Building L5R Characters – Great Clans (Part One!?!)

August 30, 2016

… the supplement.

While I played Shadowfist twice recently after a considerable break due to travel, while I backed a failed Kickstarter and forgot to even promote it, while there’s other stuff, most visitors would rather read about L5R.  Plus, MTP wanted me to do this.

Great Clans is one of the better supplements for 4e.  It also happens to be far less annoying in finding mechanics than Emerald Empire.  I could start with EE to get into why Lion’s Shadow is not broken in 4e, but there’s more to do, here.

Speaking of broken, HoR4 came out with character creation rules and I was amused by the forum post about unbanning Lion’s Shadow after more consideration.  Some interesting choices.  I really don’t see the need to ban Feint.  If anything, I’d imagine the new Increased Damage rule to make combat more brutal, while also not helping k1 weapons.  It does help Strength builds but hurts Agility, where it’s really Reflexes that’s overpowered.  Anyway, a topic for another time.

So, the point isn’t to go over all new mechanics.  The point is to be oriented to building/advancing characters with GC mechanics.

Crab

Kaiu Engineer (Problematic – makes stuff.)

I’m going to be kind of loose about things, e.g. not insert Excel tables of point values.  But, point valuing or whatever is more relevant for something else.  Kaiu Engineer is tons of problems.

The skill list is nuts for typical play.  Really, only Battle would be something I’d see someone care much for in, say, HoR play.  Why does it even matter since one rank in skills is kind of just a thing?

Um, SR-1 technique.  Both effects only apply to school skills, which you had no control over.  Other than Battle, when would you use this ability?  How many Battle rolls are you planning to make?  Why is an engineer more focused on mass combat than Lion Bushi schools?

Sure, you would only play this school if you were planning to craft.  Making stuff is a pain in the ass.  Sure, HoR3 had crafting, which was meaningless to me since anything involving interacting with staff was off the table, but maybe it worked.  Still, requires more infrastructure to be relevant.

SR-2.  First ability is irrelevant to play.  Second ability should be nigh irrelevant to play – roll below your SR.  So, I get damage emphasis at this rank and it gets somewhat better as I rank up.  For my totally balanced siege weapons, like how the weak one does 4k4 damage and ignores 10 Reduction.  Now, admittedly, 4k4, 8k8, and 10k8 damage does tend to produce more low kept dice than, say, 7k2.

SR-3.  This is why I don’t see allowing this school, ever.  I’ve had a character with armor make by a Kaiu.  It was rather absurd.  Making stuff is typically either inconsequential or, like here, OP.

SR-4 is okay.  It’s rather funny, actually, with the ole Dai Tsuchi/War Fans build.

SR-5, see SR-3.

Kuni Witch-Hunter (Problematic – overspecialized.)

Solid skills.  I’m big on what this school is supposed to be good at, but let’s start with some of the problems.

SR-1.  The problem is the concept of detection.  If you aren’t likely to detect something, then this ability is a fail – it’s what your whole school is supposed to do thematically.  If you are likely to detect something, why have anything to detect as a challenge?  I just see balancing encounters/challenges being a huge problem with this sort of ability.  The saving grace, I suppose, is that it’s a contested roll.  You aren’t just trying to hit some TN but get to match rolls with something, where, as soon as a roll is called for, it becomes meta on whether something is Tainted or not.  It’s like how detect traps style abilities really need the GM to roll to avoid metagaming.

SR-2.  I like what the ability does, but this is an ability that gets used by other characters all of the time because not everybody sits there and goes “Oh, if I allow you to know something with that largely useless INT trait, then I step on the toes of this school nobody is playing.”

SR-3.  So uneven.  It’s like being an Utaku Battle Maiden – am I going to wreck you or am I going to pale against many other bushi?

SR-4.  I finally started trying to process kiho because of my Nezumi character, of course.  So many of them suck.  I’m sure a decent one will be found, but I don’t have the interest in thinking through the proper build to have the Ring requirements to get what you want.

SR-5.  I so love this ability.  But, it’s a R-5 technique, so it’s virtually meaningless.

The school is overly specific for most play, being rather terrible I imagine for HoR play.  For focused play, it has some relevant abilities, but it also produces something of a problem of balancing challenges.

Toritaka Exorcist (Problematic – overspecialized.)

I guess it’s the theme of the book to introduce mechanics that are way too specifically oriented to doing one thing.  This is just more of the same issue of the nature of challenges.  The thematics are there for this and the above, but, as I came to discover, L5R mechanics actually matter.

Strength of the Crab

I talked about this before, but it’s good.  Reduction is awesome.

Hiruma

I haven’t done any analysis on ancestors.  Guess I start as I really like a few in this book.  Eleven is too expensive.  Sure, at some point pretty quick, may be rolling 11k4 attack rolls and love the rollover dice, and all of the skills are high tier, but I just can’t generate the love for the +1k0 disease that afflicts 4e.

Kaiu

Danger, danger, … making stuff.

Crane

Daidoji Scout School (Problematic – side mechanics.)

Oh look, another school that introduces “NPC” stuff.  It’s almost like this book is trying to give the GM options, when the GM can always hand wave siege weapons masters or whatever.

I have basically no concept of this school in play other than that one mod I didn’t play but ran that had these sorts of dudes.  Okay, my one comment on this school is that I see it being even less oriented to play because it’s set up really well to be a loner school that focuses on ranged combat.  Lonering = bad.  Ranged combat is already kind of OP, then you add in simple attacks and combining range with traps to make combat only interesting for those who find this sort of heavily tactical combat interesting.  I can see cool setups, but they would likely involve these guys as antagonists.

Kakita Artisan (Sure, why not?)

Maybe I’m biased because I realized my last Tattooed Monk was really a Kakita Artisan.  Maybe it’s because only the SR-5 technique involves much in the way of making stuff.  But, I can see this working.  I see it working about as well as corebook courtiers, which means not all that great for most play but with potential for the clever/dedicated player.

Kakita Jester (Is this a … joke?)

Who cares?  I’ve run a Jester from 3r.  It was entertaining for a bit, but I lost my ability to think of things to do.  I just expect the act to get tired.  My opinion is that it sounds better than it works in practice to play “oh, L5R is so funny with jesters who can mock the rigid social conventions the rest of us … like”.

