The Best of … 2013

December 31, 2016

I almost forgot about the need to post my annual look back three years.

Sadly, with my poor timing, I’ll have two posts on the same day, which I feel like doesn’t give the other post enough visibility.

Here we go, the callouts I want to make from 3 years ago.


Deck Choice

This post is relevant to me now, as I expect to have far fewer tournaments unless V:TES goes back in print, even maybe if it does, as the local, local group has fallen apart, failing to replenish the people who have basically stopped playing.

Chunin Exams

Wow, I was so much more fire style back three years ago.  Maybe I’ll get back some of that gaming passion.  True Dungeon, for the wind style?

Anyway, advancement is … hmmmmm … relevant again.  What I like about this post was I used examples.  Examples are meatriffic.

Review – Book of Earth

Relevant not in that this book was ever relevant to my play but relevant in that most of the 4e books aren’t relevant to my play.  I was mentioning how for our upcoming mod playing trip, I don’t see why I need anything besides the core book and largely don’t even need that, anymore, because I know enough about the game.


Roll With It

If January had lots of “hey, this is still important to me” posts, the beginning of 2013 was very heavy on my challenges being better at GMing.  I tend to not be mechanically inclined as a GM and, in my feeble efforts to promote campaign play, started learning some nonobvious things about how to provide for players.

Kata Analysis

Just because tons of people view my L5R crunch posts doesn’t mean that I should skip over calling some of them out.  Do I, as of today, know everything about 4e kata?  Oh, yeah, totally, I’m the kata king, the master of the maneuvernot, the lord of lechery … wait, ignore that.

I crunched numbers.  When someone crunches RPG numbers, pat them on the head and tell them they are pretty and will make a good homespouse.  After all, how many people even bother?

Of course, it’s still largely opinion.  Not like I crunched numbers on how much +3 ATN will reduce damage in 1000 fights or whatever.

Book of Fire for more exciting kata, Book of Fire.



This sounds like a pretty terrible post … up until the point where I use numbers.  Numbers, the only true way to play RPGs.  There are so many ways to quantify RPG play that I just don’t see done, though maybe I’m just overlooking other people’s contributions to mathing your way to storytelling.

RPG death seems to be a topic I talk a lot about given how infrequently it happens in my games besides the Friday group’s slaughterfest.  Studying death so that it can be managed in a reasonable way, therefore, became an interesting topic to me.


Challenge 4 – Zayyat

I had to pick one of the Challenge posts.  Why?  Because I don’t interact much with my audience and this series actually saw some interaction.  While I may not have come up with brilliant decks, especially given that my inclinations tend towards things other people find difficult to play (e.g. hardly any ousting power), perhaps the series allowed me to share a bit about how I range through different possibilities, mostly coming up with junk, occasionally winning too many tournaments.

This post saw comments, which felt like I was doing a bit more service than sermonizing.



And, so it begins …  Shadowfist, Kickstarter, wait, I was part of five gaming groups back then?  Oh how I need to get out and socialize through the playing of … anything.  I’m part of like one gaming group at the moment, with maybe some potential for a HoR group coalescing.


The Elemental Party

Besides being brilliant comedy and a pure example of all that is right with the world, this post has colored my thinking on characters ever since.  I’m all about exploring the extreme in Ring/Trait.  I’ve done Air 5/Water4/Earth 3/Fire 2/Void 2.  At some point, I’ve got to stop dumping on Water and do a Water 5/whatever build.


Deconstruction 01

Fascinating?  Not likely.  But, I think there’s things I could say that aren’t boring, repetitive, or repetitively boring about deckbuilding, and this was some of them.  Strategic commitment, comrades, strategic commitment.


My Samuraimichi

Play with your magic tsurugi.  Okay, maybe there is more to L5R than this.

Set-tling Matters

I think this is still an interesting subject, the idea that sets can be good when full of bad cards and sets can be bad when full of good cards.

I suppose I could have included my Book of Fire review.  It was very long, thus it must have been awesome.  But, it was Book of Earth where I think began the rantfest on the series being pretty weak.

