Target Practice

November 4, 2018

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year.  The time when I begin talking about the new seasons of Arrowverse shows.

For the three people who are still reading, let’s get some contextual stuff out of the way, first.

Supergirl –

Have not watched a new episode, haven’t watched most of last season on DVR.  I’m so close to mass deleting as the show only really got me perked up (outside of crossovers) in the first two episodes of season “yo, Superman”.

Arrow –

Keep seeing comments about getting back to roots.  Um, nope.  I have had a higher tolerance for Felicity than most after she became a main.  Great supporting character, terrible main.  But, I just can’t stand her this season.  Her arbitrary “I’m more important than everyone else”ness is exactly contrary to what makes superheroes heroes (well, what makes anyone heroes).  Helping others is what society deems Good, as I’ve stated before.  Sacrificing to help others is more Gooder.  Whining is not Good.  Arrow always should have been one of two things – modern take on vigilantes where they just straight up murder the bad guys all of the time … or … ignore early season 1’s straight up murdering people right and left and all hail boxing glove arrow time.  To keep trying to play on the fence of what vigilantism means is really, really boring.  Almost like I said this before – angst is bad, m’kay, there are plenty of ways to have drama without caring whether someone has dealt with their personal demons or not.

It’s like other folks, the folks who like this season, want something different than what I do.  Oh, right, they do.  They want Amell shirtless in prison fights.  I want a superhero show about an archer (well, not really, since Green Arrow isn’t an important character to me, but, given that we don’t get supers I like better, sure, a show about a superhero archer).  Of course there’s lots of agreement on the weak parts.  For instance, get rid of every other main character and have some fun supporting characters, like season 1 Felicity and anyone who is like “Whoa, you are a Bratva Captain?”.  Just to show I don’t hate women – make Nyssa mainish and have her be the rival/foil.  “Husband, while you were fiddling with your long, thick expanding arrow, I straight up murdered all of the bad guys and solved the problem … again.”

Flash –

Not bad.  But, see below about Legends of Tomorrow.  Cicada is actually less interesting already.  I can accept the ludicrous tropes needed to make a god threatened by ungods, but oh my does it get tiresome when they set up scenes where anyone who moves, I don’t know, four times as fast as a normal person wouldn’t be remotely threatened.  Cisco is not as cool as he once was.  Caitlin’s problems are boring.  Ralph is boring.  Wells has yet to get anywhere near season 1 Wells, though that may not be possible.  Having JPK play the daughter of two actors who are actually younger than her is somewhat amusing.  Just too much locked into tropeland rather than capturing the really cool dynamic of early season 1.

Legends of Tomorrow –

At no point has Supergirl been what I wanted it to be as a show.  Sure, Supes’ first two episodes were there, but that didn’t last long.  Arrow had moments but really lost its cool after like the first three episodes.  The Yao Fei training and early Deathstroke stuff was on point.  Even later Deathstroke was just a slog as:  one, wasn’t Ollie’s fault; two, the whole setup was really stupid when you stopped to think about it at any time even though the plan to pit them against each other made perfect sense.  Flash was what it should be early to mid season 1.

Oh, hold on.  All of these shows tend to be what they should be when they do crossovers.

LoT was not good in season 1.  Two characters were such a downer.  But, it got better.  Season premier of this season may not be perfect television, but it’s exactly what LoT should be like.  I’ve had bigger laughs, but that they made a Woodstock episode work at all was an achievement as I don’t have any nostalgia for Woodstock (okay, I’m maybe not as ancient as I think), so I find it a boring historical reference.  Then, the second episode happened.

Which brings me to my gaming topic.  !!

There’s a line in storytelling, even highly mechanical storytelling, where on one side you have good or better and the other you have not good or worse.  LoT had the same ideals and generally the same components but failed the execution.  The second episode was actually exceedingly obnoxious.  Boringland called and paid a visit.  The supernatural antagonist (not really the real antagonist) was not terrible.  The singing was timely.  It was just how mindnumbingly stupid Zari was that left me disgusted with the episode.

My concern with running … since there’s only so much I can do as a player and I have a high tolerance for suboptimal play of RPGs … is that I try to do what sounds righteous and don’t get on the righteous side of the line.

This is likely a terrible example for this particular topic, but it’s something from recent Rokugan 1600 play that hasn’t worked.

Usagi Yumi

I steal so much stuff from prior campaigns.  So, one thing I did was have an object that mattered to me as a player show up in the campaign as a subplot device.  Besides passing comments on rare occasions about getting rid of the yumi, at no point did it matter to the player of the PC tasked with finding the rightful owner to find the rightful owner.

When the lack of progress kept getting commented upon, the players finally came up with some ideas for pursuing the subplot.  One idea was okay, but I called it “prosaic” in an email I sent – prosaic doesn’t fit my style of RPGing.  The other idea I called “I Love Lucy” level thinking to just be rid of the subplot.  Because latchkey kids had to watch TV from the time they got home to when they went to bed and I’m from an age when there were maybe eight TV stations to watch with only about three mattering, I suffered through I Love Lucy.  And, Laverne and Shirley.  And, other shows about incompetents.  Which is maybe why I have such a deep, abiding hatred of entertainment about incompetents/losers.

