Crunchless Crimes

Someday, I’ll get back to writing something about V:TES.  But, actually, since we haven’t been playing regularly, I’ve found Magic cards more interesting to think about than V:TES cards.  I considered writing something about what the analogy for “tribal” in V:TES would be, but the games are just so different in the ways of flavor, I couldn’t get inspired.

Meanwhile, more L5R RPG thoughts …

Not long ago, I posted about how it was fine to have 4e supplements be 90% thematics and 10% mechanics.  I didn’t lie.  But, I was wrong.  Even shortly after that, I noted how many of my problems with recent 4e supplements involved terrible mechanics and lack of mechanics.  I had simply deluded myself into thinking certain things were in the realm of thematics when they actually tied into mechanics.

For, you see, it’s not the stuff that other people ask for that I care about.  I don’t need more school, paths, weapon stats, and the other popular asks.  Sure, I’d like to see some paths that didn’t suck for characters I might actually play, but that’s more a matter of fixing the awfulness of what gets published rather than increasing the volume.

Kata, still, is an area that needs help.  I was thinking that I’d like to see more advantages and disadvantages I might actually take with my characters.

But, actually, what I want are different ways to use what we have.

Okay, sure, I want more creature write-ups, which is a whole different world from such things as:

  1. Various mook rules
  2. Examples of what Raises can do, a la the Kyujutsu ones in Book of Air
  3. Sample challenge sets (multiple rolls) for such things as man vs. nature, social challenges (one assumes Sword and Fan won’t fail here, though assuming makes an ass out of u and ming)
  4. How to integrate warfare into play (again, will Sword and Fan deliver?)
  5. What sort of challenges one would find in other spirit realms (Secrets was such a fail)
  6. How to make economics interesting
  7. How various combat mechanics actually work, like Entangling someone with a weapon
  8. Subtle ways to rein in brokenness – shugenja, etc.
  9. Managing different party compositions
  10. Clever uses of low yield skills
  11. Finding ways to make crappy advantages less crappy
  12. Combining different effects – spells, spells with kiho – to do interesting things
  13. How one ship build actually makes a difference compared to another ship build
  14. How better charcoal has a mechanical effect over inferior charcoal
  15. See also paper differences, and everything else

Sure, throwing out Free Raises or whatever is something GMs do to take into account the vast number of variables that may be involved.  I don’t really expect resolution systems for everything under the Amaterasu, nor do I enjoy charts and tables for playing RPGs (except funny ones that are rarely used).  What I’m looking for is guidance.  The “90%” fluff/thematics that we get is so lacking in structure that it’s just ideas and not anything to rely upon for crafting play experiences.

Again, knowing that wildfires occur is meaningless.  So, a wildfire is going on.  What does Extinguish do against it?  What does Strike of the Tsunami?  How hard is it to gain control of fleeing animals?  What is the economic impact on a farming community?  I call two Raises with Lore: Elements or Lore: Nature – what does that provide me in terms of knowing how to deal with it?

Where far too many RPG books provide mechanics without any sort of thematic context, I see L5R being too much about the thematics without any sort of mechanical context.  There’s really no advice on how to turn an idea into something.

To say it’s the GM’s job to make a bunch of ideas into something has validity up until the point that I really don’t need to be spending money hearing that “samurai like swords” or that “the Shadowlands is an unpleasant place” or whatever else that is either obvious or can be researched better with online searches.

How about more examples of poisons?  I don’t even care as much about the mechanics of the poisons as too much of that sort of thing leads to the kingdom of crunch.  I just want things like names, symptoms, and descriptions of countermeasures/antidotes.

The Art of the Duel might have had the most ridiculous mechanics in it and be a thematic fail, where every samurai and his idiot brother and their nonhuman friends created some sort of dueling school, but one thing it did do is give some structure around competitions.  Contests and competitions are a great thing to include in all RPGs but are especially important in L5R for fitting the setting and providing a challenge that doesn’t have damage dice explode until your character is a fine red mist.

I was trying to find examples of more exotic items one might find in marketplaces, such as gaijin goods.  Sure, there’s some info.  But, 3e Legend of the Burning Sands has an awful list of goods, being pretty much the same as the L5R list with mostly weapon differences.  I could find comments on major imports/exports of the different clans, but, rather than being told that the Mantis have a bunch of gemstones, how about actually naming which ones?

In other words, I guess I’m looking for things more like a true GM’s guide or true player’s guide (and not what games often do with such things and drop a ton of crunchy bits on folks).

I had another realization recently vis-a-vis L5R.  For quite a while, I would go out of my way to say how much I liked Roll & Keep and how I had mixed views on the setting.  But, then, I thought about how much more into the setting I’ve been then people I’ve been playing with, which didn’t fit the idea that the setting wasn’t that important to me.  In a recent discussion about what L5R offers that a lot of fantasy doesn’t (well, if you think of it as a fantasy setting, as it often isn’t), I hit on the fact that L5R has a fully developed world.

So much of generic fantasy leaves much of the mundane stuff in the world unknown, but L5R has a defined society that is omnipresent much of the time.  Some monsters are just weird stuff to mess with players, but even the monsters tend to have some coherency.  Precise location information can be a pain and lots of things aren’t described in excruciating detail, but there are hundreds or so locations referenced.  Okay, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, et al, may have that, too, but there’s verisimilitude to these locales that I haven’t gotten from other fantasy worlds.  Admittedly, I have never made an effort to keep up with Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, so a better comparison for something I know something about might be how so many BattleTech worlds in published products lack the details necessary to feel like you are actually in one place rather than another.  Or, why set a Qin campaign in one area instead of another?  Or, getting into other aspects of worlds, how can you have a realistic but not annoying legal system in a supers world?

Anyway, articulating the issue I have is problematic because I really like things like Book of Fire’s poetry section, to a lesser extent its charcoal section, the musical instruments section in Book of Air, and a few other things.  I may not care about sake-brewing, but I’m good with that sort of thing because I know it will matter to a few players.  What bores me silly are conceptually similar setting description sections that cross the boundary into truly having no impact on play.  At least, as presented.  A key way to present these topics better is to have them have some sort of mechanical impact.


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