Bushido Mechanics

February 26, 2012

Can’t spell Compassion without Passion,
Can’t spell Courage without Rage,
Can’t spell Sincerity without Sin,
Can’t spell Duty without … um … doh!
… back to the drawing board.

No, not talking about the RPG Bushido, though I do own it and met someone recently who ran/played it, much to my surprise – very hard system.

I’ve been thinking increasingly about distinguishing character facets by pulling out each of the L5R tenets of bushido.

Bushido Hierarchy

I have trouble seeing my HoR characters’ personalities.  Since I’m pro-Honor, I started thinking about which tenets they cared more about to act Honor-ably (try to up their Honor Ranks) during play.  It didn’t take long to realize that the obvious thing to do was to simply rank every tenet.  For the moment, not putting any numerical value on them but just seeing what was relatively more or less important.

My first pass was interesting.  I certainly realized that I didn’t really know for many of the tenets what they believed was important.  Also, I ended up with two very similar profiles, which seemed wrong.

Example:

Bushido Hierarchy:
Courage > Courtesy > Sincerity > Honor > Honesty > Compassion > Duty

I ended up redoing my hierarchy for my other character.  One thing that was throwing me was that I was using astrology, both Eastern and Western to aid forming these characters’ personalities and the keywords I pulled out for their signs pushed me into a lot of tenets.  At first, I had both characters caring little about Duty but realized that Duty was one of the most important aspects of my other character.

Of course, the higher one’s Honor Rank, the stronger the character feels in general.  The lowest tenet for one character may be more valued than the highest of another.  Which brings us to scoring.

Individual Scores

One of my characters is Honor 5 and the other Honor 7.  These are the averages of the rank values for the individual tenets, though I don’t think a lot of people really think about it from this direction.  While certainly people realize that Honor Rank is an average and that different tenets are ranked differently, that the average of those ranks should be the same as the overall can be surprising to look at.

A character may very well be 10 in Duty and 1 in everything else, a Scorpion say, and average out to a 2.  Not surprised?  Well, that’s a stereotypical case.  What about someone who is 10 in three tenets and 1 in the rest, averaging out to about 5.  This character is extreme, to the point where I couldn’t see it being all that reasonable.  Still, variance is an issue, though high Honor and low Honor characters are going to be much more limited in variance.

Example:

Bushido Hierarchy:
Sincerity – 9
Duty – 9
Courtesy – 7
Compassion – 7
Honesty – 6
Courage – 6
Honor – 5

This is, of course, my Honor 7 character.  What stands out to me isn’t the high end but that he’s really not all that Honor(tenet)able.  Just average.  Ignoring that Honor (tenet) and Honor (mechanic) get confusing, it helps me to realize what I can let slide.  There’s also a medium level of variance, in my opinion.  An Honor 8 character has to get into 10’s to have more than a slight variance.

It would be interesting to build more characters with one superlow number to really define the character in the setting.  Speaking of which, how do these numbers come about?

How To Score?

For my characters, I’ve given them astrological signs and went through my astrology books to pull out character traits.  Often, those traits correspond to tenets (or work against them).

Example:

Sheep – righteous, sincere, gullible, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, fashionable, creative worker, emotional, pessimistic, withdrawn, gentle, compassionate, forgiving, dislikes strict schedules, doesn’t take well to discipline or criticism, fond of children/animals, close to nature, homebody, subjective, food/shelter/clothing, lucky, survivor, placate/evade enemies, roundabout, worrier, romantic

This is for the second character.  Note that his Compassion isn’t all that high relative to other tenets.  Other tenets came up as important when looking at his Western sign.

But, not every character has had this much work put into it.  The mechanics of L5R, itself, help produce values or a hierarchy.  “Paragon of …” or “Failure of Bushido: …” should clearly distinguish tenets.  I’m working on a character at the moment with Paragon of Compassion and Failure of Honesty.  If I don’t score Compassion highest and Honesty lowest, I’m being inconsistent.

Then, there’s background and the more common stuff that players come up with for their characters.  My Sheep belongs to a family that puts in a lot of hard work and is very traditional but also went to a school that is very much into hard work.  All of this lends itself well to Duty being an important aspect, which was why I redid my numbers for the character to where, now, Duty is a 9.

