Brought By The Number 7

November 10, 2015


One coworker from China joined us in Arkansas for some software training.  She has now had one fortune cookie in her life … at a Thai restaurant.  One American style pancake in her life.  She has been to one hobby game store (Gamer Utopia in Rogers), has one set of polyhedral dice, and …  And, on the way back to the hotel, has experienced one US kids’ carnival (if not any funnel cake or cotton candy – we had way too much food on the trip).

One thing can be different for one person from the next person.  I have only been pushed into duck tongue once, lotus seeds once, etc.  Experiences vary.  There are many RPGs I’ve never played and RPG situations I’ve never been in.


A cousin is having twins.  Twins aren’t that rare in the family.  Along with a couple of others at the family get together, I correctly guessed that they would be girls.  Guessed be the operative word.

I’m not an expert on twins, but let’s say that they tend to be more alike, yet can have substantial differences.  Two games can be very similar yet significantly different in some way that one is vastly preferable to the other.  Ultimate Combat! is vastly preferable to Magic.  Scepter of Zavandor is vastly preferable to Outpost.

What distinguishes these differences – that’s a good place for analysis.


Three beaches.  Yes, when I’m in my father’s homeland, I do go to beaches.  Shark’s Cove was interesting, if always bleedy, too (if you plan on going and haven’t been, let’s say there’s a lot of sharp rocks).  Waimea Bay was abbreviated.  I told one of my brothers about a FSTH session I set there.  Rain had us head back early.  Waimanalo (where Magnum P.I. was filmed) was choppy.  Each time I go there, I explore a bit further to just have something different to do.  I know, some people wish they had my problems.  Some day, might try swimming out to Bird Island.

I belabor the point about having similar expectations to make campaigns function.  For a change, I’m going to bring up differing expectations.  You don’t always want to do your favorite things.  There’s more to cuisine than Zippy’s Chili, crispy gau gee mein with cake noodles, and dim sum from some better place.  Now, I’m willing to try a trip where all I eat are these things, but, uh, I suppose I can suffer through some shave ice and a hamburger club sandwich at Like Like Drive Inn or whatever.

Anyway, you try different things.  You get suboptimal experiences.  You still sometimes like them.


Four days of vacationing means focusing on the essentials.  Oddly, it also meant a lot of downtime.  Not every session of a RPG, CCG, BG, mahjong/cards, whatever is going to encompass the panoply of pleasures.  We had four of us staying at the house, yet no mahjong.  No local game store visit.  No hiking (for me).

While I can be satisfied with less, I think I think too much about pulling every lever.  Maybe more so from the GM side, where I can’t satisfy myself, so I get tired of trying to satisfy my players.  Sometimes, can just do less and save the rest.


Hours in the air.  My most dreaded length, as the 13.5 hour flights I just give up any chance that they will end until a third of a sudoku book is completed.

Just as not everything good will be accomplished, not everything bad can be avoided.  Shadowfist timing sucks, while reliance on two different basic resources (in normal play) can suck so much more.  V:TES timeouts where nothing really happens are fangless.


Six of us went to breakfast Monday.  First time my sister met one of my father’s friends (from high school).  Opinionated opinions.

Connections come in different forms, from the new to the reconnecting of the old.  I’ve played with a variety of gamers in the area.  I still do, to some degree.  I used to do three or so CCGs on weeknights at Matchplay.  I see some folks once or twice a year at conventions that I saw much more often, even weekly.

If I mentioned a variety of experiences above, there’s also a variety of players.  I often really enjoy getting together with, say, V:TES players from other locales just because it breathes freshness into things having a different perspective.  Besides, people I hang out with probably are superbored with my repetitive stances.


Double oh, to be more precise.  One may wonder why one should care that I saw a movie recently.  After all, I did see another movie earlier this year, exceeding my annual average (per my guesstimating) by 100%.

Spectre was okay.  I find it interesting how a lot of people loved Skyfall and hated this movie or hated Skyfall and thought this was much better.  I don’t exactly hate Skyfall, I just didn’t like its narrative nor its action and thought the ending’s payoff could have been done with a better lead up.  Some commenters on review sites summed up my highlights for Spectre – terrible villains, wasted Monica Belluci’s participation, missed opportunities, humor/fun is really missing.

On my grandfather’s bookshelf was a Bond novel by John Gardner.  I’ve read a number of Gardner novels, though not for decades.  I don’t recall them having major problems.  I do recall liking things about them.  Death is Forever is atrocious.  The characters are awful.  The characterizations are awful.  The villains are awful.  The plot is awful.  The payoffs or lack thereof are awful.  The dialogue is awful.

