The Best of … 2012

December 31, 2015

It’s that time of year, again, where we look back three years and see what was worth highlighting.

Old Time Fan

Timely, in how mahjong seems to be something I’m getting back into.  Whether people care for more non-gaming info about what I do, I don’t know.

Eloquent

As an analyst, I’m concerned with what’s wrong with things.  Negativity is my roti and korma.  Not only was I trying to be positive, I wish I was inspired to write more of these sorts of posts.  I’m also not writing much about V:TES these days, when there’s always something that could be written.  Not building decks as often has a lot to do with that.  Well, and not playing as often.

You There, In The Woods

I’m still in January.  Interesting thing about 2012 – I had a lot of time as I was between office jobs.  This post came from working on designing a CCG and realizing a key aspect of having CCGs be fun.

Barsoom Or Bust

Good post?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes, I just like to call out things.  I’ve reread the John Carter books (again, half of them don’t even have JC do anything) many a time.  As a reader of the Extended Universe of Star Wars, let’s just say I was more finer with The Force Awakens than in watching a questionable effort to bring John Carter into the 21st Century.

Page Of Myth

I’m certainly not going for good posts, anymore, with these Best Of … posts.  I seem to be going for tying the present into the past.  I found an Indian Mythology game and am running it.  Progress.

Egalitarian Experiment #1 – First Thoughts

I should do more of this sort of stuff.  What does it hurt?  I just add variance to my CCG play.

Ultimate Techniques

I often feel like I haven’t played a lot of the in games, these days.  Maybe there are systems that manage this topic, but I don’t see them.  Don’t need to model fiction to have cool stuff happen, but it’s possible that doing something to model fiction better will have cool stuff happen, ironically, more often.

Decision: 3r or 4e or 3.5

I will occasionally use this as a reminder of what I miss from L5R’s previous edition.

Indefatigable

Just your typical CCG tournament report.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the one post to read for that year.  Though, if you don’t know V:TES, you won’t understand a lot …  Note that the follow up post for the other three tournaments depends significantly on this one.

Reactionism

A major theme of 2012 for me was trying to explain a variety of different things about how I engage with V:TES.  People drone on and on about building decks, but that’s not what multiplayer CCGs are about.  Wait, this post was all about building decks – doh!!  Even though 2012 had our largest local tournament, I so often see frustration from my fellow players (also true of other CCGs).  Games, people.  Have some fun.  … and build more decks.

Riddle Me This …

The player cares little for combat, but the GM loves it?!?

L5R Combat Guide

This was likely the point when my blog really became a L5R 4e blog with some other posts about who knows what.  Indefatigable is still the post to read for the year … because so many people have already read this one.  It seems obvious that there’s a massive call for RPG analysis in the blogosphere, as this shows up in my stats as a top read post.

Panama!

Tricky topic.  Another theme of 2012 was my trying to figure out how to be better at GMing.

Annual TWDA 2012

I no longer have the motivation to generate these sorts of posts.  I miss how much The Lasombra kept data for the game.  One would think a database wouldn’t be that hard, but did Precedence CCGs or Shadowfist ever come anywhere close to what was done with V:TES in terms of data collection and display?

 

The most important post was, of course, the L5R Combat Guide, no matter how much more the topic could have used (fortunately, I followed up with a party combat guide in the past’s future).  While I don’t know about brilliant posts during the year, there were a lot of thoughtful posts, reflecting both that I was designing a CCG during the year and had lots of gaming time.


Sane Pain

December 30, 2015

It may have been a thread on rpg.net that had something about Savage Worlds that got me to thinking about hit points, aka wounds, aka …

I’m going to focus on cons, as the pros of various things are largely the cons of others.

D&D

I’ve played some 4e.  I have not actually played any 5e.  Come to think of it, I haven’t played a number of other D&Ds. So, when I say D&D, I typically think of AD&D 1e and d20.

Cons:  Combatants are at full offense until they keel over.  Hit points are exceedingly gamey.

The latter doesn’t actually bother me.  I know I complain about how gamey mechanics are, especially when it comes to PC build components.  But, on the other hand, I am so, so, so, so not into realism when it comes to games.  That hit points are abstracted, mechanicized, or whatever really means nothing to me.

So, what about how hit points only matter when you run out of them?  This is something I can be concerned about.  But, not because of PCs.  Because of what PCs fight.  That a PC never weakens, just manages the accounting of their life points, well, it’s actually something I see as a pro.  A pro not just because it means PCs get to do stuff until they become fine red mist but also just the game accounting of this one stat.  It’s simple.  It doesn’t feel weird to me.  It does mean that players have to manage a resource that matters.

That monsters and crap fight full power until they are ashed, though, can be pretty ugly.  It’s not just on the GM side, where the GM has to think through what it means that an enemy that doesn’t retreat will just keep swinging.  It’s ugly that the incentives are all in favor of assured annihilation.

This was the strength of L5R 3e/3r, when I played it a lot.  You actually had a reason not to focus fire on your enemies.  Well, at least, some of the time.