There’s another way.  I don’t have much respect for random character creation out of a book – any system.  But, inconsistently, I find randomizing for my own benefit very helpful for coming up with a more fully realized (or weirder) character concept.  While building the new character, I hadn’t decided what Paragon or what Failure (if Failure at all) the character would have, so I rolled d10’s to give relative values for each tenet.  As the character is starting out with 7.5 Honor, I simply added two to each die result.  The average was right on.  The results kind of problematic.

A disadvantage of random results, which is why I’m against being forced to be random, is that you get results you aren’t comfortable with.

I also randomly rolled d12’s for astrological signs, getting Ox and Pisces.  That was less problematic, though, going with this will force me to stretch some as a role-player.

But, why does this all matter?

Tenets

I see the tenets being rather confusing.  In particular, sincerity and honor are confusing.  What’s amusing is that L5R doesn’t really try to define honor, even though that only makes it worse for players and GMs.  At least there’s some attempt to separate honesty and sincerity.

Compassion

Not much of an issue here.  Though, it’s interesting how much of Rokugani society is predicated upon the idea that your lessers aren’t even people when the encouraged philosophy says to be nice to them.

Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is making fear your bitch.  However, fear, itself, is considered a weakness in Rokugan, which is also inconsistent when courage can’t exist without it.

Courtesy

Okay, be polite at all times.  But, it’s no biggy if you murder someone for disrespecting your sword?  Okay, kind of weird.  Metagamewise, anyone accidentally touching your blades, you, or whatever should be left off the hook so that you look compassionate and courteous.  Though, see honor.

Duty

Simple enough, until you get into Scorpion “loyalty”.  Is loyalty just duty or something more?  Do Scorpion even make sense?

Honesty

I get the distinction between honesty and sincerity when it comes to speaking.  When it comes to philosophy, it’s messier.  So, just being truthful, in and of itself, is honorable, yet being dishonest in a sincere way is also (partially) honorable?

Honor

Big problem of definition in L5R because Honor is a mechanic as well as a tenet.  I did a dictionary search of honor for guidance.  Very interesting in that it went in a direction I don’t think about for L5R.

Respect, esteem, privilege, exalted position – these all tie heavily into Status.  The idea that honorable actions are actions worthy of praise or reward is different from the internal concept of integrity, which seems to be what L5R is going for.

Killing an oni is?  Dutiful?  To an extent.  But, really, it’s honorable in the sense of doing something that should be esteemed.  Yet, the game would think of this more as Glory-ous.  Similarly, everything under Glory would tie into honor if you look at honor externally as something to be proud of.

If you look to define integrity, once you get past honest, you get into a definition loop.  Moral, righteous, virtuous – it all ends up being the same thing.  Correct action.  But, that’s circular.  What is correct?  Can only know that by knowing what is honorable/virtuous.

Sincerity

At least honor seems like something we comprehend even if we can’t define it.  Sincerity’s problem is honesty.  Again, it’s simple to distinguish the two when it comes to what someone says.  If someone speaks truth, then honest.  If someone lies or hedges, dishonest.  If someone sounds truthful, then sincere.  If someone sounds dishonest, then insincere.

But, that just means that honesty and sincerity are differed by perspective.  That’s not entirely the distinction with sincerity that L5R is going for.  There’s a concept of sincerity of action that honesty doesn’t really apply to.

Being one in action and word gets mentioned multiple times.  What does this mean?  There’s an element of believing in one’s actions, including one’s speech.  There is no try, there is only do or do not.  Even if try is more honest.

How does this apply to playing the game?  Sincerity, to me, is very much about the lack of doubts, whether internal or external.  Credulity, believability.  Overconfident types aren’t sincere even if they have no internal doubts as they aren’t believable in what they think they can accomplish.

Actually, I’ve been trying to come up with a good model for opposing the Three Sins of Rokugan:  fear, desire, and regret.  Courage clearly opposes fear.  Duty clearly opposes desire.  What opposes regret?  I thought about honor, which also fits with seeing duty/honor/courage being the “action” tenets to compassion/courtesy/honesty/sincerity being the “social” tenets.

