Gen Con 2016

August 8, 2016

As much as it might be interesting to try writing this post in iambic pentameter or whatever, I have work tomorrow, so strive for simple.

Gen Con moved to Indy in 2003.  I’ve been every year that it has been there and I believe every year since 1996.  Last year would have been 20 years, and that didn’t even occur to me.  I recognize someone who works at Steak and Shake from the first years of it being in Indy (see last year’s post for more on S&S … can’t wait til Campbell gets one??).

Three of us traveled together.  First time I went with Dave in quite a while, went with Andy last year.  They PokeGoed and Space Teamed on the way back.  I hate using my phone except when necessary.

Travel over was fine.  Hotel …

It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed our hotel room this year.  We were in an optimal Steak and Shake location, so a roommate observed.  We got complimentary Mountain Dews, though I would have preferred having one at 7AM rather than at midnight.  Stuff worked, it was quiet which is what I value quite highly, adequate size if kind of short on drawer space.  Didn’t have to wait forever for elevators like the Hyatt (most of my stays in the last 14 years were at the Hyatt, used to be incredibly easy to get a room there back 5+ years ago).

Let me just get food out of the way, as I know it utterly fascinates no one.  I am not a fan of food trucks.  My lasagna at a certain hotel restaurant was way too cheesy.  Granite City was slow but otherwise pleasant.  I mostly lived off of triple steakburgers and fries as per the norm.  Indy airport is rather not horribly overcosted as airports tend to be.  Andy enjoyed all of the food he had without my presence.  Dave went for consistency.

Will Call was stupidly long on Wednesday, taking us an hour to get stuff.  Reasonably expecting us to have stuff mailed next year, as I can tolerate 30 minutes of airconditioned standing but have no tolerance for waiting in sunlight.

Thursday

And, so began the three of us doing very different things.  Dave did a bunch of Magic.  Andy had Flames of War, tried some things like 5e D&D (he should tell the tale of Badgerfest), and even borrowed one of my Shadowfist decks and ‘fisted to third place.

The Black Ship of Mars

Savage Worlds set in Barsoom with some alterations.  For instance, I played a White Ape, which doesn’t quite work in normal John Carter stories barring brain surgery, telepathic mind transference, or whatever.

Solid game.  I liked how the GM had written up an extensive prelude that wasn’t too long to explain why we were adventuring together and why we wanted to recover the NPC, Sorolian Jad.

We had a Green Martian in our group, who turned out to be the best healer.  We had an Earthling cowboy.  We had three Red Martians – rogue, scientist, pilot.  We immediately encountered a band of Greens and drove off their leader.

We continue our chase of Lar Nastor who has taken Jad to learn more about a fabled Black Ship of the Yellow Martians (very different from ERB Yellows).  In the abandoned burbs of a city, we catch up with him.  He is dispatched and Jad is rescued.

She keeps wanting to get to the ship.

We enter the city and look for a flying ship to take us to the tower where the BS is supposed to be.  I enlist some fellow White Apes to cause a diversion and we end up taking them along with us (because of course as General Okus, I’m a social character) when we claim a ship from a treacherous Red.  Flying to the tower, we get attacked by the pilot’s former lover, a pirate captain with her own flying ship.  We leave her to go to the tower.  In the tower, we eventually find a mad Red with a bomb and decide to deactivate the bomb.  I grapple him so that he stops trying to kill the party brain.

In the bowels of the tower, we find the ship when another BS appears and out pop Yellow Fishmen ninja.  We get to the first BS and travel … elsewhere …

While I’d prefer a completely faithful Barsoom, playing General Okus was quite amusing.  I had the Savage Worlds disad that forces you to spend the first round of combat doing nothing, a disad I think is awful and ridiculous – why have people do less?  But, I enjoyed thumping my chest, ape dancing, and whatever.

Other people were new to SW and discovered things it’s quite good at – straightforward play, for instance.  I kind of feel like SW is in the middle for me.  I don’t dislike it.  I don’t favor it when there’s something better.  But, there are so many things that aren’t better, that it’s an okay choice for a system, a reasonable default that I don’t see Hero, GURPS, or whatever as.

Queen of the Gremlins

After the con, when I tried to identify the lowlight(s), I picked this.  I am a critical person.  I don’t, however, ever try to be personal about criticism.  I believe it’s fair to criticize actions but not actors.  This game experience was bad.  That would not have rated it as the low point, however.  It was more that it was a wasted opportunity.

The game is Pythos.  The adventure was … a dungeon crawl.  Is that inherently bad?  Not inherently, but let me pontificate.

There are two things a new RPG can do.  It can improve upon mechanics.  It can offer up an interesting setting.  It can also do both.  After playing this and talking with the designer, I feel like it’s aiming more to be a better set of mechanics.

I tried to get the designer to articulate what the setting was about, as I didn’t get any sense of it from play.  I still have no sense of it.  There are theoretically interesting elements in that it draws from real world cultures, a la Conan’s world or whatever.  But, I wasn’t feeling any depth to the world.  It felt like trying to improve upon D&D with the setting sounding like it could be cool.

A key to the mechanics is in action resolution.  I do think there’s something there, though I think other games have something similar in defining types of actions.

The session itself involved way too much discussion of how to go down corridors, which is also on the players.  There was no leader personality strong enough to get the players to just push forward and do stuff.

Still, there was just no concept of the setting being anything different than what you might find out of a ’70s game and wasn’t even terribly internally consistent.

Having some time, I watched Andy play some Shadowfist and talked to Daniel a bit about playmats and whatnot and hit the exhibit hall.

Cornerstone of the World

Fate of the Norns.  Let me get through plot, first.

I played Eidi, a godi of Freya.  We were all godi – priests.

We started in Evengard (sp?), in the South, a bastion of civilization with a formerly profitable mine.  The mine stopped producing and investigations where done where none returned.  People were near lynching (us?) because things are going to hell (see below).  We talk them out of it and say we will fix the mine situation.

We talk to its owner, who provisions us.  We set off into the snow and find wolves rending a PC who was going to be played by someone who had to leave without playing.  Arngrim, the godi of Thor, sets aside his hammer and tells the wolves to bring it.  One of the wolves gets mind controlled into attacking a leader.  Wolves are dispatched.

After resting, we move on and discover a frozen wall of body parts outside the mine entrance.  Some of the godi beseech their gods.  We find an awful abandoned mine town inside, with frozen bodies shackled to walls and whatnot, as slaves didn’t necessarily escape.  Magnus, the shady owner, was cheating the slaves out of buying their freedom.