Conan was my big D&Desque experience.  While it wasn’t always peach smoothies with whip cream to deal with my 120+ HP character’s management of HP (or how annoying crap like drowning took away the only thing the character was good at in combat – damage sponge), I didn’t think badly of HP.  A counterargument, though, is that HP weren’t clean in Conan – that the massive damage save rule meant you could have hundreds of HP and still explode before losing them all.  Then, some of the most tedious enemies (all of the most tedious enemies besides those that could grapple for free?) were like chopping down giant piles of wet wood.

Savage Worlds

You thought I was going to go to something more … Asian?

Cons:  Shaken is moronic.  Wounds often seem too much “oh, whatever … aaauuggghhhh”.  Where’s the healing?

Current thread on rpg.net about people’s SW combat experiences.  My first(?) experience was not pain, it was excruciating agony.  I spent 30+ minutes just toggling back and forth between Shaken and not Shaken.  I may not care a ton about combat, but I do care about doing things.

That’s what really inspired this post.  Doing things.  Doing things is necessary.  Doing things is why you do things, like play games.  Rolling dice just to achieve recovery from a condition that stops you from doing anything is … a sign that someone didn’t playtest better.  When I ran Solomon Kane, I houseruled a change to Shaken without ever running RAW.

The flip side of being in Shaken lock is not achieving any progress.  That’s the thing about D&D style hit point loss.  It may not matter that my 126 HP PC loses 50 HP in a fight, but it still feels like something happened.  If I never achieve better than Shaken, have I achieved anything at all?

RuneQuest has been like this.  Do nothing a bunch of the time, then Oh My Gods!  Of course, there, it’s usually much more brutal to the PCs.  Getting back to SW, as much as I’ve seen characters flail about, I’ve also seen the “take 3 wounds, soak?” situations.  While one wound is okay.  Three puts a damper on doing anything.

Maybe it’s just the genres of SW I’ve played, but I also find that healing isn’t quick enough.  Now, to be fair to SW (SK), I don’t recall it being that big of a deal for my Solomon Kane PCs to heal back up.  I’m not exactly sure why that was; I’ve managed to forget quite a bit about running SK.  I know that I just found reading the healing rules to be frustrating.

RuneQuest

Why not?

Cons:  Bleeding sucks.  Losing limbs sucks.  Hit locations suck.  Unconsciousness sucks.

As I recall, bleeding was an optional rule.  But, we used it.  Again, I don’t give a crap about realism.  Bleeding, as a mechanic, has never worked in my experience.  If anything, it produces ludicrously unrealistic actions, like cauterizing wounds and wasting time not trying to kill something that’s trying to kill you and carrying around a bunch of healing stuff just with the idea of stopping bleeding.

Hit locations are something I have never found to be remotely interesting.  All it does is create more complication for more variance without offering anything I can see to make combat better.  The loss of use of a limb in RQ was just obscenely common.  And, yet again, produced incredibly gamey player incentives.  Have to run around with Heal-6’s to make sure you got your limb back.

Unconsciousness, in and of itself, is not the problem.  It’s a problem when you achieve it while still in positive life boxes.  That screws up my math all of the time.  The “unconscious at zero, dying at negatives” is far more intuitive to me.

Feng Shui

Speaking of dying.  Death checks.  SW has them, too, of course.

Cons:  Loss of combat prowess with the AV mechanic can be brutal.  Feels sudden to go into penalties.

I guess 1e FS has similarities to SW.  I just didn’t feel the Impairment penalties as much.  Sure, I was in death checks at times, really should have died in one session where someone fumbled Medicine while I was in negatives.

I don’t think the concept is wrong so much as the execution.  Maybe what it needs to be is something like thirds.  First third, fine.  Second third, minor loss of functionality.  Third third, what?

Legend of the Five Rings

Had to get here, eventually.

Cons:  Which edition?  Let’s say 4e.  Lots of wound levels.  Overreliance on magical healing.  What do wound penalties affect?  Wound chart is oriented to getting you killed (unlike 3e).  Damage varies a lot.  Little ability to defend without help.

I’m sure I’m missing some things for what is the game I’ve examined the most.

Lots of wound levels means some sort of death spiral.  Sure, the windows can be so tight that you are rarely in a particular level.  So, it’s not always a death spiral.  Sometimes, it’s a “why are there so many levels of penalties” situation.

4e is particularly bad about focusing on magical healing for recovery given the crappiness of Medicine, but that’s not so much an indictment of L5R, as plenty of RPG systems just assume magical healing and have horrendous natural healing rules, as it is an indictment of 4e vs. 3r.

The different application of wound penalties in my L5R play is a perfect example of why you put in more examples of mechanics and combat in core books.  Sometimes, they would only apply to physical actions.  Sometimes, they would only apply to “actions”, even though I don’t think action is defined anywhere.  Sometimes, they applied to certain rolls but not others whether it was to prevent a death spiral or not.

My view is that wound penalties should never apply to surviving.  Keep in mind that RPGs are incredibly asymmetrical when it comes to combat.  Players don’t typically care whether NPCs survive and GMs may or may not.  Meanwhile, survival is often a core goal with players for their PCs.  If you make survival harder, you basically just screw players.