I was proud of bringing more magic items into a fantasy campaign because I noticed that I should do more of that sort of thing to play up the fantasy elements of, er, fantasy campaigns.  Instead, griping and sarcasm.

The intent was to motivate towards a goal, since I don’t really require players/PCs to have goals yet goals add depth to a campaign and contribute to having a PC story arc.  Sure, this sort of thing is well familiar to GMs.  They have in mind something they think will make for a better game, a cool story, and the player doesn’t care.

So, what could I have done differently?  Well, since I think in a way that most people I play RPGs don’t, maybe the hints I made recently could have been made earlier.  Though, to be fair in the sense that this isn’t the most important thing to the campaign, I was fine with letting the player deal with the subplot when he felt like it.

Now, there’s another reason not to tip my hand.  I like other people figuring out things, perhaps because I like figuring out things.  I like guessing.  I like having an opportunity before I get an answer handed to me.  I find it weird when other people aren’t into guessing, which a lot of people I quiz aren’t into.  To me, being handed an answer either undermines or invalidates knowing something.  Since this is so “profound”, I’ll come back to it another time.

As a GM, I don’t see my job being giving answers.  I see my job being to give mysteries where the players can discover the answers.  Feel like I’m getting off topic, in that maybe I have a bunch of topics related to CW TV shows.

Anyway, ideas are easy, execution is hard.  Oh, also said this before.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, there are things I think I do poorly that seem to find favor with players.  This should not be surprising, but it suggests the closeness to the line that a GM can run at.  With just the right dice rolls or player interpretations or improvisation, something uninspired can be inspirational.

Another example that may not even fit.  There’s a geisha that two of the players met in a side session.  She worked in that session better than expected, so I’m obviously having her return to the stage.  Maybe that NPC will engage in a way so many others don’t.

We’ve played enough sessions for players to either gain a feel or reassess their characters.  If I don’t start adding depth rather than continuing to create breadth (shallow and broad I be), going to miss out, methinks, on a better experience.

More engaging villains.  More engaging NPCs.  More engaging locales.  More engaging objects.  More engaging plots, subplots, events.  If wishes were fishes, fish sauce might be more expensive.

So, how to do the better things Arrowverse shows have done and eschew the worse?  Well, no, I don’t look forward to Mick and Constantine working together.  Just sounds Odd Couple level “I only watch this show because nothing else is on this channel I watch for four hours every day” grating.

I’m not very hard on the players.  I was reading some story ideas in L5R supplements and they are *harsh*.  Permanently being made an eta harsh.  Maybe events would be taken more seriously if there were actual consequences.  OTOH, doesn’t sound like that would be any more fun, just more intense.

GM Fun

Because who really cares whether I have a coherent blog post or not?

I was asked what was fun for me as a GM, what would make things more fun.

I enjoy research.  I enjoy worldbuilding.  I enjoy using research in my worldbuilding.  I enjoy coming up with interesting takes on mechanics.  I enjoy the soap opera lives my NPCs have that players generally couldn’t care less about.

What makes me stop enjoying anything is if players aren’t enjoying play.

I’m sure the writers of Arrowverse episodes enjoy Gorilla Grodd or messing up the timelines or trying to address political issues.  See, getting related to my own post – booyah.

I can enjoy building a world that doesn’t get played.  What seems like it would be more fun is having the players enjoy the world.  I’m pretty sure that’s true, as players caring about some aspect of the world gets me motivated to keep creating more of the world, while players not caring about the world hardly at all gets me disinterested in running.

When I can find the time and am in the mood, I enjoy writing stories that are relevant to the PCs.  This is an area I’ve been poor at for R.1600, as we often schedule sessions in quick succession or have long layoffs.  In theory, if we had more every other week sessions, that would give me a week to work on a session and to write up what’s going on with the NPCs so that the players have more insight into how I view the world.

Arrowverse seasons are still early.  Flash feels like it’s wavering between the two sides of the line.  Arrow is relatively good for Arrow but that doesn’t say much as so much of Arrow has had similar problems to so much of Wheel of Time.  I don’t expect it to rise to new heights or to rise to the heights of its crossover episodes.  LoT is where I hope to be continuously entertained, but it needs to figure out how to use its current crew better as I feel like it’s a Sara and everyone else show, at the moment, because only Sara feels fully “present” as a protagonist.  Mick is underused, Nate is annoying, Ray gets too silly, Zari doesn’t work when she’s serious, Constantine is not integrated well, at all.

R.1600 isn’t early.  If only it was easier to implement GMing advice rather than just reading it.  If only it was easier writing good TV.  Oh yeah, still absolutely on theme for today.

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The Needle

September 23, 2018

So, let’s talk about golf.  Well, in a moment.

