Gaki & … Other Gaki

October 31, 2019

Still All Hallow’s Eve here.  I’m not a timing expert with seasonal posts all ready to spew in a carefully orchestrated agenda of spewiness.

What was coincidental was Andy asking about how I’d approach starting in on Fantasy Townies while I was thinking that Gaki Mura’s worldbuilding similarity would be more productive, seeing as I’ve already done work on GM.

Gaki.  Like ghosts.  Like ghouls.  Like vampires.  *points fingers in Happy Days style gesture*

If nothing else, if you are interested in campaign documentation or RPG worldbuilding or L5R worldbuilding, at least skip down to the end where the Welcome section is and read our campaign introduction document/manifesto.

Gaki Mura had two campaign hooks.  The Gaki hook.  And, the Mura hook.

First hook was to play L5R with a permanent, PC-known portal to another spirit realm to emphasize the supernatural elements of Rokugan and the cosmology as I’m far more interested in Asian supernatural than I am in samurai or politics or blackmail.

Second hook was player worldbuilding.  L5R has the ability to handle lots of stuff, far more than what is usually considered when thinking magical samurai in fantasy pseudo-Japan or looking at the CCG/LCG.  For instance, you can, craze as it sounds, even play something besides a samurai.  I’m sure there are a few mechanics, even, that could be dug up if you looked hard enough [*cough* every single book with mechanics *hack* *hack*].  What led me to the idea of the players helping build the base town was, I’m sure, my getting tired of campaigns that dealt overly much with day to day minutia of things other players didn’t give a crap about.

Each session of Gaki Mura was a month in world time.  Each session had a projects phase, so that, you too, could be a fantasy project manager, as all gamers are screaming to be.

I’m going to get off track and talk about the campaign more than about how I prepared for the campaign, but one thing that made this campaign somewhat different was that I wasn’t the only one involved with vision as to what the campaign was about.  I think that was a good thing.  I spend a lot of time in my own head.

Gakiness

One of the first things I did in preparation was research gaki.  L5R books/supplements from various editions, L5R wiki, D&D gaki, internet miscellaneous.  As the amount of info, especially monster descriptions and stats, was limited, I was looking for how to provide variety both mechanically and thematically with what was the primary villain.

I became interested in the variety of gaki and the potential for giving different sorts of (mostly combat) challenges. Important to understanding gaki was getting physical descriptions that distinguished them.  As a GM, I’m much more into how monsters look than I ever have been as a player.  Internet research of images is something I actually do quite often, even for things like mountain valleys, though I’ve yet to have players get excited by my images (I did get a reaction when I noted that an image of Haifa Wehbe was my representation of a girl next door NPC, but excitement wasn’t it).

On the other hand, gaki, gaki, and more gaki would bore everybody, so the campaign pretty quickly introduced a completely different element.

A neither Gaki nor Mura element.  Players created Unicorn PCs that had a concurrent storyline of trying to return to Rokugan as quickly as possible and the portal to Gaki-do from the other side being the fastest way to get home.  What had both good and bad points was that players seemed to enjoy more the travel odyssey of the Unicorn versus squabbling in Gaki Mura.

The Unicorn story had its own spiritual elements, where I drew on some other sources, including … think you can guess?

I’m not sure any of my players picked up on it, though one of them might have and I forgot.

One of the inspirations for Unicorn activity was Barsoom.

I had a Spanish NPC.  And, it worked.  Some of the craziness that had little to do with Gaki Mura itself actually worked.

But, then, after the portal to Gaki-do closed, not a lot did work.  Even before, players got confused wandering around in the woods due to multiple spirit creatures.  It was logical to me and created more variety if spirits from realms other than Gaki-do found themselves in the hood.  It took a long time for the players to figure out what was going on with the animal spirits.

Muraing

The oldest saved file I have in my Gaki Mura general folder on this laptop is Project Plan – Medium Temple.  It’s actually just a template no different from my Project Plan file.  Point being that once the idea of players doing projects to worldbuild was decided, creating a minimal-effort tool was put together.

When I picture campaign worlds, I visualize characters (which are probably going to be NPCs even if I visualize what PCs would look like if I were creating the PCs) and what their environs look like.  I think not of villains at first or challenges, normally, but what PCs are doing.  As “doing” to me means there are other people [no, I don’t *just* think of people doing people], this naturally leads to starting in on NPCs.

I write up one or more NPC backgrounds and/or character sheets pretty quickly.  For my Legend of the Burning Sands campaign, it was far more about backgrounds and relationships to other characters rather than stat sheets.  With Gaki Mura, I fell into my usual trap of thinking up too many NPCs.  All of the research shugenja naturally assigned to the posting started getting clans, families, names, looks, abilities/foci.

I had a thought for another blog post, but I don’t know if I’ll ever write it.  Anyway, I often am more interested in my NPCs’ stories than PCs’ stories as I don’t know what the PCs’ stories are, while I obviously have complete control over the NPCs’ world when not around the PCs.  A reason I have a tendency to proliferate NPCs is because they are interacting with each other (in my mind) and they need more and more things to interact with.  I also probably give up too quickly on any given NPC when the PCs don’t immediately take interest.  More dimensions to one idea rather than numerous ideas could be better, assuming the NPC isn’t just terrible.  Given that my interests often differ from players’ (or other players’ when I’m one of the players), terrible-fitting NPCs don’t seem too difficult.

Getting back to this campaign some, we had a project tracker for townbuilding projects.  The townbuilding was too much for me as I couldn’t keep up with creating new mechanics for every project when the player didn’t have clear mechanics in mind.  Much of the townbuilding was reactive rather than being prepped ahead of time, and it showed.  Yet, instead of scripting this sort of thing, this is where players need to take on more responsibility, including how it matters to the story that some mechanic got achieved.

Sessioning

I write sessions.  By that, I mean I write intros to sessions that very well may contain scripted dialogue.  I either start with scenes in mind or will break up my scripting into scenes.  I usually have in mind how scenes will end with a success ending and a failure ending but may or may not write out notes about such possibilities.  I usually get tired of scripting out entire sessions and leave vague notes about additional material.

Does this end up being overscripted?  Actually, though I can run into problems with giving players agency, the writing, in and of itself, doesn’t feel like it railroads, as I often don’t use everything I write and my focus is more on setting the scene and what mechanics are specific to a scene than in determining how scenes will play out.

Maybe it’s not understanding how to motivate my players to claim agency, but it often feels like I underscript events and leave too many options to players who don’t know what they should be doing next.  Since this hardly makes sense for what aren’t intended to be dungeon crawl campaigns, as more scripting would likely lead to more railroading, this is an area that leads to some/most of my greatest frustration with running campaigns – I want the players to make decisions to guide where the story should go next and, in the absence of player decision, I make decisions, and nobody ends up being happy.

Here is an example of session writing from Session 1 of Gaki Mura that covers only the first half or third of the session, as I tried to interlace project management with notable events during each “month”, yet has most of the actual session notes:

Make first skill roll for one project.

Though not windy, it remains cool in the higher elevations. The days are shorter than they should be and the light of Yakamo is diffused to a degree, almost as if he isn’t all that interested in shining down on your new home.

Yet, insects are prevalent, and you are well aware that not all of them are native to Ningen-do. During the day, they make less noise, or, perhaps, it’s the sound of construction that drowns them out. Workers are constantly moving lumber and other materials. Sawing and hammering is constant. Though the heimin try to remain quiet so as to not disturb the samurai, they still must converse continuously to make progress on construction.

Your council has not enjoyed having meetings in tents, so you are having yet another meeting outside. Two of the spirit realms experts just finished providing their latest report – no progress on closing the portal, tears do not seem to be getting worse but the occasional dangerous gaki has managed to get into Ningen-do through them.

Yoritomo Iru brusquely starts complaining about how “her” troops need better accomodations, that it might be tolerable for the ashigaru but not for bushi.

