Sour Or Salty

March 31, 2014

My mind hasn’t been in a terribly constructive place lately gamingwise.  The closest to being creative was an idea I had for BattleTech play, and I think it has a lot of problems to implement, if we find enough time to do the scenario.

I’ve been interested in character creation.  This, of course, means thinking about L5R builds as I kind of play way more L5R than anything else.

Actually, that’s something that’s different about my life.  Before I started playing a good amount of RPG home play, I used to cycle through different games.  For a few weeks, I’d be all excited by one thing, let’s say Champions or some other Hero game like Ninja Hero or, even, Fantasy Hero.  Then, I’d move on to Stormbringer.  Remember how much I used to like Immortal.  Followed by BattleTech with maybe a touch of Mechwarrior.  Then, World of Darkness.  Then, Feng Shui.  Then, …   And, so it would go, probably with some breaks to be into a CCG, card game, book series, or whatever.

Besides my personality, the reason for constantly moving from game to game was that I wasn’t actually playing any of them.  I would construct ideas for campaigns, characters, and whatnot, but it was mostly without any sort of payoff beyond the moment.  Convention play of RPGs didn’t do a lot because I wasn’t playing my characters, wasn’t playing in a campaign, and often not playing the same system from game to game or con to con.

I’ve been playing a good amount of L5R for a good number of years, now.  While my mind wanders to other worlds and other systems because it’s not like L5R is the end all and be all of RPGs, I keep coming back to L5R because an idea can easily become something I do and not just something I think about doing.

But, this isn’t just about L5R characters.  It’s partially about L5R characters in that I got to thinking about builds different from what I’ve been playing and felt something was missing.

Then, I read a review of a d20 variant and thought about how much I’ve been turned off from D&D and D&Dish worlds.  They have something missing.

Then, I thought about mechs and the difficulty of capturing what’s so appealing about BattleTech.

The easy commonality is lack of flavor.  D&D has a huge flavor problem, for me.  Mechanics based L5R characters run into the problem that there are only so many different ways to go to stand out mechanically (without being ridiculous).  The appeal of BattleTech is that your mech is your character, then you have the sidekick known as the pilot.  The problem with that is that it’s really easy to fully evolve a mech in one go, rather than a gradual evolution with a RPG character.  It’s also really, really easy to “die”.  I’ve yet to see BattleTech played the way it’s written in the 3025 milieu, where avoiding costly repairs is far more important than actually blasting someone.  “Oh no, my lower arm actuator is critted.  Flee!  Jump for the forests!!  That’s a couple thousand c-bills!!!”

With L5R, I’ve been thinking about fictions and thinking about the 20 questions (the bonus questions are kinda not helpful for many characters).  Going back to a relatively recent post, the resonant feature of RPGs is not what your character is but what your character did.  Not that other people generally give a crap about your characters unless they play with them on a regular basis, but whatever.  I’ve reread some of my HoR fictions, mostly from HoR2, where they did something … make my characters worse.

I thought about ripping on HoR3 as a central idea to a post, but the summary of that thought is:  I enjoy playing, but I don’t feel like I’m part of a campaign, and I don’t feel nearly as invested in my characters as I did in HoR2.  There’s something missing.

Flavor.  I like sweet.  Spicy is usually good.  Not a fan of sour.  Salty, I guess I like.  Hate bitter.  Pro umami.  Not into metallic, at least not anymore.

But, what is flavor in gaming?  Flavor is feeling.  This is where a lot of boardgames, wargames, or whatever don’t do much for me.  I don’t feel anything outside of the moment.  I have to play solitaire much of the time I watch TV because TV is so slow so often, but I often wonder why I’m wasting my time on something that has no lasting impact.  I could be rereading a book, except that makes it hard to follow what’s on, though so little of what I watch matters.

And, that’s kind of the point I’m trying to get to.  I’ve been looking for something to have some lasting impact because I have too much time to think.  At the same time, I want it to be easy.  I want someone else to enthuse me on something.  Ideas are easy.  Executing on them is work.

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Pitfront Property

March 27, 2014

I will do game reports.  Mostly, they are V:TES games, but, occasionally, I might mention something of boardgames, report my RPG sessions from conventions, or whatever.  What I don’t really do is report sessions from my RPG home campaign play.

I’m not sure this is even that, however …

We started a new L5R campaign last night.  In theory, we alternate between my Gaki Mura campaign, this 20 Goblin Winter campaign, and HoR3 on Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future.

For those who are aware, 20 Goblin Winter is a recruiting drive by the Crab where ronin can be offered fealty if they slaughter enough monsters over the Winter.  So, obviously, we are all ronin.

True Ronin, in fact.  Starting (40xp) True Ronin.  Who have to buy everything, including food and jade.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shadowlands adventure that intended for the PCs to be R-1, let alone starting characters.