Kakita Master Artisan (Problematic – interpretation.)

So, so different in my mind from normal Artisan.  Where normal Artisan I can see having that swaying effect schtick being manageable, if vague, this gets into too much interpretation for the final technique, too much boring for the penultimate technique, and still rather NPC-ey for the first technique.

Strength of the Crane

Completely reasonable.  Kakita Bushi desperately need ATN bonuses for when they take rounds off doing nothing.  Daidoji Iron Warrior is so busted that I don’t know if I get too excited by the potential to get an ATN high enough to be more problematic.

Asahina

I admit that with how much ground I need to cover, I’m not all that keen on looking up all of the spells covered by this, but +1k1 on spellcasting is really, really powerful.  One of the ways that non-gods catch up to gods is that spellcasting rolls don’t scale the same way tetsubo/no-dachi rolls do.  Bonus to Meditation is actually rather not bad.  Meditation is all about hitting TN20.  Given limited XP, as much as you want Meditation-5, it’s not all that likely.  Often have to scrape by on Meditation-1 or 2, where +1k0 helps get you the … wait for it … magic.

Hayaku

Spears suck.  Where 4e really screwed over people was mastery abilities on skills.  OTOH, if you have to be different, and I think I admitted to playing an Usagi Bushi who used a nagamaki as his main (melee) weapon, 7 is not that many points for a FR.

Dragon

Enlightened Madness

Yeah, good luck with this.  Right there with how I regretted trying to get staff to approve my Lord Moon’s Curse character concept.

Mirumoto Master Sensei (If you think you can ever qualify.)

Insane requirements.  By the time you hit them, how much longer is this campaign going?  Defender of the Wall, for example, can be hit fast if you really want to, like take it at IR-3 and lose simple attacks if you really want to.  Why ever do something like that?  Because you have to be playing a long ass campaign to go from zero to superhero.  Sure, you can get there, but do you get to revel in it for long enough to fulfill all of your fantasies?

At least it does cool things.  Probably not broken enough, though.

Tamori Master of the Mountain (Who am I?  Vice presidential candidate?)

Meanwhile, incredibly easy requirements.  I find some thematic weirdness with this school, taking away an Agasha schtick.  The SR-2 technique is really oriented to those folks who like to build fighty Tamori, which is fine but not really consistent with the other techniques.  The SR-3 is interesting if rather gamey, but it’s also a SR-3 of an advanced school.  Best I ever got in an advancie was SR-1.

Kitsuki Debater (Just don’t bother.)

This sort of thing is why I largely ignore courtier mechanics.  It’s so dependent upon the game play supporting it.

The Dragon’s Flame (Are you sure you wanted to play a Dragon Bushi?)

Just seems mediocre.  Attack bonuses are not what is needed with bows.  Simple attacks, simple attacks, simple attacks.  That’s always what you are looking for.  If you can’t get that, damage bonuses.  Now, sure, Feint or more raises for damage are things, as is Great Potential Kyujutsu, call 5 raises for extra attack.  I just don’t remember missing much with my 8ke5 attack rolls, not even when I got past IR-1 with that character.

Togashi Defender (No, the opposite of this.)

I would never consider this path.  The point of playing a TM is to tattoo the world, not get better mechanics by being tattoo-impaired.  As nice as Hoshi/Hoshi cheeses double stacked Void, I want more tattoos, not less.  I want there to be the all tattoo, all of the time option, not the “I punch through vanadium steel like a hot knife through butter” option that is what Togashis are really good at.  It’s a perfectly decent technique, it’s just more of the martial arts fighty nonsense.

Strength of the Dragon

Okay bonus.  Dumb requirements.  So, this is really just a Mirumoto Bushi kata, why bother pretending anyone else would take it?

Agasha

Spellcasting bonus.  Spellcraft is not terrible, either, as you get to break the game with Importune.  Transmute requires thinking.  One thing I’m not strong at is, er, thinking?

Yamatsu

I so want this ancestor.  This is rule of cool.  Magic Resistance done correctly.  Fit perfectly with my Tattooed Artisan, who was supposed to be a Shadowlands murderer but got sidetracked by poetry.

Lion

Heartless

See my post on disads for how unregardable this is.

Matsu Beastmaster (Problematic – pets and social.)

Ah, the request.  We had one or more of these as a NPC.  I enjoyed that, too much.  So many innuendo.

Akodo/Beastmaster for the double stack, justify whatever your sleazy cheesemeister ways will allow you to.  Okay Honor.  Any weapon.

SR-1.  Free defense.  But, really, still just stylin’ and profilin’.  I’m in the camp that Beastmaster mechanics are probably never going to work and the thematics are problematic, so you are really doing this because you look hot surrounded by great p-… predators.

SR-2.  Swift is awesome.  Even if you don’t get all tactical, you can totally justify stuff by your “but, I’m as fast as an Utaku Battle Steed” argument.

SR-3.  Magari-yari.  Yes.  Because when you are this king of the beastsy, who needs exploding 9’s on damage?

SR-4.  +2k1 on damage.  Imagine a Reflexes build that sits around in Defense-5 Stance directing lions.  Okay, that is kind of boring.

SR-5.  While you get weird lions who don’t like attacking as much as their wilder kin, ATN 30 is decent, right up there with stags and stuff.

Akodo Tactical Master (Problematic – overspecialized.)

Reasonable requirements, though it produces quite an odd PC build as INT is such a dump stat.  Only SR-3 really does anything normal, which makes it seem kind of out of place, as +2k2 on Athletics, Horsemanship, Iaijutsu, or whatever is rather general (also rather interesting).

Akodo Kensai (I tried.)

GC messed me up.  I tried to go Paragon/Kensai and just ended up making an awful IR-1 character.

Taught me that Prodigy wasn’t nearly as overcosted as I thought.  This technique is terrible, btw.  How many people require PCs to spend a simple action activating a kata?  ATN bonus is rather pedestrian.

Lion Scout (Sneaky Matsu)

People seem to overlook that movement while Stealthing is incredibly slow unless you get the mastery abilities, which is kind of why the mastery abilities are so good.  This is actually quite an amazing replacement for the (IMO) bad SR-2 for Matsu Berserker.