Roll PER/Investigation (Notice) and Fear (3). Highest roll of 20 or higher notices a 4 inch mosquito-like insect alight on her right shoulder. TN 30, get to react after it impales her neck. TN 35, roll Initiative ,after Fear, to see when the PC acts. The gaki swells to about 2’ long.

Assuming she is not saved from the first attack, her skin rapidly begins turning greener than her Mantis kimono, and she starts vomiting green blood before she collapses. The right spell or Medicine TN 40 might save her after she is infected.

Given an opportunity, the gaki will fly down the main “street”. A peasant woman, a servant by how she is dressed, with her hair coiffed high, stands frozen in its path. You assume she’s too frightened to move. Her name is Sakare, servant of Kitsu Hinan.

After the PCs either deal with the gaki or it flees, a group of soldiers runs up and breathlessly exclaims, “Gaki, samas. Did you see it? Apelike, grey, and legless.”

Someone points. As you look up, you see the creature on top of the frame of [whatever building is part of a new project]. The creature retreats. PER/Investigation (Notice) TN 25 to notice an unidentified man in a kimono but without swords watching you. He ducks behind a tent.

What is highly important to me is (my) “feeling” the world.  Verisimilitude.  Not by describing in excruciating detail how things look, which leads to my getting questions about details of how certain things look and my having to either summon up my mind’s eye or make stuff up that I never thought about.  But, through activity following a logical path.  I think through what NPCs say, not just because I’m a fan of dialogue.  I think through where events are happening.  Background of events and what the movements are of NPCs prior to contact with the PCs.  How NPCs think of each other.

Then, as PCs get involved in events, I think about how the world reacts.  Whether it’s entire sessions’ plots or something smaller, the logic of cause and effect is in my mind.  In other words, I’m thinking of one continuous narrative from prior to the campaign start through how PCs are creating narrative to glimpses into the future.

How much of this gets conveyed to players?  Not as much as it should by how often my players seem bewildered as to what is going on.

I had NPC subplots, a variety of them, going on that didn’t really impact the two major hooks.  What’s interesting to me in looking back at what files I have saved is that I don’t have nearly as in depth setting information as I have for other campaigns.  The short periods of on stage play intermingled with townbuilding rolls may have meant I didn’t spend as much time working on the world.

Naming

Names matter to me.  While I may read a book with the main character named Bink, when it comes to campaigns I’m running where I can mine real world names or translations, I’ll mine like a miner full of mineness.  My L5R games are full of character names that are either picked from a list of actual names for their meaning or are translations of words into Japanese.  With LBS, I use Arabic more, of course.  Actually, used Arabic translations for most recent L5R campaign.

I bring up naming as a campaign prep topic because I actually spend a decent amount of time trying to decide on names, multiply that by the too many NPCs I create.  Much like studying 16th century sailing ships for my Solomon Kane campaign didn’t pay off, I spend a lot of time on things the players don’t care about and not enough time on what they do.  Now, admittedly, I spend time on things I care about, which goes to point out the disconnect in terms of what we enjoy about RPGs.

Hindsight

What sort of preparation would I do differently now for a Gaki Mura campaign?

Player responsibility.  I would focus more on how the players are going to take away the need for me to do everything.  This is easier when the campaign is intended to give players responsibility for worldbuilding, of course.

I would try to limit the NPCs … and probably fail.  Ideas are easy and NPCs are easy ideas.  Main thing I’ve thought about with Fantasy Townies is NPCs.  Of course, an urban setting makes that make more sense, which is maybe why I should try to avoid running such settings – I need to spend far more thought on villains and less on an endless list of NPCs.

I might actually think about how to end the campaign.  The campaign could have easily ended with the closing of the portal, but it continued on and the group was pretty lost as to how to proceed.

I might try to have clearer intelligent villains as many gaki weren’t intelligent foes.

I would try to make the town council aspect of Gaki Mura far more relevant.  It rarely mattered, yet it had immense potential, for one thing creating play beyond just my writing up encounters and NPC hijinks.

Gaki Mura was not a failure.  It just had a predictable collapsed campaign as I still don’t have a good grasp how to end campaigns.  It was an experiment that gives insight into how to do similar style campaigns.  As to how I prepare material for campaigns, it was kind of different in that I didn’t prep hardly anything in terms of townbuilding and didn’t do anywhere near as much background work as I’ve done on other campaigns.

Besides the townbuilding and town council features of the campaign, I could easily see trying to do another campaign where each session is a month at a time.  I think that actually worked fine.

Welcome

I did not write this document in its entirety by myself.  Andy, Joel, Mike, and others helped flesh out the setting background info and the mechanics and made this a much cleaner document than it would have been if I was the only contributor.

Thematics

Gaki Mura is a L5R campaign based around a group of samurai given the stewardship of a town, a town whose purpose is to guard against the armies of the hungry dead. The campaign centers around themes of exploration, construction, investigation, and combat against the remorseless gaki.

Background

Past
Gaki Mura is not the first village to stand on its current location. According to Imperial records the village of Kurugu Haneshi Mura originally stood in this location many years ago. There is no information about its founding, at some point around the middle of the sixth century it appears on the Imperial tax rolls with no other notes. The taxes that it provides are small, exactly what one would expect of a smaller village far away from the main Imperial roads. The road to Kurugu Haneshi Mura was poorly kept once in accordance with the infrequency of its use. In general, to most outside observers Kurugu Haneshi Mura was a dusty village of very little importance that no samurai worth their salt would spend any time in if they could avoid it. It produced nothing but foodstuffs and forest products and imported only the bare essentials. No geographical features of any interest were known to be in the area and a lack of significant shrines meant that the village had very little spiritual significance. Kurugu Haneshi Mura was apparently a backwater assignment for disgraced or incompetent samurai where there was little they could damage.

Present
At some point the fortunes of little Kurugu Haneshi Mura changed, though the actual chain of events that led to this is unknown. What is known is that during the winter several bedraggled peasants came shambling into another nearby village dehydrated and babbling about “horrible monstrosities” and “unimaginable creatures” in Kurugu Haneshi Mura. They told how the village was suddenly attacked in the night by dark figures “with faces like demons” and how they narrowly escaped by fleeing without any of their possessions. Normally peasants like this would be dismissed and punished but the vicious claw-like rending wounds on their body told a different story. One scruffy ronin named Isotu lent credibility to the peasant’s story.

This was enough for the local magistrate to launch an investigation and they set out that very day to find out the fate of Kurugu Haneshi Mura. They didn’t get far before they began to find the remains of those that had fled Kurugu Haneshi Mura, the bodies of peasants dotted the road leading from the doomed village. Their bodies were like grisly mile markers, many of them seemed to have been partially eaten, their bones poked through massive wounds where maggots writhed. This was clearly not the work of the spears and swords bandits, theses bodies had been savagely broken and mutilated. The magistrate began to suspect that this was the work of unnatural creatures from beyond the bounds of Ningen-do. The magistrates suspicions were confirmed when they encountered one of the creatures before they ever got to Kurugu Haneshi Mura. The vicious gaki the magistrate encountered killed all three of the magistrate’s ashigaru before it could be brought down. The magistrate turned back before going further knowing that their duty was to inform the proper authorities.

Within weeks the Imperial authorities responded to the carnage at Kurugu Haneshi Mura. A coalition of troops was quickly cobbled together, including Imperial Legionnaires, Emerald Magistrates and yoriki, local ronin, and miscellaneous clan samurai. They arrived to cleanse Kurugu Haneshi Mura. The battle turned desperate as the troops cut their way to the town’s center and the estate of the local daimyo. Terrible gaki seemed to hide in every house and hut in the village, some appeared as leering corpses, others as incorporeal ghosts draining the life from their victims. Even when the troops made progress through the village more gaki appeared behind the troops. A terrible realization dawned on the commander, this was no minor incursion of vengeful spirits, a portal had been opened to Gaki-do and these demons were still pouring into Ningen-do. In a desperate attempt to save his forces before they were surrounded the commander ordered that his troops pull back to the edge of town and bombard the village with fire. The commander himself charged into the fray to buy as much time as possible. The Imperial Legion Tai-i, Matsu Kawageru, was last seen surrounded by hungry gaki in the center of town.