While sincerity’s lack of doubts lends itself to opposing fear, I can also see lacking doubts being anti-regret.  Then, compassion could have some element of overcoming regret, like courage overcomes fear, by being compassionate to oneself.  Maybe it’s easier to apply every tenet in some way against the Sins than I thought once you get into this line of thinking.

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Pisces II – Zodiac I

March 30, 2010

“I believe” in psychicosity.

So, you’re psychic … or not.  Is it better to be not psychic, little bit psychic, or very psychic?  And, what does this have to do with gaming, gaming analysis, or whatever?

What is the attraction of gaming?  There’s a contest, a challenge, obstacles to overcome.  Doesn’t being psychic take away from the challenge?

“You aren’t psychic.” – David Cherryholmes (possibly a paraphrase, I don’t remember).  The idea is that a game like V:TES cannot be predicted accurately at early stages.  Not that this necessarily has anything to do with being psychic, but let’s say psychicness substitutes for superior analysis and you do know how things are going to turn out.  Is the game worth playing at that point?  Is it worth knowing whether you were right?  Does the game change because you predict the outcome in a certain way to where the results don’t match expectations?  Let’s ignore situations where you just observe (and ignore that observing something affects it).

Which is more fun?  Less?  Not being psychic seems reasonable in that the result is unknown.  Even analysis that suggests an outcome is different from knowing an outcome.  But, is there something lacking when the psychic sensitivity is lacking?  A connection that transcends just doing?

Being very psychic seems terrible.  Really, who actually wants to know the future?  For me, a sign of a bad game is one in which it’s easy to work out who is going to win long before the game ends.  Magic has this problem (much of the time).  As great as it is in so many ways, it falls down as a game because it’s not fluid enough often enough.

So, what about a little bit psychic?  How many times have you seen someone playing the Bene Gesserit in the Dune boardgame (probably more than one but gamers probably have an idea which I’m referring to) predict the winner?  For me, every single time.  But, then, I had logic behind my guess.

Does having special insight into what’s going to go on have any benefit?  If you aren’t consistently psychic than you probably don’t know when you are being psychic which means you can’t be sure of outcomes.  Is the game of seeing whether the game turns out the way you expect a fun one?

Which is more valid:  The horror RPG philosophy that it’s better to know the truth even if the truth is awful?  Or, ignorance is bliss-ish?

One may wonder why I’m rambling on about psychic ability.  The connection with Pisces is obvious, but why does it matter?  From a game player’s standpoint, there’s a question as to how much you want to be able to predict outcomes seeing as how playing games is kind of/sort of supposed to be recreational, though I suppose there are quite a few out there who care far more about the results than people such as myself.  Is it ironic that I don’t get the sense that those people who care about results predict results or is it appropriate that the doing and the thinking are two different ways to approach games?

Then, on a very separate note, from a character standpoint, because how can I not talk about RPGs in one of my astrology posts, what does it really mean to be psychic, i.e. what are the implications for different levels of psychic awareness?  Frequently, in entertainment, there are extremes – either it’s wonderful to be able to pick winning lottery numbers or it’s horrible to know the terrible ways people will die.  Many RPGs have some sort of (vague) mechanic for prophetic dreams/insights.  L5R and Conan both have Divination, in the former as a skill, in the latter as a sorcery style.  How does a GM handle these abilities?  Does it benefit the player (not the character) to have these abilities?  I usually see people, myself included, eschew these abilities, though, I did enjoy the Serenade in Immortal: The Invisible War that allowed one to see the future.  So, maybe being psychic gets a bad rap.

And, so I come to the end of my series.  I predict not starting up Zodiac II any time soon.  As much as anything can inspire ideas, forced inspiration isn’t all that inspiring.


Pisces I – Zodiac I

March 30, 2010

Late as usual, but I get to the end of the series, finally.

Pisces
“I believe”
positive qualities:  humility, compassion, sensitivity, spiritual awareness, psychic comprehension, philosophic insight, healing potential
negative:  timidity, apprehension, masochism, idleness, lying, weakness of will
– Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”

Masochism & Idleness …

Or, more accurately, masochism or idleness.  One or the other seems to be where I go with deckbuilding these days.  When I generate the energy to build decks, I seem to end up with exercises in masochism while on some bizarre search for something different.

