DunDraCon 2018

February 20, 2018

Do I just keep saying the same things as if we are in a chronic hysteresis?

I don’t think I’m going to come across as chipper in this post.  I can’t be mister positivity 100% of the time [… uh …].

I’m not as engaged with local cons.  When you ponder which DDC’s were more memorable out of 20+, it’s not like there isn’t a been there, done that aspect to it.  Why don’t I feel the same way about Gen Con when I play HoR a lot and may end up playing the same systems over and over, like Four Colours Al Fresco for a while or Feng Shui or whatever?

Because in person play of HoR locally is very different from in person play of HoR at Gen Con, for instance.  At GC, you get the core players and people who put thought into metagaming the campaign, even if it’s just deciding how to form Battle Interactive tables.  I’ve never played any 4CAF outside of GC, nor any Babylon RPG, etc.

KublaCon is more interesting to me from a gaming standpoint because I get to play card game events that don’t exist outside of the con, e.g. Shadowfist tournaments.  Have to defend my title as Classic Champion for the sixth largest economy in the world this year, for instance.

But, let’s get back to DDC.

No hotel this year.  While I didn’t mind driving back and forth in the moment, I needed a break and DDC wasn’t much of a vacation.  Now, my first vacation of the year is coming up soon …  At some point, get on topic.

I skipped Friday because, sincerely, I’m not in the mood to game Friday nights at cons after being at work much of the day.  It’s just a desire for a mental break.  Now, I’m willing to game if there’s something I’m particularly interested in playing, but there are few things I’m particularly interested in playing.  Again, RPG events may sound good, but I’ve had the spectrum from amazing to atrocious, from excellent to bad, from solid to mediocre, unforgettable to forgettable.  I am more likely to enjoy playing than thinking about the possibility of playing.  It’s like how I have no problem working out but hate thinking about working out so I hardly ever initiate the exercise.

Also, I don’t think my friends and gaming associates realize how little I have always been interested in quick games or pick up games or whatever.  I invest in certain games (or types of games) and want to play those a lot, and I play what other people want to play that doesn’t feel like it will be a drag.  I’ll demo games I haven’t played, but I don’t go out of my way to do so unless they have a hook that is extra hooky for me.  I’d much rather talk about a game that interests me or even hear someone’s review of a game that doesn’t interest me than play filler games.

Saturday, I get in a bit after 7:30AM and find ample parking at the hotel.  I get my usual breakfast from Bagel Street Cafe of pastrami and swiss on a poppy seed bagel (because they don’t have the bread rolls baked yet) with a large peach smoothie with whip cream.

Bagel Street Cafe.  It’s a chain.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to one other than in San Ramon.  There’s one in the shopping center where I get my hair cut and I’m not entirely sure where it is.  Yet, conwise, I’d be happy to eat twice a day at the place with the occasional dinner somewhere outside of the adjacent shopping center where I can get a burger or fish and chips or whatever.

I show up like 8:30AM for my 10AM Traveller demo.  Try to work on my piracy deck for a Developer’s Corner article on travellerccg.com and fail to make much progress as people are already showing up to demo the game.  Demoing happens, with Jeff leading.  It’s only 2 hours for the event, but we continue demoing for another 2 hours.  Then, food, or, as I like to call it, smoothie number two, berry [blackberry?] smoothie this time.

Saturday night is V:TES, which is a couple of games.  We call the second game after my Hermana Mayor deck has gotten a VP from my prey’s Anarch Revolts and ousts a second player, while my grandpredator finally stealth bleeds out my predator.  The first game was a spin on Hatchling.dec where I had .5 VPs at time and 3 VPs playing the game out with Arika as my predator and my Aus/Pre/Vic bruise bleed deck as prey.  Sucked up a bunch of Starvations of Marena, but my prey decked.

Not home too late … if I wasn’t old and decrepit.

Sunday, roll in an hour later as I didn’t get out of bed at 5:20AM to build decks, like I did on Saturday.  Get the strawberry smoothie and am pleased with it, as well.  Which to get Monday?  Which?

Demo, similar structure, different people, at 10AM.  Then, tournament time.  Time for ruthless beats.  Time for glory, honor, status, and swag.  Except, I’m one of the guys who made the game, so like none of those apply.

Match 1:

I’m playing against a precon.  I’m not winning.  I then have a crazy complicated turn after having relatively straightforward turns earlier.  Oh, I’m playing my Prepared Scout deck from my website article, with a few adjustments to the crew and maybe one or two other cards.

I have a Body Pistol in play and shoot Rika Honami.  I Freelancer Flint into play and jettison her.  I have played a SureShot Missile Turret and Just a Little Longer … another SureShot Missile Turret and I Glitch one of my Turrets to reuse it so that I do 6 or whatever damage as a pirate to bankrupt my opponent.  May not sound that intense, but I think also Freelancered another crew in play for some reason and used my Starship Graveyard to get back one of those Turrets.

As usual, I was virtually bankrupt myself.  A Scout may always be prepared, but this Scout is always poor.

If I hadn’t taken out Rika, he might have completed his contract and won.

Now, I think I only won – not because my constructed deck was the wasp’s elbows – because I understood the game far better than someone who just started playing in the Sunday demo.

Match 2:

Paired off with another 1-0 player, some guy named Jeff who has played the game before.  This was a very casual event due to people kind of getting in late and not being quite sure who was playing.  He got out to a lead.  At a certain point, he was up 13-11 in VPs.  Then, his friend showed up who was planning on playing and took over.

On the penultimate round, I went for a big contract to try to get 6 VPs and win.  I got 5.  I had numerous ways to get 6, but I had two cards left in my hand and none in my deck and didn’t have the money to play both cards or play one and use my Luxury Suite for the 20th VP.  I was ready to concede as I thought that round was my only chance, as bankruptcy or my opponent getting to 20 seemed inevitable.  With one card left, we went to the next round.  I used my last card to jump to a cheap survey contract.  With zero cards in hand or deck, with two crew who would have been jettisoned if my opponent had not healed each for one damage for amusement value, I scored three more VPs and my opponent got stopped by my deck that doesn’t actually interact hardly at all with my opponent (except when I can pirate on the last round for the kill) because he didn’t choose to gain Survey with the Empress Marava Far Trader during the resource phase and my last complication play was Electro-Magnetic Interference.  Of course, if he had pirated me, I was dead.

In other words, if Jeff had played the game out entirely, he would have been 2-0 instead of me.

At this point can make a point by pointing out that knowledge of games is really helpful in games that aren’t luckfests of lucksackiness.  Many, many plays could have prevented me from winning, but, when you get dumped into the middle of a game that you aren’t particularly familiar with and are playing against someone who helped create the game, sometimes you don’t win.