Valdarr, Bragi’s follower and a master of the art of getting sloshed, grabs a mine car (dwarves can make the darnedest things) and speeds down the tracks … until he gets launched into freezing water and the car follows him.  Drowning bad, m’kay.  Dropping some clothes, I use Bewitchment to teleport to him and help him get entangled with his antler chandelier (primary weapon) and an arrow line from Astrid, our huntress.  He is dragged back to land before he can go over a waterfall.

We seemed to have gone down a different path that what was intended.  We had two GMs, with one to take over for the other, but, rather than the dungeon crawl that it was supposed to be, we had eaten up a lot of time just getting to this point.

We hear noises.  We find ore just sitting around, magic mead steel chunks.  We get told a bunch of stuff as there wasn’t time to play through it.  We encounter the quartermaster, who has become something different with slaves still shackled to his body that he would eat.  Using my Unearthly Beauty ability with Amplify, I unintentionally wipe his rune pool for a round, rendering him open to beatdown, with Astrid eventually freezing him solid, a la a spirit bomb like effect due to a reference I made earlier, though I imagined more Captain Hitsugaya from Bleach ice crystallizing someone, a reference not understood.

His belly bursts and snakes run out, tying into what was really going on.

It was good.  The other players and the GMs seemed way more excited by the session.  That’s great.  I enjoy games much more when other people enjoy them.

Okay, Fate of the Norns is really hard to wrap your head around when you are used to other games’ mechanics.  The flow of runes, to me, requires all sorts of understanding of miscellaneous, perhaps nuanced, mechanics.  I really like the mechanics, in part because it is distinctive, in part because it feels like you start getting it after a while and it works more coherently than it seems at first.

There’s one thing offputting about Fate of the Norns.  I don’t like the setting.  Oh, I love having a high(er) fantasy, mythological setting with scholarship behind it.  I just keep running into how depressing and farfetched it is to have the Sun already eaten.  I can see playing in a game where the Sun is partially eaten and things are going or in a new age being formed, but I’m not into post apocalyptic and I can’t get past how ridiculously petty the people in the world are when, uh:  crops don’t grow; animals die; there is no f*ing sunlight.  Sure, if you believe all adventures happen in a one month span, you can roll with it.  Having played this years apart, I don’t feel that suddenness.  The lack of urgency on immediately making the world livable again is appalling – from a gaming standpoint, where high fantasy settings can be weird, it’s more that it’s incredibly distracting.

Friday

Nightmare’s End

Of Dreams And Magic.  2015, I bought the book.  I don’t think you realize how unusual that is.  I bought nothing in the exhibit hall this year.  I may Kickstarter RPGs, but I rarely buy a RPG book anymore because I have so many I don’t play already.

But, this is my sort of game.  I’m a huge fan of modern day supernatural.  I’ve said this before – mythological settings (Fate of the Norns, for example), historical supernatural (see below but Conan is kind of like this), and modern day supernatural are the three I think of most when thinking of settings I want to play in.

So, I was really interested in this and was interested in seeing how much like Immortal: The Invisible War it is.  Quite a bit.  I guess there’s tremendous potential for a modern day supernatural game to have the “secret world” (see below for yet another example) where you are special and fight secret battles.  Still, it gets me many a time.

The GM allowed for extra players.  That is … risky.  But, it worked, at least from my perspective.

Because there were only so many characters, some of us had the same ones.  The players made the characters stand out some.  I took my boyishly charming, fiction writer and made him a Hollywood, new agey weirdo, you know, someone who has to shop at Whole Foods and goes into the latest Asian imports of philosophies.  I described myself as wearing a Yin-Yang earring with a long silk jacket and slippers … when we showed up in a warehouse in the woods of Pennsylvania.

The prelude was sharing a dream with other PCs where a woman was being consumed by a giant monster.  We see a car drive off the mountain road near Sterling, Pennsylvania, as black animals chase it.

We wake up, talk about things for a bit, explore the warehouse of Ritz Logging.  Find out some owners’ names.  We walk 4 miles to Sterling.  I draw an impressive image of the woman, as we still don’t know her name, just heard her say the word “Starset”.

I propose our cover, since we are some weirdos, to be that we are a production company looking to make a movie where we were going to interview her for a role in our production.  Someone else elaborates that we are doing a Civil War documentary.

We know she’s at the hospital in ICU.  We work on gaining identifying info so Weird Al (PC) can pretend to be her cousin, as well as our documentary’s dance choreographer.  We have to have something going on in the romantic subplot that all documentaries have, right?

We split up.  Half the party investigates the accident scene where they find out the woman is Brianna Jackson and lives the next town over, she used to work for Ritz and moved on to a medical company.  Weird Al, who happens to be like the second best social character in the party, makes his entrance and gets to see her.

Who is the most social character?  Why, the sociopath pyromaniac of course.

We find out her doctor has the same name as one of the owners of Ritz and we create a diversion by burning down the hospital so that we can take her with a stolen ambulance.  We go back to the warehouse.  We enter her dream.  We watch her, as a spaceship named Starset, get destroyed by a black being, with a escape craft being pursued.  We are forced out of the dream and lose half of our Conviction – the thing that powers are specials and dreamwalking.

That’s a lot to lose.  Lost Conviction makes bad guys stronger.

We go to the doctor’s house.  I go through drugs in the ambulance in preparation for battle.  Half the party meets with the doctor, who walks into the back of his house, pulls out a huge alien gun, and returns to confront the party.

Here’s where we win.  See, one of our PCs has a bigger gun with a completely absurd guns skill.  In a Dragonball Zesque battle of energy weapons, our PC rolls well … and the GM botches.  Our Wave Motion Cannon does its thing.

Brianna comes out of coma and seems to be dreaming.  Two of us enter her dream and we see a battle fleet come to the pods rescue and take out the space monster darkness.  She wakes up enough to thank us.  I don’t get a chance to talk to her about “Contract?” for starring in our movie.

I did very, very little supernaturally.  I just loved playing my role, thus enjoyed things.  The player who blasted evil?  He doesn’t usually play combat characters, so it was more entertaining than usual seeing someone do the fightwin.

Hope Springs Eternal

I had trouble finding my table because most of the ballroom was being used by another group.