While my 2016 wasn’t as bad as many other people’s, saw a friend I hadn’t seen in 8 years and close family got married and, oddly, pretty much every major US sports championship was won by the team I wanted to win, I can understand the hope that 2017 is better.  Happy New Year!  Already there on the East Coast and much of the world.

Courtier Of The Ivory Throne

December 31, 2016

So, I played my first Champions of the Ivory Throne module.  Not 00 because I’m not special enough to rate playing mods in order.  Though, I vastly preferred HoR2 to HoR3, and I played mods way out of order, only playing the intro mod very, very late.

I was thinking about how HoR3 turned out.  I may have said this precise thing, but what was such a let down with HoR3 was how my characters had no meaningful arcs, not just irrelevant to the campaign but the campaign was irrelevant to them.  Now, my alt did have some minor arc by marrying into the Crane and was just generally more fun to play.  My main was just muscle for parties – a joke became an ironic joke.

There are reasons for the difference in experience that have nothing to do with the campaigns and their structures and everything to do with who I played mostly with.  The question is:  can I find paths to go down that entertain me more in the absence of helpful other players?

Was there some way to have Moshi Shigeo be fun?  Too forced.  Too much focus on mechanics, with his “No, not a shugenja.  Not a Yoritomo Bushi.  …”  Or, was it really more of not enough focus on finding a hook?  Ikoma Jun had a hook, then Isawa Ryota ended up with some related hooks, not all of which required other players.

Miya Tatakisu still needs time.  But, am I overly focused on mechanics again, or, shall we say, since Miya Heralds have no mechanics, the lack of them?

Where I thought HoR3 was far too much bait and switch to where trying to care about what was going on only was punished, maybe this time I’ll figure out what CIT means to my characters.  What one thing can I leverage into campaign long focus?

Sunday and Monday is planned for more play.  Maybe have more read in a few days.

One thing about not playing L5R of any sort for a while is that I really feel out of a groove.  There’s a cadence to playing mods and there’s being comfortable with your character sheet that you play to strengths and remember your role.

I forgot a bit of psychology with my character that could have enriched the experience – don’t avoid risk, it’s boring.  I did already have one of those “amusing if you pay attention to what amuses me but not so much if you don’t care” moments.  Let’s just say I rolled Initiative … and then didn’t roll after.

I suppose I should be encouraged that Intelligence was actually useful in the mod, though it also generally frustrates me as I’d like to increase INT but can’t remotely afford it forever or until I stop planning my buys hundreds of points into the future and just impulse buy.

One thing I’ve got to get away from is how when I look at the mechanics of 4e, I see repetition.  I see grappling and no-dachi and shugenjahood and Reflexes and all of the other good stuff and am just bored with it.  Yet, I’ve played a R-5 bushi with Agility 2 and Void 2.  There is fun to be had in not doing the good stuff.  Maybe that was part of the problem with Shigeo – fighting the bad stuff of his school with good stuff, instead of just being really weird all over the place.  Tatakisu does go in for mechanical “this is something different for me and should be fun”, even if the first mod completely defeated what he was supposed to be good at.

On a side note, my local group is shugenjaless.  That’s so scary.  We may have to actually use good combat tactics and not suck at Perception, er, be amazing at Perception (somehow, with Water being one of my dump Rings) to compensate for lack of gods.  Well, HoR2 wasn’t all about shugenja in my play, so maybe I’m overparanoiding.  OTOH, HoR2 used 3/3r, where everyone was bonkers powerful if they knew what they were doing.

I won’t be playing my alt, Kuni Johin, for a while, but I should flesh him out for those rare times when I expect to play him.

Getting back to something, good tactics, here’s the lesson for today so that you get something useful out of this post rather than listen to me whine.  Understand stances.

Lots of folks do Full Attack wrong.  Your action options are incredibly limited.  But, that’s less of a concern than knowing when you should adopt it and when you shouldn’t from a “I want enemies dead but remain alive” standpoint.