Pisces is the last sign of the Zodiac, the symbolic old soul who has been through all of the other signs.  I don’t know that that quite applies to me when it comes to deckbuilding – there are plenty of concepts and metaconcepts I haven’t tried.  But, the driver behind so much of what I do is to see something different.  Well, there’s also trying to be humorous, but telling the same joke over and over doesn’t exactly produce much of a payoff.

Timidity, apprehension, lying – too timid to really do different things, too apprehensive about the possibility of finding nothing there, lying about the idea that doing something different would be any less fun than masochistically trying the same old, same old or not trying at all.

Well, anyway, what do you do when you always want to do something different?  No, that’s not quite right.  What do you do when you want to do something different from what you’ve done recently?  Is that right?

I look back with fondness on what I did long ago.  Is there a point to revisiting old ideas?  Would an updated “I block crosstable superior Night Moves” deck really be all that compelling?  How compelling is revisiting vampires from Jyhad?  Library cards from that set that I’ve hardly considered in the last 8 or so years?

I played a new deck recently that was an all Jyhad library and it was far more interesting than most of my recent decks.  But, it falls into the same masochism trap when played in my usual environment.  I’ve been thinking about how little I’ve used the traditions in forever.  In particular, why not 1st, 3rd, 5th?  There’s always revisiting group 1 vampires, but eh, not a lot changes for them.

What of Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts?  Why not Vial of Elder Vitae?  So many more disciplines to fiddle around with.

When’s the last time I built a Dauntain, The Black Magician deck?  Actually, I don’t think I ever built a deck around the card.  I have Mind Rapes – why be so timid about playing with them?  Sure, I have *a* Shotgun Ritual in a deck, but why not more?  With Eldritch Glimmers?

Free States Rant is reasonable for a new Trujah deck.

Improvised Flamethrower … oh, that was an Imbued idea.

Aren’t I the one who keeps saying Baltimore Purge is underplayed?

When’s the last time I did anything with Black Hand?  Was it really that 4cl Tzimisce bleed deck?  Surely, finally getting around to some sort of Thuggee deck can’t be that bad.

So, I built that Camarilla PRE deck when Gehenna came out.  What happened to trying some other Gehenna-y crypts?  What’s keeping me from pulling the cards for that Una deck I wrote out last(?) year?

I think it was Kindred Most Wanted when I really started losing enthusiasm for novel ideas.  Trophies never did it for me.  Good stuff was too good.  Bad stuff was too bad.

The Tupdog set …

The …

I keep thinking of doing 3rd only decks since, then, all of the cards will be marked and all of the backs will go the same direction.  And, there are those cards I haven’t really examined, too.

Dum de dum dum.  Black Hand.

Sheepdog, Zurich, hello cards I’ve done nothing with (well, with Zurich, in constructed play).

There was something about Twilight Rebellion, but I don’t recall what it was.

Must kill retainers.

Why is it so hard to build a Tunnel Runner deck?  Just because it’s strictly better than Ananasi Vampirephile?  Just because Akunanse are so dull?

Everything old is new again.  Except for maybe my stretching out a simple concept – that astrology makes for easy personalities for RPG characters – into a year long series of posts that actually don’t have a whole lot to do with the theme.


Aquarius II – Zodiac I

February 28, 2010

Some day, I might stop doing these at the last minute/late and split up articles covering different angles for different days.  Though, Wikipedia has an amusing line about the sidereal zodiac going from February 13th to March 14th.

The eccentric and uncooperative genius* (professor, scientist, holy person, whatever).  It’s a good character archetype.  What would Back to the Future be without it?  What would Doctor Who?

*  See Aquarius I for why this is relevant.

So, I have a task to spec out another NPC for the Conan campaign.  Since party NPCs who do the magic thang should be kind of less cooperative than usual to force the PCs to get stuff done on their own merits, why not have Aquarius in mind?  Actually, I think a player is going to play the character.  Yet, the player is eccentric and uncooperative (and friendly), so nothing really changes.  Not that the character’s personality is up to me, but it helps visualize the character which helps me with numbers.

