Simple enough title for something I got to thinking about: what campaigns of 4e I’ve played and what I think would make sense to play. Obviously, I don’t control having a GM to run something I’d want to play in or players for something I’d be willing to run. But, I’m curious as to what running through campaigns will dig up in terms of what has been missing.
Heroes of Rokugan 2
While waiting for HoR3 to start, I was running HoR2 mods, with some modifications. I feel like HoR2 was heavy on investigation adventures. Maybe, it feels more that way to me because of which mods I missed and the order I played mods in. Combat didn’t feel like that common a thing, with some combats being incredibly easy. On the other hand, I also took over 70 wounds in back to back mods playing my first alt back when I played these mods using 3e/3r rules. Social stuff was weak. There was some coherency on NPCs and mod series. When running this, I tried to pick out mods I thought the group would like after a while, as some things the group just wasn’t into.
Heroes of Rokugan 3
I’ve run close to 30 times, but my perspective is more so of the player. Combat is way more common. My tables should not have gotten through as unscathed as they did in a number of cases. Where I think HoR3 made the greatest advancement in tech was making court mods far more interesting. Even when mechanics were hard to figure out, I tended to far more enjoy court mods or mods with much more of a court component. Investigation has been reduced, of course, to make room for more of the other. Series don’t feel like series. Recurring NPCs are not well done.
The nature of a living campaign means it’s harder to form deeper relationships with NPCs or to impact the world (especially when you just play mods). Battle Interactives give mass combat opportunities. I think my greatest problem with the BIs is that they just don’t give out enough diversity of rewards. If you don’t work with staff, you get Glory. Glory is meaningless. I don’t understand how you don’t get Status for fighting under direct command of your clan champion without having to talk to staff or other perks. Sure, it’s more XP, but I was way more interested in the HoR2 BIs due to more engaging set ups, though Doom of the Crab really annoyed me in one aspect – the same problem of the lack of character modification other than XP and Glory; why in the world did those of us not Crab not get a Crab Ally or a Crab Favor out of that? Anyway, getting back to HoR3, some sort of nebulous pat on the back that someone could make a note of on their sheet, even if they never try to use it to gain a position, for various events would have made sense. A few pips of Status is pretty meaningless in a lot of cases, yet makes perfect sense when fighting for your clan.
I think HoR3 has had a lot of interesting ideas that really need more playtesting and editing. It also needs a clearer focus on what the campaign is about. We get peasant uprisings. And, so? We get Okucheo that drags on forever without any progress. We have spiritual stuff that isn’t remotely clear how it matters to the bulk of the PCs. Maybe someone playing a returned spirit cares, but few of the people I play with are returned spirits and I don’t know if it has mattered to “just anybody” playing a returned spirit. Miya Shikan was far more interesting than Okucheo. Do I really care about the Kolat? No. Maybe I just knew more about HoR2 because of player discussion (woefully lacking in HoR3), but I’m just not feeling like any of the themes mean anything to my characters.
Anyway, HoR is a living campaign and they will have certain features.
The Princess Police
This is my nickname for our Saturday campaign that is closing on 80 sessions. Thirty-three of those were at one Winter Court, so we have had a substantial court component to the campaign. Actually, it was a weird adjustment when we went back to doing the sorts of stuff we were doing early in the campaign – mostly following leads across the countryside smashing bandits and conspiracy cells.
Unlike HoR, I’ve had an opportunity to establish deeper relationships with NPCs. While my PCs may not have much effect upon the world, they have had a bunch of off stage activities for me to bug the GM about. Maybe half a dozen emails about crafting a bow from me. Where my PCs in HoR can say that they have hobbies, I don’t worry too much about them because they don’t feel like they matter, whereas they may not really change anything in this campaign, but they feel like they matter. Also, I’m only playing one PC at a time in this campaign, and, while we’ve missed a bunch of weeks at times, we still have played far more sessions than HoR3.
Combat may not occur more often than, say, HoR3, but it takes longer, so it ends up being more of our campaign time. The party was only really built to do combat, especially the initial crew. The party was atrocious at social stuff until I just kept working on social prowess and ignoring getting significantly better at other things. With characters averaging IR-4, easier rolls can be pretty easy just because of people’s trait levels. Still, the party is woefully unprepared for various rolls by virtue of not taking obvious skills – Lore: Heraldry, Sincerity, etc. have often been missing completely and nobody has Sage for reasons that are unclear.
Since the party is a single party and not a “I’ve played with your character with my alt” situation like HoR, the PCs have largely found their niches. For a while, my current character was the perceiver, but we have two of those at comparable levels. I’m clearly playing the social character. Josh is playing the primary beatstick. John is playing a ninja. Jackie a Void shugenja, Michele a fighty shugenja. Mike hasn’t played much but is beatsticky. Chris hasn’t played recently but is duelly. Investigations of the Awareness sort are more me and John. Of the Perception sort, me and Josh. Of the brain sort, Michele.