When I did, I recognized the GM and he recognized me.  For you see, I have played Of Gods & Heroes multiple times.  This was Fae Noir.  I hadn’t remembered playing it before when I signed up for events.  Justin thought I had played this adventure before, though like five years ago.

He was right, but I forgot so much about it, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do.  I don’t remember what I played before in 2007??  (I don’t have files from 2007 like I do from 2005 forward, and I don’t see any listing in other years.)  I played one of the government/Pinkerton agents this time, with our group being two hotel detectives, two Fae detectives, and two government detectives.

Quotes:

“Let’s just murder them.”  Our third least hostile option after coming up with suggestions for relocating hillbilly kobolds to a “reservation” or to perhaps “concentrating them in a camp”.  I was all in favor of making the little suckers suffer.  I kind of like how my gun couldn’t one shot kill them very easily and I could make them feel some pain before they died, though it did mean they got to counterattack with crossbows.  I may not do immoral all that well, but I can do vindictive …

“First thing, no human sacrifice.  I think we can all agree.”  Not us involved in baby murder, them darn kobolds trying to flood a town with supernatural toxin by baby murder.

“Yup.  Continue negotiation after stop human sacrifice.”  We all had different agenda.  Hotels sorts wanted business as usual.  Government wanted business as usual.  Fae kind of didn’t like what was happening.

“Reindoctrinating, with intelligence experiments.”  I got them kobolds.  They didn’t survive the government experiments, however.  Oh well.

The troll detective crushed lots of kobold ribcages and knocked off their puny heads.  I mentioned how we should team up more often.

I never did use any of my poison gas canisters.  Fortunately, the one written as nerve gas was only mustard gas.  I mean, there are limits and nobody should want nerve gas anywhere, let alone with miles of their present location.

We gave each of our characters two flaws.  I chose cowardice.  This is the opposite of what I normally play.  I was curious.  It was challenging.  Yet another bad trait for a PC.  We should all be Paragons of Plot Propulsion, not things that work against wanting to act.

Ancient of Days

My second go playing Kevin’s Babylon game.  Combining historical details with plausible potential technology (like computers, cyborgs, etc.) with a resolution system unlike others, I’m a huge fan.  Considering that I played it last something like 3 years ago, I hope he gets things together and Kickstarters it.  I both find the resolution system very interesting and just love the setting.

This is despite that he explains it as being Shadowrunesque.  I don’t like the Shadowrun world nor mixing tech with magic.  To me, it’s more historical with highish fantasy elements and fantasy tech for those into such things.

We get summoned to the king’s palace.  An agent of the king gives us a mission to find out why the townspeople are saying terrible things happened at the Temple of Bel and why they attacked a Hebrew, Nehemiah.  The king can’t get involved since he wasn’t murdered.  Want to know why he was targeted.

The agent says what dwells there grows larger.  We head to where Nehemiah was staying.  I am playing a “citizen”.

So, aside.  While I get the idea of doing character creation for the game because characters are actually quite simple, it did take a lot of time since we had too many players and a lack of handouts for people.

I’m not a fan of character creation in con games.  I know it can give people more insight into a game.  But, I think it produces an energy draining event at the beginning of a game.  You want action in one shots.  You want action when you are horribly sleep deprived.

Anyway, I went with a social build, so I socialized.  The computer guy, the warrior, the surgeon/thief, the necromancer, the necromancer’s slave, the Egyptian astrologer? (some magic type), the Hebrew scribe, and the student either followed after suspicious sorts or went to investigate Nehemiah’s room since he left.

People didn’t understand why they were so angry.  Nehemiah was a poor scholar.  Two Hebrews enter and the flophouse turns hostile.  We assuage.  Others find out that the rage is coming from some place near the Ishtar Gate while the temple is being reoccupied and cleaned to be rededicated to “The Mighty One”, one who cannot be named directly.  Nehemiah is out by God’s Footprints, outside of town.

We meet up with the guy behind the rage spell.  He follows some god before time but mostly is wanting to get Nehemiah killed because Nehemiah turned from his faith and called upon another power.  The spell simply got out of control, and he couldn’t just kill Nehemiah because then he would be up on murder charges.  The spell, amusingly, targeted anyone wearing a Hebrew style hat for hate.  Hat Hate.  That’s a pure form of hate, my friends.

We book it to Nehemiah’s location to stop his bonfire ritual.  With staff and donkey sacrifice, he’s about to summon one of them old time gods.  He somewhat succeeds but gets taken out by the justice team.  We report back, including the info on rage dude.  We get treated better in the future.

The only thing about Kevin’s games is that they tend to be shorter than other con games because of the character creation and explanations of things.  But, they flow so well and have the verisimilitude that they feel weighty.  I suppose them being more expensive than other 4 hour slots is kind of weird, but do I really care compared to my overly cheesy $20 lasagna or my $500+ flight or how True Dungeon went from less than $20, to $28, to now $56?  Not so much.  Get this thing on Kickstarter!  I especially hope for plenty of background info so that I feel armed well enough to actually run the game, unlike … um … I guess I have enough info to run other games, just too lazy to do so.

Friday was certainly better than Thursday.  I couldn’t get into an Artemis game to play with Andy and Dave because no tickets and no openings for something we wanted to sign up for in prereg but wasn’t added until June or so.  It was okay, as I was tired and got to talk to HoR folks for a bit, instead.

Saturday

Critical.  I just need to be at times to be remotely honest about things.

Starspike III

The GM asked me if I was entertained after the session.  Yes, entertained.

I felt like this was one of my awful RPG experiences.  Up there with the Mekton game that means I can’t sign up for any local Mekton game unless run by a woman as I can’t remember the GM’s name, right up there with the Maelstrom game where the PCs did nothing and the NPC did everything, right up there with sucking the life energy of an angel while playing a Voodoo priest, right up there with the Charmed d20 game.

Not that all of these are the same kind of atrocious/awful.  The Charmed game is a classic of playing with psychotic players and a GM who wasn’t much better.  The Maelstrom game was just incredibly boring as there was nothing for the PCs to ever do.

Did this really compete?  The reason why I feel less outraged is probably because I recognized that this was going to make for a hysterical story afterwards pretty quickly and that I’ve been through similar experiences often enough to be more jaded to them.

That’s the thing.  In the moment, such a game may be painful, but the joy of retelling the stories of how bad something is provides life value.  The truly worst RPGs are the completely forgettable ones because they have no lasting value.