Know the Initiative order precisely, even when there’s a single enemy.  Factor in that even in FA, if you have enough ATN and your opponent has enough WP, you may just end up getting missed, as what happened yesterday, when the roll against a comrade was a 16, but the -10 ATN was nullified by the +10 WP.

Are you making much use out of FA?  Do you need it to hit?  If not, are you calling Raises that really matter?

On the flip side, is it any worse than Attack Stance for the situation?  If not, +2k1 is a big deal.

The issue with Attack Stance is knowing when not to be in it.  Sometimes, you have to adopt it on round one because you don’t know if you will attack or not.  I’m still at the point where I have to spend a simple action to draw a weapon (which, by the way, almost no one ever requires of people running around with large weapons, oh, and yes, I didn’t say string a bow, I said draw a weapon for … reasons).  So, right now, still a lot of default to Defense.

Full Defense is just awful.  Yet, I thought about it … and dismissed it when I realized I still would need to draw a weapon before attacking.  It exists for those rare occasions when doing nothing is productive.  I might use this some if I end up in parties that just overpower the opposition, like was common in HoR2.  Again, if we don’t run with real healing, taking damage is suicidal.

Speaking of doing nothing, if I play properly, I should be using Center Stance far more than I ever did in the past.  I still need XP to get to the point where I can do nothing and do something next round, but I’ve got to plan out the timing of Center, including factoring in the Initiative bonus, including considering the possibility of using the +1k1+Void bonus on things besides attack rolls and damage rolls.

Well, the thrust and parry of this post wasn’t supposed to be everything about stances, so let me throw out a second lesson for the day while talking about playing a courtier in a shugenjaless world and the need not to explode into a fine red mist.  I need to pay far more attention to Void Point reserves and spending VPs on ATN bonuses at the beginning of rounds.

My common tactic may become:  “Center Stance, Initiative N.  Spend VP on +10 ATN for the round.  That’s it, let me know when round two is up.”  Now, that’s in the short term, where my Reflexes of 3 and lack of sturdiness are more relevant.  Eventually, need to switch out of this mode of thinking.

Though, much like being flexible with stances, being flexible with VP spending and maneuvers is … is … is what makes L5R 4e actually a far superior combat system IMO to most RPG combat systems.

So, lesson three, think about these things before you roll Initiative and have plans in place for how to play out combat.  Or, hope someone drops Be the Mountain on you and Paths you when you are feeling a might peckish, and don’t worry about sound tactics at all.

Sing Or Singe

December 26, 2016

I haven’t been doing a lot of normal gaming recently.  Did play Shadowfist not last Thursday but the Thursday before, played one long four-player game followed by a short, unsatisfying four-player game.

Besides whatever comes up for the Traveller Card Game, I’ve been rereading Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series.

One thing I notice is that when I go back to read books I haven’t read in a long time or more than once I often come away with differing views, often less enthused.

The Spellsinger series doesn’t fall into that category.  I’ve read most of the books many times in the last 30 years.  There are parts I don’t feel quite the same about, and one of the things that’s more frustrating than it would have been in the ’80s is how certain supporting characters will never reappear.  I don’t think I’m going to go read fan fiction about Roseroar and Folly.  The series still comes across as quality.

Interestingly, perhaps, I started rereading the series after reading Into the Out Of again.  My focus certainly shifted from the adventure and the supernatural to the descriptions of Africa.  I was thinking of this book, specifically, because one of my brothers was born in Nigeria and later worked for several years in Somaliland and I think of getting him Christmas presents that relate to the continent as the rest of us don’t have as strong a connection, even if the other siblings went to school in Cairo for a while.

Oh, by the way, it just occurred to me to market for the school.


My brother Harry has been working on a documentary about it.

So, everything I recall reading by Alan Dean Foster, who has done a bunch of movie adaptions, is something I still appreciate.  Moving on.

I was thinking of writing about V:TES.  I haven’t been playing, but it has become more relevant to me for a few reasons.  For one thing, we have two tournaments on January 7th I need to build decks for.  For another, I really want to hit a European Championships in my life and think I could swing going to Berlin in 2017.  I’d be more inclined if someone else was interested in traveling with me.  On the other hand, could make it a family trip and hit some other Eurolocales only taking up a few days to travel the world to play cards.