By the way, what are wound penalties supposed to apply to in 4e?  Anything with a TN.  Full Defense – no TN.  Damage rolls – no TN.

Damage in D&D or SW or RQ or a whole lot of things can vary immensely.  But, there’s just something that feels uncontrolled about damage with L5R.  With RQ, the frustration is that my normal damage doesn’t take out my enemies until after I’ve direct interventioned to get resurrected, not that the variance is crazy.  Conan could be lopsided in damage output, though that was a lot of poor choices in PC builds, but it felt like you had an idea how badly something would hurt.  With L5R, it’s pretty hard to have a good feel for how much something will hurt when you have one kept die explode five times.  The long tail is a many tailed beast just because of volume of rolls.

Interestingly, powerful defenses can be one of the worst things about combat in L5R.  Be the Mountain, Kami’s Strength, Hida with the right kata in the previous edition giving you like +100 TNtbH, Reflexes 5 with shugenja stance and Defense 5 and armor, Daidoji force fields – these are some pretty annoying things for a GM to provide challenges for.

But, for a normal bushi, there’s often little you can do but hope for a magic buff or someone to guard you.  Even if you have the ho hum Reflexes 5 and Heavy Armor, you don’t get shugenja stance, you don’t get Defense 5.  You swing and hope you kill faster.  I experienced just how dramatic it can be when I switched from being a guarder to being a swinger with my REF-5 Hare.  Even just armor is this massive deal, which I find really annoying.  Though, I also find the idea that AD&D characters run around in +2 Chainmail with +2 Shields to be rather obnoxious, too.

Points Greatest Hits

So, what do I want?

I don’t want characters to be unable to act, including being unable to reasonably move.  Now, that’s up to a point.  I actually don’t mind unconsciousness if the timing of it is good.  While it can be a huge suck to be unconscious when everyone else is fighting, theoretically, combat speeds up as combatants drop while character death is rife with issues.

Character notdeath being highly manageable.  Conan was actually a fairly forgiving system due to Fate Points.  I think that worked well.

In general, I’d take it another step and say rather minimal impact of having wounds.  Should this be different for PCs than for others?  Perhaps.  I haven’t gotten to running a vassal combat for AtDY yet.  I kind of hate mooks in Feng Shui, though extras in SK weren’t as bad.  So, having PCs and majors on a level of being minimally impacted sounds good … up until you start thinking about monsters.  Should Shadowspawn, the monster that inspired my thinking of things as giant piles of wet wood, be easy to cripple?  Probably not.  But, do I want the massive incentives of focus fire and maximizing damage output to be in my experience?  Not particularly.

Does D&D do it right?  Not quite.  However, it may be a lot more righter than more modern wound mechanics.  There should probably be some sort of mechanic to make one feel like something is happening besides number loss, though I’m not entirely sure what that mechanic should be.  As much as I disdain D&D 4e, there is something to the idea of being Bloodied being a good thing.

Maybe, instead of getting weaker by damage, the key is to get stronger.  No, it really isn’t.  Anyone who has played much knows why.  When you make things get stronger as they get closer to being taken out, well, any serious fight sees PCs also getting closer to being taken out when their enemies are, so that stronger enemy just creates a different type of death spiral.

A resource that mitigates wound penalties?  That’s a use of Void Points that I vastly preferred in 3r versus 4e.  VPs were more common in 3r, but they were still a limited resource.  (Actually, PCs were likely to have more, which is yet another reason having them do things like nullify wound penalties was awesome.)  4e wanted to make Fear and WP strong.  Well, it succeeded.  Not sure why that’s fun.

RQ tries to have damage be part of its economy (at least, in my play, which is incredibly economic).  You buy potions to counteract damage.  In no way does this sound like a good idea to me, though it does tie into how much old school FRPGs seemed intent on being money obsessed.

I’ve often really enjoyed being close to death and fighting as hard as possible.  Conan provided a lot of that, where I was often in negative HP and still trying to do stuff.  That Conan often had an out against HP beasts (like my character) was a good thing.  Still not perfect, but I’d prefer Conan d20 mechanics over oD&D.

Beyond just how hit boxes are handled, having options for defending that aren’t just a form of suicide (I’m looking Fading Suns and how awful Dodge is) that anyone can use is something to keep in mind.

Finally, I have a sense that many a system doesn’t really realize what it does to PCs with wound mechanics more “realistic” or whatever than D&D HP.  Whether it’s impairments so crippling that a PC can’t do important things anymore or making wound systems messier such that it gets hard to sense how much trouble you are actually in or systems that make recovery dependent upon money or magic, they actually take a step back in the fun department.


Flaw Wars

December 25, 2015

When I was ten, I got the “kind of D&D, kind of AD&D” boxed set as a present.  I don’t remember a ton of gaming presents beyond that, though there was the time the Harts got me some cards and my gratitude level was my typical “I’m more bemused than appreciative” level.  So, it being Christmas doesn’t inspire this post.