Match 3:

During the second round, I had more than 30 cards in my discard pile.  In two rounds, I played or used about two-thirds of my deck.  That’s some two legit two spit right there.

I outraced my opponent who didn’t have enough ways to stop me from gaining VPs.  He had a slow start and was way behind and only because I do a great job of getting close to bankruptcy did I manage to get to 21 VPs with only a couple of cards left.

My intention is to write a “takeaways” article for our website.  An obvious takeaway is that knowledge of the game matters.  And, this is good.  It shows we came up with a game that rewards things that should be rewarded.

Another takeaway is that the precons are fairly playable.  Only one other player built a deck and he was 0-2 after two rounds of playing against precons, finally getting his piracy deck to work in the third round.

Went to dinner at a Cajun place and I got boring Cajun Burger since I was in the mood for a burger.

At one point, Brad and I were talking about FCGs versus VCGs.  We are VCG fans.  Do I go into a rant now?

I guess.  It seems gratuitous to rant in a separate post.

VCGs are better.  Here’s why.

Complaint number one:  I don’t get all of the cards when I buy random packs.  If you want to get complete sets, go to eBay to get complete sets.  If eBay doesn’t have them, reach out to the publisher or the player base and offer to buy complete sets.  Meanwhile, without randomness, you lose sealed play outside of “duplicate”, draft play that is remotely interesting, and you even lose any interest in opening up any product since you know exactly what will be in there when you do.  Well, okay, *I* lose interest in opening any product.  As much as I often feel bad opening up boosters for games where I need copious numbers of certain cards, I also find it interesting to occasionally crack a booster, though more so with Magic where I don’t own all of the cards already.

Complaint number two:  VCGs are too expensive compared to FCGs.  If you are the type to buy three core sets of L5R and be satisfied, you aren’t playing a CCG, you are playing a boardgame with customization.  You may feel differently, but that’s the way I feel.  I consider the correct number of L5R core sets to be minimum 18.  Every three core sets allows for two decks (with extras, of course).  So, 18 core sets is 12 decks at once (in truth, slightly more because you will avoid splashing too much of the same thing because you crave variety).  I’m a card flopper, 12 decks is a norm.  I range from 7 decks to 22 decks built at once for most card games I play.  I think I have around 20 Shadowfist decks built at the moment, about 12 V:TES decks (not counting decks for my limited collection experiment and the like), and only 4-5 L5R decks because I’m not taking L5R seriously yet.  Not that it’s a fair comparison because my Magic decks are almost all Type P decks, but I have about a hundred of those built.  Amazingly enough, 18 core sets is like $600-$700 plus getting like three copies of each expansion pack so that you have nine copies of every expansion card costs more money, though only nine copies of cards sounds rather low to me as some of those cards may go in every deck.  Then, if you really aren’t into being able to build every deck possible for a game, like I am, pretty easy to play CCGs for free.  Want to play Magic for free?  Just ask people for their extra commons.  Want to play V:TES for free, find me and I can hand over a thousand cards.  Will you have exactly three copies of every card for a three card limit game?  No.  But, I imagine the only need to have such a collection is for tournament play, in which case can just borrow a deck.  CCGs are about infinite variety.  I embrace that.  Hard for me to get into the mindset of only wanting to have like a thousand cards for a game, even if I’m also willing to play card games with only like a thousand card collection … up until the point that I end up with 20,000-40,000 cards.

Now, obviously, not everyone approaches gaming like I do, which is probably why I have this blog and not everyone who plays games has this same blog.  I mean, look at the market – we never considered putting out Traveller as a VCG because I’m in some sort of minority based on visible opinion.

Get home early, watch some Olympics because freestyle skiing halfpipe qualification is interesting.  Land high – ooh, not that high.

Monday is the key day.  The day that doesn’t involve showing people how to play the greatest card game, no, the greatest game ever possibly thought of in all of the multiverses in all of time, even the funky nonlinear time(s).  Monday is the day I decide to go with the berry smoothie again.  Monday is the day I fail forwards …

Brad is running 2d20 Conan.  For most of us, this is the first attack, the Pictish Frontier of Conan play, the day that ole Ian forgets to bring the character sheets he has been carrying around all weekend.

Character creation is involved.  Already, the suffering.  Plus, certain people, who shall remain nameless until I out him, did not back the Kickstarter and, thus, we are trying to learn how to play with four players and two core books.

Spoiler:  we didn’t like the system.  Now, we (most of us) played Conan d20 for like 9 years.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect [see blog posts for mini rants], but it wasn’t hard to jump into.  This was just hard.  For some, the dicerolling wasn’t clear.

For me:

Antagonism

I read a long thread on rpg.net about Conan after I got home.  There were posters who talked about how antagonistic the game feels with Doom Pool uses.  I felt that in my half a session.  Em, we didn’t finish an adventure because Brad got tired of trying to run the system and it was close to the end of the con.  Now, I can’t say I’ve never felt like a GM was shutting me down when I wanted to do something, and maybe the adventure in the book just sucks, but I felt like there was way too much preventing us from doing things, which seems like the opposite of what narrative mechanics are intended for.

Complications

I grew so tired of these right quick.  Because geniusness also can include overlooktheobviousness, I didn’t realize until our postgame analysis that the reason rolling 20’s comes up so much more often than d20 is because … er, 2d20 is twice as much as d20, while 3d20 is like more than twice as much as d20.

Fail forward, “yes, but”, complications – all of these strike me as actually getting in the way of just playing a game.  They put more pressure on GMs and players to justify mechanics rather than just ad hocing on the fly as you are freewheeling … okay, okay, I’ll hinder myself.

Gamistier Than Thou

I’m going to pummel this live donkey in another classic gaming rant.

Narrativist mechanics aren’t narrativist – they are gamist.  Because, pssst, let you in on a secret that nobody else can possibly derive – mechanics are gamist.  “But, old, decrepit, get off my AD&D 1e lawn dude.  You don’t understand gamist/simulationist/narrativist.  You are going to be defeated once I enlighten you to the true RPG metaparadigm whatsit.”

The more you mechanize a game, the more the focus of the game shifts from story to mechanics.  This is why I don’t like crunchy systems.

Before I forget, let me tell a story, like old, cranky people are wont to do.  When Origins was in San Jose, I attended and I was introduced to Immortal: The Invisible War.

