When it comes to gaming, it’s easy to get things wrong. Imperfect information is always a thing. Uncontrollable variables, such as player personality, impact competitive games rather significantly. Sample size. Incomplete data to analyze.
A primary source of analytical failure is simply lack of sufficient experience. In a way, this is a good thing, when applied to CCGs and RPGs. Discovery, as mentioned recently, is a major draw to CCGs. Anyone who has played everything in a RPG has probably either played a very limited RPG or overplayed a single RPG.
While I could speak to analysis weakness with CCGs, that’s not what I got inspired to post about. My interest, at the moment, is to speak of analysis failure with RPGs. Sure, to a great extent, analyzing RPGs doesn’t really get you anywhere, since they aren’t competitive (normally) and are so dictated by environment – GM, playgroup, setting, nature of challenges. In fact, where CCG challenges may be fairly objective – the cards don’t change by GM fiat, RPG challenges are typically determined by a single person who accounts for PC abilities.
Still, as difficult as it may be to nail down what is better and what is worse, such things are noticeable during play. And, the more you play, the more possibility for reassessing views. That’s my goal today – to note where I reassessed my beliefs around L5R 4e mechanics. Why? Because the more I’m wrong about things, the less frustrated I’m likely to be by others actions and opinions.
One of the major biases in my L5R experience is how much I play characters from starting through Rank 2 (R-2) compared to other people’s experiences. This has been changing. Whether it’s the campaign I’m running that started PCs at 150xp or just playing in campaigns to the point where my characters are in R-3, I’m seeing much more of the higher end of play.
Getting off on a tangent, I noted recently on the forums that the reason for seeing play so often at R-1/R-2 was the rate of play and the rate of XP. HoR is structured around 4xp/mod. HoR has a bit more than a dozen mods/year. That puts annual XP at a bit more than 50, higher if you attend interactives. While I’m very much against starting a campaign with PCs who have 40xp – I think 60xp is pretty much the minimum to get more definition and 80xp makes more sense to stop the “I’m twice as good after I play 10-12 sessions as I was to begin with” feature of my play that I find unrealistic and counterproductive, what 50xp after a year of play means is that a 40 point character is roughly defined and borderline R-2 after a year of play. Of course, HoR also slows Insight Rank (IR) advancement by not giving Insight to Rank 1 skills, so it’s a bit different from most home play experience. Anyway, the other comp for advancement is my Saturday campaign, where I’d say there’s around 2.5 sessions/month and just about 3xp/session. That’s 90xp/year. That takes a 40 point character to 220xp in two years of play, which is hefty. On the other hand, there are those who play weekly, say 50 sessions/year, and get more than 4xp/session. No wonder they wonder about advanced schools, what to do with characters at IR-6 and whatnot.
What do I see being an optimal rate of advancement? Really depends upon how often the group likes to switch or reboot campaigns, but I might look at a model of starting with 80xp and getting 2-3xp per session if I were going to play multiple times a month. In our Saturday campaign, starting with 40 additional XP would be rather significant, but it’s really the #(sessions)*(xp/session) that ramps characters so dramatically.
Okay, getting back on topic. So, I’m seeing more of higher level play. That Simple Action attacks is huge for bushi was always a consideration for rebalancing bushi/shugenja vis-à-vis combat. I continue to maintain that shugenja are far more effective at combat than bushi until SAA are achieved. What I got wrong about SAA was not realizing that they are even better than I thought.
When GMing, I noticed how easy it would be to murder PCs with baddies who had SAA (or the like). SAA don’t mean doing double damage – the effect is greater. Obviously, due to Void Point (VP) expenditure, it’s already more than double damage. But, the concentration of damage in a single round goes beyond that. While the people I play with underutilize Path to Inner Peace in combat, when someone gets hammered, it does get used. What doesn’t get as much use is using it on someone Down or Out, for the often good reason that doing so probably just sets that PC up to get killed by the next attack. Then, two hits in one round may just outright kill a PC. I’m a fan of SAA for PCs (up to a point) because it means clearing out baddies faster, shortening combat – making it more like 3e/3r combat, which I enjoyed much more. That does come at a cost that significant baddies get hammered by PCs, but, once you adapt to that, it probably works out. What’s very hard to adapt to is holding back from just mowing down PCs with a big bad. SAA and lower damage is rather different from SAA and higher damage.
Then, there are plenty of other differences arising from having SAA, such as Knockdown being less devastating (i.e. not making you useless on attack) and grappling being not as awful (in that timing becomes a bit more important for your grapple auto-kills). Does this mean I think bushi are better at combat than shugenja once they get SAA? Not really. Bushi have nothing comparable to Jade Strike, Fires of Purity, Path to Inner Peace, Tempest of Air (as GMs, including myself, generously allow it to easily hit multiple opponents), Touch the Emptiness, Be the Mountain, nevermind spells like Wall of Earth, Heart of the Water Dragon, The Kami’s Strength, and other higher ranking spells. What SAA do mean for making bushi relevant is how important it is for bushi to get them earlier than R-3 and, especially, earlier than R-4. While I have my “You can use each tech above your rank once per session” fix to somewhat address this, I’m increasingly wondering about simply having all bushi start with SAA, though the forums had another spin, which was everyone gets SAA but can’t attack twice a round, which I would modify to all bushi get SAA and can’t attack twice a round until they would normally get SAA, with maybe some additional modifications.