Let’s list some things to avoid:

Character creation – I know I’m against it almost all of the time, but I’m especially against it when it drags and when it’s silly.  Babylon character creation was intuitive.  Picking from 40 races and 50 classes is not intuitive.  Having to figure out spells when other players are waiting is not intuitive.

Backstory – Half an hour! of droning backstory on what other parties did!! that has no relevance to what I’m going to do!!! is not something to inflict upon people.  I wasn’t sure whether the other two players were going to get up and walk out or whether I was.  A synopsis of parts one and two makes a lot of sense.  Look up the definition of synopsis.

’70s D&D – We finally start playing, some 1.5 hours in.  We are following some linear plot and are about to enter a city when we get ambushed for no particular reason, with no hope of not being ambushed.  I get hit once, I heal myself.  I get hit again and fall unconscious, actually, I should have died per the rules.  Ten minutes into actually playing, I thought about saying thanks for the game and leaving since resurrection was expensive, but I figured more humor was coming and we just played with my character unconscious.  Immediately after I heal everyone up after I get healed to consciousness, we search for treasure.  I don’t mean we told the GM we would loot the bodies.  We just automatically searched for treasure, in their underground lair, because that’s what PCs do.

“Next thing you do is search for treasure.”

’70s D&D Continued – I know a lot of D&D wasn’t like this.  It’s the worst of ’70s D&D that I’m getting at which would be a parody today if you wrote this sort of session up, except we lived it.  We find an artifact … that helps us search for more treasure!!  We find more treasure.  “What’s your Resolve?”  Resolve is an attribute.  “3.”  “You find 300 gold.”  Hmmm, my Resolve is 2, will I find 200 gold?  Yes, I will!  By the way, attributes aren’t on a 1-5 scale like WoD or a bunch of other games where stats start at or close to 2.  I could have chosen a Resolve of 0 or a Resolve of 5 at character creation.

“Redcaps are notorious treasure loonies.”

Offensive stuff – I somehow end up at a party, as I thought I was talking to someone I wasn’t.  I manage to move on and find who I actually wanted to talk to.  GM asks me if I want to know what would have happened if I stayed.  Yup, I wanted to know what absurd thing would happen.  Don’t ever bring up certain subjects with strangers.  There are people who can’t play in games where in their characters’ backstories there is such things as losing children because of family tragedies.  We live in a world where terrible stuff happens constantly.  Games are an escape from that unless you specifically choose to play a game like Kult.  In Kult, with people I knew, well, admittedly, in Conan and some other things with people I knew, I can see certain things.  Our Conan play got kind of dark at times.  I’m really hard to offend.  I wasn’t offended by what could have happened at this party.  I would have expected a different reaction from many others.

The juxtaposition with how there are laminated cards in one of the ballrooms for professionally run games that say “If at any time you feel uncomfortable, raise this card.  You do not need to explain why.” is telling.  I know juvenile is not the end of the world, but is it necessary for immaturity to creep into written material?  I was reading the corebook for the game and the advice and some of the designer notes put in as quotes at the bottom of pages just amazed me.  Why would anyone ever want to come across as so juvenile?  Are you trying to parody D&D and just not being too clear of that?  Why bother?  We’ve moved on from socially inept teenager mode.

Again, I may come across as bashing D&D unnecessarily as this wasn’t even a D&D game.  I have just experienced that the thinking that says it’s okay to do certain extremely gamey things or to be incredibly casual about what can be traumatic in real life seems to have sprung from a time when immaturity was rampant in the RPG world, a world dominated by D&D and its clones.  I can see where that’s somewhat unfair.  Take World of Darkness.  V:TM came in and shook up the industry because it was such a different focus.  But, if you have awful things happen in the world, you might get a pass because it’s not the World of Dimness or the World of Somewhat Unpleasantness.

Then, how hypocritical is it when I played in a game where I was looking to torture my enemies and make jokes about awful things that have actually happened to people historically?  I guess fairly hypocritical.  There’s some social contract where you have a sense of what you can get away with and it be funny rather than offensive.

The mechanics were kind of interesting.  Probably not balanced even putting aside that hit points made no sense.  I had 10hp and my partymates had like 60hp.  I explained to the GM/designer how this may sound internally consistent because it’s based on something but works out with a result that means you really have two models for PCs.  The squishy PCs are so squishy they are playing a completely different game from the not-squishy.  The expectation of squishmeisters buffing themselves up doesn’t work so great when you get ambushed at zero range and lose initiative.  Then, when we had a chance to “shop” because that’s a thing you do in ’70s D&D parodies, I bought up through money and experience damage reduction 5.  On average, that would mean taking zero damage from the ambushers, though I still would have taken damage from the hit that one-shotted me.

Also, the game ended an hour early, though that might have been merciful for us players.

The Assault

Part-Time Gods.  Another example of a game feeling a lot like Immortal.  Actually, given that Immortal’s mechanics didn’t really work and the game was likely too ambitious in setting even if sessions could be superfun, I would probably play/run this or ODAM or something else first.

There’s one thing I won’t sign up for.  I won’t sign up for a 2 hour RPG event because I have better things to do than demo games.  Already, 4 hour slots, the norm at Gen Con, are considered by many to be too short, though I’m fine with it when the game has sufficient events, as most do.

I chose Nakemura Hiroko, Goddess of Blood.  This worked well, with one exception.

Part-Time Gods is all about lots of new gods appearing in the world as something is going on metaplotwise.  Gods settle down and form territories, often in pantheons because they can’t coexist otherwise.  In talking to the GM afterwards, I was trying to get a sense of campaign play, and he mentioned superheroes and that made perfect sense.  You are effectively secret superheroes, in that you take care of your hood.

I didn’t care that Hiroko was a gothic lolita or that she wanted to be the world’s best DJ.  That she was apathetic and unemotional drove my play.  Unemotional meant I could speak in monotones and feast upon whatever blood was inside or outside of people without undue concern.  Apathy is not a good thing in a game.  Sure, it helped my establishing character as someone blasé about everything, but it led to multiple times having to stop from trying to pursue plot advancement and hope the rest of the party would push forward.

The others in the party played:  God of Dead, God of Storms, God of Music (and I wanted to be the best DJ ever?), God of Liquor, God of Hunger.  I felt like I did enough stuff for a satisfying game.  I don’t know about them.

