Living Legends

October 28, 2017

I’m sure the most fascinating thing I could write about is how Arrowverse shows generally improved after the season openers, especially Flash.  No?  How about about how I’m catching up on season 10 of Doctor Who and I was quite interested in things up until the terrible parts 2 and 3 of the monk trilogy?  Nyet?

What about the Shadowfist Kickstarter that is moving slow?  I guess at some point, games just die.  I certainly feel like there aren’t enough people actually playing to generate enough backers to make it happen.

Okay, let’s talk about something that will stir your soul, well, at least if part of your soul is floppy.

Last Sunday, I played in a L5R LCG tournament.  Single core, which almost everyone is done with, so it’s kind of irrelevant how the decks were built.

I played Lion, not because I’m so into … [redacted].  But, because the first thing anyone should ever learn in card game play is aggro, beatdown, 3 to the dome – one.  Two, Kitsu Spiritcaller could have supplied brokenness in a single core environment to a degree higher than the benefit in a 3x core.  Yup, I was trying to build a good deck.

In preparation for the tournament, I had to deal with family stuff, so I didn’t prepare.

Round 1:

Bye.

Round 2:

Play against Kenneth with Phoenix/Scorpion.  Single core tech?  Adept of Shadows is a body (not that kind of body, well, who knows?).  I had body problems in the end.  This proved rather important as, when we were getting short on time, I conceded to the overwhelming power of his two Wandering Ronin with fate on them.

I felt I learned some things.  In this game.  My first ever tournament game.  My second ever game.

I felt I learned that I’m not an expert at this game and not only made some serious decision mistakes but forgot card abilities at times, including the Imperial Favor pump.  Here’s the thing as the real world intrudes upon the better world of gaming – I said to our latest hire in my department “I don’t care if people are stupid.  I care if they don’t get less stupid.” or something similar.  Point being, I believe learning is important.  I still make terrible Shadowfist decisions, as evidenced by Thursday night’s play, but I think I make decent decisions within our meta a reasonable amount of time.

I learned that Wandering Ronin is like the best card ever … when the only two characters your opponent can play from their dynasty flop is two Miya Mystics.  Actually, given the format, admittedly an irrelevant format at this point, Wandering Ronin is actually a house.  It can deal with conflict type flipping, which, of course, I ran into playing against Phoenix under the stronghold.

I had 13 fate when I conceded.  It was an amusing game and a key part of my, yes, committing to L5R, so now I’m some fanatic who must pledge his reincarnatable spirit to a single clan as well as a weirdo dice chucker.  I was at 5 honor, with three broken provinces and two cards left in my dynasty deck, though, we could have theoretically survived the round … Kenneth was at 2 honor.  Yup, typical Lion vs. Phoenix – see if you can somehow not honor suicide yourself.  Btw, I never drew one of the Assassinations in this game.  I’ll get to honor more, soon.

Last two cards of my deck were Toturi and Matsu Berserker (useless due to playing against Phoenix).  My Spiritcaller got face down broken pretty early on.

Kenneth’s average card bid?  I figure about 1.2.  I lost honor multiple times bidding 2.  Welp, that’s Shadow- … er … L5R.

Round 3:

Erinn was also playing Lion but went with … hmmm … I should have written this earlier in the week, I actually can’t remember.

My intention when putting together the deck was to play the fate game.  Figure Lion lose on the conflict card side so just manage fate better and have more permanents with better abilities.  I somehow didn’t really play that game in my first tournament game ever.  I did in this game.  At the point where I could Stand Your Ground to keep Honored General in play with multiple other dudes or the round I started with like 5 dudes in play to his zero, I figured I had the game.

We were running low on time because this game plays slow, especially with people who – get this – play tournaments without dozens of games under their belt.  I set up to break third and attack stronghold in last round, Assassinationing his attempt to win a conflict on the round because, oddly, neither one of us was that low on honor.  His average bid?  Maybe about 1.2.

I did cheat to a degree in that I had two Favorite Grounds and a Spyglass on a dude and drew three cards, but I ended the game with like 9 cards in hand to his 3, where his two Ornate Fans didn’t help defend in my military conflict against his stronghold.

What did I learn?  Putting fate on Wandering Ronin is like totally broken …  I should try this play in triple core and see how it fares.  Sarcasm aside, I hated flopping Miya Mystics most of all.  Otomo and Seppun consistently screw me not just because I often don’t have the Favor but … new paragraph for emphasis time …

So much of what I read was how dashes were often better than zeroes as it meant people couldn’t hook you or duel you or whatever.  Well, dueling is not a thing in single core in that I don’t know if a single duel took place during the tournament.  What is a thing is conflict type swapping.  What is a thing is chumping to preserve honor.  I would love for the Imperials to have zeroes so that when I can’t attack with them, they can actually do something besides stand for Favor.

I’m now somewhat katana shy on dashers.  In fact, I’m more excited by 1/1’s for 1 due to dorkiness.  I can murder provinces if I can just get someone to attack.  I can chump block.  Is this relevant for triple core?  For real constructed next month or the month after when something besides a tiny card pool exists?

Maybe.  Actually, bunch of deck ideas already for me, including the all neutral, all the time deck, the Unicorn political honor runner, Dragon swarm, etc.

Round 4:

We didn’t have a round four.  We did have a raffle.  With three tickets in the raffle, I managed to fail to get any of 20 or so raffled prizes in a 15 player tournament.  I think one other player, with possibly a worse record, therefore fewer tickets, shared this honor.

That contributed to a general feeling I had.  I played all of two games.  I lost a game I felt like I could have won if I had made any of a number of decisions better.  I blew out my opponent in my only real win.  I got no meaningful participation prize.  It was just a generally disappointing and frustrating experience.

