Flaw Wars

December 25, 2015

When I was ten, I got the “kind of D&D, kind of AD&D” boxed set as a present.  I don’t remember a ton of gaming presents beyond that, though there was the time the Harts got me some cards and my gratitude level was my typical “I’m more bemused than appreciative” level.  So, it being Christmas doesn’t inspire this post.

Rather, seeing a third, yes, two more than one, movie this year helps inspire.

One thing I didn’t go into in my last post was how crazy the Weaknesses in Against the Dark Yogi are.  If you think L5R’s disadvantages are way too painful, and you should, then AtDY is many times crazier.  A number of them are missing limbs.  Huh?!?  Who thinks missing limbs are things PCs should have?  Sure, some PC might have that, but it’s more in the 1% neighborhood rather than the 5% neighborhood.  There’s like three Weaknesses I can see for most characters, and they are all far too gamey.

So, I watched a movie today where a main character essentially had no flaws.  Cries of Mary Sue ring out.  But, are flaws important?  As I’ve said before, a noticeable change in protagonists of TV back in the day and TV nowadays is that current characters have to be tortured, angsty, or otherwise screwed up.

That’s not the only way to make interesting characters.  Sure, literary Sherlock Holmes is not a ladykiller.  Sure, John Carter, Superman, and a bunch of others suffer from boyus scouticus.  But, I don’t need some crippling weakness to the allegorical color yellow, to wood, to Argonite.  I just need someone who cares more about some things rather than other things.  Bond cares about women with suggestive names, women who work for his enemies, women who happen to be anywhere in the vicinity.  Sherlock doesn’t.  He finds the peculiar and the clever interesting.  Yes, in various games that would come out as “PsyLim: Must solve unusual mysteries”, but that’s a slippery slope to silliness as well as points for doing what your character should be doing anyway.

My other RPG in mind to run is Champions.  I’ve never run Champions.  I’ve built like a 1000 characters for Champions because that’s the way my mind sometimes works (worked?).  I’ve lost interest in the disadvantage system for the game or anything remotely like it in other games.  Yes, some things are disadvantages.  Taking damage from being alive is worth points.  Having enemies isn’t.  PCs have enemies, whether they know it or not, otherwise they don’t have a story.  Having a secret identity is a story element, not a structural disadvantage.  This was the problem with such things as Dark Fate or Dark Secret in L5R – why do you get compensated for story aspects to your character?

Sure, some systems embrace the idea of forcing story and that mechanical constructs have built in story features.  Rubbish.  So unnecessary.  One would think that being a 100% storyteller would mean liking narrative systems.  Nope.  See, here’s the thing.  Stories are easy.  Do D&D characters, whether oD&D, d20, or 4e come with disad mechanics?  Are there stories told somewhere between the tactical wargame combats?  I think so.  Especially with d20, where there’s an actual skill system (not that it meant as much to D&D as it did a bunch of other d20 games).

Players should want their characters to be interesting, distinct, not in a “my +3 sword is +5 against red pandas” way.  But, in a “then I played my drum for him, my best for him, and the King of All Demons wept” way.

Quirks, where you get some minimal character point bonus, make more sense to me than “start with 100 points, then spend roughly 150 on disads” because they aren’t a mess of game balance versus thematic plausibility.

It’s far more important for a group of PCs to have each PC have a role (usually involving some mechanical niche) than in having Power Crab be vulnerable to boiling water and butter.

So, I’m thinking when I run Champions that I just create 300+ point characters and only take into account Power Crab’s Vulnerability 2x Stun vs. attacks from below, rather than Power Crab’s PsyLim: Obsession with Goth Culture or how Power Crab is Hunted: The Galactic Gourmand, 11 or less.

Story problems are exactly that – parts of the story.  Just like how Caste in AtDY doesn’t give or cost you any points, being a Dalit just makes things problematic when partying with the one-percenters until you achieve a blue hue in your skin.  (I wonder how I incorporate a PC taking Shyama Varna when he’s in the Kshatriya Caste – I guess lowlifes will give him street cred of the “yo, bro, divine thug life!” type.)

Flaws are also far more interesting when they develop from play.  I grow weary when players are supposed to write novellas about what they did before play began.  Becoming – Enraged: When seeing idiotic parodies 14 or less, recover 8 or less – should occur from “well, that session sure wasn’t subtle”.

As for the movie, three stars.  Solid, could have done some things better.  Maybe I’ll get more specific later.  Definitely didn’t inspire me to want to play in its world any more than I’m already not that interested in playing in its world, though.

The Road To Mana

October 26, 2014

I know that part of my purpose is to share observations.  It occurred to me that that falls under talk story, though I may need to graduate to storyteller at some point.  Maybe that’s one of the difficulties I have running RPGs.  I’m so caught up in sharing a particular element and I don’t put all of the elements together into a complete story.

Let me tell a bit of a story.  Well, a 4000 word story.  At some point, it will tie slightly into gaming.


I haven’t posted to this blog in weeks.  Reason being that I was traveling for two weeks.  Because my father’s family is from Hawai’i, going to Hawai’i is not a momentous event for me.  And, while I’m there, I tend to do things that aren’t remotely adventurous.  Eat at the same old places, hit the same old beaches.  Primarily what I think of as the meat of the trips is seeing family and friends, which may be something I’d write about if I used Facebook or whatever, but it’s not something that is all that sharable except when some interaction is directly applicable to a matter at hand.

This trip had two primary purposes.  One was to make more use of the house in Honolulu [ladies …].  The other was to do more adventurous things.  A key component to doing more adventurous things was hitting the other islands.  Friends and acquaintances would travel to various islands and I had really nothing to offer about them.  So, two of my brothers, the twins Stephen and Blair, and I arranged a four part trip.  Short time on Oahu to get organized, Big Island for four days, Maui for four days, back to the house for a couple of days before heading home.

Stage one was mostly about familiar food and a get together with our cousin and her friend at a nice Japanese restaurant.  Let’s move on to stage two.

We get to the Big Island and have an agenda.  Because we are there in the middle of a Tuesday, we hit the Kaumana Caves on the way to our vacation rental, which is 25 minutes North of Hilo on the coast, so in the middle of nowhere.  Well, we actually had lunch first, but rather than go into a series of restaurant reviews, I’ll say that the food on the Big Island was underwhelming with a French restaurant where we got crepes being the highlight (for Stephen and Blair, I got a dessert crepe for breakfast on the day we left that was okay but not lifechanging).  Buttered mochi from the farmer’s market was good, but I now know why fresh guava is not something I’ve ever seen before.


