The Best of … 2014

December 31, 2017

Our annual exercise in calling out what was notable from three years prior.

January

[Classic] Yu-Gi-Oh! meets V:TES [10/19/2002]

I never got much response to this as an email or as a blog post.  Every time I read it I’m reminded that sometimes I entertain myself in profound ways.  Lot of times I only write somewhat along the lines of what I want to; this is a case of writing just the way I wanted to.  This and old tournament reports help justify the [Classic] posts.

Is it better to watch episodes of YGO! first or read this first?  Note that I don’t think you need to know anything about V:TES besides that it’s a card game for this to have some level of meaning.

Might, Right, Or Contrite

I don’t feel strongly about this post, but, given how popular my L5R mechanics posts are, this seems like one that the 4e players might want to take a look at if they haven’t.

February

Core-Tier

Profound?  Not so much.  I didn’t analyze courtier schools as much as analyzed them for my own interests, which has little application to others.  However, I did settle on my two HoR4 possibilities being a Miya Herald and an Asako Loremaster, with the latter maybe being a better choice in hindsight and the former working adequately.

Finish Line

A callout because I don’t think this got a lot of attention, though I may have lost so much of my old V:TES audience that anything V:TES is not going to get as much attention.  While I didn’t aim for solutions to other people’s problems, I thought I did a good job of pointing out reasons card floppers seem to struggle building V:TES decks more than they do other CCG decks.

Btw, while I’m fine with V:TES continuing as was, if I were going to reboot it, card limits.  Card limits produce a far more digestible game.

Orccon 2014

I was really getting to like how California decided to play with each other.  The reason to highlight this post was not only because it was a last hurrah of sorts but because it’s good balance for me to point out when I suck, even when it doesn’t involve wandering around Berlin.

Mysterious

That I may read Xanth novels or watch Inuyasha or whatever may not be touchstoney enough for my audience, but one hopes the audience knows something about Sherlock Holmes.  I thought this did tie together something important about gaming with an important observation about more mainstream entertainment.

March

Review – Book of Water

It’s long, therefore it must be good.  Insert banal joke.  Why call this out and not Book of Fire review in the previous Best of …?  Well, I did kind of call out Book of Fire by not calling it out.  My frustration with the rather poor series got me motivated to explain why I thought early 4e supplements were superior supplements.

Eject The Tape

If you understand why this report of casual V:TES play is … important? … interesting? … entertaining?, then I think you get more value out of my blog.  If you think this was dumb, especially the play reporting, then I’m going to disappoint at times.  If I beat a zombie pony with certain comments in various posts, this sort of post cuts to the heart of the matter (in a far more subtle and therefore geniusy way).

Bushi Analysis – Extended

Is it heartening or disheartening that so much of what gets read in my blog are posts like these?  Did I ask this question before?  I used to have an audience for V:TES, and I get why that doesn’t seem to be as important because I don’t play as much and, thus, spend less time talking about the game and people I used to play with don’t and, maybe, there are fewer people playing in general.  I wonder what V:TES players do consume.  Regional forums?

Anyway, I rated stuff.  I’m not aware of anyone else rating this sort of stuff, therefore I win the blogosphere?  I could try to clickbait by putting this sentence in my preview – Kim K. or Haifa Wehbe hotter in her prime?  I’ve never used a picture of the former for a NPC, I did use the latter (also Adriana Lima in a very different campaign).  All I got was comments about how HW wasn’t what people thought of as a “girl next door”.

I haven’t really changed my opinions on how bushi rank.  Maybe I’d get more argument from folks if I posted on forums instead of in a place where I can control the message.

Generic Bushi School

Speaking of winning.  Look, everybody has bad ideas and a lot of people have good ideas.  I just happen to have good ideas that occasionally get shared (when I’m not sharing bad ideas).  And, no, I don’t think the R-5 technique is overpowered compared to other R-5 techniques in 4e.

Strong Sorrows?

I had a coworker note that I was dead inside (recently).  Is that better than being dead outside?  Seems like it.  I enjoyed putting together this post.  Again, I got really, really tired of doing the Zodiac posts back in the day.  I should have fun on rare occasions.  Harkening back to yesteryear pleasures me (well, when it’s about things like gaming).

That aside, what’s the importance of this post?  Look, I have done things others haven’t.  Sure, I’m not likely to be a Hatamoto in the L5R LCG and I was never a World Champion at any CCG I was ranked in the top 10 in the world for and I’ve never been credited with breaking a non-playtest play environment and I have lots of opinions on things I don’t know jack and diane about.  But, I’ve also taken a number of CCGs seriously.  There’s some probability I may know something rather than just blogging made up words.

On another note, I stopped reading Magic articles because they became hard to read.  Why do people do that?  I may not particularly want to play Magic, but I find Magic interesting.

April

HoR Strategy

Is HoR important to me?  Right this last day of 2017?  Today, no.  Yesterday, no.  Day before that, no.  Pretty much since Gen Con 2017 ended, no.  And, that’s become the norm.  This post addresses why it’s so easy to lose the plasma on HoR play.

That being said, I’ve gotten a lot out of HoR.  I really like 3e/3r/4e basic mechanics.  I’ve had some great play experiences.  I’ve met some people I really enjoy doing things with.  I played in an epic home game because of HoR.  So, at some point, I’ll look to ramp up, again.  We might be able to play some missed mods next weekend.  It’s just brutal how disengaged I become during the months when there isn’t anything going on.

May

June

July

BattleTech Scenario Building

I did post stuff in May and June, in case you want to relive more of my 2014.  This post has to be great … cuz I’ve seen it get some continuous reads in 2017.  BattleTech is such an interesting game in that it’s often awful to play yet is so evocative.  Well, it can be fun … and I tell you how.

