Thematic Advancements

April 30, 2014

There was a point, long ago, when I realized that my forum presence and my actual gaming interests were wildly at odds.  While I realized this when posting to CCG forums, it possibly applies even more with RPG forums, though I’ve tried to point out or make jokes about the discrepancy.

What is the discrepancy?

I’m extremely analytical.  As a player of games, I study the rules, the probabilities, how to maximize efficiency in decks or characters.  Then, I play goofy crap.  I’m a min/maxer to the extent that I often go for the min.

So, when I post to forums, it’s with the analyst’s hat on and it’s all about what players can do to optimize (and what I see players in my groups do that is highly effective).  I have the strong sense that this makes me come across as some powergamer, which is hilariously at odds with the truth.  I very much am interested in how to be a powergamer, which is, of course, different.

But, that’s public image versus private image and not really all that interesting to talk about.  Instead, what I am going to talk about is the internecine struggle that is advancing my characters.  No, I’m not going to go into some tedious explanation of the details of the characters advancing.  My intent is to get into philosophy.

Every campaign has different incentives.  Well, duh.  One campaign is more about the fight.  Another is more about the detectivework.  And, so forth.  Then, every GM is different.  Some of it is making clear what abilities are going to see use and which aren’t.  Some of it is how useful different abilities ultimately end up being for overcoming challenges and achieving goals.

To a significant extent, I ignore those differences.

As a 100% storyteller, my overriding concern is the narrative.  Now, sure, there are mechanical narratives.  I averaged instadeath with every attack against ultragods … blah, blah, blah.  But, where I have mechanics foremost in mind (usually) when designing characters, I throw my copious advancement plans out the window when it comes to actually making choices – XP expenditures, Feat selection, Skill Rank boost, etc.

As an example, my current Saturday L5R campaign character has had buying up Athletics in my character advancement file (yes, I keep separate character advancement files) since before I started playing the character.  Thirty-three sessions and 104xp later, the character still has the same level of Athletics.

So, what have I been doing, given that I only have 6xp unspent?

Buying up the character’s social ability for the most part.  “Yo, dude.  That totally makes sense, yeah.  You were totally rockin’ the court for like, totally, months.”  To some extent, that did make sense.  Except, Winter Court could have ended at any time, based on the interests of the group.

There are far better examples of a common decision I make – to advance characters thematically based on what they’ve done and not what they might do or what would make them better at doing the things they should be doing.

Whether it’s picking up ranks of Games: Shogi after winning a shogi tournament, picking up Craft: Cooking after using the skill in a HoR2 mod, or whatever, there’s so much of a “lagging indicator” to my purchases.

This is rather awful for character effectiveness.  That shogi player never played another tournament.  Even if he did, so what?  How much does being good at shogi matter?  Matter in a living campaign?

While my mind is blown by the purchases my fellow players don’t make, I’m neither surprised nor critical of purchases they do make that improve their ability to murder our enemies (or whatever).  In fact, it’s great that I can rely upon others to get better at high yield abilities, like enemy murdering.  Well, to an extent.  It depends.  If the GM adjusts to the party power level, not keeping up with the rest of the group is a problem.  While I don’t have any meaningful choices when it comes to RuneQuest characters, that campaign has suffered from the imbalances in combat prowess.

With combat and other challenges, it doesn’t make sense for a GM to factor in wide discrepancies in abilities that much.  This is an incentive to not allow PCs to get too far from each other in abilities.  The party of all specialists has tons of problems with having balanced challenges and, therefore, fun.  Our Conan campaign saw one character be vastly more effective at combat than the others, and it was suboptimal.

Then, there’s HoR.  With HoR, the challenges are more predictable and mostly fixed.  Players have strategic control in approaching different mods, though they may not know whether combats are easy or hard or the like, but knowing that combat will happen means having some sort of party plan for what to do.  And, there is some GM control to factor in party composition, if not player intelligence.

I’m bouncing around, unsurprisingly.  Let’s try to get back to me, myself, and I.

So, if these thematic buys are so terrible, why do I do them?

It’s not actually to make the characters worse.  Well, rarely.

