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?

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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.


RPG Yarn

September 19, 2015

So many good titles to use that I won’t remember, like Con-Fluence, which, of course, has to be used when I write something about a con.

Anyway, FFG bought L5R, which has primarily meant to me that I can’t read the RPG forums on a daily basis like I used to.  This, in turn, has caused me to read more rpg.net, since I’m interested in what people have to say about L5R, and I don’t use Facebook.

In reading rpg.net forums, I come across other things.  Add to that that our online group is talking about what to do next for online play, and I run into the question of the ages – what do I want out of a RPG?

Thematics

So many times, I, 100% storyteller, get bogged down in talking about mechanics.  So, let’s start with this, first.

No fake Tolkien.  I don’t hate elves and dwarves … completely.  Norse elves and dwarves are goodsome.  Fairy elves are okayum, I aguessum.  I despise Tolkien knock-offs.  D&D did that.  Videogames did that.

Humans.  Occasional variants.  Melniboneans are fine, though I think that world is not so good for gaming in, not that I have a great idea since I’ve run far more Stormbringer than I’ve ever played.  This is where Conan shines.  Human races are totally the way to go.  Hawkmoon has this, though I’m a bit leery of Hawkmoon as a setting for both thematic and mechanical reasons.

Limited technology.  I’m not very forthright about this with the people I game with because I care more about gaming than I care about specifics or care more about doing things with people than care about specifics, but I’m really not interested in high-tech.  Mech games are fine to me because you just don’t feel the tech.  But, I’d much rather play something with zero sci-fi component, including near future.  I still think of phones as something you dial, not as a chat machine you live off of for everything, even if I do have WeChat installed (to coordinate with people in China, of course).

The idea of a bronze age game is so much more appealing, something like Greek Mythology.

On the other hand, modern is fine.  And, supers high tech doesn’t bother me for the same reason mechs don’t – it’s not really high tech.  Sometime, consider how many superheroes have magical backgrounds or some sort of ludicrous “science” background that is really as explainable as magic is.  “I am an alien, from the planet that gives us the ability to be superstrong at night.”  Yeah, sure.  “When this lightning bolt hit while I was taking chemicals to deal with my health problems, I can now fly!”  Yes, yes you can.

A world that doesn’t hurt my sensibilities.  Wow is this vague.  Mythology?  I get it.  Historical with vampires, witches, and shapeshifters?  Sure.  Some bronze age, religion is everything, yet all we care about is money setting where you bribe monsters who are the monsterification of everything you seek to destroy and which has an afterlife so that dying in a vain attempt to deal with the more powerful is meaningless?  I just don’t get it.

There are plenty of worlds I just can’t engage with because they either don’t make sense to me or I don’t care about what sense they do make.  Star Wars actually hits this.  Not the Star Wars of theory but the Star Wars of practice, where the party is typically a bunch of mercenary scum on the edge of the galaxy, playing Han Solo before the movies.  That’s not Star Wars.  That’s a less depressing Traveller.  My sensibilities in this case are epic space opera.

So, yes, it’s all about context.  It always is.  Expectations affect desirability of presentation of setting.

I think the Young Kingdoms doesn’t work well as a setting for gaming because the books really aren’t about the Young Kingdoms, they are about a specific demigod fighting gods.  I can see one-shots with Rackhir style stories where a PC could actually fit in, but a campaign to me seems to miss out on “I’m Elric and this is my Stormbringer.”

7th Sea is something I don’t embrace more strongly because it just feels like something is off about the world.  There’s a lot of putting forth pirates, then you have adventures where the sea portion is “You arrive at port, what do you do?”  Dungeon crawl angle that I don’t recall ever being used in a session?  Okay.

Yet, L5R works well enough.  I’d rip out a number of things from the world that don’t make any sense to me, but, at some point, I got that the culture is what it is.  So, maybe it’s just getting used to something over time.  I was attracted to L5R by the image of PCs wandering through an Asian Fantasy world smiting ogres.  I’d still rather do that (in a very Inuyasha sort of way, only without Inuyasha and without swords being more important than abilities).

WoD no longer matches my sensibilities.  It did.  It can when it’s just humans fighting things that reside in the darkness.  But, the idea of a bunch of supernaturals all acting like high schoolers towards each other just seems so passé.  It’s overdone in TV, in books, in games.

It’s the halflingification of vampires.  I got to use halflingification more often.  What I mean is that hobbits are cool because the point of Tolkien’s use of hobbits is that the loserman wins.  Halflings are just insipid caricatures of Bilbo.  In 1e V:TM, you get a sense of the otherworldliness of a vampire, that it has all of this ancient power that it uses to own the night.  Then, you play, and you go “Uh, during the day?  I try not to be discovered in my three hours of preparation to be useless so that someone doesn’t just fry me.”  No, most sessions aren’t like that.  It’s that that sort of thing becomes unescapable once you start thinking about it or have to do it once where it becomes pain.