August

Sure, my Gen Con 2014 post was long.  They usually are.

September

October

Ambivantaged

Ah, a rant about gear.  Or, is it?  Maybe I just feel like calling out one of the easiest to read pieces of Statesish, ever.

The Road To Mana

This has very little to do with gaming.  But, it hints at something that I’ll mention because I doubt other people would make the same connections.  I’m quite fortunate to be able to have a variety of first-world problems.  Gaming in the form I consume it is a first-world activity.  Gaming can be really easy.  Bust out Advanced Squad Leader and make up some homebrew rules for simultaneous turns and you are platinum.  But, sometimes, you can run into problems of people having other things they need to do besides play games, like raise children or work.  Here, my problem was that I was getting closer to living an adventure yet couldn’t make a connection to improving my gaming experiences, something so ridiculously first-worldy that I get … amused.  Now, that’s not all downside since I get to Beware of Invisible Cows, keep it real, et al.  This is not the post to get much out of, unless you want something from this blog besides gaming thoughts, like tourist suggestions on the Islands.

I do seem to have some portion of audience who finds travel log stuff more interesting.  Btw, would you be shocked to hear that my ideal lifestyle would be “travel the world and play games”?

November

Exploring Villainy

It has been said that actors prefer villains because those are meatier roles.  While this post isn’t likely to be helpful to others, it does clarify why I’m a villain vegan.

Lo, The Fun

Do you play CCGs?  Do you enjoy them?  Why are CCGs the best form of competitive gaming ever?  The Fun.

L5R Campaigns

I believe there’s plenty of room for other types of L5R campaigns.  Now, I don’t see the people I play with being into some of the types, but they exist.  Where this has maybe a touch more value than it seems is that it was before I started running LBS – Black Water Lake [sigh], and it helped inform things I tried in that campaign, a campaign I was actually more happy with than most.  I’m still into the idea of LBS as a setting (well, part of a setting) because it addresses some of the problems Rokugan has a setting.  (Topic for another time?)

December

Clan Cards – Camarilla

I do try to use my analytical awesomeosity to be helpful, even if nobody cares.  *weep*

Note that there are two other posts in this series, but I don’t feel energetic enough to link them.

RPG Fiction Guide

You know what else my two long-running campaigns had?  My writing fics for them.  It adds so much to the experience.  So much of game time is spent on combat, rolling dice outside of combat, arguing about what to do, arguing about treasure splits [not really but sadly this has actually happened], looking up rules, etc.


Well, that was a lot of posts.  As much as I feel like I’ve lost some of the magic early on with more profundity, I also can see where I can keep going far, far into the future.  As long as I throw numbers into more posts.

Advertisements

Thrillogies

December 30, 2017

So, I finished O, TCGMGtCM.  If that doesn’t make any sense, well there’s a blog post yesterday.

Some takeaways.

Alpha

I don’t want to manage a campaign.  I’m perfectly happy to come up with ideas, whether settings, plots, NPCs, mechanics, scenes, treasure.  But, I know enough about myself that having to manage a campaign just leaves me cold.

I’ve done a terrible job of completing any campaign I started, as I lose interest quickly.  Part of it is that I’m not big on laboring for hours unless I’m inspired.  There are definitely stretches where posting here feels like work and it’s hard to generate the plasma to post something, but I’ve managed to muddle through for more than eight years because it doesn’t feel like a chore all of the time to spew geniusness, et al.  Of course, I’m not a 1400 character type of blogger, so spew-plasma needs to hit a minimum threshold.

As much as there are aspects of GMing I enjoy a great deal, the role is just not what I prefer, with campaigns being even more of what I don’t prefer because they require constant application.  I want to be a player, and I can help world build as a player without having all of the responsibilities the campaign GM has.

Beta

I consider myself to have played in two long campaigns.  Both had endings.  One ending was narrated, but it was an ending.  I didn’t think about how well Brad managed that campaign.  He talked to us when things were fading.  He came up with an ending.  It’s not something I’ve done, and I now realize …

I now realize that I’ve really done a disservice to my players by not having a plan for ending campaigns.  I’ve been in so many failed or incomplete campaigns that I’ve never thought about how much better it is to have some sort of ending.  Odyssey has persuaded me that there should have been more effort put into some sort of resolution when it was obvious a campaign was going to end.

The other long running campaign was The Princess Police and while that struggled at times, more so early on, it accomplished what we actually want out of a campaign that seems so rare – a satisfying ending.  While I never thought it shouldn’t end when it did, I still think about stories with the same characters.  That’s what a campaign should be like.

Gamma

On my bucket list is writing a novel.  Now, I have a hard time seeing my accomplishing that given my tendency to jump from idea to idea constantly.  I’ve had so many ideas for short stories or books or series where I have made pritnear zero progress on turning into a product.  Helping with Another Stupid Demon got me more enthused with the idea of creating my own stories, but, as is typically the case, enthusiasm faded.

Now, best I can tell, no one pitches a novel.  (I’m talking about fantasy novels as that’s what I care about.)  They pitch trilogies.  Of course, I would look to create a trilogy if I could get to the point even deciding what a novel would look like because, while my greater interest is in just publishing anything that people appreciate (myself included), it would be a bit odd for someone such as myself who is a fan of continuity and enduring characters to only look to produce a single novel, nevermind the economics of being such a nonprolific author.

So, trilogies.  GMing but not GMing campaigns.  Hot machete!

Run a trilogy.  Then, there’s an ending.  Well, I did manage to fail to even finish running a two-session attempt at Against the Dark Yogi, so a trilogy may be stretching my meager capabilities.  But, I have run more than three sessions in various campaigns – campaigns I had various levels of affinity for before I gave up:  Solomon Kane, Feng Shui Tu Huo, Legend of the Burning Sands.