The fire bombardment worked, in a sense, as the village turned into an inferno, a funeral pyre for the village. The next day the remainder of the force cut down the remaining gaki and located the source of their appearance. The portal seemed to have shrunk somewhat from its original appearance but it showed no signs of disappearing entirely, and the area was permeated with tears between Gaki-do and Ningen-do. Word was sent back to the Jade Champion about what had been found at Kurugu Haneshi Mura and the Imperial authorities began planning how to deal with this new threat.

Future
Toturi I decided that the office of the Jade Champion was to be responsible for dealing with the ongoing threat and the decision was made to bring in as many experts on other spirit realms and found a new village on the site to support a garrison as long as it will take to close the portal. Rather than appoint a single clan or Imperial representative to oversee administration of the village the decision is made to govern the new village by a council (with a nod to the Phoenix). This allows the Jade Champion to avoid becoming enmeshed in interclan politics though it is not particularly pleasing to anyone. Several samurai are given responsibility to oversee different parts of the new town which is renamed Shizuka na Mura. This new council is given the task of providing all necessary support for the closing of the portal, building a new town to support the garrison, and ensuring that any more gaki that get through the portal before it’s closed are dealt with swiftly before they can cause more mayhem.

Mechanics

In this campaign you play one of the samurai appointed to the town council. Something has distinguished you as a excellent resource to have administer the new village. You are probably one of the survivors of the force that burned the original village down, so you would have experience fighting the horrors of Gaki-do.

In your position you have two primary duties, oversee the construction of the town and protect Rokugan from the dangers of Gaki-do. There are troops stationed at the new village to help defend against the gaki but they will need food and supplies to maintain the garrison for the long term, especially over the winter when it will not be possible to import food to the village. To ensure that no one samurai is overly burdened with the duties of managing the town the Jade Champion has decreed that each samurai shall be responsible for different aspects of the village.

These are the designated areas of responsibility, each character should select one and the other roles will be filled by NPCs:
● Minister of Finance –
● Minister of Exploration – Andrew H.
● Minister of Spiritual Affairs – Mike G.
● Jade Magistrate (Law) – Nate F./Tamori Mizuki
● Minister of Arts & Entertainment – Ben N.
● Minister of Education – Joel P.
● Commander of the Garrison – Yoritomo Iru
● Minister of Heimin and Hinin Affairs – Ian

Because the village is not under the control of any one clan, none of the clans are particularly motivated to provide resources to your samurai, after all, it is unlikely that any one clan would receive credit for the success of the village so why would any one clan put forward its resources. However, if a clan’s representative were to distinguish themselves, then certain allocations could be made. This campaign will use a variation of the Way of the Daimyo mechanics where your character’s Honor, Glory, and Status will enable you to garner Imperial and clan support in the form of resources (building materials and labor) or information (access to archives etc.).

Depending on what you choose to build in your section of town, various different events may occur, some good, some bad. In addition depending on what goals you pursue other story avenues may open up.

Other Objectives

These are some possible objectives that your character might want to pursue in addition to their mandate from the Jade Champion. Some of them may also help advance your progress towards your primary task as well. There may be additional rewards based on your own progress along these lines.

Move up the Ladder

Being given this assignment by the Imperial authorities is an excellent stepping stone in the career of an up and coming samurai such as yourself. If you demonstrate aptitude for administration you could move on to a more prestigious position, maybe someplace not infested with Gaki. You’ll need to make sure that your section of town is prosperous and harmonious, generating tax revenue will be important, as well as bringing attention to your success.

Close the Portal

Closing off the realm of Gaki-do from your own is the most important task at hand, everything else relates to this. You’ll probably need information about this portal and other spirit realms in general, this is going to mean access to information and calling on the help of others experienced in matters like these.

Explore the World

Nearly everything that was known about this area was lost when the previous village burned down. Exploring and understanding what is in the area of the village will be important if this village is to have a functioning economy. In addition, the answer to closing the portal may be found in understanding the area around the new village or on the other side of the portal.

Character Build Rules:
● 120 XP (total), No ronin, no non-samurai
● Characters should be able to work well with others (whether they choose to or not)
● Characters start with Status at 2.5 and an additional 1.5 Glory (PCs are technically now part of the newly formed Jade Legion)

Location:
Western Crane Lands, East of Tsuruchi Lands
Mountain summit area through which a pass runs, the previous village was in a cleared area surrounded by forest, with water coming from a well or from a stream along the mountains.

Timeframe:
Early Toturi I reign (1130’s).
Following Kitsu Okura’s fall from grace in 1132, Seppun Sento became Jade Champion.
Each session is roughly a month.

Town Construction Rules:
Each PC gets 5 Construction Points (CP) per session as a base.
Each session, 5 skill rolls can be made to earn CP, each project has 3 skill rolls associated with it. The TN of the roll is 15 for a small project, 20 for a medium project, 25 for a large project. Success earns 2 CP, each raise 1 CP.
Small project requires 5 CP. Medium project requires 20 CP. Large project requires 100 CP.
1 CP = 10 Koku
Experts/specialists can earn CP or produce deductions on projects (reduce costs).
Can spend Void once or use another effect, like a spell, once per session on two different rolls to assist construction.

Town sections have their own “Glory” Ranks, representing popularity, morale, and successfulness, and “Infamy” Ranks, representing disreputable activities, tragedy, or poor morale not due to indifference. Glory/Infamy Rank starts at 0.0 and is only measured in increments of .5 (e.g. 4.5, 7.0).

 


Towns & Taxes

October 26, 2019

The group I’ve been playing Gloomhaven with has been talking about the idea of doing some RPGing.

Now, so far, it has various similarities to the many, many conversations I’ve had with various gamers about what RPG to play.  What system?  What concept?  What type of characters?  When?  Can we not rehash the same argument against XYZ for the N^23 time?

So, thinking about some of the things this group would be more interested in, I came up with a campaign idea.

This group is looking to avoid these things:  grimdark; inflexible rules; murderhoboing or, perhaps a better way to put it, lack of world to interact with.

So, I got to thinking and came up with …

Townies.

Fantasy townies.

Reverse the usual paradigm of the PCs being the murderhobos with the townies being the NPCs with the townies being the PCs and the murderhobos being the NPCs.

You, too, can be a baker.

“But, gee, infinitely wise one and pure studmuffin dude, how do we murder ugly humanoids and loot their bodies if we can’t fireball them?”

This isn’t a setting for heroic adventuring.  This is, well, maybe not the best description, but I wrote “Sitcomy with worldbuilding”.  More of a social game where making sure you have enough yeast and butter to cater the mayor’s party after the party brought back the Yeastbeast and the Butterbinger by accident (who promptly escaped) with their phat lootz.

Embrace the “Base Town” paradigm.

System?

oishD&D.  For the simplicity and the a proposness.  Since I don’t have all of the original books, what qualifies as oD&D for me are the red book and the blue book (thinking the black and whatever don’t matter).

Sure, the mechanics of ordinary people are … limited.  But, you knowim, the mechanics for anything in these books is terserrific.  That’s supposed to be a redeeming feature of rules that allow for 3hp starting PCs – you just stir fry your pepperoni.

Tangentially, the idea that more modern games limit what you can do may sometimes be the case, but it strikes me as overblown that oD&D allows you to do whatever you describe and later games don’t.  That’s DM dependent.

So, mechanically, how would PCs work?  How many HP do they get?  I was thinking average of CON and WIS as a rule that has absolutely nothing to do with oD&D.  After all, occasionally dealing with monsters too unimportant for adventurers to deal with or duels or baking accidents or falling off of roofs while carpentering are all things that go to the heart of HPdom.

Still, combat might be pretty weird.  What about advancement?  5th Level Townsfolk is just not a thing I care about.  Yet, I do want ability advancement (not attribute advancement).