Let’s talk about sports, first.  Why do athletes get paid nine figure contracts?  Because there’s money in popular stuff.  The world is an opulent place (with high levels of variance in personal wealth, of course).  A boardgame KS with cool minis [ha] can get you $4.2m.  On the other hand, two people I know have companies/organizations fundraising at the moment.  One company is working on drugs to combat the typical effects of aging.  The other group would be a group that involves my brother who has found a film festival to show the Abaarso School film he made and who is working on building a bunch of schools in Somaliland.

Woodstock Film Festival Somaliland

Yup, sports.  Wait.

Sports.  Sports are entertainment.  One of the things that tends to get forgotten when commentators obsess over winning and losing, where winning often correlates to popularity but isn’t the be all and end all of popularity.  Sometimes, you can claim the lovable losers category, have sellouts for a decade while losing, keep players around to give your team a sense of identity rather than come up with a “process” or chasing the Moneyiest Ball of them all.

But, also, sports are an activity that quite a few can relate to.  In watching The Needle move this weekend, I was asked about taking up golf and noted that it was the most frustrating sport I tried up until fencing.  It’s so much more fun to exclaim at a TV (yes, I’m that old school that I don’t say monitor) about “just hit 2 iron, then middle of the green” than actually want to be hot, sticky, muddy, and frustrated by topping a ball, which are vague recollections I have from high school.  Meanwhile, I wish I could find a good wall to throw a tennis ball against to see how messed up my shoulder really is or whether it’s just lack of training.

Golf is an international sport, so I imagine that unless something weird is going on at the moment in the world of futbol, Tiger is the biggest sports story in the world.

Story.  Stories.  Finally, I get to my theme.

I was at a birthday BBQ yesterday and there was a point during conversation where there was a question as to whether what makes the better story is what drives human existence or procreating.  Fortunately, this one is easy.

There are multiple aspects to Tiger’s tournament win.  It’s not just another “Will he catch Jack?” or the banal nonstories 24/7 sports coverage likes to obsess over, such as what a sports figure will do after saying something stupid/offensive/politically incorrect.  Get a lot of pointing out how much humans like comebacks, blah blah blah.

Tiger isn’t my favorite golfer, yet I’ve rooted for him more than any other.  LeBron isn’t my favorite NBAer, yet I root a lot for him, Jordan is also not my favorite NBAer, yet it might be hard to tell back when I watched WGN constantly to see Bulls games.  Another aspect of sports is that people’s favorites can be quite arbitrary.  Other than my mother or maybe someone I’ve told, I don’t think there’s any way someone would guess who my favorite MLBer is.  I’ve lived almost my entire life in one region of the States and none of the local teams rate as favorites nor have local players been among my favorites with maybe a rare exception.  There is an incredibly strong pattern to what are many of my favorites, but I don’t think the reader cares – I’m not looking for sports memorabilia as presents.  I’m not really into presents, at all.  Meanwhile, I have often rooted against teams or even individual players because they were rivals to my favorites.

But, I digest.  No, wait, my blog posts aren’t remotely digestings.

So, good stories.  After all, it’s not *that* hard to not tell bad stories.

I come back to the concept of feeling like I’m being challenged in RPG play without necessarily actually being really challenged.  I come back to that, but that’s just one aspect of a good story.  You also need to plotacize your story.  Well, I think so.  Is there a good story without a plot?

To ponder this some, I looked up the definition of plot.  There are good aspects to stories that aren’t part of the definition of plot, sure.  But, do you really have a story if you lack a plot?  Well, I wasn’t much of an English student and I didn’t read most literature that got foisted upon students back in the pre-computer days of my youth, so my feeble mind probably can’t make use of this topic and this is not the direction to be moving in.

“I rolled a 20, then confirmed my crit, and the sinister priest exploded.”  I’m fairly sure this isn’t a compelling story to you all.  This particular description of events is either what happened in a memorable situation I played in or I critted on a 19 and confirmed the crit.  Anyway, that session and the results were meaningful.

I find when GMing that the good stories don’t seem that common.  There are events and dice are rolled and wounds are recovered later and I’m not sure what the story is.  When I play in campaigns, I remember what happens, at least in recent sessions.  Okay, maybe I’m a special snowflake who cares far more about such things to where I devote brainspace to trying to perceive and engage with a narrative.  Except, if that’s the case, how come narrative-ridden offerings are as popular as they are?  Folks must like stories.  Gooder stories.  Wellier stories.

What’s today’s big story?  Tiger wins tournament for first time in 5 years.  Not Justin Rose wins FedEx Cup.  Not Rory choking.

I see the advantage of RPGs over other sorts of games is that you can achieve stories that move the needle for yourselfem to the same degree.  I have, of course, said the same thing before because I wake up a certain Dog all of the time (shout out that there isn’t much of the Year left).

We are in a hiatus period on Rokugan 1600 because of work, work, travel, travel.  I considered filling up some of the down time with stories written by the GM, a GM who doesn’t make memorable villains and therefore reduces the rapturousness of the players.  Behind the scenes views into the lives and times of “Who is that guy?  Whatshisname?” may make events resonate more.