And, yet, I still decided to go get more cards.

I find that neither V:TES nor Shadowfist metagames matter to me.  Not that V:TES doesn’t have metagames for various tournaments, they just aren’t predictable enough for me to take advantage of them.

Trying to be competitive, trying to build good decks, having card analysis and metagame analysis theoretically give me an edge, playing more games with more people – these are good things.

Okay, so what’s wrong with L5R?

Already went into how easy it is to get honored out of the game.  My concern is that honor will continue to suck, possibly becoming even worse.  Think about it.  In order for a deck to win with 25 honor, not currently realistic, it has to be able to deal with taking at least some honor hits.  In order for a deck to honor murder you, you have to not be rising towards 25 honor.  Sure, FFG can print swingy honor effects so that honor murder and honor happytimes can fight with each other and somehow have a meaningful game, though I doubt it will happen – I think one or the other has no chance.  But, that’s not the biggest problem.  The biggest problem is what happens when one of these extremes fights the middle.  If I can gain like 5 honor a round to make 25 plausible, the deck in the middle which is playing enough honor gain to fight the lose 3 honor a round decks can’t really do anything.  Well, that’s overstating.  They may not be able to do anything.  It is possible to create card pools where players can metagame.

But, how does the middle deck deal with both extremes in a meta?  An honor murder deck isn’t viable unless it can murder an honor runner.  Natural meta reaction is to give up on honor murder if everyone becomes enamored with running, which is its own problem.  But, let’s say that honor murder remains viable.  Then middlers have to deal with even more race to the bottom.

It might have been interesting if the range for honor was like 0 to 15 and clans started at like 8.  The range from 0 to 25 is vast and calls for especially swingy effects.  I guess this is a serious, ultracompetitive CCG, so players adapt and run enough cards to not have the extremes win before you can break dance, plus the extremeys run enough break dancing to have game.

Other than the honor thing, and the offensive tournament rules (apparently standard for FFG because … I have no idea why companies hate so much on players playing things that are supposed to be fun), I don’t really have a problem with the game, based on my vast and near infinite play experience.  Maybe I’ll hate more later.

Because other topics aren’t likely to generate enough inspiration for their own posts because somebody is the antipithy master, a quick comment about RPG modules.

I keep looking at my D&D, AD&D modules from like the 80s, and I am mostly pained.  I realized I despise the layout.  Contrast with HoR mods.  HoR mods have a story with admittedly limited rails.  These old mods have dungeons with treasure and monsters just incomprehensibly allocated to provide challenges largely of three types:  traps, beef fights, special ability fights.  I guess I can comment more on things like UK1 some day, but I just wanted to throw out that I actually kind of like I2, Tomb of the Lizard King.  Oh, I have no idea whether it works mechanically, but it feels like there’s something more than rolling on random dungeon tables for monsters and treasures.  Ironically, for the serious dungeon crawling group, it has a major fail in that it isn’t remotely clear how you move to the end of the adventure.  I suppose a real DM will notice and put stairs on level 2 going down.

May have been something else, but I think that’s good for now.  Got to finish up my Dragon deck, figure out what splash to do for the third of my test decks.  Of course, if those three are my test decks, what’s “my” deck going to be?  Crab?  Crane is too … Craney.  Phoenix may be too Phoenixy.  You know, Unicorn does actually have a few cards I like.  Courtier/monk, honor runner it is.

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Anti Death And Dismemberment

October 7, 2017

Well, dismemberment isn’t really the likely result.  Disintegration is probably more likely.

So, it’s not that I haven’t looked at, skimmed, and even read my AD&D 1e books and modules in the last 35+ years.  It’s that they have low penetration because I’ve used so little of the game besides Polymorph Self followed by Invisibility in order to polymorph into a Storm Giant and backstab other giants.  You know, compared to what you see in mods for optimal PC play, that actually seems reasonable.

The material is inspiring to some degree.  Oh, not much of it.  Most of it is boring as hell.  Some of it is amusing if not quite to the same level as Temple of Set lunacy.  Treasure locations and types are particularly bizarre.

Just to be positive because everyone knows I’m all about the positive, monsters, magic items, and locations are what I find most inspiring.  I realize the intent of towns in mods is to provide adventure, which is why half of every town seems to be evil rather than just being people trying to live their lives in worlds where monsters can attack at any time from any direction.  Still, towns are just so much more interesting than dungeons.  Even when towns are treated like dungeons, where every location has stats and treasure notes.

While lots of monsters are absurd/silly, there are actually evocative monsters.  Something about ghouls.  I can’t stand level drain (should be attribute loss of some sort), but other undead are also more interesting.  Not so much liches, at least not when a mod just throws a lich into a side passage.

Almost all DMG magic items just come across as insanely gamey, but, that’s probably because AD&D is a gamistfest of gamistness.  Meanwhile, mod magic items or the odd stuff NPCs might have are more akin to the distinctive items folks in books might actually have.

Segue time …

I tried to think of what magic items book characters run in series I have taken seriously.  Stormbringer is a special case, but, sure, magic swords are a thing.  Elric even runs around with a magic ring, gets a magic shield at some point, and whatever.  Actually, magic items are rather important in Moorcock’s other stuff.

I can think of cases where characters have special equipment that isn’t magical but is, uh, special.  Jon-Tom has his staff and his cape.  Actually, when trying to think of what sort of magic items are more likely (ignoring stuff like Arabian Nights’ style stories which tend more towards fairy tale style), cloaks are it.  Cloaks totally get play.  Corum had a magic cloak.  Invisibility is super relatively common.