So, the caves.  There are two.  A lava tube split open and there are steep stairs down into a Dagobah-like environ.  There are warning signs but no one is posted to prevent people from doing whatever.  Fortunately, my brothers are much more the active sort and have such useful things as flashlights.  The caves aren’t lit.  We went down and down one side.  Supposedly, there’s an end, but after we got to something of a split, we turned back.  I think it was more than 30 minutes one way.  The other way stopped not that far in.

So, being a gamer, what was the obvious thought?  This is what’s like to really be in a cave, to really be underground.  No light – complete dependence upon flashlights to find one’s way.  Having to crawl in one place and stand easily in another, with variations in terrain but bumping into the rocks always being painful due to pointiness.  There weren’t creatures, but there was stuff hanging from the ceiling, colorful rocks, and, when the flashlight was pointed toward the ceiling in the dark, it looked like that lightsaber image, though we didn’t seem to catch that picture.

A cool start to the trip.  And, it was kind of cool and kind of damp.

We got into our palatial estate.  Blair had arranged the place but didn’t realize it was just going to be a huge, fancy house with eight rental areas.  I had looked at the website and had a much better idea what to expect.  We were in the right, upper wing of the house.  Kitchenette area to the right, living area to the left, master bedroom’s reception area was past the kitchen where you could step out on the front veranda, then around the corner for the bed.  The rear veranda was beyond the living area.  My room was connected to both.  The backyard had fish pools and required a bit of a walk to get to the edge.  No water access as this coast was all about cliffs.



We checked out Laupahoehoe to see about a beach.  Not really a beach place, but it was cool looking with channels between the rocks.  We couldn’t find the cafe that was supposed to be on the road to the Point, so we drove to Hilo for dinner and then returned.

Wednesday was volcano/lava day.  Well, up until our helicopter tour of the lava flow was cancelled due to weather conditions.  We drove to the Volcanoes National Park and did what I always do – hike six miles.  We started with a short sulfur vent hike.  While not spectacular, it was like being on another world, with the steam rising up from the ground and the ubiquity of a certain gray/green plant that made me think original Star Trek planet.

Then, Kilauea Iki.  Four mile hike.  My brothers do Tough Mudder, I barely leave the house.  I was fine on the way down.  I was pleased with the overcast, windy, and cold environs of walking through the crater.  I was laboring once back up through tropical rainforest.  Good cardio workout, which brings up how walking from place to place in a non-industrial world, a la many fantasy worlds, is not so great unless you are physically awesome.  Also, I had not planned for the level of hiking we did, so I could have used better clothes, better planning of replacing shirts, which were gross, etc.  We stopped at the Thurston Lava Tube because we planned to and because we forgot when we got back up to the road that the full hike went past it.  It was very boring after Kaumana Caves.  Looks like a Disney ride’s cave.

Drive.  Few takeaways about the Big Island.  One of them is that everything was further than I thought.  I’m used to Oahu where 45 minutes (without traffic) takes you anywhere you want to go.  Big Island was “We aren’t even close to where this place is.” after 45 minutes of driving in a number of cases.  Also, jumping ahead a big, driving in complete darkness or really doing anything with no lights anywhere is not what this child of the suburbs is used to.  Big Island was this rural environment that I only ever might drive through on the way to some city.

Petroglyphs.  They were pretty dull.  The combination most interesting thing about the park’s petroglyph’s was the contrast of the biomes.  I’m not even sure biome is the right word, let alone describing things correctly.  But, anyway, went from tropical rainforest to open, treeless shrubland(?).  The petroglyph hike was just walking in a flat, open area over rocks to an amusing boardwalk built a bit above the ground to prevent people from getting too close to the petroglyphs.

Then, “end of the road” and sea arch.  Really, it’s the end of the road, as the road that used to go through this section of the coast was overrun by lava.  The rock remains here are more of an oily black sort.  Well, it was hard to see too clearly as we only got to the end when the Sun was setting.  Bit surreal to be walking in the dark, along a cement road that leads nowhere with the only trees in existence being this strange copse of palm trees near the cliffside.  Then, a long, long drive back through the park in the dark.

To the museum in the park.  On the Big Island, I was very hot once.  I was very cold twice.  This was the first time.  With the elevation, at night, to see the glow from a lava hole next to the Jaggar Museum, there was wind and there was “wearing a wet shirt and shorts is not comfortable” ness.

Hilo for dinner, then to the house.

Thursday was supposed to be beach day, but we had rescheduled our helicopter ride, as it’s not so easy to actually see lava on the ground, these days.  There’s no spurting lava up into the air or peer over the side of a crater like they show in videos.  No flow that you walk up to and stick a stick into, as far as I’m aware, unless you want to break some laws and get near the flow that is threatening Pahoa.  So, we had perfect weather in the morning.

Actually, while Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ana did cost a day of doing some stuff on the Big Island and we got some heavy rains at points, in terms of how we scheduled things on the various islands, we ended up pretty fortunate.  When we had to get clearer weather, we got it.

I think I’ve been on a helicopter since I wasn’t a baby, but I can’t recall specifically when.  A plus to having had the original ride cancelled was that I moved seats and ended up in the front on our actual ride.  My favorite part of the Big Island stretch was floating up into the air, zipping towards the clouds, and having the clear cockpit beneath me to look down upon the world.


While I don’t know that learning to fly will have the same enjoyment as having someone else fly me around, this was the closest I think I’ll get to the feeling of what it’s like to fly.  I’ll get into my lack of scuba diving later.

It wasn’t all that spectacular as the lava is underground, just some burning of trees and seeing some of the magma through holes in the ground along with the wide destruction of forest.  We also checked out some waterfalls from a distance.  We didn’t do the doors off tour as we didn’t even know that was a thing.  Next time, the suggestion was to do a tour where we land places and get out.  My second favorite part of the ride was landing, so anything with more close ground action is probably to my taste.

Beaches.  This was the only day we actually went to beaches on the Big Island.  The storm took out our planned window for manta ray swimming.  Beach parks were closed on Friday.  We didn’t do anything on the Kona side of the island, even though Pu’uhonua o Honaunau was one of my top things to do and snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay was going to be part of hitting that area of the island.

Just means we need to go back.  We did everything we cared about from the North tip to the South tip of the island on the East side and nothing we were looking to do on the West side.  Mauna Kea will be gotten to in a moment.