I played two sessions run by Ran Ackels, who some of you may know as the guy who created Immortal.  I retain, in my feeble memory, a recollection that the way he ran these games was “Roll a die [d10], and I’ll tell you what happens.”  That is narrativist play.  Dice exist to give some level of randomness to short term results; as the party succeeds or fails at things in the short term, the long term is adjusted.

They don’t exist to be an economic engine.  Momentum, Doom Points, Fortune, Complications are all mechanisms for having players and GM focus on and manipulate mechanics.

Do I hate Fortune?  No.  It’s obviously related to Bennies in Savage Worlds which I do pretty much hate (slightly).  It reminds me of Fate Points in d20 Conan, Hero Points, and their ilk, which I actually like.

You know what else I like?  When we played oConan, we got ladybugs (reroll for you) for writing fictions/session reports, spiders (+2 to roll) for bringing food, arrowheads (reroll for anyone, including NPCs and antagonists) for extra effort.  Are these gamist in the way trying to maximize Momentum or trying to build Fortune is?

No.

They are modifications to existing rules, whereas Momentum is a subgame.  This was my problem when I was exposed to Fate.  I felt like Fate was far more gamey than d20.  You do things not because you want to but because the *mechanics* of the game reward you for doing them.  I’m now playing a game of manipulating mechanics rather than playing a game of seducing the immortal witch (“failed Diplomacy, reroll, reroll”).

Do I hate Doom/Momentum?  *shrug*  Maybe.

Accomplishment

Fail forward is, in other words, succeeding.  If you can’t actually fail at whatever the adventure is supposed to be about, what sense of accomplishment do you get?

This is a tricky topic that I’ve touched on before – the topic of players feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I worry about this when running systems where you either succeed at die rolls or fail at die rolls.  Because I can’t escape the epiphany that what I enjoy as a player is feeling like failure was possible but not actually failing, so accomplishment is an illusion of perceived ability to be disaccomplishmentary.

In oConan, we failed.  Oh, we succeeded fairly often, at times because of pulling a reroll out of our gamebags, at times probably because we weren’t doing something all that difficult, it just seemed difficult.  But, we also straight up failed.  We ran away from demons loosened.  We ran away from Pict harriers.  We Fate Pointed to be found on some island beach or in wreckage at sea or whatever that I no longer remember.

And, in seven years of one campaign, things moved forward and stories were told and retold.  This is what the intent of these narrative mechanics is – stories move forward with setbacks until you climax [sic].  But, you don’t need that in any given session.  You can get that across sessions to where a campaign isn’t some exercise of fudging [ha] results.

Why give power to the dice?  They already hold players’ pathetic little minds within their sway.  “These dice suck, I’ll go get other ones.”  “Don’t roll the GM’s dice.  They will curse you.”  “Look at how sparkly my dice are.”  “I always fail Honor Rolls.”

2d20

I don’t dislike the system (the part of the system that doesn’t involve Momentum, Doom, or Complications).  Though, I’m trying to figure out how you can build a functional sorcerer in the beginning, which I guess I could go to the forums and read about.  I just find it incredibly clunky and extremely gamey.  Just the fact that PCs get to decide what order to take actions in is itself gamier than rolling initiative.  Yes, it is.  It becomes a subgame, and the more subgames you have, the more game you have.

There’s also way too much emphasis on equipment, with a lot of equipment being obscenely expensive.  I bought a bow and that used up all but one of my gold.  A crappy bow, by the way.  This was something d20 did really well – outside of primary weapon, equipment was something you hardly paid any attention to.  Sure, armor could be good, but armor could also suck.

I might get used to the economics of the subsystems of Momentum and Doom that are built into the system.  I’m not sure I’ll ever think they add value to playing, but rewriting the game to take them out is a waste of time, when we could just go back to playing d20 or I could homebrew another Roll & Keep variant.

So, yeah, DunDraCon.  It was good.  Traveller isn’t perfect but playing Traveller gets me thinking more like a player of the game rather than being in developer/designer mode.  I think about how the game has all of these cards that you want to play but can’t at the same time, which seems positive.  Conan was something worth doing even if it wasn’t nearly as fun as our old convention sessions tended to be.  I got to talk to people.  I had four smoothies in three days, though the waistline impact is not a victory.

If only we could get more Traveller cards to the people who are enthused about playing.  If only I was a beam of sunlight reflecting off of a unicorn’s horn during a musical on Christmas Eve.  If only I remembered to pass the character sheets to Brad before Monday.  If only I could remember what else I wanted to write about so that I could get to 4000 words in this post.

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Wanderful

January 28, 2018

In recent days, it’s been mostly about Traveller.  My friends and associates have been getting their Kickstarter rewards.  Coworker showed me his stuff.  Went up to Oakland the day after the Berkeley tournaments to help explain how Traveller works.

Then, we realized the printing issue where the crew skills lack clear silver and gold borders.  That’s unfortunate.  We had a summit to go over the plan for making things right and I would expect an update from Jeff on what Horizon Games is planning to do.

See, I may not be able to see things at a distance so well, especially writing on flat surfaces, as I didn’t wear glasses in college except when I was trying to read blackboards (yes, that old).  But, I can still perceive small details, so I wasn’t that perturbed until a couple of things.  One, the realization that I have a huge advantage over people seeing the cards for the first time because I largely know what the cards already do, including what levels of skills the crew have.  Two, internal comments have been that the lack of clarity on the skills is a monumental deal.

Anyway, I didn’t post just to dwell on how many things can go wrong with publishing material.  I’ve been building decks now that I have real cards and not just samples – something that only happened yesterday, days after other people got real cards.  I’ve been answering questions on travellerccg.com‘s forums because I’m actually not just an authority but a “designer intent is this and since I’m a …” type person thingy.  I usually eschew answering rules questions for card games because, as a player of those games, I never wanted some random playtester to tell me how something worked but wanted someone who decided what the rules are to tell me how something worked.  Of course, I also happened to often be a random playtester myself.

Every once in a while I remind myself that:  we put out a game.  Yes, there are some miscellaneous things that didn’t go as planned, but it looks good.  I think it plays as intended, though it is not a simple game to get down right away.

And, we hope to keep making it better – expanding the card pool, addressing any production issues, addressing rules questions and concerns.

Shifting gears.  The John Carter KS continues on in a similar way to various other RPG [sic] KS’s that I’ve seen where the original threshold is just something to blow through for the stretch goals.

Now, what doesn’t get me as excited is that it’s not just a RPG KS but a minis KS as well.  I don’t hate minis.  I, in fact, backed a KS that was all about a board game with lots of minis.  But, I also have essentially no use for them.  I don’t know how to store them (and, I have way too much stuff already).  I’m a theater of the mind style player/GM.  I don’t hardly ever play games that require minis.  I also don’t see how more “different dice” is actually a goal of any sort or worth anything.  I want winners … er … I want content.