It’s less half-assed than double-oh-seventh-assed.  Did he just need to throw something out to hit a deadline?  I’m curious as to whether I’ve changed and just didn’t notice some of these problems in Icebreaker, For Special Services, and whatever else I’ve read of his.

Compare and contrast – nice school words.  As not great as Spectre was, it was at least not terrible.  The medium changes the storytelling – Bond is constantly falling for his harem in the books where you don’t really have that feeling in the movies unless the woman dies.  The focus on the quality of the food at some obscenely expensive hotel or on some luxury transportation in the books is shockingly (or not) absent in the movies I recall.

Games are about entertainment.  Now, some like their entertainment to be competitive, some like it to be random, some like it with more whips.  If we roll together some of the other comments above, we look to see that gaming can hit some but not all chakras and still entertain.  To be perfect is to be unlikely.

But, at the same time, it has to hit something.  I enjoy some bad books (looking at some books written by a LKH or a RJ) because they give me stretches of enjoyability.  How does this translate to various games?

The ending of Shadowfist games is often not enjoyable.  The combat in V:TES is often not enjoyable nor a lot of table talk.  Putting on armor because the camp got attacked during the night is not enjoyable.  Constantly failing to launch in your Almost-Night Struggle is not enjoyable.  Getting all lefts when you just need a move back one is not enjoyable.

But, I regress.  Was there a theme song to all of this?  Btw, didn’t really get Hunt’s theme song and don’t recall thinking Adele’s was the wasp’s whiskers.  Who cares?  Sometimes, you ramble because you want to toss things out.  At least I didn’t dwell on how I didn’t get a warmed up cookie or on the quality problem that prevented me from buying …


The Road To Mana

October 26, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilo for dinner, then to the house.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Black Sands Beach's pond

Black Sands Beach’s pond

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

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

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

Green Sands Beach

Green Sands Beach

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

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

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

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obvious gaming relevance.

Obvious gaming relevance.

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

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

That shirt got really wet.

That shirt got really wet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, gaming.

Few things.

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

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

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

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

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



Crowd Control

December 12, 2013

I have been running into the problem of too many NPCs for a given scene.  Mostly a combat issue.  Now, in our Gaki Mura campaign, the idea for recent sessions was season-ending, major (epic?) events, where numerous named NPCs were involved to try to have them be relevant to events.  But, still, even just rolling antagonists has gotten tiresome.

Specifically, I’ve been running into this problem reffing L5R.

I don’t know what the extent of available GM tricks is.  Given time for research, can probably find all sorts of possible solutions.  I could push dice-rolling on to players.  I have been printing out more of my NPCs to hand them off to players, to avoid the dreaded “I’m rolling against myself” situations.  What I’d really like to do is simplify NPC resolution.

And, of course, there are plenty of ways to do that.  But, it’s having a fair way to do that that I’m wondering about.  For instance, melee dudes aren’t terribly important in L5R.  They can just square off against some group of enemy and I just roll some amount of dice to determine how messed up they are at the end of combat.  Shugenja, which there have been many of in Gaki Mura, don’t work well that way.  Every shugenja is going to have Path to Inner Peace for in-combat healing.  That’s a huge deal.  Being taken out of combat makes for a very boring time for a player, and here are all of these healers who could do something about it.  But, are they so punked that they can’t do anything?  Punked enough that healing someone else is not going to be terribly effective?  More likely to save a PC by doing something besides healing?

Stupid spellcasters and their versatility.  Anyway.  If the party NPCs are going to have an impact on the players in a combat situation, then they should be able to actually do things.  But, what things?  If it’s just a single party NPC spellcaster, that seems to work out fine – just treat the NPC like a full character.  But, “fullness” is the problem I’m having when there is a swarm of spellcasters, a wigwam of wizards, a mass of magicians around.

I thought about simplifying wounds, something like divide by 10 for NPCs to basically get at wound ranks rather than specific wound numbers.  Sure, tracking individual wound boxes is more work than general wound levels, but it’s not that different.  It crossed my mind to use FUDGE dice or something to indicate NPC status/effectiveness, but that means creating a whole system of results, which isn’t any better than the existing system of results, as L5R is hardly a mechanics heavy system.  And, a homebrew system isn’t likely to be all that fair from a player perspective.

