’s The Warrior’s Companion, there was advice for what weapons to use which was insipid.  The L5R equivalent would be saying that a Bayushi Bushi (or other bushi who can Simple Attack with them) should use a katana rather than a no-dachi.  Because you can’t just blow away any enemy with the most pathetic of weapons in 4e, like you could in 3e, no-dachi are ubiquitous because players like their characters to be effective.  Yet, I don’t recall reading anything about the no-dachifest of no-dachiness that is 4e play (or how you drop your no-dachi for the far superior tactic of grappling when in a tough fight).

Something each of the books in the series has done is talk about imbalances of elements.  The question is:  why?  How does it impact play?  Oh, sure, you can describe people in different ways by what elements are stronger, but, really, who spends time describing a bunch of mundane objects by how they are more brittle or whatever?

While I think my series on astrology got old, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t kept up with the Eastern astrology series, elements are a huge part of astrology.  Why not go into depth on a substantial list of personality types, not with astrology brought in, but with the “Fire over Air”, et al?

The Fires of Peace

So, I read about the Ikoma-Shosuro-Otomo alliance.  That’s fine.  I must admit I didn’t spend much time on the rest of this chapter.  Glancing at the library descriptions, please give me specific details on how each location looks different!  The one thing that I discovered when I started GMing more is that descriptions are crucial.  Maybe the players don’t care, but I need to be able to visualize locations in order to distinguish them for adventures.  I still don’t know how to describe Caribbean islands well enough, in case I ever get back to running Solomon Kane.

The Fires Within

I am so tired of material for monks.  L5R is a kitchen sink, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface.  It’s not just a samurai game, but, really, the point of it is to play samurai.  Not Naga, Nezumi, Kenku.  Not peasants.  Not monks.  Monks aren’t impossible to fit in, but they exist in a different world than the samurai PCs.

By the way, getting off on a rantgent, L5R is not about ronin, either.  Yes, ronin movies inspire players.  Yes, you can make a ronin campaign.  You can have a ronin be hired by a PC or by a party NPC.  They make good antagonists.  But, they live in a different world.  I’m not saying the game is all about its core, which is great clans, after all, I have no problems with minor clans and only mechanical ones with Imperials.

But, playing ronin or anything non-samurai is just alternate play that removes the heart of the game, which is the detailed samurai culture of the world.

I’m fine with monk mechanics.  Just put them all in one book that deep dives on theology.  Will it sell?  I don’t care.  I find it annoying to be paying for a bunch of monk schools and kiho that see less than 1% use in my play.

The World of Fire

I find the environment sections in this series to be strange.  Okay, volcanoes are Fire-y.  And?  Tell me how to apply wildfires in my campaigns in specific ways that are interesting, and I might care.  The intent is there, but the whole point of bringing these esoteric subjects up is to give solid ideas to GMs, not tease GMs and force them to spend a bunch of time thinking or researching how to make use of the material.  CFS that lava.

Charcoal?  Cool.  Glass?  Cool.  Poetry?  YES!!  This is exactly the sort of material that people who get into L5R’s world/culture can make tons of use of.  Poetry contests are quite common in my play.  Poets are quite common in my play.  I didn’t want to do research on Japanese poetry, so giving it to me here is perfect.  Now, if players did not create actual poems but just made a roll, well, whatever.  But, as much as I actually hate haiku, I create lots of them when I play a character who is skilled in poetry.

Supernaturals of the element.  Not enough detail!  What do these Fortunes look like?  What do their abodes in Tengoku look like?  What do they sound like?  What sort of offerings are they into?  What sort of prayers?  Just giving me a list and some general comments don’t help me incorporate them in play to the extent that a focused supplement like Book of Fire should.  (Emerald Empire’s Fortune section is actually one of my favorite sections, as I didn’t know about most of them.)

How are mundane creatures associated with an element?  Why does it matter?  Sure, I can have my Master of Fire like to hang out with roosters or something, but there’s just so little to be gained in this area.  The series trying to bring in mundane animals for each element just smacks of reaching.  Now, if instead, we got into dreams or sendings from gods that used certain animals symbolically for elements, I can see more going on there.  Sure, one can argue that including roosters means I just thought of having a message sent … into the mind … with a rooster repping for something that isn’t as unimportant as an actual rooster, but is this value given how expensive books are?

I’m not a fan of magic items, usually, but I’m totally fine with a bunch of nemuranai being in this book.  This won’t get used much by me, but I can see how these will get used.

The Hundred Stances Dojo

I really like the campaign seeds/settings that are in these books.  I didn’t like the Earth one, as I just found it too hard to see being the core of a campaign, but variety is the very spice of life.  Anyway, I see this material being what these books should be about and it’s good to see how many pages they take up.

New Mechanics

I’m just not a fan, not because I don’t like mechanics, which, as a player, I’m reasonably into, but because they are so often irrelevant to characters I would build.  Okay, people play different stuff.  People like different stuff.  So, whatever.  I’m just constantly in the situation of not being able to use the mechanics for my own characters, as a player, or not caring, as a GM.

I did use The Elements’ Fury for a NPC, but my players didn’t care, so it didn’t mean anything.  I do allow the spells to my players, so some of them do get used.

I just find that AEG spends so much effort on creating a lot of esoteric schools/paths that aren’t my type of esoteric.  And, there isn’t enough put into developing what needs developing, e.g. Seppun mechanics would make sense for the Book of Fire, over putting in weirdly low yield mechanics that may be updates to earlier edition mechanics that were probably just as weird and/or useless in those editions.

While not a big fan of kata, I do like more kata.  Actually, a major reason for wanting more kata is the core book kata are just so bad/irrelevant for my characters, and I tend to play bushi.

Finally, relating to new mechanics, as I harp on, explain how we should use these new mechanics!  Go through the character build process or a “how to spend XP/advance my character” process for using these mechanics!  What discoveries were made in playtesting the mechanics?  Why should I use this new spell/kiho/kata/tattoo over others?

I want to see in each of these books a detailed description of how you would build a [insert element] bushi, shugenja, courtier, other.  What makes them [insert element]-y?  Really, how many PCs tend to be unbalanced towards some of these Rings?  Sure, Air is awesome in 4e, but how about a Fire 5 dude with no other Ring above 3?  That’s a questionable build for a lot of parties, but it can also be exactly what a party needs.  Talk about this sort of stuff!  Or, not, and let me do some blog posts about how to build elementally balanced and unbalanced parties.