First up, Black Sands Beach.  I did get into the water but not for very long.  It was rocky.  It was choppy.  We had other stuff we needed to do.  Memorable about BSB were a couple of things.  Hottest sand on the trip.  Coldest sand I can ever recall just below the top layer.  Very pretty pond behind the beach.  And, of course, like everyone always does, I bought a sweatshirt at the tourist shop.

Black Sands Beach's pond

Black Sands Beach’s pond

For, you see, life tries to make up for some of my stupidities.  It will sometimes cause gaming events to be cancelled when I’m too sick or exhausted or whatever to really be doing stuff, and so forth.  In this case, it said “This idiot forgot that the plan was to drive up to Mauna Kea for sunset this evening, where 10,000+ of elevation is not balmy.  We must make up for this lapse in bringing long pants and a jacket to beach trips by giving a tourist shop that happens to sell sweatshirts in 90 degree heat.”  Now, my brothers did forget long pants, as well, and fleece jackets, but they did have raincoats with them.

Green Sands Beach.  The guidance is that it’s a long hike to get to the beach.  First it’s a long drive on the highway.  Then, it’s a long drive to get to the parking.  Then, it’s a 2.5 mile hike to get to the beach.  Okay, even though this gave me bad blisters and led to my slipping and falling on a cement boat launch, I was happy to do it.  I’m not so sure I’d bother to do it again, unless I was with people who hadn’t done it.  Unless you really enjoy tedious 2.5 hikes over a bunch of rocks, pay the locals to drive you to the beach from the parking area.  Then, pay them again to drive you back.  If there’s one thing less palatable to me about hiking 2.5 miles to do something like swim, it’s hiking 2.5 miles after I’ve been swimming.

Amazing beach.  Stephen and Blair liked it more than I did, with it being the highlight of the trip for Stephen.  I still thought it was really cool.  It’s this tiny little bay with a steep lava rock backing, where there are no rocks on the beach, soft (green) sand, good visibility.  One side has a little cove thing.  Ironic that the black crabs were here rather than at Black Sands.

Green Sands Beach

Green Sands Beach

Still, while I couldn’t avoid any hiking on the rest of the trip, this pretty much did me in for anything more than maybe a half mile hike.

There was no way were going to make sunset on Mauna Kea, but we had a jeep, so we had to go up for stargazing.  We stopped on the way at Jack in the Box since it was open and since everyone knows how useful their parking lots are for changing into dry clothes.

Visitor Center at 9200 feet.  We got there just after the center closed and wanted to stay a bit to get used to the altitude.  We opened the jeep doors.  It was so cold we had trouble getting jackets on.  Still in shorts, I stood next to the visitor center to have no wind.  For, you see, wind … and rain (well, not that much at the center, itself).

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Stars were starry.  Looked cool.  Thought it would be cooler at the top.  Colder, for sure.  We drove up to the summit area.  I say area because it was dark and we weren’t entirely sure where we were, but the road appeared to end.  White buildings were around.  So was snow and wind and rain.  We rushed out to touch one of the buildings then drove back down the 4000 feet to the visitor center and did some stargazing there.  I saw a shooting star.  It was amusing, but Mauna Kea is another thing to do next time, with hopefully a fuller experience.

At this point, even though we were going to miss out on stuff we had planned, it still felt like we had been on the Big Island for ages and had done a ton of stuff.  Friday was just driving up to Waipi’o Valley, where we didn’t decide to go down into the valley.  I couldn’t have hiked it.  We lacked either horses or mule drawn wagons, and the locals aren’t fond of people driving on their private land.  Horses.  There’s a reason horses play such an important part in non-industrial worlds.  They help you get blisters on your ass and not on your feet.

We drove to Waimea/Kamuela to hit Village Burger.  Checked out some cowboy stuff.  Drove to Polulu Valley Lookout.  Went down the Northwest coast highway, then back to the house.  Tropical storm only affected us in that all of the beach parks were closed.  Saturday, we tried Akaka Falls, the only thing on our list actually close to us, but it wasn’t open, which might have been due to it being shortly before 8:30AM or due to hurricane.  We got our crepes, noted that the lunch/dinner menus had tamales and chile rellenos at our favorite French restaurant on the Big Island, finished some shopping, and spent some time at the airport talking to a very attractive local.

Propeller plane to Maui.  Nice to make our flight, as we had early Sunday plans.  Saturday evening, we relaxed, finding our rental condo to be an interesting contrast to the house.  Maui, itself, was such a contrast with my main takeaway being just how much of a suburb of Oahu it feels with how new and manicured buildings look.  When I was on Maui for a day trip five or so years ago, I didn’t catch the same feel.

Sunday morning was diving.  For me, snorkeling as I don’t have medical clearance to overcome how I take blood pressure medication.  It felt kind of awkward, but I enjoyed the boat ride and talking to the captain.  We boated out to Lana’i.  We boated back.  Blair more so but both of my brothers had some motion sickness issues.  What I found trippy was how, after the helicopter ride and after boating, I could close my eyes and feel my body roll and sway.  Oh, besides the not being able to dive thing, this wasn’t my best day for another reason.  My blisters had gotten good enough that I ignored them.  I may have broken my toe while just standing outside the shower that morning.  That was annoying.

We didn’t do a lot in Lahaina, just some shave ice (too sour for me, with Tiger’s Blood being the best flavor) and Cool Cat’s, where my burger was fine, but I need to stop ordering medium rare as it’s getting kind of raw for me, which may just be how people cook things these days as medium rare was my norm when growing up, or I’m just changing.  Speaking of changing, we got Thai food one night on the Big Island and I had the hardest time getting through it, even though I only went spicy and not “Thai spicy”.  Weak.  It would have been my favorite food on the Big Island if it wasn’t such a pain to eat and the quantity of curry was so ludicrously vast, three times as vast as the rice to go with it.

Rest of the day was slow.  Because of the diving, we had to plan when to do flying and Haleakala.  Monday, then, became our day for the Road to Hana.  If diving could have been disappointing because snorkeling off Lana’i wasn’t that interesting, the Road to Hana was the biggest letdown by far.  They say to focus on 2-3 things as the trip is so damn long (Stephen did all of our driving on the Big Island and Maui, which displayed impressive patience).  We tried Waikamoi Falls.  We found the hiking trail.  I think we found the falls.  But, we couldn’t find the way you are supposed to go up.  We hiked up rocks that I think was the base of the falls.  They say it only shoots water when there’s rain.  Well, we just had a hurricane.  Very little water.  Okay, but not that great.  Our next thing was Waianapanapa.  The “Alice in Wonderland in Hawai’i” hike was more “Hobbit in Hawai’i” to me.  It was okay.  The beach was awesome.  Unfortunately, due to needing to hit other stuff before dark, we didn’t stop to swim or anything, just wander around a bit and take some pictures.  Black sand beach with a lot of contrast of beach from rock, to smaller rocks, to sand.  Places where you could be inside the rock formations.