Because, as much as I might like HeroQuest or may have played SSI gold box AD&D games to nondeath, there’s more to existence than procreating.  Maybe.


Long Absence Releasing Product

September 9, 2018

So, I’m still capable of typing.  In fact, I’ve even played one or more games since August 20th.

August was just exhausting, having early Gen Con run into when I do monthly stuff at work, into V:TES tournaments, into getting back to normal cadence of Rokugan 1600/Shadowfist/whatever.

So, September rolls around and … Pacificon.  I went two days.  I wore my two vivid Pacificon shirts from the 90’s.  When I wore the black one, another con goer I sat at a table with had the same year’s shirt upon his torso.

Gamingwise, there was running a Traveller demo which was well attended and running a Traveller tournament that wasn’t.  I wasn’t shocked by the latter, but it ties into how it’s time for us to ramp up building a player base of active players.  And, I played something.  I played a prototype game, Treasuremania.  It reminds me of something a lot, but I can’t quite think of what.  My friend suggested some advanced rules to the designer and those rules remind me of playing RoboRally, though I guess the basic game has similarities to RoboRally already, though the game is very different in that RoboRally messes with people like me a lot where the movement mechanics of this game don’t.  I am undefeated at Treasuremania [ladies].

There was some nongaming stuff at the con, like seeing people and talking/eating.  Discovered nearby strip mall replaced Chinese restaurants and the new one is very much like restaurants in Shanghai.  All restaurant food seems like it’s getting expensive enough to me to encourage just cooking my own food, but, if you accept that Chinese food isn’t a lower medium cost option anymore, this place seems worth going to occasionally.

Anyway, back to gaming, I’ve also played Shadowfist a couple of times or so, with our games taking a long time such that we get one game in in nearly 3 hours.  I think the ideal is about 75 minutes per game.  Considering how open our environment is for targets to attack due to our house rules, would think sudden victories wouldn’t be so hard.

And, I’ve run a couple of Rokugan 1600 sessions in recent memory, though one of them may have been prior to my last post.  I was happier with how the Bridge session went than the Mountain session.  But, I think my latest problem is that I’m still writing sessions for when our group tried to play in a 3 hour or so block on a weeknight, so the sessions actually don’t seem set up well when we know we have 4+ hours to play on a weekend.  To retain flexibility, I think that means I need to have multiple sessions worth of material available at a time to be able to run less or more, which isn’t a terrible idea anyway, though thinking through how to adjust things on the fly for how first parts turn out requires … more … thinking?  More preparation is a good thing to do, but it’s more work.

But, I had a question asked of me recently that I’ve been thinking about.

I was asked what I would want to play for a LARP.

I didn’t have a good answer.

What crossed my mind at the time was that sci-fi didn’t sound appealing.  Let me tangentialate for a while.

I’m not a sci-fi fan in terms of the idea of futureosity.  Sure, I like original Trek and watch a fair amount of Doctor Who, but neither makes the science all that important.  It’s not hard science.  oTrek was sci-fi in terms of speaking to the human condition with whizbang tech.  DW is just kind of quirkful.  Games like Eclipse Phase or whatever that seem more hard just hold like zero appeal to me.  I’m not into the tech in Shadowrun.  I find Shadowfist/Feng Shui tech acceptable because they are so unimportant.

Tangentialfuller.  I’ve read Bimbos of the Death Sun.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s a mystery novel set at a game convention that points out all of the nerdglory that actually exists even today, if maybe not to the same degree now that a lot of gamers have aged and produced offspring.  The title is because the mystery solver’s husband (boyfriend?) wrote a hard science novel that his editor forced to be called Bimbos of the Death Sun so that they could put sci-fi appropriate cover art on it, which is the excuse for the pair to go to a con for him to push his book while she deals with gamers and murder.  I think about this novel every time hard science and gaming intersect.  I did enjoy the novel when I read it.  Another piece of conversation lately involving gaming had to do with how different gaming can be in the US versus another place, to where the other person didn’t understand a lot of gamer jokes made by Statespeople until moving to the States.

Anyway, trying to get this back on “topic”, LARP set in the future, where you have tiresome tech like cameras everywhere, does not sound remotely appealing.  If anything, historical sounds more appealing, though I realize this may not be that great for me as the folks into that sort of LARPing probably have costumes and I’m not a costume guy.  That kind of leaves modern, but not WoD modern as WoD LARPing just sounds painful based on the stories I hear.

Thinking about it after I was asked, what came to mind was the idea of doing something collaborative in a LARP, as part of a small team.  What I often find to be the case with LARPs is that I have no meaningful goals in that even if I have goals I don’t really care about them, so I get really tired after about an hour and am fine with doing nothing at that point until it ends.