For instance, I would say Alicia Alchemist will be able to generate one potion per day.  That potion could be used by Alicia, but it’s not her job to use her output.  It’s her job to sell/trade her output to make sweet, sweet gold pieces which get piled into her multilevel townhouse with a nice view of the river and her designer vial collections.

But, what does 2nd Level Alchemist do?  More potions?  Boring and broken.  Choose potions instead of random potions?  While very D&D to generate randos at L-1, how does this scale to Level 3?

Of course, could just not have Levels for the townies.  Even Spearchucker Selena, who does accompany NPC adventurers at times and comes back to town to relate her stories/read from her journals, could forever be a L-0 hireling who is more to carry 10′ poles, wineskins, torches than to survive being slimed.  This is limiting, though, when it comes to NPC advancement and how a NPC might start as a 1st Level loser and eventually be a 10th Level lord.  Spearchuckering for higher ups should require some level of improved combat competence.

Could do it as a series of feats/edges/ads/boons/other words that mean the same thing.  Selena takes “I Spear Gut” with its +2 to hit and +1 damage with spearing.  Belinda Baker takes “Advanced Presentation” which gives +2 to decorating cakes.

Yes, this means you aren’t really playing D&D.  You are playing T&T, no, not that T&T – a troll would wreck the town.

So, I tried reading through the red book and blue book to mine concepts for townies.  I know, humor.

One of my favorite things to do these days when reading D&D and AD&D books is to read the examples.  In the red book, by itself, two characters die … one before the combat example, the other in the combat example.  Now, maybe the players were playing multiple characters, but this would tend to indicate how utterly useless these mechanics are for any sort of play I would have any interest in.  Sure, I played something like seven characters in one RuneQuest dungeon, but that might be an indicator of how little interest I had in what was going on.

AD&D 1e DMG has a 2nd Level, let’s say the A’s are PCs, PC bite it in the combat example while the PH has two possible PC kills.

Anyway, this is why I can’t take the systems too seriously.  How much of the PH is taken up with spell descriptions?  What if you don’t cast spells?  Meanwhile, can you truly read through the DMG’s explanation of flying movement?

So, the town will be in a mountainous area, near a major river that allows goods to come from upriver while letting there be trade with a major city at the sea downriver.  The town exists to support adventurers, so it needs outlets for having massive jewels turned into magic items or vice versa.  The town will be human dominated even if I have to suffer through the existence of demi-humans.  No mining.  That’s dwarflands.  It’s the town where your sages hang out and your mapmakers and your Identifiers and your healers and your curse removers.

Nearby are three “dungeons”.

The Shallows

Your typical humanoids plus loser undead milieu.  Cultists love to hang here.  The occasional ogre or whatever.  Cave network that doesn’t get too esoteric.  This is where fresh out of mechwarrior school, 3hp magic-users Sleep.

The Misery

More esoteric.  More dangerous.  More exotic.  A sculpted dungeon of the odd lesser demon, giants, golems, hydras, higher level undead, multiples of trolls.  This is where the mid-level adventurers prove they have the HP and magic items to get rich.

The “Lair”

At different times, this is The Lair of the Lich King, The Lair of Larry the Lion Slayer, The Lair of Lilith, or whatever.  This is where the way overpowered adventurers prove they have the saving throws and degenerate magical abilities and probably psionics as well to loot.  This is an ancient, prehistorical city swallowed by the AEIOUrth millenia previously where old, rather tentacley gods once held sway and will again.  This is where the ultimate storyline – The Invasion of Base Town – will originate.

Meanwhile, Innkeeper Iliana has two interviews this morning to fill in the role of skanky waitress as the last one ran off with the bard, I mean, instrument-playing Thief.  Funny how candidate number one’s reference letter from the God-Emperor of Atlantis seems to misdraw a bunch of Atlantean pictographs …  The Society of Sturdy Backpacks Guild couldn’t possibly be trying to inject a spy into yet another base town … could they?

Of course, troupe play style could be used where players play adventurers and homebodies, but that’s a different concept that may appeal more to a different group.  Hard to say.  Lacerating & Looting is something pritnear everyone is in favor of, at least some of the time.


The Vast Valley Of Sinister

September 15, 2019

Sure, I played Gloomhaven again and the Sentient boardgame.

Sentient comes across to me as elegant but dry.  Math is something I see a surprising number of gamers struggle with, so I figure some will get turned off by how much number manipulation there is.  Reminds me of playing Splendor in that it’s about acquiring synergistic cards.  I’d play it again, but I don’t know how much I’d want to keep playing it as it seems fairly repetitive just from one play.

But, that’s not the inspiration for today.

I’ve been watching a bunch of The Big Valley episodes this weekend due to a marathon.  Yes, the 1965-1969 western.

Top things I recall from watching some episodes when I was young (some episodes, wasn’t like other shows where I watched a lot of episodes when I was young)?

Young Linda Evans.

Well, actually, Lee Majors being in the show before his Six Million Dollar Man stint (interestingly, I watched a couple of Six Million Dollar Man episodes in recent months) was more memorable as Heath had way more going on than the orphanage loving, dancing driven Audra.

Tangent time (TM).  There were some really good looking people in shows from the ’60s.  May seem like an obvious comment, but whether it’s how shows were filmed or some other aesthetics related reason, the beautiful people from the ’60s stand out more in various cases from the beautiful people of the ’70s, ’80s, etc.

Miss Barbara Stanwyck.  Not that the youthful me had any idea about her movie career or that she was such a big movie star in the ’40s.  The white hair and strong show presence made her more notable than Nick and Jarrod.

Then, a dropoff to the other sons.  Well, other sons besides Eugene.  I had either forgotten or never knew that Eugene Barkley was a Barkley boy.

What I don’t recall at all from this show I didn’t watch a lot of was how sinister their world was.

I kind of have in mind that westerns from that age were more positive and black and white.  I watched more Bonanza than The Big Valley, I think, but I don’t really remember Bonanza very well, so it may have been darker than I thought, too.  The Wild Wild West was, I thought, far darker in tone than the norm.  Though, I watched a good amount of TWWW in my 20s, so it’s hard to remember what I thought when I watched it at a younger age.  Interesting that they both ran the same years, though …

According to the internet, in all of it’s pristine perfection of precision, the reason TBV got dropped was the desire of TV execs to phase out westerns for other stuff.

Anyway, sinisterism.  These episodes aren’t the easiest thing to watch as my nostalgic interests are in watching comfort shows like shows about WW2 prison camp prisoners who occasionally impersonate Hitler, et al.

Now, having the rather reserved Lee Majors actually speak lines of dialogue is kind of interesting.  But, the show just seems harsh on mains and guest stars.

Finally, we get to how this relates to gaming.

So, obviously, you want to challenge PCs in a RPG.  Now, dungeon crawling doesn’t come across as terribly sinister unless you do insane stuff like use level drain effects … or rip out the eyes of a PC … or have a PC sold into sex slavery (if curious, a male PC) for some food.  Not that those last two were in a dungeon crawling campaign, but I digress.

TBV had a seemingly large amount of episodes with serious challenges.  Sure, there are some weird endings, like when a kid gets orphaned but is happy at the end of the episode or where science saves the day in a rather hokey way.

So, I gets to thinkin’ ’bout how a western campaign would be run.  Fistfights and fast draw.  Ahem.  Fistfights & Fast Draw (TM) will now be something I totally passed on to posterity as a game name, a campaign name, a defining term for a genre of entertainment, and whatever else I won’t get paid to slap the term on to.

And, young Linda Evans (or Dynasty Linda Evans).

Anyway, these shows that I just kind of think of as being formulaic and similar to each other probably aren’t so much either … except in those cases where some show was.  Can mine them thar T-V for gold.

But, would it work?

Would what work?

Would it work to try to steal a lot of ideas for sessions of a campaign from TBV or another western?

Jarrod’s legalin’ seems like a NPC role.  Nick and Heath do the bulk of the F&FDin’.

