The Best of … 2013

December 31, 2016

I almost forgot about the need to post my annual look back three years.

Sadly, with my poor timing, I’ll have two posts on the same day, which I feel like doesn’t give the other post enough visibility.

Here we go, the callouts I want to make from 3 years ago.

January

Deck Choice

This post is relevant to me now, as I expect to have far fewer tournaments unless V:TES goes back in print, even maybe if it does, as the local, local group has fallen apart, failing to replenish the people who have basically stopped playing.

Chunin Exams

Wow, I was so much more fire style back three years ago.  Maybe I’ll get back some of that gaming passion.  True Dungeon, for the wind style?

Anyway, advancement is … hmmmmm … relevant again.  What I like about this post was I used examples.  Examples are meatriffic.

Review – Book of Earth

Relevant not in that this book was ever relevant to my play but relevant in that most of the 4e books aren’t relevant to my play.  I was mentioning how for our upcoming mod playing trip, I don’t see why I need anything besides the core book and largely don’t even need that, anymore, because I know enough about the game.

February

Roll With It

If January had lots of “hey, this is still important to me” posts, the beginning of 2013 was very heavy on my challenges being better at GMing.  I tend to not be mechanically inclined as a GM and, in my feeble efforts to promote campaign play, started learning some nonobvious things about how to provide for players.

Kata Analysis

Just because tons of people view my L5R crunch posts doesn’t mean that I should skip over calling some of them out.  Do I, as of today, know everything about 4e kata?  Oh, yeah, totally, I’m the kata king, the master of the maneuvernot, the lord of lechery … wait, ignore that.

I crunched numbers.  When someone crunches RPG numbers, pat them on the head and tell them they are pretty and will make a good homespouse.  After all, how many people even bother?

Of course, it’s still largely opinion.  Not like I crunched numbers on how much +3 ATN will reduce damage in 1000 fights or whatever.

Book of Fire for more exciting kata, Book of Fire.

March

Squished

This sounds like a pretty terrible post … up until the point where I use numbers.  Numbers, the only true way to play RPGs.  There are so many ways to quantify RPG play that I just don’t see done, though maybe I’m just overlooking other people’s contributions to mathing your way to storytelling.

RPG death seems to be a topic I talk a lot about given how infrequently it happens in my games besides the Friday group’s slaughterfest.  Studying death so that it can be managed in a reasonable way, therefore, became an interesting topic to me.

May

Challenge 4 – Zayyat

I had to pick one of the Challenge posts.  Why?  Because I don’t interact much with my audience and this series actually saw some interaction.  While I may not have come up with brilliant decks, especially given that my inclinations tend towards things other people find difficult to play (e.g. hardly any ousting power), perhaps the series allowed me to share a bit about how I range through different possibilities, mostly coming up with junk, occasionally winning too many tournaments.

This post saw comments, which felt like I was doing a bit more service than sermonizing.

June

Kicks

And, so it begins …  Shadowfist, Kickstarter, wait, I was part of five gaming groups back then?  Oh how I need to get out and socialize through the playing of … anything.  I’m part of like one gaming group at the moment, with maybe some potential for a HoR group coalescing.

August

The Elemental Party

Besides being brilliant comedy and a pure example of all that is right with the world, this post has colored my thinking on characters ever since.  I’m all about exploring the extreme in Ring/Trait.  I’ve done Air 5/Water4/Earth 3/Fire 2/Void 2.  At some point, I’ve got to stop dumping on Water and do a Water 5/whatever build.

September

Deconstruction 01

Fascinating?  Not likely.  But, I think there’s things I could say that aren’t boring, repetitive, or repetitively boring about deckbuilding, and this was some of them.  Strategic commitment, comrades, strategic commitment.

November

My Samuraimichi

Play with your magic tsurugi.  Okay, maybe there is more to L5R than this.

Set-tling Matters

I think this is still an interesting subject, the idea that sets can be good when full of bad cards and sets can be bad when full of good cards.


I suppose I could have included my Book of Fire review.  It was very long, thus it must have been awesome.  But, it was Book of Earth where I think began the rantfest on the series being pretty weak.

While my 2016 wasn’t as bad as many other people’s, saw a friend I hadn’t seen in 8 years and close family got married and, oddly, pretty much every major US sports championship was won by the team I wanted to win, I can understand the hope that 2017 is better.  Happy New Year!  Already there on the East Coast and much of the world.


INT, STR, … Fate Points?

December 1, 2016

Watching Arrowverse crossover, of course.

Among the worst things the Arrowverse ever did was have Barry clean out the League of Assassins HQ in seconds.  It drives home how irrelevant the Green Arrow is as a superhero, where being Mayor Handsome with assassin trained employees and whatnot is probably a better night job.