What’s missing? Alternate mechanics. I don’t mean paths and such, as my current character is IR-4 with two paths. And, yes, all of us have the Blessing of Amaterasu as a special ability to help deal with the recurring Shadowspawn and not rare oni. What I mean more is less mechanics for characters and more mechanics for resolution or more abstract mechanics for characters.
Such as? HoR has a Favor system and uses Ally a lot, though neither really matters to my characters. HoR also has some mods that do things to figure out influence with NPCs. Some of the other campaigns I’ll get to shortly [sic] have campaign mechanics that show up every session.
Glory and Status are still hard to point to as meaning anything specific, but I think what they mean lives in the GM’s head.
Due to not everyone being available on a weekly basis (I’ve missed close to 10 sessions myself), we often have side sessions. Early on, I thought the side sessions worked better. They were more focused. Too often, early on, we were wandering the Empire or sitting in one city for an extended period of time not really clear on what we were trying to accomplish. I think that’s unlikely to come up at this point as the campaign is moving towards completion and we know what we need to do and roughly where to go to do it.
HoR3 locally has been a Tuesday night game, but the group just got tired of it and we’ve tried various other campaigns. Mirror, Mirror wasn’t a campaign, but it got played (my second time through, so I limited my engagement). Here are the various campaigns.
My campaign. Based on an idea I had for an AD&D game of an isolated town cut off and forced to deal with an undead siege. I added town building to this campaign. The PCs formed a town council for a town that was being built as a place to house spirit realms experts working on closing a permanent portal to Gaki-do. Every session, each PC could make rolls to build something for the town, whether a physical building or something else, like develop the storyteller population.
Each session was a month, both to be realistic about building up a town and to have a different sense of scale. Sometimes this campaign worked, but it frustrated me because it felt like I needed to keep having things happen to the town and there was little coordination between players as to what to try to accomplish. Season one ended well with the portal getting closed, but the interest in continuing to build the town was lost and what the campaign was about was lost when the local portal was closed, even though the town got repurposed as a research center for other portals across the Empire.
I tried to avoid significant investigation because the local group tends to be bad at it and dislike it. I wanted to avoid a combat of the week situation, even though gaki constantly running loose was a thing. I’m actually quite the fan of making up mechanics for scenes or sessions, so I had some other mechanical things I did, including having the party group build one of the NPC town council members (leading to the obvious Dark Fate).
It was not easy giving every project a PC completed some sort of special ability. The burden was too much on me to define what projects meant. The players didn’t really work with or against each other, which was my fault. I had a town council, but I didn’t incentivize enough how politics could be a thing to do with the council. I also didn’t make the project rolls such that PCs had more incentive to trade making rolls on other people’s projects.
Mostly, I don’t handle lots of PCs well, we had seven players at certain points, as I like to personalize things but simply can’t have the burden of doing so on me when there’s so many players to worry about. Running this game led to a number of my posts in recent years about respecting combat more as a way for everyone to be engaged in what was going on.
This campaign also started with advanced characters, and PCs were getting within earshot of IR-6 even with a limited number of sessions. The game is so broken when PCs are running around with 40 Reduction. I either wipe anyone who doesn’t have 20 Reduction in one round or do nothing. I like PCs having a range of abilities and advancing, I just don’t like what happens with L5R when it gets to IR-3.
Social stuff was quite limited, though some of that was because players didn’t make much of an effort to pursue coherent social strategies. They might have been trying, but I find that what I do as a player and what my players do with NPCs is completely different.
City of Lies
Used the City of Lies boxed set. I found this really frustrating because it seemed impossible to accomplish anything. The only way anything got done was by acting roguish, which might be in the nature of the setting but which led to lots of spinning our wheels. I felt like I would have accomplished just as much by not playing. This is unfortunate because there were interesting possibilities and I liked the tracking mechanic for how people thought of you. But, I’m also not into anything Scorpion or intrigue, so it wasn’t really a good setting for me, anyway.
We played the Second City campaign, though “played” is used a bit loosely. We rushed through things and everyone died at the end, with very little happening before we got to the end. The only notable thing for me was playing a Daigotsu Bushi who was more honorable in deed than the rest of the party, who had Iaijutsu 5 and never dueled, and who got eaten by a snake.
The GM found the book lacked detail and things for people to do and the path to the end was too dependent upon certain things. I can see all that. But, I think the intent was to give the GM enough for the GM to flesh out a much longer campaign, where we had much more to do.
Pretty much everything seemed missing in this campaign: combat, investigation, social, other. Not sure what other might be, maybe building stuff (not just towns) or modifying the world non-socially (close a portal, open a portal, etc.), exploration, etc.
20 Goblin Winter
Lot of random encounters in the Shadowlands got people tired of this pretty quick. We did make Crabhood, and there were some interesting mechanics around learning how to be a Crab, but it wasn’t clear what we were trying to do with the game. The premise was playing True Ronin, which went away when we gave up on wanting to just keep doing repetitive missions into the Shadowlands. Becoming Crab didn’t mean a whole lot, and we lacked direction once we were Crab.