I have ideas I’m putting down for an adventure.  Magic cloak for PC totally works for me in ways that so many other things don’t.  I could buy a staff (not a wand or a rod, unless it was Egyptian style scepter or the like), I guess.  Weapons, to a degree.  Sting was fine because it fit, even though how the party got those swords was grade A dungeon crawl stuff.  The big problem with weapons is that someone else can just take it from you and be that much more badass, whether someone who downs you in a fight or another party member who would use it better.

For example, you have two N level fighters.  One has a higher STR to hit/damage bonus, otherwise their stats are essentially identical.  One has a +1 shortsword and the other a +2 broadsword.  Who should wield which weapon?  It’s not like Mudge uses a shortsword because he’s compact and all about speed and Jon-Tom uses a long staff that gets longer because he’s unusually tall and not much of a weapons expert.  In terms of team optimization, either balance things by giving better weapon to lower STR lass or unbalance things and make stronger lass just better.  Same with armor.  I was looking at one module where a multiclass character had much lower HP but had a Ring of Regeneration.  Sure, that makes sense, but doesn’t it make more sense to just pass around the Ring tactically?

RuneQuest has you bind magic items a lot of the time.  I find it to be a terrible mechanic, but it does address the problem that equipment is just, er, equipment.  This is why I hate equipment that matters.  My style of FRPG would see fighters do more damage based on things like level or based on skill level, with STR following, finally maybe care about your stuff (well, obviously, magic stuff is going to be better than non-magical stuff).  I know games have done something like this.  L5R, to an extent, does this sort of thing with techniques that add damage or attacks, though a k3 katana is way better than a k2 katana.  Power Attack, et al, in d20 works this way, but, then, every fighter is going to have Power Attack, so back to being dependent upon equipment for differentiation.

Of course, it’s not just non-spellcasters.  Even magic-users are frequently going to focus on using things like wands to supplement how few spells they cast.  “I’ll whip out my Wand of Annoyances and do 1d2 damage.  Hey, Gindalf, you have any charges left on your Rod of Explosive Decompression?”

Speaking of death … oh, I wasn’t?

Speaking of death, I didn’t use to pay much attention to HP for pregen PCs or monsters.  I’m focusing more on that sort of thing because I realize that when you have a 12hp PC, it’s going to die young, unless it’s Neutral or Evil.  Get it?  Not just a joke, more likely the N or E PCs are going to split when the going gets dangerous.  But, I’m also paying more attention to how many attacks it will take a PC to off a monster, which is basic stuff, I know, but I gloss over the dull ubiquity that is numbers in mods.

Speaking of deadliness, I do find it humorous when the module calls out how dumb highly intelligent monsters are for using weapons when their natural attacks are far more dangerous.  But, go with it because you want to give the PCs some hope of surviving.

I’m anti-death.  Oh, sure, there are compelling arguments around how it destroys any sense of narrative when you just replace one victim with another victim.  But, that’s not my problem so much.  I just don’t see the point of not caring about your characters and that’s what random death does.  I’ve heard people talk about how much they loved certain characters for how they survived the massacrefest that is oD&D.  Sure, but that’s in the style of playing something more akin to a boardgame (one might even say a … wargame).  I’ve played way more RuneQuest than oD&D and I really couldn’t care less about any of my characters or anything they do because they are just waiting to die.  Oh, I did more enjoy the troll I played because he wasn’t guaranteed to die in half the fights, though he still never lived beyond one dungeon (in campaign play that was mostly wilderness encounters).  Even with ubiquitous resurrection so that you can keep playing the same PC, it’s just some numbers on a sheet of paper that gets murdered by numbers in a book.

On the other hand, if you play a game where death is as common as Rot Grubs, you are depriving people of the experience by allowing them to avoid falling for 20d6 damage.  It’s like a different game.  A weird game where monsters don’t devour you or turn your skin slimy … and then take your place in the party only to betray it later.

Maybe that’s the thing.  Forget campaign play.  It’s all about one-shots-in-the-head.  Play it tournament style where you score points for how successful team looter is.  Yes, that’s the model for various boardgames these days, but what sort of campaign do you have when the only continuity is Grog17, cousin to Grog16?

I still find parts of AD&D charming.  It still entertains me to stat up a group of teenage “gang” members even if I have no idea whether any of their thief skill percentages are good enough to matter.

One way I’m different is I find Deities & Demigods to be quite inspiring.  But, then, I like mythology.  I’m not going to have PCs fight gods so I’m not terribly worried about what spells a god can cast 1/day, but somewhere, between the numerical nonsense, you get something.  The art helps.  I like AD&D 1e art, when it’s serious, and am not bothered when it’s cartoonish.  I guess so does having some idea about who the various deities are besides what AC they have, what their Magic Resistances are, etc.

So, one can run something any which way but Chaotic Neutral.  …  What I meant to say was that it’s possible to steal small amounts of 1e and run something that interests me, 100% storyteller, more.  In theory.

In practice, well, maybe I’ll generate enough interest to try it.  And, if it doesn’t work, just switch systems to Fantasy Hero … then Stormbringer 1e … then The Fantasy Trip … then Weapons of the Gods … then Maelstrom … then 7th Sea 2e …

 


Hazard Play

October 1, 2017

I built two Commander decks.  Both use the same Commander because it’s a three color legend I can find.  Coincidentally(?), one of my decks has a warrior thing going on and the Commander is a warrior.