For, you see, the GM, who took over at the last minute for someone who had a crisis, was under the impression that the game was supposed to be a 2 hour demo of the game, using the adventure in the back.  No.  Definitely supposed to be four hours.  This offended me, though I chalk it up to the substitute GM being confused as to what was supposed to be run.  I know HoR mods can take 1.5 hours at times played at cons, but living campaign mods are harder to control than true one shots.

With extra time during the day, I went back to the room and lay down for a bit, which did seem to help even if I didn’t feel like I slept at all.  I got to do far more exhibit hall wandering due to my having games end earlier than I expected.

The Hounds of Set

Atlantis, Second Age.  I have seen references to this on rpg.net.  I was looking forward to learning more about it.

Mechanics still aren’t that clear to me, but I would buy this game.  Very Conanesque setting, as the game is aiming for swords and sorcery. Not sure what I would do with it, but I like the mechanics of Hellas, put out by same company, just don’t like setting of Hellas as I don’t want tech with my mythology unless it’s subtle tech, like the Babylon RPG.

I played a Jinn.  We are hired to acquire a saint’s heart at an auction.  We come up with plans for when we fail to win the auction.  I turn into an owl and watch from outside while two of our group bid at the criminal’s tavern.  An ennui stricken Atlantean wins the auction over a lich.  I notice undead in the alleyway, they all head off.  Not having too many specifics on what to do after the auction if we don’t win, I fly after the now broke Atlantean.  Our burglar starts to pretend mug him.  I land, shift to humanoid form, disguise myself as a zombie and assault the group.

Yes, it’s as absurd as a PC plan can be.  The burglar pretends to be in danger from the “zombie horde”, our warrior stabs the Atlantean from the shadows hoping a zombie gets blamed.  I shamble “brains, I mean, viscera, I mean, cartilage, I mean, hearts”, take the heart and shamble off while the Atlantean’s slaves are still mostly milling about.  Our alchemist corrodes the body to make it look more like an undead assault.

Not that any of this necessarily matters.  It was just fun.  We give the heart to our employers and the lich shows up.  Turns out to be the guy who the saint defeated in the past.  We fight Atlantis, Second Age’s Darth Vader and do so much damage in one round that he gives up for now.  Penniless, valley priests go home and we split up money, with possible investments in their valley to make up for how they liquidated everything to get the heart.

Sunday

True Dungeon

We finally unite to do the same damn thing!

Part two of True Dungeon in the morning, then part one in the afternoon, with food truck food in the middle and some last minute exhibit hall, Magic prizes stuff.

The morning session sees us with someone with lots of power tokens and a pretty clever group.  We do well early on with puzzles and get through combat.  We labor in the middle/end as one of the puzzles is just way too confusing and we lack the combat prowess in shuffleboarding to deal with the boss monster.  Admittedly, I’m partially to blame for forgetting I have wands I can use when Silenced.  So, I survived, but we failed in room 7.  Andy actually died, didn’t even realize it, though the monster was doing 15 damage at a hit, so it’s not shocking.

A theme of the day was characters not having enough ranged firepower (or any ranged attacks) and combat being far more challenging than usual.  I’m used to just doing my spell thing and stuff eventually dying.

Oh, I should mention that I played Wizard both times, Andy Druid, Dave Cleric.  I love Druid, but Andy is a leafmeister, while I’m a memorize planes of existence charts meister and am well aware that taking more than 2 damage as a Wizard means whining for healing ASAP.

I did practice some treasure chest stuff in the second session as I have the chart memorized, and I do not ever, ever want to play a rogue.  I had no sense of why I was setting the light off.  I need to practice more shuffleboard, but, mostly, what we need is to make sure other players have enough equipment to be functional on normal mode.

We are so not equipped for higher modes.  We have never focused on equipping, though Dave did pick up some specific tokens.  There are plenty of tokens that would make a world of difference, some are even less than $200, less than $100, even some less than $80 that would make a huge difference.

It’s amazing how big of an economy exists for True Dungeon given that it’s so hard to have an opportunity to play it.

The second session?

Our group was less experienced.  We were awful early on.  We couldn’t figure out virtually anything and needed tons of hints just to have a chance.  Our rogue was a new player but supergood at treasuring, so that was a bright spot.  We finally started getting more competent at the end and even figured out a puzzle or two, including the last one, and nobody died.

So, TD is strange.  On the one hand, you can spend $8,000 to get a bunch of tokens.  You can cast multiple fireballs with the help of tokens.  You can be broken.  On the other, does it matter?  Your payoff is largely just getting even stronger.  I’d rate the most important things in a group being:

  1. Cleverness – It’s just more fun to solve puzzles.
  2. Roguemastery – More treasure for all is fun, and it comes from doing something rather than just having extra treasure tokens.
  3. Combat Experience – Being quick at shuffleboard.  Knowing what to cast when.  Having a ranged weapon.

Sure, better tokens make the party better one way or another.  But, I haven’t seen a pre room 7 death in a long time.

I look at tokens that are not absurdly expensive and think “I can be so much better with minimal expense.”  I also, however, think “Why am I playing this?  I’m playing this for the experience, not the experience points.  I like the randomness of equipment rather than being a Mr. Suitcase, as being a Mr. Suitcase for this game is superexpensive and unbalancing with others not so well-equipped.  I’m playing this once a year as I’m hardly going to fly out to a minor convention for this or virtually anything else.”

Also, I only do True Dungeon with Andy or Dave or other friends.  I’m not that clever, so I help little with puzzles.  I cast spells good but forget I’m sitting on three wands in my back right pocket and pay little attention to what other players do in combat.  I haul around absurd numbers of tokens I don’t use (scrolls, conditional magic items) or don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with (gear).  Does this sound like someone who should take it far more seriously?

I love collecting and find tokens to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing.  The transmutation possibilities are intriguing, though so many are so offputting because they are so damn hard to achieve without just buying what you need.  In other words, great concept, really annoying execution as it doesn’t allow most folks to partake.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.  Unlike CCGs, where I play with my suitcases of cards, I’d be sinking money into something with a twice a year payoff, if I go with other people, and where I mostly just want to observe other people being clever, other people critting at shuffleboard, other people operating their styluses to more treasures.

We leave the con after True Dungeon.  Another year.  A good year, if not great.  A year with some negatives that have some positives.  A year with a relatively low financial outlay, hotel being split three ways, no purchasing at exhibit hall.  An opportunity to spend some time with Dave – we used to game all of the time back in the Precedence days.  A year with no HoR sessions.  Going to be much tighter schedulingwise next year, one presumes.