I don’t know if a campaign around 20 Goblin Winter is worth it. I mean, it’s not a Shadowlands campaign in that you need to be doing very specific things to make progress on your goal. Also, as much as I like punking Shadowlands monsters, I don’t like the Taint. There was way too much metagaming of our ronin characters to be remotely functional – too many characters were way too similar. Sounds interesting but doesn’t play interesting. I also had something like two characters die, one during a TPK, so there was very little investment in our characters.
Mostly just combat until we became Crab, then it was pretty much just contests to be the best new Crab. The NPCs weren’t the sort I cared to engage with. There wasn’t any sort of exploration to do.
Our current campaign is a pure court campaign to marry off NPC candidates for our clans. While not a great fit for our group and while it has a lot of limitations in things going on, such as that there are barely any NPCs outside of each faction’s candidates and our candidates are pretty two-dimensional, I am thinking this is one of the best if not the best of our Tuesday night campaigns.
While thinking about this post, I realized there’s a lot of similarities to certain HoR mods. The campaign is very, very contest oriented. It means we always have things to do every session as there’s a candidate contest and a PC contest each session. There is also a set of mechanics for off stage activities to improve out matchmaking that our candidates and PCs do. But, there’s not a lot going on outside of the contests and the off stage mechanics. The burden to have other things going on is on the players. Fortunately, some Scorpion mudslinging and Lion investigating into it for the Unicorn opened up some interesting player interaction, which was lacking at first.
I have some wheeling and dealing going on for matches. The question becomes how interesting things are after I marry off all of my candidates.
Because there’s zero combat, I am playing a character I could never play in HoR or many of these other campaigns. I like that. My PC is also interesting enough to me that I’d like to see him see play in something else, as he doesn’t really get to do a lot other than roll dice in this campaign. NPC interaction is heavily restricted. Some of his advantages are meaningless (balanced by how his disadvantage has been meaningless). Advancing the character could be interesting because he’s only IR-1 and can’t get past that in this campaign.
The contests are very interesting, though some of them should really have more for people who don’t win.
So, what makes sense?
Court/social play? I’ve done a lot of this. I actually enjoy it more than I expected since I’m not into intrigue and I get tired of being beaten over the head with customs. My favorite social stuff, besides NPC interactions of course, has been trying to help NPCs I don’t know very well but have some incentive to help either because of clan affiliation, friend of a friend, or because some other PC wants me to help them. I like the idea of more often cooperating with other players but sometimes working at cross purposes.
Combat focus? Combat is so common, let’s try … battle focus? Big battle game with mass combat rules often used – interesting? I don’t know. Each PC is a general? That doesn’t sound all that interesting. I can see more a campaign where a small number of PCs are part of the same force and have to deal with logistics and morale and crap. But, what’s the goal? Invasion campaign at the army level? Sure, why not? See how it goes.
Exploration? So, one idea I have for our next Tuesday night campaign is to run Legend of the Burning Sands. I asked one of our players what he would want to do in such a campaign and he said explore because he doesn’t know the setting. The question I need to ask myself is what exploration means to me in terms of creating adventures. With Conan d20, exploration seems easy, as moving from nation to nation makes plenty of sense for PCs, whether murderhobos or nobles. But, do I ever paint an interesting enough picture to make someone feel that the character is in place B instead of place A? With LBS, just slowly parsing out the factions would provide exploration with the plots being the usual 47 plots that all stories are. How about a high seas game of all Mantis and Tortoise (Kasuga Smuggler is something I’ve wanted to play for years) that explores outside of Rokugan?
World building/creation? I can see playing in this rather than running, as Gaki Mura has made me shy about trying this again. Though, a creation campaign could be less about construction and be more like an arts campaign or something.
Intrigue? Not my thing.
Spinoff from one of our campaigns? I proposed the idea of our children from The Princess Police doing stuff, but that group has another campaign planned already, and how fair is it to make the same person GM another full blown campaign?
Second City? Sure. I have no sense of Second City. I read through sections of the box set. I still have no real sense of where to start and where to go.
Space? No. I’d much rather take the L5R system and play a genre I like better than L5R.
What ideas from Imperial Histories really grab me? Really, none of them. I already have an idea for a sequel to HoR2, as I really like the setting of HoR2 with the Toturis having survived for centuries. Sure, I’d be into a more mystical L5R experience, but I don’t know who would run that – I’m the person who would logically run that, and that’s what Gaki Mura was like.
Peasant game? No.
Monk game? Can’t see it.
Ronin game? Eh, just doesn’t sound all that to me.
Book of … settings? Maybe. Our marriage campaign is in the Book of Air setting. Book of Earth, absolutely not. Fire? Sounds boring, actually. Other two sound fine. Naishou Province? Sure, whatever.
Mostly, I’d rather play than GM. I don’t want to spend too much time investigating as I get plenty of that from HoR. I’d like HoR4 to be more interesting to me than HoR3, though some of what made HoR2 more interesting to me than HoR3 was due to who I was playing with. I’m okay with playing in a heavy combat game, I might even build a good combat character for such. But, I’m much more into NPC interaction, and I like non-antagonistic play, like contests and trying to make the world a better place by creating things.