To avoid what I find to be the biggest challenge to getting any RPG play in – getting everyone to show up at the same time, can plan three (or six, since adventures may take more than one session) blocks of time on a calendarish device.

If it worked to plan out a trilogy and execute on said trilogy, maybe I could do it more than once.  I know how rare it is for people to be into trilogies in the entertainment world, but maybe it can work in the gaming milieu.

So, Greek/Norse/Egyptian/Celtic/Native American Mythology campaign might happen.  Historical fantasy/supernatural might happen.  FSTH2 might happen.  LBS, Black Water Lake2 (even though the party never took any interest in the Black Water Lake) might happen.  Supers might … well, no, unlikely to ever happen as I don’t really know anyone who is into superhero RPing besides guys I haven’t gamed with in years.

They say put things in writing to have them more likely to happen.  Well, only two hundred more words and I’ll hit my MWQ (minimum writing quantity).

On this computer, I have little sense of how many Solomon Kane adventures there were.  Feels like it was around six.  LBS had eight, with my writing up the ninth session.  FSTH was like six.  Given that an adventure may carry over to multiple sessions, maybe I’ve been writing trilogies all along and forgot to tell myself.  OTOH, Gaki Mura had 17 sessions, ending on an “adventure” that was completely out of character with the campaign, which was likely both a sign that I wasn’t that enthused by how things were going and a contributor to it ending inconclusively.

Gaki Mura would probably make a productive case study on campaign management.  I had one (or two) players tell me that they didn’t understand the campaign after the portal to Gaki-do got closed.  If the campaign had just been to get the portal closed, with the Unicorn weirdness on the other side, that might have been a really cool campaign, though it would have failed a pillar.  I tried something that I think has possibilities, but I didn’t manage it well from the beginning and got tired of it during the during.  I had one player say that he thought the campaign was supposed to be a sandbox and I didn’t see it that way, which sounds like another clear failure to manage things.

Maybe I can learn something.  I talk about managing player expectations, but I have missed some areas that Odyssey gets into, such as how long the campaign is supposed to last and what the PCs are supposed to be doing in the campaign.  I keep wondering why players aren’t motivated to do things, which is clearly not managing expectations.

Should be interesting to sit down with various folks and discuss what the book brings up, as it does cover ground I don’t see play groups work out.

I reread my Gen Con 2009 post because I take a look at what readers read and find it interesting to look at old posts that have recently been read that don’t have to do with L5R character creation or combat strategy.  I had a takeaway from reading it and the comments to it, but that might make plasma for a different spewing.


Oddyssey

December 29, 2017

In honor of my first topic, I will keep the wordplay in thrall.

I’ve been rereading Xanth novels.  For all of the cringeworthiness of certain things (not talking about the puns) or the repetitiveness of certain themes, I enjoy the stories, even the ones that become more and more juvenile.  Even though every male protagonist is cut from the same chivalrous cloth, there are likable male protagonists.  I should mention I haven’t come close to reading all of the books.  I’ve read at least 15 and possibly not more than 17.  The female protagonists are not as common, and the human ones tend to obsess a bit much on their appearance and men and whatnot, so they are generally less appealing as characters.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m bringing this up.  Keep wondering.

I really like the concept of magician level talents.  Xanth is like a superhero world in certain ways.  Jordan has a ridiculously overpowered talent, and, yet, just like it stretches credulity how much impact Wolverine has in cosmic adventures, you get that the magicians are cosmic powered and Jordan’s just one tough hombre.

I’ve mentioned multiple times liking the horrendously named Bink as a character.  I certainly would have liked to see him be a bit more … interesting in later books than “he sure is lucky”.

I tried a web search for a countdown of most powerful magicians in the Xanth series.  I only found a Reddit thread and it didn’t go very far, though it did argue for someone I would not have considered at the top of the heap.

I don’t know if I can put together a top 10 list (based on the books I’ve read), but it would be weak not to number things.

1.

Bink

Given how Piers Anthony has written the series, I don’t know how you don’t consider a character with a power greater than that of …

2.

Murphy (the elder)

He took on three magicians and kind of a neo-sorceress and he made it rough.  The collateral damage he caused had impact centuries later.  I keep thinking the obvious fan fic is to have Bink and Murphy talk about contending with each other given the nature of their abilities but the mature and wise Murphy concluding “But, after all, you already defeated me through Dor’s victory back in the day.”  I may have forgotten a reference, but Murphy could also supply a badass reference for Bink “The Brain Coral was prepping to take him on …”

3.

Murphy (the younger)

Why not Humfrey higher?  Well, as much as he dominates the world, it does come across like he can get owned if you actually try to oppose him.  I credit younger Murphy for inhibiting Ivy and for having a talent along the lines of Bink’s, though Bink is just in another class due to there essentially being no off switch for the Binkmeister.

4.

Ivy

Okay, as a teen looking for romance, she only showed hints of how insane her talent is.  But, as a three year old, she just said “I want a happy ending.” and the world had no real other option.  To varying extents, the magicians don’t exploit their abilities to the fullest.  The Reddit poster argued for Iris because she effectively rewrites reality to a degree on a constant basis.  But, Iris didn’t come close to maxing out on what was possible.  Unconscious use of Ivy’s talent just tells reality how it’s going to be, but older Ivy gets dragged down by how little she works it.

I have considered the team of Ivy, her husband, her father in law, and her grandpa against some menace and it would just be unending “I don’t think it’s wise to fight creation” level beatdown … with virtually no obvious effects of any of their abilities in play.

5.

Humfrey?  Dolph?  Iris?