I almost got a new V:TES deck done yesterday … for a session that never happened.  I suffered injury before I could complete the deck.  Old age?  Stricken down by higher powers?  Don’t try to move around heavy boxes of cards in cramped spaces without care for one’s back?  That the deck runs at least three cards on my personal banned list would suggest higher powers, but, since my back still hurts, maybe not everything can be blamed on malevolent spirits.

I am in the process of reading AD&D 1e materials.  Clearly, True Dungeon got me thinking about oD&D, while there’s this recurring question as to whether oD&D materials are actually useful for anything except humor.

I have an inkling of a goal.  Maybe I abandon it before it becomes a second stage inkle.  I’m actually thinking of using AD&D mechanics for a non-VRPG (videogame RPG) experience.  First thing to do is strip out things that I don’t consider relevant, like races.  Then, put back in racial modifiers for different tribes of humans; just kidding, possibly, or not.  One questions why not just use Conan d20, a system known to be playable, unlike the highly questionable system where a PC might have 9 hit points at level 5 (using max HP at first level for this magic-user).

Already arbitrary to start PCs at 38,000 XP (or so), rather than have players enjoy moving up through levels in the old school, Survivor-style play. Then, I have a vague idea for how to roll attributes that will lead to superiorites rather than loserites, like how the DMG offers up a variety of ways to not start out with a loserite.

Far less weird to play something else, like Fantasy Hero with 150 point characters or whatever, though as much as I’m curious about playing a basic FH campaign or a mythological FH game, part of the idea was to take only that which I find charming in AD&D and rip out a bunch of mechanics that mean nothing to me, like weapon to hit modifiers based on opposing armor type.  Or, do I rip out those mechanics …?

How to deal with magic items?

My view on magic items is that they should always be personal and specific.  Sure, once upon a time, I thought in terms of +3 Frostbrands and whatnot, but no more.  A magic item is special and not just something you will to your replacement PC for when you are guaranteed to fail your disintegrate save while your magic items pass.

That requires work.  See, that’s the thing.  You can play anything anyways you want given enough work.  But, the more work, the less it makes sense to bother since there’s, like, a lot of alternatives and one or two alternatives are better.

What’s really going on?

Lack of something to focus around.  I’m looking for something different because I don’t have V:TES or Shadowfist or HoR or “other” to keep my brain energies channeled.  I’m mentally wandering, looking to be entertained.

If I play Commander or run AD&D or find something else to latch on to for a bit until Gamehole Con pushes TD to the fore again, well, that’s fine.  This is why I’m a gamer and not elsenkind.

How to deal with spells in a less gamist experience?  No idea.  Sure, memorize that Feather Fall when the likelihood of it doing anything is:  implausible.  It’s not like Dungeon-451, part 8, wherein the party has gotten to level 5 of the dungeon and discovered a mighty waterfall guarded by owlbears and xorn.  Sorry, I played some AD&D but not enough ever to see Feather Fall or a host of other spells cast.  My magic-user/thief would just Polymorph Self all of the time, anyway, so I could always fly while scouting/fighting.

Maybe abandon the charm of AD&D as written with tons of expurgations.  Have clerics and magic-users (I’m thinking avoid druids for the moment and illusionists seem bizarrely pointless) just cast whatever they like up to their spell slot limits each day to allow for flexibility.  Well, whatever they like except limits on known spells and deity approval.

What sort of armor do PCs wear?  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

I don’t really like the D&D paradigm in the first place.  I just want to use classes because I suddenly have this enthusiasm for classes and distinct abilities.  Actually, I was hoping to have rangers and paladins cast spells, but I forgot how high level they need to be to do that.  Definitely not dealing with 9th+ level characters in systems I’m less familiar with.

It is amusing to pay more attention to the ridiculous.  Sure, I have Best of Dragon Magazine I, II, and III, so I have consolidated articles on why monks and bards are absurd mechanically and could be done differently.  Nope.  Monks and bards don’t exist.  Now, psionics …  If you ignore psionic attacks/defenses and just looked at the powers, those are almost a functional magic system.  Not really, as some are just completely over the top, but Cell Adjustment is like how healing should kinda sorta work.

People played the game.  A lot.  Not sure how.  But, they did.

Anyway, the preference would be more V:TES, more Shadowfist deckbuilding, and finding some way to get more RPG play in either my running or someone else running.  It’s time to flame on, er, game on.

 


World Of Command

September 24, 2017

So, I have played some things recently that were outside the norm.

Old boardgame group got together and played two games we’ve played a lot:  Lords of Waterdeep; Scepter of Zavandor.  The latter was something of a teaching game for my friend’s son, who won easily … with emeralds.  You could go look up Scepter of Zavandor, look at prior posts where I contrast it with Outpost, or I could just say it’s a reskinned Outpost that fixes the massive problem Outpost has with snowballing victory or … maybe better way to think of it … lack of snowballing into irrelevancy.  Remember, if you can outproduce everyone, just keep pushing further and further ahead.

I also wrote up some V:TES decks, which is arguably so trivial for me to do that it hardly qualified as gaming related, more of a 10 minute thought puzzle per deck.

My friend and I played through some of a tutorial for the Myth boardgame.  Lots of stuff going on in that.  Because of hanging out with him, I got to thinking about playing/running a simple AD&D game.  So, I went to my stack of old modules and … couldn’t pull out a module from what was a stack of all sorts of things.  Instead, I pulled out Greyhawk Adventures.  Yup.  The AD&D hard bound book for AD&D/AD&D2e.  Because people who write blogs like these have this sort of thing just lying around.