Obvious gaming relevance.

Obvious gaming relevance.

We continued on to Ohe’o Gulch and the Pipiwai Trail.  I asked the ranger if it was common for their to be no water access at the Seven Sacred Pools.  He said that the storm meant the water flow was too dangerous.  If I would have known, since being there didn’t involve anything else for me to do, I would have been dropped off at Waianapanapa.  Stephen and Blair did have enough time before dark to do the Pipiwai Trail, but they would have liked to jump in the water afterwards, themselves.

So far, Maui wasn’t doing much for me.  Tuesday was kayaking.  Well, kayaking and snorkeling, but Stephen and I didn’t realize that was part of the event.  This redeemed Maui for me.  I may not have good balance or control seaborne vessels well, but I love the alternate transportation stuff.  It was a personal tour, so we opted for maybe about an equal distribution of kayaking and snorkeling.  Snorkeling was fantastic, much better than off Lana’i.  Right off Makena Beach, so it was 10 minutes from where we were staying in Kihei.

That shirt got really wet.

That shirt got really wet.

Lunch, the family store in Kula (Keokea, whatever).  The society house that our father and I visited on our day trip for Ching Ming wasn’t open, so it wasn’t much of a family thing as had been the previous trip.  Up Haleakala.  Had the usual drive through clouds thing.  Actually, the morning was so clear that there weren’t that many clouds, but we got out clouds.  Did much the same stuff I had already done.  Drive back down through clouds didn’t see the lateral rain I experienced previously, but it made the forest section below the visitor’s center kind of spooky.  I got to use my sweatshirt for a second time.  Yes, Hawai’i is all about the sweatshirt wearing.

Just keeping it "real" at 10,000 feet.

Just keeping it “real” at 10,000 feet.

The unfortunate thing, here, is that I think the massive temperature changes and elevation changes got me sick.  I had a sore throat on the way down.  I ended up badly congested that night and am still congested.  Too much Sun probably didn’t help, either.

We had most of Wednesday to do stuff.  Having hit very few beaches and since we were staying across the street from a beach, we decided a morning swim.  Kamaole 3.  Softest sand I’ve ever been on.  It was like walking on flour.  Clear morning.  Great visibility (water and out).  Calm.  Fish would appear and disappear out of the sand at our feet.  I was in the process of decongesting using my go to saline solution of the Pacific Ocean.  Just exquisite (well, could have used more beach babes, but whatever).  Having tons of time to kill, we decided to hit the aquarium.  It was okay as an aquarium.  What I liked a lot was that most of the time I was inside, in the dark, with cool air blowing.  I was feeling sunsickness pretty bad.  I just wanted to sit and not move.  I was a bit concerned that any worse and I might embarrass myself.

Weather turned.  Pouring rain while we were at the gift shop.  Made me feel much better.  Don’t know if it was adrenaline for getting out of the rain or things cooling or humidity turning into water, but it was a vast improvement.  Sam Sato’s was closed, so no noodles.  We got flatbread (essentially pizza) in Paia as driving on Maui, outside of the Road to Hana, Hale’akala, and maybe Lahaina was superquick.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with our flatbread.  We got gelato.  Insanely expensive.  Still not that impressed.  Actually, the food on Maui wasn’t any better than the Big Island.  My Cool Cat burger was better than my veal burger at Village Burger, but the veal burger meal was tainted by how unimpressed I was with my strawberry milkshake (nevermind that $24 for a burger meal doesn’t impress me much).

We stopped at a beach park and sat in the car while it rained.  We drove to a mall and my brothers wandered a bit while I tried a nap.  Significant rain and needing to be ready to hop a plane do not make for a lot of stuff to do, especially when not into shopping.

Weather was decent enough for our night flight back to Honolulu.  Had a family reunion on the Lee side Thursday night, saw a few Pangs before I left, but I flew out before the Pang dinner.

So, gaming.

Few things.

One obvious thing I thought about was my Feng Shui Tu Huo campaign that I started after my last trip to Hawai’i.  I had some trouble thinking about how to incorporate specific experiences into sessions, as a lot of the experience of the experiences we had was on a very micro level, where the action is the personal strain of hiking or swimming or paddling.  In other words, for an action game, don’t want to get too bogged down in mundane things.  The less mundane things, like the massive temperature and elevation swings need to be fleshed out.

I always think about superheroes when I’m in Hawai’i.  I don’t know whether it’s because I watched Kamen Rider, Kikaider, and Condorman (not the American thing, the 1975 show where the meteor allows you to see demons and throw explosive darts from your condormobile) when I was visiting.  Maybe it was having more time to dream, like when I was thinking of how to create a Transformers RPG when visiting.  I thought of a concept for a super for me to play.  Two problems.  One is that I’d need to find a GM in order to actually play much rather than run.  Two is that I start thinking about worlds and genre conventions and stuff and run into a lack of wanting to go to the effort of creating a supes world.

So, there I was, bored at Ohe’o Gulch, listening to the people in the neighboring car tell their rental agency they couldn’t start their car, not even thinking about jumper cables until my brothers got back and we looked for some to no avail, running through just how fast inches of flight in Champions are when multiplied out by Speed.  I kept coming to the conclusion that going fast in Champions at combat speed is really, really hard, with the noncombat multiplier being jacked up really high being how you get into mach speeds.

I thought of another fantasy premise, but I don’t see it going anywhere.  Can’t even quite conceive exactly what the enemy is.  Had some V:TES anarch card ideas.

In general, I tried to think about how actually doing exotic activities would relate to RPGs and didn’t get that far.  I have a somewhat better idea on physical challenges of various things that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  I have a better sense of what it’s like to actually be flying, which plane travel doesn’t give me.  But, it was mostly a more personal and more immediate adventure that I’m struggling with translating into things I’d run.



Kill The Wizard

May 10, 2014

A thought for individual games has solidified some, recently, into a general philosophy that I may increasingly embrace.

PCs shouldn’t do “magic”.