Speaking of numbers, STR: 14, DEX: 13, CON: 17, INT: 17, WIS: 23, CHA: 18 seems about right for this 14th level scholar.  Got to love heroic character generation where this is an average character of such a level.  Even with an okay Con, I still need to make sure he has Great Fortitude as a feat to avoid the “squishy scholar” problem that can arise.  76 hit points would be adequate for someone who avoids doing dumb things, but our group isn’t known for that.

He totally should have Summon Elemental as a spell based on a writeup that our GM did, so that means Master Wards and Signs which means having four sorcery styles prior to 12th level (i.e. not foregoing a sorcery style).  Counterspells, Prestidigitation, Oriental, and?  Hypnotism will help with Wars of Souls.  Curses enables Gelid Bones for the one cheesy combat spell in Conan.

Expertise in Knowledge: Arcana and Decipher Script are obvious needs.  Knowledge: Religion makes sense for a priest even if it’s less of a need.  Can get into the mysteries mechanics, which I dislike for overcomplicating a game (d20) that doesn’t need complications.

Lightning Reflexes and a coherent plan for what to do in combat are likely important.  The former because Reflex saves actually matter in our campaign and a bump in initiative is okay.  The latter because the previous scholar’s plan was to act like a barbarian and go unconscious at inconvenient times.  Though, if Gelid Bones is going to happen, then the combat options are more limited as Combat Expertise is nonsynergistic, as would be Intricate Swordplay.  Even fighting defensively should be out, which makes 5 ranks in Tumble less important.  Hmmm.

The other think Oriental opens up is the Meditation path for Power Point recovery, awesome to have Greater Meditation compared to the rarely easy to pull off human sacrifice plan.

Not being very Aquarian in this post, going back to Wikipedia, we get links from Aquarius to the god Ea, which opens up a number of interesting possibilities since we are in the right part of the world for Middle Eastern gods.  Possibilities that require further research.

Back to the Olympics.  Hey, they are an Aquarius kind of thing.


Aquarius I – Zodiac I

February 28, 2010

I hope I can rely on the native forgiving natures of Aquarians for being so late.

Aquarius
“I know”
positive qualities:  vision, individuality, tolerance, friendliness, inventiveness, originality, genius
negative:  eccentricity, neurosis, detachment, absentmindedness, refusal to cooperate

Mark Rosewater, Magic’s lead designer, and other writers for Magic frequently bring up the psychographic profiles that have been defined for Magic players – Timmy, Johnny, Spike (there’s a fourth that has been talked about).

I don’t do a great job of explaining them to people.  But, then, that hardly matters when I can point to this article – http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr11b – or this article – http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/mr220b .

Inventiveness, originality, genius – these sound like Johnny terms to me.  If it’s not clear where I’m going or where I’m coming from, maybe it’s time for me to explain some train of thought.

Hopefully, anyone reading this blog will know that I went to the Vegas Qualifier for V:TES this year.  Our host had three other players staying with him.  The other two I consider Johnnies.  They are into offbeat and inventive decks.  They keep looking for ways to win on their terms, unlike the Spike who is usually just looking to win or, at least, be efficient, or the Timmy who is looking to just have fun stuff happen.

Ignoring that people are rarely one thing, let’s get into the area of inventiveness or originality or … whatever.  Let’s get into deckbuilding.

I’m not a terribly original deckbuilder.  I try to be by trying to eschew well-established archetypes or, at least, *just* well-established archetypes.  The City Gangrel with Dominate deck I played in the Vegas Qualifier was mostly a Dominate/Obfuscate stealth bleed deck, pretty much the archetype that should be everyone’s first deck and, for all that people may see me play weird stuff these days, is by far the most common archetype for when I was learning V:TES.  But, I tried to spruce it up with Repo Man/Ambulance and with various tech I don’t see other players use much.

Then, I tried to be much more inventive back in the day.  My kick soon after becoming aware of the tournament winning deck archive was to come up with inventive ways to win with clans.  After a time, that morphed into coming up with dumber and dumber deck ideas to see what I could sneak into the TWDA.