Now, what’s this I hear about extensive character creation info for HoR4?


Shanghai Salon

May 3, 2016

Thought about a title in Chinese, but I realized that wouldn’t help with searching or identifying.

对于第一次

While not my favorite weekend of the trip, the second weekend, the full weekend, saw me need something to do as everyone I know tends to be too busy with family stuff or takes vacations in Japan.  I was planning on going to one of the Tuesday night meetups for Shanghai gamers.  I figured, “gee, I need to do something and the acrobatic violinist thing isn’t until Sunday night, so I might as well hang out at a gaming place and see if I can meet gamers and/or play something for a time”.

So, I headed over to CGS – Core Gaming Salon.  Can also find on boardgamegeek’s Shanghai Gamers.

Not a place to buy games since taobao exists, etc.  One of the things I liked was that there were Chinese gamers, expat gamers, and some mixing between the two.  Laurent explains games in English and Chinese (or, even, French).

I get to the place around 2PM Saturday, and I talk with Laurent for a bit, who pulls out mancala.  Okay, guess it’s time to learn an ancient game.  I thought I’d get destroyed quick.  An hour or so later, I finally got destroyed.

I can do old ...

I can do old …

Got together with some others and played a quicker game of Desperados of Dice Town.

Are you sure you want to try and win?

Are you sure you want to try and win?

Every game I have ever played of this I’ve won … when my last remaining opponent attacked me … for enough money-extortion damage to win.

More people, messier arena.  Ultimate WarriorZ with a full boat of players.

See the tall one in the middle ...

See the tall one in the middle …

Yup, I get dragon.  Dragon is full of ruthless beats … and totally gets ganked because of being easy to hit and scoring too high.  After the second game, where I played banzai guy, talked about how to play the dragon, and the conclusion was to go after tiny dudes to not only take out the annoyances who survive too long but also to *reduce* the number of points you generate so that everyone isn’t forced to off you.

Btw, it’s just so much easier to read the rules on boardgamegeek than for me to go into them.

Of the three, mancala is too chesslike for me, UW was too aggressively player vs. player for me to want to play much more, and DoDT was perfectly fine.

At some point, I don’t even remember the order, I played Cyclades and lost horribly, again.  It’s just way too aggro of a game for me.  Was supposed to be a player for Blood Rage, which certainly has aesthetic appeal, but I was in other stuff when the owner arrived.  Greek or Norse Mythology?  Either just keeps enticing the idea of having a mythological RPG campaign.

I could have left and still gotten the metro, which is my preferred method of getting around.  I got roped into a game of Skulls & Roses.  While it forced me to take a taxi back to the hotel, it was the only time playing with more Chinesey Chinese.  It dragged on a long, long time.  Too many players suicided themselves.  Bids were way too high.  Finally, Laurent won when there were only five players left of the original 12.  I’m too old to run a biker gang.

One of the guys and Laurent mentioned a D&D 5e game on Sunday.  So, of course, I showed up for that.  The GM didn’t want more players because too much number crunching for him, but I talked to him for a while and he ended up okay with my playing a NPC who wouldn’t fight, rather than me just observing.

Very much a group of players I’m used to.  Concern over PC abilities and a desire to buttkick were most prevalent.  I played a hunchbacked navigator on one of the two ships.  I didn’t try to get into combat, but I latched on to the party cleric, so I ended up in an away mission where the shark feint was followed by the undead possessed Sahuagin and friends followed by a t-rex.  Party sixth/seventh level, my dude not so much.  T-rex not so great after sorcerer blows his nuke attack to clear the Sahuagin.  My BFF nearly got swallowed.

Four and a half hours, though significantly less of on stage time, of first 5e experience ever.  Yup, that’s why I go to China, to play D&D editions I’ve never played.  I hope an observer to the session whose English isn’t so great gets an opportunity to play more.  Since I don’t know when I’ll travel, hard for me to commit to anything, but I might be taking something like Conan d20 or Feng Shui to run as a one shot on some trip.

I didn’t learn a lot about 5e.  The one thing I think d20 did right was skills, which seems to put me into some category of minoritas.  Admittedly, I kind of get why D&D players don’t care as much about skills since magic subs for using skills to do things.

So, first times for mancala, Desperados of Dice Town, Ultimate WarriorZ, Skull (Skulls & Roses), and, of course, D&D 5e.  Totally working on my gamer cred ranks.

Oh, and I made the Tuesday night meetup, as well.  Taught Ghost Stories, badly, think it was the first time I ever lost, but, then, I’m not used to playing four player.  Played Katana (Samurai Sword), which is like Bang.  I got beaten down as the samurai.  Six players, one player seemed like the ronin but turned out to be a ninja, confusing people a lot.  I made the metro before it stopped running.

Not a lot of people for the meetup, certainly nothing like the weekend.  Hopefully, things build up.

No acrobatic violinist.  No nearby amusement park.  I just can’t do things other people find interesting.

The only other thing I could post about that relates to the trip is having some thoughts on thoughts while not doing sudoku on the flight back.


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.


Book ’em Danaan

November 27, 2015

I reread The Bull and the Spear and The Oak and the Ram recently.  First two books in Moorcock’s second Corum trilogy.

I don’t know if I’ll reread The Sword and the Stallion, as it’s kind of downy.

Anyway, interesting thing about reading fantasy fiction these days is that it’s the reverse problem of playing fantasy RPGs.  For-ever, I have thought about capturing the stuff of fiction in RPG play, being put off (much of the time) when a game was gamey in some way that conflicted with the fiction experience, like the dependence upon armor and nameless magic items or whether you provoke an AOO.

But, a game is a game.  It needs to be able to do things that fiction doesn’t, like have balanced party members (most aren’t into sidekickdom) have unpredictable results.  No, rehashing this isn’t the point.

The point is that I’m now reading fiction with how it simulates gaming, rather than the other way around.  Sure, I see a lot of Moorcock’s repetitiveness in his writing after having to slog through some of his more recent books/stories that can’t seem to get off certain ideas/dialogue.  But, other things have come to mind rereading these two books.

Magic.  As much as the loose explanation is that magic is extraplanar or a function of belief or a corruption of natural philosophies, it’s still magic in these books.  And, it’s loosely explained.  The most consistent element is that things from other planes of existence which are ordinary for that plane are magic in this plane.  Okay, that isn’t a bad concept.  But, is it a bad concept for gaming?

