KublaCon 2018

May 30, 2018

Kubla went about what I expected.  That’s not a superior thing.  I was committed to running five events.  I had done essentially zero prep for the con.  I was going to have to be there Friday and Monday, where I didn’t particularly want to be there Monday and didn’t want to be there Friday.

See, besides having a job where management doesn’t get specific ahead of time about leaving early going into holiday weekends, Memorial Day Weekend happens at the end of a month, which is right when I’m focusing on my primary reporting output.

Friday

I hope to get home early enough to nap because I’m old and I figured I would get less sleep than normal.  That didn’t work.  I picked up V:TES, Traveller, L5R 4e core book and headed up to Burlingame.

I ran my V:TES event which was talking to someone who had never played and probably still hasn’t and playing a couple of games with two people I don’t often see.  That’s actually a primary benefit of going to cons.  I may not game nearly as much as I used to, but I don’t have to con to game.  I do have to con to see a bunch of people I used to game with.

I forget to take my Black Chantry cards to the con, losing precious talking points for building brand new, heretofore discomprehended decks that will inspire our insect successors until the Sun reddens.

Saturday

I’m unsure I’m running something at 9AM.  I end up running a HoR mod for three people who know what HoR is plus a deadhead.  It’s okay.  The mod is amazingly lacking in material if you skip the inn.  It has an amusing monologue.

Anyway, food time afterwards.  By the time we get back, I have to run a 2PM mod for people who aren’t invested in HoR.  It seems to go reasonably well.  I eat some.  By the time I’m getting together with Jeff to get dinner, I have just finished lunch.  By the time I finished my Shanghai Dumpling Shop food, we drive over to Shanghai Dumpling Shop for food.  Why couldn’t the tan tan mian and lei sha tang wan be as good as they used to be?  Why?!?

Jeff wants me to play Lords of Hellas as a reference point for our designing a game we’ve talked about.

I understood the point.  Now, I didn’t want to play a 3 hour game at 8PM because I knew it would not go well the next day, but here are some pros and cons:

PROs

Turns can go quick.  It’s a game with a variety of things going on that you can play fast enough for people to keep engaged.  Multiple paths to victory does allow for interesting possibilities.  Players never seem out of the game and can come back.  Jeff has played a number of times and he finds that most players have a chance of winning.  While I prefer a pure mythological aesthetic, good aesthetics with pretty minis and play pieces.

Every game I’ve ever played of Lords of Hellas, I’ve ended the game with a Strength of 1, had multiple Blessings that rewarded hunting, and would have won off of the usurp action even if I didn’t win off of hoplite beatdown.

CONs

Your turns are kind of vaguely explained.  Your hero doesn’t have enough to do, though I ignored quests to the point that I don’t even know what the ones in play required, so maybe that was an option.  I don’t find hunting interesting mechanically.  Seems to be a game of lots of holding someone back from winning off of a third monster too much of the time.  Praying is not fun … when you don’t get to do it.

Every game I’ve ever played of Lords of Hellas, I started the game with no priest making, didn’t get a priest on my second turn, nor on my third turn.  Meant I could ignore injuries, of course.  I felt completely outclassed in terms of abilities, where my massive army didn’t assuage my ability envy.

Sunday

I sleep in because I can.

I arrive before the 2PM HoR political interactive we are running and find out which NPC I’m playing.  It doesn’t have that many players, which might be a good thing, where there was good diversity of clans.  It went fine.  Andy’s borrowed wig worked well.

I remain convinced that LARPing isn’t my thing as I find them tiring.

Finally, I get to play in the only event I played in.  Shadowfist Modern.  We were going to play with time limits in such a way that we could play a bunch of rounds.

We played one game in the tournament.  One, 3.5 hour game with four players.  The winner left and we played two pickup games of three.

The tournament was a good game.  It wasn’t fun.  None of the games were, though the third game had an amusing ending for me.