Does Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or whatever hurt my sensibilities?  Don’t know, never played sufficiently in them.

Exalted did.  I hear people talk a lot about broken mechanics.  I played Exalted a couple of times and was like “What is this world?”  Where Immortal throws so much jargon at you that you may just want to go himsati form and serenade into your … I don’t even remember the term off the top of my head … creche? as you give up on the stratagem of counting coup against the book’s authors, at least Immortal used the modern world as a backdrop.  Exalted was just “Wait, what am I?  What is that?  Where are we?  What is it we care about?  Who the hell is everyone else?”

There are numerous fantasy worlds that got created with some sort of conceit in order to set themselves apart form Tolkien.  I understand the thinking.  I don’t get the execution much of the time.

I just continuously come back to one of the following as a basis for a world:  real world (modern, historical); mythic version of our world; something I’ve read or watched.

The Land, out of the Thomas Covenant series, that sounds like a great fantasy world in certain ways, though I worry about the “I am not a leper who has a power greater than that of god.” situation with having PCs do stuff.  High fantasy based around parties rather than individuals requires a bit of thinking through the modeling.  Some of that is just modeling what it is the campaign is about as it’s probably not about the same things books in a series are about.

Related to sensibilities is that place names, character names, etc. aren’t silly.  If you set a game in some fantasy world that had nothing to do with Thailand and used all of the actual Thai city names, I might balk until I realized that they were real names of things (and begin to wonder why the game wasn’t set in a Mythic Thailand).  (I worked in an office where all of the conference rooms in the building were names of Thai cities.)

Sure, I’ve read stories with Bink in them a bunch of times.  Bink is frickin’ awesome as a character, with a kind of clever, kind of “this doesn’t really make any sense” nature to why he has a power greater than that of god.  But, I don’t want to game with characters named Bink.

No low.  No low fantasy.  No low anything.  If I want to live in a depressing world where I scrape by, I can look at my retirement savings.  This is where settings like Traveller are a fail to me.  Why would I want to be in that world?  Yes, I’m much more of a high fantasy sort, but Conan isn’t high fantasy nor is Hunters Hunted.  Feng Shui can be, but other martial arts settings … can be.

Related to low, is that I have no interest in money.  Wealth, to me, is a meaningless motivator.  I understand on some “intellectual” level that other people can get motivated by playing a game to pursue money, but I just can’t relate to that in any way.  Money in gaming, to me, is “You saved the Kingdom of Kool Kats, you get a palace made of Unobtainium and your garden grows Rubies.”  Otherwise, you just ignore money.  Now, again, this seems to fly in the face of how I like to shop in L5R, but that’s because I see shopping when it’s meaningless to your character to be ironic and about thumbing your nose at games where shopping actually matters.

The motivators in RPGs should be revenge, love, duty, overcoming weakness, building a better world, and the like.

Mechanics

I need to move on.  Probably a million more words on thematics in RPGs.

No accountanting.  One forum post from rpg.net I copied was ranting about character sheets looking like something on an accountant’s desk.  I’d take this a step farther.  I don’t want to spend my time doing accounting.  I’m an Excel expert, building reports is a core competency, I crunch deck win statistics.  I do not want to spend my time fiddling constantly with character numbers or their possessions’ numbers (i.e. money).

Why is a game like L5R so appealing mechanically?  Look at the character sheet.  Okay, don’t look at the character sheets that come with the books or whatever that are a mess of nonintuitive layout.  Look at my character sheets that nobody else can seem to read.  Traits/Rings, Skills & dice pools, technique descriptions, spell lists, about five combat stats.

As much as I get Hero in some weird way for character creation, just no.  The Speed chart I can sort of understand and oddly doesn’t feel broken when I play, but it has to be broken in some way.  Recovery stat to go with your Stun Pips, your Body Pips, your PD, your ED, then throw END on top?  Accountanting in play to go with the supercrunchish character creation.

When I say L5R 3e/4e hits my sweet spot on mechanics, that’s what I mean.  You don’t have too little information that describes your character, like not having any skills.  You aren’t a d20 character sheet, where you track irrelevant things like encumbrance or your AC varies three different ways depending upon which side you get attacked from.

Savage Worlds has a decent character sheet.  But, it falters in a different way.