The only LARP where I can recall being more into things for longer was one of the first, maybe the first, I ever did, where I played a pregnant duchess.  I was given one of the NPC roles, so I didn’t really have a goal, but other players had goals that involved me, so I would interact with people who were motivated to accomplish something.  Then, at the end of the parlor LARP, the big reveal revealed how everything connected together and I was totally not murdered like my husband was(?).  I still grew tired in the middle, so mostly this anecdote is about my awesome pregnant duchess playing skillz.

I played an Immortal LARP once, but I recall very little about it.  Everyone seemed to be trying to accomplish the same thing, so it wasn’t very similar to any other LARP in my vague recollections.

Just not something that holds my attention/vast reservoirs of enthusiasm.  Which is interesting because one-shot RPGs do a good job holding my attention, so why not one-off LARPs?  An obvious reason is that LARPs depend a lot on other players and other players aren’t necessarily all that compelling.  In this conversation I had, the concept of players having actual in-character jobs came up, and I realize that a big problem with HoR political interactives is that hardly anyone has a defined job, which is why so many people can just sit around, with very little of consequence occurring.

Now, let’s say I’m in an ongoing LARP and have an in character job.  Is that interesting to me?  It doesn’t sound like it.  I already have things I want to do and things I do (watch Golf Channel or NBA Channel or whatever while playing solitaire) when I don’t want to do “anything”.

But, then, why play RPGs?  Why run RPGs?  Where’s the difference?  I don’t get into character that much in RPGs, even less so in campaigns.  I’m more interested in visualizing a story over acting one out.  When I do portray NPCs in character in RPGs, it doesn’t last very long.  I don’t have the acting bug.  I’m far more into being entertained than being an entertainer.  Even writing is something where I might spend way more time reading other people’s blog posts than writing my own, except I write 2000 word blog posts and a lot of people don’t and a lot of people don’t post that often for games I actively play.

Also, there’s another reason I can see that would reduce the appeal of LARPing, though I think it would matter far more in an ongoing LARP rather than a one-off, but this seems like a topic to save for another time.

So, to LARP or not to LARP?  Guess I’ll see.  If I’m willing to play wargames and minis because other people want me to, I can probably try out LARPs if people want me to and see whether it turns out better than I expect it to.


Agent 88

July 29, 2018

A title people totally won’t get.  I kept trying different Get Smart related titles, but they didn’t quite work for what I was going for.

Agency in RPGs.

I mostly hear or see complaints about lack of agency.  I’ve certainly played in games where I felt like I had no control over what my character was doing.  By games, I mean one game I can think of in 20+ years of RPGing.  I played in a Maelstrom convention game that was one of the awful games I played in, where the PCs were irrelevant to anything happening.

And, that’s the thing – “felt”.  There’s a world of difference between not actually having meaningful decisions and feeling like not having meaningful decisions.  Based on other things I hear or see, a lot of GMs have one-shots planned in the beginning and the ending and it’s just a matter of getting the PCs to the end after they do whatever in the middle.  Is that a case of having meaningful decisions or not?

In my experience, being railroaded is overblown.  HoR mods are structured and we all may realize they are to the point of following what the mods want you to do, but I have a hard time remembering any campaign play where I felt adventures were as railed as HoR mods.

Then, I don’t have a problem with being on rails.  I’m sure there are cases where even not being able to choose from different stations didn’t matter to me.  If I think about some of the side adventures in Princess Police, they were pretty much “get to village, kill stuff or decapitate zombies” and I really liked the side adventures.  I don’t have a problem with HoR mods having limited things to do, though it is nice when you get mods that do allow you to pursue your personal interests.

So, the reason I got to thinking about agency again is that I was thinking about the disconnect between my GMing style and what players are looking for and I got to wondering whether my problem is that I try too hard to give players more agency.  I can just picture Chris running Princess Police, especially early on, probably having the exact same perspective of “I have these story hooks and no one is impaling their flesh upon them.  *sigh*”

I would say most of the players I’ve played RPGs with in campaign play have wanted to be given clear objectives and the only deviance was in doing “wild and crazy” things rather than an interest in creating one’s own story arcs, helping to define the world, etc.  This being true even of players who say they want things that sound a lot like taking on some of the storytelling responsibilities.

And, so, throwing out hooked nets seems to work far less well than just coming up with a straightforward mission and executing on that mission, with the variance being the occasional personal interest … which is awfully like HoR mods.  I usually know exactly what the mod wants us to do and I will try to get in some shopping or kite-flying just to have a “character” and that can work well enough when the right kite-flying situ arises.

It’s not that there isn’t interest in doing something more than being put on the last train to Jigokuville.  It’s that matching up the GM’s attempts to allow for more sandboxiness (or whatever) runs into a player lack of grasp of how much sand there is and whether the tide will just wash it all away.  Oh yeah – an analogy so perfect and so imageriffic that it will transcend understanding.

Rather than speak in the abstract, even though only joy and weal comes from abstractedness, let me lay out an example where I see an inherent flaw in being a better GM.