Dolph was argued for due to the fact that he can will new things into existence as part of his talent.  That’s not a bad argument.  Trent or Dolph?  Trent is a great character who plateaued below where his ability should be able to take him.  As Reddit argues, if Dolph can make stuff up, Trent should be able to do the same.  Dolph seemed to keep unlocking a new power level.  I guess that’s another limiting factor – when you already win against everything, you don’t need to go Super Saiyan God Transformation anymore.

Again, Humfrey doesn’t seem to “win” a lot.  Just be the magician with the biggest impact on history.

Poor Dor.  Actually, there are hints (or blunt force trauma callouts) to how powerful Dor’s ability actually can be, but it’s really not used beyond “ho hum, magician-level talent” level.

Is there an argument for Irene being a magician?  Other than the pragmatic argument Arnolde makes, I don’t see it.  But, consider.  Instead of thinking of her as grow girl, think of her as Goddess of Flora.  If she has the ability to tap into that and has never shown it (in the first N number of books), then that’s totally magician level.  To detail a bit what the difference would be:  if she could do things besides grow and control (which I think has been shown a wee bit); if she could affect a larger area (if you can control all vegetation in Xanth when the plants are scarier than the monsters, you just created the strongest army in your milieu).

Is Com-Pewter a magician?

Still wondering?  *shrug*

So, Xanth seems like a terrible setting for gaming.  Just trying to keep up with enough puns requires so much prep work as to be offputting.  The nature of the books is to be highly scripted to produce designated endings, more so than you might feel in various high fantasy (for instance).  Now, the Jordan/Threnody flashback was interesting in that it really seemed like a different tone, closer to the early books feeling grittier (to the extent that comedic high fantasy can get gritty).

But, is there something that can be used from the Xanth model for a more gaming friendly setting?  Again, the talents are like superpowers, so one could argue the setting already exists.  If you just did a mutant setting where you have Magneto, Prof X, Apocalypse, et al, as “magician” level, what’s Xanth going to offer beyond that?  I do like its history.  Super settings don’t normally have “Then, King blah blah blah was replaced by King bleh bleh bleh.”  There’s an interconnectedness at times.

For instance, I really liked how Piers had Dolph keep running across shifters.  It didn’t bother me that he pointed it out.  Admittedly, this is similar to how Wolverine fights a bunch of other supers with healing factors or … many other examples including Supes fighting enemies that have powers similar to his.  Book three is really cool for how relevant the time travel is and sets up so many references, some of which are amusing.

The setting doesn’t do a lot for me in certain ways, yet the setting is strongly established.  The Gap is good setting.  Gourdworld doesn’t appeal to me.

A setting where every female is more buxom than the last, all with amazing “legs”, is … Gor-ian?  You know, I actually have far more Gor books than I thought I did.  I should get around to rereading some of them, but I think I go backwards with Gor because it’s rough to go from some seeming of female empowerment (no, really, read the first book) to just another pleasure-slave.  Not that I have a particularly coherent group of titles.

Well, I’m sure you, the “wonderer” will continue to be fascinated by my views on Xanth, but it’s time to switch to my “real” topic.

I was going through emails earlier this year to try to manage them after I let them get out of control.  I found an email to myself wherein I suggest taking a look at Odyssey, The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management.  A book.  Because I.  I can read (when I feel like it).

I mentioned this to my sister prior to Winter Solstice.  See, where I never had anyone want me to create present lists when I was young and was interested in receiving presents, for some reason, it’s something the family does to this day, though I rarely see other people’s lists (or see them so late it’s no longer relevant).  Of course, Amazon provides an easy way to build a wish list.

So, she got me O, TCGMGtC.  I have been reading it.  It’s not dense.  Actually, I find it kind of light.  Also, while I’ve only blogged about some of the topics covered, the topics covered mostly feel like things that aren’t obscure to anyone who has tried GMing with different folks.

But, I’m not done yet.  I might get inspired to comment more.  I’m not getting inspired to GM more.  I do fit the profile of not having the same amount of time I used to, even if other folks have way better excuses for where their time goes.

Yup, a non-review of a book on Game Mastering – that’s the thrust of this post.


Imperial Sizing

December 24, 2017

So, I got my L5R Imperial Cycle cards.

I’m not going to rate them for playability in this post because:

  1. Some of them have been available for quite a while.
  2. People other than me have played with them.
  3. I haven’t.

I am also affected by groupthink.  On the other hand, there are some cards I think are better/worse than forumites have said.

So, if I’m not going to enlighten you, the reader who could be doing other things than reading a blog, on how to Porg [sic] your local meta.

Cards I want to play:

Yasuki Taka
Kakita Yoshi
Disdainful Remark
Implacable Magistrate
Guard Duty
Ikoma Ujiaki
Test of Courage
Seal of the Lion
Censure
Seppun Ishikawa
Miya Satoshi
Isawa Kaede
Prodigy of the Waves
Magnificent Lighthouse
Shrine Maiden
Henshin Disciple
Gaijin Customs
Windswept Yurt
Moto Juro
Public Forum
Frostbitten Crossing

Interesting thing about cards I want to play in this game, this two-player game.  Pony-beating – good cards are more fun when you actually are trying to win.  Oh, a couple of these I rate as 2’s, and Seal of the Lion is crap, but I have a specifically convoluted deck, I may someday post, in mind that may make use of it.

Five Lion, five Phoenix, two Crane, three Unicorn.  So, I’m usually the “Why not play everything?” guy.  Interesting thing about this game.  Where I’m all for trying everything in V:TES, generally a two hour game where other people have challenges building decks quickly, I’m not so excited at the idea of building tons of decks for this 1.5 hour game, even if throwing together some cards is actually quite easy.