I got to thinking about content.  First, JC content.  There are nine books published based on various compiled magazine stories or whatever.  Decent number of locations are used or referred to.  Various cultures, as defined by races with different skin colors … uh … yeah, exist.  Some monsters.  Some tech.  Some weird psionic style powers exist.  There’s material.  Now, how you finesse putting a book out that goes into the differences between the black martians, the white martians, the red martians, the yellow martians, and, maybe, someone very PC will also find the green martians a problem is not entirely clear to me.  At least some of these have other names besides what color their skin is, but we live in a precarious age, which is no doubt some of the problem with pushing JC 100 years after it was written.

Putting aside the potential for getting people who don’t understand the source material riled up, I was just wondering why more RPG books weren’t part of the early stretch goals.  Because, I think about how insane the material is for both Conan and L5R.  Now, L5R is a game world, so you can expand it as much as you want.  But, I’ve read a good amount of Conan and I don’t recall there being that many locations and cultures and whatever well defined to where you can write an entire book about Aquilonia or, even more ridiculous, Cimmeria or Khitai and somehow find it challenging to write an atlas of Barsoom.  Maybe it isn’t challenging.  Maybe it’s just not a priority compared to having ship to ship combat rules or whatever.

I happen to have Savage World’s Lankhmar book handy and I have repeatedly wondered why there’s so little material in it and/or the property.  I haven’t read many stories, but I know there are a number, and I’m pretty sure they are more vivid than the game supplement.

But, then, I thought of a few things.  One, not every estate is as eager to expand on material that isn’t in stories written by the original author or official authors.  Two, Conan is different.  Barsoom is a made up world.  Lankhmar is in a made up world.  Conan’s world is a world of historical cultures mashed together.  You can expand on the societal norms of Shemites by just opening up an anthropological book.  Want to get Hyrkanians?  Well, not super challenging.  Brythunia was a bit of an uncertain match, but I interpreted as kind of like Ireland and kind of like Poland and maybe something else.

Conan’s world so good.  I can bring in famous Yemeni poets into my LBS gaming or Saudi festivals or whatever to flesh out that underdeveloped setting and find that entertains me as a worldbuilder.  But, with Conan, you can choose any corner of the continent you want and draw inspiration from this world.

I just haven’t been as enthused with KS as the end/intended results of things I’ve backed or tried to back haven’t been to my tastes.  Sure, I want to have PDFs for supplements rather than not, but what I really want are printed versions, and, yet, where would I even put more books?  I can’t fit what I have in terms of either books or cards.

Speaking of Savage Worlds, we have started playing a Spelljammer game using SW mechanics.  Still early.  Not what I would pick as a person’s first RPG experience, but that’s the case.  New setting for others.  We have intentionally not proclaimed “this is our new RPG campaign” to see if it works for people.  Is kind of interesting to me that my gaming seems to be expanding again, what with trying to play L5R LCG, Traveller, trying to have RPG play on a regular basis, plus Shadowfist getting back on track, the potential to get V:TES in the South Bay back on track.

It’s almost like everything new is old again.  How wanderful.


Weighing The Options

December 12, 2017

“After you push the door open, six goblins standing near a chest charge, roll initiative …”

“As you turn the corner, six orcs see you, scream something, and charge.  Roll initiative …”

I got to thinking about scale.  At a point in our Conan campaign, Brad and I talked about the point of playing higher level characters.  If all we were going to do was just face tougher enemies, why not just reboot the campaign and play at a more manageable level?

There’s a reason Gorgriffspidrascorps exist.  People crave variety.  Just increasing hit points, improving AC, increasing damage output is repetitive.  Different special abilities allow for playing essentially the same videogame over and over and still having a varied experience.

Then, I started thinking about several other things.

One, people may crave variety, but so, so many players crave doing the same sorts of things over and over as evidenced by how many players will play functionally similar or identical PCs.  I’m even prone to doing something along these lines in that my first two HoR PCs were the same character, at least up until the point where my second PC had some sort of personality and goals.  Gamehole Con wasn’t great, but it gave me important insight into which classes I enjoy and which I don’t in True Dungeon, while giving me more variety than what most seem interested in in terms of mechanical variance.

Two, I got to thinking about L5R in contrast to D&D style games.  It occurred to me that leveling up didn’t produce the same experience, that mechanics change as you rank up.  Combat goes from interesting at rank 1, rank 2ish in 4e to … vicious … above that.

Sure, it’s possible to adjust challenges to try to scale them, but offense so outstrips defense outside of certain spells that it’s a lot of effort to find the right numbers to make combat feel similar to lower levels.

Now, the D&D player, used to magical abilities and whatnot is going to bring up that “save or die”, et al, change the nature of combat.  Conan had a built in save or die mechanic, though that seems rather similar to just dealing enough damage with a bardiche to one shot some dude with 8hp, anyway.  If anything, Conan might have done a good job of maintaining the feel of low level combat.

Anyway, back to L5R.  Higher rank play does feel different.  The mechanics of brutality align(?) with the focus on culture to encourage less mechanical play.  What’s the most common challenge that is actually challenging in my experience?  Trying to prove someone did something wrong who has higher status than the party and/or trying to conduct an investigation with someone of higher status impeding it.

Do other sorts of games scale?  Putting aside dungeon crawl boardgames, obviously videogames scale – see Tetris.  But, do CCGs scale?  The players are generally better the larger the event, but the game itself isn’t providing greater challenges unless you make up your own in solitaire play.

Is there a reason to get (mechanically) stronger?

A challenge fight anime has is that the power jumps are so massive that you lose any sense of character abilities.  If you go by dubbed Dragonball Z comments, whatever the official stats may be, Super Saiyan Goku has a power level of one billion.  Compare that with the 180,000 that he reads at earlier in the same arc, nevermind what a wuss everyone is when Vegeta first arrives on Earth.  Bleach’s Ichigo’s fights become far less interesting because it’s just massive energy attack after massive energy attack.

Stronger has issues.  It’s prone to “fighting ogres instead of orcs”.  Now, more interesting applications of abilities is interesting in the moment, but how often do characters “forget” their own abilities because they need to be challenged in their stories?

Is higher level play more fun?  I certainly never found higher rank play more fun in L5R, though I got into a discussion with one HoR player who said that higher rank play was what appealed to her.