A project of mine since Twilight Rebellion came out has been to come up with uses for Laecanus.  He’s awful, being screwed out of Auspex for no good reason.  Of course, he naturally goes into Hell-for-Leather gun decks or even just Celerity gun decks.  We can even see that in group 4/5, there are four Toreador with CEL at 6 cap or less, and they are all screwed on Auspex (in that you really want AUS for bounce) and mostly suck at Presence, too.

I’ve done a number of decks, including several Obtenebration decks and two or more anarch decks.  Nearly every time I draw Laecanus, I don’t want to bring him out as he’s just bad.  So …

Speaking of bad, I’ve been thinking of Mercury’s Arrow.  People think the card is trash.  Thinking little of it is reasonable, it has a deficiency of goodness.  But, having played against my original MA deck, it’s annoying to play against because it is a real threat.  Yet, .44s are that much better a threat since they don’t keep costing blood and stick around and work real well with Psyche! (nevermind that .44 Magnum is just an awesome card in the game, Celerity or no).

But, it’s so unoriginal to pair CEL and guns.  Originality is often advantageous in CCGs (my Spikeness crops up) as people have a harder time playing against the unknown.  I see taking the trite Celerity guns archetype and relying far more on Mercury’s Arrow being a more challenging deck for someone to know how to deal with.  And, it does have some possible benefits where pool savings or not relying equipment is important.

Not that switching out of guns is best synergy with Laecanus as it makes his anti-Frenzy ability less relevant.  Anyway, because of the lack of Auspex, I’m still probably stuck with rushing rather than the better strategy of intercept combat.  Besides playing lots of Tastes of Vitae, what’s the tech to make this sensible?  Well, can always spend more blood and play Fleetness to rush at stealth, get a maneuver, and have a stealthed bleed for when it’s time to clear the hand of Aire of Elation (all four of them or whatever I’d run).

Actually, having done rush with him, since he does have Presence and since he is a Toreador, bruise bleed is not something I’ve considered previously.  It’s not an archetype I care much for, especially without Dominate.  In theory, enough AUS could be found for bounce or, *gasp*, a try could be made to run without (a horrible, horrible try).  Though, his Toreadorness has the problem that you might as well just run good Toreador since they aren’t exactly hard to find.

I guess I could do a more Power of One based anarch deck if I was going to break down and do bruise bleed.  At least he makes sense as an anarch for all sorts of mediocre plays and I can not get ousted by the sheer awesomeness of anarchdom (I’m sure that makes up for nonexistent pool defense cards).

There’s not much genius here.  I should be looking for more genius things to do, as my friend Bill keeps bugging me about.  I should be getting some Heirs to the Blood soon, which may inspire me more than my oh so brief conversations with players in Vegas have.  I can already picture Gargoyles … with Dominate … again.  Because nothing is quite as original as doing something you’ve done before and found to be amazingly dull the first time around.


Ox I – Chinese Zodiac I

February 13, 2010

So, here I am, sitting in the main lobby of the hotel for DunDraCon, on the last day of the Year of the Ox (my local time).

It was always my intention when I started the astrology series to also do the 12 earth branches, aka 12 animal signs, of Chinese astrology.  Per usual, massive procrastination has led me to my last opportunity to be timely.  And, I only have to do this once a year!

The thing about the 12 animal signs is that they map, to a degree, to Western astrology to where it can be awfully similar to talk about them.  Still, why not?

More specifically, this Ox year is an Earth Ox Year.  For those who don’t know, there are 5 elements – earth, fire, water, metal, wood – that make the Chinese cycle a 60 year cycle.

From The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, by Theodora Lau, we get this info for Ox:

Ranking order: Second
Hours:  1AM-3AM
Direction:  North-Northeast
Season and principal month:  Winter, January
Western sign:  Capricorn
Element:  Water
Stem:  Negative

Let’s just say you were looking for inspiration for building a world.  This trivia could inspire you to, for example, create an Oxish society in the North-Northeast part of the world, where ceremonies may be held between 1AM-3AM, a land of snow.

Rather than talk about the Ox generally, let’s quote a passage on the Earth Ox.

