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