So, because I find thinking and talking about games interesting, I threw out ideas on character creation.  Our GM had a bunch of suggestions and a few house rules, such as Touch of the Spirit Realms – Yume-do enabling someone to sleep back wounds and Void Points.  Wealthy was required to be able to afford any jade fingers, which is reasonable if you think of Wealthy just as personal savings.

I had a Watery concept for a character, as Hunting to find monsters and Investigation to notice monsters seemed useful, while Water 3 meant being able to run away faster than other PCs.  The character, of course, was Earth 3.  I changed my mind as the character would be too inept at skills and I just liked the idea of being Stealth-y, which meant a more Firey build.

Five PCs so far.  Zero have Earth 3.  Oh, sure, one has Earth 4 and is a big, giant knife cushion.  It’s just amusing how the rest of us decided that we’d rather be able to do things while we get Tainted and otherwise wrecked.

Actually, the mechanics are less of a problem than the party dynamic.  For one thing, starting XP is not as important in home play as it is in HoR.  In HoR, you get about a dozen mods a year, let’s say 15 opportunities for XP between conventions and mods.  That’s 60xp or so a year.  If you have more than one character, the number drops by how much you toss to your other character.  I think, in year 4, for my two characters, it’s about one third has gone to my alt.  Unlike HoR2, where my group was playing catch up and mods came fast in year 4, I’ve been close to caught up much of the campaign, which means months of not playing, so advancement feels tortoisey.

In a home game, play three weeks in a month, get 4xp or whatever, and can bump a Trait to 3 after a month.  Do that every other month and six months down the line have nearly double starting XP.

True Ronin do start 8xp behind standard PCs.  The 25xp only covers the 24xp it would take to buy the two Traits to 3 that a normal PC has (going to ignore the free 4xp for double stacked Traits or the free 6xp for Void 3) plus one of the seven skills that you would have gotten from a school.  Add in that schools get a free emphasis, and you get 8xp down.

Let’s say that’s two sessions of catch up.  Shrug.

Again, now that I’m more used to home play, just the whole concept of newb characters makes no sense to me.  The rapid advancement is far too much of a percentage increase in effectiveness.  I’m far more of a fan of having RPG characters be established competents and not the kids who become sovereigns.  This philosophy means starting with a lot more points, I used to think 60xp but now think 80xp is pretty much the floor, and reducing session XP to 3 (like my Saturday game) – 2xp/session just seems too frustrating for players as there are so many things to spend on and so many things are hideously expensive.

But, then, it’s a matter of how long you expect to play.  If you expect to play 40 sessions and stop, 80xp + 4xp/session seems fine as long as characters reaching R-5 is something you want to deal with.

Anyway, back to Trunin.  It’s going to be brutal trying to get to Earth 3.  Heavy Armor has a lot of issues given the importance of Stealth – most of us are running around in Ashigaru Armor, so high ATNs are rough.  That we have to pay for arrows means the REF 4, Earth 3 archer has a lot of problems … besides that Stealth is something everyone has to roll every day.

As an odd metagame, it’s interesting … oh, I completely dropped my thought on party dynamics and how that’s a problem.

The problem is that it’s easy to get Tainted and none of us have any Honor and we have very different goals.  One PC is just trying to die a good death.  It seems ludicrously easy for us to just abandon each other or whoever seems a liability.  Trying to justify why we wouldn’t just finish every Tainted PC is a bother.


Strong Sorrows?

March 22, 2014

Making up words is totally a worthwhile thing – a worthing.  So, should these be strorrows?

I haven’t used a Magic article as inspiration for a post in quite some time.  Booyang!

In Magic‘s ancient past, removal, counterspells, and card draw were constantly made very strong because of the belief that that is what competitive players liked. Well, to an extent, that was true, but I think in general most competitive players liked them because they were the strong cards. When looking at competitive play, it is dangerous to overlap “cards people played” with “cards people liked playing.” Players make (mostly) rational decisions in deck building and playing the strong cards, so simply seeing what decks look like won’t tell you what people really want to do. I think people are generally more happy with the cards that are more flat in overall power level, and the fun and interesting decks have a little more room to compete, as opposed to when the range of decks that can be played is incredibly narrow and focused on a few pillars of the format.

From “Playtesting Constructed” on wizards.com.

This is so true.  This is something I see creep into CCG discussions all of the time.  Powerful cards are desirable to play with not because they are necessarily “fun” cards but because it’s fun to crush your foes and hear the lamentations of their offspring.  Or, whatever.

So, you try to argue about how a powerful card is bad for the environment and the reaction becomes one of “I have fun playing this card.”, “The game will be boring if you take away all of the good cards.”, or whatever.

For every CCG I’ve played, I’m sure, I’ve played with cards that were strong that I didn’t think were fun cards.  Let me pull out my Babylon 5 decks’ box.  Hmmm … a number of decks have playtest slips for a CCG a couple of us were designing.

Secret Strike; Support of the Mighty; Not Meant to Be; Aggressive Action; Liberating Resources; Cosmopolis; Meditation; Exploration; Commerce Raiding; Hidden Treasury …

Okay, should I bother going through a second deck?!?