In fact, I’ve mostly lost interest in playing Dragon, while Crane/Phoenix seem like boring/effort, respectively.  I love ponies, well … Jun did.  Lion are so overpowered that it’s difficult to play them until they are no longer “the crutch”.  Wait, that’s just groupthink.  Actually, they don’t easily play Cloud the Mind and Phoenix interactions are so convoluted maybe Phoenix have a good matchup somehow, while Crab seem to have a viable game plan.  I may want to feel Kachiko, but it’s unlikely that’s going to happen, and the other new stuff doesn’t pour my tea.

More neutrals, FFG, more neutrals.  Actually, I do think Phoenix needs to see some play when the 6/6 for 6 gets published.  But, I gurgitate.

In the “maybe” camp of what I want to play is another five Unicorn cards, four Crab, and four Lion.  Gee, it’s almost like I prefer some clans to other clans.  Maybe I’ll make a horrible beastmaster Lion deck for casual play.

By the way, here are some numbers because they amuse me.  Average point scores for:  Crab, 2.36; Crane, 2.29; Dragon, 2.15; Lion, 2.43 (only!!); Phoenix, 2.75(!!); Scorpion, 2.07; Unicorn, 2.07; Neutral, 2.75.  Of course, who cares about the low end of coasters and “casual” cards?  Top five of each:  Crab, 3.4; Crane, 3.2; Dragon, 2.8; Lion, 4; Phoenix, 3.6; Scorpion, 3.2; Unicorn, 3.4; Neutral, 3.8.  Whew!  Back to the norm of Lion brokenness.  Thank Amaterasu!

Holdings seem rather good, though some are clan specific so that reduces decisions.  Dynasty fare better than Conflict in general, which is good as conflict decks are already easy to vary and have an abundance of decisions, where dynasty really needs to see more divergent archetypes.

I still feel like there isn’t much variety in deck construction, but that could be because I’m used to playing games with large card pools.  However, then there’s Traveller, where I feel like you can make a lot of different sorts of decks.  Of course, Traveller has no factionalism in deck construction like L5R, V:TES, and Shadowfist do.  If you want to make a Scout Cargo deck with 58 crew cards, you can make a Scout Cargo deck with 58 crew cards.  Subsidized Merchant with zero crew may not be good, but, hey, maybe it could function off of just upgrades and events.  Would be techy against crew control decks.

Keeper/Seeker and “[element] only” just further reduce available card pool.  More minor clans FFG, more minor clans!  Then, maybe I’ll be actually enthusiastic about building a few decks, whereas …

…  I feel like my latest rant about FCG vs. VCG deserves … stay on target … an entire blog post!  Because everyone likes a little whip action to their ponies, er, …

Merry Christmas, missed Hanukkah, Winter Solstice passed, later on New Year’s as I indulge in the Best Of …


The Last-est Review

December 23, 2017

Of course, I need to comment on The Last Jedi.  And, of course, I’ll come up with some flimsy justification for how this has anything to do with gaming.

2.5 stars

People keep asking me “Out of how many?”  Um, four, like normal critics use, as opposed to the enormity of what happens in the interwebs.

I’m sure I’ll spoil in some manner, so I’ll drone for a while before getting into specifics.

I was traveling and didn’t have a lot I needed to do, so my father and I decided we would use some of our time together to see the movie.  On Saturday.  Not today Saturday, a whole week ago.  I was worried about lines.  Nope.  There was a line for some group event, but there was no one in line to get into the theaters normally.  I estimate about 20% full in the theater.

So, I rarely see movies any time close to when they come out because I don’t much like movies.  But, for adventure movies, comedies, whatever, you kind of like audience reaction.

Still droning.  Resaw it again today and had no new reactions.  Sure, was less surprising, but it didn’t reveal anything different.

I enjoyed Force Awakens more.  Now, you can hear the screaming of the tortured souls of people I know who were incredibly offended by Force Awakens for reasons I don’t exactly get.  I was somewhat offended by John Carter for getting the main character wrong, not having impactful book events be all that impactful, and generally messing with the setting.  But, one, whatever medium I experience something in is going to cause me to have some level of disdain for another medium’s offering.  Two, Lynn Collins was entirely respectable.

Force Awakens was not perfect.  While I may have already reviewed it, what worked for me was that I found Rey and Finn likable.

So, let’s get into where The Last Jedi didn’t Zahn me.  Rey and Finn weren’t on screen enough.  Oh, I’m sure someone else could have worked for taking up more of Poe’s screen time or Porg screen time.  Problem with Poe is that he seems so artificial, so much like a caricature trying to be passed off as a character.  If he was Wedge’s kid, then maybe he would be likable.  As is, just a space bro.

The humor was sometimes humorous.  Other times, forced.  In general, the movie just seemed kind of cheesy.  Like it was trying to get away with what Return of the Jedi got away with (argued about how Ewoks were not that offensive at the time, recently).

Stuff with Luke and Leia neither bothered me nor fired my ion cannons.  I did like the animesque scene.  I didn’t think Luke’s character was assassinated.  Nor was I bothered by what the Force can do.

I didn’t think there were too many subplots, as some did, as the most complained about subplot has reasons for existing besides special effects.  I didn’t have a problem with the new characters, per se, though how badly would you want Billy Dee to show up?

Sure, it was long and slowish.  After the fact, you realize that there’s an inherent weakness to primary plot number one.

Kylo is still hard to take seriously as a villain, but I would agree that he was less painful this time around.

Okay, bigger problems for this movie, then bigger problems for the trilogy.