Resolution mechanics should feel like you are doing something.  In other words, have a decent dice or card system.  But, what is decent?  I dislike d20, d100, 3d6.  I’m not fond of Savage Worlds’ system because it doesn’t feel like the dice are doing anything interesting.  I like d10, R&K.  For some reason, rolling a single d10 just feels reasonable, even though it’s rather simple.  I used to like the up die/down die mechanic more as well as FUDGE dice, but both have become a bit too focused on the middle to me.

But, what I love the most is playing cards.  I may find The Zero Movement’s high school students in a World of Dimness to be not thrilling in two ways, but play Tarot cards from hand to resolve things?  That’s just the best thing ever.

One chart … and it better be funny.  Savage Worlds does, on the other hand, have the amusing Terror Chart, where the normal result in my play is:  heart attack.  Other than specialized charts, like Conan’s out of control sorcery chart, no charts.  You roll your cards and you tick off your hit boxes.

No hit locations – screwjob.  No bleeding – screwjob.  No action loss (stun, knockdown, shaken) – antifun.  No AoO, no matter how unrealistic it is that someone can just run away.  No grappling.

Descriptors?  For one-shots, ‘k.  For campaign play?  I must admit that I haven’t played a host of descriptor based games in a campaign style, so maybe it works better than I think, but I just think it’s likely to exacerbate all of the problems that descriptor oriented systems have from a mechanical standpoint.  Namely, that descriptors are open to interpretation.

Funky dice?  Maybe.  If by funky, you mean things like having + on two sides, – on two sides, and nothing on two sides, that’s okayish, if kind of limited.  If you mean “Uh, so I spelled URAID10T, what does that mean?”, then take me home to my country road and my single d10.

Highly lethal?  Highly boring.  Unless the game handles PCs going from lifed to unlifed largely intact, it’s just too disruptive to be worrying about how any fight might require rewrites.

Hard times at Ravenloft High?  If my character just constantly fails, I can go back to creating solitaire games to play while watching TV.  I don’t know if it’s too high target numbers or that PCs are losers or what, but I’m shocked at how many games I’ve played where I just felt like my PC was less competent than I was.

Crits and fumbles?  Most of the time, these don’t work.  PCs build to do what they need to do without crits, so crits usually just screw them.  Fumbles can be funny, like that Mekton game I played where I twice shot my training sergeant in the back as I learned mech-jockeying.  But, mostly, they introduce a silly element into games that aren’t supposed to be silly.  Even having mooks stab each other in the brain gets tired pretty quick.

By this plate mail I shall rule!  Armor is not my glass of incredibly sweet tea.  I don’t always hate armor, just often hate it.  Conan was great for having reasons to not wear any armor and to have better reasons to not wear anything more than light armor.  L5R 4e makes armor too good, but 3e seemed okay.

While many a protagonist in a fantasy novel will wear armor, they often don’t and, when they do, it’s often not something emphasized.  I can live with the idea that people sometimes have protective clothing on or whatever, but I just picture play involving things other than warring (including “dungeon warring”).  Then, nothing is more annoying than “I spend this round putting on armor because we once again got attacked in the middle of the night.”  Okay, there are more annoying things, but that’s pritnear the top of the list of tedious gaminess.

Have reasonable character creation and experience systems.  This is another place where I get concerned about descriptor games.  But, there are so many ways this goes wrong.

If I have to spend two hours making a character, even my sweet, sweet Ars Magica characters, fail.  If I have one stat at one and another human max because it’s cheaper to do this at character creation than to advance to human max, fail.  If I have no clue how my character will function after I build it, given that I’ve only created thousands of characters for maybe half a dozen primary systems and miscellaneous other systems, fail.  If I randomly can’t be a farmer, fail.  If I have to take Enraged: When angered, 11 or less, recover 8 or less to have enough points to make a functional character, fail.  If skills matter, and some other class gets tons of skills/skill points, and I get only enough to Spot for the party, fail.  Advance in stuff I don’t care about?  Fail.  Buy up one stat because that’s all that really matters to character effectiveness?  Fail.

Again, this is where recent L5R works for me.  You buy up traits, Void, skills that cost the same as they would when advancing, and that’s almost everything a player will have to do, with some odd exceptions for kata, memorizing spells, kiho, emphases, most of which only apply to certain characters, all of which you could ignore.  Advantages don’t work “properly”, but that’s usually tolerable (but not always …).  When you get XP, you spend them on what you want to improve.  You aren’t having to save up for 10 sessions to add one dot to your highest discipline.  You can improve multiple things in a not outrageous amount of time.  New skills aren’t prohibitive.  You aren’t getting better at things that are either irrelevant or out of character.  You aren’t paying one cost for one type of skill and another for a different type (though, I kind of understand the concept that not all skills are the same value and how problematic that can be).