From a mechanical perspective, I have the sense that when we were in the 8th level range in Conan, we had the best adventures, but was that because of the level or some other factor?  Low level felt too much like you lacked a variety of abilities or anything that distinguished you from another bardiche wielder.  High level was prone to ability paralysis by analysis because of more Feats.

Because this topic isn’t well rooted in my mindspace, I’m going to just keep bouncing around.  L5R combat – is it memorable to me?  I remember fights, but do I remember them because of what I did or because of how they fit in the narrative.  I generally believe the latter.  Sure, the time I did more than 100 wounds in one round using a war fan against oni was memorable from a mechanical standpoint, but that’s because it should be.  I don’t remember much in terms of how many enemies I slew or how much damage I generated in most L5R play.  Kidai finished off a variety of things because he often guarded for a while until there was a reason to finish something off.  But, that’s a general style of combat and not a measure of growing stronger.  If anything, Kidai got weaker over time relative to the rest of the party and the challenges they faced because I didn’t create an advanced school that let me do two attacks a round with a yumi.

The point, perhaps, of this post is that powering up doesn’t seem to have a lot of payoff.  Whether you just up the numbers for everything or just have sillier and sillier monsters to fight, the payoff of a good story so far outweighs the payoff of being more badass.

With Kidai, gaining 5 ranks of status was far less interesting than hanging out with a widow.  With the vaguely courtierish Jun, losing a rank of status to run off to Unicorn Lands was far more interesting than having two oni consider him the greatest threat in a party with rank 4/5/6 bushi and shugenja.  Ty captured some magic with a Shot In The Dark, while rarely having much murder-impact, except that one time the priest was behind a bunch of followers and really needed to fail a massive damage save.

I think this is where D&D style modules often lose me – the focus is on mechanical challenge.  I like the ones the most that have a town of NPCs.  I want to harp on this.  Even Stormbringer adventures felt more like there was something going on rather than a series of “rooms”.  L5R modules/adventures are much more about the plot than they are the mechanical challenges … in general.  (OTOH, I have gotten into the problem of mechanics not really mattering, and I’m sure I’ll go into it again.)

Is it optimal to just hover around low levels all of the time?  In L5R 3e/3r, I’d say absolutely.  But, I can see a progression in other games.  I just don’t see the progression in combat effectiveness mattering a whole lot.  Far more important for Jun to pick up two ranks of Cooking and two ranks of Shogi than in “If I activate this kata and spend a VP, then spend a VP on my attack in the full attack stance, then Honor Roll after I call 11 raises and fail, I should be attacking at 10k10+42 with 5 free raises on damage …”

Unlocking abilities is a thing.  Vampire has the huge problem that the most interesting abilities are insanely expensive, though it’s hardly the only game inflicted with such progressions.  It’s obvious my lack of experience actually playing campaign Champions, as you can always come up with the weirdest abilities right off the bat if you want, though PC progression does seem to tend towards expanding skills since they are so expensive and don’t tend to increase your 8d6 EB’s effectiveness.

To avoid the L5R well and to give some love to Conan play, I did a lot of things with Ty to try to broaden his abilities rather than just hack … and slash … better.  I felt like it had payoff, though I would have preferred not falling further and further behind on the kill-ometer by not just focusing on high yield abilities.

Anyway, does any of this matter?  I have my doubts.  The powergamers and buttkickers enjoy powering up, and I often play with their kind.  I’m certainly pro “spend XP to gain XYZ” and not opposed to “I’ll take this Feat at this level”.


Affa-bull

November 6, 2016

I know this might be weird, but I think I’m going to add a blogpost about RPG theory.  I know, I know, everyone wants to see my True Dungeon Red Ranger, Blue Bow build or get my take on HoR4 crafting, but I need to let some ideas just spew.

While Flash is nowhere near as good as first part of season one, the other CW superhero shows are doing pretty well relative to where they’ve been.  The first season of Supergirl was one where I often wasn’t that interested in watching an episode but felt like I should.

Second season has been far more appealing to me.  Reducing Jimmy’s role helps immensely as everything with him is just so forced.  But, it’s Superman that inspired this post.

Some folks love the cheery Supergirl Superman.  Some folks complain about how it’s a boring take.  Ultimately, why I like him is that he’s likable.

Characters in movies, TV, plays (hey, I can fake class), books that are likable sell me on the product no matter how plotholeful something is, how cringeworthy some scenes/dialogue can be, and so on.

But, what got me thinking, because occasionally I think about gaming, is does it matter if PCs are likable?  I’ve run into the problem of unlikable NPCs that weren’t villains, but distinguish from that.

Do I even notice whether I like someone’s PC or not?

In convention play, where you get strangers and some people just dominate with their enhanced personalities, if you like, you like, and, if you don’t, you whine to your friends later.  My liking Gun-Bunny-Babette makes for a more pleasant experience than being annoyed by Gun-Bunny-Bambi.

Accents, mannerisms, amusing decisions, comedic timing – please.

But, home and/or living campaign play.  Do I even notice?

So much of the time, the focus in my play becomes on mechanics.  Sure, I may like or dislike mechanics.  I may get tired of abuse of grappling.  I may wonder why I bother doing anything when completely overshadowed or wonder why I have to do things I don’t think are my responsibility when others don’t manofsteel-up.

But, that’s not the point, either.  Actual, character likability.

In our Conan play, I liked cowardly Rald.  Maybe it helped that the GM liked him, too.  Maybe it helped to have the contrast from Hak.  Maybe it was because my character and he were kind of suited for taking very non-Conanesque roles.  Of course, as much as Rald and Ty might seem like good ole lads who favor a pint, a drag, and nubile women (one much more than the other), mechanically, 18th level characters are not good ole lads … come to think of it.

I rooted for our Princess Police PCs (most of the time).  Over time, PCs just gain depth and relevance to your own character, which is why long campaigns are preferable.  But, I don’t know that there was that much standing out of any particular character.

I hope my PCs are likable.  I know I can be frustrating in my wants.

But, does it matter?  Does your play really change based on liking another PC or not?

Speaking of another, I do want to like my PCs.  I liked Ikoma Jun.  I liked Hoshi Takumi.  I liked Usagi Kidai.  I don’t know that I ever got to liking Moshi Shigeo – he didn’t really accomplish much that was interesting, which was why I enjoyed playing Takumi more.

Let’s say likability does matter.  What does one do to improve it?  Have a coherent hook?  Have particular personality traits or avoid particular ones?  I don’t really know.  I tend toward supportive, sidekickish characters, as I’m not interested in intraparty conflict.  What about mechanics?  I also tend to have underpowered characters, and that can frustrate people.