There’s a subtle problem with the movie that I think various viewers feel but may not articulate in the typical brilliant way that I’m about to.  Star Wars is space opera.  It captured people’s souls by being mythical.  A quintessential element to Star Wars that you saw in even not so great Extended Universe books but was clearly evident in the better books, like the first Zahn trilogy, was that “try” becomes “do”.  In other words, if you attempt to fight the good fight, there is a reward for doing so, even if lots of people die and lots of other people remain subjugated.  TLJ has this underlying problem that there was no reward for doing the right thing.

The villains in the trilogy suck.  Was there a decent villain in Force Awakens?  I can’t think of any other villains of consequence besides the losers we are saddled with in this movie.  Vader was a good villain.  The Emperor was an okay villain.  Okay, some of the others weren’t all that.  The Jar Jar Trilogy had some incredibly forgettable villains in that I only know they were in the movies but don’t remember them doing anything besides he-who-does-not-speak-while-doublebladed-fighting.

One of the scenes that some reviewers went gaga over actually offended me.  Let’s just say that doing the obvious after lots of people die is not nearly as cool as doing the obvious before lots of people die.

Okay, moving on to general trilogy problems featured in this movie.  WTF is going on?  Force Awakens made no sense with the political situation, this movie doesn’t help, throwing a bone to why The First Order is suddenly that much more powerful.  Totally unsatisfying why the situation is what it is.  Related and part of this problem is one of the villains.  Well, kind of two of the villains, but at least one has a background.

I fully expect an attempt at some payoff on certain threads that felt like they were abandoned in this movie in Episode 9, but it still comes across as “wait, you have a 2.5 hour movie and can’t follow up on this thing that could have been cool?”

I could have mentioned before the ship in the water, which I don’t expect to go anywhere, but it kind of falls into the “setup with no payoff” problem.

There were pretty scenes that didn’t distract me but enhanced the experience.  This is totally unlike the Jar Jar Trilogy, where special effects seemed to exist to just get people to look at special effects.

It was okay.  It was worth watching.  It just wasn’t a great movie and didn’t have even the entertainment value that Force Awakens had.

So, gaming.

We played like one or two sessions of a Star Wars d20 campaign that maybe would have worked because I was playing with people I already knew who were more cognizant of genre play.  Other than that, my recollections are all terrible games set in the SW universe that had nothing to do with SW.

The Last Jedi actually does a pretty good job of presenting examples of reasons why SW RPG play doesn’t end up working.  The codebreaker is much more along the lines of what a lot of PCs are.  Now, I expect the next movie to do something with the character, but where A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back did it right by having the characters have some sort of arc, this was just a dude in this movie.  And, that’s a general problem with a ton of RPG play – why do people want to play games where PCs are just dudes?

Next, the pacing is too slow.  The original movies mostly moved at lightspeed.

Is there silly in SW from the original days?  Perhaps.  There was certainly some slapsticky humor.  But, there are times when this movie feels like a parody, and that’s not what provides the experience people seem to want out of a genre.  I don’t want parody of Eternal Champion or parody of Lord of the Rings or parody of supers.  I want to capture what attracted me to the genre in the first place.  RPG play so often dips into the realm of parody.

There isn’t enough Force except when there’s too much.  A huge problem with RPG play is that people want to be Jedi or their ilk, yet the good movies have a balance of Jedi and … no, not edge of the Empire scum, sealife aliens, etc … heroic types good at things actually relevant in RPG play.  Han, Lando, Chewbacca, Wedge, Ackbar … okay, Ackbar’s skills don’t translate great to adventures at least not his movie skills.  And, R2 is completely overpowered, just as BB8 is.  Anyway, the Force.  There are scenes that I just think to myself “Here’s where the PC spends a Force Point.”  So, there’s that.  But, the Force as something more than a mechanic feels missing from SW play.  Space opera.  It’s just high fantasy or comic book supers in another form.  Destiny, interconnection of events, soap opera aspects are not what I’ve gotten out of gaming.

I’ve gotten – we have to smuggle stuff, how do we make credits from this job, alien mechanics, interpreting Force rules.  There’s a dearth of epic.  I realize that the scale of going X-Wing versus Star Destroyer gets to be an issue and that even Tie-Fighter vs. X-Wing leaves out PCs who aren’t flygals.  But, that’s SW.  You have to have epic space battles.  Wars in the Stars.  I have no recollection of ever feeling like one of the good guys in a SW RPG session.  Not to say it never happened, but it’s a sign that I never recall it.

Of course, it’s not like SW has the only problem failing to hit the genre feel/conventions.  Supers, high fantasy are both genres I don’t recall playing where I felt it often enough.  Actually, a few times with supers it may have felt right.  Martial arts gaming also has some issues, though I haven’t had that many opportunities to play that.

So, I have a long weekend.  I hope to bang out some posts, including a post about what new cards (maybe even new decks) I’m interested in for L5R.


Weighing The Options

December 12, 2017

“After you push the door open, six goblins standing near a chest charge, roll initiative …”

“As you turn the corner, six orcs see you, scream something, and charge.  Roll initiative …”

I got to thinking about scale.  At a point in our Conan campaign, Brad and I talked about the point of playing higher level characters.  If all we were going to do was just face tougher enemies, why not just reboot the campaign and play at a more manageable level?

There’s a reason Gorgriffspidrascorps exist.  People crave variety.  Just increasing hit points, improving AC, increasing damage output is repetitive.  Different special abilities allow for playing essentially the same videogame over and over and still having a varied experience.

Then, I started thinking about several other things.

One, people may crave variety, but so, so many players crave doing the same sorts of things over and over as evidenced by how many players will play functionally similar or identical PCs.  I’m even prone to doing something along these lines in that my first two HoR PCs were the same character, at least up until the point where my second PC had some sort of personality and goals.  Gamehole Con wasn’t great, but it gave me important insight into which classes I enjoy and which I don’t in True Dungeon, while giving me more variety than what most seem interested in in terms of mechanical variance.