Essential to my experience when playing a RPG is feeling like my PC is unique.  Mechanical distinctiveness goes a long way to assisting that.  If my only distinction is that my 4th level miller/3rd level ditchdigger has one more point of Intuition than Haifa Wehbe’s 4th level miller/3rd level ditchdigger, I’m not going to feel that there’s any difference between the two of us.

Then, I’m in the “My starting PC should be a badass as well as being an expert in pewter watch chains” camp.  So many times, when a game has a loserville phase, people want to start as losers, even when they’ve done the goat to G.O.A.T thing before.  I like character advancement, I just like it to be from major league all star to major league hall of famer, not single A to major league middle reliever.

Character features are either obvious or cool.  Feng Shui may have “feats” just as d20 has “schticks”.  But, FS (1e, 2e maybe not …) won.  Because Carnival of Carnage and Both Guns Blazing and Willow Step and Armor of Life are not Power Attack, Improved Unarmed Strike, or Exotic Weapon Proficiency.

Not everything needs to have a cool name.  Having a skill called stealth is fine.  This is where looking at a character sheet and going “I understand, understand, understand, whoa, what’s One With God do?” is better than “Does this Advanced Knack do the same thing as this Basic Knack?”

Everything on the character sheet matters.  While a preference, this will never happen, so this is more like some Kantian Ideal.  Well, as much as possible matters.  Don’t have more than 20 skills (sadly, the only game I can think of that I play that limits skills sufficiently doesn’t give you skills I think characters should have).

Don’t have combat be inconclusive up until you die.  This is where I find systems with parrying to often cause pain.  While an epic one-on-one duel should have “Btw, I’m underhanded.”, party combat just grinds in a hellish grind of grindiness when you don’t reduce something’s hit boxes every round.

Have something going on besides combat.  Well, by something, I mean something interesting, not just lockpicking or “you detect an ambush” rolls.  I like skills.  I like horizontal diplomacy.  I like brain stuff.  Harp strumming should be a thing.  Things that the system considers important and not just “secondary skills”.

Enemies should not be so complicated that I ignore the rules.  Actually, this is a place that L5R doesn’t work for me.  I routinely overlook or ignore NPC techniques or mastery abilities because tracking on all of them exceeds my interest level.  This *is* a place where Solomon Kane has worked for me, as monster abilities might involve many more lines than PCs, but there’s not much more going on besides their specials to have to think about.  I actually don’t mind systems having one set of rules for PCs and another for other, as long as there’s still enough mechanical clarity to balance encounters.

Gah, I’m sure I’m missing tons of other things, but I have failed my Endurance + P: Blogging check.

So …

From a mechanical standpoint, there’s a reason I keep mentioning L5R.  Other systems just end up bugging me from a little – Conan’s imbalances, grappling – to a lot – my 366 year old Ventrue cannot possibly survive combat with an angry teenager wielding a brick – to “I have no idea how anyone plays this”.

From a thematic standpoint, obviously, generic systems – Hero, GURPS, d20 – have as much theme as the supplement someone wrote provides.  So, it’s not so much about system.  And, I’ll tend to buy only those games where I like the thematics when the system isn’t generic.

So, it’s more about what groups decide to do in the game, which really isn’t the publisher’s fault.

However, there are a few things that will get me to not Kickstart your RPG.  Fake Tolkien, low fantasy, sci-fi, worlds that mean nothing to me.  Meanwhile, I will totally consider buying a hard copy of Against the Dark Yogi.  I will totally sign up for your beta Babylon (not 5) RPG, your “a man or a multi-layered archetype?” game, your fantasy pseudo-Nigeria game, though I’d only look to campaign one of these if I thought it would have the mechanics to support campaign play.


Easy Roads, Paths, Ground

June 21, 2015

I’ve had in mind thoughts about RPGs that don’t seem to coalesce into a single topic.  This topic is about simplifying.

I will read forums and blogs to see what people say about running campaigns.  How much actually penetrates and leads to different behavior is questionable.  The impetus for change is routinely some sort of negative experience rather than a “shoulda done it differently” thought that occurs.

One thing that keeps coming to mind, however, when I think about theoretical campaign experiences is oddly D&D.  Not necessarily what D&D has become or ever was but the stripped down, hack and slash dungeon crawling that I picture when I read play examples in not only D&D and AD&D books but in The Fantasy Trip and whatever (with less of the obsession over distances, light sources, poking refuse piles, whether you look up to see the spiders above you, etc.).  Much more akin to what it’s like to play the HeroQuest boardgame (or Descent for a more modern reference).