I actually read some of it.  I looked at the adventures – I guess I’m the sort of jaded gamer who is the target audience for zero level play except I don’t have any interest in playing a loser [uh … no comment].  I read some monster entries, glanced at god write-ups, skimmed through some NPCs.  There’s so much potential in RPGs for amazing stuff, yet the yesterworld was just replete with game stats.  I guess it can be inspiring, somehow.

Made me think that I should suggest to TD to use a Gorgriffspidrascorp as a monster some year.

But, the most different thing was playing Magic.  My first play of Commander was in Stockholm because my first “play” of Caylus was in Shanghai, etc.  Rather than ‘fist each other, I borrowed a Commander deck and only played my Commander after two players were eliminated?!?  Might have been right before my prey was eliminated.  I think I attacked with my Commander once in the game.

I can see the appeal of Commander, to a degree.  I would rather play Advanced Squad Commander with Commander rules and 50 card decks or 60 card decks, but I get that lack of reliably is an essential part of people enjoying the format.  It does address some of the problems of playing standard constructed.  But, I realize at certain points in Commander games – all two I’ve ever played – that it still has Magic’s fundamental flaw of drawing one card a turn.

I was mana limited all game.  Finally got an artifact in play to accelerate beyond four mana a turn and had the artifact bounced back to my hand.  Sure, I won.  But, that’s because I have decades worth of multiplayer CCG experience and have some vague idea what the rules for Banding are (white not my preferred color but whatever).

Yet, as much as Magic has this flaw, other CCGs have other flaws and the only perfect CCG is …

No, Ultimate Combat! isn’t perfect.  No, the Traveller Card Game isn’t perfect.  What’s perfect are all of those individual experiences playing whichever flawed game where you just enjoy the heck out of what you are doing.  The Level the Playing Field vs. Not Meant to Be war I can vaguely recall while in Castro Valley playing with one of B5’s designers.  Ousting two players with Jake Washington in a tournament.  And, others that will become harder and harder to remember as I age.

So, I’m fine with playing Commander.  I’m fine with building Commander decks.  But, where other people get off on trying to build coherent Commander decks that abuse their Commanders’ abilities or whatever.

I.  I opened up a pack of Betrayers of Kamigawa and Saviors of Kamigawa to see if I got a legend to use.  I did.  Now, Champions of Kamigawa would make more sense, but I have fewer of those packs lying around, maybe one or two, maybe not even that many.  I am now at a point where I don’t know whether to continue to open Kamigawa packs until I can put together a 100 card deck or branch out so that I can support a 100 card black deck where I couldn’t care less if I ever put my commander into play.

Do I just open packs of things I have lying around until I can make a deck?  Or settle on particular blocks (much harder given what I have in packs)?  Do I try to preserve some way to track what I’m opening out of packs so that I can convert Commander cards into Type P decks?  Would I ever try to construct a real constructed Commander deck rather than a sealed Commander deck?  I don’t see why.  I don’t enjoy actually putting together constructed Magic decks.  Oh, sure, I enjoy thinking about them.  But, where V:TES with its no card limits and numerous close substitutes doesn’t feel onerous to me at all in terms of what I’m willing to play with, Magic constructed has always felt onerous to me, even if I could scrape together an Essence Vortex deck with one copy of Necropotence (and lose a game because I played Necropotence rather than just own with Essence Vortex).

I really like the idea of putting together a mono-color Kamigawa deck from just opening packs, but I don’t think it’s possible.  I’m not even sure how feasible it would be if I had boxes sitting around unopened.  The amount of packs I imagine I’d need to open to have a minimum number of non-basics to field a deck seems to be so incredibly wasteful (unless I can P the other cards somehow) that I can’t justify living such an extravagant lifestyle [quiet, tokens are a new toy].  I, of course, would rather build multicolor Commander decks.  So, maybe I dig through Ravnos or Return to Ravnos packs, except I don’t have like infinite quantities of those, either.  I could breakdown my Type P decks I never play and have little interest in playing to have stock.  I could even write down the contents to recreate the Type P decks if I ever felt that was sufficiently important in my life.

Given that every time I play Shadowfist, I think about how I could build new decks, yet rarely build new decks, can I get fired up enough to build Commander decks?

This is the beauty of Type P.  Five packs, 27 basic land, done.  Megasealed, which is what I’m thinking about, is just so resource intensive.  I already have to hunt for basic land just to complete P decks.  Scary how much land would be needed to field sealed Commander decks.

Interestingly, one of my friends gets me stuff.  Makes me feel guilty for not getting him more stuff.  Now, I’m totally good with my female friends getting me stuff as I do get them stuff, but that’s not gaming related and, thus, neither here nor there.  Anyway, he has gotten me Magic stuff that involves legends that could be used as the bases for Commander decks.  Since I don’t know what else I could do with constructed materials like those, since Type P is the only format I build decks for, seems obvious to make use of stuff people give me that’s, uh, gaming related.


Dungeons and Dragons … and Dungeons …

September 6, 2014

Fifth edition D&D is out.  Maybe it’s my seeing the Player’s Handbook at the local game store.  Maybe it’s having read those reviews of starter rules.  I just read a review of the PHB and skimmed through a review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I don’t have an opinion about 5e, at least about whether it’s good or bad.  I don’t know enough.  It sounds like they tried to undo some of the “why am I not just playing WoW?” of 4e, which is a good goal, but I just don’t know the game.

I never bought 4e D&D.  I hardly played 3e D&D, though I played lots of d20.  I didn’t like the 3e books and pretty much hated the idea of 4e, since, you know, gamers I know have computers and can play WoW or whatever whenever they feel like it.

As may be fairly clear, I’m down on D&D.  So, I decided to do something.