Pushing spellcasters on the players runs into metagaming, where NPCs suddenly become the greatest defenders of individual PCs the world has ever known.  Plus, some NPCs’ abilities shouldn’t be all that well known.  Nor do I want to see NPCs do boring crap, like the same five spells that we always see in L5R play.

I can probably work on trimming the number of party NPCs down, especially spellcasters.  But, then, there’s still antagonists.  I don’t really feel like rolling out attacks and damage for eight Mira-gaki, then eight Gaki no Suzumebachi, then three Gakimushi.  Putting the burden of rolling for the enemy on players doesn’t appeal that much to me as I’ve seen it be hard for players to take on an opposition role.  Pre-rolling doesn’t interest me at all, as I’m not really into pre-rolled values conceptually and am too lazy to roll out a bunch of numbers when they may not even be relevant.  Then, I’m not just rolling a bunch of d20’s or percentile dice – L5R dice pools can vary significantly.  Nor am I inclined to change the system to have the players roll defense against a fixed attack value of the attackers, as some systems do.  And, while I usually give one Initiative roll for all of a pack of enemies, I’m not inclined to give them a single attack or damage roll.

L5R has a reasonably tactical combat system, even without magic thrown in.  Wound management is a thing.  Void Points.  Stances, to a degree.  Maneuvers are extremely important for effectiveness, but, with monsters, it’s easy to ignore them and just roll attack and damage.  Of course, monsters don’t have any of the wound boxes management, Void Point expenditures, or stances complications to worry about.  Humanish enemies might, but I don’t have a lot of those.  And, yet, just deciding which PC to attack has huge implications in combat.  The fact of the matter is that intelligent combatants should gang up and eviscerate one PC at a time, but that’s amazingly unfun, even though it’s what intelligent PCs do against their enemies.  But, just having one extra evil dude choose PC #3 instead of #4 can be massively swingy.

I suppose I just need to have more 2-3 big bad fights and lose the horde fights.  Horde fights suck in 4e, anyway, because whichever side has numbers pretty much should own the other side (well, this is a reason big bad fights aren’t terribly interesting for GMs, but whatever), and 4e is really, really slow when compared to 3e.  It’s so slow, that I’m increasingly cutting off combat.  I think even major fights should be 3-5 rounds, like 3e’s vastly superior combats, not the “Fires of Purity wore off” grindfests that I far too often see.  Rather than adjusting numbers to see that happen, as that could just be insane overkill, leading to dull results, I’m coming up with more “and, then, something happens” to cut fights off, with the relative effectiveness of the party’s efforts to the point the combat gets cut off dictating the narrative.  It is important, after all, that the PCs’ efforts matter, so there has to be some effect to doing better or worse in combat.

It’s even a problem with my FSTH campaign, which sees fewer situations of party NPCs and fewer gaggles of goons.  Mooks are a thing in Feng Shui, and I use mook rules – should be using mook rules in L5R more than I do, come to think of it.  But, how to handle mook attack and damage rolls is a problem, as the mechanics I’m using for FSTH involve more dice rolls than FS.  Maybe I standardize mook damage, like how FS has fixed damage values.

I guess I see whether using better/more mook rules combined with controlling better party NPCs combined with farming out party NPCs when I can combined with fewer numbers of antagonists combined with having combats that don’t get rolled to the very end (it’s actually not terribly dramatic to have a 15 round L5R battle, IMO, even when I’m a player and not the GM) goes a long way to solving the problem of the GM rolling too many dice.


July 31, 2013

I think the main takeaway from my recent gaming has to do with the concept of how long a game should be.

Thursday night, I played an HoR3 mod, and it was the normal amount of time.  … boring.

Friday night, I played Shadowfist and a game of Hanabi.  The latter was fine, though I could see it having more value the more varied your group.  For those that don’t know, has nothing to do with fireworks.  It’s a groupthink game, where you get to see everyone else’s hands and try to give information in prescribed ways for the group to score as highly as possible building up stacks of colored number cards.  The most interesting part is what information is conveyed by what you don’t choose to do.

But, Hanabi has nothing to do with today’s theme.  No, what was most notable was one of the Shadowfist games, where an oldtimer was lamenting how long the game took.  His comment was how games used to take 30 minutes and be better.  He hadn’t played V:TES but heard at least some good things about it, but I think my comment that tournament rounds were 2 hours and that games may time out wasn’t much of a sales pitch.