I believe this vision of a simple, straightforward, easy to play (and run) game comes up because my experiences seem to make things more difficult than they need to be.  If you have to spend more than 30 minutes getting a character together to play, that’s too much work and too awkward for something you aren’t going to be sure you want to do.  If the players are lost in terms of what they are trying to do, what the world is about, how the system works, or whatever else, that’s … weird.

Why should anything be hard?

Character

It’s not important to have a coherent character.  It’s important to start playing a character that becomes coherent.  The more you understand a system and a world, sure, the more tailoring that can be done up front.  But, most campaigns fail to run very long, so sayeth others and so I observe.  Even campaigns I run that I’m motivated to keep running fall apart in the face of spotty attendance, if not something else.

What interests me in character creation isn’t necessarily what interests someone else.  Some people like shopping for their gear, for instance.  I quite can’t stand it, which is why I have characters running around in game worlds that have no armor when everyone is expected to be outfitted for warfare.

But, even where mechanical details like this are supposed to matter, just … start … playing.  What determines the length of a campaign?  Well, how much you play.  So, play more.

Why is length important?  For some, character advancement is a major or primary appeal.  In my experience, duration of campaign has led to depth.  Where a character starts out as a character sheet, eventually you hit some point in the campaign where you know who the character is.  After that point, then you start playing to who that character actually is rather than who you might have thought it was supposed to be.

15-30 minutes.  Can spend more than that off on your own when you aren’t wasting anyone else’s time, but I find that many a campaign sees people creating characters with everyone else around, and it tends towards being a waste of time to spend more than this when the important thing is playing long enough to have your character become something more than a character sheet.

In The Beginning

I only think of two campaigns I played in as long running.  I don’t include Heroes of Rokugan because of the structured nature of the campaigns and because of the incredible inconsistencies in the schedule of play.  I don’t include the RuneQuest play as the actual number of sessions is nowhere near as high as the span of realworld time used to play.  Plus, my characters keep changing while the situations hardly do – essentially, there’s no story arc.

The Conan d20 campaign started off uncluttered.  We had a reasonably clear need at the beginning, being on the Pictish frontier.  Whether actually doing our jobs or fleeing before an implacable foe, survival was the focus.

In contrast, the Princess Police campaign was much less clear in what we were supposed to be doing and had a very slow start.  It ended up working out because of the commitment level of the players.

I’d encourage the former.  Simple, clear goal(s) with straightforward play to “get into” the campaign.  Not everyone is highly committed to a particular campaign idea to keep going when things aren’t meeting their expectations right away.

I know I can’t escape it, but, for some reason, it’s far harder to articulate and define a campaign vision at the outset than you would think it would be.  Even when you have a campaign mission statement, somehow different players expect different things and GMs expect different things than players.

Deepen

It’s not just characters that add dimensions over time.  I see the play (plots, setting pieces, NPCs) as gaining more dimensions through continued play.  I wouldn’t say this depth necessarily comes with complexity.  I would put it down more to just investment in what happens in the campaign.

This is where I struggle with the idea of a dungeon crawl campaign.  Isn’t it just doing the same thing over and over, with the names changed?  Sure, the Gygaxian model, as far as I can tell, is to dungeon crawl until you get enough resources to establish yourself in the world as a territory manager or whatever.  So, there is a shift from murder hobo to murder lord.  Economics, politics, whatever become relevant at some point, and the 20’x20’x20′ rooms get pushed somewhat to the side.

On the other hand, I’m still trying to wrap myself around how to do more episodic play.  TV shows have done very well with the idea of the same setup every week with only modest evolution in the main character(s) or what they do, i.e. minimizing depth.  There has to be some way to have a satisfying game that is “The Case of the Broken Rubber Band” each week (think Encyclopedia Brown, Sherlock Holmes, etc.).

Maybe others have seen it and I just haven’t, but I’ve yet to see a campaign where there was essentially no concern for change in the PCs mechanically, where a campaign focused on plots, instead.  Come to think of it, I’ve played in adventures at cons that were part of a series where the focus was on the story arc and the characters undergoing changes didn’t really matter.  That doesn’t seem like something with “legs” for a home game.

Even episodic TV shows saw character development.  Magnum P.I. saw a greater focus on his Navy background.  MASH, to my recollection, got more and more into the frustration with the war continuing and, of course, moved into the reality of characters being done with the war.  Not that Jeannie and Tony getting married (or whatever evolution of a show along similar lines) is necessarily much more than a nod toward how things can’t stay exactly the same and be remotely plausible.  My observation, which admittedly does come from most of my TV watching being when I was growing up and relatively little since the ’80s, is that entertainment became more sophisticated over time.  It was fine to have an incredibly repetitive show in the olden days (some weren’t), but the demands for novelty led to more character development.  Unfortunately, at least when I look around, I feel like modern TV has to make every protagonist tortured because simplistic characters don’t satisfy more “sophisticated” audiences.  The idea of simple fun seems to be missed.