There’s a reason, of course, for those quotes.  What is “magic”?  “Magic” encompasses those abilities that are disproportionately versatile, world-altering, or otherwise too efficient at challenge-solving.  These sort of superior PC abilities put an extra burden on the GM when it comes to fashioning challenges.  Furthermore, there tends to be a massive discrepancy in usefulness of PCs with regards to each other, which can affect player enjoyment.  I’ll start with giving some examples of “magic” and come back to the issues with it later.

Let’s start with supers.  Superstrength is quite versatile in superhero worlds and in a number of superhero RPGs (to their credits).  But, it’s not “magic”.  Variable Power Pool in Champions is obviously “magic”.  Green Lantern does “magic”.  As does Magneto.  But, so does Professor X and numerous other psychs.  This could be why I hate the idea of psy based supers.  When you can read minds, game over, you win.  When you can control minds, game over, you win.  Techlords, aka gadgeteers, also do “magic”.  Reed Richards can make anything.  Tony Stark can come up with any modification to the armor.  Bat sharkfood.  Whatever.

If it’s boring that Superman can pretty much do anything with his angel/god powers, it’s also incredibly boring that somebody can just kitbash victory.  If.  I don’t find Superman all that interesting as a character, but there are adventures of his that I find interesting.  It’s a staple of fiction that the genius puts together some ad hoc world-saving device that may very well never be seen again (or, much more rarely, find an old one in the closet to deal with a repetitive problem).  I don’t have a problem with the Doctor throwing something together, etc.

However, I lost focus, there.  “Magic” is something characters in fiction do all of the time, and it works because fiction and RPGs are two different things.  PCs should not be about the “wait around a few hours, then roll Science to make the Winning Tool”.

Talked a bit about superworlds, very lightly on how science can fix every problem with the power of science!!  Obviously, magic lends itself highly to “magic”.

For various reasons, Elric is a terrible RPG character.  One of those reasons is that the way he solves problems is “Now, what was that summoning spell to bring some god or army of supernatural monsters to save me?”  Thomas Covenant *is* magic/”magic”.  Etc.  But, I think it’s time to stop on the fiction side of things and get into the game side of things.

D&D.  Are magic-users and clerics, et al, doing “magic”?  In some cases, yes.  In some cases, no.  The pattern with many D&D versions is that the magic-user starts off weak and becomes dominant later.  Cleric may never start off weak and may not have quite the upside a magic-user does, but there’s still a very different power* progression to the magicless.  The “Do I cast Sleep or Magic Missile today?” magic-user is not doing “magic”.  On the other hand, it’s not just higher level spells, it’s just effects that can be overly effective with the right GM, like Invisibility, that get into doing “magic”.

*  Power isn’t the clearest term to use, as power can mean magnitude of effect to some, where I often factor in versatility/effectiveness when I speak of power (including when I talk about it in CCGs).

D&D is heavily predicated upon PC magic, either in terms of permanents – the ubiquitous magic items – or in terms of spells.  What about Conan d20, a far more swords and sorcery game?

Magical ability very easily becomes a situation of “magic”.  Yes, the system is far more subtle, but that just means that the player needs to be cleverer to really exploit it.  There were many situations where some spell, possibly one that wasn’t spectacular, could deal with challenges in a way that the rest of the party had no ability to use.

Vampire.  V:TM or V:TR, though my experience is much greater with the former.  A key feature of the game is that PCs have superhuman abilities, many of which are essentially magic.  Without those abilities, not vampires anymore.  The more openended disciplines, such as Animalism, Dominate, and Presence, are “magic”.  Clever use can just blow apart challenges.  Thaumaturgy in V:TM is, of course, the worst offender unless the GM clamps down on what PCs can learn to do.

Hopefully little point to dragging out more examples of magic=”magic” or where XYZ=”magic”, but, of course, can’t skip over expending words on noting the brokenness of shugenja in L5R.

There’s a vaguely amusing thread on the AEG forums at the moment where someone asked about how much buying additional spells with XP should cost.  The shugenja player isn’t happy, where the monk (admittedly, kiho never see play in my campaigns, so I don’t bother learning much about them) and four bushi are all satisfied.  My amusement at someone being frustrated by not having a higher level of godlike power is tempered by the idea that it’s probably just someone who doesn’t understand the system well enough to understand just how much shugenja are better than everyone else.  On the other hand, the GM might be reining in spell effectiveness to a much greater degree than most do.

Why are shugenja gods?

Commune.  Commune is the single most broken effect in L5R.  As much as GMs may anticipate how Commune destroys investigation challenges and come up with cheesy “the kami were all banished” or makes kami a pain in the ass to get info out of even though it’s pathetically easy to call max Raises on a Commune spell for clarity every single time, then just recast it over and over until you ask the right questions, those who can’t speak to the kami can’t just ask the world to supply the investigation destroying information that kami can provide.

Path to Inner Peace.  Sure, there are some other abilities that enable real healing, i.e. non-Medicine healing since Medicine is garbage healing.  Pritnear no PCs have them.  While it should be obvious at all times, our 20 Goblin Winter campaign, which didn’t allow shugenja, clearly showed that the lack of real healing completely changes party action.  We would have to head back to Shinsei’s Last Hope and mope about for a while to not have someone sit in wound penalties … while hunting for Shadowlands monsters.  I would say that the real problem with Path isn’t that Path is “magic”, but that all RPGs should pretty much have daily instaheal, which is a whole separate blog post that can get into my thoughts on a thread I was reading not long ago.

Jade Strike.  Invulnerable?  Okay, everyone guard the shugenja.

Fires of Purity.  Forget that it’s something like 4k4+ damage every round in real combat situations.  As mentioned in at least one previous blog post, it makes kidnapping impossible.  It destroys cavalry.  It turns grapple from murder into turbomurder.  It prevents party members from being attacked, at times.

The all shugenja party is the optimized party.  Can go on about how great your murder prowess is with simple attacks and no-dachi 7 or testsubo 7, but the all shugenja party will murder just fine and have a host of abilities that the magicless won’t have.  As for courtier/artisan/monk abilities, outside of Henshin, I never see them do anything you can’t do by improving Awareness or whatever, which has a lot to do with how poorly the game explains how these abilities are supposed to be useful, but it is what it is.  I really don’t expect Sword and Fan to change my play experiences significantly.  Of course, YMMV.

So, great, plenty of examples of “magic”.  Whining isn’t that useful.

There are other reasons I think hunter (with a lowercase “h”) campaigns make far more sense than monster campaigns in the World of Darkness, but a major reason would be the difference in the nature of challenges.  If the PC vampire can run around Dominating kine left and right, going to be a lot different than “shotgun to the head” sort of challenges that hunters will face.  Clearly, there’s a difference between Garou and mages, though Garou ability to interdimensionally travel is rather a huge “magic” problem.