B5 certainly was full of antifun plays, though I’ve got my Wheel of Time decks’ box handy and my main V:TES boxes, so maybe not the only CCG with this problem.

Secret Strike

Cheese or obnoxious.  Secret Strike was the way to nuke We Are Not Impressed, the most important card in the game during stretches for its ability to prevent people from winning.  Prior to WANI, Secret Strike was all about what obnoxious conflict you could fire off when people’s shields were down to screw with somebody, like Forced Impairment on somebody with a good special.

Support of the Mighty

I put cards in play.  Eventually, I win.

Not Meant to Be

“Counterspell.”  Rare counterspell.  I played this card a ton, often maxed out to three copies, though sometimes I only ran two copies because, you know, genius.

Aggressive Action

Built in recursion.  Oh, joy.  Ability to spite someone when you can’t win.  Oh, joy.  Ability to win off of causing someone else to lose by doing the same thing every round.

Liberating Resources

Because B5 was always about the cheese, countercheese was all of the rage for a while.  Not that this card was anywhere near as commonly used as Not Meant to Be, Carpe Diem, Meditation, You Are Not Ready, and the like, but it had its day in our local metagame, at least.

Cosmopolis

Because B5 was always about the noninteractive cheese …  Actually, the original homeworlds never bothered me anywhere near as much as so many other plays did.  At least, you had to gain influence from winning a conflict with them, unlike so many of the original gangster decks that just put cards in play or played events and won.  While this is a crappy card, that’s the point – it’s a hoser.  I take away your good homeworld and drop this worst of the homeworlds on you, though it still has enough positive uses to actually play myself.

Meditation

It was amazing that I ever had to argue that this is a three copy in every deck card.  Sure, when I built “no events” decks for my own perverse amusement, there was a reason not to play this.  Other scenarios for not maxing out on this … shrug.  So, besides being the best card in the game, what’s so unfun about such a low key effect?

Any time you have a card that you play in every single deck, there’s seriously something wrong with the design of the card.  When you further always maximize the number of copies of the card …  CCGs are about deckbuilding – one of the various reasons the Tomb Raider CCG wasn’t a good CCG (though not a terrible boardgame).  Diversity in deckbuilding is fundamental.

Exploration

Cheese.

Commerce Raiding

Cheese and countercheese.

Hidden Treasury

Cheese.

Wheel of Time

As much fun as it might be for me to continue to rip on all of the design problems in B5, a game I like by the way and … um … did design work for, I doubt my loyal (and no doubt cute) readers will put up with such a diatribe.  No, let’s pick another dead CCG with design problems (that I’m in the game credits for as of the second expansion) and see what I can extract.

Starting with my Heron-Mark Blade Rand, Wolves Deck.  And, if you think that description is long, for a game where you can start with two cards in play and have an opening hand of three cards, the effective opening for this deck involves nine cards.

Decisive Tactics; Blood and Ashes; The Pattern Decrees; Moment of Transition; Lucky Find; Overrun; Invasion

Decisive Tactics

A common “I play this in the Last Battle to win … unless you play one as well” play.  Maybe certain events should have been restricted from being used in the Last Battle.  Maybe not, though, as decks like this one that actually play challenges are far more interesting than the “I sit and recruit my 200 dice of permanents” decks.  Not a major offender.

Blood and Ashes

Unlike this pure hoser.  At the point where you are designing cards that say “Name a card.  That card cannot be played.”, you have a cardpool problem.

The Pattern Decrees

You may not recall this blog post, but I’m pretty, pretty sure that we were playtesting this card when I repeatedly mention how broken Decrees was.  As this deck only runs one copy, it must have been a finisher, like Decisive Tactics.  I’ll keep a look out for whether it pops its head up more often in other decks.  Of course, the good point of this card is that some decks just didn’t give a crap about Pattern, which was a bad thing and a core design issue.  Oh, if you look up the card on mahasamatman.com, note that it has errata to limit it to once a turn – have I mentioned lately how frustrating playtesting is?

Moment of Transition

Is this the most offensive card ever printed for any CCG that has ever existed to one such as myself, one who had a hand in its development?  Let’s make the best card drawing card in a game where card drawing is only behind card searching in terms of the broken (after some of the early card drawing engine cards got nerfed) a promo card.  Yes, B5 wasn’t the only CCG that caused me to hate promo cards.

Lucky Find

… card searching.  Rare.  Not always a three-copier in my decks.  Not always.

Overrun

This kind of card was necessary.  But, it wasn’t fun.  Given that characters and troops could just ignore each other without this and the character damage becomes troop damage card and given that optimization in the game was often mass recruiting either all characters or all troops or close to all of one or the other, this card gets quite the pass.  It was certainly not that hard to metagame against it.  Actually, metagaming was reasonably interesting, possibly even very interesting (I haven’t played in a long, long time) in the game, so points for that.  But, this card sure ended a lot of games.