Guest star William Shatner before he Kirks?  I found it funny how people term him young in 1965.  Would have been around 34 years old when he guest starred in TBV.

Martin Landau as a scuzzy Mexican friend of the Barkleys?  One worries about the parody factor.

I quite liked TWWW, but, then, I quite liked James Bond stuff and always found Robert Conrad’s characters appealing.  Now, that show got fairly ludicrous at times where it mixed casual death with silliness.

I think it would work for the obvious reason that the reason you play a western RPG is because you liked westerns, for a lot of people the westerns that were on T-V back in the day.

But, as seemingly with so many other genres, need discipline.  Star Wars fails so often (in my play) because there’s no discipline when it comes to RPGing it.  Not coherent thought put into Force use versus doing other stuff.

I could see quickly spiraling out of control if you overplayed the illegitimate son PC’s hang ups about joining an existing family or if you got too much into economic politics of being an obscenely rich family with fairly liberal leanings (odd in a way due to Ruby Stevens supposedly being rather conservative, but we are talking about the late ’60s).

Then, what do you do about guns?  I mean, for any western campaign, what do you do about guns?

Oh, I’m sure systems deal with it.  A 7th Sea philosophy (with hopefully a more intuitive mechanic) of superficial wounds from taking bullets in various locations would be an assumed way to go, with mooks being mowed down like, um, six-shooter fodder.  I haven’t looked at how Western Hero or Deadlands or whatever deals with it as I don’t often RPG westerns.

One thing about TBV is that the episodes I’ve recently watched aren’t all about the same thing.  Oh, sure, there are similar themes of moral ambiguity and family relationships and similar scenes of punchin’ and ridin’ and shootin’ in the vicinity of someone.  Don’t want a game to just keep repeatin’ the same thangs unless of course you are dungeon crawlin’ or whateverin’.  Too much bouncin’ ’round, however, smacks of how I have a hard time focusin’ on just one idear long ‘nough for them thar players to be feelin’ all comfortable like.

Discipline.  Yup, that’s what this blog has in … spades.


BattleTech – Arms Race 6

August 24, 2019

First explicit use of round by round scoring to allocate VPs.  Still doesn’t define how you determine a winner in a round, later scenarios sometimes do that.  We may not have known at this point what we considered important and just judgment called it.  I do remember at least once judgment calling a round based on amount of damage dealt.

While not every scenario used my faction and Gary’s faction (this scenario may have us on the same side, maybe the mercs are just somebody else), having a setting provided context to when I was doing things like playing non-player forces.

In the next installment of my lazily drawing upon past brillianceosity, I’ll post a scenario involving the Virtuous Rangers!!

Arms Race 6 – 2014/7/6

The Free Worlds League has been encouraged to take action against House Liao. The scheme is a combination of punishment and trying to use up Liao mech resources under a guise of a political insult along the border that cannot be ignored between the two nominal allies.

The punishment raid of FWL forces against the planet of Shiba went off as planned with a good amount of armor and a few garrison mechs destroyed, but the response didn’t. Rather than send in some of their new designs, just recently made possible by LosTech, Liao has sent a relief force of older mechs to supplement the remaining defenders.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries have been given orders to target the FWL forces and ignore the Liao forces (if possible).

The defender is the FWL heavy lance of the Atrean Hussars, who receive +1 Initiative and may “Force the Initiative”, gaining a bonus from the net destruction of mechs from the previous round.

The attacker consists of two Liao garrison mechs and two heavy mercenary mechs. Liao armor isn’t mobile enough to keep up with the mechs, and the other lances of the FWL are engaging lighter mechs elsewhere. Given enough time, Liao can rally atmospheric fighters and armor to tie up FWL forces until additional Liao mechs can jump in to the system. Due to the lack of cohesion between the forces, the merc and Liao mechs cannot finish movement less than 4 hexes away from each other, unless one of the mechs has fallen or is immobile.

The map setup is 1.5 maps with the defender on the board, within three hexes of the edge and the attacker coming from two opposite corners (3 hexes of corner).

Each round, the skirmish is scored as either a draw or as advantage one side or the other. One VP is possible for each round. Either side can retreat a mech off their side of the board. That mech cannot return. The FWL cannot retreat a mech until at least one of their mechs has been incapacitated or destroyed. For each FWL mech that retreats, the FWL receives -1 to Initiative.

Rounds (10)
Attacker VPs:
+2 – Each destroyed/incapacitated enemy mech.
+1 – Each retreating enemy mech.

Defender VPs:
+1 – Destroyed/incapacitated Liao mech.
+2 – Destroyed/incapacitated merc mech.

Gunnery Pool: 12 (FWL)/12 (attacker)
Piloting Pool: 15 (FWL)/15 (attacker)

FWL: Rifleman, Orion, Grasshopper, Archer (275 tons)
Liao: Vindicator, Catapult (110)
Merc:

*** Bonus Section ***

I guess I should at some point post the alt history beginnings of the Arms Race campaign.

Plus, increases word count and everyone knows how important high word count is to blogging.  Every wan.

Arms Race History

3028

Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner announce their wedding plans, “I give you … the Draconis Combine!” Rather than the odd going in separate directions of canon, Davion and Steiner both assault their mutual enemy with the intent of controlling most of the Inner Sphere once the Combine is part of the Federated Commonwealth. With no enemy at their “backs”, they can easily crush the remaining, inferior houses.

While horrible for the Draconis Combine, this has led to a number of opportunities. For the Free Worlds League, their allies desperately need any supplies and technology. It has also enabled the FWL to push against the Lyran Commonwealth. The Capellan Confederation has made what efforts it could to support the Combine, but other than sending McCarron’s Armored Cavalry and certain other units, there was not much the CC could offer. It did give Liao an opportunity to improve things internally, and the demand for supplies has improved their financial situation, as well as the relocation of numerous corporate facilities out of the primary line of fire.

However, the FWL and CC alliance has suffered from the FedCom’s focus on the DC. The FWL doesn’t feel like the CC is offering enough to prevent the collapse of the DC nor is pushing hard enough on the Davion front. For the moment, the FWL and CC need each other, but, if somehow the FedCom invasion of the DC collapses, both might hope to strengthen ties with the DC individually and be able to return to fighting between each other.

The Periphery has mixed views of the Fourth Succession War. Some among the Periphery look forward to the DC collapsing, as it has always been assholeish towards everyone and the administrative issues with controlling 70% of the Inner Sphere will be extraordinary. Others fear the collapse of a house that helps to keep things in balance, figuring that the Periphery will eventually get the FedCom’s focus. Periphery powers on the other side of the galaxy are trying to gauge whether it’s better to work with the FWL and CC or against. Many clandestine moves are being made to build military force within the Periphery.

Comstar, of course, was not remotely happy at the FedCom’s move and has been doing everything possible to prop up the DC. To appear neutral, many backoffice moves have been made to get more forces into the DC as well as numerous assassination attempts have been made. In other words, much of the effort made in the canon 3030’s had to be done in the late 3020’s.

While Federated Suns forces have been effective at taking DC worlds, the Lyran front has been more mixed. The historical ineptitude of Lyran command along with the Lyran inclination to defense along with trying to work with FS forces has led to more modest progress. Numerous merc units flooding in backed by Marik or Comstar c-bills have blunted the combined invasion, as well. Many of the crazy/psychotic commanders among the DC have been killed, where greener troops have been thrown in front of the FedCom military machine in a war of attrition.

3030

Technological advances in mech components have started to reappear. Some of this is due to leaks in the Comstar technological advantage, whether by pressing Star League era mechs into service without complete retrofitting to inferior technology or espionage. Both the FWL and CC have had an opportunity to research weapon system advances. Oddly, it’s the CC that has had the most luck, some believe with some help from the Periphery. The FWL is both the economic engine keeping the DC from collapse as well as the house best situated to attack its neighbor, so it has been too busy to develop superior weapon systems.