It’s because they are the most important buys to making the character live, to having the campaign be more than achieving a high score.  Whether they get any use is not essential, though it’s welcome.

My Saturday PC was built fully formed … to be an asset to the party.  Some of the buys were to maintain mechanical puissance.  But, that didn’t last that long.  One idea led to buying three ranks of Perform: Storytelling and an emphasis.  Another idea led to picking up Artisan: Painting.  A combination of a couple of events led to Battle being tied for highest skill (with a lot of others, including P: Storytelling).  Do I get enthused by having Investigation and rolling it?  Not so much.  Everyone should have it and everyone will roll it.  I’m more amused by my one rank of Polearms than I am my three ranks of Kyujutsu.  I’m even more amused by the idea of whether I’ll ever end up rolling Temptation again, something the PC has more than one rank in.

Rolling a bunch of Craft: Bowyer rolls was far more interesting and dramatic than rolling yet another 50+ with a Kyujutsu attack roll.  While it’s possible to have stories from combat – my Conan archer got some key shots off over the course of the campaign, the crafting of a gift bow had far, far more narrative impact than I can imagine any attack roll.

One thing leads to another.

A good example of this is how one interest/goal/event at our year long Winter Court led to another interest/goal/event and on and on.

The fleshing out of a character, the ability to know where a character came from and where it might go and how it should deal with different stimuli, compounds based on initially minor things, at least in my case.  I pick up some skill no one else has, then it blows up into why that skill matters, what the character was like before having that skill, how the character will change views on NPCs (or PCs) based on knowledge of that skill.  Etc.

So, different players look for different things in their RPG experiences (or other gaming experiences).  With my interest in the story, any story and not just the on stage story, character advancement takes on a crucial dimension that has nothing to do with mechanical improvement.

I was reading a thread on about whether character advancement is necessary.  For me, in campaign play, absolutely.  I may be able to build characters whole cloth mechanically, but they are hollow until they experience …  Not just gain experiences but gain Experience – the mechanics go to supporting the thematics.

Okay, yeah, sorry, I did start mentioning details of PC buys.


Broken Blades

April 23, 2014

More L5R.

My view of L5R 3e/3r was that it was a fun game with good core mechanics up until you hit IR-3.  Even at IR-1/IR-2, there was plenty of one-shotting enemies, infinite spellcasting through mastery, and whatever.

L5R 4e is a massive decrease in power, to the point where newish characters feel too pathetic to bother with and to where the game often drags in combat.  I was thinking that the range of the game had moved up significantly.  I was still questionable on the idea that IR-4/IR-5 was a fair game, but I thought the game had made IR-3 a reasonable place to play.

I no longer feel that way.

I have now seen and played a decent amount at IR-3, and it’s broken.

Oh, sure, combat can still take forever (i.e. more than 5 rounds) at these ranks, but combat just gets out of control, nevermind what sort of noncombat tricks shugenja can pull.

The fact of the matter is that it’s not techniques that are the problem.  Simple attacks doesn’t suddenly make the game broken.  It’s the combination of several factors for magicless fighters.  Magicdudes don’t maintain as much combat edge as time goes on, but they only get better, which is so unnecessary.

For example.  Let’s say you give simple attacks to a newb.  Newb very likely has 6k3 attack rolls and a 6k3 damage roll with a no-dachi.  That’s worlds better than one attack for 6k3/6k3, but it’s not broken.  Missing can happen.  6k3 is harsh, but it’s not crazy.  The reason why simple attacks seems so insane is that the PC will also have Heavy Weapons 7/Kenjutsu 7.  It’s not two attacks of 6k3.  It’s two attacks that are typically 10k4.  Damage might be with just a katana, but that katana damage is 7km2 or 8km2 or includes a static bonus from Feint or whatever.  7km2 is an average of 26 wounds (8km2 is only an average of 27 wounds!).  Two hits and it’s like the old days.  But, then, variance is a huge feature of L5R damage.  Maybe suffer through the 12 wounds hits, but, then, I’ve been hit for 60+ wounds by a 7km2+4.