In Rokugan 1600, session 2.3 had the party continuing an extended trek back to base with a stop in Dark Edge Village.  The characters have no particular goals in DEV, just waiting for the leadership to push them on to the next stop.  This actually reminds me a lot of Princess Police early on, except that campaign didn’t have more important people entouraging the PCs temporarily.  The players, similarly, don’t have any particular goals.  The party vampire (Chris, if you read this, Bird) is no longer the party’s problem.  The khadi who showed up in 2.2 is not emphasized as an action item for the party.  The aftermath of dojo deaths is nonexistent.

There’s just hanging out waiting for theater and listening to gossip about a Lion EM and an Utaku duelist planning on dueling.

When broken down like this, it’s clear to me that this isn’t ripe for player engagement.  When presented with similarly nebulous and not-relevant-to-my-PC milieus, what would I initiate?  Wouldn’t I just be waiting for plot to send me back in time or into a spirit realm facsimile of temporal displacement?

The Ikoma/Utaku subplot suffers from not being clearly relevant to the PCs.  Where I think I did a better job with a previous session was in having these sorts of “Whelp, that’s Rokugan” elements cross paths with the PCs to where there’s a feeling it matters.  While there’s a Unicorn PC, there’s no cost/benefit calculation to what happens with the two.

Touring DEV is similarly nonimpactful.  Rokugan is extremely detailed and I can pull setting from multiple sources, but, if you aren’t into Kakita or trying to be Emerald Champion or aren’t hung up on dueling (which this campaign downplays a lot), why care that there are shrines or the Calm Heart Dojo?  Now, there was some interest in the shrine to the Lords of Death because two PCs are into esoteric knowledge.  So, this wasn’t a total waste, but it brings up that players are hardly ever looking to be tourists.  They want action.  Or, they want to pursue some goal.

If the player’s goals don’t line up with the situation, then just left with action.

I have this tendency to think big picture.  Maybe I am inclined to much more beach than I think I am.  My interest in a world is in the world.  My focus, though, needs to get back to how the world matters to the players.

Now, not every player has the same interests nor does every PC have the same interests.  So, there is some room for providing for different activities, but I get so easily into the mindset of “Do you want to take the 11:20 train through Narnia or the 11:45 express?” rather than “Corpse to your right, corpse to your left, nobody wants to be corpse up the middle.”

Also, I have all of these elements I’m trying to incorporate and they just aren’t consistent enough to be impactful.  That a khadi has penetrated as far as the Unicorn’s Eastern border and is apparently on some mission is supposed to be a big deal, but why would the players care if they only encounter him once and their superiors are all “Time to head home and get back to warring.”?  Far too many elements are just not well thought out in terms of campaign impact.

Maybe Gen Con will give me an opportunity to brainstorm with a couple of the players on how to make elements that are supposed to matter matter more.  In turn, this can maybe get me to focus not on the 10,000 things going on in the background but on the 1.5 things that put PCs into situations that engage them.

And, maybe, that there is a two-front war will actually matter – I’m thinking the two best sessions so far have had nothing to do with the wars or the Northern Front enemies.


Zone Of Comfort

July 15, 2018

I was trying to think of a topic.

Should I talk about World Cup?  Barely watched – not good times of day.

Should I talk about Wimbledon?  Watched even less.  Tennis is like baseball to me (now) – I have to have a specific interest in what’s going on or it is just boring.

Nope.  Time to talk about golf.

What are my go to TV stations when I’m lying around not wanting to do anything?  Used to be ESPN and ESPNews and still may be.  But, now, I try flipping to NBA TV and, unfortunately, Summer League is going on, unlike how good it was when the playoffs and the draft were going on.  So, much of the time I end up switching to the Golf Channel as the only thing palatable while I play solitaire (77-7 a lot these days, which is not optimal).

The thing about golf is that it’s a good TV sport.  Because of World Cup, there are idiotic arguments about why the US doesn’t do better at futbol that then gets into how some people find NFL boring because of the copious amounts of dead time.  Which got me to thinking … not about gaming … about what makes NFL so viewer friendly.

Jack’s Facts is that any sport can be boring when you don’t care about what happens and any sport can be fascinating if you have a specific interest.  I can still watch baseball, but baseball is the sport of statistics and statistics have been massively undermined by the drug war.  You can’t get into your dude hitting 20+ HR and driving in 100+ RBI when everything is so negative towards guys who did that using “performance enhancing” drugs.

Um, aren’t all drugs performance enhancing?  Cortisone shot?  I know loratadine is performance enhancing for me as it means I don’t start sneezing uncontrollably as many days.

Anyway, the NFL is much more viewer friendly for folks like moi who know stuff about it than the likes of baseball, hockey (poor TV visuals), and basketball.  Sure, I’m way more into NBA than NFL, but it’s because of player movement not because the games are all that appealing to watch.  Score, score, miss, score, miss, miss, score, …  Too much repetition, a la tennis and baseball, oh, another thing hurting the watchability of baseball, in theory, is how balls aren’t put into play as often as they used to be.  Walks and strikeouts should be unusual, not the norm.