Rather, seeing a third, yes, two more than one, movie this year helps inspire.

One thing I didn’t go into in my last post was how crazy the Weaknesses in Against the Dark Yogi are.  If you think L5R’s disadvantages are way too painful, and you should, then AtDY is many times crazier.  A number of them are missing limbs.  Huh?!?  Who thinks missing limbs are things PCs should have?  Sure, some PC might have that, but it’s more in the 1% neighborhood rather than the 5% neighborhood.  There’s like three Weaknesses I can see for most characters, and they are all far too gamey.

So, I watched a movie today where a main character essentially had no flaws.  Cries of Mary Sue ring out.  But, are flaws important?  As I’ve said before, a noticeable change in protagonists of TV back in the day and TV nowadays is that current characters have to be tortured, angsty, or otherwise screwed up.

That’s not the only way to make interesting characters.  Sure, literary Sherlock Holmes is not a ladykiller.  Sure, John Carter, Superman, and a bunch of others suffer from boyus scouticus.  But, I don’t need some crippling weakness to the allegorical color yellow, to wood, to Argonite.  I just need someone who cares more about some things rather than other things.  Bond cares about women with suggestive names, women who work for his enemies, women who happen to be anywhere in the vicinity.  Sherlock doesn’t.  He finds the peculiar and the clever interesting.  Yes, in various games that would come out as “PsyLim: Must solve unusual mysteries”, but that’s a slippery slope to silliness as well as points for doing what your character should be doing anyway.

My other RPG in mind to run is Champions.  I’ve never run Champions.  I’ve built like a 1000 characters for Champions because that’s the way my mind sometimes works (worked?).  I’ve lost interest in the disadvantage system for the game or anything remotely like it in other games.  Yes, some things are disadvantages.  Taking damage from being alive is worth points.  Having enemies isn’t.  PCs have enemies, whether they know it or not, otherwise they don’t have a story.  Having a secret identity is a story element, not a structural disadvantage.  This was the problem with such things as Dark Fate or Dark Secret in L5R – why do you get compensated for story aspects to your character?

Sure, some systems embrace the idea of forcing story and that mechanical constructs have built in story features.  Rubbish.  So unnecessary.  One would think that being a 100% storyteller would mean liking narrative systems.  Nope.  See, here’s the thing.  Stories are easy.  Do D&D characters, whether oD&D, d20, or 4e come with disad mechanics?  Are there stories told somewhere between the tactical wargame combats?  I think so.  Especially with d20, where there’s an actual skill system (not that it meant as much to D&D as it did a bunch of other d20 games).

Players should want their characters to be interesting, distinct, not in a “my +3 sword is +5 against red pandas” way.  But, in a “then I played my drum for him, my best for him, and the King of All Demons wept” way.

Quirks, where you get some minimal character point bonus, make more sense to me than “start with 100 points, then spend roughly 150 on disads” because they aren’t a mess of game balance versus thematic plausibility.

It’s far more important for a group of PCs to have each PC have a role (usually involving some mechanical niche) than in having Power Crab be vulnerable to boiling water and butter.

So, I’m thinking when I run Champions that I just create 300+ point characters and only take into account Power Crab’s Vulnerability 2x Stun vs. attacks from below, rather than Power Crab’s PsyLim: Obsession with Goth Culture or how Power Crab is Hunted: The Galactic Gourmand, 11 or less.

Story problems are exactly that – parts of the story.  Just like how Caste in AtDY doesn’t give or cost you any points, being a Dalit just makes things problematic when partying with the one-percenters until you achieve a blue hue in your skin.  (I wonder how I incorporate a PC taking Shyama Varna when he’s in the Kshatriya Caste – I guess lowlifes will give him street cred of the “yo, bro, divine thug life!” type.)

Flaws are also far more interesting when they develop from play.  I grow weary when players are supposed to write novellas about what they did before play began.  Becoming – Enraged: When seeing idiotic parodies 14 or less, recover 8 or less – should occur from “well, that session sure wasn’t subtle”.

As for the movie, three stars.  Solid, could have done some things better.  Maybe I’ll get more specific later.  Definitely didn’t inspire me to want to play in its world any more than I’m already not that interested in playing in its world, though.


Shedding Light

December 24, 2015

I had some post name come to mind, then forgot it.

Anyway, ran first session of Against the Dark Yogi last night.

Takeaways?

The book is a pain in the ass to follow.  Put all of the mechanics in one place – have clear fonts, have clear sideboards, put in examples of character creation.  Without the index, it would have just been a nightmare, as I had to constantly bounce back and forth.  Then, mechanics often have either limited or nonexistent descriptions for how they actually work.  When does my Mag matter?  Why is initiative so weird and how come I find it harder to find it explained than to find the comment about how it can be abused?

Really needs a GM screen.  Way too much wasted ink and space in the POD book.  I could use a big map of the world or just do a big India map, I guess.

The resolution system is a lot flatter than I thought.  I was thinking more extremes and that Good Karma plays would be much stronger.  In reality, with the adders, a lot of results are 4+.  Pushing beyond your max “roll” is really hard as Luck doesn’t actually add, just give the possibility of higher.