More than anything else, I blame HW7/K7.  Not only are you gaining the ability to go crazy with damage but also improving the attack roll to where you hit consistently.  Obviously, someone with a 10k3 or, the absurdly improbable, 9k2 attack roll is far less a threat.  But, then, we aren’t likely talking about higher IR characters if someone just turbos into R-7 weapon skills and ignores everything else.

What’s amusing to me about this is that this is something 3e/3r actually did that was weaker than 4e.  In 3e/3r, you didn’t explode 9’s on damage until the massive XP waste that was R-10 with a weapon skill (going to ignore other ways to explode 9’s).  The Free Raise for R-5 in a weapon skill was buff because of the ability to raise for extra kept dice, but that would be far, far more tame in 4e as a R-7 (or even R-5) mastery.

To summarize:  PCs improve.  They don’t just improve Traits/Void, which can make them far more effective.  They don’t just gain much better techniques as they improve (well, some PCs do, others get things like spend two VPs to have +1k1+8 to their Lore/Perform rolls) but increase their weapon skills to optimal levels.  This combination of high attack rolls and exploding 9’s on damage takes simple attacks from “this is so cool” to “this is 3e/3r all over again”.

Now, I enjoyed 3r, but I enjoyed it at the end of IR-1 and the beginning of IR-2.

Then, let’s look at how messed up 4e combat gets from the magic side.  Magicless L5R has a definite offense outstrips defense feature.  Sure, Hida Bushi in 3r could take the kata to have a 100+ TNtbH, and there were other ways to push TNtbH into the 50’s or whatever, but my courtier/duelist/beserker could pretty consistently hit TNtbH’s in the 60’s, so whatever.  Magic is the way that defense scales.

For example.  Be the Mountain goes from 10 Reduction to 15 to 20.  Twenty Reduction is really hard to beat through.  Nevermind that someday The Kami’s Strength becomes available, fortunately not at R-4 casting, as was the case with 3e/3r.  But, anyway, Be the Mountain.  So, a GM is put in the position that a threat that can’t punch through 20 Reduction isn’t a threat.  After all, it’s not -20 to damage, it’s -40 or -60 because multiple attacks are going to be required.  Now, suppose a PC doesn’t have 20 Reduction?  That oni that does 8k4 damage with simple attacks now explodes the PC in one round.

These sorts of insane swings were what 3e/3r felt like, though it wasn’t always like this … says the person who played a character with the Hurricane Tattoo that pretty much meant the difference between a fight being an irrelevant walkover to it being a party killer.

While shugenja don’t ramp up the way bushi ramp up in combat prowess due to the difference between complex and simple attacks (yes, it is a big deal, just not the only deal), suddenly start seeing Heart of the Water Dragon, which I’m okay with even if it is awesome, The Wolf’s Mercy, Wall of Earth, Hungry Blade, Wall of Fire, and other brutality.

I’m increasingly believing that the way that L5R characters should advance so that they can play higher IRs and can play longer is that they need to be forced to put XP into areas that don’t contribute to extreme swinginess.  This isn’t just a combat problem.  As people on the forums have mentioned, advanced courtiers start rolling 10k5 or whatever, making it impossible for victims to defend against social abilities.

I don’t like the idea that you need to have all of your school skills at certain threshold to advance – it’s actually not advancing IRs that’s the problem, anyway.  It’s that my Usagi Bushi has an Air Ring of 5, making all of my social skill rolls no worse than 7k5.  It’s that HW7/K7 should absolutely be a priority somewhere in IR-2.  I may be biased, as I advance characters very broadly (20+ skills), like thematic buys (emphases just have flavor), and otherwise limit my prowess in a lot of areas (though my Usagi Bushi is actually really good in a number of key areas).  But, I’m thinking that 4e PCs should start with, say, 60xp (down from 80xp that I was previously thinking), have 20xp worth of stuff provided by the GM to flesh the character out, gain 2xp per session that can be spent on anything, gain 1-2xp per session that can only be spent on certain things, things that won’t likely make the character broken when you get around the 150xp mark.