Quite a few players of supers are probably going to be fine with character concepts around punching buildings apart, blasting buildings apart, flying charges into buildings until they fall apart, and the like where “magic” isn’t so much of an issue.  I’m vastly more familiar with Champions than other supers games, so I think in terms of every single ability being built and bought, which greatly limits versatility.  Again, just don’t allow the Variable Power Pools or Multipowers with 15 slots or any of the sort of stuff you might see in Mystic Masters.

The most problematic situation from a marketing/sales perspective is taking “magic” out of fantasy by limiting/restricting/removing PC magic.  Yet, fiction is full of (and used to be mostly about) protagonists who killed the foul sorcerers with no magic or extremely limited magic.  That was kind of the point of Elric – being the supreme sorcerer was a twist compared to the Conans of the genre.

I think it can be done.

I think removing shugenja from L5R as a PC option is entirely viable.  Sure, I would come up with healing house rules to make Medicine Raises give +1k1 instead of +1k0 to wound treatment, though that’s still probably not nearly enough healing to where I’d probably just say you heal Stamina xN after every scene or each day (x8 or something for the former and x15 or something or the simpler full heal for the latter).

Our Conan campaign didn’t always have the sorcerer PC(s) around.  Again, though, magic != “magic”.  With L5R, it would be incredibly hard to remove the “magic” abilities of someone who could do magic, though it would actually be far easier if the party wizard was a maho-tsukai, where your spell selection is much more tailorable by a GM.  But, with Conan, it shouldn’t really be that hard to limit spellcasting, especially with the far more esoteric Defensive Blasts of 2e, versus the nuclear option Defensive Blast of 1e.

RuneQuest’s battle magic, with the exception of healing, tends to be incredibly narrow and just a lot of buffs.  I don’t feel the “magic” in the game at all.  Rune Magic being one-shot also makes that awful and largely irrelevant.  I know my characters have never found Rune Magic remotely effective.

Shadowrun is a world I just don’t get, so there’s little point to my commenting on how to take the “magic” out of the game.  May be that the whole point of the game is that everyone has “magic” since it’s a world that combines the two things that are most prone to leading to “magic” – high technology and … magic.

“But, when are you going to elaborate on why ‘magic’ is a problem?”

From a GM perspective, consider this scenario:  You have a party with one or two “magic”-users and some inferior PCs.  You aren’t lazy and actually consider all of the different ways “magic” can overcome challenges too easily.  Then, game day/night happens and your “magic”-users don’t show up.  Okay, GMs who adjust on the fly better may be asking “And …?”  But, it’s just more work when I already find GMing to be choreful.

From a player perspective, it can get really old to be a spearchucker.  Not so much for me, as I embrace sidekickness to a far, far greater degree than others, but even I can get tired of “taking up space” in games.  Some RPG campaigns are also far less about mechanics than others, and I can get into my personal narratives to a greater degree to where mechanical spearchuckerness is not so bad.  L5R is like that for me where I’m far more into NPC relations and shopping than I am trying to find a purpose as a non-shugenja.  Lots of folks aren’t so keen on being mechanically disadvantaged by lacking that old time “magic”.

Then, why even bother having it be an issue in the first place?  Why not just have parties where the PCs are competing (because PCs do compete – if they didn’t, folks wouldn’t complain about how unbalanced different character builds are) on a relatively level playing field?  “Okay, you scurvy lot.  Who is the fighter?  Who is the talker?  Who is the rogue?  Got it.  Now, at all times there’s this ghost that hangs out with you that heals you to full twice a day …”

Old Sometimes Is Just Old

October 28, 2011

I’ve been looking around at old RPG products I have for reasons I’m not entirely clear on.  I guess it’s the usual looking for ideas for how to do something I won’t ever do.

I started looking at Best of Dragon compilations.  Yes, the first ones.  It’s pretty funny reading about Gygax’s view of how D&D should be played.  Some things are easy to agree with – a game is not fiction.  You can’t simulate a fantasy novel well by playing a game.  Players should have control over what happens and, sometimes, what happens doesn’t make for the expected story.  Creating lots of classes is dumb – okay.  But, the fierce interest in the “videogame” role-playing style just indicates to me a shortcoming with D&D style RPGs, not something to be proud of.

On a more general level, I’ve increasingly wanted to mine my own RPG book collection for material.  I’ve mentioned this in the past, and I’ve also mentioned my typical finding.  Very little material is actually useful.  It’s not just D&D/AD&D modules that are incredibly mechanics focused.  Adventures for Stormbringer/Elric, adventures really for everything are so concerned with treasure and combat statistics.  At the time I bought many books, I was like many a D&D style player, jumping to the back to see what new monsters, magic items, and whatnot were included.

But, I never got tied into the hack and slash play style.  Now, when I look through an adventure, all I see are descriptions of treasure and stats for … does it even matter what the stats are for?  Just some random stat block that could be zombies, demons, wolves, fimirs, or whatever.  Here, have 8 gems, two are worth 50gp, 2x 75gp, 2x 200gp, 1x 500gp, 1x 1500gp … oh, and if you break open the handle of the hammer, there’s a magic ring.  Room descriptions are frequently sparse, with maybe a line or so with what you see.

But, even other products, which have more value, still leave me wanting.  I was looking at Dark Champions recently and, sure, it had stuff on the justice system and talks about criminal organizations, which are utterly frightening.  But, it’s one style of superhero play where I feel like there’s a gap.  I’m just not into street supers.  Dealing with mundane crime doesn’t float my boat.

What interests me is dark supernatural which has some of the same feel but is completely different in what you actually deal with.  Mystic Masters covers supernatural but more of the Dr. Strange rather than the Strange style.  While it could have been a lot better, I loved the Midnight Sons concept.  Dark Champions sounds like a book that would cover street supernatural, but it doesn’t.

Anyway, and so it goes.  A topic is appealing, and the execution is narrow and mechanical.  There’s very little sense of how to feel the world.  I know that I keep saying that GURPS supplements do a much better job with this, as they provide more mundane details, but it’s true.  I don’t know if it’s a matter of when they were written or in reaction to the other products of the day.  The reason for the title of this post is because it’s so often older materials where you can go through the entire product and have no more sense of the flavor than by reading the title.

Now, there is something that the old products can offer – maps.  As much as I’m not into using figures and don’t need to have a scene clearly defined, I do find that maps are quite helpful when dealing with things like buildings and similar (ship layouts).