“This is an enduring although less creative type of Ox who is always faithful to his duties.  He knows his limitations and realizes his imperfections quite young in life.  He will shine in any career he decides to undertake as he is practical, industrious and prepared to pay the price demanded for success.  He contributes his share willingly and will favor practical and worthy endeavors.  He looks for security and stability and will work efficiently with these two master goals in mind.

Although he may not be sensitive or very emotional by nature, he is capable of sincere and lasting affection and will be loyal and steadfast to his loved ones and his principles.

He fights for constant advancement of his station in life and will endure difficulties and suffering without complaint.  Purposeful and determined, this Ox will go far; it will be hard to push him back because he will never surrender captured ground.  He may be the slowest but is the surest of all the Oxen.”

So, we have workmanlike behavior.  Besides the obvious personality elements for characters, it’s a perfectly valid philosophy when looking for success in such endeavors as boardgames, wargames, or even more creative endeavors such as CCGs.

In terms of how personality can be reflected in character mechanics, we see a good description of someone who would have a relatively higher Constitution and Wisdom, relatively lower Dexterity and Intelligence.  If it were a superhero, the brick archetype would be an obvious one.  If we were thinking of an appropriate mech (aka mecha, battlemech, etc.), we’d be looking at low speed, high armor, lack of flashy or dangerous systems.  Urbanmech from BattleTech would be somewhat along these lines.

According to Theodora, the Ox will get along well with the Rooster, the Rat, and the Snake.  Will not do well with the Dog, Sheep, and Tiger.  This can be used in a variety of ways, everything from rival martial arts schools based around different animals to the personalities of individuals in a unit (military, superhero team, whatever).

As for famous Earth Oxen, we have Nehru, Charlie Chaplin, and Hitler.  Who wouldn’t want a multiple personality character with those personalities?


Capricorn II – Zodiac I

January 23, 2010

Success.  Not to say Capricorns are going to be inherently any more successful, but the path towards success is a driving concept for the sign in my mind.

My thought here is to talk about how to be successful at games like CCGs and boardgames.  This is ironic to a degree since I have no particular desire for success nor have I been particularly successful, but I’ve always been motivated in my analysis of games to try to understand what does produce success.

Know The Rules

I find two things about this interesting.  The first is how often people get rules of boardgames, non-collectible cardgames, and whatnot wrong.  It’s a big advantage of playing with people outside one’s group in that gaps of knowledge are often discovered quicker or, sometimes, at all.

Why not surprise at getting CCG (or CDG or CMG) rules wrong?  Because they change.  Essential to the original concept of CCGs was that most of the “rules” were on the cards.  Sure, there were rules, but cards commonly broke them.  In theory, the complexity of CCGs would come not from the rulebooks but from the card texts and their interactions.

In practice, of course, CCGs are typically highly complex before you ever get to the cards.  Magic’s official rules is something you search on your computer not something you would print out.  Firestorm, if I recall correctly, tried to include a comprehensive rulebook with starters and was just so tedious to read that you didn’t particularly want to play it.  Ultimate Combat!’s rule … thing (foldout sheet) has a lot more rules than you would think would be covered, but I asked tons of rules questions when I was a sanctioned referee and still don’t know how certain things work in a game that’s been dead over a dozen years.

I actually quite dislike teaching CCGs anymore as I’ve seen the ones I played become incomprehensible gibberish with all of the mechanics bloat.  While V:TES always had problems with its complexity and I was never that enthralled with trying to teach it, I had a pretty good script going with Babylon 5 until so much stuff got added to the game that, with my personality of overexplaining things, I just couldn’t take trying to explain how the game worked anymore.  With Wheel of Time, the amusing thing was that the game actually lacked fundamental rules (timing speed on card plays) until our group created them.

I think when I was writing the paragraph above I had something else in mind for the second thing, *sigh*, but I guess a second thing would be how much disdain there is for learning the actual rules of games (as opposed to what you think they are).  I realize it’s a pain in the ass to try to keep up with rulings for games, especially CCGs where particular, unintended card interactions spawn all sorts of rulings, retractions, errata, or whatever.  But, lack of rules knowledge leads to unnecessary losses.

Know The Components

Also much harder with CCGs but not terribly easy with even a game like Agricola (memorizing all of the different decks) or Race for the Galaxy (memorizing the stats and commonality of all of the cards). 