Two themes presented themselves.  I must admit neither feels compelling to me.  One was to talk about power in the game.  That just seems kind of similar to previous posts where I try to get away from my habit of eschewing power and talk about good stuff.  The other theme is on the other extreme of this axis where I thought about talking about my experiences trying to come up with decks that use my latest banned list.

I looked back at my post about what I’ve won with and haven’t won with from a crypt standpoint and started mentally putting together my crypt banned list.  I really need to write this stuff down.  Currently, all Gangrel, all Malks, all Nos, all Lasombra, all !Ventrue, all Giovanni are banned, though some aren’t “officially” banned so much as it amuses me endlessly that the only Gangrel I’ve ever had in a winning deck is Stanislava in a deck whose only discipline was Presence.

My “No Decisions” deck will just have to run !Gangrel and whoever to get the necessary all Protean crypt.  The big problem with playing the deck is that it forces me to unban Earth Meld, plus it could be intensely uninteresting to play.

Because I’ve yet again had someone’s collection dumped on me, I’ve been looking through cards and come up with amusing ideas, especially with clan hosers, however clan hosers is such a sketchy thing to go with even with steal/Clan Impersonation awesomeness.

Then, there’s Heroes of Rokugan 4, which we have plans to actually play.  I know, weird, eh?  Will all my plans work out or come to naught?  I’m now trying to put together a couple of tables at the last minute to avoid a problem.

Can talk about HoR4 later, when I actually play.  I just don’t have enough give a damn to get into analyzing the favor system when it has yet to matter to me, for instance.

V:TES.  Trying to see it get a kick back into production.  There are a few things I miss.  Some people – my holiday email list reminds me of how long it has been since I’ve seen some folks I’m fond of.  Badminton, on rare occasions shooting hoops on a cold day – I actually didn’t go out on Christmas and do just that like I have on a number of other occasions.  B5 and WoT and UC! are all CCGs that I only really miss when I see the cards.  At some point, V:TES is going to be like that, but it’s still something I miss when I don’t play.  Goes to show how much it has been a feature of the last 20 years.

There are so many decks I haven’t gotten to even with my massive personal restrictions.  Blood Brothers with no Sanguinus cards.  Gargoyles with Serpentis.  Winnie Daimoinon.  And, that’s just the tournament decks.  In casual play, with my banned list no longer in effect, can break out weird stuff.

The Traveller Card Game is not intended to be a substitute for a CCG like V:TES.  Yet, it still has the deckbuilding aspect.  Deckbuilding is just so fascinating.

Does this post have a point?

Maybe so.

Maybe it’s about the wonders of imagination.

While it’s on my bucket list to write a fantasy novel, though, really, I should try my hand at short stories first as I think they would suit me better, reading ADF’s books both inspires ideas and reminds me that executing on ideas is work.

It’s so much easier for me to build decks.  Pick a card.  Any Eyes of the Dead card you want.  You know my mummy is going to block you from eating my Faithful Servanted torporized dudes.  Okay, even I can’t get that excited by that idea.

Form of the Serpent.  Once upon a time, this was a key card to me, as Serpentis had limited options but also because Immortal Grapple was the bane of my Majesty filled world.  It’s hard for me to get that excited by it, now, but that just means you have to spend more thought.  Sure, I maybe am wrecking an opportunity to get back to the long abandoned “Card of the Weak” series, but here goes.

I have Thaumaturgy and Serpentis.  I know it’s probably some dumb Treaty of Laibach deck but hopefully not.  I need to stealth my Conditionings through because this is not a tournament deck.  I also need to maneuver to Flames of the Netherworld someone.  Or, hey, maybe run Burst of Sunlight with Skin of the Adder and can beat at close or long.  Potence/Serpentis for Thrown Sewer Lids or whatever – I’ve never bothered with a Typhonic Beast deck, to my recollection, just not my style, so close beats with stealth for … profit.