Enlightenment is way, way more important than I thought.  E-1 opponents are just kind of awful.

I’m not excited by the idea of managing legend NPCs as the karma stuff just seems fiddly for how much it actually matters.

Speaking of karma, it’s rather gamey how easily you can keep increasing your lifetime Good Karma and not ever accumulate Bad Karma.  On the other hand, I want people to have more options, so maybe I’m just worrying too much about arbitrary numbers.  It just seems like it should be a big deal to go from 2/1 to 3/1 to 4/1, as opposed to just playing two sessions where you hung on to at least one Good Karma (it might have sucked, anyway).

Speaking of advancement, I don’t get starting characters at all.  Starting characters are inferior to nameless NPCs in rather important areas.  Starting characters are way too cookiecutter – should have like 30 points to buy up traits.

I’ve already houseruled initiative to use SPD rather than be the “we decide what order things happen” system that I just don’t get.  Actually, I could use a Savage Worlds style system, since decks are already being used.  Except that will accelerate jokers.

I don’t get critical failures or jokers.  Is a critical failure mostly a narrative thing?  Do you slam the PC with consequences?  Do jokers allow you to draw up to your Good Karma or only replace existing Good Karma?  The latter makes no sense to me because, then, if you spent all of your karma, there’s no upside to a joker.

The background on the world should really be explained much more extensively.  I can research India for stuff, but I have the sense that a GURPS India book would provide more background info on things besides locations and the Dark Yogi’s story.  In many ways, things are too simplistic.

The adventures in the book are weird, especially with the vassal combats.  Really?  That many animals are just hanging out waiting to beat down the party?  Vassal math may not make much sense, but it feels more plausible with human mooks.

I was worried about the accounting of prana.  If there were numerous other things to not worry about, I guess it’s okay, though you have to know what you can use prana for, and we don’t, yet.  With all of the other things going on, though, it’s just too many subsystems.  It’s also weird how much effort is devoted to excess prana and abilities based on excess prana, when I wouldn’t expect most characters to ever have excess prana.

We don’t dislike it.  I think the system is clunky and horribly explained.  The world info is underdeveloped.  Too many mechanics are not common mechanics, where the common mechanics are not easy to follow.

As for my adventure, pretty weak.  Would it have been better with more to work with?  I don’t know. I still put way too much burden on players to be natively interested in wanting certain things to happen.

Learning any system takes time.  I change my views on systems as I learn more about them.

Then, epic fantasy is not something people I play with seem to get.  I suppose I should take more time to frame adventures to give them the high fantasy elements, which might eventually rub off.

Stay tuned.  Next week is part two.


Giftable

December 20, 2015

Sure, I played Shadowfist Thursday and even won a game because of the power of Li Po.  Sure, had my PC die Friday night in our online Fading Suns game, so I have to think about what my new character will be.  Kurgan?  Without my dude, there’s no religious character in the party, though I think there was too much pressure on my character to hold up the religious aspects of the world.

Sure, I’m supposed to run a game Wednesday night.  I was thinking it was going to be Champions, but I am back to Against the Dark Yogi because I had a clearer idea of plot in my brainial region.  Either way, mechanics need to be explained.  I just actually know something about Hero mechanics.  I’ll report back, I’m sure.

But, let’s talk about gifts.

Let’s start with the boring but simple.  What would I want as gaming gifts?

An Ultimate Combat! tournament where I get another chance to win a playmat (the greatest gaming accessory I’ve ever acquired).  I think sealed deck would be more fun, actually.  As much as constructed might be fun, I don’t know if it is as fun in tournament play, where it may be too brutal and too repetitive.

For V:TES to go back into business production and for all of the e-sets to either be junked or turned into printed sets.  Actually, it’s not the sets so much as individual cards that I’d like to see some junking or some changing.

For the upcoming V:TES tournaments to be enjoyed by all.

Heroes of Rokugan: Nightmare War to either start or to never have to worry about … for me; I realize others have already started.  I’ve been away for L5R play for some time, now.  I’m perfectly fine with getting back to playing L5R, but I want it to be coherent.

To feel like the last home campaign of L5R is truly complete.  I mentioned posting stuff from the campaign, but I stopped because there was at least one major thing I was waiting on.  I don’t know what the situation is.  It’s been so long since things ended that I don’t know if anyone cares anymore about my providing some insight into what I was doing.

To be inspired to build more decks for V:TES and Shadowfist.

To have the computer room organized so that I don’t have gaming stuff piled up on the floor as I currently do.  In the vein of being more organized, try to find four or so mahjong sets I own that I don’t currently know the location of just so that I can confirm inventory.  Not like I would fly anywhere with one unless I knew I was gifting a set to somebody, but the interest in the game has been renewed.

To feel like I have time to think and create for RPGs.

To get a plan together for Origins, even though no due dates should be any time soon.  To have a Gen Con hotel option when I know the passkey system is going to be a joke again this year.

To find more playmats for CCG play that I have interest in as my current crop is kind of iffy for covering all possibilities.