Another feature of RPG play is that no two groups play the same way. While there are plenty of intentional house rules, there are tons of unintentional house rules. It’s quite amazing how many rules differ from GM to GM in my L5R play – it would probably be the same if I played other RPGs with lots of different GMs, but that’s not a typical experience for me (all of those convention one-shots tend to be different systems, many of which I’ve never played before and may never play again).
Even things I point out repeatedly are gotten wrong. Take VP expenditure. So many people overlook that school techniques are not limited in VP expenditure. What I got wrong was almost the opposite. I knew that only the uses of VPs on page 78 were limited to one VP/round. I took that to mean that there was no general rule about one VP/round. But, actually, repeated reading of the somewhat ambiguous wording and the later paragraph that exempts school technique VP expenditure from the limitation makes it clearer that there is a general rule of one VP/round, but that school techniques and possibly other unstated uses break the general rule.
Dueling. Dueling/Iaijutsu is easily the most overblown element of L5R play, in that it’s nowhere near as common as people act like it is. I’m currently playing two R-3 bushi. Okay, one isn’t fair to use. Of the one I’ve played up from 40xp, he has never been in a duel. In my 3e/3r play, my R-4 Matsu Duelist was never in a duel. I still find it absurd how much people care about dueling, though maybe it’s just a feature of mostly playing HoR, where you have Iaijutsu competitions rarely and pretty much have to force a duel otherwise. Though, it’s not like I go out of my way to encourage duels in my GMing, and our Saturday game hasn’t seen much dueling since the Topaz Championship.
But, there is an element of dueling I got wrong. I never considered duels to be that dangerous, probably because I’ve seen so few meaningful duels – I can count the number of lethal duels I’ve seen in all of my L5R play on one hand. The reality is, with the high possible variance only exacerbated by how much variance there is in building to be good at dueling, you can get a solid damage roll that, of course, can get out of hand. 10k4 or 10k5 or whatever (plus Feint) that arises from Free Raises from the Focus roll, using Center Stance for damage, and spending a VP on damage may be in the 30’s, which is significant, or it may be in the 60’s, which is dead.
In general, I have missed miscellaneous bonuses to damage, as they have not been (reasonable) options for my own characters. I pretty much would never consider spending a VP to do more damage with a katana because I don’t get into one-on-one fights, I’m rarely in a situation where I think the 6.11 average additional damage is going to be as important as +10 ATN or -10 wounds, and I very well might not be using a katana in the first place, since they kind of suck. Still, something like 7k2 from a katana, plus Feint, +1k1 from VP, plus exploding 9’s is solid, just not as solid as 7k3 from a no-dachi, plus Feint, plus exploding 9’s. Except, so many schools don’t get SAA with weapons better than a katana, so again, it’s more of a higher Rank thing. Then, R-7 Kenjutsu or Heavy Weapons, while doable at lower IRs, is more common at higher IRs. I build my characters to be rounded, which is funny when you consider how much a proponent I am of having a Ring that never will go above 2, so R-7 in a skill tends to be a low priority, even though I love exploding 9’s. I finally got there with my main HoR3 character, and my first attack did 55 wounds. Really should just prioritize such skills more to be combat relevant.
Small ATN bonuses are something I’m reassessing. With the curve of results on attack rolls, small ATN bonuses can have massive impact. It just depends so much on whether you are going something like 20 to 24 versus 25 to 29, or whatever that maps to what sort of attack rolls you see by the enemy. Then, it starts getting really complicated once you put an enemy into wound penalties, as, suddenly, that crappy ATN of 24 or whatever isn’t so crappy. I still think War Fans mastery abilities are a joke, but the kata that give a bonus when in a stance, dual-wielding, and other miscellaneous ways to eke out a few more ATN are becoming more interesting. I even realized that when my Hare Bushi is not archering and, instead, Guarding how much sense it makes to dual wield a knife and something else; after all, if I’m in a Guard mode with that Agility 2 character, the chances that I’ll go berserk and attack anybody are quite slim.
Wound Penalties (WP) and close substitutes from spell effects/whatever are another area that I’m reassessing. As I repeatedly mention, I despise the inversion of the wound chart between 3e and 4e. Far too often, people don’t have any WP, which is annoying when you just hit them with a cutty thing. But, WP get harsh on shugenja, much like how Fear appears to hurt shugenja more per my Christmas post. Suddenly, the R-2 spell that was probable to cast with 6k3 or whatever becomes kind of dicey, and the R-4 spell that you really want to get off becomes that much less likely to fire.
There are many school techniques I could probably reassess, but we get back to how you just don’t see everything in operation. Someone even came up with a scenario that makes Imperial Legionnaire’s tech not useless, though it’s a scenario I can never see happening in my play.
And, that’s where I’ll leave off. The point was really that I don’t know everything and that I can keep learning about the RPG I play most often. This means I really should try to branch out more and try different character types, with different techs, kata, etc. In particular, I should really play a shugenja to see if there’s anything I’m missing about the brokenness of shugenjahood.