Lion Paragon (It tries to make up for the loss.)

Worth it?  I found that move/shoot (or move/slash) just put me so far behind the damage output curve with my Hare.  But, the doubling effect is pretty.  Jade Legionnaire, baby.  At least, I think of path techniques as school techniques.  That was kind of my build – Akodo, Jade, Paragon, Kensai.  Instead, went Akodo, Jade, I have to stop playing this pathetic build.  Multiple attacks should be doing more damage.  Matsu is going to k3 you to death with something.  Akodo techniques do more than just fight, though.  Can double up on your break grapple roll or whatever.  I don’t know.  Matsu and Akodo are strong enough that maybe you crackers a bit to not get out of line with your loser Mirumoto buddy.

Strength of the Lion

Okay.  Push that shugenja up.  +3 isn’t all that, but it’s a kata and most 4e kata are no better.

Kitsu

I played with this.  If I wasn’t trying to do Paragon/Kensai, 6 pts. might not have been that harsh.  This is the sort of thing that I find cool in L5R no matter how many social Nezumi I end up playing.

Hitomi

+1k1 to Fear is not worth 7 pts.

Part One

As much as I’d rather do only one post on this topic, since I do do other things that deserve wordage, I just can’t get to everything today.  In all likelihood, Friday or Sunday, I’ll follow up.

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Tributaries

August 21, 2016

Still no philosophies.  No reviews.  No how to.

Some ranging thoughts.

Gen Con feels shorter.  While the amount of been there, done that is strong, which makes everything run together, I think there’s another reason it feels shorter.  I don’t take any breaks.  I used to leave an open slot to get some sleep and/or hit the exhibit hall.  Now, I just don’t have the lack of things I want to do to leave any slot open.  Even having HoR slots likely slows things down some because there are fast mods and slow conversations to break up the “well, got to run to the next game”.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about True Dungeon.  That’s not necessarily helpful as so many people on the forums are the types who think nothing of debating which ultrarares/transmuteds/legendaries are the better way to go.  Of course, now that I’ve seen most of the 2016 set of commons/uncommons/rares with my own eyes, I can pretty much figure out what I care about of those.  Still, it’s always interesting – I so ignore shuffleboard that I miss a lot of important things about it.

After GC, I had a family reunion, ironically in a place where I have more family on the other side.  Gaming hits so many notes for me – there’s the story aspects of RPGs, the puzzle aspects of deckbuilding, the gambling aspects of trusting in the heart of the cards or the whimsy of the dice, the analysis in determining component or action efficiency, etc.  No one else in my family is what I’d call a gamer, and many have virtually no idea what I’m talking about, though, to be fair, I game with people who knew nothing about True Dungeon until I started explaining it.

Both of my parents were relevant to my interest in games.  My mother and I used to play rummy or hangman when waiting for food at restaurants.  My father had some interest in chess and poker, but, of course, that side of the family was mostly about mahjong in terms of consequential gaming.

As I think about my mother’s birthday present(s), I wouldn’t consider anything gaming related, even RPG books that are more thematic than mechanical.  Buying anyone gaming stuff is rare, as I try to avoid getting into present exchanges with friends.  Not unheard of, but there are just some ways in which not everything ties into gaming, which I suppose has some benefits.

Not sure why daimyo info for HoR4 was worth posting this early – I would much rather know what character I’m creating than caring about NPCs that likely have no impact on my play experience.  Still leaving the door open to bail out on playing a Loremaster.

Of all the RPG campaigns I could run, would Legend of the Burning Sands be the one I’m most interested in?  It keeps coming to mind.  I think I hit some rich veins, though it wasn’t like I ran it for very long.  I sort of see why fantasy can be appealing to run – you can do strange stuff and it fits the genre.  Solomon Kane was much more rooted, and I get distracted by the mundane when trying to create the adventurous.  Camelot suffered from veering too far into the out of genre with not having enough in genre.

In the realm of solitaire, Card Invaders is too hard and Stalactites too easy.  I’ve come up with yet another way to try to make Card Invaders not be like a 10% win rate game – instead of burning aces and deuces to draw cards, once per turn, after drawing a card, can put a card from hand on the bottom of the draw deck and draw a card.  Seems to add slightly to decision making.  With Stalactites, it’s just too much like playing FreeCell, where you know you will win, you just have to run through all of the possibilities until you find the winning plays.

Kickstarter rewards have been showing up.  I’m not enthused.  One game is way less interesting than I thought; another is something I just don’t know if I’ll play, at least not until I get some session in at a con.  I have so much stuff that it’s just overwhelming to figure out how to manage all of the cards, tokens, books, etc.  Meanwhile, I still have little interest in ebooks for RPGs – I tend to be terrible about learning mechanics without an actual book I can peruse.

In general, my enthusiasm is more for L5R and TD and not with card games or trying to do something new with RPGs.  As the Summer has been eventful and Fall may be less so, maybe I can get some of the house in order and feel more open to additional things, as I’m not gaming that often.


Gen Con 2016

August 8, 2016

As much as it might be interesting to try writing this post in iambic pentameter or whatever, I have work tomorrow, so strive for simple.

Gen Con moved to Indy in 2003.  I’ve been every year that it has been there and I believe every year since 1996.  Last year would have been 20 years, and that didn’t even occur to me.  I recognize someone who works at Steak and Shake from the first years of it being in Indy (see last year’s post for more on S&S … can’t wait til Campbell gets one??).

Three of us traveled together.  First time I went with Dave in quite a while, went with Andy last year.  They PokeGoed and Space Teamed on the way back.  I hate using my phone except when necessary.

Travel over was fine.  Hotel …

It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed our hotel room this year.  We were in an optimal Steak and Shake location, so a roommate observed.  We got complimentary Mountain Dews, though I would have preferred having one at 7AM rather than at midnight.  Stuff worked, it was quiet which is what I value quite highly, adequate size if kind of short on drawer space.  Didn’t have to wait forever for elevators like the Hyatt (most of my stays in the last 14 years were at the Hyatt, used to be incredibly easy to get a room there back 5+ years ago).