What?

I think I got ramblely there.

To restate:  It can’t be that difficult to start a new campaign quickly and with clear goals and expectations that the players buy into to where the campaign has legs.

Characters don’t need to be hyperdetailed – that can arise later.  Motivations don’t need to be complex or convoluted, not even for the villains.  Missions and accomplishments don’t need to be involved – I keep coming back to how one of my failings is that I don’t give clear short term wins and losses to my players; the impact of actions is too enigmatic and subtle.

I may be lost on what HoR3 is supposed to be about, but I do find the format enjoyable.  One benefit of the format, I perceive, is how each module typically has a well-defined mission and how the results of mods are immediate and defined.

I own far, far more modules for D&D/AD&D than the number of modules of a RPG I’ve played in home games.  I would imagine that playing a module based campaign for something other than L5R could work much the same way, but I don’t know.  Maybe the “videogame role-playing” comes through much more with D&Desque adventures in play, as it does when you read them and read over and over again about room descriptions with monster statblocks and what sort of implausible treasure can be had and read not much else (well, there are random encounter tables, too).

As we started up a new campaign that uses Savage Worlds for the system and a pseudohistorical setting, I’ve been looking at my Solomon Kane book recently.  It is an interesting contrast to my ’80s D&D modules, where there’s far less detail and much more focus on a simple, one session adventure with hardly any sort of randomness to the plot.  I certainly grok the SK adventures far more than I can envision how the D&D modules play out.

In my recent experiences, I’ve run across difficult to understand systems, labored character creation, unclear motivations/goals, difficult to resolve scenarios, and maybe a couple of other things.  My intent isn’t to complain.  My intent is to figure out how to easify playing RPGs.  The heights of RPGs are greater than the heights of other games I’ve played (except for the ousting multiple players with Jake Washington experiences).  It shouldn’t be challenging to reach those heights.  I’m not looking to play some dungeoncrawl, hack and slash wargame.  I’m just wondering where the ground is that captures simplicity of action with richness of narrative.


RPG Fiction Guide

December 25, 2014

I had this idea noted for a long time.  I was going to spew the knowledge on how to write fictions for your RPG campaigns.  Not specifically HoR fictions, maybe not even ones that well suited to campaigns where you are trying to gain something.  Fortunately, the vast majority of my blog posts are just made up with a few sentences in the cranial region and end up being whatever I type in the moment.  So, I’m going to forget some highly important things … that I get to use for a subsequent post on the very same topic.

What is the point of a fic?  Okay, in HoR, it’s to get something.  Let’s go with why you would write fics in your home games (and HoR, too).  To add depth to the campaign.  How do they add depth to the campaign?  By doing some of the character development that’s not going to happen on screen with your PC or someone else’s PC or a NPC.  By developing some other part of the world than a character, like providing info on a location or a group or a character’s activities or whatever.

Other reasons for fics:  entertain the GM, entertain the other players, provide a record of what has happened.  Actually, for our Conan play, it was the last that was the original intent of fics.  I take notes on every RPG session I play in, online, in person, convention.  After a certain point, I can’t read my own notes.  One of our Conan players was watching me take notes for a session and the GM was going into a long description of us on a boat moving under an archway with an aged, bronze(?) statue of some dude with a weapon … and so on.  My note was “some guy” or something like that – I’d have to check my notes.  That sort of shorthand is the bane of preserving gaming knowledge for posterity.

So, other than fics to describe what did happen, what is an obvious thing that shouldn’t exist in fics?  What could happen on screen.

Some of my campaigns are more heroic than others.  Let’s assume that you do heroic stuff a reasonable amount of time on screen during a campaign, on screen meaning during your play sessions.  Then, your fics shouldn’t have heroic stuff going on.  Not only is it tacky to give yourself achievement for things you didn’t earn, but the contrast between the heroic action during sessions and comedy/romance/philosophy/whatever in one’s fics only highlights the cool things you earned.

Now, everything is a guideline, and I’ve thrown some action, even heroic action, into some fics, but I think that tended to be in campaigns or in phases of campaigns when there wasn’t heroic action going on on screen.  As part of earning your achievements (or going for humor, or cetera), usually, in my fics, my characters fail or get some sort of mixed result.

What are my most common types of fics once a campaign has been going a while?