Invasion

Unless you played the WoT CCG, you will have no idea how crazy broken this card is.  One effect is draw three cards … in a game where card drawing was only less broken than card searching.  Oh, wait, another effect was take two cards of your choice from your discard pile and put them into your hand.  The third effect even saw use, more use than the third effect of Dreams of the Sphinx by the way.

Dark Wise One Deck:  Lucky Find; Sabotage; Connections; A Murder of Ravens; Invasion; Assassination Attempt; Couladin; Lord Argirin Darelos; Tion.

Not going to break all of these out into individual unfunness.  Sabotage (random discard) and A Murder of Ravens (name a card and discard) are hand destruction, and we all know how much people love hand destruction.  Connections is not as much of a nobrainer as Meditation in B5, but it’s almost the same card.  Assassination Attempt is only unfun in that certain characters are crucial to being able to play certain decks; otherwise, it’s kind of a good thing that you can go after characters in the game and this card being a challenge means that there’s theoretical interaction in a game that could easily be noninteractive.  Couladin is quite fun but suffers from one key problem – he’s incredibly important to too many opening hands, which isn’t an issue for this deck but makes Light Maidens vs. Dark Maidens pain.  Lord Argirin Darelos – kind of an Icy Manipulator if you happen to know Magic cards.  Tion openended buff.

For a game I keep saying has as its most broken feature being card searching, I didn’t mention a lot of card searchers.  There’s a reason for that.  There’s too many to list.  Holy Yu-Gi-Oh!, Batman!!  There are so many search effects.  The Wolves deck above puts a Wolves searcher in play on turn one as a key play.  Wise Ones just keep searching more Wise Ones.  Special set, alternate starting cards and ultrarares search out rares and ultrarares.  And, so it goes.

This was immensely fun.  As much as I may rag on these games, they were hugely important to me back in the day and I had lots of fun with them.  While I could go into V:TES cards in this post, it’s late and I think that makes for a reasonable follow up post to this one.  It’s also cool that Sam’s site is still available to get info on these two CCGs.

Oh, and why wouldn’t I do some Ultimate Combat! commentary in another post, as well?


Generic Bushi School

March 18, 2014

After I looked at Secrets of the Empire, I came up with my own generic bushi school.  My interest has nothing to do with ronin and everything to do with Otomo bushi, Miya bushi, etc.  While the skills, starting equipment, and whatever can easily vary, here are the rank techniques for something I just recently remembered I wrote up.

Generic Bushi Training (Bushi)

Rank 1 – Hit Shit

+1k0 Attack Rolls with Samurai weapons and one other weapon.

Rank 2 – Smash Trash

+1k0 Damage Rolls with melee weapons.

Rank 3 – Survive Strive

+Wounds at each rank equal to Stamina minus one.

Rank 4 – Stack Attack

Simple Attacks with Katana or Wakizashi.

Rank 5 – Brighter Fighter

+1k0 Initiative, +0k1 to Rank 1 and Rank 2 techniques.


Bushi Analysis – Extended

March 15, 2014

One of the things I have noted is that some of my L5R articles get many more views than other articles.  Add in that I often have to “set people right” on misconceptions about L5R mechanical analysis, and I decided to expand my previous article Bushi Analysis – Basic with minors, Spider, and Seppun corebook schools.

It may have been design intent that minor clans get hosed and imperials don’t, but the fact of the matter is that imperials get trashed in terms of useful techniques and minors are all over the map.

I also redid a few scores and recalculated total points by discounting R-4 by 50% and R-5 by 75%, which fits my “focus on young’un days” philosophy of what matters.  Now, the totals make more sense for why Daidoji Iron Warrior used to be the best bushi school … yes, used to be.

Seppun Guardsman

The worst bushi school out of corebook.  It’s close … in that Morito Bushi are hardly better.  But, let’s just say that my experience playing a Seppun Guardsman didn’t lead me to realize any special awesome that makes it rise to being a real bushi school.

R-1 technique – worthless.  Now, there’s an argument that a GM will make people’s techniques do something when they normally wouldn’t, which creeps into my rating the R-2 for Toritaka, but I have to be consistent with how I rated the dueling techniques from Kakita and Mirumoto.  I have seen maybe twice situations where NPCs tried to sway a PC from their duty.  I have seen maybe twice detecting an ambush.  Even then, failing to detect the ambush only maybe mattered one of those times.

The R-2 requires spending Void … every round.  VPs are far too precious to be cavalier with them.  If Shiba Bushi could only double spend in combat, that ability would be atrocious, but, fortunately for them, their R-1 is strong outside of combat.

The R-3 is charitably useful.  This was a case where I had to assume it would come up, otherwise another zero.  If you want serious evidence for imperials not getting the goods, consider how this school doesn’t get simple attacks until R-4.

I charitably give the R-5 a rating of 3.  Unlike Kakita 5 or Heichi 5, it doesn’t actually cost actions that could be attacks, depending upon how you interpret “guarding” with a lowercase “g”.  As a fan of Guarding, I’m not going to be too harsh even if you do interpret the Seppun as actually Guarding someone.