I pulled out my AD&D (1e, of course) PHB and read it, skimming through a bunch of sections, but made an effort to spend some time on those sections I never cared that much about.  When I finished doing that, I pulled out my D&D Basic red book and read through that.

No, I didn’t stop to read every spell description or every monster writeup in Basic.  I did move quickly through most things because, as much as they haven’t been that relevant to me in my life, I looked at some of this stuff (far more AD&D than D&D) a good amount in my formative years.

I got D&D product for my birthday in 1980.  I picked up the AD&D PHB, DMG, MM, and Deities & Demigods in short order.  As with most RPGs where I bought a bunch of books prior to getting older and actually getting into campaigns, I created hundreds if not thousands of characters.

Will I pick up 5e D&D?  Probably not, though maybe something will change my mind.  Would I pick up AD&D today if somehow I lost my books?  Not to play, no.

Still, there’s something about AD&D that I think 3e and 4e, both of which I’m at least somewhat familiar with, lack.  Every version of D&D now strikes me as overly mechanical.  What’s funny is that the Hero System feels less mechanical to me, even though it’s supernumbery.  Something about D&D has always been off when you try to envision taking a fantasy world from fiction and turning around and playing it.

But, it was first, and it was the only real game in town.  I still own zero Tunnels & Trolls products.  Why?  Don’t recall them ever being available when I was young.  Meanwhile, I have a bunch of modules for D&D and AD&D that are pritnear useless to me because they are statblock after 40×40 room after statblock after new magic items after new monsters after wandering monster tables after statblock.  There are interesting story ideas to be sure.  I3-I5 sounds like a cool desert trilogy.  I went to look for inspiration for a desert setting.  I found mechanics.  And, that’s one of the best sets of modules I can think of.

I love L1, The Secret of Bone Hill.  All of the little town shops that have some statted up low level dude do paint some sort of picture to me of a fantasy town.  The interactions of NPCs was something to hang a hat on.

But, getting back to the point.

Which is?

AD&D had something I haven’t felt from 3e and 4e.  It had flavor.  It felt like fantasy.  D&D has caused me to hate dwarves and elves unless you can get into Norse Mythology deep enough for me to forget how much D&D makes me hate dwarves and elves (and I always hated halflings and gnomes, which, by hate, I mean I tried to ignore them as much as possible).  But, that took time.  When I poured over the PHB character mechanics, I was perfectly happy to come up with multiclass builds for elves and half-elves.

Being the primary game in town gives you a lot.  See how reinventing Magic: The Gathering is just a waste of time, unless it’s done as a martial arts game with pictures of real martial artists and was done in 1995.  Still, the PHB made me want to play different characters.  The class system especially but also racial differences made me think of possible PCs.  I should say that the art in AD&D is just so much better than what I can remember seeing in other D&D products for making fantasy feel serious/important.  As silly as I may find D&D undead now, undead then was stylish, no matter how moronic level loss was.

Psionics?  Ludicrous.  Bard?  WTF?  Spell abuse?  Whatever.

What’s my main takeaway of reading the PHB these days?  It’s short.  It’s a lot shorter than it felt.  Note that I only focused on a small portion of it back in the day, but that’s kind of the point.  Back in the day, I was interested in creating characters for the game.  I was interested in what abilities got unlocked as you leveled up, even though I hardly ever played pre-d20 D&D to have characters level up.  Ten or so pages in the PHB opened up a massive world of fantasy.

I’m older now.  I’ve seen better.  I actually can picture fantasy PCs better with Body Pips and Stun Pips than I can with THAC0.  Of course, Fantasy Hero never had the world baggage that D&D acquired.  You didn’t need articles on the ecology of ochre jelly or how flying monsters twice as wide as people were behind dungeon doors that a human had to squeeze through.

oD&D is also so amazingly treasure focused.  Not to say nD&D isn’t, but it’s so fundamental to oD&D the idea that monsters guard treasure straight out of the videogames that came after D&D.  I used to not hate +2 swords.  I quite despise them, now, for their complete lack of flavor or specialness.  Retainers get a lot of paragraphs in those old books, yet I don’t recall, off the top of my head, ever having retainers in any RPG be something I spent virtually any time on or having virtually any impact on play.  But, when PCs died like flies, retainers dying first was great.

I read an article recently, which I’m pretty sure I blogged about, about how the point of oD&D was survival of the fittest.  It was a gamist venture from the wargame roots to survive as long as possible.  Just one more dungeon.  Just one more boss fight.  Just one more check for traps on the empty room with the chest in the corner.  Boardgames, such as Descent, cover this for tabletop play, and, of course, videogames.

Mechanics matter.  When I get together to talk L5R, most of the conversation has to do with character sheet stuff, whether what a character currently can roll or how XP will be spent.  I found better mechanics than D&D.  I quite dislike the 3-18 attribute system, these days.  I do like how D&D Basic/Expert/et al respect stats that aren’t 16+, if only slightly.  I actually quite dislike d20’s every two points is a one modifier, though, as it’s horribly inelegant compared to halving everything.  Nor am I fan of using a d20 for resolution.  It’s fine to roll a d20 for some esoteric table to give 20 possible results.  For standard resolution, however, a d10 is so much better (not to be confused with percentile – percentile is even worse than a d20 for the same reasons – it gives too many empty results, leading to everything feeling terribly mechanical even if it’s possible to scale everything in the game to where there’s no mathematical difference between the systems).