Let me just get food out of the way, as I know it utterly fascinates no one.  I am not a fan of food trucks.  My lasagna at a certain hotel restaurant was way too cheesy.  Granite City was slow but otherwise pleasant.  I mostly lived off of triple steakburgers and fries as per the norm.  Indy airport is rather not horribly overcosted as airports tend to be.  Andy enjoyed all of the food he had without my presence.  Dave went for consistency.

Will Call was stupidly long on Wednesday, taking us an hour to get stuff.  Reasonably expecting us to have stuff mailed next year, as I can tolerate 30 minutes of airconditioned standing but have no tolerance for waiting in sunlight.

Thursday

And, so began the three of us doing very different things.  Dave did a bunch of Magic.  Andy had Flames of War, tried some things like 5e D&D (he should tell the tale of Badgerfest), and even borrowed one of my Shadowfist decks and ‘fisted to third place.

The Black Ship of Mars

Savage Worlds set in Barsoom with some alterations.  For instance, I played a White Ape, which doesn’t quite work in normal John Carter stories barring brain surgery, telepathic mind transference, or whatever.

Solid game.  I liked how the GM had written up an extensive prelude that wasn’t too long to explain why we were adventuring together and why we wanted to recover the NPC, Sorolian Jad.

We had a Green Martian in our group, who turned out to be the best healer.  We had an Earthling cowboy.  We had three Red Martians – rogue, scientist, pilot.  We immediately encountered a band of Greens and drove off their leader.

We continue our chase of Lar Nastor who has taken Jad to learn more about a fabled Black Ship of the Yellow Martians (very different from ERB Yellows).  In the abandoned burbs of a city, we catch up with him.  He is dispatched and Jad is rescued.

She keeps wanting to get to the ship.

We enter the city and look for a flying ship to take us to the tower where the BS is supposed to be.  I enlist some fellow White Apes to cause a diversion and we end up taking them along with us (because of course as General Okus, I’m a social character) when we claim a ship from a treacherous Red.  Flying to the tower, we get attacked by the pilot’s former lover, a pirate captain with her own flying ship.  We leave her to go to the tower.  In the tower, we eventually find a mad Red with a bomb and decide to deactivate the bomb.  I grapple him so that he stops trying to kill the party brain.

In the bowels of the tower, we find the ship when another BS appears and out pop Yellow Fishmen ninja.  We get to the first BS and travel … elsewhere …

While I’d prefer a completely faithful Barsoom, playing General Okus was quite amusing.  I had the Savage Worlds disad that forces you to spend the first round of combat doing nothing, a disad I think is awful and ridiculous – why have people do less?  But, I enjoyed thumping my chest, ape dancing, and whatever.

Other people were new to SW and discovered things it’s quite good at – straightforward play, for instance.  I kind of feel like SW is in the middle for me.  I don’t dislike it.  I don’t favor it when there’s something better.  But, there are so many things that aren’t better, that it’s an okay choice for a system, a reasonable default that I don’t see Hero, GURPS, or whatever as.

Queen of the Gremlins

After the con, when I tried to identify the lowlight(s), I picked this.  I am a critical person.  I don’t, however, ever try to be personal about criticism.  I believe it’s fair to criticize actions but not actors.  This game experience was bad.  That would not have rated it as the low point, however.  It was more that it was a wasted opportunity.

The game is Pythos.  The adventure was … a dungeon crawl.  Is that inherently bad?  Not inherently, but let me pontificate.

There are two things a new RPG can do.  It can improve upon mechanics.  It can offer up an interesting setting.  It can also do both.  After playing this and talking with the designer, I feel like it’s aiming more to be a better set of mechanics.

I tried to get the designer to articulate what the setting was about, as I didn’t get any sense of it from play.  I still have no sense of it.  There are theoretically interesting elements in that it draws from real world cultures, a la Conan’s world or whatever.  But, I wasn’t feeling any depth to the world.  It felt like trying to improve upon D&D with the setting sounding like it could be cool.

A key to the mechanics is in action resolution.  I do think there’s something there, though I think other games have something similar in defining types of actions.

The session itself involved way too much discussion of how to go down corridors, which is also on the players.  There was no leader personality strong enough to get the players to just push forward and do stuff.

Still, there was just no concept of the setting being anything different than what you might find out of a ’70s game and wasn’t even terribly internally consistent.

Having some time, I watched Andy play some Shadowfist and talked to Daniel a bit about playmats and whatnot and hit the exhibit hall.

Cornerstone of the World

Fate of the Norns.  Let me get through plot, first.

I played Eidi, a godi of Freya.  We were all godi – priests.

We started in Evengard (sp?), in the South, a bastion of civilization with a formerly profitable mine.  The mine stopped producing and investigations where done where none returned.  People were near lynching (us?) because things are going to hell (see below).  We talk them out of it and say we will fix the mine situation.

We talk to its owner, who provisions us.  We set off into the snow and find wolves rending a PC who was going to be played by someone who had to leave without playing.  Arngrim, the godi of Thor, sets aside his hammer and tells the wolves to bring it.  One of the wolves gets mind controlled into attacking a leader.  Wolves are dispatched.

After resting, we move on and discover a frozen wall of body parts outside the mine entrance.  Some of the godi beseech their gods.  We find an awful abandoned mine town inside, with frozen bodies shackled to walls and whatnot, as slaves didn’t necessarily escape.  Magnus, the shady owner, was cheating the slaves out of buying their freedom.

Valdarr, Bragi’s follower and a master of the art of getting sloshed, grabs a mine car (dwarves can make the darnedest things) and speeds down the tracks … until he gets launched into freezing water and the car follows him.  Drowning bad, m’kay.  Dropping some clothes, I use Bewitchment to teleport to him and help him get entangled with his antler chandelier (primary weapon) and an arrow line from Astrid, our huntress.  He is dragged back to land before he can go over a waterfall.

We seemed to have gone down a different path that what was intended.  We had two GMs, with one to take over for the other, but, rather than the dungeon crawl that it was supposed to be, we had eaten up a lot of time just getting to this point.