Anyway, 30 minutes for a multiplayer CCG is, to me, too short.  At first, I was thinking 1 hour was about the right length of time, but, then, I recalled that Babylon 5 felt long when it got close to tournament time limits, and tournament time limits tended to be 75 minutes.  So, I suppose I’d revise the theoretical optimal time to more like 45 minutes.  But, is that 45 minutes for a four-player CCG or 45 minutes for any multiplayer CCG?

And, is it really time that’s the issue or how much that happens in that time?

What’s wrong with a 30 minute, multiplayer game if fun stuff happens in that 30 minutes?  Maybe 15 more minutes is not any more fun.

For instance, the Wheel of Time CCG routinely took us 2 hours as a two-player CCG.  And, we were experts and we used lots of shortcuts!  I didn’t feel like the length was a problem when playtesting or playing casual games.  Tournaments, though, … 2 hours is harsh.  Demos of CCGs to folks should be more like 15 minutes, which is not likely to capture the nature of this game, though I’m the type who would rather play a game through then just see part of it, so for those people who make quick decisions on games, something far less than 2 hours would work.

Two hour games of V:TES don’t bother me.  What bothers me are games where little interesting happens.  We played that three-player Shadowfist game for something like 2.5 hours, with two other guys playing 5 duels in the same period.

One of the primary problems the Babylon 5 CCG had out of the original set was that the build up phase of the game was such a bore.  Players built up their infrastructure for five or more rounds, then, two rounds later, someone might win.  The starting agenda that either radically accelerated the opening or had more things going on sooner were a huge boon to the game.  Of course, various antiwin cards, especially We Are Not Impressed, prevented the “I play two real turns and win” scenarios in most cases.  Original Non-aligned faction rules and Conscription did allow for especially quick wins, but people adapted.

For me, in my limited Shadowfist experience, a quick win is often a not very interesting one.  But, that could be because I’m used to longer games, like V:TES.  I’m used to defensive play.  I’m used to a narrative being developed around multiplayer games that I don’t suppose I worry about in two-player games.

Are my expectations simply different?

Getting back to RPGs, Saturday, I ran my FSTH campaign for the first time in 3 months.  While there wasn’t much action at the beginning of the session, I thought it had less awkward pacing than other sessions.  It fit the window we planned well.  Okay, also boring.  Why do I keep coming back to RPGs?

Maybe I just find it notable that I gamed Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, Monday night, and Tuesday night within the last seven days, with four different games being the focus of events.

Sunday morning was Mechwarrior.  We needed to finish up a Battletech fight of lance against lance.  It ran way over planned time.  I always forget how long Battletech can take.  But, the GM had a good point – low firepower, maneuverable mechs make combat take much longer.  I have a Valkyrie, not because I think it’s a good mech – it’s a horribly designed light mech in that it’s just a medium mech scaled down to be worse in every way than what you would do with a 55 tonner – but because there are various 3025 mechs I’ve never seen in action, and I’m curious as to how they actually function, rather than how poorly they are designed.  We also had a Jenner on our side, which hits like a heavy (at shorter ranges) and defends like a light.  We also had a Griffin and a 3025 Black Knight.  Other side had a Trebuchet, Cicada, Assassin, Javelin.  In effect, while the middle two are technically mediums, they are really just lights that aren’t as pathetic as a lot of lights are – Cicada being a better Locust, Assassin being correctly engined but with insipid weapons.

With the higher movement rates, jump ability, and little in the way of firepower of many of the mechs, other than a headshot on the Javelin and the Jenner getting ripped up some, it took forever to down anything.  My Valkyrie never took internal damage.  The Cicada could have run away, we think, and only got stopped by leg damage.  The Assassin also got stopped by leg damage.

But, getting back to duration, did this take too long?  Maybe.  We don’t allot a lot of time for Mechwarrior.  If every Battletech resolution in the campaign is going to take 4+ hours, we are going to have a lot of problems finishing fights within a single session.  We could try to allot more time, but that means scheduling issues.

How long should Battletech take?  I think for a Mechwarrior campaign, we want to look at 2 hours or less.  If we were just playing Battletech scenarios, I would look to book 6 hours or so and try to get around two fights done in that time.  Does this mean that I have to give up my “precious” Valkyrie to play a mech with more firepower (slower, in the case of a Valkyrie, wouldn’t be needed)?  Heavy vs. heavy or adding in assaults will make for more slugfests where they just pound on each other for a couple of turns and somebody is in bad shape.  Even just having everyone be limited to 5/8/5 in MPs would keep maneuvering under much greater control.