Is it as simple as “save the day a few times” and everyone will like you just fine?


Flurry Of Woes

June 4, 2016

Addendum to KublaCon 2016:

In one of the V:TES games, I played Taunt the Caged Beast at superior.  Two vampires went to torpor.  I am the king of the world!!

I did play two pickup games of Shadowfist.  I got a Marauder Lord up to something like 11 with a Disintegrator Ray.  Two of us had Wall of a Thousand Eyes as our first FSS.  In the other game, the Hand Monkey deck kept having monkeys killed by two of my decks.  The fourth deck won, even after I spent one power to smoke four of his Dragon characters.

I played Flip City.  We did not get to the point where someone won off of 18 Convenience Stores.  It’s like a parody of deckbuilding games.  I have no idea if it’s fun.  Just seems overly chrometastic, which appears to be my latest general observation turned complaint.  Looking nice does not make for an appealing game.  You need an agreeable personality, too.

We are still playing Shadowfist regularly when people aren’t traveling on Thursday nights.  I’m not sure the game descriptions are that compelling.  I didn’t do a whole lot in any of our last three games.  In one I Wrath of the Monarchsed away a Mobius Gardens – apparently, have to run five Wrath in every deck, now.  In another, my Accupressure Masters just kept getting taken out and a couple got put into play with “We Can Rebuild Him”s.  In the third, my zenith was attacking with a Maverick Cop and an Old Uncle.  Game didn’t last much longer.  We were done by like 9:30PM after starting around 7PM.  Just quick games where not as much happened.  Other than the Fractured Soul on Zheng Yi Quan (Master of the World version) where the spirits were the only thing to stop me from winning with “mooks”.

I lost a really bad game the week prior when I saved a power in my pool and attacked with a bunch of “mooks” into a Blessed Orchard only to have that be the one additional power for a Thermobaric Explosion to go off.

Woe #1

I don’t know.  We seem to be having a fair number of bad games.  Maybe I need to put more control cards in decks, like removal, which is something I was saying week after week months ago.  I just don’t really care about stopping people from doing things, being more interested in putting funny characters in play.  But, that might be failing the social contract of playing to win.

Woe #2

So, the TV season ended.  It’s pretty sad when you are more into the ending of Legends of Tomorrow’s season than Flash’s or Arrow’s.  Wonder how Supergirl will fare on the CW.  But, I still have a lot of agreement with criticisms of the shows.  They all have similar problems.

A problem with Arrow and Flash is having the stakes be too high.  And, this is where we enter the relevance to gaming.

As a player, I want to care about what happens.  With a TV show, I have to relate to the stakes.  I can’t relate to what could have happened in Arrow or Flash within the contexts of those shows, so I didn’t care about the challenges.  With a game, something has to draw me in.  Sure, this ties back into caring about NPCs or locations or other aspects of the world, but it could also just be caring about what the villain(s) have done.

One of my weak points as a GM is getting the players to care about what is going on.  I think there’s quite a difficulty I have with building investment.  I too much swing from none to lots when I play.  Progressive investment building while still having fun stuff going on like blowing up mountains to burn off some extra energy is something it would be nice to figure out.

I don’t know.  I’ll have to spend some time thinking about how I develop caring about things to try to draw upon that to give my players things to care about.

Woe #3

Because of finalizing pledges for the Modiphius Conan Kickstarter, I have been looking at some of the old Conan fictions I wrote.  I really like some of them.  But, it’s Conan.  Dark has a time and a place.  I suppose a good number are publishable, though I don’t know how much anyone would care besides those who played and already saw the fictions.

Woe #4

Speaking of Kickstarters, I’m feeling overwhelmed with all of the gaming stuff I’m getting.  That’s amusing.  There are so many downloads from some of these things that I don’t know where to start.  Besides, I hate reading .pdfs for games – I find it unpleasant and slow.  I already stare at a computer screen all day at work.

When am I going to get hard copies?  Well, I don’t read those either, anymore.  I still haven’t read through Of Dreams And Magic, which I didn’t Kickstarter (and didn’t notice the last Kickstarter).

I want easy to read stuff.  When I’m watching TV or trying to fall asleep.  Quick, easily digested, entertaining.

… I guess I should go back to reading my RPG fictions.

 


February 2016 Kick

February 28, 2016

Oh, sure, I still play games.

I “ran” the second Arkham Investigator adventure last Saturday, followed by playing Power Grid and Citadels that evening with other gamefolk.

I played V:TES Sunday, where we got in three quick games before lunch, which is so not the Bay Area metagame.  But, when you have four players, games are faster.  When you win a game by playing a Brujah demo deck, rushing your Kiasyd predator and constantly bleeding your prey, how long can that take?

Thursday, Shadowfist, two three player games.  The first was many an attempt to win, with my Ascended/Hand deck not being able to quite get through, even though I kept 4-5 power generating sites in play for ages.  The second saw me be irrelevant, playing Lotus!!

But, I’ve also been doing other things.  Kickstartering things.

Conan Kickstarter

Why?  We had a lot of fun with the d20 version of Conan.  Why care about a new version when, here’s a secret people reading about gaming, RPGs never become obsolete?

Nostalgia?  I don’t have any sense of the mechanics and anything involving multiple d20s sounds terrible to me, but I think that it’s a great world for gaming.  It might be the best world for gaming.  I could imagine just using the new books as reference materials for a game using a different system.  Though, to be fair, it’s not like d20 is that appealing to me.

7th Sea

Bewildering.  What?  It’s crazy that it has taken this long for a second edition.  The pent up demand obviously proves that it could have been making money for years.  Though, I actually see Kickstarter as pretty much the only way to go for RPGs based on the fact that so many far exceed what are probably understated goals.

First edition had some pretty clunky mechanics.  Too many skills.  Swordsman Schools being not all that great.  Dracheneisen being overpowered.  Where you had Roll&Keep, a la L5R, you had trait issues that undermined the awesomeosity.

Yet, you can still see 7th Sea run today.  Hugely popular.  Why?

Fantasy Europe.  No, seriously.  How many RPGs do fantasy Europe?

Hawkmoon, except that’s a future, post apocalyptic, incredibly distorted fantasy Europe.  Sure, I don’t play lots of things.  So, there are likely dozens of games that are close enough on Europe to be recognizable as opposed to “there be orcs” or whatever.

But, as someone who occasionally games and occasionally reads about gaming, I can’t think of notable examples.

It’s rather kitchen sink, plus with more aliens, but you can ignore that and focus on whatever regional stereotypes float your galleon.

Kickstarter

Which do you think I supported at a higher level?