Morito Bushi

The other worst meat.  The must be mounted limitation caused me to ding the Utaku Battle Maiden heavily, so same deal.  The low rank techniques are really weak, and only the R-5 is actually good.

Suzume Bushi

This gets so much grief, yet the R-1 is solid, better than a bunch of schools, and the R-2 is really good (I think).  Maybe, I overrate the R-2, but, even if I docked a point, the school would rate better than either the Mirumoto or Kakita.  The R-3 is next to useless.  I try to make use of it with my R-3 Suzume Bushi, and it’s a challenge, nevermind that neither Lores nor Performs tend to matter.  I have a hard time evaluating the R-5 as I think Center Stance is stupid, except in those specific cases where you outnumber the enemy and the enemy is crazy hard to hit or has a bunch of Reduction but neither Invulnerability nor Spirit.

Toritaka Bushi

I struggled with placing this school in the overall 2 camp or the overall 3 camp.  The problem is that the R-2 is very, very specific.  When it matters, it should matter a lot, though I’m running a game with a Toritaka and the R-2 hasn’t mattered much as I don’t give the player enough opportunity to act on the ability.  I stick these guys in the “Moto camp” rather than the “Bayushi camp” for now because I may overrate the Bayushi.  Of course, it really hurts that the R-4 is so limited and the R-5 is not terribly powerful.

Heichi Bushi

So, here’s the thing.  The R-1 is terrible in isolation, but it’s key to the higher ranks.  In isolation, I could just wield an ono, which means there’s no technique at all, here, other than getting the free first rank in the skill and the emphasis.  But, then you start getting seriously speary.  The R-2 is really hard for me to judge because I don’t actually understand what happens when you Entangle someone with a weapon.  Do you get to attack the victim with the weapon?  Assumedly, you don’t get to attack others with the weapon.

So, your Strength 4 Heichi is rolling 4k4 DR with the Mai Chong and gets a gross and unusual special at R-2 with simple attacks at 4k4 DR at R-3.  That’s reasonable, if narrow.

Usagi Bushi

The R-2 and R-4 are hard to evaluate because they depend so much on needing extra movement to reach enemies.  I have seen this occasionally matter, so I give them a mediocre score.  The R-3 is surprisingly diverse, but the diversity isn’t important unless you often find yourself deprived of weapons – I guess it’s nice for the Usagi who frequents geisha houses, which I’m sure is a thing.

I really like the R-1, which is funny because I haven’t generally cared much about tactical movement.  I guess I’ve become much more interested in it since it’s used so often in my play.  Actually, if I give Utaku and Suzume 4’s for getting +5 to ATN, I’m not sure why I don’t give a 4 to this technique, which will easily be +5 to ATN and has an additional ability.

Just really nothing going on after R-3.

Ichiro Bushi

I almost never hear people talk about this school.  It’s a beating.  The low rank abilities are fantastic, even more so when you start using Strength on attack rolls from the Strength in Arms Style kata, though including kata wasn’t a thing.  What makes the low rank abilities so powerful is that they have no cost.  Sure, the R-2 is limited per session, but how many times per session do you need to reroll damage?  Hopefully not more than four.

The R-3 is terrible, of course, unless you find yourself routinely going after those in heavy armor or special armor.  My concern with the R-5 is that I see a lot of combats where melee attacks aren’t possible in the first round, so being forced to use it for the first two rounds is a severe limitation.

Daigotsu Bushi

Ratings were based on an unTainted Daigotsu.  That’s frightening when you consider that this ties with Matsu Berserker [let me make sure and spell berserker correctly this time] for third best bushi school.

While the R-1 is not explosive and the R-5 is narrow, the R-2 through R-4 are just brutal.  I may be underrating the R-2.  I don’t like spending a VP as a cost, but this is basically until you win combat a +2k0 on damage to everyone in the party.  I’ve used the ability.  It’s hot.

Toku Bushi

Simply the best.  Better than all of the rest.  Just like I played a 3r Mirumoto Bushi, I am deeply attracted to overwhelming power and how I can … make it fair by building a goofy character that doesn’t actually play to the strengths of the school, like my Mirumoto Bushi with two attacks of … 5k3+3.

The R-1 has constant noncombat application and would have combat application even without the reduction in Wound Penalties.  The R-2 is easy to trigger – if you can’t trigger it, you will probably be fine – for a roughly +6 to attack and damage … at no cost.  Suck it, Seppun!

I may be underrating the R-4.  The R-5 applies to ANY roll, giving it amazing versatility even if it costs a VP and even if you rule that it can only be used in combat, which seems a legit ruling for fairness to me but suffers from some awkwardness when you compare to Shiba R-5 and being able to spend twice in one “turn”.  “Round”, “turn” – shrug.