In the tournament, I got characters beaten down constantly, with my first hitter getting toasted as it was coming into play and another hitter getting toasted, this was after I discarded multiple hitters at the beginning of the game in order to get the two mandatory resources required to play Shadowfist without the GK house rules.  I would have decked, after Earl decked, as I had zero characters left in my hand or deck when Ray won.  Sure, I had chances to win, but they were pretty terrible chances and my experience with tournament Shadowfist play is that it often involves removing someone’s ability to win without the remover winning, which is just all kinds of antifun.  It’s like playing against rush combat constantly.

In the second game, which was a “20 minute” game even if it probably lasted longer, I had my first hitter toasted as it was coming into play and never played a character with cost above 1.

In the third game, I discarded a bunch of cards on the first turn and passed.  I discarded a bunch on the second turn and passed.  I discarded a bunch on the third turn and passed.  Maybe the fourth turn, maybe the fifth, I played a FSS and an Arcanomoth.  In the end, I Information Warfared my predator’s Abysmal Wyrm into my Manufactured Island which got replaced with a Gambling House and intercepted the Wyrm with … (playing Architects) … CHAR.  I then attacked Eagle Mountain for the win.

See.  I think the L5R LCG helps show, if not conclusively showed, that I’m really a multiplayer CCG player at this point because I don’t care about results.  I care about card interactions and making good choices.  My two opponents both failed to have anything to do for a while in that third game, then ended up wrecking each other to stabilize the game long enough for me to even participate.  While I might have made a good decision or two, that’s about all I had time to do in a game where both opponents were spent because I didn’t play half the game.

Sure, having chances to win is crucial to playing an enjoyable game, but it should come about due to good decisions and interesting card plays, not just because you are so pathetic no one cares what you do.

Monday

Get in early for my Traveller demo.  Show a bit of Traveller to those who aren’t familiar.  Build a deck and play Andy’s piracy deck.  I’m at 15 VPs after three rounds.  On round four, before I go to 19 VPs, he bankrupts me.  Just vicious play along the lines of what I’d expect competitive play to be like, where the contract deck and the attrition deck race and race fast.  More comments about this in the Traveller forums when I get a chance to post there.

Hit the donut shop for a burger.  Burger is pretty good.  Well, the onion ring and bacon on it helped a lot.  Once upon a time, Burlingame had some of the best donuts I’ve ever had.  I’m not sure that’s true, anymore.

Watch the Rockets/Warriors game.  I should never gamble on sports (except NFL, where I’ve only ever won money in Vegas) as the Warriors didn’t win by 25, like I expected.  Well, at least we got the finals every middle-thinking person wanted.

As an aside, no, not about His Airness versus the King, even though I’m a fan of both, nor about superteams crushing when they bother to remember that they have far more talent than anyone else or whatever, this season has been terrible.  I don’t mean the results of the playoffs, which ended up exactly the matchup I wanted in the finals.  I mean the season has been terrible.  So many stars or key players going down with injuries, sometimes right in the middle of conference finals.  Horrible playoff games where one team eviscerates the other only to be counterviscerated in the next game.  Were some bright spots, like Utah and New Orleans.  Then you have what fans call “awful coaching”.  Because everyone knows fans know more about how to play and lead teams than players and coaches.  Still, just ugly ball much of the time I bothered to catch games.  The high scoring potential of modern play with the frequency of three-point shooting probably does lead to more variance of results, but it’s the “could you just run some offense instead of holding the ball?” that gets repetitive.

Aftermath

I ran two events for games I care about with sparse attendance.  I played all of one scheduled event.  I played a game that I’m probably fine with starting at nearly my bed time [la-…].  What used to be my favorite restaurant isn’t nearly as good as it once was.  The days of great donuts seem to now require getting them near work, where I’ve never bought a donut at the donut shop but have bought dozens of sandwiches.  I had to drive up to the con on two days I had little interest in attending.  My one play event involved three bad games.  I didn’t see one of my friends at all and seem to be growing more distant to people I used to game with often enough.

Was it awful?  No.  It was about what I expected.  Too busy with no time to prep or to appreciate anything.  I already knew SDS’s food quality had declined.  Casual Shadowfist is far more fun (when people don’t steal your power).  Positive thinking might have led to more positive results.