This may seem frustrating, but it extends the life of PCs by not having them get too powerful to make play worthwhile.  Can even start getting IR-8 PCs or whatever that might actually be playable if a bunch of Insight is coming from Perform: Biwa and Games: Kemari rather than from Fire 5, and the like.

Time Hovers

April 21, 2014

I was thinking recently about how this blog has been around for five years.  I think I’ve said so many of the things I’ve wanted to say that it has become harder to find good philosophical posts.  There’s only so many times you can get into what makes for more fun or less fun when playing a RPG, you can get into how badly CCGs need to remove cards rather than add cards after a certain point, or whatever.

While about as uninteresting a topic I could write about, still in the arena of time, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we were going to (and did) spend a year of real world time playing four months of in game time in our online L5R home campaign.

Well, I should be a bit clearer.  The uninteresting part isn’t the nature of the difference between in game and out of game time, but, rather, I was thinking of talking about my character in that campaign, and people talking about their characters to people who don’t play in the same campaign are inflicting violations of the Geneva Convention.

So, I’ll summarize and try to move on to something not so painful.

For, you see, this character was first played in the session where we arrived at Winter Court, which was on April 6th, 2013, and our last session, on April 19th, 2014, was our last session at Winter Court.  In that time, just in terms of mechanics, he gained:

  1. Three Insight Ranks
  2. Two Honor Ranks
  3. Nine Glory Ranks
  4. Five Status Ranks

I could go on, but I think those stats have a lot more meaning … to those who know the L5R RPG.

Meaning.  There’s something that I could try to speak to but lack anything profound to say about how RPG campaigns mark the passage of time.  I definitely want to avoid going into XP – starting and rate of advancement.  Talked enough about those recently.  There’s always been the feature of RPGs that PCs advance ludicrously fast compared to what is realistic (for the mechanics), but everyone knows this.

One of the reasons I wanted to have each session of my Gaki Mura campaign to be a month of in world time was to give a more realistic stretch of time for things to develop.  Of course, a key part of that was construction of the village.

One aspect of time with RPG campaigns is that more sessions leads to more experiences which leads to more narrative.  Obvious?  Of course.  But, I haven’t played a lot of long term campaigns.  I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns that started and quickly folded.  Well, compared to some players, not even “a lot” is true.  Not only do I have a number of story experiences for my character, because of some of them (really more because one led to another which led to another), I have more advancements in mind to purchase for my character than when I created him!  (I also have the same advancement item at the top of my list from before I played him to today!!)

An interesting development of this year long Winter was how the other players got far, far more interested in what was going on with the NPCs only in the last few sessions.  So many of the recent activities and efforts were the sort that we could have expected to begin Winter Court with.  This ties into my various posts on being on the same page, including the one from March 2009.  Clearer communication of expectations would have likely changed the party approach.

With regards to RPG experiences (rather than experience points) and with regards to changing activities, I routinely find that my PCs radically shift priorities.  An extreme example is my HoR3 character who was intended to turbo to IR-3 who will now never rise above IR-1, but that was due to factors that don’t typically exist.  My Conan character picked up interests in animal handling and theology and probably a few other things I forgot.  I see this being a good thing.  Characters should never come into existence complete, even if that’s the way I felt when I created my second Saturday campaign character.  If the character doesn’t evolve, that just suggests nothing the character did mattered.  I suppose there’s an interesting topic of tying thematics and mechanics together when it comes to advancement.  Shoot, should have thought of this earlier, then I’d have something interesting to say.  I’ll see if I can think of what to write on this topic later this week.

Speaking of time, V:TES marks its 20th year this year.  Having a storyline to mark the anniversary is good.  That the storyline has no bite is … bad.  I used to be hugely into storylines because of the illusion that what I did mattered.  Also, because of variant rules that allowed for a lot of metagame thought.  This storyline lacks the latter, but the real problem is that it lacks the illusion that results matter.

Nobody is keeping track of clan wins.  Why should they?  It’s not like you can gift some clan with a special card or promo like you could in the past.  Sure, more e-cards can be published, but I don’t care about any of them nor do I think a lot of others care about them who still play.  Okay, I win a table and get the privilege of playing with some crypt card.  Well, without rigorous tracking, why even bother worrying about whether someone wins a table?  What sort of privilege is it when you don’t care about the crypt card and don’t really see the point in taking advantage of your advantage over the losers who didn’t win a table?