School Data Total
Toku Bushi Sum of Rating 5
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 5
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 3
Sum of Rank 5 5
Sum of Total 16.75
Daidoji Iron Warrior Sum of Rating 5
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 5
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 3
Sum of Rank 5 0
Sum of Total 14.5
Daigotsu Bushi Sum of Rating 4
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 5
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 14
Matsu Berserker Sum of Rating 4
Sum of Rank 1 5
Sum of Rank 2 1
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 14
Hida Bushi Sum of Rating 4
Sum of Rank 1 3
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 3
Sum of Total 13.75
Akodo Bushi Sum of Rating 4
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 0
Sum of Rank 5 5
Sum of Total 13.25
Ichiro Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 5
Sum of Rank 3 1
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 12.5
Tsuruchi Archer Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 1
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 12
Shiba Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 3
Sum of Rank 2 3
Sum of Rank 3 3
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 12
Hiruma Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 3
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 12
Utaku Battle Maiden Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 2
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 11.5
Yoritomo Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 11
Usagi Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 3
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 10.5
Heichi Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 3
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 10.5
Bayushi Bushi Sum of Rating 3
Sum of Rank 1 4
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 1
Sum of Rank 4 5
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 10
Toritaka Bushi Sum of Rating 2
Sum of Rank 1 3
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 1
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 10
Moto Bushi Sum of Rating 2
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 1
Sum of Rank 3 5
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 10
Suzume Bushi Sum of Rating 2
Sum of Rank 1 3
Sum of Rank 2 4
Sum of Rank 3 0
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 9.5
Mirumoto Bushi Sum of Rating 2
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 0
Sum of Rank 3 4
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 8
Kakita Bushi Sum of Rating 2
Sum of Rank 1 2
Sum of Rank 2 3
Sum of Rank 3 0
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 2
Sum of Total 7.5
Morito Bushi Sum of Rating 1
Sum of Rank 1 1
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 2
Sum of Rank 4 2
Sum of Rank 5 4
Sum of Total 7
Seppun Guardsman Sum of Rating 1
Sum of Rank 1 0
Sum of Rank 2 2
Sum of Rank 3 2
Sum of Rank 4 4
Sum of Rank 5 3
Sum of Total 6.75

Eject The Tape

March 10, 2014

So, V:TES happened yesterday.  Four Methuselahs congregated and these things happened:

G1

Eric (Nakhthorheb) -> Ian (Obf/Ser/Tha) -> Andy (borrowed Temptation w/Dom) -> Brandon (Deathstar)

“Extremis Boon.” – Ian

Ian 3 VPs, Brandon 1 VP.

G2

Eric (group 4 Ahrimanes) -> Andy (Guruhi Incriminating Videotape) -> Brandon (Cel/Pot/Pre w/ intercept) -> Ian (modified KoT Toreador precon)

“I really need to block him getting another Videotape.” – Brandon

“Incriminating Videotape …” … “DI.”

“I need to get more Videotapes.” – Andy (when trying to convince Eric not to block creating a Bamba)

Everyone 0 VPs  (two Animalism combat decks with intercept in play, two Celerity combat decks with intercept in play = no desire to grind everyone into oblivion just to see who would win)

G3

Ian (!Trem ally) -> Brandon (Temptation w/Dom) -> Eric (Nakhthorheb) -> Andy (Malk SB)

“Thrones Crumble …” – Brandon … “You win.” – Andy

Brandon 3 VPs, Andy 1 VP

 

With that out of the way, can move on to what really matters – what I think of my decks.

The Obf/Ser/Tha deck was a rebuilding (by grabbing cards that were handy) of my Ragnarok deck.  I finally got some use out of Heart of the City, blocked a Temptation stealthed by Opium Den because no one can get past Detect Authority, and was generally amused by my dominant combat.  It’s an easy deck to change, as it was never really built in the first place.

The Toreador precon was heavily modified, not just some Blood Dolls and wakes but .44s, Blood Dolls and Villeins, and On the Qui Vive, Eluding the Arms of Morpheus, and Wakes.  Considering sample size, that it has never lost has to be taken with a grain of salt.  But, it was really funny to have cards I wanted in hand almost all of the time.  I even felt bad about Barrensing away Suppressing Fire.  Didn’t want it to be 90 cards, but who can mess with success?

The !Trem ally deck has done nothing in two games.  Way too much set up and too many moving parts.  Bringing out just Vagabond Mystic in this game was sad and pathetic.  I can’t play it in tournaments due to Conditioning (and Govern?), so I guess I just junk the premise and play a more versatile Hexaped deck.

In terms of mindset, I’ve been thinking of two opposed paths for new decks.  On the one hand, I think about playing more standard and more aggressive decks to give other people’s decks better tests.  On the other, I’ve been thinking of the vast number of junky cards I haven’t played in ages.  I could just play a few obscure cards in a deck cored on something constructive, of course.  Maybe, that’s a good middle path.


Review – Book of Water

March 8, 2014

I considered calling this post by other names, like “All Wet” or “Down The Drain”.  After all, there’s no point to my reviewing Book of Water.