Of course, I could put this in perspective.  Memorial Day isn’t just about gaming and basketball.  If suboptimal gaming is the worst problem in one’s life, going strong at first world probleming.  The car engine didn’t explode even though I ran low on oil and had to top it off.  No speeding tickets.  No muggings.  Didn’t lose or break the laptop.  Still able to walk up and down stairs at my advanced age while carrying 35 pounds of gaming stuff in backpacks.

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L5R Bonus Rules

May 19, 2018

I ran a session of Rokugan 1600 last Tuesday.  A side adventure as we only had two players.  For the Princess Police, we often did side adventures with three players, otherwise known as about half the party.  I have four players for 1600, and it’s typically going to be the situation that if one can’t play another can’t play.

The session went better than I expected in certain respects.  Rather than ignore my party NPC, the players made an effort to engage with her.  A lot more effort than I’m used to.  I’m sure there’s a lesson in not having so many NPCs who look a lot like Adriana Lima.

I could blow this off as a joke, but I think it is important.  Eventually, I’ll get back to my main subject.  As a player or a person, I don’t need every female around to be gorgeous.  It is even the truth that beauty isn’t always attractive, but that’s getting off topic.  Why be inclined to have a Buffyverse with RPGs?  Because that’s what literature is like.  Love/lust interests for fantasy protagonists tend to be … looking better than the norm.  Just picking out one example, which romantic interest in the the John Carter stories is not stunning (when in her own body)?

I choose Buffyverse as the term because … uh … TV tends to have attractive people, too.  Was talking recently about soap operas and, while a lot of the women aren’t my idea of sensational, some are.  Whether talking about Arabian Nights or Shakespeare, mental image I have of many a character is attractive, distinctly attractive, and looking better is something that correlates with attractiveness.

You also get distinctly unattractive, where ugliness correlates to that.  It’s a way to call out characters.  But, it’s not a great way to call out characters when the only difference between them is one has long hair and the other short or whatever.  And, it’s simplistic to rely upon such a device.

I don’t spend a ton of time on fleshing [hmmm … fleshing] out characters.  However, because I have a not small cast for 1600, I did try to go through and give every character, yes, even the male characters, multiple interests.  Well, Toku Rekku may not have broad interests, just intense interests in broads, but anyway.  This has, so far, helped, with the potential, perhaps, of continuing to give my players more to engage with.

Sound like banal observation?  Well, sure.  But, I find that L5R is particularly prone to creating large casts of NPCs.  I find this to be the case because L5R has a society.  When we played Conan, we were often on the move.  Have some young, hot noble in a session, next session raiding a tomb where the only living things are insects.  Sure, could be a L5R group often on the move, roving magistrate or whatever, but you have your Topaz/Emerald Championships, your Winter Courts, or whatever to ground the play in a fleshy world.

Large casts are troublesome.  I have some problems with L5R names in that people’s pronunciation is inconsistent and there can be very similar names and the names aren’t ones you hear all of the time, like distinguishing John from Sean or John from Joan.  But, I seem to have far fewer problems than others because Kitsu and Kitsuki mean very different things to me as do Kitsuki and Kitsune, so I’m listening for the distinctions.  Point being that it’s easy, in my experience, for players to get overwhelmed by NPC names.  In Princess Police, we had Hantei Hanahime and Shosuro Hanahime and I seemed to be the only one of the players who realized that until I pointed it out.  Have a family of Akodo, and may get Akodo Ichiro and Akodo Ichigo and Akodo Chisei and so on to where which NPC being talked about is not easy to track.  Obviously, if you run another game where Marcus Smith the Elder, Marcus Smith Jr., and Marcus Smith the Third are characters, that may not be so easy to track, either, but I haven’t played in a lot of those sorts of games.

By giving more attributes than “this is the incredibly handsome … uh … Yasuki”, may mean something in a player’s mind to where they bother remembering the name.  Just like how Topaz vs. Winter Court was completely different for me in PP after the WC folks got a few traits/interests.