For someone else to want to run a long term campaign of something I find intriguing.

What about gifts for other people?

While I’m not inclined to get gaming stuff for family, I have looked at fantasy books.  I ended up at a used book store because:  I’m too late to order things from Amazon; local new books book store doesn’t have most of what I want; when it does have something it’s ungodly expensive in a steal your money kind of way.  For example, first trilogy of Corum is something I could find.  It was split up in three, $10 books.  Or, I could find the trilogy in one $3 book because it’s stupid for such short books to be split up into three separate books, and it’s a sad money grab to charge $10 for what’s a reprint of like a 150 page book.

The problem with gifts for friends is then you enter a reciprocity situation that I just don’t want to get into.  I don’t have any great desire for people to get me things (I’ll just buy any things I want, though, sometimes it’s interesting to get things because I wouldn’t have bought them and they open up a new world of things I’m interested in).  Nor do I remotely enjoy shopping for other people, though it’s amusing how sometimes it’s easy to find things for friends.

If consulted, I could give some ideas for things to get other people.  I’ve played a number of boardgames to where I could envision who might like what.  CCGs are hard to spring on people, though it’s easy enough to gift stuff to someone already interested.  RPG books are something that comes to mind much more today than in the past for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.  For instance, L5R 4e books are just really nice looking.  Even if you don’t like the system or the world, might be inspired by the presentation.  Other books that are more about culture and less about mechanics seem like possibilities, though, again, more so possibilities for gamer friends.  Dice can be an accessory I can imagine actually giving to people and not just gamers – non-gamers don’t understand how common polyhedral dice are in the gaming world.  Mahjong dice are something non-mahjong players might find more interesting.  Using weird six-sided dice for mahjong is a possibility.

I’m increasingly looking at non-stuff gifts because I, personally, have way too much stuff and need to reduce those things that aren’t important to me.  Plus, I realized experiences are the best things in life a while back, anyway.  In fact, my anti-present thing comes from getting presents but not getting experiences to go with them when I was young as toys and games and whatever were in a vacuum of lack of people to play things with.  I sort of realized that tickets to events and whatnot are a legit thing to consider, recently.  Of course, travel is a great thing to have, just a messy thing to gift out of the blue.


Dragons, Winds, Water

December 13, 2015

A curious follow up to my last post is that I got invited to play mahjong after I was back in the US.  To play with people I had never played mahjong with.

First time I ever played American Mahjong.  The way I explain it is that you have to win with a special hand.  Other styles have special hands – I certainly spent time studying esoteric special hands from books about Chinese, Japanese, or unaligned mahjong.  The difference is between playing a game where you can win with whatever or whatever that has 1+ fans (or, to be fair, Shanghainese “you can only win with all pungs or all one suit” is incredibly limiting) and have the option of special hands versus only being able to win with special hands.

We only played like six hands.  Two were wall games.  Andy won the first two, which was a good time to retire, and his great aunt won the other two.  I think.

Hard to remember because each hand is so slow.  For me, trying to figure out what legal winning hands overlapped in such a way to move towards multiple hands at once was paralysis by noesis.

Not really my thing.  I have to unlearn how to play normally, then have to work through memorizing a bunch of specific combinations, then calc the probability of being able to form different combinations so that I can focus on what’s viable, meanwhile trying to pay enough attention to realize what someone else can win with.  It strikes me a bit too much like mixing bingo into mahjong.

But, I understand why other forms of mahjong can be less interesting when you don’t play for money or track anything that relates to the type of hand you win with.  If all you do is play to go out as quick as possible, yeah, pretty boring stuff.  It’s like playing poker without playing for money.

So, while Shadowfist has some mahjong related cards, it’s an awkward transition into Shadowfist play.

Thursday

Played two games, no mooks nor Sacred Grounds, pay one less to play a FSS to a new location.

I played the YotG Dragon precon first.  Cut down, of course.

Don (7 Masters) -> Ian (Dragon precon) -> Justin (Martial Focus Hand) -> Joren (Plague of Moths)

I did not have a particularly easy time playing stuff, with Chun Qi Shuan being my main contribution to the game.  One time I got River of Lights, which I couldn’t play.  The other Junkyard Engineer.  The deck seems to either come out strong or not come out at all when I watch it played by others.

Justin got out an occasional character but was really only a factor when he had Joren’s Leashed.  Joren didn’t have removal to stop 7 Masters.  So, 7 Masters won, with a Sky Dragon and an Evil Twin of Sky Dragon among other masters.

Don (Purists) -> Ian (Abomination From The Sky) -> Justin (Cops) -> Joren (Jammers hate their own sites)

We kept murdering Don’s guys, but it wasn’t payback so much as I didn’t want Quantum Sorcery gaining him power.  He kept making us draw cards.  Justin got out some early cops that got murdered by the Jammers.  Joren didn’t make his sleaze bigger by losing sites until late.