Youth (Backstory)

It may be my PC as a child, my PC as an adolescent, or just my PC before the campaign started.  Yesterday, I wrote about my Princess Police PC’s life just after adulthood (which is like only a couple years or so before the campaign started) during a memorable Winter night.

It went for humor, which is one of the most common things I go for.  It went for contrast between the immature frat boy of a few years prior and the post Imperial Winter Court romantic military commander.  But, one of the things I aim to do is highlight a particular aspect of a character that still exists.

The character gets a rap as a lech, when he’s really just a flirt.  I also throw in character sheet aspects of the character, like how one of his patrol buddies hops away from a grapple attempt as they drunkenly brawl.  My Hare is “not a leaper” but, rather, a lover … of nature.  Not just thematically but mechanically as Usagi Woodsman replaces his SR-2 technique, so he can’t do the Usagi leap.  I wrote in activities that try to get at how he has a low Agility but high Reflexes.  His patrol leader calls him “idiot” and the others call him “stupid” because he will always have an Intelligence of 2, which is not bad in the world but really kind of dumb for a PC and extremely stupid for the sort of characters I normally like to play.

I don’t know if people catch all of the things that are written with intent, but any time I go to the “this is what the PC used to be like before the campaign” well, there’s usually a number of different things I’m trying to go for.

Sometimes, there will be a lesson.  Maybe, there will be some connection to what is currently going on in the campaign.  We are getting towards the end of the Princess Police and the carefree, backwoods days for the PC are gone – again, contrast.  A lot of times I go to the “see how this PC started developing this skill/interest when he was young” well.  An earlier fic was about the Hare getting trained in kyujutsu while practicing patrolling.  Because I’m all about the sleazy character builds that totally min/max, this character started with a Reflexes of 5 (as a replacement, he didn’t start as a newb character) and was all about the “you can’t touch this” and Kyujutsu.

Soap Opera

As a lover of NPCs who won’t rush out of bed the next morning, I often work on romantic subplots in fics because they don’t work so well during sessions, depending.  Actually, probably the best benefit of online play is being able to easily have side conversations going on that don’t involve the rest of the party.  In our Conan play, the relationship stuff was mostly done through fics.  In our Princess Police play, most of the relationship stuff is done in private chat windows.

But, it can be other soap operaesque stuff, too.  Maybe, it’s NPCs plotting against my PC.  Maybe, it’s bro’s doing bro-y stuff.  But, the focus is almost always on quiet things, like conversations … especially conversations, as I love dialogue.  Could also be the PC’s thoughts or could be a NPC’s observations of one or more PCs.  This last tactic is commonly used to help explain why the party adventures together.

One of my Princess Police fics, and I’m focusing on this campaign both because it’s most on my mind at the moment and because the fics are far more recent than the vastly greater number of Conan fics I did, was about NPCs talking about who my PC had the hots for.  Now, the original version had one of the NPCs being an evil mastermind that was the behind the scenes villain of the campaign and how my PC’s on stage efforts only facilitated her rise to ruling the Empire with her healthy hips, but it was too much like another campaign villain, so I wrote a second version where she was just an interested observer.

Another fic was to both highlight and refute the PC’s reputation as an insatiable lecher.  The character has actually managed to avoid having affairs with nearly as many women as he’s had affairs with.  After one session where I actually rolled to resist Temptation, I wrote a fic to take the private conversation the two characters had and make their actual, siblingish relationship known to the other players.  With humor.  I think it was one of my better fics for the campaign as I did pull in other PCs and write dialogue and actions for them and the players were cool with that.

Because when you have geniusness, you are totally in the brainthings of others, knowing all and seeing less.  Or, you could just send people a draft and have them approve/disapprove of your characterizations of their characters.  But, hey, that’s the less geniusness way to go about things.

Anyway, the soap opera aspects of campaigns are often not easily played out on screen because they lack action and often lack involvement for the rest of the players.  Obviously, different sorts of campaigns can be really different.

I also wrote an epilogue for a NPC that the players had no idea my PC cared about and where they basically had no idea who the character was, let alone why my PC was motivated to see someone get boiled ASAP as vengeance for what he had done to her.  Fittingly, as one of the big differences between fiction and gaming is that the narratively most appropriate thing often doesn’t happen, someone else managed to dyify the baddie while my PC lay around on the ground, badly wounded.

Tying Up Narrative

That last example could fit here.  One thing that often happens, especially when the other players aren’t as interested in the coherent narrative as I am, is that the on screen narrative is kind of disjointed.  Session writeups, actually, while being their own category of fics, also can help immensely for clarifying the overarching narrative.