Two, I got to thinking about L5R in contrast to D&D style games.  It occurred to me that leveling up didn’t produce the same experience, that mechanics change as you rank up.  Combat goes from interesting at rank 1, rank 2ish in 4e to … vicious … above that.

Sure, it’s possible to adjust challenges to try to scale them, but offense so outstrips defense outside of certain spells that it’s a lot of effort to find the right numbers to make combat feel similar to lower levels.

Now, the D&D player, used to magical abilities and whatnot is going to bring up that “save or die”, et al, change the nature of combat.  Conan had a built in save or die mechanic, though that seems rather similar to just dealing enough damage with a bardiche to one shot some dude with 8hp, anyway.  If anything, Conan might have done a good job of maintaining the feel of low level combat.

Anyway, back to L5R.  Higher rank play does feel different.  The mechanics of brutality align(?) with the focus on culture to encourage less mechanical play.  What’s the most common challenge that is actually challenging in my experience?  Trying to prove someone did something wrong who has higher status than the party and/or trying to conduct an investigation with someone of higher status impeding it.

Do other sorts of games scale?  Putting aside dungeon crawl boardgames, obviously videogames scale – see Tetris.  But, do CCGs scale?  The players are generally better the larger the event, but the game itself isn’t providing greater challenges unless you make up your own in solitaire play.

Is there a reason to get (mechanically) stronger?

A challenge fight anime has is that the power jumps are so massive that you lose any sense of character abilities.  If you go by dubbed Dragonball Z comments, whatever the official stats may be, Super Saiyan Goku has a power level of one billion.  Compare that with the 180,000 that he reads at earlier in the same arc, nevermind what a wuss everyone is when Vegeta first arrives on Earth.  Bleach’s Ichigo’s fights become far less interesting because it’s just massive energy attack after massive energy attack.

Stronger has issues.  It’s prone to “fighting ogres instead of orcs”.  Now, more interesting applications of abilities is interesting in the moment, but how often do characters “forget” their own abilities because they need to be challenged in their stories?

Is higher level play more fun?  I certainly never found higher rank play more fun in L5R, though I got into a discussion with one HoR player who said that higher rank play was what appealed to her.

From a mechanical perspective, I have the sense that when we were in the 8th level range in Conan, we had the best adventures, but was that because of the level or some other factor?  Low level felt too much like you lacked a variety of abilities or anything that distinguished you from another bardiche wielder.  High level was prone to ability paralysis by analysis because of more Feats.

Because this topic isn’t well rooted in my mindspace, I’m going to just keep bouncing around.  L5R combat – is it memorable to me?  I remember fights, but do I remember them because of what I did or because of how they fit in the narrative.  I generally believe the latter.  Sure, the time I did more than 100 wounds in one round using a war fan against oni was memorable from a mechanical standpoint, but that’s because it should be.  I don’t remember much in terms of how many enemies I slew or how much damage I generated in most L5R play.  Kidai finished off a variety of things because he often guarded for a while until there was a reason to finish something off.  But, that’s a general style of combat and not a measure of growing stronger.  If anything, Kidai got weaker over time relative to the rest of the party and the challenges they faced because I didn’t create an advanced school that let me do two attacks a round with a yumi.

The point, perhaps, of this post is that powering up doesn’t seem to have a lot of payoff.  Whether you just up the numbers for everything or just have sillier and sillier monsters to fight, the payoff of a good story so far outweighs the payoff of being more badass.

With Kidai, gaining 5 ranks of status was far less interesting than hanging out with a widow.  With the vaguely courtierish Jun, losing a rank of status to run off to Unicorn Lands was far more interesting than having two oni consider him the greatest threat in a party with rank 4/5/6 bushi and shugenja.  Ty captured some magic with a Shot In The Dark, while rarely having much murder-impact, except that one time the priest was behind a bunch of followers and really needed to fail a massive damage save.

I think this is where D&D style modules often lose me – the focus is on mechanical challenge.  I like the ones the most that have a town of NPCs.  I want to harp on this.  Even Stormbringer adventures felt more like there was something going on rather than a series of “rooms”.  L5R modules/adventures are much more about the plot than they are the mechanical challenges … in general.  (OTOH, I have gotten into the problem of mechanics not really mattering, and I’m sure I’ll go into it again.)

Is it optimal to just hover around low levels all of the time?  In L5R 3e/3r, I’d say absolutely.  But, I can see a progression in other games.  I just don’t see the progression in combat effectiveness mattering a whole lot.  Far more important for Jun to pick up two ranks of Cooking and two ranks of Shogi than in “If I activate this kata and spend a VP, then spend a VP on my attack in the full attack stance, then Honor Roll after I call 11 raises and fail, I should be attacking at 10k10+42 with 5 free raises on damage …”

Unlocking abilities is a thing.  Vampire has the huge problem that the most interesting abilities are insanely expensive, though it’s hardly the only game inflicted with such progressions.  It’s obvious my lack of experience actually playing campaign Champions, as you can always come up with the weirdest abilities right off the bat if you want, though PC progression does seem to tend towards expanding skills since they are so expensive and don’t tend to increase your 8d6 EB’s effectiveness.

To avoid the L5R well and to give some love to Conan play, I did a lot of things with Ty to try to broaden his abilities rather than just hack … and slash … better.  I felt like it had payoff, though I would have preferred not falling further and further behind on the kill-ometer by not just focusing on high yield abilities.