But, anyway, kind of not why I wanted to talk about large casts.  Large casts are a problem for GMs because they require more work to make those distinctions.  I don’t care if the PCs are interested in five of my 20 NPCs or interested in two, but there’s a chicken and egg problem that I don’t know which two they will want to engage with and they don’t know which two they want to engage with until I fleshisize 20 out.

Got to move on to the point of my post before taking 1000 words on a common subject.

Another feature of that session was underwater combat.

Here are my house rules on underwater combat:  Scrolls aren’t so good if they are wet.  Don’t expect to swing a sword underwater.

Rather than come up with a bunch of mechanics to make ATNs lower for PCs and affect weapons differently and alter the effectiveness of spells, I just finned it.  I just scaled sea creature attacks and whatnot to the PCs normal stats, though it was kind of fortuitous, I mean totally intentionally planned [yeah], that the one NPC that joined the party that included a knifer was also a knifer.  I handwaved speaking with the breathing spell cast on the party.  The shugenja had memorized enough combat spells to do combat things.  Memorize spells, cheesemeisters, memorize spells – always Jade Strike, Path to Inner Peace, and some aggro combat spell (probably not ones that require being outside to cast).

Here are my house rules on climbing out of pit traps, something that is of great concern to one of the PCs:  “L5R doesn’t concern itself with elevation.” – some precious gift of a hu-man.

It’s almost like L5R is like some ancient RPGs that didn’t feel a need to mechanize everything in existence.  How much falling damage do you take for jumping into a 20′ pit?  30′ pit?  Depends upon my mood.

Ironically, I consider it a strength of mine (whether anyone else does is unknown) that I whip up ad hoc mechanics for specific scenes in specific sessions that strike me as balanced and of exceeding joy to the world.  Or, well, joy to me to see whether the PCs encounter the horned fish that stares at them or not.  I have rather elaborate Lore results tables for the amulet that the party was sent to retrieve in that session.  Sure, they are just longer versions of gossip results in HoR mods, but this is just an example of something I was looking at recently.

Roll Void

< 10 = You are cursed! You have one less Void Point to spend until the curse is lifted.
10-19 = Just another day in the desert ruins.
20-24 = As long as you are in Mada’in Saleh, you have one extra Void Point per day.
25-29 = You gain a rank of Luck while in Mada’in Saleh.
30-39 = You gain a rank of Luck.
40+ = You gain Great Destiny.

This is more my sort of special rules tables.  Is it balanced?  Worked, and one knows that all analysis of goodness can be determined by results.

By the way, I think I mentioned Mada’in Saleh before, but maybe not.  This is the sort of thing that gets me fired up when GMing – taking interesting stuff from a real world and using it in a sort-of-real world.

Yodotai decorations also figured on the troglodytic tombs when the territory traded with the Yodotai. In contrast to the elaborate exteriors, the interiors of the rock-cut structures are severe and plain.

I’m sure you can figure out how this description came about if you cared, which I’m also sure you don’t.

At some point, you may have considered giving up on this post because I hadn’t given you something to steal for your own play.  But, then, you made your Willpower roll and are going to be rewarded with the greatest thing since adding cashews to your pork stew, which only ended us as stew instead of pot roast because you had never used your Instant Pot before.

“What does Battle (Skirmish) do?”  “Nothing, but I give an Initiative bonus …”

Skirmish Battle Rules

PER/Battle (Skirmish) TN 15 “contested”, rolled at the beginning of each round

Failure:
Choose one combatant of consequence, that combatant cannot act this round (includes no Full Defense).

Success:
Free 10’ movement for one combatant that is not limited by Water.

Raises > Enemy:
Each Raise can be used to increase one Initiative by 5 or for 10’ movement.

Geniusness?  Jigoku, no!  But, it’s a start and maybe I’ll use some of my precious nap time this weekend to, instead, write up even more extensive rules that are completely untested.

Geniusness-of-a-sort?  Tengoku, yes!  Every time I read 4e mass combat rules I come away with “What is the point of this?  How would any PC survive most of these heroic actions?”  They are garbage.  In that, what is remotely appealing about using them?  Gen Con Battle Interactives may not always work well mechanically, but they have interesting stuff going on either thematically, mechanically, or both – probably some brilliant stuff.