It’s funny to read how 5e making feats optional is bad because it takes away player choice.  Um, AD&D and Basic had nothing remotely like player choice after you adjusted your starting attributes and chose a class besides things like spells.  And, that was not the end of the world.  Sure, systems where you spend XP to make the improvements you want to make are vastly superior … vastly.  But, the d20 feat system sucks.  No, really, it sucks.  It has good intentions, but it sucks.  It has feats you would never take, feats you always take, and so many feats just come across as pure mechanics, lacking any sort of Both Guns Blazing or Carnival of Carnage flavor another RPG might have.

Would I play AD&D (1e, probably not 2e) or Basic?  Yeah, I can see it.  That Basic only has leather armor, chain armor, and plate armor is nice simplification.  Alignments are Chaotic Evil, but they are easily ignored.  I just feel like the oD&D mechanics, though screwy in all sorts of ways, were more elegant than more recent versions of the game.  I write down my strange saving throw numbers.  I have to get a magic weapon ASAP in order to hurt certain things.  I wonder why there are racial limits on classes and hope everyone dies before they matter.  I ignore how busted some spells can be … really, D&D Expert Haste affects 24 allies by giving them double attacks with no penalty … really?!?

I’m not opposed to dungeon crawl play – see interest in HeroQuest boardgame.  I’m not opposed to videogame role-playing.  I think my greatest problem with any new edition of D&D is just going to be the baggage of it never being what I prefer out of a RPG, which is an elegant set of rules for both character creation and resolution to tell stories in fantasy worlds (that aren’t silly).

I can go into a dungeon.  Draw a map.  Hope nobody cares about the party light source or how many feet it provides visibility for.  Hope we don’t have to stop and check for traps every 10′ and check for secret doors every 10′.  Maybe even play a spellcaster, as it occurs to me that I’ve played spellcasters a surprising amount in D&D play compared to other games.

Meanwhile, for more narrative play, I imagine using some other system because the habit, if not the requirement, with D&D is to fall into the dungeon crawl/tactical wargame aspects of it.  Oddly, that other system could be d20, of the Conan sort – I’ve never played Pathfinder and don’t get the sense that there’s any reason to start.  I’d prefer it to be Roll & Keep, but that requires effort and removing expectations.  Savage Worlds is not terrible, but I’m not sure I think it’s adequate.  Hero might be worth a shot, might not be.  GURPS?  No.  Unisystem?  Is there a reasonable fantasy option.  BRP?  No.

I’m not against D&D.  I don’t have a problem with it being an industry leader, nor do I really care that Pathfinder has surpassed other editions of D&D.  Though, I suppose there’s one way I have a problem with it.  It distracts from far better games, even far better fantasy games.  It gives people the wrong idea about what FRPing should be like.  The number of FRPGs that have elves and dwarves is horrendous.  No matter how brilliant the game might be, as soon as I see these sort of generic, I mean Tolkien, nonhuman races, I will lose interest.  Might as well play one of the versions of Middle Earth, even though I have a hard time seeing how to run a game in the world.

Okay, maybe I am kind of against D&D.  I’d rather see games on the shelf that let me play the game I’m interested in rather than some extraordinarily gamey world.  One might say GURPS has that niche, having a universal system for whatever genre you want, but GURPS is too heavy.  Okay, some people really like Savage Worlds.  I tolerate it.  I’m sure the system closer to what I want a system to be has been made, but it probably included halflings or something and, thus, made itself unregardable.

Anyway, for those people who enjoy it, more dragon-subduing for ya … and dungeons.


Chromancy

September 14, 2013

I have no opinion on the game play, not having time at Gen Con to demo it, but I hope people take a look at this Kickstarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tsh/chromancer-adaptive-strategy-online-trading-card-g

Speaking of time magic, I’ve slid into a reflective mood at times, recently.  I’ve already touched upon the subject of playing a game without worrying about the game – just do whatever seems fun.  And, many of my deckbuilding gimmicks have involved rewinding time to a point when there were fewer cards and my deckbuilding strategies were different.

But, I’ve been thinking about what appeals and what doesn’t about various games that led me to where I am.

Chess

I have books on chess.  For some reason, I keep pulling one of them down from the shelf that I’ve never enjoyed reading.  The problem with its format is that it sets up a key point in a game to illustrate an aspect of chess and gives the key move … and then gives all of the remaining moves in the game without diagrams of the evolving play position.  I’m not motivated to pull out a set and play through the moves.  I realize that means I’m not the target audience.

Why am I not a target audience for chess?

It’s a game with completely known information.  I may not be that into surprises, but I like guessing.  I like unknown information, which, as I keep saying, is why I prefer CCGs to CMGs or CDGs.

But, it occurred to me that there’s another aspect of chess that differentiates itself from, say, Dragon Dice or another game with known info.  Symmetry.  Collectible/customizable games lack symmetry.  RPGs lack symmetry.  Some boardgames have symmetry or close to it, while others have varying start positions or have factions.

While having nothing to do with time, lack of symmetry is appealing to me.  I don’t like doing what everyone else does, which is quite obvious with my RPG characters but should be obvious with my CCG decks.  That ability to do something different is dependent upon the lack of symmetry in a game.  Sure, you can make various dumb opening moves in chess games that nobody makes just to be different, but the goal isn’t to be stupid, it’s to be different, and there are only so many of those moves, anyway.

Mahjong

When am I ever going to play again?  No idea.

Note that mahjong has hidden information.  I found the subgame of trying to guess what people have in their hands to be quite entertaining.  It’s also asymmetrical!  Sure, you have equal chances of having any hand, but you never have the same hand as someone else, even though it’s possible.

Rather than break bridge out into its own section, as I’ve never played a significant amount of bridge, I’d just point out how scientific games like bridge are because by definition you cannot have the same cards in hand as someone else.