Speaking of old, I own Chainmail.  You totally see the influence of it on D&D.  D&D is a wargame.  It has always been pitched as a wargame.  It’s not that I have a problem with adventures being built with that in mind, it’s that it’s so interesting how much variety was added to a game that has no real impact on play.  Desert adventures, frozen lands, jungle, other dimensions, rigid societies, underwater – answer to the variety is pretty much just memorize different spells.

There are products (besides GURPS) that give me that feel of the world.  Kingdom of Champions gives a lot of info on the UK.  The Canada supplement has a harder time differentiating Canada from the US, but it tries.  I just wonder how much of this I can actually find looking through what I own.

Meanwhile, when I flip through new products, the one thing I’m always looking for is flavor.  What’s the world actually about?  What are the mundane details that make the world distinct?  So many products are lacking, but, then, it seems like mechanics have always driven sales.

Not that other people’s interests are necessarily my own, but I’d be happy to look into suggestions for RPG supplements that do a good job of capturing the feel of a world rather than just its numbers.


January 17, 2011

So, I awoke to another game-related dream.  I woke up as I was reviewing the character sheet for a Champions game character for a new Champions campaign (probably a campaign).

Some trivia:  The player was a friend from growing up that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  The character’s artwork was female though we referred to the character as him.  The premise was some gadgeteer who had some sort of high-tech cables that did stuff – main attack was a huge Entangle.  I actually comment in the dream that as I got further down the list of powers I realized that the character’s powers really didn’t have any sort of theme and it was just a “I want to be able to do this and this and this” character.  I got into a discussion on the character’s +3 SPD with a -3.5 disad of [Publish], which I naturally interpreted as meaning the character had +3 SPD only while publishing (journalist job or something) as a single 3.5 disad is absurd and would need to be so narrow as to make the ability essentially useless, but my friend couldn’t remember what the disad was supposed to mean and was trying to convince me that it would increase his SPD in combat.

The other players were sitting around a table waiting for me to finish reviewing, and I was quite concerned with time and whether everyone else was ready.

Oh, by the way, for those who don’t follow such things, Cable is a Marvel mutant, Scott and Jean’s son from the future who creates X-Force.  I finally found out (this was like 15 years ago) that the name Cable was some not terribly cool reference to how he was a cable between the past and the future or two sets of mutants or something.  Still find the name okay for some reason, must roll off the tongue.

Anyway, how am I going to make use of this dream?

Champions in particular, but Hero System in general, has incredibly involved combats.  The noncombat system is actually far too simple for me, with basically it just being roll 3d6.  I also rather hate 3d6 resolution since it generates lots of average results and extreme results, like a 14, don’t feel terribly extreme.  But, I want to focus on combat.  I could focus on character building with its incredible precision and heavy accounting-like math, a system that has historically been my favorite for character creation; I once, as far as I know, owned every Champions product up through around Demons Rule.  But, I want to focus on combat.

I don’t dislike all combat.  I just dislike far more combat than a lot of people I’ve played with.  Mostly, it is because of boredom.  Often, it’s because the party is destined to win and there’s no real reason to be involved and there’s nothing terribly interesting to achieve as a personal goal in the combat.  Combats where the party looks like it’s going to lose I’m all in favor of and get enthusiastic about, at least as long as they don’t have anticlimactic endings where the party gets bailed out by something dumb.

Ultimately, I suppose, it comes down to the fact that I don’t like rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice.  I’d much rather do something creative in combat that doesn’t involve rolling dice than just roll attack/roll damage in round 1 of a 6 round fight.

So, combat length.  There’s always minimizing realtime waste.  Some systems leave people with more time to sit around and wait for others to act.  Then, there’s making quicker decisions, not looking up rules in books, etc.  Then, there’s in-combat length, reducing the number of rounds that combat lasts, which is more in my mind.  However, I’m going to address these things individually since they do connect to my greater theme [which is?].

1.  Turn Length

There are a variety of reasons why PCs might have to wait longer or shorter for their turns to come up.  Rather than try to get into every possibility, I’m going to focus on bad guys’ turns and overly involved mechanics.

I’m a big fan of all bad guys going on the same initiative, at least when GMing.  I know it’s unrealistic and takes away from some battles where the bad guys have names and are a serious threat, but as a GM, I find that I can’t focus on things like I can as a player, so it’s far easier to process as many things at once as possible and helps with enemy tactics.

Lots of bad guys equals lots of time for players to blithely ignore how they should be thinking of optimal tactics to win the fight.  Really, I hardly ever see players think about what the party should be doing once combat begins.  I am accumulating infamy for my wolf battles – I’ve run two fights at the beginning of sessions against wolves merely to setup what happens next only to find that the combats last hours longer than I wanted.  Is this entirely due to numbers of bad guys?  Of course not.  It has a lot of something to do with making the wolves too resilient.  If I ever run a game where werewolves are the bad guys, prepare for a TPK.  I’m drifting off topic.  Number of bad guys.  I’m not thrilled with having only one bad guy since it makes too many fights too easy for PCs, but I’d probably say that two tough bad dudes is good times.  Hordes are painful unless they can be abstracted – I personally hate rolling half a dozen or more attacks by dorks but don’t play with folks who seem enthusiastic about rolling for the bad guys for me; on the other hand, I don’t mind it as much as a player where there’s some suspense as to whether I get hit or not.

Then, we get to systems where individual turns take way too long.  I’m not talking about decision time which I’ll get to in a moment.  I’m talking about purely mechanically being overly involved.  Multiple attacks can greatly extend turns.  Hit location tables or, really, any sort of special tables often add virtually nothing yet draw out actions.  Now, long turns isn’t as bad as highly variable turns.  I find that a lot of the time someone will be done in under a minute and someone else will take considerably longer.  For instance, a fighter may just swing sword and hit or miss (miss really sucks when you aren’t doing much) where a spellcaster does something far more complicated.

In terms of turn length, while people play much faster the better they know the system, I’m pro L5R.  I’m going to bring up L5R often because its streamlined combat system is more what I’m looking for.  With Solomon Kane, I find that there’s a great disparity in turns, though that has something to do with having party minions and with my countering with baddie minions.  With Conan, I don’t feel like PC turns take the wrong amount of time, maybe because the massive damage save rule speeds things up, except when people are indecisive and/or don’t know what the rules are.  At least, with Conan, when someone is doing something more complicated, it’s probably more interesting to those who are observing.