Monday night was HoR3.  Okay, not notable, right?  Actually, Monday’s result was one of the drivers for my thinking about how long games should take.  We basically started on time.  We were done with the mod 3 hours later.  We had a break and some “technical time”, so we played for more like 2.5 hours.

If you are used to HoR in person, especially at major cons, you may be thinking “Well, I’ve played a mod in 1.5 hours, even 1 hour, we are often done in 3 hours or less.”  Others, more familiar with online play, will think about how online play tends to add considerable amounts of time.  But, it wasn’t so much the time as it was how suddenly over it felt.  I was strongly concerned that we blew it and missed something important, and I’m sure others felt that way, too, based upon our trying to continue to investigate after we solved the crime.  We did straightforward things which led to direct resolution of the plot.  After we were done, the GM said that we avoided a bunch of stuff written into the mod because we didn’t bother chatting with a bunch of NPCs but just did legwork.  That makes sense, I guess.  And, again, HoR mods are supposed to take less than 4 hours when played f2f to fit into major convention time slots, which means they could very well take more like 2 hours or less of quick play.

I just felt like I missed out on story development.  It wasn’t a bad experience – I got to role-play a bit and make such amusing rolls as my Honor 8 character rolling Stealth to avoid waking a samurai sleeping in his quarters!  But, it felt nearly hollow.  I never got to fly kites in the strong wind.  I never played my flute.  I barely interacted with the other PCs.  If we would have known how efficient we were being, we could have padded things out with such thematics, but since we didn’t realize we were on the right track, we stayed focused on our mission.

Given that online play of HoR, in my experience, often has lulls, breaks, distractions, or whatever, I think 2 hours of actually doing stuff is probably plenty for any single PC, with the actual amount of time spent by any set of PCs being more like 3 or 3.5 hours if I’m on stage for 2.  Take 3 hours of meaningful stuff going on and add in the breaks and technical issues with Skype, Ventrilo, IRC, or whatever, and you are looking at 4.5 or 5 hours being more like the standard window for playing an HoR mod.

Of course, quality is, again, a consideration as opposed to focusing only on quantity.  Many of my more fun HoR moments involved private conversations with another PC.  Those didn’t necessarily take that much time nor take time away from the group’s activities.

Finally, there was Tuesday night, where I was running our local L5R campaign.  It was all combat, well, with running towards and away from fights.  A tedious pursuit skirmish was followed quickly by a fight, which was followed by fleeing from another possible fight.  We started late, and we didn’t end unusually late, but because of the amount of time taken up with combat, especially 2 hours of trying to chase guys down who started far away, I don’t know how satisfying it was.  It wasn’t terribly L5Rish, for one thing, to be so combat oriented, especially without a solid reason for it being so combat oriented.

On a tangent, pursuit in L5R 4e (and seemingly other editions that were less tactical) is messed up.  You need the GM to allow for Athletics rolls or some such, otherwise, you know exactly how far everyone can move and there are no AoO rules.  Did people already know all of this?  Probably, it wasn’t news to me, being in some pursuit situations myself.  But, this session was a good example of not setting up tactical fights where much of the party is irrelevant for long stretches, even if it made sense to take advantage of the party’s weaknesses.

I would much rather use time effectively for fun stuff, given that our Tuesday night sessions only have around 4 hours in which to complete things.

So, it’s obvious to everyone that how long something takes depends upon the nature of the experience and expectations for the activity (game).  I just thought some actual examples would highlight different aspects of this.  Where I could see playing 2 hour Shadowfist games because I’ve played 2 hour V:TES games and 2 hour B5 games and think 2 hours is okay for a boardgame, maybe 1 hour is on the outside of how long that game should last (for four players).  A RPG session, all inclusive with eating and technical problems and looking stuff up and whatever, that runs 3 hours or less just seems crazy short.  On the other hand, that’s what we’ve booked for Mechwarrior, so we can’t be having a lot of 3+ hour Battletech fights to resolve mech combat.

Ultimately, want to have fun.  Fun isn’t so much tied to time as it is to quality.  But, to some extent, time factors in, especially when a game takes too long to resolve the activity.  For instance, I don’t see why a EuroBoardgame should take more than 2 hours, except when learning/teaching the game.  And, 2+ hour RPG combats usually meant things dragged a lot, unless it was some epic “us against the horde” survival scenario.