Mahjong was my favorite game growing up for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with its mechanics.  It was a family thing.  It has gambling.  The tiles (without numbers) look cool.  Different sets had different styles which gave different personalities.  I liked the old-fashioned or more stylized sets much of the time.  I even collected sets – I’ve always been into collecting.

And, it had special mechanics that separated it from rummy card games I played.  Certain melds, certain tiles (flowers), certain hands all followed special rules, which even bled into special rules in play.  “Nine down” meant you had to be careful about throwing a tile of that suit, and so forth with the exotic/esoteric old school style of play that the family used.

Style.  Specialness/unusualness.  Trying to read other people’s positions not by trying to read other people but by following their actions.  These and possibly more are elements I see in games I choose to play today.

AD&D

I technically started with some transitional product between D&D and AD&D, but AD&D was really my first experience with D&D.  A very limited experience as I didn’t play the game growing up, just bought it and read it and did some character creation and whatnot.

That period of being interested in AD&D but not playing it had an effect that makes me wonder about my current tastes in RPGs.  The reality is, while maybe not a problem for the day or when put up against so many competitors, the mechanics of D&D games rather suck.  What drew me in with the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual was flavor.  The art made me interested in creating a paladin character (or a victim of a succubus or whatever).  I had yet to become offended by how dwarves and elves and other demihuman races are portrayed in RPGs.  Even the art in Dragon magazine and the like was appealing with Phil Foglio cartoon humor, et al.

One of the reasons I stopped buying D&D products is that it lost all of its flavor to me.  Fourth Edition may be the worst offender when it comes to feeling like everything is just numbers, but 3e started down the path of making the game feel just mechanical to me, even if that path had been started previously with 2e or whatever.

Now, if there weren’t other RPGs out there, then maybe I would have stuck with it.  Off the top of my head, I’m trying to think of what fantasy RPG showed me a different model.  Not Melee/Wizard/The Fantasy Trip – those were precursors to an even more mechanical feeling game:  GURPS (Fantasy).  Champions certainly would never have made me see a different path!!

It had to be something about playing at conventions in one-shots of more narrative games.  Vampire: The Masquerade, perhaps, with 7th Sea being a more fantasy RPG in a similar vein.

But, you know what?  It might have been Origins 1994 that took me down my path.

Immortal – The Invisible War

Once my favorite RPG (maybe even game).  Highlander (TV series) and World of Darkness RPGs is what I thought of when I was first exposed to this (playwise, I saw ads for it in Dragon) when Origins was in San Jose (it was in San Mateo in 1981?!?).  After having Ran Ackels, the designer, run a table for me at Origins, I started describing it as a cross between Highlander and Mage.

I have my signed copy sitting a couple feet away.  I’m getting interested in it again, though no one else would ever run it for me and I don’t have any desire to run it, myself.

What was so appealing about it?

First, mythology.  I love mythology.  Where I got increasingly disenchanted with AD&D because I thought the game was making Tolkien (and the original Northern European myths) races silly, Immortal could be all about a spin on real world myths.  Sure, V:TM got there first as did whatever else, but this put world mythology up front.

Second, mechanics.  Sure, Immortal made InQuest Magazine’s “Games That Suck” article (I think the first one but maybe the second).  Sure, when talking to Ran and Rick Don, who became the game’s champion, there were comments about how the mechanics didn’t actually work.  But, I think that’s an important point – mechanics only need to seem to work.  I was not a campaigner back in the day.  I was a conventioner.  I didn’t see all of the problems in trying to build real characters or in how the GM was to resolve issues.  What I saw in that first experience was a PC going through sewage pipes in some liquid (maybe gas) form.  I saw my character look into the future and be reluctant to tell anyone what would happen because, the more the future is known, the less you can change it.

But, I’m getting off track on mechanics.  What appealed to me about the mechanics was Floating Immaculum.  And, yes, the game had just as many and possibly more (!!) pretentious names for everything.  Immortals have (rainbow colored) Halos, which are attributes.  They have Motes of Immaculum in those Halos, showing how strong the attribute is.  Okay, just pretentious names for same old, same old.  Except, Dragon Magazine’s Immortal flyer went over Free Immaculum.  Immortals have a certain number of Motes that can be moved around from attribute to attribute.  I need to be stronger, I assign to Orange.  Faster, Green.  If I leave it as Free, my initiative or number of actions or something was improved.

The art isn’t quite my style, but it was evocative.  But, I digress.

Immortal gave me a view of a RPG that could appeal on a story level much more than “My half-elf is multiclassed fighter/magic-user and will Sleep the orcs.”  It gave me weird mechanics (to go with mundane things that were essentially modern day skills – I also like real world settings whether modern or historical).  It was not a mass market product.  When I played it, which, at first, was only with Ran running, I got to do cool stuff, the mechanics were incredibly minimal, but it didn’t have the “rules lite” annoyances that a lot of more modern games incorporated.

For a time, it was perfect.  Later, it became less perfect in my eyes.  I saw more of the challenges in mechanics and running a campaign.  I really didn’t like what was done with Second Edition.  The game became too much about Immortal politics rather than modern day mythology in my play.

Tying into Chromancy, there was even time travel in some adventure I was in, might have been the LARP I played in.

Time

Time to wrap things up.  Memories make you.  There have been many games I’ve left behind that mattered a lot at the time.  Besides leading to me to where I am, it is possible to go back to the well with some of these games.  Can still riff on Babylon 5 with that CCG, can still try to do opening hand optimization with the Wheel of Time CCG, can still play the most fun CCG of all time, Ultimate Combat!, and, of course, RPGs never become obsolete.  After all, how different is Melee/Wizard from, say, BattleTech?