Anyway, does any of this matter?  I have my doubts.  The powergamers and buttkickers enjoy powering up, and I often play with their kind.  I’m certainly pro “spend XP to gain XYZ” and not opposed to “I’ll take this Feat at this level”.


Skullduggery

December 3, 2017

No, not a card of the weak entry.

Friday, played two games of L5R in like 3.5 hours.  That was not thrilling.  In fact, after we were done, the question was asked, “Do we enjoy playing this game?”

It’s unclear whether we do.  I continue to compare the game to chess.  Everything you do is a “move”.  While not impossible to come back from being behind, it can be draining to try to come back from behind – more so than the game already is.  A significant difference is that it’s not so clear when the game is essentially unwinnable, for one thing when is a game essentially unwinnable?  10% chance of winning?  5% chance?

I played Crab in the first game and my opponent conceded with something like one province broken.  I don’t think we broke a single province in Lion vs Crab in the first three rounds.  My first round Hida Kisada was still in play at the end, with both of us down to one card in hand at one point.  He sent three Lion, including Matsu Berserker and a dude with a Fine Katana in against my revealed province, Charged Toturi in, and I still won the conflict.  I got down to 5 Honor and, then, had like twice as much Honor as the Lion not long after, being around 14.

One of the big differences for me with playing this game versus the multiplayer CCGs I’ve been playing is that I enjoy far more when I’m doing well.  As long as I can do amusing things in multiplayer CCGs like … well, see below … I don’t need to be winning or end up winning to enjoy the game.  But, I find that L5R isn’t much fun when you feel like you are losing.  So, I’m not surprised that we called the game where his board would be clear and I’d still have Kisada in play for another round.

Second game, I played Unicorn vs Dragon.  This was very entertaining to me as it’s obvious that Unicorn should have a board of four characters – two courtiers, a shugenja, and a monk, with no cavalry.  That Unicorn should have three out of four guys honored.  That the attack on the stronghold can be 24 military with Cavalry Reserves in hand because a one cost dude is a 6/6 and because hardcasting Moto Horde is totally normal.  I am down on Ide Trader.  Just inclines me to jump through a bunch of hoops to trigger ability, though that’s what Unicorn is mostly like – spend lots of effort just to get back the cards and fate you spent trying to get cards and fate, while your smallish dudes can be easily stopped.

Still, I have cards coming, so I might find deck construction interesting enough.  Actually, thinking about it, L5R is being a lot like constructed Magic to me – fascinating from a deck construction standpoint, relatively unpleasant to actually play.

I don’t like chess.  I don’t like agonizing over decisions.

Saturday, we drove to Berkeley for a couple of games of V:TES.

Game 1:

Rick (POT/Pro high cap Amaranth) -> Ian (Mimir Will Survive) -> Mark (Lydia and Aus friends) -> Carol (!Malk SB) -> Alex (Ahrimanes) -> Brandon (Cube Toreador)

Brandon brought out Anneke, which led to Mark and Brandon “talking”.  I had lots of ways to deal with agg, so I often was blocking Baron Dieudonne, Adana, or Lydia.  Mimir did eventually get Disarmed as did Aksinya, but time ran out by the time the latter happened and Mimir came back to agg hands someone after being Disarmed.

I couldn’t put any forward pressure on, but that was a function of lacking ousting power in the deck.  I did Theft of Vitae someone, though.  Carol was doing fine until Mark got Talbot’s out and just murdered everyone.  Brandon lost a dude because of Adana and Mark wouldn’t help bloodhunt her, so Brandon blocked Lydia getting Preternatural Strength, and Anneke got diablerized.  Brandon got ousted.  And, that was it for the three hour game.

Game 2:

Brandon (as above) -> Ian (New Anarchs) -> Mark (Mata Hari does it all) -> Rick (Shatter the Gate/Parity Shift) -> Alex (as above)

Mark played Vaticination, looked at five players’ hands and discarded my Skullduggery.  You can have a lot more fun playing in NorCal.

I repeatedly blocked with Monica Chang because she was my most effective defense, playing Diversion at Thaum and being able to play Crawling Chamber.  I got out The Medic and Laura Goldman reasonably early.  Yes, that was my board.  Three vampires in play with a total of eight disciplines, where no two vampires shared a discipline.

Rick Shattered two Gates and got hit with Sensory Deprivation and, later, Pentex.  I called Reckless Agitation and ousted Mark, going to 20 pool.  Rick gave us shattered counters because nobody once tried to remove a Shatter the Gate.  Alex died.  I brought out Alabastrom, who in this deck Forced March.  We ran out of time, but, after time, I got Rick low and Brandon caused me to go to zero pool, where Rick Life Booned me and I tried to oust Rick which made it impossible for him to Parity Shift Brandon.  In a replay, if we were going to play it out, Rick and I probably talk about how to play out the endgame so that Brandon doesn’t just win.

I also Free States Ranted with a 3-cap to reduce two vampires to zero blood.  My Diversity got blocked when we all had shattered counters by not my predator.

So, V:TES can be played a number of different ways.  I was commenting to Brandon on the drive back that I enjoy it most when it avoids being completely noncompetitive and when it’s too competitive.  Would I ever play this deck in a tournament?  Of course not.  I’m just trying to play cards I’ve never played, like my entire Anthology Set crypt.

I had fun.  As I said recently, V:TES is something I can look forward to because it is so often enjoyable the way I play it.  The question is whether L5R can be played in a way where it’s actually fun for everyone.

If I didn’t have to do something soon, I’d probably post my decks since it’s unlikely I’d ever play either again.  Both decks need more ousting power, and the latter’s crypt may be funny, but it isn’t that interesting to me.  The Medic also needs way more Freak Drives than what I was running.  I should have played Skullduggery with him before it got discarded, but oh well.