So, Kickstarter.  It can be exceedingly silly when people get support for sandwiches, but I love how it allows me to directly support a game’s production.  If I would have known about the John Carter RPG, which I assumed got KSed since it’s also Modiphius, I would have KSed that.

I don’t always like the levels of support.  I get that some people love dice and will throw in $10/$20 more just to get some marginally different dice.  I would generally prefer more hardcopies of the books at a favorable cost, as that’s a way to spread the game to others up front.

I like the idea of vanity stuff.  Actually, on a tangent, the Shadowfist group was talking about how the next Shadowfist KS really needs to do vanity stuff, plus be better at generating enthusiasm, plus actually package the product in a way that people want it.

I don’t care much about .pdfs.  Yeah, I get them when I can’t get hardcopies, but physical books are so, so much easier to read and learn from.  It’s why I still don’t have much sense of Fading Suns, even though I have a bunch of books in .pdf.

I like tailored add-ons.  For Year of the Goat, I got an unbalanced number of precons because Jammers don’t mean that much to me and specific cards do.  Admittedly, I keep forgetting I can just order singles from Daniel, which would have made a lot more sense as it was singles I was identifying to justify my distribution of precons.

There are many things I won’t KS.  It’s not so much because I would never play them, after all, how much am I going to play either of these RPGs?  I’ve barely played Feng Shui 2e.  It’s more because I feel like supporting certain things.  I really love CCGs and RPGs.  Of RPGs, things like Age of Legends, which I probably forgot to mention I backed or Aquelarre, which I also backed and didn’t promote … are things that I just want to see happen so that we get the sort of games in the marketplace I favor, even if I don’t play them.

I might find it interesting to actually have miniatures to use for gaming, but I’m too much a theater of the mind guy to really care.  Boardgames don’t have the depth of appeal to me that CCGs and RPGs have.  Electronic gaming leaves me cold.


Sane Pain

December 30, 2015

It may have been a thread on rpg.net that had something about Savage Worlds that got me to thinking about hit points, aka wounds, aka …

I’m going to focus on cons, as the pros of various things are largely the cons of others.

D&D

I’ve played some 4e.  I have not actually played any 5e.  Come to think of it, I haven’t played a number of other D&Ds. So, when I say D&D, I typically think of AD&D 1e and d20.

Cons:  Combatants are at full offense until they keel over.  Hit points are exceedingly gamey.

The latter doesn’t actually bother me.  I know I complain about how gamey mechanics are, especially when it comes to PC build components.  But, on the other hand, I am so, so, so, so not into realism when it comes to games.  That hit points are abstracted, mechanicized, or whatever really means nothing to me.

So, what about how hit points only matter when you run out of them?  This is something I can be concerned about.  But, not because of PCs.  Because of what PCs fight.  That a PC never weakens, just manages the accounting of their life points, well, it’s actually something I see as a pro.  A pro not just because it means PCs get to do stuff until they become fine red mist but also just the game accounting of this one stat.  It’s simple.  It doesn’t feel weird to me.  It does mean that players have to manage a resource that matters.

That monsters and crap fight full power until they are ashed, though, can be pretty ugly.  It’s not just on the GM side, where the GM has to think through what it means that an enemy that doesn’t retreat will just keep swinging.  It’s ugly that the incentives are all in favor of assured annihilation.

This was the strength of L5R 3e/3r, when I played it a lot.  You actually had a reason not to focus fire on your enemies.  Well, at least, some of the time.

Conan was my big D&Desque experience.  While it wasn’t always peach smoothies with whip cream to deal with my 120+ HP character’s management of HP (or how annoying crap like drowning took away the only thing the character was good at in combat – damage sponge), I didn’t think badly of HP.  A counterargument, though, is that HP weren’t clean in Conan – that the massive damage save rule meant you could have hundreds of HP and still explode before losing them all.  Then, some of the most tedious enemies (all of the most tedious enemies besides those that could grapple for free?) were like chopping down giant piles of wet wood.

Savage Worlds

You thought I was going to go to something more … Asian?

Cons:  Shaken is moronic.  Wounds often seem too much “oh, whatever … aaauuggghhhh”.  Where’s the healing?

Current thread on rpg.net about people’s SW combat experiences.  My first(?) experience was not pain, it was excruciating agony.  I spent 30+ minutes just toggling back and forth between Shaken and not Shaken.  I may not care a ton about combat, but I do care about doing things.

That’s what really inspired this post.  Doing things.  Doing things is necessary.  Doing things is why you do things, like play games.  Rolling dice just to achieve recovery from a condition that stops you from doing anything is … a sign that someone didn’t playtest better.  When I ran Solomon Kane, I houseruled a change to Shaken without ever running RAW.

The flip side of being in Shaken lock is not achieving any progress.  That’s the thing about D&D style hit point loss.  It may not matter that my 126 HP PC loses 50 HP in a fight, but it still feels like something happened.  If I never achieve better than Shaken, have I achieved anything at all?

RuneQuest has been like this.  Do nothing a bunch of the time, then Oh My Gods!  Of course, there, it’s usually much more brutal to the PCs.  Getting back to SW, as much as I’ve seen characters flail about, I’ve also seen the “take 3 wounds, soak?” situations.  While one wound is okay.  Three puts a damper on doing anything.

Maybe it’s just the genres of SW I’ve played, but I also find that healing isn’t quick enough.  Now, to be fair to SW (SK), I don’t recall it being that big of a deal for my Solomon Kane PCs to heal back up.  I’m not exactly sure why that was; I’ve managed to forget quite a bit about running SK.  I know that I just found reading the healing rules to be frustrating.

RuneQuest

Why not?

Cons:  Bleeding sucks.  Losing limbs sucks.  Hit locations suck.  Unconsciousness sucks.

As I recall, bleeding was an optional rule.  But, we used it.  Again, I don’t give a crap about realism.  Bleeding, as a mechanic, has never worked in my experience.  If anything, it produces ludicrously unrealistic actions, like cauterizing wounds and wasting time not trying to kill something that’s trying to kill you and carrying around a bunch of healing stuff just with the idea of stopping bleeding.

Hit locations are something I have never found to be remotely interesting.  All it does is create more complication for more variance without offering anything I can see to make combat better.  The loss of use of a limb in RQ was just obscenely common.  And, yet again, produced incredibly gamey player incentives.  Have to run around with Heal-6’s to make sure you got your limb back.

Unconsciousness, in and of itself, is not the problem.  It’s a problem when you achieve it while still in positive life boxes.  That screws up my math all of the time.  The “unconscious at zero, dying at negatives” is far more intuitive to me.