That’s the thing about NFL – scoring chances at all times without it being Arena League levels of trading “baskets”.  And, no, for me, it has nothing to do with violence.  Sure, some like violence, can still see with boxing, MMA, cockfighting, or whatever.  I’m far more into watching the Black Widow at snooker because I love … moving on.

Now, sumo or whatever has novelty value that counteracts repetitiveness.  Olympics has that “I don’t watch this all of the time” nature combined with international competition at the most nationalistic level.

But, then, again, I grew up with NFL as something followed.

So, why golf?  Is it repetitive to see approach shots on the same holes and putts from roughly the same places?  Not so much, no.  The thing about golf is that you get a kind of random feel at the exact same time you get “that is so damn hard to do”.  Now, maybe it helps that I played golf for a couple of years, pretty badly.  Until I tried fencing (sabre), most frustrating sport I tried.  I think golf is also helped some by video games.  You can envision trying to line up a shot and choose a club and decide how full a swing to make.  It’s also helped, perhaps, by how anyone can play it, if at a low level.  I mean, sure, I was once not bad at bowling, but it’s incredibly repetitive.

Comfort.  The theme for today’s post.

I’m running Rokugan 1600 which I’m sure you will be shocked to learn is set in the Legend of the Five Rings setting and uses 4e rules.  Super shocked.  Any time I think of a PC, NPC, nemuranai, or whatever from another L5R or LBS campaign, I’m trying to fit it in.  It’s a comfort zone inside a comfort zone.

How is it going?  Well, haven’t turned off two new players that I barely know, yet.

One thing I do think about a lot is the criticisms I’ve gotten for my style of scene-focused, high fantasy, literaturesque adventures.  I’m trying to focus on the player perspective and why they should care about what they are doing.  Thinking about how to get them excited rather than what I might find exciting (if done better than I do it).  I think that’s helping.

Find that GMing zone where you feel comfortable after the fact and not just when creating ideas.  In fact, I had written up an adventure and scrapped it as I knew it would fall into the same style that gets so much confusion from my players.

After the last session, I got asked about skirmish miniatures play.  I’ve never been into minis play.

Why isn’t minis in my comfort zone like card games and RPGs and some board games?  Hell, I’ve done way more LARPing than minis play, though LARPs are not my comfort zone.

I didn’t grow up with it.  Sure, I didn’t grow up playing virtually any RPGs, but I was fascinated by them and by character creation.  People I knew didn’t play minis, people I didn’t know but could sense existed didn’t play minis.

Two, it’s an investment.  An investment of space. I have more than 100,000 cards for various card games, but I still feel like there’s a much greater physical commitment to minis, plus I don’t paint and have no interest in painting.

I like the idea of BattleTech a lot because it’s outside the box (unlike board games and wargames) and there are way better systems than BT, but it’s still not the ease of playing a card game, even a card game where you don’t build your own deck.

It’s not the easy outside the box of CCGs and RPGs and the stories aren’t as impactful to me.  I was so close to getting into the BT CCG, it’s really a historical shame the game wasn’t much better at being a game and at selling what makes BT appealing (mech construction).

I feel the story “cardboard” tells.

 


Part Time GM

June 8, 2018

I am trying to find a Kickstarter that’s supposed to run in June, and I came across a Kickstarter for a RPG.

Part Time Gods Kickstarter

Considering that I’ve been largely disappointed with RPG Kickstarters and rather happy with the one boardgame KS I backed and fine with the Shadowfist KSs I backed, why back this game?

I’ve played it.

I enjoyed it.

A two-hour game (not billed as a two-hour game), and I enjoyed it.

I’m particularly down on foreign KSs where I get hit with international fees and shipping is quite expensive, but I just find what I end up with from RPG KSs so uncaptivating.  Now, this could be because the concept of trying to play anything besides L5R is challenging given the nature of who I play games with these days.

It’s a low buy in for the level I’m backing.  Amazingly enough, I’m not so into a game I’ve played once and don’t have on my mind-list of things to play that I’m looking to mortalize myself as a NPC in the game.  Or, whatever.

I really like Kickstarter because I can influence whether someone even makes something, rather than discovering something already made, and it seems like it gives way more capital to RPG publishers.

So, my PTG experience was mentioned in Gen Con 2016.  Saturday, if you want to skip down a few thousand words.

It’s just my kind of thing and the game played much like my early Ran Ackels Immortal: The Invisible War games which got me fired up about modern supernatural RPGing and made me a CCG designer.  Immortal greatly helped push me towards Precedence Games/Publishing/Entertainment, who put out the Babylon 5 CCG, where I ended up doing design for that CCG and Wheel of Time CCG and offered Tomb Raider CCG ideas which probably didn’t get used.

Part-Time Gods, though, gets me thinking about something.  The games I run are missing something.  I don’t feel like my players get to have the experiences that I, as a player, enjoy the most.  They don’t get the “How about I look into the future and keep what happens to myself so that it doesn’t necessarily happen?” moments.  The “I’ll lick the blood off of the dude’s face to sense where the enemy will strike next.” moments.