The recovery of the ability to produce the LB 10-X autocannon is Liao’s greatest triumph and something that it is hoping to hold on to long enough to mass produce new mechs that can take advantage of the superior weapon system. The Cataphract design is Liao’s primary military project, with the house hoping that both mercenary units passed to the DC and both neighbors ignoring it give it the time to not only produce the new design but produce it in such numbers that the CC can finally strike effectively at the FS. Meanwhile, more and more of Liao’s numerous UrbanMechs are being refitted with the LB ACs, with Liao figuring that it’s unlikely that such mechs will get scavenged, especially when the refitted mechs are part of a substantial planetary garrison.

Enter the Red Lions. Where numerous other merc units are looking at the opportunity for pay and salvage on the DC fronts, the well-funded Red Lions have been poking around in the CC backyard. What drives the unit is unclear, with too few having time to worry about such things.

Future

Technology should spread. How the CC can best take advantage of a short term technological advantage is unclear. Already, the FWL is suspicious of their allies and inclined to blame their allies for what is going on with the DC. The holding back of technological advances may end the alliance between the two weakest houses.

Comstar’s involvement with the DC may have similar repercussions to their involvement in canon in later years or may have different repercussions. Whether the DC survives largely intact or survives at all is unknown. Assassinations can always turn events, as can the crazy or lack of crazy of the inbred leaders of the various houses.

The Periphery is a great unknown at the moment but will likely explode on to the scene to try to reshape things one way or the other. When that will occur is unclear. The powers ending up fighting each other rather than allying to deal with a reshaped Inner Sphere is always a possibility.


Capture The Enrapture

May 12, 2019

Where to begin?

In the absence of getting you all fired up with some hot take, let’s begin with this post’s Ultimate Combat! booster’s wisdom.

Like a spectre she avoided each attack, to win the gold untouched.

My perspective is that Vampire: The Eternal Struggle/Jyhad has by far the best flavor text of any CCG.  Quotes from this world have more gravitas IMO than game related flavor text.  This flavor text starts off kind of cool but becomes rather mundane.

In terms of the card, very expensive but, barring action card counters, far more reliable than various other Limited Edition action card defenses.  Definitely desirable in limited play, and gold belt cards often aren’t really that good due to how many are Environment cards or just some fat technique that you use only once because you don’t have Favorite Technique or Instant Replay in your deck.

A few great masters can drain the essence of life from their opponent, to gain vitality for themselves.

How much does this card owe its existence to Magic?  We are likely to never know, but it’s not only psychic martial arts, a feature of UC! that gets it away from concentrating on real world martial arts fighting, it also has a different font size for its ability due to how complicated its text is and works differently in multiplayer play and the flavor text sounds very much like a Black Sorcery or whatever.

Ah, shrinking text to fit on a card because the designers/developers thought cards with lots of text are a good idea.  A topic that … I’ll probably never use as the thrust of a post but will no doubt bring up since I had to shrink some card text to fit in our latest playtest versions of Traveller CCG cards.  Oh, wow, I’m so clever, I just made my prediction come true.

This is a pack you would far more like to get in a sealed event as Conditioning/Knowledge is heavily featured not only in the two cards above but with the better techniques in the pack.

So, Arrowverse.  Okay, don’t beat me to death or possess me or mirror me away.  I’ll make this relatively quick.  Legends of Tomorrow may be more workplace sitcom than superhero show and may have gone so campy that it isn’t as great as episodes that balanced stuff better, but it’s so much better than the other shows because it’s fun and workplace sitcoms can be enjoyable when they involve time travel, magic, “smashing”, etc.  Arrow just feels like Arrow has felt ever since season two and that’s not a good thing.  I agree that Flash’s villains aren’t compelling, but, then, only one ever has been.  Get thee to a crossover!  Where all of these shows become so much more fun (except LoT, since LoT is far crazier outside the crossovers).

Origins, Gen Con, KublaCon.  All approaching.  I’m running Traveller events at Origins and Gen Con.  Sunday in both cases.  Be there or be rectangular.  Oh, I’m also running events at KublaCon, but that’s not as newsworthy.

I signed up for one event for Origins in prereg.  I glommed on to other forumites’ True Dungeon runs since I’m flying solo at Origins.  I’ll generic the other V:TES tournaments I’m planning on playing.  Gen Con, we just came up with a rough plan for Team Blow (“we don’t suck, we blow”, no, this one isn’t for the ladies, this is actually clever).

The plan doesn’t give me a lot of free slots, even though my HoR footprint is expected to decline significantly.  My TD footprint might increase, see how things turn out with glomming on to forum runs.  Glomming – I feel like Stephen Donaldson after he started trolling his readers.

I had an idea for a post.  I used my mirror match idea for a Developer’s Corner article I sent off to Jeff for the Traveller site.  It predated my watching Miami Connection last night – more about how the songs need to be in our bard’s repertoire than in being a cheesy, weird martial arts movie starring Michael Phelps.  T-shirts are available online.

What was that idea?  I was thinking about something that related to RPGs.

Oh, maybe it was cast size.  Not just Arrowverse having a problem with way, way overblown cast sizes.  Got into a conversation about which Star Trek was the best.  I am of a different generation, not a next generation but more like a prior generation, than some misguided whippersnappers I game with.  TNG is not remotely as good as OT.  OT wasn’t like half spatial/temporal anomalies and OT saw constant beaming down to planets to encounter … humans on other planets.  Phasers were used to shoot rocks a lot.  Anyway.  I was hot-take-persecuted for claiming TNG’s cast was too big.  I had to be reminded Geordi was on the show as I rattled off a bunch of characters who should have been minor characters but weren’t.  I had to look up how to spell Geordi.  I’m not a Geordi hater.  I’m just not into big casts on my adventure shows.

Which brings us back to gaming.  Yeah, I have to mention how I create too many NPCs when I GM my own stuff.  Keep the focus on a manageable number of characters those GMs who do the same things I do.  Let’s look at HoR4.  In HoR2, there was the Toritaka, the gaijin, the Scorpion seeking redemption, the ronin whose character sheet was far cooler than his presence in mods.  Does HoR4 have more NPCs than HoR2?  I don’t know.  It certainly doesn’t have much in the way of memorable ones, so, even if it doesn’t have more, it “has” more.  Focus on a manageable number of characters.  We aren’t going to like them all.  I didn’t look forward to babysitting the Toritaka yet again.  But, it’s okay to have some we don’t care for if there are ones we are given a chance to care for.

OT – where the big two, big three, big two plus others gave us characters I liked.  They didn’t have to have character arcs.  They needed to phaser rocks.

Which brings up another RPG related topic – phasering rocks.  Well, it’s more of a show topic, but we will apply it to gaming.  Do entertaining stuff.  John Carter is not a deep character.  Ignoring the movie, which got his personality totally wrong, JC is all about swordfighting against as many swordfighters as possible for as long as possible.  Plus, he likes to rescue hot chicks.  Yet, give me that sort of “character” over “complex” characters who struggle to get to doing cool stuff.  I don’t need redemption stories or overcoming one’s flaws stories or whatever else passes for “entertainment”.  I need Goku absorbing some of his Spirit Bomb to achieve Ultra Instinct.

Doing cool stuff makes the character cool.  Yeah, I know that sounds weird coming from me, as an example of that could be D&D style play where you don’t give a crap who your PC is beyond the character sheet as you Fireball giants.  But, actually, my issues with D&D style play aren’t Fireballing giants.  Giants deserve it for having higher melee damage outputs than I do.  When our Conan characters took on giants, it was cool.  We may not have Fireballed any of them, though, actually, I think we did fireball at least one either through Defensive Blast or some alchemical weapon.  There was a story, and I envisioned us rescuing hot chicks while we were murdering poor, make-your-massive-damage-save giants.  We weren’t just looking to loot their caves, which is not what I rate as doing cool stuff.

TLROO:  Rocks need phasering.  [What?  Sshhhh …]


Dismay

January 21, 2019

This is just perfect.  I’m going to use an Ultimate Combat! booster to provide context to what I view as a failed RPG campaign.  See if you grasp the cleverness.