It seems kind of limiting thematically.  “Oh, yes, you can find a magic weapon … that was an ordinary weapon from another plane of existence.  Put on this magic cloak … that phases you somewhat out of reality because it’s … displacing you visually into another reality.”  Certainly, for one shots or the like, I wouldn’t care.  It just seems like it kind of cheapens the magic (maybe Moorcock’s intent since he’s big on the idea that we would do better without gods or other supernatural stuff).

Yes, Calatin does his own stuff and whatnot.  Anyway, moving on to another aspect of magic in the series.

It’s often superspecialized.  See, this is why D&D isn’t high fantasy.  In high fantasy, which I’d say most of the Eternal Champion is (with some sorcery and swords), you don’t get what you want, you get what you need, and it’s arbitrariness is often arbitrary except for how it’s what you need to deal with a particular challenge.

Sure, Elric knows a bunch of incantations to summon gods and monsters to fight for him.  But, does he ever use the same invocation again?  I think he tried it once.  Sure, a lot of pacts can be seen as one time deals, which is a good reason to hold back on using them, which always sounds good in theory for gaming but actually sucks consistently in gaming.  But, when you have like 50 of these, why choose one instead of two?

High fantasy is replete with only ever doing something once.  You know an amazing spell, you use it once.  You have some odd weapon, you use it once (odd being not your two-handed, moaning demon/god sword in this case).  The definition of macguffin isn’t what I thought it was, but you have some utility magic item and it gets used and it’s gone.

It’s part of the drama.  If you could reliably ride a fire horse and see all of creation, then that’s kind of less dramatic.

Not just superspecialized but also world changing.  Yet another reason why D&D doesn’t rate as high fantasy.  Sure, you might be more powerful than a character in high fantasy with way more magic as a D&D character, but your ability to impact the “world” is rather minimal, IME.  In high fantasy, whether the “world” is your backyard or the multiverse, you impact it.  (Yes, I’ve said the same before.)  The Bull in The Bull and the Spear would be interesting to have as a climax to a gaming session.  But, where many players feel like PCs should be the ones who do stuff, the line of losing agency could be crossed.  It’s a matter of expectations.

Setting high fantasy expectations is something that concerns me.  Because, as a PC, you don’t always do the thing.  You may only make it occur that the thing happens.  This is, again, maybe why convention one-shots have often worked better for me.  In a convention game, where you didn’t create your PC and where you may not understand the subtleties of diagonal 5′ steps and where you aren’t getting more Eeps for frontlining the big bad, expectations of simply putting events into motion and having the cut scene play out are higher.  And, maybe, this is why some people hate these sort of games – they feel too much like fulfilling a script for people who are more into doing their own thing in a world.

Obviously, there are huge problems with any Eternal Champion stuff for campaign play because I somehow doubt every PC is going to be the most special of them all.  “I’m not going to touch your cool toy, demigod dude.  Why?  Because you are a demigod and I isn’t.”  Yeah, that doesn’t seem to be any RPG experience I’ve ever had.  I’m more used to “I should totally have that magic boomerang to go with my three magic swords and my magic cap and my magic socks and my wand, staff, and rod.  Do you want it?  No?  Great.  I’ll solo demonicus rex and you hang back and cast cure wound boxes on me.”

Which gets into how sparse magic items are.  I’m all for eschewing the D&D magic item paradigm.  But, I can also see the problem of one person having Godwrecker and someone else having a finely made left gauntlet.  On the other gauntlet, it’s less high fantasy when you lack the Godwrecker Collection – Divinity Decimator, Holy Hijacker, Awe Shucks, etc. – to set apart from the ordinary.

That books are scripted doesn’t seem to me as big of a problem.  Linear adventuring is fine when what you do is interesting.  The problem point with how it’s scripted is villains.  The villain who keeps escaping just annoys players for some reason.  The invincible enemies who are vinced in some specific way rather than with a series of Delayed Blast Fireballs just annoys players for some reason.

Some even have problems with coincidences, seeing them as arbitrary rather than the core of making storytelling more relevant.

But, let’s get back to villains.  I’m much more questioning when it comes to villains who suddenly break off attacking or who leave a hero for dead when there’s not a good reason.  Even more problematic, because there could be secret reasons for villains letting heroes survive, is when heroes get suddenly rescued by “NPCs”.  If you want to offend players, having NPCs prove more capable is a proven way to do it.

With rewrites, a game could be made out of recovering The Spear.  A game could be made out of getting the high king and curing him.  It wouldn’t be much like the books, though.  For instance, which PC will carry The Spear?  How many infiltration devices do you hand out?  How do you script revealing new lore to the players so that it doesn’t seem videogamey?  Who gets to remember the one way to fix everything?

So …

Many of the problems with syncing up fiction and gaming are obvious:  one versus many; scripted results; specialness; tactical stupidity of fiction characters and/or lack of ability reliability; heroic versus mercenary.  These particular books show some of the additional problems.  Where is the fairness with having few magic items?  How does everyone be special without someone being clearly more special?  How can you have cut scene events without taking away agency?

Here’s a thought.

Fantasy RPGing is the worst RPGing in my experience.  True?  I’d say both Conan and Princess Police worked well, overall, and very well in particular sessions.  Those were both fantasy, though L5R a lot of the time doesn’t feel particularly fantastic.  Now, when I say FRPG, I’m not including such things as Feng Shui or a host of modern supernatural.  Going more for the preindustrial genres.

The interesting thing about Conan was that we weren’t murderhobos.  I’m not sure why we weren’t.  Oh, sure, in the beginning, it looked like it could go that way, but, then, we ran away from Picts and were more pulpy in treasure hunting than what I find in D&D or RuneQuest, the latter two being all about treasure-accounting.  Curious.

I know I rerehash on how high fantasy is its own thing.  But, even medium fantasy, like portions of the Deryni books or portions of Wheel of Time or portions of the Spellsinger series, swords and sorcery, and possibly other genres of fantasy fiction have core elements that my gaming usually lacks.  I’m not entirely sure why.  It very much comes across to me that people who run/play FRPGs haven’t read much fantasy, which doesn’t seem plausible.  Maybe I just missed a lot of series that other people think of as typical fantasy – I certainly have no desire to read A Song of Fire and Ice based on how it sounds more like political drama than fantasy based on what I’ve heard.