I have something that could fit into this category for the Princess Police, but it’s kind of strange in that it wasn’t intended to be used for such.  I had written a fic to highlight something the character was trying for, when the GM decided to use it as a prologue for the next session.

I suppose another PP fic does address an on screen failure on my PC’s part (though it was failure by fiat), as the people I play with tend to focus on party successes and ignore screwing up, where I think the screw ups have tremendous narrative impact.

Goals/Achievements

Speaking of which, HoR and its ilk incentivize writing fics to achieve personal goals that aren’t going to get reflected in module play.  I’ll write fics for home games that reflect how someone developed a new ability as reflected on the character sheet.  But, I also might write a fic about something the character is working on.

I wrote a Princess Police fic that goes into both.  My Hare needed someone to illustrate his fantasy novels.  He found a painter well-suited to such at Winter Court.  At the same time, both because my PC would be really good at painting due to natural aptitude (Awareness went from 3 at beginning of WC to 5) and because she wasn’t deemed extremely reliable enough to where my PC would go to her every time he needed another novel published, I wrote about my PC taking lessons from her, struggling at some things but showing potential at others.

Again, fics can achieve many different things at once.  I also highlighted how hyperactive the character is in the fic, something that doesn’t always come through during sessions.  And, I referenced my PC’s affair.  And, I gave voice to a couple of campaign NPCs with what they thought of his learning how to paint.  And, I introduced the character’s parents ever so slightly with a reference to prior events.

OPC Development

It’s not unusual for me to play with folks who just want to play a game that has a story.  They aren’t all that invested in their characters as characters, though they may be invested in their characters as character sheets.

Besides developing NPCs, which often will fall under the “Soap Opera” category, sometimes I like to give my take on OPCs (other PCs).  This can confirm my vision of them or it can possibly even give another player something to run with to flesh out the character for oneself.

I’ve said before that I care more about NPCs than other PCs as characters, if not in these exact words, because NPCs are the interface into the greater world where other PCs are just more constructs like my PC, who often know less about the world than I do.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  I can get more interested in what other PCs are doing and what the players are trying to do with their characters from a thematic standpoint.  I just need to have a sense of those characters and their interests and goals.  If I can facilitate them having more “character”, more interests, or more goals, well, maybe worth an occasional story [fic].

Foreshadowing

I’m running out of categories that come to mind off the top of my head.  I’m sure looking back at more Conan fics will jog my memory of others, but to bracket the categories, let’s finish up with the … future.

I come up with lots of ideas for what can happen in campaigns I play in.  I wish it were as easy when I run them.  I think it has to do with how restrictions breed creativity – shout out to Magic articles that I no longer read because of their suck new website.

While I will throw out ideas to my GMs, I also write about possibilities.  These fics tend to be not only vague but really, really hard to follow for other players and the GM.  Since they don’t relate to anything that has happened, they come across as “that’s an interesting story, but, uh, wtf?!?”

For my initial character in the Princess Police campaign, I wrote a fic that was about him, but it wasn’t at all clear, as it was about the character after he grew old and retired, and it involved a bunch of characters that had nothing to do with the campaign (considering how I’d just created them for the fic).  What the point of the fic was wasn’t even clear.  It was trying to do some of the character development that “Youth” fics do, only going the other direction timewise.  I didn’t think it was bad, but I had the hardest time thinking about how I’d follow it up for that brief period before I got bored.  That PC was a disaster, anyway, with his coolest achievements being kind of out of character.

Summary

Writing fics is awesome.  I’m not always in the mood.  I sometimes struggle.  I can easily get pretentious and write horribly out of character fics where average intelligence PCs use numerous enormical words.  And, my style probably doesn’t enthuse people who care about action rather than the behind the scenes soap opera, navel gazing, or the like.

But.  I have a lot of fics I wrote that I enjoy reading.  I surprise myself with how many subtle aspects of character development I can put into a story that might not even end up a full page.  I often nail the personalities and something of the speech styles of GM created NPCs or other PCs, or, at least, I sometimes do and the other times nobody cares enough to complain.

The thing is is that I lack the patience and sustained enthusiasm to write enough to write professionally, even short stories (on my bucket list to write a novel but have a hard time seeing it), but I think (and read) in terms of scenes and dialogue, so as long as I don’t get bogged down in describing how things/people look, which I’m not so good at, and focus on two characters going back and forth about … who is sleeping with whom, who is going to be sleeping with whom, or who should be sleeping with whom, it’s all good.

Did I mention that I love writing romantic comedy, one might even call some of it farce?*

*  How ironic is this when I tend to find slapstick in TV and movies painful?  Guess it needs to have more romance and brain-humor and less physical comedy.