Take garbage mass combat rules, take that while I wanted mass combat to be a thing in this war campaign I realized that the upcoming encounter isn’t really mass combat but is … wait for it … not normal combat … stay on target … red, red, red!! … Skirmish Battle!?!  Take that I like creating my own mechanics.  And, you get the single most defining thing in any campaign in the history of the hu-man races – the introduction, adoption, and total rewriting/dropping after they don’t work as intended Skirmish Battle Rules!?!

Well, I could find something else to mine from one, kind of 2.5 hour session, but I’m all for terse pithiness …


Pasticheing

May 13, 2018

I read three books recently.  None of them were my books.  Most of the books gotten for me in recent years I have yet to read because, well, I can always do it later, in theory.  Whereas, my mother is working on getting rid of some of her books, which includes a lot of mysteries.

Why not a Mother’s Day themed post?  Family tradition, at least as far back as my grandmother, that we don’t celebrate it.

Sherlock Holmes story I would not consider a pastiche as it didn’t really imitate ACD in style, just used his characters.  It was interesting to read but, much like recent Star Wars movies, you can pick at it more and more after the fact.  I read some reviews afterwards and I could see the problems with it.  It wasn’t much of a SH story.  SH was incapacitated for much of the early book, it involved romantic notions involving not-Watson, it was goryesque (for me, irrelevant), it had Mycroft swinging between appearing to be brotherly and being mucho manipulative.  And, then, I realized it didn’t really try to solve any mystery.  As I’ve said before, SH stories aren’t about good mysteries, they are about fanciful characters and dramatic moments, but they still use a mystery as the basis of a plot.  In this case, sure, you could call the beating up of SH by an unknown assailant a mystery and some boring murders, but it’s not a SH-style mystery.  Once SH is on stage, you are pretty much just left with determining which of two brothers is a bad guy, where forensic type clues are largely meaningless.

Then, I read a Robin Hudson novel – that’s the protagonist’s name.  Author would be Sparkle Hayter.  It was fine.  Expectations are different.  The focus was on presenting an appealing protagonist and I’m all for redheads built like Rita Hayworth who keep poison ivy around in their apartments.  What this book had in common was that it was very, very focused on characters and the mystery was pretty unimportant.  Some guy gets killed and there’s barely any explanation as to precisely how by the end of the book.  I’m not sure the supporting characters hold up as plausible given the relationship drama and the events of the book that cause all sorts of public scandals.  But, I wouldn’t be opposed to reading the other four Robin Hudson books, until I’ve read another.

Recently, I took a couple of sessions to read a Judge Dee book.  I had never read one before.  It was more mystery focused than the first two.  The cultural elements are distracting, with some of the diction sounding a bit too modern, but, hey, written in the ’60’s, so whatever.  It was fine.  I thought maybe it would be somewhat inspiring for L5R or whatever, but, even with fantasy elements, not so much.  I didn’t feel that strongly about any of the characters, which is contrastriffic to the other two books.

There are mysteries that can inspire me, whether it’s gaming or writing fantasy.  In fact, I still retain minimal recollections of being interested in doing a series of stories with a mystery feel involving a witch and her stepdaughter paladin.  But, I’m not feeling much from these books other than being somewhat transported to the realmscapes of the mind.

So, what has been going on gamingwise?

Shadowfist, where I gave up on the second of two games Thursday because I felt like I was wasting too many of my resources trying to keep the game going.  I still don’t get enough deckbuilding done as it’s not easy for me to throw something together before we play and I’m usually interested in vegging for a bit after we play.

Traveller rulebook updates.  Commenting in our playtest forums.  Playing with Jeff yesterday as he was in town.  I wrote about our play session to some degree on the Traveller forums.

I need to do some work on session three of Rokugan 1600, The Northern Front.  I have ideas I like, but ideas don’t make product.

True Dungeon forumites up in arms about Gen Con electronic tickets and no ghosting policies.  I just hope our situation isn’t affected by “improving the experience”.  In general, I still come from things with a casual player’s perspective rather than 1%er’s viewpoint, so a lot of things don’t steal my sheep.