First of all, because even though I explain little as a GM, I will explain references I use in this blog, Dismay was a pretty popular card.  I am inclined to run Shake Up more than Dismay as killing two cards in play has … wait for it … a bigger effect than killing one.

I considered various flavor text from this booster as defining themes of this post.

So much pain from such a small twist.

No, not a small twist.

To kick twice before returning to mother earth is devastating.

Well, this should be the theme of every post.

The school of experience is a great teacher, though the tuition is often quite high.

Two problems with this.  One, it’s not actually on theme, once I get to the point.  Two, boring.

Early attacks oft repeated add up.

Of all of the flavor text in the 13 options (there are cards with the same flavor text) available to me in this pack, I think this sums things up best.

Or, put another way, early mistakes repeated oft add up.  Or, put another way, repeated mistakes oft add up early.

My current assessment is that I committed a well known, rather egregious, and one would think easily avoided sin given that I know more than the average coati.  I didn’t allow the PCs to be the stars.  While I often have pieces of a metaplot going into a campaign that I build as I go along, in this case, I had a metaplot from the start due to having written the basis for Rokugan 1600 over five years ago.  Rather than have the PCs have their piece of the action, the PCs got dragged around from idea to idea.

Let various deconstruction that won’t encompass everything continue.

Ideas 

My assessment is that I do well with ideas.  Ideas are easy.  As I’ve said before, the problem is execution on those ideas.  Here’s the other problem that was a core problem with R.1600 – you can’t just keep coming up with more and more ideas.  Besides the obvious of providing more resolution, I can understand how players get frustrated when there feels like too many things to care about.  And, even if they focus on something, there are wasted ideas that the party never has time for.

A thought came to me.  Ideas as a player can be helpful.  Should be helpful to GMs.  Rather than having the GM have the burden of being responsible for everything involving characters, the world, play, the player coming up with ideas provides direction and personal engagement for the player (assuming the ideas ever get used).  I keep thinking that I’m completely different as a GM and a player, which is true in a way but probably not true in another way.  I keep considering possibilities as a player to engage me and my PC, and that’s good.  Whether it was fictions written for campaigns, characters referenced in those fictions that didn’t even exist prior, activities for my character(s) to pursue – that’s stuff to build on a campaign.  As a GM, I’m not disciplined.  I can’t just run with something to a straightforward conclusion but keep riffing on ideas with more ideas.

Structure

Having a preconceived story that set up the campaign only likely made things worse than usual with taking an idea and trying to make PC activity fit around it in ways the players weren’t interested in.  I made a comment after yesterday’s session where I felt like trying to reset or reboot on R.1600 was not a good idea with this group due to there being too much baggage.  In a way, due to not being better at GMing, this campaign started with baggage.

If you look in the 4e corebook for L5R, you will see a number of adventure styles listed.  Location-Based, Open World, Character-Driven, Episodic, The Epic, Relationship Mapping.

While listed as adventure types, let’s take them as campaign types for this exercise.  Which style was R.1600?

I, the GM, am not sure.  Drops glaive-guisarme.

I’m very accommodating.  As a player, that makes it easy for me to play in things, even if I don’t like them.  As a GM, that means I lack a coherent campaign vision.  Odyssey talks about writing things down.  We did write some things down early on but didn’t maintain a manifesto.

The players were perfectly happy to play nobodies in a war setting set in Rokugan.  Playing a nobody doesn’t interest me, so I didn’t realize that and how that would inform play.  By nobody, by the way, I don’t mean playing a peasant or something, I mean that there’s no recognition from on high as to who the PCs are.  BTBTW, it occurs to me that this is yet another reason I don’t engage much with dungeon crawling nor do I find random death remotely interesting – I want my PCs to matter to the greater world.

Getting sidetracked, I wonder how I would feel about my PC being locally important but unimportant in the grander scheme of things.  For instance, let’s take a Vampire game where my PC is a primogen or whatever but that nobody beyond the city gives a double eagle.  Would that interest me?  I don’t think so.  Not to say I would actively be annoyed by such a setup, I just don’t think I would care as much about what goes on if that’s the grandest ambition.  Of course, not everything is about Glory/Fame/recognition/whatever, just that I would find it less interesting if the world didn’t extend beyond me more greatly.

Not only did I not have a clear idea on which type of campaign this was, but, obviously, how would the players if the GM wasn’t even clear?  And, why didn’t we clear this up to begin with?

I keep thinking about how one of my players in a previous campaign viewed that campaign as a sandbox when I didn’t and how I may be inclined to play that is more player driven than either I or the players expect.  This is a repeated error.  That’s kind of the point of this post – I keep repeating errors, which I’ll come back to.

Speaking of structure, I just blogged about how the season structure was an attempt to provide more discipline and more ability to rechart course.  It didn’t help because …

What Does A Campaign Mean To You?

This was a question asked after the session as we had talked for quite a while about what the go forward plan is.

That highlighted something.  Very few of my campaigns have gone on very long and even fewer have had endings.  When I look at campaigns that were most meaningful to me, it was longer ones, generally, and, in particular, two that had endings even if one of the endings was scripted out.

No, that wasn’t what got highlighted.  What got highlighted is that I think of campaigns as something that persist indefinitely.  I may intellectually understand that campaigns are intended to have a resolution, but endings aren’t my thing.  I noted that I prefer TV to movies.  TV has more sessions and has no clear end.  I really enjoyed book series like the Spellsinger series because it didn’t have to end.  Even Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogies left open the possibility for more.  Elric may have had an end, but, then, there were more stories.

So, having a plan to end a campaign with points where a campaign could end is anathema to what I am actually interested in.  Does it bother me when, say, HoR campaigns end?  Not really, but, then, HoR is something odd, and, even when the campaigns do end, I don’t feel much resolution.  In my mind, The Princess Police doesn’t feel like it ended, and, by using material from it, I extended its life through R.1600, seemingly to the detriment of my players.

So, this may be another reason I enjoy convention one-offs more than much of my campaign play – no expectation of a campaign.  The focus isn’t on my PC or my storytelling.  The focus is on doing stuff in the moment.

So, would I be interested in a seven part series of adventures?  A 20 part?  If I didn’t think of it as a campaign (ironic given that military or political campaigns do kind of need to end).  A significant problem, methinks, with fixed length campaigning is that I don’t have any reason to care about my character.  Oh, just like a one-shot, I may care about what I do with my PCs  or what happens, but I don’t feel linked to a particular character.  So, I won’t care about character advancement (see my Ide Courtier in the marriage campaign we played) and I won’t care about having a personal story arc.

Now, how important is advancement?  I’m not sure.  I know for many that it’s hugely important, and I’ve played HoR at times where all the campaign meant was mechanically advancing a character sheet.

But, what I really enjoy is having a personal story arc.  Of course that’s possible with fixed length campaigns.  That’s possible with any number of sessions including a single session, as I’ve had a number of cases of feeling like my PC (that I didn’t create) had a story arc in a one-off.  It’s just that I view the focus on limited duration RPing to be elsewhere to where I don’t expect to be able to feel the character in the same way.  For example, it can take a varying number of sessions to feel a PC, and, in some cases, you need to change PCs to have a proper campaign fit.  If you don’t have a fixed number of sessions, you may never get anywhere as the campaign just stops being played, but a known length to a campaign means you have to plan something that doesn’t necessarily make sense to plan.  In other words, you can be forcing something that maybe shouldn’t be forced.

Better groups probably handle these things better than worse groups.  I don’t know.  I guess I forced a story arc at the end of HoR3 (for my alt character!), and that made that campaign more satisfying (since it was not remotely satisfying with regards to my main character).

Then, I haven’t been involved in much fixed length campaigning, so ignorance may lead to unfounded concerns.  Yet, I know that when I play home games of limited sessions, I tend not to care about my characters at all.  The last such venture, with Savage Worlds Spelljammer, I know I didn’t advance my PC for ages and don’t even recall whether I ever advanced my PC, though my githyanki did get to help murder a mind flayer who was also his employer, so there was some personal achievement.