Speaking of V:TES and time, I’ve spent virtually no time on V:TES in the last month or so and little since we got back from the SoCal tournaments over President’s Weekend.  That is probably not a shock, given how little I’ve talked about V:TES in this blog since then.

Rambling back to RPGs and time, there haven’t been terribly interesting discussions in a while on the L5R RPG subforum.  Relatively more of the discussion has seemed to go to homebrew mechanics.  The problem with house rules is, ultimately, … time.  Sure, balance is always a problem, with unintended consequences happening all of the time.  But, those are fixable, when you have the time.  It’s figuring out what is worth the effort to change in the first place that I lack the patience for.

Why?  Why does it require patience when you already know changes you would like to make?

I’d like to remove grappling from L5R.  I’d like to change Honor Roll mechanics, repoint Luck and maybe some other ads/disads.  I’d like to add skill masteries to not punish people who want to be known for a particular skill.  And, so on.

And, so on.  And, so forth.  This is the problem with house rules.  Well, the first problem with house rules is getting buy in from the group.  But, the slippery slope of stopping at a good point with “fixes” generally involves a time sink of figuring out where to drive the pitons in.

I’m not inclined to create L5R 3.75, even if the group would go for it.  I’d like to spend my time playing (or will have committed my time to running).

Just to avoid droning on about L5R, I’m not inclined to make much of an effort to get a game going of something else because of time.  I know L5R.  While I may be intrigued by Qin and now own Yggdrasill, it would take time to build a campaign of either, and that’s if I can get someone else to run.  If I’m running something, as lazy as I can get about doing key GM duties, I still feel time-screwed.

Anyway, I’ve probably wasted enough of the reader’s time.  My hope is to have more interesting things to say about gaming as year six of this blog continues.  Or, maybe, I’ll just find some classic posts and regurgitate my “interesting” things from yesteryear.

HoR Strategy

April 13, 2014

Maybe not the best name, but I was thinking about how to enjoy Heroes of Rokugan more and got to talking to Andy about my posting something about it.

First of all, a disclaimer.  I can’t realistically make any, let alone a bunch, of small Midwest conventions.  If I expanded my convention schedule, next up would be Origins, where I could get a bunch of V:TES in.  So, my perspective is that of someone who plays HoR but isn’t one of the core players who seems to have much more impact on the campaign or who has the campaign have much more impact upon them.

If I sound negative in some spots, let me state that I enjoy playing HoR3.  I have found, though, that the enthusiasm level for HoR3 has dropped for people I’ve played with and that I was far more enthusiastic about HoR2, in its later years.

So, here are a few suggestions for enjoying HoR more, for those who find it challenging.

#1 – Don’t be caught up

The biggest difference between HoR2 and HoR3 for me is that I was never caught up in HoR2 until possibly the very end, even then having not played around 10 of the 73 mods.  The rapidfire play of one or more mods a week when the online group was getting caught up gave the HoR2 campaign much more intensity and relevance.

Playing a couple of mods, then not playing for three months is a far less engaging experience than playing regularly, say every week or every other week.  What Andy and I talked about was waiting for a year’s worth of mods to be available, then running them weekly in three months.

Again, my experiences with HoR have left me bereft of feeling like I have any impact on the campaigns.  For those who hit Kansas City Game Fair, Weekend in Rokugan, and whatever else, there are opportunities to play the political interactives and, at a minimum, stay connected to the campaigns, with the additional possibility of influencing what direction they go in.

Also, HoR is a relatively slow advancement experience [sic].  Weekly home games will quickly outpace roughly monthly XP gains.  It can feel like forever to have enough XP to make some buy that will significantly change the character, you know, for those who care about advancement (which seems like everybody).

#2 – Go to Gen Con (or WiR or Origins or whatever)

Andy reminded me of the importance of this.  I don’t think our local players feel like they are playing in a living campaign.  Pretty much only two of us play online and only two of us go to Gen Con, then one of us turns around and runs locally.  When you always play with the same group and don’t see anyone else participating in the campaign, it just lacks the same level of impact.