We hear noises.  We find ore just sitting around, magic mead steel chunks.  We get told a bunch of stuff as there wasn’t time to play through it.  We encounter the quartermaster, who has become something different with slaves still shackled to his body that he would eat.  Using my Unearthly Beauty ability with Amplify, I unintentionally wipe his rune pool for a round, rendering him open to beatdown, with Astrid eventually freezing him solid, a la a spirit bomb like effect due to a reference I made earlier, though I imagined more Captain Hitsugaya from Bleach ice crystallizing someone, a reference not understood.

His belly bursts and snakes run out, tying into what was really going on.

It was good.  The other players and the GMs seemed way more excited by the session.  That’s great.  I enjoy games much more when other people enjoy them.

Okay, Fate of the Norns is really hard to wrap your head around when you are used to other games’ mechanics.  The flow of runes, to me, requires all sorts of understanding of miscellaneous, perhaps nuanced, mechanics.  I really like the mechanics, in part because it is distinctive, in part because it feels like you start getting it after a while and it works more coherently than it seems at first.

There’s one thing offputting about Fate of the Norns.  I don’t like the setting.  Oh, I love having a high(er) fantasy, mythological setting with scholarship behind it.  I just keep running into how depressing and farfetched it is to have the Sun already eaten.  I can see playing in a game where the Sun is partially eaten and things are going or in a new age being formed, but I’m not into post apocalyptic and I can’t get past how ridiculously petty the people in the world are when, uh:  crops don’t grow; animals die; there is no f*ing sunlight.  Sure, if you believe all adventures happen in a one month span, you can roll with it.  Having played this years apart, I don’t feel that suddenness.  The lack of urgency on immediately making the world livable again is appalling – from a gaming standpoint, where high fantasy settings can be weird, it’s more that it’s incredibly distracting.

Friday

Nightmare’s End

Of Dreams And Magic.  2015, I bought the book.  I don’t think you realize how unusual that is.  I bought nothing in the exhibit hall this year.  I may Kickstarter RPGs, but I rarely buy a RPG book anymore because I have so many I don’t play already.

But, this is my sort of game.  I’m a huge fan of modern day supernatural.  I’ve said this before – mythological settings (Fate of the Norns, for example), historical supernatural (see below but Conan is kind of like this), and modern day supernatural are the three I think of most when thinking of settings I want to play in.

So, I was really interested in this and was interested in seeing how much like Immortal: The Invisible War it is.  Quite a bit.  I guess there’s tremendous potential for a modern day supernatural game to have the “secret world” (see below for yet another example) where you are special and fight secret battles.  Still, it gets me many a time.

The GM allowed for extra players.  That is … risky.  But, it worked, at least from my perspective.

Because there were only so many characters, some of us had the same ones.  The players made the characters stand out some.  I took my boyishly charming, fiction writer and made him a Hollywood, new agey weirdo, you know, someone who has to shop at Whole Foods and goes into the latest Asian imports of philosophies.  I described myself as wearing a Yin-Yang earring with a long silk jacket and slippers … when we showed up in a warehouse in the woods of Pennsylvania.

The prelude was sharing a dream with other PCs where a woman was being consumed by a giant monster.  We see a car drive off the mountain road near Sterling, Pennsylvania, as black animals chase it.

We wake up, talk about things for a bit, explore the warehouse of Ritz Logging.  Find out some owners’ names.  We walk 4 miles to Sterling.  I draw an impressive image of the woman, as we still don’t know her name, just heard her say the word “Starset”.

I propose our cover, since we are some weirdos, to be that we are a production company looking to make a movie where we were going to interview her for a role in our production.  Someone else elaborates that we are doing a Civil War documentary.

We know she’s at the hospital in ICU.  We work on gaining identifying info so Weird Al (PC) can pretend to be her cousin, as well as our documentary’s dance choreographer.  We have to have something going on in the romantic subplot that all documentaries have, right?

We split up.  Half the party investigates the accident scene where they find out the woman is Brianna Jackson and lives the next town over, she used to work for Ritz and moved on to a medical company.  Weird Al, who happens to be like the second best social character in the party, makes his entrance and gets to see her.

Who is the most social character?  Why, the sociopath pyromaniac of course.

We find out her doctor has the same name as one of the owners of Ritz and we create a diversion by burning down the hospital so that we can take her with a stolen ambulance.  We go back to the warehouse.  We enter her dream.  We watch her, as a spaceship named Starset, get destroyed by a black being, with a escape craft being pursued.  We are forced out of the dream and lose half of our Conviction – the thing that powers are specials and dreamwalking.

That’s a lot to lose.  Lost Conviction makes bad guys stronger.

We go to the doctor’s house.  I go through drugs in the ambulance in preparation for battle.  Half the party meets with the doctor, who walks into the back of his house, pulls out a huge alien gun, and returns to confront the party.

Here’s where we win.  See, one of our PCs has a bigger gun with a completely absurd guns skill.  In a Dragonball Zesque battle of energy weapons, our PC rolls well … and the GM botches.  Our Wave Motion Cannon does its thing.

Brianna comes out of coma and seems to be dreaming.  Two of us enter her dream and we see a battle fleet come to the pods rescue and take out the space monster darkness.  She wakes up enough to thank us.  I don’t get a chance to talk to her about “Contract?” for starring in our movie.

I did very, very little supernaturally.  I just loved playing my role, thus enjoyed things.  The player who blasted evil?  He doesn’t usually play combat characters, so it was more entertaining than usual seeing someone do the fightwin.

Hope Springs Eternal

I had trouble finding my table because most of the ballroom was being used by another group.

When I did, I recognized the GM and he recognized me.  For you see, I have played Of Gods & Heroes multiple times.  This was Fae Noir.  I hadn’t remembered playing it before when I signed up for events.  Justin thought I had played this adventure before, though like five years ago.

He was right, but I forgot so much about it, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do.  I don’t remember what I played before in 2007??  (I don’t have files from 2007 like I do from 2005 forward, and I don’t see any listing in other years.)  I played one of the government/Pinkerton agents this time, with our group being two hotel detectives, two Fae detectives, and two government detectives.