Or, maybe they do and I don’t know, but let’s assume they don’t.  Is it because I’m not a player in my own games?  Do I set up situations that enable the players to do the things I like doing, but they don’t jump through those hoops?

I don’t think that’s the main reason.  I think the main reason is that I’m not including an important hook that gives the players the clear enough openings.  Meanwhile, in trying to give players opportunities to do certain things, I also allow some things to happen that don’t make a lot of sense.

I don’t talk much about simulationist play because it always just sounds like not my glass of extremely sweet tea, but it occurred to me after the last Rokugan 1600 session when we talked about stuff for a long time that a weakness I have is accounting for simulationism.  I allow worlds, even ones I didn’t make, to go in directions that aren’t the right feel because I have this conscious or unconscious high fantasy agenda.  Oh, I’m not saying I make everything into some form of coherent high fantasy.  I’m saying that having a high tolerance for reality warping events leads me to come up with reality warping events that are incongruous with the setting.

To the extent that I understand simulationism, it’s about the play experience being consistent with a provided world.  Where I can see an example is that gamist play will tolerate out of character actions that are successful and narrative play will tolerate out of character actions that make for a more coherent story, simulationist actions should be in character to make the play experience more realistic and more meaningful at the character level.  Saying something similar, gamist is for players, narrative is for the plot, and simulationist is for the characters (to be thematic constructs and not just mechanical ones).

If I put more effort into my games, I could probably get a more consistent experience.  Though, as I said, I think rather recently, I often put effort into the wrong direction.  Somehow, I need to better understand the players’ perspectives and what actually matters to them.  For one thing, I need to have a better sense of how plot intersects with player activity.  I have things in my mind that are going on behind the scenes, but they just don’t matter to the players.  So, that’s not an area to focus on.  The area to focus on is “You did this, now the world is going to react in this perceptible way rather than being a convoluted series of impossible to notice adjustments in the grand scheme of creation.”

I think I think too widely.  Grand conspiracies don’t lend themselves to building a foundation for a campaign that can end on a high note with the resolution of some grand conspiracy.  Sometimes, Wolverine just needs to punch Sabretooth rather than understanding what the ultimate goal of the Weapon X program is intended to be and how that has to do with magic-using aliens.

When I ran Solomon Kane, I started with adventures from the core book.  Those seemed to go over better.  Again, personal, limited in scope, and consistent with the setting.  Why is this so hard for me to stick to until a campaign really calls for something else?


Breaks & Brakes

June 2, 2018

Now to transition into Origins mode, where I will metagame hard against antiSalubri and Samedi rush.  Might have to play Blood Brothers now that they have bleed reduction??  I figure take about 10 new decks to Origins, see if I can get two boxes worth (14 decks) for “variety”.

Before Kubla, I ran my skirmish combat session of Rokugan 1600 and it did not go as planned.  Rather than find the cast abstracted into assistance mechanics where I was hoping would make them feel like folks the party would find endearing, the party hardly used my table of NPC mechanics.  The skirmish rules were terrible for the set up, as the set up didn’t have clearly defined distances and everyone was on horseback.

Got into a long discussion on players and GMs not connecting on mechanical expectations.  Basically, I want people to do different things because doing the same actions over and over bores me, but the players don’t feel like they can judge the value in creative solutions to problems, and encounters end up being far harder (seeming) because nobody tries a literature solution.

I make up all sorts of one-off mechanics, and they don’t often work well.  Well, duh, they aren’t playtested.  A little bit of that goes a long way to messing with players.  Then, in this case, introducing both skirmish battle rules and abstracted NPC mechanics charts and a host of unexplained antagonist abilities.

Was it terrible?  It was just a waste.  Rather than add any depth or caring to the campaign, it was an exercise in murdering named enemies whose names didn’t matter to anyone.  Boring combat that came across as largely meaningless combat.

I’m going to try to focus more on personal stories and maybe actually try to build up to big set pieces rather than rush them on stage.  Plus, peasants and Yobanjin because everybody else seems to love … Yobanjin.

Following up from the last post and switching gears hard, Shadowfist has an advantage in just enjoying play over various other CCGs to me in that it’s less predictable to me.  Sure, a player can get locked out of a game due to insufficient power or lack of resources, but players can get nerfed hard when they get out of control.  Of course, I could argue that V:TES has an advantage over Shadowfist for me because I’m psychic and will know every last thing that will happen except half the things, so I can make informed decisions, where I mostly try to do something in the moment with Shadowfist and fail.

I need to get around to doing my 2018 True Dungeon builds.  Going to consider some metagaming for the Lorigorgon and Into the Shadowlands events.  Then, we need to decide what to pack to transmute some of our crap.  And, I should make sure I can actually find my ultrarares and other hard to replace tokens.

Not running out of time just this day but going to be running out of time soon if I don’t start actually prepping for a major event.  And, I need to write some adventures, including side adventures.