I may not like every individual battle interactive at Gen Con as much as the others, but I really like them in general.  I like how they give us a sense of major events and use mechanics you don’t find out of mods.  But, even putting these special events aside, possibly even if you went to one of these cons and skipped out on the political interactive at the con, you should get a different perspective on the breadth of the campaign.  Hundreds of people are playing the mods.  Many of them play with different players.

You don’t just learn more about what is going on (whether you have any impact on it or not), you learn about other people’s characters and different ideas for approaching the living campaign format.  You get some benchmarks you don’t get playing with the same group all of the time.

I like talking about contrasting experiences playing mods with other HoR players.  And, because I might actually play with a wide variety of players either at Gen Con or online, what their characters are about matters to me in a way that someone talking about their RPG experiences for a campaign you don’t play in doesn’t.

#3 – Play online

I think online play of HoR is the best medium for playing.  Sure, it can drag immensely, from the 17 hour HoR2 mod I played over two sessions, one session while I was vacationing in Hawai’i (this was before we started using a VOIP program) to the 11 hour mod I played of HoR3 *with* a sound component.

First of all, mods are mods.  When you can’t see the GM, reading box text feels far more important.  It’s not just someone turning pages to get to what you want to do, it’s a narrator narrating the story you are part of.  You don’t see the GM flipping back and forth to look up different mechanics in different parts of mods, looking for that canned response to a specific question, looking for the NPC’s single line of description.

Then, not seeing the other players has a few benefits.  I don’t feel like I’m wasting other people’s time as much when I don’t see them because I don’t see them sitting around bored waiting for my NPC conversation to end.  I can easily hold private discussions with players through a computer (GM, as well).  I focus less on the player and more on the player’s character when I don’t have the player in front of me.  Bottom line, I do far more stuff that affects my characters’ personal narratives when I play online than when trying to get done in 3.5 hours to not run over at Gen Con.

#4 – Metagame

There are lots of aspects to this.  I’m not going to get into writing fictions and doing other offstage stuff that involves working with campaign staff as that’s very hit or miss in terms of how it has impacted my characters.  What I’m talking about is such things as realizing that the all combat character is going to leave you ineffectual a lot of the time.  What I’m talking about is trying to incorporate NPCs, locations, or other world features into your characters’ personal narratives even if you never pen a fiction.  Etc.

For instance, I joke about how awful Phoenix Lands are for one of my characters in HoR3.  That was mostly due to failing an Honor Roll that had a 97% chance of success on a roll that wasn’t that important and that there was little chance of failure to begin with.  While not something of much gravitas, this became a running joke with a couple of the people I play with that makes playing more than just playing a given mod.

There are mechanical ways to metagame.  HoR2 had a lot of investigation mods.  Well, Investigation is already the most rolled skill, so that’s not that helpful.  The Shipping Lanes series in HoR2 was much appreciated by me because it meant I could get some Craft: Sailing (this was 3r, where Sailing wasn’t just Sailing) rolls in with my alt character, who became sailing oriented.

Still have to force these things sometimes; let’s take dueling as an example – I’ve had three bushi PCs between HoR2 and HoR3 and they were in a combined one duel … against another PC.  Sure, my Tattooed Monks were involved in five or six duels between the two campaigns, only ever losing to a Kenshinzen.  But, mostly, if you want to use a particular skill, you may need to push to use that skill.  Beyond tactically doing that, strategically in the campaign, identify what abilities you want to use and consider how you may end up using them.  Some are going to be much easier than others.  Artisan: Poetry is pretty easy to make happen.  Perform: Song less so.

Realize that, if you play with different people, someone else will probably have more XP, more certs, or whatever, so being the best at a lot of things is not going to be the case.  However, it’s possible to be the best at certain things (ignoring that you will lose to Void Shugenja at anything you do).  It’s also possible to just simply be better than the vast majority of PCs you play with.  My experience with my Moshi/Suzume Bushi is that he’s a far better engineer than other PCs.  I will lose that niche when the INT 5, random single rank PC or the Kaiu Engineer or whoever is at my table, but that has yet to happen.