I played a bunch of Aerial Bombardments – murdering two Mutators in one turn with the 10 damage I could spread around.  Arcanomoth, fatter Arcanomoth, three Blood Eagles, and an Assassin Bug were my only dudes.  Don made one last bid for victory.  I had open targets in a variety of places, swung with Blood Eagles and Arcanomoth on my own Hot Springs, figuring M.A.D. would get played.  It didn’t.  Victory goes to the noble and virtuous death from above Architects.

Saturday

Five games?

First game was precons.

Cy (Ascended) -> Miguel (Lotus) -> Ian (Hand) -> Earl (Jammers)

Miguel discarded a lot of his good cards, having problems getting stuff out.  I got a strong defensive position after a while with a Buddhist Bellringer, Pacifists (3), Wei Tian, Reformed Bandit, Kitsune.  I had two sites burned for victory and a Garden of Eternal Spring that lasted all game.  So, I was a threat.  I tried some bids for victory, the last one being shot down with Fireworks Display.

Cy put out Campaign Managers, but they just got murdered.  His second Roar of the Lion was much more relevant.

Earl’s A Clockwork Orangutan got put under House Arrest.  He made a dude gigantic with The Blackboard and Personal Assault Vehicle, then made it even bigger with Exo-Skeleton for the win.

Cy won the second game when the only other deck that did anything was mine and my Khofesh died right away.

I played my Abominations From The Sky deck in the third game, and my Helix Mines couldn’t quite stop Cy from winning with Dragons, again.

Miguel had to leave.

I played Syndicate, ambush characters version.  Earl played his Hand Monkey deck.  I don’t get frustrated by a lot with Shadowfist because I don’t care enough most of the time to find plays frustrating, but the “this card doesn’t target”, “my card only stops people’s events that target my guys” stuff is really obnoxious.  Jammers get fantastic counterspells, but I can’t play them because they are monkey cards.  Hand has counterspells, but I don’t want to build a bunch of counterspells + superleap decks.  I think Cy won after my Xu Mei was ganged up on.

I finally played my most recent Insurance Policy deck, with Tears of the Crocodile as the main hitter.  I was a threat.  I had two Tears and Raven Li in play when we had to call the game.  Earl was not winning but had a lot of edges in play to go with his monkey mass.

I keep saying it, but I need to build more decks.  The tools are there to build amusing decks.  I’m sure I can even find something Lotus to do that would be fair and interesting.  I really need things to annihilate weenies and edges.  But, I don’t want to play Dragon all of the time.

A propos of Shadowfist, I decided to watch the first episode of Into the Badlands.  I’ve thought about a list of the movies I’ve never seen that I’d most want to watch.

Much of the list would be like this:  Kill Bill; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; Chinese Ghost Story; etc.  Yet, the reviews were exceedingly mediocre on ItB, and I’m highly reluctant to watch TV shows after getting burned on shows that I watched lasting only one season.  It was interesting enough for me to record the other episodes.

What do I like about it?

The setup with the Barons.  It’s so suited to RPG play.  The look is nice – vivid.  That I simply don’t watch enough martial arts stuff.

While I really dislike post-apocalyptic settings, I could see a more palatable variation being used as a basis for RPG play.  After all, Naruto isn’t dissimilar.  I’ve had the thought of a school vs. school Ninja Hero game for a long time because Ninja Hero just seems like such a cool take on the Hero System.  I’m just not sure there’s enough “the weakness of the praying desert oyster technique is that you can counterrotate your invisible base” to it, though.


A Mouse’s Donkey

December 5, 2015

While a work trip, I’m hardly going to talk about the work aspects here.  I could rant and rave about shopping, but that seems out of place, as well.

So, after being too tired on Tuesday to go gaming (a last minute decision after I RSVPed the MeetUp) and generally not adjusting to the time difference (trip was to a little hamlet called Shanghai), I was presented with the idea of playing mahjong Thursday night.  We got four players together from work, organized by the BP manager, and hit the second story mahjong parlor, well, room with a mechanized table.

Like this, only not exactly.

Like this, only not exactly.

It was my first time using a mechanized table, and I just find them amazing in how efficiently they work.  It does mean that there’s little reason to own your own sets – sets are damn heavy.  I was gifted one and it made my suitcase noticeably heavier.

I really need to get one of these tables.  Well, in theory, more than one to reside at multiple domiciles.  I’m still unclear on how they precisely work, but I can look that up.

On the walk over to the place, we talked about how there are numerous variants of the game, such that people have to discuss what rules (and scoring) they are playing.  One of my coworkers started describing the Shanghainese style of only winning with all one suit or all pungs, and I mentioned having played that style, before (want to guess where the banner picture for this blog comes from?).

We started with my teaching my family’s style of play, with its rather convoluted scoring system (for modern play).  Note that I speak of similar things in this post – Old Time Fan.

In trying to find someone online explain the rules for the other style we played, I came across this website – http://mahjongbritishrules.com/scoring/overview.html

Ignoring the special hands and some of the special bonus rules, this is basically how my family does scoring (though we do more rounding and are inconsistent about what base we use).  I didn’t see whether the British count nonwinning hands, but my family does.  So, for instance, I won the first hand sitting North and East scored way more points because she had her own flower, dragons, and I think East because I know her score for a nonwinning hand was 480.

http://mahjongbritishrules.com/scoring/examplehands.html has some examples that I can see.