2.  Decision/Rules Time

Some people just aren’t sufficiently engaged in what is going on.  That isn’t a system issue.  What is a system issue is when a system offers too many options or when the options are too complicated and require either adjudication or, more likely, looking up rules.

Feng Shui is supposed to be fast-paced Hong Kong Movie style adventuring.  I’m a big fan of it but not its combat.  Combat, rather than being quick and exciting, is often incredibly mechanical and slow.  Part of the slowness can come from players trying to get into the spirit and do heavily descriptive things, which is fine.  It’s more how tedious it is to either gun down a bunch of mooks or how hard it is to put something named down.  Then, the shot system, much like the Speed system in Hero, is extremely mechanical.  I find shot management even more accountingish than Speed management as, usually, in Hero, you do stuff on your phase where shots are often used for things like aiming or get pushed down with active dodge.  Is FS a good example for this section?  Probably not.  Reason it came to mind was that players I play with often don’t grok the shot system and how long their abilities take, which causes indecision and greatly slows down play.  For me, once I got it and understand what my character does (which was harder, of course, in one-shots than when I ran a gambler in a campaign), my shots were pretty much aim or attack with deciding whether to active dodge coming down to what shot number I was on.

Conan is a case where things work okay only because the players don’t know what they are doing.  I built an alt character (who promptly died because he was heroic and the party wasn’t) who took advantage of my experience-gained knowledge of what was effective in Conan.  I was constantly paralyzed by indecision as he had simply too many combat options:  how much to Power Attack for; whether to Improved Feint to do Sneak Attack damage; which playmat square to occupy to maximize effectiveness of attacks; whether to fight defensively; how much Combat Expertise to use; etc.  While that was an extreme case, our players simply don’t think of all of the options available to them or plan ahead for when there are decisions like Power Attack.  And, I’m just talking about basic combat.  Add in maneuvers and our players are inept tactically.  I constantly forgot to use the Aid Another option to help our barbarian kill everything since my attacks were ineffectual, and that’s one of the most basic maneuvers.  We don’t even remember maneuvers in the main book, let alone maneuvers in anything else.  Is that bad?  No!!  If we used everything available to us, while it might make combat more interesting, it would be insane in terms of figuring out what goodies or baddies should do.  I came to the conclusion at one point that a PC can pretty much only recall using one special maneuver.  If that maneuver is too effective, then the GM counters and the PC moves on to the next maneuver.  Whichever maneuver the PC is on is the PC’s schtick.

Another comment on Conan – I despise the grapple rules.  We end up looking them up constantly even though we’ve looked them up so many times that one would think we would know them by heart.  Some on the forum thought they were simple to remember.  Um, only if you do basic things.  What happens when you have multiple grapplers?  What happens when a monster can grapple in addition to doing other things?  We couldn’t even remember how to move a grapple or how it worked to give up attacks to break a grapple, which are basic things.  Simply way overcomplicated rules for something that doesn’t interest me at all.  But, since they are a good way to inflict pain on PCs, they are a key element to the GM’s arsenal.

I’ve played a lot of systems where there were far too many choices.  Someone just asked about the Oz RPG, I assumed the Oz: Dark and Terrible RPG.  I remember that combat was incredibly frustrating when I demoed it in 2009 because it was so counterintuitive and had too many phases.  Too hard to think of others off the top of my head as too many systems blur.

Again, I like the number of options in L5R.  Sure, I don’t use knockdown, disarm, feint as often as they should be used, but I don’t find that there’s an endless list of maneuvers like Conan or too few to where a character bad at normal stuff is useless.  Though, I am against the extra stances in 4e, which I don’t think added anything besides making Defense Stancing shugenja way better in combat than they should be.

3.  Kill!  Kill!  Kill!

I seek combat that lasts 3 rounds max (well, see below).  I don’t want 3 rounds of “I punch/slice/shoot”.  But, people should go down … fast.  Those wolf battles were supposed to be of the 3 round type.  I’m often engaged in 3 round L5R fights where, in contrast, I’ve become bored with the attrition wars that I’m finding to be too often the case when running HoR2 mods with 4e rules and minimal bad guy stat changes.

By the way, if you ever consider comic book fights, they are quite interesting when translated into RPGs because they don’t work like how one might expect.  Comic book fights last a long time, but most of the panels are taken up with someone thinking to oneself or with soliloquy or conversation or being out of the line of fire.  When someone gets hit by an attack, it’s often ineffective or takes them out in one-shot.

This can be simulated in Champions by people taking phases to recover or get away rather than just keep attacking, but normally, I find that people only recover or evade when they feel they need to.  What doesn’t work so well in Champions is the idea that one attack will take someone out (or be completely ineffective, as both extremes produce balance problems).

Not every single combat should be quick, but really, a lot of combats are combat for combat’s sake and not terribly important to the story.  While I’m quite fond of how quick 3e L5R combats went in HoR, the combats typically felt tacked on to give bushi a chance to show off, so they shouldn’t have lasted longer than 3 rounds.  An epic battle, however, that decides how the story will go or whether PCs survive, I can see going on longer – wars of attrition are fine when they are the climax to the adventure.

However, the option to make any battle quick should be available.  This is where I’m having a lot of trouble with Solomon Kane.  I made it way more brutal by making raises openended for damage, yet, it still often bogs down for me into round after round of “When are things going to go down?”  I’m not sure how I can make it nastier, but then, I haven’t thought too much about the details yet.

The Theme

The point of this post was to comment on how I want combat to be fast and brutal as, everything else being equal, that makes them more interesting.  L5R 3e was great for this sort of thing, with one exception – characters could die way too easily.

Sure, L5R 3e wasn’t perfect as a fight might be over before your initiative even came up and one’s attack and damage rolls might mean that any attack was an auto-kill, but I found that there were plenty of subtle tactics to make combat more than just “I swing, you die”.  There needed to be an extended way to avoid death to prevent GMs from having to not keep high dice to keep characters alive.

At the rate things are going, I have no idea whether I’ll ever end up running SK again, but if I do, I want to figure out a way to make combat more brutal but also more interesting to the PCs who don’t have armies of minions.

For game designers out there who give a fig what I want:  don’t give characters too many options; don’t have wildly disparate combat builds, such as one dude with one attack and another with five; don’t use a bunch of tables or special cases; don’t make it too hard to take something down; don’t overuse mooks who are a complete bore most of the time to nuke; don’t require that PCs be smart in their decisions to be successful; don’t have combat feel like accounting; make things go down fast so that we can spend more time on role-playing and less on roll-playing.