Meanwhile, there are many skills/areas that having some degree of ability in is hugely helpful for contributing to party success.  Investigation (skill) is obviously one.  Courtier is another, even if you just end up assisting someone else’s roll.  Hunting is a key skill.  Stealth can be huge.  Jiujutsu is key for abusing grappling.  Having some sort of combat plan becomes more and more important as these campaigns go on.

Which brings up something.  My observation is that the campaigns tend to start less violent and grow more violent.  HoR3 started out vastly more violent than my experience with HoR2, which might have had something to do with the order I played HoR2 mods, but, even so, as the module ranks rise, the combats tend to get more vicious to give the combat monster PCs something to do and because the newb characters have had time to stop being newbs.  I would be inclined to run in the expected HoR4 a less combat oriented character early on and either advance combat prowess over time or switch to a more combat oriented character later.

There are certainly many discouragements to playing multiple PCs in HoR, but, if you do, you can plan which mods to play with which.  In HoR2, any water-oriented mod meant playing my sailor.  In HoR3, I play my alt in any mod without the combat tag.  I’d like to know a lot more about mods to make these decisions, like what location they begin in and any non-spoilery NPCs that will be in them – in theory, having series means more consistency in which character to play in a mod, though I haven’t found the series in HoR3 to be that tight.

You can manage XP, like I learned to do while playing HoR2.  There are only so many XP, so you can back into what you see a particular character looking like at different points in time.  For me, knowing that I’d play two PCs in HoR3, it became extremely important to figure out where they could end up, if they survived to the end of the campaign.  This planning did break when events conspired to do the opposite of what I had planned with one of my PCs.  Another way to plan is to plan buys leading up to certain events.  The Gen Con battle interactives have had a huge influence on what I’ve done with characters, leading to certain buys to rank up or to improve combat survivability or whatever just in time for one of the events.

Then, there’s mod management.  Mods are structured.  Some will want you to do strange things – I was really annoyed at an HoR2 experience where we failed to do what we were supposed to do because what we were supposed to do wasn’t remotely a major part of playing the mod.  But, they usually have similar goals.  If it’s an investigation, pin the crime on someone.  If it’s a bunch of contests, participate in them.  If it’s combat focused, kill the enemy.

I’ve heard someone say he doesn’t bother reading the mods before he runs them.  I’ve learned to read them backwards.  First, I start with looking at what earns the party XP, certs, or significantly affects their Honor/Status.  These are the things I will care about as a player, so, as a GM, I need to make sure I don’t get off the rails the mod is supposed to be on.

Yes, there can be situations where the player perception is that something is more or less important than it actually is either due to other experiences or because it would be logical, and this is ignoring red herrings written into mods, which, btw, I’m no fan of.  With experience, though, there are quite a few elements that can be found across mods.  Some GMs are better at focusing the party than others, so there’s also an element of knowing your GM.

#5 – Find someone to discuss the campaign with (outside of cons)

Made vastly easier when you see other players at conventions, of course, but I find my engagement level goes way up just by talking to people I mostly engage with online.  One of the things I find unfortunate is how much less discussion there is of HoR3 as there was of HoR2.  I may not think my characters matter, but it’s better to hear about what other PCs and NPCs are doing than not.

Also, if you don’t GM the mods and don’t read them and don’t drill your GM after a mod about what you missed, having people who can explain things you missed when you play them helps a lot with understanding the metaplot and who key NPCs are.

#6 – Realize it’s a living campaign

You have to define your PCs’ personal narratives.  It’s not (completely) the campaign’s responsibility to make your characters interesting.  The mods aren’t intended to cater to specific PCs but be able to handle any groups of PCs and give some hooks that you build out.  Sure, I was far more incentivized to work on my personal narratives through the writing of fictions with HoR2 where I had reasonable success at making my PCs worse, but HoR is not a home campaign where the GM is supposed to make sure your story is interesting.