I finally bought V:TES cards from drivethrucards.com after it kept denying my checkout because my name wasn’t in my address even though I had ordered stuff before with the same address.  Otherwise, haven’t been thinking much about V:TES.  At the rate I’m going, Origins prep would likely happen right before Origins, which is way too late for the number of decks I should build.

To a degree, have I gotten to the point of imitating my old habits?  I don’t build decks that often, yet have three games I have reasons to build decks for.  I don’t try to play RPGs.  I acquire more stuff seemingly because I feel I should rather than for a passionate desire to have the stuff.

Everything seems to be waiting on conventions.  KublaCon for HoR engagement.  Origins for V:TES engagement and TD engagement.  GC for HoR engagement and TD engagement.  Traveller is when I’m needed for something rather than trying to get ahead of the curve on our release plans.

On the other hand, finding solace in something distracting with no greater project impact, like driving through a short novel is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been inclined to do.  Then, there’s getting caught up on Arrowverse shows, which is so not that great.  Still haven’t broken down and watched an Into the Badlands episode for season three, so maybe that will be inspiring when I get around to it.


Jinn Con

May 6, 2018

Gen Con event registration was earlier today.  I got into everything I signed up for, which is pretty normal as my wish lists are Heroes of Rokugan heavy, even more so this year, with my esoteric RPGs not even as popular as previous years.  According to my friend, we got into all of the True Dungeon events we wanted, which involved lots of late night sessions, which is probably how that worked out.

Speaking of previous years, I was doing some house cleaning and found miscellaneous items from Gen Con 2005 and 2006, including a disturbing number of Steak & Shake receipts for the same transaction (#258, not to be confused with the receipts I found for something like three other transactions that year).  I have both program booklets.  One year, we stayed at the Omni and it was like a total of $160 a night after taxes.

In 2006, I played:

Puritan Dogs in the Vineyard

Brawny Thews (Conan d20)

Rescuing the Dead (Armageddon RPG)

Bonfire of the Vanities (Four Colors al Fresco)

Work Sucks (Hunter: The Reckoning, probably the hotel game where a vampire convention was going on and I was playing a chef)

The City of Lies (HoR2)

HoR Open

Serenity 003: It’s Been a Pleasure (Serenity RPG)

Escape the Spider Cult (not writing the whole title, True Dungeon) x3 (three tickets, think that was the year Bernie went)

Escape the Spider Cult x3 (I don’t think we did the same adventure twice …)

Ten events.  That makes sense as I think of Gen Con having 11 slots, 3 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2 on Sunday.  In recent years, I no longer leave a hole in my schedule as there are far more things I’d like to do than I can schedule in the paltry four days of gaming that GC provides.  Would need like six days to have a leisurely schedule of three games four days and two games the other two days.

Speaking of 2006, I also found my invitation to an April 1st birthday party.  A birthday party for a 90 year old Japanese woman.  I went to it.

I found other amusing things.

I seek the ninth level of power and, maybe, an inexpensive hairbrush.

I say this as an elf.  I have worked with reindeer for years.  I’ve driven a reindeer sled to work for the last eleven years.  They are the dolphins of land animals.  They speak English!

After all, you can’t spell slaughter without laughter.

You think you the first barely legal chick to tie me up and try to eat my friend right in front of me?

Ah, the good ole days, when I used to gather quotes to use as email sigs.

Speaking of sigs …, er, speaking of L5R home campaigns, I ran session two of Rokugan 1600, The Northern Front.

Session zero was March Unto Death.  Session one was Briefing, the heavy in what’s going on session before a quick rescue mission.  Session two was Tonic & Jinn, a vignette heavy session to give more opportunity to engage individually with NPCs, where an assassination attempt was foiled by two non-blind PCs.  Though, Jinn Toxic or a variety of other variants would have also worked.

Our window to play is short, as we use weeknights.  That means I need to prepare to only cover sections of an overall narrative.  Still heavy on explaining and light on activity, but we will see if next session, which involves mass combat, will feel more vigorous.