Quotes:

“Let’s just murder them.”  Our third least hostile option after coming up with suggestions for relocating hillbilly kobolds to a “reservation” or to perhaps “concentrating them in a camp”.  I was all in favor of making the little suckers suffer.  I kind of like how my gun couldn’t one shot kill them very easily and I could make them feel some pain before they died, though it did mean they got to counterattack with crossbows.  I may not do immoral all that well, but I can do vindictive …

“First thing, no human sacrifice.  I think we can all agree.”  Not us involved in baby murder, them darn kobolds trying to flood a town with supernatural toxin by baby murder.

“Yup.  Continue negotiation after stop human sacrifice.”  We all had different agenda.  Hotels sorts wanted business as usual.  Government wanted business as usual.  Fae kind of didn’t like what was happening.

“Reindoctrinating, with intelligence experiments.”  I got them kobolds.  They didn’t survive the government experiments, however.  Oh well.

The troll detective crushed lots of kobold ribcages and knocked off their puny heads.  I mentioned how we should team up more often.

I never did use any of my poison gas canisters.  Fortunately, the one written as nerve gas was only mustard gas.  I mean, there are limits and nobody should want nerve gas anywhere, let alone with miles of their present location.

We gave each of our characters two flaws.  I chose cowardice.  This is the opposite of what I normally play.  I was curious.  It was challenging.  Yet another bad trait for a PC.  We should all be Paragons of Plot Propulsion, not things that work against wanting to act.

Ancient of Days

My second go playing Kevin’s Babylon game.  Combining historical details with plausible potential technology (like computers, cyborgs, etc.) with a resolution system unlike others, I’m a huge fan.  Considering that I played it last something like 3 years ago, I hope he gets things together and Kickstarters it.  I both find the resolution system very interesting and just love the setting.

This is despite that he explains it as being Shadowrunesque.  I don’t like the Shadowrun world nor mixing tech with magic.  To me, it’s more historical with highish fantasy elements and fantasy tech for those into such things.

We get summoned to the king’s palace.  An agent of the king gives us a mission to find out why the townspeople are saying terrible things happened at the Temple of Bel and why they attacked a Hebrew, Nehemiah.  The king can’t get involved since he wasn’t murdered.  Want to know why he was targeted.

The agent says what dwells there grows larger.  We head to where Nehemiah was staying.  I am playing a “citizen”.

So, aside.  While I get the idea of doing character creation for the game because characters are actually quite simple, it did take a lot of time since we had too many players and a lack of handouts for people.

I’m not a fan of character creation in con games.  I know it can give people more insight into a game.  But, I think it produces an energy draining event at the beginning of a game.  You want action in one shots.  You want action when you are horribly sleep deprived.

Anyway, I went with a social build, so I socialized.  The computer guy, the warrior, the surgeon/thief, the necromancer, the necromancer’s slave, the Egyptian astrologer? (some magic type), the Hebrew scribe, and the student either followed after suspicious sorts or went to investigate Nehemiah’s room since he left.

People didn’t understand why they were so angry.  Nehemiah was a poor scholar.  Two Hebrews enter and the flophouse turns hostile.  We assuage.  Others find out that the rage is coming from some place near the Ishtar Gate while the temple is being reoccupied and cleaned to be rededicated to “The Mighty One”, one who cannot be named directly.  Nehemiah is out by God’s Footprints, outside of town.

We meet up with the guy behind the rage spell.  He follows some god before time but mostly is wanting to get Nehemiah killed because Nehemiah turned from his faith and called upon another power.  The spell simply got out of control, and he couldn’t just kill Nehemiah because then he would be up on murder charges.  The spell, amusingly, targeted anyone wearing a Hebrew style hat for hate.  Hat Hate.  That’s a pure form of hate, my friends.

We book it to Nehemiah’s location to stop his bonfire ritual.  With staff and donkey sacrifice, he’s about to summon one of them old time gods.  He somewhat succeeds but gets taken out by the justice team.  We report back, including the info on rage dude.  We get treated better in the future.

The only thing about Kevin’s games is that they tend to be shorter than other con games because of the character creation and explanations of things.  But, they flow so well and have the verisimilitude that they feel weighty.  I suppose them being more expensive than other 4 hour slots is kind of weird, but do I really care compared to my overly cheesy $20 lasagna or my $500+ flight or how True Dungeon went from less than $20, to $28, to now $56?  Not so much.  Get this thing on Kickstarter!  I especially hope for plenty of background info so that I feel armed well enough to actually run the game, unlike … um … I guess I have enough info to run other games, just too lazy to do so.

Friday was certainly better than Thursday.  I couldn’t get into an Artemis game to play with Andy and Dave because no tickets and no openings for something we wanted to sign up for in prereg but wasn’t added until June or so.  It was okay, as I was tired and got to talk to HoR folks for a bit, instead.

Saturday

Critical.  I just need to be at times to be remotely honest about things.

Starspike III

The GM asked me if I was entertained after the session.  Yes, entertained.

I felt like this was one of my awful RPG experiences.  Up there with the Mekton game that means I can’t sign up for any local Mekton game unless run by a woman as I can’t remember the GM’s name, right up there with the Maelstrom game where the PCs did nothing and the NPC did everything, right up there with sucking the life energy of an angel while playing a Voodoo priest, right up there with the Charmed d20 game.

Not that all of these are the same kind of atrocious/awful.  The Charmed game is a classic of playing with psychotic players and a GM who wasn’t much better.  The Maelstrom game was just incredibly boring as there was nothing for the PCs to ever do.

Did this really compete?  The reason why I feel less outraged is probably because I recognized that this was going to make for a hysterical story afterwards pretty quickly and that I’ve been through similar experiences often enough to be more jaded to them.

That’s the thing.  In the moment, such a game may be painful, but the joy of retelling the stories of how bad something is provides life value.  The truly worst RPGs are the completely forgettable ones because they have no lasting value.

Let’s list some things to avoid:

Character creation – I know I’m against it almost all of the time, but I’m especially against it when it drags and when it’s silly.  Babylon character creation was intuitive.  Picking from 40 races and 50 classes is not intuitive.  Having to figure out spells when other players are waiting is not intuitive.

Backstory – Half an hour! of droning backstory on what other parties did!! that has no relevance to what I’m going to do!!! is not something to inflict upon people.  I wasn’t sure whether the other two players were going to get up and walk out or whether I was.  A synopsis of parts one and two makes a lot of sense.  Look up the definition of synopsis.