Feng Shui

Speaking of dying.  Death checks.  SW has them, too, of course.

Cons:  Loss of combat prowess with the AV mechanic can be brutal.  Feels sudden to go into penalties.

I guess 1e FS has similarities to SW.  I just didn’t feel the Impairment penalties as much.  Sure, I was in death checks at times, really should have died in one session where someone fumbled Medicine while I was in negatives.

I don’t think the concept is wrong so much as the execution.  Maybe what it needs to be is something like thirds.  First third, fine.  Second third, minor loss of functionality.  Third third, what?

Legend of the Five Rings

Had to get here, eventually.

Cons:  Which edition?  Let’s say 4e.  Lots of wound levels.  Overreliance on magical healing.  What do wound penalties affect?  Wound chart is oriented to getting you killed (unlike 3e).  Damage varies a lot.  Little ability to defend without help.

I’m sure I’m missing some things for what is the game I’ve examined the most.

Lots of wound levels means some sort of death spiral.  Sure, the windows can be so tight that you are rarely in a particular level.  So, it’s not always a death spiral.  Sometimes, it’s a “why are there so many levels of penalties” situation.

4e is particularly bad about focusing on magical healing for recovery given the crappiness of Medicine, but that’s not so much an indictment of L5R, as plenty of RPG systems just assume magical healing and have horrendous natural healing rules, as it is an indictment of 4e vs. 3r.

The different application of wound penalties in my L5R play is a perfect example of why you put in more examples of mechanics and combat in core books.  Sometimes, they would only apply to physical actions.  Sometimes, they would only apply to “actions”, even though I don’t think action is defined anywhere.  Sometimes, they applied to certain rolls but not others whether it was to prevent a death spiral or not.

My view is that wound penalties should never apply to surviving.  Keep in mind that RPGs are incredibly asymmetrical when it comes to combat.  Players don’t typically care whether NPCs survive and GMs may or may not.  Meanwhile, survival is often a core goal with players for their PCs.  If you make survival harder, you basically just screw players.

By the way, what are wound penalties supposed to apply to in 4e?  Anything with a TN.  Full Defense – no TN.  Damage rolls – no TN.

Damage in D&D or SW or RQ or a whole lot of things can vary immensely.  But, there’s just something that feels uncontrolled about damage with L5R.  With RQ, the frustration is that my normal damage doesn’t take out my enemies until after I’ve direct interventioned to get resurrected, not that the variance is crazy.  Conan could be lopsided in damage output, though that was a lot of poor choices in PC builds, but it felt like you had an idea how badly something would hurt.  With L5R, it’s pretty hard to have a good feel for how much something will hurt when you have one kept die explode five times.  The long tail is a many tailed beast just because of volume of rolls.

Interestingly, powerful defenses can be one of the worst things about combat in L5R.  Be the Mountain, Kami’s Strength, Hida with the right kata in the previous edition giving you like +100 TNtbH, Reflexes 5 with shugenja stance and Defense 5 and armor, Daidoji force fields – these are some pretty annoying things for a GM to provide challenges for.

But, for a normal bushi, there’s often little you can do but hope for a magic buff or someone to guard you.  Even if you have the ho hum Reflexes 5 and Heavy Armor, you don’t get shugenja stance, you don’t get Defense 5.  You swing and hope you kill faster.  I experienced just how dramatic it can be when I switched from being a guarder to being a swinger with my REF-5 Hare.  Even just armor is this massive deal, which I find really annoying.  Though, I also find the idea that AD&D characters run around in +2 Chainmail with +2 Shields to be rather obnoxious, too.

Points Greatest Hits

So, what do I want?

I don’t want characters to be unable to act, including being unable to reasonably move.  Now, that’s up to a point.  I actually don’t mind unconsciousness if the timing of it is good.  While it can be a huge suck to be unconscious when everyone else is fighting, theoretically, combat speeds up as combatants drop while character death is rife with issues.

Character notdeath being highly manageable.  Conan was actually a fairly forgiving system due to Fate Points.  I think that worked well.

In general, I’d take it another step and say rather minimal impact of having wounds.  Should this be different for PCs than for others?  Perhaps.  I haven’t gotten to running a vassal combat for AtDY yet.  I kind of hate mooks in Feng Shui, though extras in SK weren’t as bad.  So, having PCs and majors on a level of being minimally impacted sounds good … up until you start thinking about monsters.  Should Shadowspawn, the monster that inspired my thinking of things as giant piles of wet wood, be easy to cripple?  Probably not.  But, do I want the massive incentives of focus fire and maximizing damage output to be in my experience?  Not particularly.

Does D&D do it right?  Not quite.  However, it may be a lot more righter than more modern wound mechanics.  There should probably be some sort of mechanic to make one feel like something is happening besides number loss, though I’m not entirely sure what that mechanic should be.  As much as I disdain D&D 4e, there is something to the idea of being Bloodied being a good thing.

Maybe, instead of getting weaker by damage, the key is to get stronger.  No, it really isn’t.  Anyone who has played much knows why.  When you make things get stronger as they get closer to being taken out, well, any serious fight sees PCs also getting closer to being taken out when their enemies are, so that stronger enemy just creates a different type of death spiral.

A resource that mitigates wound penalties?  That’s a use of Void Points that I vastly preferred in 3r versus 4e.  VPs were more common in 3r, but they were still a limited resource.  (Actually, PCs were likely to have more, which is yet another reason having them do things like nullify wound penalties was awesome.)  4e wanted to make Fear and WP strong.  Well, it succeeded.  Not sure why that’s fun.

RQ tries to have damage be part of its economy (at least, in my play, which is incredibly economic).  You buy potions to counteract damage.  In no way does this sound like a good idea to me, though it does tie into how much old school FRPGs seemed intent on being money obsessed.

I’ve often really enjoyed being close to death and fighting as hard as possible.  Conan provided a lot of that, where I was often in negative HP and still trying to do stuff.  That Conan often had an out against HP beasts (like my character) was a good thing.  Still not perfect, but I’d prefer Conan d20 mechanics over oD&D.

Beyond just how hit boxes are handled, having options for defending that aren’t just a form of suicide (I’m looking Fading Suns and how awful Dodge is) that anyone can use is something to keep in mind.

Finally, I have a sense that many a system doesn’t really realize what it does to PCs with wound mechanics more “realistic” or whatever than D&D HP.  Whether it’s impairments so crippling that a PC can’t do important things anymore or making wound systems messier such that it gets hard to sense how much trouble you are actually in or systems that make recovery dependent upon money or magic, they actually take a step back in the fun department.