Hobgoblinism

Wisdom is making good decisions.  To keep repeating the same mistakes of firing up a new RPG campaign only to get frustrated by how things don’t work out as envisioned, even with initial character creation where I can see that my players aren’t on the same wavelength I am before we actually start playing, is making bad decisions.

Sure, I have enjoyed world building for campaigns like FSTH or R.1600 or even Gaki Mura, which players have praised after it petered out.  But, my experiences with repeated problems only remind me as I try anew of past frustrations, and I get really prone, entangled, dazed, and fatigued when players are noticeably unhappy.

Gaming is about fun activities.  Now, those activities aren’t limited to play and not every single activity is going to be fun, but there should be net fun.  Just like there are nigh infinite deck building options with CCGs, there are nigh infinite possibilities for electing to do fun things over doing things that aren’t the fun.

I stopped haranguing card floppers to flop more because I realized that not everyone enjoys flopping as much as I.  I think I stop trying to run campaigns.  That I mostly want to world build/expand works when I’m a player and is too little of what players need out of a GM.  I can see running one-offs at various times for various possible reasons.  I can see running someone else’s game (that’s what HoR GMing is), though guest GMing in campaigns has worked out really badly when I made up my own adventures, so I need to make sure I’m running someone else’s adventure.

Meanwhile, what I should do is be a player more often.  Get back to playing in local convention RPG sessions, for instance.  I can see how HoR structure has had influences on me that could be limiting my perspective.


Seasonality – Winter

January 19, 2019

Winter is … is … wait, Cali doesn’t have Winters, just cooler times where water may occasionally fall out of the sky or may not.

Last weekend, I ran season four’s finale for Rokugan 1600.  I’m not sure what you have in mind when you hear that, but every season so far has had three core narrative sessions, and a complete randomfest of additional side sessions due to having only two players at times.

Season one had one side session.  Season two had a tack on session for one player.  Season three had one side session that may have not been intended as a side session, certainly intended to include one of the players who didn’t play.  Season four has had three side sessions and is going to have a fourth set after the finale.

I didn’t realize how unlikely side sessions were earlier on.  I kept thinking of how players couldn’t make every session, but I ran two sessions from season two without all of the players.  Season two was kind of another intro season, as season one was supposed to be, but it was a stranger intro because I inserted the new players into a different part of the world and had them doing stuff that didn’t intersect with season one virtually at all.

So, R.1600 has been disjointed.  But, when I think about its history, makes a lot more sense to me why.  So, we get to season three and the campaign seems to finally feel like a war campaign, with warry things going on and less focus on the romantic adventures of NPCs.

And, then, season four went in a different direction.  Rather than sticking with the field ops of season three, where the party was much more on its own and focused on counteracting enemy army movements, season four was all about “The Meeting”.  The Meeting meant something to me in the grand scope of the war effort, but it just felt like getting pulled into some not terribly relevant to the PCs stuff, with some Hare-brained schemes.  I think having the many side sessions helped with distracting the players from the war efforts, though I would say the first side session feels grossly underexamined by the players.

Anyway, we talked after the finale and it became much clearer that the group interest was having more campaign like season three, at least in terms of types of activities and feel, especially fewer NPCs everywhere.  Also, there’s a player decided direction for what season five will be about.

I’m hardly surprised that people’s expectations differ from the reality; that’s pretty normal in my experiences.  What was more notable to me was how little time there was to actually establish a “normal” for the campaign.  There still isn’t a normal, where I tend to be interested in epic fantasy where volcanoes erupting wipe out enemy bases off stage or romantic fantasy.  My remembrances of Princess Police side sessions was more “someone shows up claiming that a village is under attack by bandits” where there was limited narrative relevance.  It was more about straightforward investigations or combats, and I liked those sessions, in general, quite a bit.  My side sessions often try to expand upon the setting and/or relate in some important way with what’s going on without there being a major confrontation with the noble invaders, er, I mean the non-human abominations that are invading Rokugan.

Maybe the better thing would have been to have a discussion after season three where I would have been clearer with how the players thought that was the norm that we should be striving for.

The thing is is that Rokugan is diverse and finely detailed.  I actually like the setting even given some things I really dislike about it, and one of the things I like most about the setting is that places are defined.  So, I want to have the party visit different locations that aren’t just some village out in the boonies as that forces me to at least a half-assed degree to come up with details about where the party is.

Maybe I should have put forward “Hey, keep in mind that this is the third side session this season and that I’m trying something different than what I view main sessions to be about, so get ready to … dance, dance, dance.”  Or, maybe I should lengthen seasons so that side sessions don’t overwhelm a season.  Though, I like planning for three sessions each season as it pushes me to be more focused and more concise, something I at no time ever have any problem with in my life due to my core conciseisityness, but also means we can refresh the campaign and send it in a different direction faster rather than get lost in something no one wants to play.

So, why doesn’t this post have a L5Rish title?

Well, I also have been playing Shadowfist recently, and I would make mention of how we actually got two full games in last Thursday in our threeish hour block.  Actually, the week before, we played a five player and a four player and finished two games, but I was borrowing decks from another player as I had the wrong deck boxes in my bag, so I was playing far more threatening decks.

This session, I played an Architects/Hand deck that tries to combo something.  Instead of comboing, which would have been entertaining, I put out two Anomaly Spirits (yes, Architects/Hand with Anomaly Spirits) and it was deemed I was “weaponizing” our house rules (that encourage additional columns heavily).  Someday, I may reveal the intrinsic brilliance of this deck that apparently has no way to generate power so can’t afford to do much more than play a 2 or 3 cost character once a turn.

So, that brings me to yet another perfect deck.

Name: Iron Gift
Faction: Dragon/Guiding Hand
Size: 45

Dragon Cards (8)
Characters (6)
4x Junkyard Boys
1x Khofesh
1x Seamus

Events (2)
1x Golden Comeback
1x Never Surrender

Guiding Hand Cards (10)
Characters (8)
1x Bao Ling
2x Buddhist Bellringer
1x Rosalee Leung
2x Shaolin Supplicants
2x White Crosus Society

Events (2)
1x Journey’s Reward
1x Rigorous Discipline

Combo Cards (7)
Events (5)
5x Eagle’s Gift

States (2)
2x Iron Fists

Generic Cards (20)
Edges (2)
1x Martial Focus
1x Shared Interests

Events (2)
2x Scrounging

Feng Shui Sites (10)
5x Dockyard
5x Möbius Gardens

States (6)
1x .44 Kincaid Magnum
2x Butterfly Swords
3x Fortune of the Turtle

This just oozes perfection.  My only winning deck at Merlin’s place a couple of weeks ago.  Then, proof of perfection Thursday.  After all, bringing out Junkyard Boys and Shaolin Supplicants is exactly what every deck needs to beatdown with.  With White Crocus Society as backup to heal those F-1 characters when they may get conflicted.

Joren was playing Monarchs Netherworld Returns, Justin Dragons, Don Architects with Black Helicopter Squads for Bite of the Jellyfish.  Don [Chi] Suck[er]ed with little effort to stop the Sucking.  I used an Eagle’s Gift to get back Six Demon Bag to stop a bid for Sucktastic victory.  Justin got Jenny Zhang in play but was kind of defensive with her.  Three of us were at four FSSs, when I went over the top and nonstop with Boys, Supplicants, and Bellringers.

I could have played Iron Fists, but I wanted that for a character with fighting greater than two.  I also had Khofesh in play, pointlessly, as I’m terrible at Shadowfist math.  Whoa, that’s a great article for someone to write – Shadowfist math.

Yup, Iron Gift is retired undefeated.  In no way will I plan on building a less effective version for play in the future … unless, perhaps, I can find a way to squeeze a higher percentage of F-1 foundation characters in play.  I will consider, however, keeping it together to lend out to others who want to win major tournaments.

And, so, I literally literally provide a gift to you, my devoted audience.  Happy almost Martin Luther King Day.