’70s D&D – We finally start playing, some 1.5 hours in.  We are following some linear plot and are about to enter a city when we get ambushed for no particular reason, with no hope of not being ambushed.  I get hit once, I heal myself.  I get hit again and fall unconscious, actually, I should have died per the rules.  Ten minutes into actually playing, I thought about saying thanks for the game and leaving since resurrection was expensive, but I figured more humor was coming and we just played with my character unconscious.  Immediately after I heal everyone up after I get healed to consciousness, we search for treasure.  I don’t mean we told the GM we would loot the bodies.  We just automatically searched for treasure, in their underground lair, because that’s what PCs do.

“Next thing you do is search for treasure.”

’70s D&D Continued – I know a lot of D&D wasn’t like this.  It’s the worst of ’70s D&D that I’m getting at which would be a parody today if you wrote this sort of session up, except we lived it.  We find an artifact … that helps us search for more treasure!!  We find more treasure.  “What’s your Resolve?”  Resolve is an attribute.  “3.”  “You find 300 gold.”  Hmmm, my Resolve is 2, will I find 200 gold?  Yes, I will!  By the way, attributes aren’t on a 1-5 scale like WoD or a bunch of other games where stats start at or close to 2.  I could have chosen a Resolve of 0 or a Resolve of 5 at character creation.

“Redcaps are notorious treasure loonies.”

Offensive stuff – I somehow end up at a party, as I thought I was talking to someone I wasn’t.  I manage to move on and find who I actually wanted to talk to.  GM asks me if I want to know what would have happened if I stayed.  Yup, I wanted to know what absurd thing would happen.  Don’t ever bring up certain subjects with strangers.  There are people who can’t play in games where in their characters’ backstories there is such things as losing children because of family tragedies.  We live in a world where terrible stuff happens constantly.  Games are an escape from that unless you specifically choose to play a game like Kult.  In Kult, with people I knew, well, admittedly, in Conan and some other things with people I knew, I can see certain things.  Our Conan play got kind of dark at times.  I’m really hard to offend.  I wasn’t offended by what could have happened at this party.  I would have expected a different reaction from many others.

The juxtaposition with how there are laminated cards in one of the ballrooms for professionally run games that say “If at any time you feel uncomfortable, raise this card.  You do not need to explain why.” is telling.  I know juvenile is not the end of the world, but is it necessary for immaturity to creep into written material?  I was reading the corebook for the game and the advice and some of the designer notes put in as quotes at the bottom of pages just amazed me.  Why would anyone ever want to come across as so juvenile?  Are you trying to parody D&D and just not being too clear of that?  Why bother?  We’ve moved on from socially inept teenager mode.

Again, I may come across as bashing D&D unnecessarily as this wasn’t even a D&D game.  I have just experienced that the thinking that says it’s okay to do certain extremely gamey things or to be incredibly casual about what can be traumatic in real life seems to have sprung from a time when immaturity was rampant in the RPG world, a world dominated by D&D and its clones.  I can see where that’s somewhat unfair.  Take World of Darkness.  V:TM came in and shook up the industry because it was such a different focus.  But, if you have awful things happen in the world, you might get a pass because it’s not the World of Dimness or the World of Somewhat Unpleasantness.

Then, how hypocritical is it when I played in a game where I was looking to torture my enemies and make jokes about awful things that have actually happened to people historically?  I guess fairly hypocritical.  There’s some social contract where you have a sense of what you can get away with and it be funny rather than offensive.

The mechanics were kind of interesting.  Probably not balanced even putting aside that hit points made no sense.  I had 10hp and my partymates had like 60hp.  I explained to the GM/designer how this may sound internally consistent because it’s based on something but works out with a result that means you really have two models for PCs.  The squishy PCs are so squishy they are playing a completely different game from the not-squishy.  The expectation of squishmeisters buffing themselves up doesn’t work so great when you get ambushed at zero range and lose initiative.  Then, when we had a chance to “shop” because that’s a thing you do in ’70s D&D parodies, I bought up through money and experience damage reduction 5.  On average, that would mean taking zero damage from the ambushers, though I still would have taken damage from the hit that one-shotted me.

Also, the game ended an hour early, though that might have been merciful for us players.

The Assault

Part-Time Gods.  Another example of a game feeling a lot like Immortal.  Actually, given that Immortal’s mechanics didn’t really work and the game was likely too ambitious in setting even if sessions could be superfun, I would probably play/run this or ODAM or something else first.

There’s one thing I won’t sign up for.  I won’t sign up for a 2 hour RPG event because I have better things to do than demo games.  Already, 4 hour slots, the norm at Gen Con, are considered by many to be too short, though I’m fine with it when the game has sufficient events, as most do.

I chose Nakemura Hiroko, Goddess of Blood.  This worked well, with one exception.

Part-Time Gods is all about lots of new gods appearing in the world as something is going on metaplotwise.  Gods settle down and form territories, often in pantheons because they can’t coexist otherwise.  In talking to the GM afterwards, I was trying to get a sense of campaign play, and he mentioned superheroes and that made perfect sense.  You are effectively secret superheroes, in that you take care of your hood.

I didn’t care that Hiroko was a gothic lolita or that she wanted to be the world’s best DJ.  That she was apathetic and unemotional drove my play.  Unemotional meant I could speak in monotones and feast upon whatever blood was inside or outside of people without undue concern.  Apathy is not a good thing in a game.  Sure, it helped my establishing character as someone blasé about everything, but it led to multiple times having to stop from trying to pursue plot advancement and hope the rest of the party would push forward.

The others in the party played:  God of Dead, God of Storms, God of Music (and I wanted to be the best DJ ever?), God of Liquor, God of Hunger.  I felt like I did enough stuff for a satisfying game.  I don’t know about them.

For, you see, the GM, who took over at the last minute for someone who had a crisis, was under the impression that the game was supposed to be a 2 hour demo of the game, using the adventure in the back.  No.  Definitely supposed to be four hours.  This offended me, though I chalk it up to the substitute GM being confused as to what was supposed to be run.  I know HoR mods can take 1.5 hours at times played at cons, but living campaign mods are harder to control than true one shots.