Nightstick taunts me.  Has to be a Black Cat or the like deck so that you don’t just murder yourself with pool loss, of course.

I haven’t made good use of the post’s title.  Where’s the Singe?  Flames of the Netherworld is too easy, Burst of Sunlight and Ignore the Searing Flames at DAI are more relevant.

While I’ve built Body of Sun decks (… deck?), I have a lot more than I once did.  There has to be more to do with it than, uh, practically nothing as someone just dodges or combat ends or whatever.  Sure, there’s the Temptation/Body of Sun/graft Protean skill cards deck I haven’t gotten around to, but that’s so much like the Temptation/Mummify deck or whatever that seems more appealing because Mummify has multiple “uses”.

AUS/Ser is such a common build.  Dom/Ser is actually not something I do a ton of.  Group 3/4, but how do I leverage going to torpor myself?  The Faithful Servant thing is such a hassle and easily defeated by someone rescuing you.  Grafting Animalism when already adding Dominate skill cards is just too too much.  As is grafting Fortitude.

Waters of Duat plus Carver’s to have my dorks abuse Mummify?

Imagination.  There’s a reason I play the games I do.

Probably not a good aside to throw in 1400 words into a meandering post, but has it ever occurred to people that the reason CCGs and RPGs interest me so much more than boardgames is because there’s so much more capacity for using one’s imagination, including when you aren’t playing the game?

Too late to be a Christmas present for those who celebrate on the 25th (and use the most common calendar), but, hey, want to make the world a better place?  Go play more customizable card games and RPGs, maybe even a game based on … Traveller … and add enormically* to the use of imagination.

*  Enormical was spewed upon thee in my Multiplay post.  I now introduce this word to something of the world as a reward that doesn’t even require funding.

Kickstarter – Traveller Card Game

December 9, 2016


So, I said I was working on a card game.  Kickstarter is live, folks.

What should I start with?  How about some insight that you probably won’t see in another announcement?

Someone asked us what makes this game special.  As lead developer, what impressed me was how solid game play was early on, even when Bankruptcy was too common and Piracy wrecked opponents.

I may not be a big art person, but I have also been really impressed with what the artists have come up with.  Vibrant.

You can see inspiration come from various card games that we have played.  What’s interesting is that some feedback from playtesting has included feelings of similarity to games that the design group hasn’t played.  At some point, I’ll get into this more.

Design Goals

Traveller RPG

We wanted the game to have a strong RPG feel, where a game would evoke a sense of playing a series of adventures.  Are you more interested in plot or challenge?  Contracts are the plots, Complications the challenges.


Everyone wants games to be fun.  How do you achieve that?  Be reasonable in duration.  Have interesting choices.  Have the quality interaction with other players that I’ve talked about with other games.  Keep rules manageable.


Want to be a playtester?  We have stretch goals and potential expansions already in development.

Next local convention is DunDraCon.  If we get funded, expect to see me at Origins and Gen Con demoing the game, as well as additional regional conventions.


INT, STR, … Fate Points?

December 1, 2016

Watching Arrowverse crossover, of course.

Among the worst things the Arrowverse ever did was have Barry clean out the League of Assassins HQ in seconds.  It drives home how irrelevant the Green Arrow is as a superhero, where being Mayor Handsome with assassin trained employees and whatnot is probably a better night job.

In the beginning (of Flash), effort was made to address this problem, with Barry being the brawn and Oliver being the brains (superhero brains != brains brains).  But, Flash progressed.  It had original-fake Harrison to provide clever and ruthless.  It has scientists for brains brains.  Barry does stupid things, but he fights better.

So, Barry can fix Team Arrow’s problems seemingly at will, in that Team Arrow still solves problems by fighting.

To restore balance to the justiceforce, Oliver should be able to solve Team Flash’s problems easily.  In last season, maybe nailing Iris would have done something, but that potential shipping seems to have sailed.

