Stop, Drop, And Roll Initiative

First of all, it would be tacky not to express thanks for something.

The last time we played V:TES, I mentioned how pulling cards with the right sleeves, even though all of my sleeves are clear sleeves and virtually all of them were bought by the 10,000 when I did one of my various “buy 10,000 more sleeves” buys, was the greatest difficulty in putting decks together.  Andy made the retort “first world problems” and I liked that.

I’m thankful I can have such first world problems of choosing what games I want to play, agonizing over not having posted to my blog often enough, and trying to find an Ivory Bow that isn’t Jyhad version or Third Edition version, that’s not in a fattie sleeve or beveled sleeve.


RPG play should involve options.  Sure, some things are illusionary and GMs often expect parties to make certain choices, but having no meaningful options takes away much of the idea of playing a character.  After all, if the PC is always going to choose XYZ, then why do you need a player?

Combat and options.  Not combat options.  The option to not enter combat versus the option to enter combat.  This is something I struggle with.  As a player, I don’t tend to feel it.  Diplomacy, stealth, frontal assault – these come to mind as the top paths for resolving an issue.  Can throw in magic weirdness, but that can vary quite a bit more, depending upon the system, than those three.

Typically, I have a sense when diplomacy makes sense, and my parties (ignoring RuneQuest play, where I don’t get why diplomacy with chaos creatures makes any sense) will try diplomacy.  In Conan, it was amusing that we were playing Conan yet our main party diplomacized virtually all humans and some near humans.  My borderer was far, far better at Diplomacy than fighting.

For obvious reasons, I don’t find stealth to be enthusiastically embraced in L5R play.  Sure, some HoR mods assume stealth to the point where there’s not really any other option.  But, what I realized recently was just how meaningless diplomacy was as an option in L5R play.  Yes, there are instances when I’ve seen bandits work a deal with you or where you get a shot at convincing crazy/possessed/whatever person to stand down, but, I just don’t feel like diplomacy is an ordinary alternative.

Much of that has to do with the nature of the enemy.  Just as many of our Conan fights were with monsters and we didn’t consider chatting them up, there’s no reason to smoothtalk monsters, maho-tsukai, and the like in L5R.  But, the two worlds have a significant difference when it comes to dealing with people.  L5R is much harsher than Conan.  In Conan, there’s no uberauthority that the PCs are typically representing.  You can let others get away with murder, after all, you have probably been committing as many crimes as they have.  In L5R, it’s either “seppuku for you” or “off with their heads” or the rope.  Cutting a deal to fry bigger fish is a thing, but it’s not a common thing.

And, where in Conan, there’s an incentive to save your own skin, L5R gives samurai plenty of incentives to kick back in Meido for a bit.  It should probably be played up more the reasons why samurai won’t just impale themselves upon their enemies, as the main reason I see for having PCs live is to not have to go through the process of making another character, which is heavily disincentivized in HoR play mechanically if your intention is to be able to play the more challenging mods/events and/or to keep up with your usual group, when you have a usual group.

So, when I go to GM probable combat situations, the probable is omitted, and combat just starts, with the PCs having no real option.  I don’t like that.  Well, I don’t have a problem with rolling Initiative to see what order people act in to resolve both combat and noncombat actions, but I don’t like forcing combats on the party.  Since certain things, e.g. goblins charging but not so many that the party can’t take them, make combat inevitable to anything remotely resembling reasonable samurai, there needs to be more setup of what happens before you encounter things that you would always fight when they are coming right for you.

I can already see how I could have done things differently last session.  Instead of “gaki are right on top of you”, it should have been “you see oily gaki congregating in a particular area, make Lore: Gaki rolls to know that this type of gaki shouldn’t be forming up into a pack, oh, and you feel an intense weirdness not normal to Gaki-do behind them”.  That would give options.  Could divert them.  Could set up a flanking attack.  Could smash and grab, since it’s kind of pointless to mow down gaki, as they will just reform after a while.

My running FSTH has similar issues.  Combats just start.  No preamble.  No strategic planning for the party of how to deal with the enemy.  Just, start rolling dice.

Yet another area of GMing I need to work on.  One thing about giving the party the option of fighting or the option of how they will fight is that it allows the players to talk to each other, which makes the party more of a party and less a collection of individuals rolling dice.  Another benefit is, obviously, that there is greater variety in what can happen and combats aren’t just dicerollingfests, which is something I’ve thought askance at, in the past.

It’s just the nature of how I view stories that I focus on the scene and the action and not on the decisions that got the players there.  I push the situation that has the heroic opportunities, without giving the opportunity to be less heroic or the opportunity to be more clever in their heroics.


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