The experiences for a given mod are supposed to be fairly similar, to where differences are notable.  Mods are structured and reward doing what they want you to do.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of other players want their PCs to be just as special as you want yours to be.  Not everyone gets everything they want and it cheapens anything you get when a bunch of others also get it.

However much of an agenda you may have, others may have more or less of an agenda.  I’m pretty agendaless at this point in HoR3, but I recognize that others are finding that the campaign has become more meaningful to them over time, rather than less.

And, finally, somebody has to play normal stuff.  I find that a lot of potential players don’t like the long list of restrictions on player creation.  Restrictions breed creativity, so says Magic’s lead designer.  I blow more minds by having an Omoidasu with a weapon skill of 10 or a Mirumoto Bushi sailor with two ranks of Kenjutsu than I expect I would if I were secretly playing a maho-tsukai, was secretly a peasant, or whatever.

The Coming Darkness – Shadowfist Kickstarter

April 12, 2014

While mostly playing RPGs and not thinking much about V:TES recently, I haven’t had anything new to say about Shadowfist due to the last two attempts to get together for multiplayer games falling through.

The latest Kickstarter is up:

Halfway backed with the rest of the month to go.

I think I now get the “style” of Shadowfist.  A number of CCGs have had humor – I almost got into Guardians as my friend Andrew was into it.  While I’m no fan of monkeys, I do get amused at some of the cards I see, and it does lend some depth to the game when the card name and card abilities sync up well.

What else about Shadowfist?

I find that I’m more interested in building decks around themes rather than trying to build good decks.  There are good and bad points to that.  The bad point is that there’s value to players trying to build the best decks they can to maximize the edge they get for superior deckbuilding.  The good point is that it adds value to the game to me besides just trying to do better at it.

It may be more like a Babylon 5 rather than a Vampire situation for me.  V:TES doesn’t give me much thematically to work with as I don’t really care about the individual vampires or the factional elements from a thematic standpoint.  Sure, there are a few vampires I prefer due to art or whatever, but it has minimal deckbuilding relevance.

Meanwhile, with B5, I could go mechanical themes, like speed Centauri military which I enjoyed a lot, or thematic themes, like … eh, I don’t know, Centauri B5 Influence deck, Narn B5 Influence deck – I sure liked pumping B5 Influence.

Well, whatever, the point is that I think I can get attached to individual Shadowfist cards due to other things than their mechanics.

Another aspect of building decks for Shadowfist, that has nothing to do with making better decks, is that I can focus on the card type which interests me the most – events.  Just like I was a B5 event lover, an advantage lover in Ultimate Combat!, and just like how I prefer action modifiers and reactions in V:TES, I’m all about transient effects that throw the math off.  Permanents that are actually permanent are boring.  Cards from hand is the name of the game.

I’m still trying to find a reason to take interest in some of the factions, notably the sorry Ascended.  I keep coming back to Lotus in Modern to have removal and, I didn’t think this would be the case with Dragons, but I come back to them as well.  I saw a bunch of vehicle crap and thought “Lame, I hate equipment on my heroes.”  But, Dragons do events.  Dragons feel like they have more cool dudes.  Cooled on Monarchs as I just keep seeing doing similar things with them.  Hand has gotten a bit more interesting to me, as I’ve gotten more interested in non-FS Sites, plus there are a bunch of events I haven’t played with because they seemed sucky.

With our Feng Shui game on indefinite hiatus due to my being bad at ensuring there was a regular game and due to one of the players having a newborn to look after, I don’t get to use the cards to support the RPG, some of the value of getting into the game isn’t there.  Then, I could really use more regular play to keep enthused about deckbuilding.  Plus, there are plenty of players in the area who just aren’t all that inspired to get together and play, which is not a healthy sign.  Still, I like the idea of my playing the game, and I hope to see some improvement in play driven by the Modern format.  To be clear, I’m fine with not just playing Modern, more than fine, actually, as I have non-Modern cards, but CCGs easily get bloated, and some degree of reboot enables cleaning up a lot of the clutter in the game.

V:TES could really use a massive decluttering, but that’s a topic for another post I’ve been considering.

Finally, KublaCon is around the corner, and that seems the best opportunity to get more diverse Shadowfist play in.