I’m stunned by how many people don’t have a solid idea as to what most of the cards in CCG card pools do.  Do I know what every card does in its entirety?  No.  Do I even know the precise text on every card I play?  No.  Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t care what everything does and may even enjoy the surprise factor.  Certainly, lots of gamers aren’t trying to compete at the highest levels.  What amazes me about the lack of components knowledge when it comes to CCGs, though, is that the whole point of CCGs is to build decks and the only way you can build decks is by learning what cards do.

A good example of how lack of components knowledge (well, also rules knowledge) can screw you is when Nights of Reckoning was released for V:TES.  I recall someone playing a Dawn Op/WC deck at Gen Con right after the Imbued came out, and I just couldn’t believe how far behind the times players can get.

With boardgames and the like, because I’m not particularly invested, I’m fine with not trying to memorize all of the components.  I don’t feel that I actually gain anything from knowing the precise commonalities of tiles in Ra, or whatever.  But, with CCGs, I would think everyone would be enthused about knowing what cards do since you might want to play them.

Of course, a lot of cards in CCG card pools aren’t tournament viable.  I’ve known top level players of CCGs who didn’t know what a lot of cards did because they knew enough to know the cards weren’t good enough to have a significant tournament impact.  So, it’s not like we are looking for perfect knowledge out there, but it’s rather important to know what cards you should/will see played do.

Travel

It’s possible for one player or a few players to be big fishes in little ponds and have a lot of local success.  I’ve seen it with B5, V:TES, and possibly other CCGs.  But, it’s unusual for one’s local group to have the player quality that crossregional play will see.  So, if the goal is success on a national or international level, then it behooves people to mix with other groups.

I’d like to think that it’s obvious to most people that playing against better players is important, but I find from reading many e-mail groups, forums, or whatever that lots of folks seem to have grossly overinflated opinions of their abilities or their groups’ abilities.  Playing outside of one’s local group does quite a bit to help dispel such views. 

There are local/regional metagames, even for boardgames.  So, there are differences in the efficacy of various strategies to where someone may know more and have a better strategy in the abstract but less success in a particular environment.  Yet, one can’t distinguish between metagaming and true strategic knowledge unless one does face a variety of/top level challenges.

Play To Win

For some of us, there’s nothing particularly fun about winning, so we play games in such a way that winning is of lesser importance.  While games are supposed to be fun, playing to win has obvious correlation to success.  So obvious, you wouldn’t think it needs to be mentioned.

But, the concept has a certain level of purity to it.  Removing distractions is not always easy.  One of the tactics in games (and gambling) is to put another player on tilt to where the focus is on proving something rather than just the purity of striving for success.

I probably should have mentioned this earlier in this post, but I’m not going to help much, if at all, someone who is more successful than I am, which is quite a few folks.  To some extent, stressing playing to win is aimed at those players of games who get frustrated by lack of success and don’t realize that it may arise from not really trying to be successful.  Sure, I’m a player who sabotages himself by not trying to be successful, but, then, I don’t care about being more successful.  Some people do, even if it’s on a local level.

The purity of the concept can also be seen when it comes to playing to win at all times.  I have had some minor success in my gaming, was an original V:TES Hall of Fame member after all and ranked in the top 10 in the world in three different CCGs at one time or another, anyway, one area in which I’ve noticed that I seem to have a comparative advantage is that I don’t give up anywhere near as quickly as people I’ve played against.  Wins and losses are tallied when the games are over.  Losing isn’t the same as lost.  … And, other good sounding aphorisms.

Studentying

Touched on this in “Travel” – the concept is that we all have things we can learn.  Playing with other groups is the best way to do that, but there are others.  As painful as it often is to read forums, there are things to absorb or, at least, consider and try.  Strategic knowledge is something that should be confirmed.  With CCGs, where the components keep changing and, so, the game keeps changing, it’s important to constantly confirm one’s strategic knowledge.

Etc.

There’s far more that could be said on this topic.  I just wanted to hit a few things that resonate with me from my observations.  And, it was Capricorn’s time, you know, several days ago, when I should have written this.