Do I think my family’s style is a better one?

Because we don’t make discarder pay for everyone, except under specific conditions, generally when someone threatens a maximum hand or all one suit pure, our style is very aggressive.  There’s rarely an incentive to reduce your chances of winning to stop someone else from doing so.  And, I’m really not a fan of flowers and their randomizing effect, though this is an issue with a ton of variations.  Also, I think all pungs, which is often really hard (well, more so really randomly based upon having a lot of unrelated pairs in your hand early on), should be worth two fans and not one.

Change to where only the discarder pays, and I’m … not sure.  It might throw things off a bit too much.  I wouldn’t want too defensive a game.

After we played through a full set of prevailing winds, we switched styles.  I did win about 40% of the hands playing the first style.  It’s hard to benchmark anything, but I’ve always held my own playing mahjong, except when I got bored or “gambly” and started not playing optimally to win.

So, the next style.  I haven’t found a description, yet, online.  One of the group said he thought it was the most commonly played variant in China.  Okay, if so, that’s cool.  Definitely not like any Cantonese or Hong Kong style I’ve been around.

Scoring is based upon:  2 points for winning; 2 points for each flower; dragons are flowers, so they are *not* part of your hand; no flowers means 40 or 80 points; kongs are worth 2 points; winds pungs are 2 points, kongs 4; certain things double your score, like not having any melds in play before you win and picking the winning tile from the flower garden; discarder pays; you must signify when you are calling and you cannot change your hand (just play out more flowers) nor decide not to win (though why you would decide not to win is unclear when you can’t change your hand).

What do I think?

I think the scoring system undermines the flavor in mahjong.  It makes suits meaningless.  All one suit is no different than not all one suit.  I think the inability to change your hand has some interesting tactical decisions but is generally suboptimal, as it means you can’t play defensively nor improve your hand.  On the other hand, because discarder pays, you can decide to give up on hands and just not be the one to pay, which I think makes for a more cerebral and less luck-based game.  (I know the Chinese love luck, but there are plenty of gambling games for that.)  Removing dragons from hands loses a bit of flavor, but, actually, there’s a bit too much going on with both dragons and winds in terms of luck based plays.  On the other hand, this style heavily encourages dumping any of the winds, with no wind meaning any more than any other, which makes them less interesting.

It’s fine.  I don’t mind how dragons become flowers at the point where you are playing with flowers at all.  Flowers in my family’s style are way too swingy, being either just 4 points or that plus doubling entire scores (East with a 1 in play “must not win” is rather random).

It’s certainly vastly easier to keep score.  Since we didn’t have chips, I kept point totals, and point totals for the first style were a pain to track and add up, to where I didn’t balance on first pass and just didn’t care enough to resum the numbers.  Definitely a system for using chips.

Without home style advantage, my results were somewhat different.  I won seven hands and only paid out twice.  The final spread was +156, +26, -90, -92.  In both cases, the manager came in second.  Certainly, after winning the first hand by picking the winning tile from the flower garden, I played rather defensively most of the rest of the time to sit on my massive lead.

When she and I were talking the next day, I mentioned that I had an amusing story.  Since I’m going to link this post for her, I might as well tell it here.  I’ve alluded to it, but I don’t think I went into much detail.

I taught some friends how to play (and/or how to play my family’s style).  One of those friends happens to be a former Magic: The Gathering World Champion … because this just makes everything funnier to me.  We were sitting across from each other.  At one point, he agonized what to discard.  I suggested the four of … circles, maybe it was bamboo as I figured he could have either four (he had both).  Not only did that psyche him out, but he discarded something else and would have won the hand (probably, discards might have been different) if he discarded what I suggested.  (Instead, I won that hand.)  So, he pointed out that not only did I know what was in his hand, but I told him how to win the hand without actually seeing any of his tiles (I’m pretty sure he had no exposed melds, and it wasn’t very late in the hand).

So, yes, you can be psychic in every game with hidden information.  You can also study people’s discard patterns in such a way as to craft what they have in hand and what is more likely to be relevant to them.  You can also study people’s tells, but I find that boring and invasive, which is why I will always suck at f2f poker.

Sure, mahjong is better when played for money, even tiny amounts, because you become invested in what happens.  But, this was just immensely enjoyable.  The milieu was somewhat interesting, being not remotely a den of iniquity but also not being three-star hotel.

The BP team has been really nice to me on my three visits this year.  The old teams, from my 2007-2008 trips were also really nice (it was huge that one of them was a gamer).  My coworkers really got me through stays, providing opportunities to do fun and interesting things (there are three places in the world I’ve picked strawberries, outside Shanghai would be one – this is not a euphemism in case it crossed your pervy mind).  I keep wanting to thank the current team, but, especially, the team’s manager, who has really helped me out a lot with logistics and with non-work activities.

As for the title, well, sometimes, I do give a mouse’s donkey about things.