With extra time during the day, I went back to the room and lay down for a bit, which did seem to help even if I didn’t feel like I slept at all.  I got to do far more exhibit hall wandering due to my having games end earlier than I expected.

The Hounds of Set

Atlantis, Second Age.  I have seen references to this on rpg.net.  I was looking forward to learning more about it.

Mechanics still aren’t that clear to me, but I would buy this game.  Very Conanesque setting, as the game is aiming for swords and sorcery. Not sure what I would do with it, but I like the mechanics of Hellas, put out by same company, just don’t like setting of Hellas as I don’t want tech with my mythology unless it’s subtle tech, like the Babylon RPG.

I played a Jinn.  We are hired to acquire a saint’s heart at an auction.  We come up with plans for when we fail to win the auction.  I turn into an owl and watch from outside while two of our group bid at the criminal’s tavern.  An ennui stricken Atlantean wins the auction over a lich.  I notice undead in the alleyway, they all head off.  Not having too many specifics on what to do after the auction if we don’t win, I fly after the now broke Atlantean.  Our burglar starts to pretend mug him.  I land, shift to humanoid form, disguise myself as a zombie and assault the group.

Yes, it’s as absurd as a PC plan can be.  The burglar pretends to be in danger from the “zombie horde”, our warrior stabs the Atlantean from the shadows hoping a zombie gets blamed.  I shamble “brains, I mean, viscera, I mean, cartilage, I mean, hearts”, take the heart and shamble off while the Atlantean’s slaves are still mostly milling about.  Our alchemist corrodes the body to make it look more like an undead assault.

Not that any of this necessarily matters.  It was just fun.  We give the heart to our employers and the lich shows up.  Turns out to be the guy who the saint defeated in the past.  We fight Atlantis, Second Age’s Darth Vader and do so much damage in one round that he gives up for now.  Penniless, valley priests go home and we split up money, with possible investments in their valley to make up for how they liquidated everything to get the heart.

Sunday

True Dungeon

We finally unite to do the same damn thing!

Part two of True Dungeon in the morning, then part one in the afternoon, with food truck food in the middle and some last minute exhibit hall, Magic prizes stuff.

The morning session sees us with someone with lots of power tokens and a pretty clever group.  We do well early on with puzzles and get through combat.  We labor in the middle/end as one of the puzzles is just way too confusing and we lack the combat prowess in shuffleboarding to deal with the boss monster.  Admittedly, I’m partially to blame for forgetting I have wands I can use when Silenced.  So, I survived, but we failed in room 7.  Andy actually died, didn’t even realize it, though the monster was doing 15 damage at a hit, so it’s not shocking.

A theme of the day was characters not having enough ranged firepower (or any ranged attacks) and combat being far more challenging than usual.  I’m used to just doing my spell thing and stuff eventually dying.

Oh, I should mention that I played Wizard both times, Andy Druid, Dave Cleric.  I love Druid, but Andy is a leafmeister, while I’m a memorize planes of existence charts meister and am well aware that taking more than 2 damage as a Wizard means whining for healing ASAP.

I did practice some treasure chest stuff in the second session as I have the chart memorized, and I do not ever, ever want to play a rogue.  I had no sense of why I was setting the light off.  I need to practice more shuffleboard, but, mostly, what we need is to make sure other players have enough equipment to be functional on normal mode.

We are so not equipped for higher modes.  We have never focused on equipping, though Dave did pick up some specific tokens.  There are plenty of tokens that would make a world of difference, some are even less than $200, less than $100, even some less than $80 that would make a huge difference.

It’s amazing how big of an economy exists for True Dungeon given that it’s so hard to have an opportunity to play it.

The second session?

Our group was less experienced.  We were awful early on.  We couldn’t figure out virtually anything and needed tons of hints just to have a chance.  Our rogue was a new player but supergood at treasuring, so that was a bright spot.  We finally started getting more competent at the end and even figured out a puzzle or two, including the last one, and nobody died.

So, TD is strange.  On the one hand, you can spend $8,000 to get a bunch of tokens.  You can cast multiple fireballs with the help of tokens.  You can be broken.  On the other, does it matter?  Your payoff is largely just getting even stronger.  I’d rate the most important things in a group being:

  1. Cleverness – It’s just more fun to solve puzzles.
  2. Roguemastery – More treasure for all is fun, and it comes from doing something rather than just having extra treasure tokens.
  3. Combat Experience – Being quick at shuffleboard.  Knowing what to cast when.  Having a ranged weapon.

Sure, better tokens make the party better one way or another.  But, I haven’t seen a pre room 7 death in a long time.

I look at tokens that are not absurdly expensive and think “I can be so much better with minimal expense.”  I also, however, think “Why am I playing this?  I’m playing this for the experience, not the experience points.  I like the randomness of equipment rather than being a Mr. Suitcase, as being a Mr. Suitcase for this game is superexpensive and unbalancing with others not so well-equipped.  I’m playing this once a year as I’m hardly going to fly out to a minor convention for this or virtually anything else.”

Also, I only do True Dungeon with Andy or Dave or other friends.  I’m not that clever, so I help little with puzzles.  I cast spells good but forget I’m sitting on three wands in my back right pocket and pay little attention to what other players do in combat.  I haul around absurd numbers of tokens I don’t use (scrolls, conditional magic items) or don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with (gear).  Does this sound like someone who should take it far more seriously?

I love collecting and find tokens to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing.  The transmutation possibilities are intriguing, though so many are so offputting because they are so damn hard to achieve without just buying what you need.  In other words, great concept, really annoying execution as it doesn’t allow most folks to partake.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.  Unlike CCGs, where I play with my suitcases of cards, I’d be sinking money into something with a twice a year payoff, if I go with other people, and where I mostly just want to observe other people being clever, other people critting at shuffleboard, other people operating their styluses to more treasures.

We leave the con after True Dungeon.  Another year.  A good year, if not great.  A year with some negatives that have some positives.  A year with a relatively low financial outlay, hotel being split three ways, no purchasing at exhibit hall.  An opportunity to spend some time with Dave – we used to game all of the time back in the Precedence days.  A year with no HoR sessions.  Going to be much tighter schedulingwise next year, one presumes.

Now, what’s this I hear about extensive character creation info for HoR4?