Yet, Hobbit/LotR.  So, maybe it’s less not experiencing similar tales to what I’ve read and more segregating the game experience from the book experience, which I don’t easily do … partially because I don’t know why I would even want to keep them separate.


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.


Dungeons and Dragons … and Dungeons …

September 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, getting back to the point.

Which is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Re D&D

August 3, 2014

I was reading this review:  Review of Dungeon Magazine #1.  I followed links and read some blog posts about oD&D.

To say I totally get what is being said about how the nature of oD&D was different from what people often think of as the point of RPGs these days is hardly value add.

I could cite examples, bring up anecdotes, and contrast with what I play.  Sure, let’s do some of that.

The gist of one of the blog posts I ended up reading was that D&D wasn’t about killing monsters.  It was about loot.  Okay, right, kill and loot, kill and loot.  Except no, take away the kill part.  Killing monsters was the most common form of challenge overcoming, but it wasn’t just that it didn’t have to be, it had nothing to do with the goal, which was to accumulate treasure.  XP gains from monster smiting were horrid.  XP gains from meaningful treasure were how you badged up, uh, I mean, leveled up.

Well, there’s more to the gist.  Gistierly, the play experience was the extremely gamist one of leveling up.  Didn’t I just say that or doesn’t everyone know that?  Again, it’s the difference between an aspect and the end all and be all of play.  Leveling up was the end all and be all of play, to where death was part of play because death prevented just continuously leveling up.

The argument being made was that balance existed not in terms of PC vs. PC or PC vs. challenge but in terms of PC vs. game.  Weak characters died.  Poor decisions led to death.  Bad luck, more death.  The group was fighting against not progressing but each PC was also fighting against not progressing to where there were advantages to other PCs dying – this last comment being mine and some arguable value add.

I believe it’s the combat example in the AD&D 1e DMG that shows PCs of uneven levels in a party, where low level thief gets killed because … low level thief.

I find PC death problematic for reasons I went into in some blog post.  That’s because what I play isn’t supposed to be a survival contest.  It could be, but that’s something to get into later.  oD&D death was the norm because, hey, start playing some new dude and hope for weak encounters with goodly treasure, which, actually, didn’t need to be that goodly due to the constantly increasing XP requirements to level.

An anecdote for the obsession with treasure was my playing the gold box Pool of Radiance computer game.  I memorized the game after a certain point.  I couldn’t care less about killing monsters except for how fixed encounters had fixed treasures.  Some treasures were just hidden and could be accessed with no fighting.  Wandering monsters were annoyances that slowed down my completing pieces of the game, which, admittedly, did involve quests that involved killing monsters.  Now, I played it so many times that I did go looking for random encounters at times just to do something different.  But, I was usually focused on how to turbo level up one half-elf fighter/magic-user/cleric and eventually got to the point of just turbo grabbing the +5 longsword.

Killing monsters couldn’t cause level increases to any sort of meaningful degree.  It was always treasure or rewards.

Contrast with what I play.  Okay, RuneQuest is this loot model and, thus, an exception, with the level system not being so rigid or possibly better put as a stage system, which ends up working out the same.  Even when I play or run level systems, Conan d20, I don’t think about how players should be earning levels.  I think they should just go up a level every 2-3 sessions because the variety at the mechanics level is gaining abilities, not creating a new character.  L5R is not impossible to play with highly divergent PC abilities, after all, shugenja already exist.  It’s just not oriented towards the idea that a new samurai will pop up every couple of sessions, even though that would actually make sense.

I can totally see a campaign of yoriki where the yoriki die constantly.  After all, samurai are supposed to die.  But, the player expectations would have to be completely different.  Out goes character development.  Out goes coherent narrative.

Gamist play has drama.  Narrativist play tries to capture the drama found in fiction, where you set up a scene where everything is at stake.  Simulationist play gains drama from how things happen to the character that aren’t preplotted and not just a mechanism – the character exists in *this* world where what *this* character chooses to do has impact – it’s the drama of the reality of the game.  Gamist drama is the same drama you find in other competitive endeavors, the dice/cards/whatever either go your way or they don’t and stories are made when the unexpected happens or when there’s a high level of unknown or when crucial mechanical decisions are made.

But, I can get that from playing things other than D&D or some RPG.  I can get that from CCGs, from mahjong, from solitaire.  I could get that from computer games, if I played those anymore.

Is there a point to the idea that a RPG is really just an exercise in maximizing loot gain?  Can’t Descent, WoW, or all sorts of other things achieve that experience without the rigmarole of using a RPG framework?

For some people, I guess not.  There’s something about the more open-ended experience of tabletop play or maybe it’s the people you do it with or the milieu where a kitchen table is qualitatively different from a computer screen.  I’m certainly willing to play a loot Roll-PG and not willing to play a MMO.  I’m willing to constantly create new RuneQuest characters rather than go through resurrection over and over.

But, it only works when that’s what is expected.  Yes, all things come back to the idea that everyone needs to be on the same page.  In this case, if one player thinks the game is about achieving in character goals and another is looking to level up, it’s going to be frustrating.  I know I’ve been on one side of that, the question is whether I’ve also been on the other.  I can imagine I have.

Consider HoR.  It’s easy to focus on your PC and basically ignore what other people are trying to accomplish that doesn’t maximize your XP and your certs and your Honor.  I can believe I’ve been that player at one time or another, where I was focused on maximizing rewards (“loot”), where someone else was role-playing to not their level up maximizing benefit.

The more I think about this, the more I think about this.  It interests me, at least, that sometimes I’m not the 100% storyteller that every quiz says I am.  I can be the treasure guy, though not when it’s just boring old money to be had.

It’s a matter of being in the right mode.  Unfortunately, I commonly see cases where the modes are different for the players.  Anyway, that style of loot play can be fun.  I don’t want to take the position of the snobby narrativist who deems gamist play to be the realm of boardgames.  But, there shouldn’t be any mixed messages.  If all we do is loothunt, we shouldn’t be worrying about some NPC’s sick parent or whether my +3 boomerang of paralysis has a name or not.  Otherwise, I’m going to break out of loothunt mode and start wondering whether I’ll find a NPC to help or whatever.  Then, there should also be no attempt to compare such a loothuntventure to something with a nonmechanical story.

Others may be able to deal with the mixed natures of such games.  I just end up baffled to where I don’t optimize my loothuntventuring.