Book of Water is just like the other books in the Book of … series for 4e L5R.  It is full of words that aren’t actually useful.  The mechanics are esoteric.  The descriptions of many things are obvious, redundant, and/or boring.  The number of missed opportunities is high.

The one feature that I think might be highly useful is the new campaign setting, but I don’t read these too closely as I don’t know when someone else may run a game with me as a player in the setting.  I suppose that doesn’t matter that much, since every GM would adapt and modify.  Actually, there’s another reason I don’t read these too closely, probably the main reason.  I have a reluctance to use other people’s material when it comes to creative ventures.  “Isn’t character creation creative?”  Well, not to the same degree.  I’m not going to build someone else’s character, build someone else’s world (my takes on the worlds of Camelot, Solomon Kane, Feng Shui, and whatever were different from anything I’ve seen).  Certainly, to a point, I need to take the flavor and details of the world.

One poster on the AEG Forums in the Book of Water Products thread said that the books just keep getting better.  Nope.  Book of Earth may have been the worst, but I might consider Book of Water the worst.  Really, there are two sublayers for the series.  Book of Air and Book of Fire are kind of C/C- to me, where Book of Earth and Book of Water are D+/D to me.

I don’t blame the writers, whom I’m sure worked hard and provided what they were supposed to.  I blame the nature of the series, which produced a low value format and extremely low value content … relative to other products in the 4e product family.

Enemies of the Empire is a great supplement.  Why?  It breaks up a monster manual into coherent sections, unlike Creatures of Rokugan, and it gives explanations for HOW TO USE the monsters.  The “how to” is what is so painfully lacking in the Book of … series.  What is the only real drawback of Enemies of the Empire?  It needs to be supplemented with more monster writeups.  The Book of … series has loose “this is in theme for this element” sections and statblocks.  I don’t know that the series is where monsters should live, Secrets of the Empire’s spirit realms section should have been extracted out of that book and blown out with numerous monster writeups, including images.  But, if it’s going to have it, why the “not really saying anything” sections and not HOW TO USE sections for the new monsters.  Great, mongoose.  Um, so?

The Great Clans is a great supplement.  Why?  Because it has writeups of notable NPCs, something sorely lacking in the awful Secrets of the Empire supplement.  Because it has interesting articles on such things as “HOW TO have an affair” and other articles that aren’t as interesting but try to highlight important aspects of the world of Rokugan, like “Necessary Villainy” to try to justify why the Scorpion make any sense.  What is its major failing?  It doesn’t go into incorporating its information into building characters; it doesn’t give enough space to the locations it mentions to flesh them out better for GM use; the family descriptions could go another level of “HOW TO play a member of this family”.

Emerald Empire, 3e, was overrated.  But, 4e is better, and I’m good with saying it’s a great supplement.  Why?  The biggest problem with the 4e corebook is that it’s dry and leaves out a lot of the flavor that the 3e corebook had to draw someone specifically into Rokugan.  EE:4e does a better layout job than EE:3e and covers the same “here’s a whole bunch of stuff about the world”, it’s basically the “Rokugan Sourcebook” supplement.

Back to not reviewing Book of Water.  Book of Water even leaves out a section that I considered one of the most intriguing in prior books and one that should have been blow out to 25 pages or so, instead of the 1-2 pages in the previous books – campaigns in the style of the element.  These sections in previous books really showed that the concept of what the series should be was not clear with how paltry they were in comparison to how much more useful they could be than explaining what environmental features might be more one element than another and the like that just doesn’t go anywhere.  That BoW doesn’t even bother really shows the conceptual failure of the formatting of the series.

Sure, AEG could have considered the series to be aimed at providing something different from what would actually be useful.  The concept could have been to drone on for a while on filler material about how various mechanics have some thematic connection to certain elements and then focus on long-winded descriptions of esoteric groups found in Rokugan that could be turned into esoteric mechanics that are hardly relevant to PCs I see played.  Meanwhile, the idea of providing players with constructive advice for how to flesh out characters that are more one element than another and give GMs constructive advice around themes that are more one element than another was not the intent.

I get that the series doesn’t get into mechanical analysis, except for Book of Earth’s grappling section that has some ideas for how to fix the brokenness of grappling (while offering other ideas for making it more broken).  That I think RPG supplements should get into player advice for HOW TO build characters is not something RPG companies seem to rate.

Book of Water is not any more offensive or less offensive than the other books in the series.  It’s just more of the same.  The same mindblowing three new monk paths.  The same explaining different weapons and their skills without actually relating to how this affects play.  The same pointless explanations of what advantages and disads are more one element.  “Wait, doesn’t that suggest how to build a character more around an element?”  To a degree.  Mostly, it’s just stating the obvious.  If the series wanted to have a sidebar with two columns of “This column is for advantages that a character of this elemental focus would take and this column is for disadvantages a character weak in this element would take.”, I’d be much happier than taking up a bunch of words basically just giving that same information.

