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.