Anyway, bigger picture.  Brawn wins fights in some pleasing materials.  Brains wins fights more often, in superhero stuff and various genres.  Then, there’s luck.  There are stories aplenty where luck wins.  Take a show like Doctor Who, where the Doctor is supposed to outbrain enemies.  That happens, so does outlucking, even when given a coating of inspired genius.

So, is one better?  Martial arts and animefight often go the route of train to unlock another power level.  I’m okay with that, though it does get out of control.  Where out of control means that any attempt to scale back the power level just seems ridiculous.  “If I can nuke the moon at will, why can’t I deal with someone named after a seasoning plant?”

Not that animefight has a monopoly on such things.  Babylon 5 got frustrating to me because I was into the Shadow War and found xenophobia and teeps to be tonal dissonance.

The issue with brains is not just that this is a gaming blog, where being clever in playing a game is harder because you are on the spot with your cleverness rather than having months to rewrite your novel to be more clever, but that brains isn’t always brainy when given N amount of time to consider what the outwitter did.

How satisfying is outlucking?  Less satisfying when you think about it.  In many cases, it’s not how you win, it’s how the story plays out, so not necessarily always unsatisfying.

That’s in written stories.  In gaming?  Luck is everywhere.  Oh, I wouldn’t say luck is the primary determinant of victory, though let me distinguish between competitive gaming and role-playing games.

RPGs are inclined to a social contract where the PCs are almost always going to win.  Now, newer games do try to create a dynamic where you are supposed to lose before the climax, which I have some problems with.

How satisfying is gaming your losses?  In something like a sumo tournament, gaming your losses may get your buddy a higher rank without costing you anything.  But, as much as a superhero story or a martial arts revenge flick or whatever is structured with the “lose first, murder master later” paradigm, playing that as a game just takes you into the gamist world.  It’s like dropping the no-dachi to grapple because this fight is “real”.

I may care more about narrative, but, if you just script the narrative, what are you actually playing?

Losing is such a huge problem in RPGs because players don’t expect it and there are often mechanics that don’t support it, whether the reliance on stuff or because someone should just tanto you in the throat if they beat you.  Yeah, A1-4 existed long ago.  Know why it gets so much credit?  It set a standard for how to do a common trope.

What about competitive games?  Is luck a good way to determine victory?

So, you design a CCG.  Card draw order is a common feature that institutes luck into the games.  Just having the brawn of better cards or the brains of better deck design and better card play, you get some luck to shake things up.

Rolling crappy in Wheel of Time was never supersatisfying.  Risk management is a thing that’s not a matter of luck but of better decisionmaking.  I’ve lost my share of V:TES games because I didn’t make the good decision but occasionally ousted or survived because of a bad decision.  Seems like luck, but I don’t think so.  Luck != random nor != two unknowns produce third unknown.

Back to RPGs.

Some of our biggest triumphs in Conan felt like luck triumphing over brawn and our lack of brains.

On the other hand, Princess Police didn’t feel like luck had much impact, at all.  We were routinely outbrawning challenges.

A good mix.  Is that the point of this post?

There was the lack of GA outwitting Supergirl, which some of us might have enjoyed if it was anywhere near as clever as shooting Barry in the back.  Wits is not strong in Invasion!, with “defeat mind control” being about as witty as things have gotten, yet that was also something of a brawn situation, since it involved a particular power.

So, you are the GM or game designer, what do you do to mix things up?  When I try to add thinking to RPG sessions, it routinely fails.  A lot of cleverness in competitive games has to be something the designer didn’t intend but was emergent intelligence.  Brawn can be controlled, but do you unbalance brawn?  By that I mean, in a RPG, one ability is just better than another for victory, in a CCG or whatever, one card/component is just better.

I put Fate Points in the title, but are FPs luck or the opposite of luck?  For players, they reduce luck, for characters, they are luck.  An interesting topic for another times, since this post just meanders all over the place – how does perspective change your perspective?  Many say that Arrow was fine focusing on its 100th episode rather than on the crossover because 100th is a thing.  Whatever, the series could be worse, much worse, like previous seasons worse.