Again, I like the new setting.  I liked the Book of Air’s setting and the Book of Fire’s setting, to the extent that I care that much about settings.  I think the Book of Water’s island setting is probably better than either of those in concept and seems like it may be better developed than either of those.  Book of Earth’s setting is just so specific.

As the others have come out, my respect for Book of Air has risen.  I still consider it a low value product.  But, I don’t think it’s the cover art that makes me respect it more.  I feel like Book of Air was the experiment that tried the hardest to be relevant.  The other books just copied the format and didn’t learn anything from the problems with the Book of Air, besides such things as putting spells in rank order rather than alphabetically.  I feel the themes the strongest in Book of Air for how they could be incorporated into my characters.

The mechanics are still weak in Book of Air, but, at least, it gave us HOW TO-ERS something relevant with what Kyujutsu Raises might mean.  Sure, Book of Earth came up with grappling nonsense that wasn’t “just don’t use the grappling rules, they suck”, but those obviously weren’t useful to me because I’d just not have any grappling rules rather than try to fix them.

The logic in Book of Air to what to speak to also made more sense to me, with an obvious exception.  Iaijutsu, Kyujutsu, Spears – these are all skills I can see relating to Air.  The one fail was Sailing.  Then, Book of Water also gets into Sailing.  Why is that a problem?  Because Sailing is a FIRE skill, people.  It requires either Agility or Intelligence as the default Trait.  Does that fail thematics?  Hellfire, no!  Sailing isn’t swimming or breathing water, it’s defeating Water.  Fire defeats Water.  Okay, in reality, sailing is a lot of using the wind to do things, so trying to justify the thematics is kind of pointless.  L5R elements don’t just map that easily.

You know what’s missing from Book of Air?  How about more Miya and Otomo material.  Somehow, the Otomo keep cropping up in other books, including the Book of Earth.  But, seriously, the Crab get three, THREE paths in Book of Air and the Miya and Otomo get nothing!?!

That theme of not giving material to obvious clans/families just runs through the whole series.  I mentioned how the Monkey got nothing in Book of Earth.  Do the Monkey need help?  Well, if you want variety, which seems to be the point of supplements.  If you want depth and flavor, which seems to be the point of supplements.  Power?  No.  But, then, so many of the paths in the series have awful mechanics.

I started thinking about what I’d actually be enthused about enough to maybe someday use, in play, of the mechanics from each book, ignoring spells which are one of the few things these books provide that affect my play.  I got kind of bored with that.  I think I got through Air and Earth.  Air was Hiruma Sniper, Kyujutsu Raises, maybe one of the two kata, Kitsu Spirit Legion.  Not everything appeals to everybody, but the amount of goofy mechanics is amazing.  Reduction in duels?  Getting fewer Tattoos?  Being better at banishing Air Kami?

At least Book of Earth includes five kata, an area of the game I think has been really poorly developed both in terms of variety for minors and imperials and in terms of usefulness.  May not want a billion kata in the game.  I guess any clearly better kata that gets made makes the clearly worse one irrelevant, which is a problem and more likely the more there are.  I still find that my characters have problems finding any kata they want to use.

Book of Water, like the others, just spends so much time on description and so zero time on how the description relates to playing the game.  Every book has a court section.  So, why do we have discussions on what Sword and Fan should include for social mechanics and social play rather than having Book of Air point out how to make more use of the holy triumvirate of Courtier/Etiquette/Sincerity and the unholy duo of Intimidation/Temptation?  How come Book of Fire can’t get into the rules for games that aren’t explained elsewhere, HOW TO make playing Games in the game interesting, why so many NPCs have Games skills when there’s no idea of HOW skill in Games translates into being awesome?  BoF also could have gotten into Perform skills for instruments, where BoA could have gotten into Perform for talky stuff.  Speaking of Games, why didn’t BoA explain Fortunes & Winds and why it’s an Awareness Game rather than an Intelligence Game?

It’s not that I don’t want thematic material.  It’s that I want thematic material that gives me, as a player or GM, ideas for how to change how I PLAY.  Book of Fire’s best section is the poetry section.  It’s the one section I can remember every time I think of the book.  There are no mechanics there, but, unlike the tedious descriptions in other sections throughout the series, this section actually gives me something to work with when PLAYING the game.

Because I have been reading through Book of Water, I could tell you it has sections on naval combat, chain weapons, and whatever.  I will probably even remember some of these topics.  But, within those topics, there’s nothing memorable.  I just don’t care.  I care that Kakita was a barbarian whose style got popular because he won and he was shacking with Doji.  I care about the format of different poem types and how you may write a death poem ahead of time or do it spontaneously.  But, I don’t care to be told that swords are popular, that knives are quick, that heavy weapons smash, that staves are cheap and don’t look that weapony.

I’ve gone on for a while, so let me wrap things up.

Why would you get Book of Water?

You either want material I find to be boring, esoteric, and/or redundant.

Or, you are someone like me who is a completist when it comes to gaming lines.  Plus, someone like me gets some value out of ranting about the failings of these supplements in a bloglike medium.