In the beginning (of Flash), effort was made to address this problem, with Barry being the brawn and Oliver being the brains (superhero brains != brains brains).  But, Flash progressed.  It had original-fake Harrison to provide clever and ruthless.  It has scientists for brains brains.  Barry does stupid things, but he fights better.

So, Barry can fix Team Arrow’s problems seemingly at will, in that Team Arrow still solves problems by fighting.

To restore balance to the justiceforce, Oliver should be able to solve Team Flash’s problems easily.  In last season, maybe nailing Iris would have done something, but that potential shipping seems to have sailed.

Anyway, bigger picture.  Brawn wins fights in some pleasing materials.  Brains wins fights more often, in superhero stuff and various genres.  Then, there’s luck.  There are stories aplenty where luck wins.  Take a show like Doctor Who, where the Doctor is supposed to outbrain enemies.  That happens, so does outlucking, even when given a coating of inspired genius.

So, is one better?  Martial arts and animefight often go the route of train to unlock another power level.  I’m okay with that, though it does get out of control.  Where out of control means that any attempt to scale back the power level just seems ridiculous.  “If I can nuke the moon at will, why can’t I deal with someone named after a seasoning plant?”

Not that animefight has a monopoly on such things.  Babylon 5 got frustrating to me because I was into the Shadow War and found xenophobia and teeps to be tonal dissonance.

The issue with brains is not just that this is a gaming blog, where being clever in playing a game is harder because you are on the spot with your cleverness rather than having months to rewrite your novel to be more clever, but that brains isn’t always brainy when given N amount of time to consider what the outwitter did.

How satisfying is outlucking?  Less satisfying when you think about it.  In many cases, it’s not how you win, it’s how the story plays out, so not necessarily always unsatisfying.

That’s in written stories.  In gaming?  Luck is everywhere.  Oh, I wouldn’t say luck is the primary determinant of victory, though let me distinguish between competitive gaming and role-playing games.

RPGs are inclined to a social contract where the PCs are almost always going to win.  Now, newer games do try to create a dynamic where you are supposed to lose before the climax, which I have some problems with.

How satisfying is gaming your losses?  In something like a sumo tournament, gaming your losses may get your buddy a higher rank without costing you anything.  But, as much as a superhero story or a martial arts revenge flick or whatever is structured with the “lose first, murder master later” paradigm, playing that as a game just takes you into the gamist world.  It’s like dropping the no-dachi to grapple because this fight is “real”.

I may care more about narrative, but, if you just script the narrative, what are you actually playing?

Losing is such a huge problem in RPGs because players don’t expect it and there are often mechanics that don’t support it, whether the reliance on stuff or because someone should just tanto you in the throat if they beat you.  Yeah, A1-4 existed long ago.  Know why it gets so much credit?  It set a standard for how to do a common trope.

What about competitive games?  Is luck a good way to determine victory?

So, you design a CCG.  Card draw order is a common feature that institutes luck into the games.  Just having the brawn of better cards or the brains of better deck design and better card play, you get some luck to shake things up.

Rolling crappy in Wheel of Time was never supersatisfying.  Risk management is a thing that’s not a matter of luck but of better decisionmaking.  I’ve lost my share of V:TES games because I didn’t make the good decision but occasionally ousted or survived because of a bad decision.  Seems like luck, but I don’t think so.  Luck != random nor != two unknowns produce third unknown.

Back to RPGs.

Some of our biggest triumphs in Conan felt like luck triumphing over brawn and our lack of brains.

On the other hand, Princess Police didn’t feel like luck had much impact, at all.  We were routinely outbrawning challenges.

A good mix.  Is that the point of this post?

There was the lack of GA outwitting Supergirl, which some of us might have enjoyed if it was anywhere near as clever as shooting Barry in the back.  Wits is not strong in Invasion!, with “defeat mind control” being about as witty as things have gotten, yet that was also something of a brawn situation, since it involved a particular power.

So, you are the GM or game designer, what do you do to mix things up?  When I try to add thinking to RPG sessions, it routinely fails.  A lot of cleverness in competitive games has to be something the designer didn’t intend but was emergent intelligence.  Brawn can be controlled, but do you unbalance brawn?  By that I mean, in a RPG, one ability is just better than another for victory, in a CCG or whatever, one card/component is just better.

I put Fate Points in the title, but are FPs luck or the opposite of luck?  For players, they reduce luck, for characters, they are luck.  An interesting topic for another times, since this post just meanders all over the place – how does perspective change your perspective?  Many say that Arrow was fine focusing on its 100th episode rather than on the crossover because 100th is a thing.  Whatever, the series could be worse, much worse, like previous seasons worse.


Tributaries

August 21, 2016

Still no philosophies.  No reviews.  No how to.

Some ranging thoughts.

Gen Con feels shorter.  While the amount of been there, done that is strong, which makes everything run together, I think there’s another reason it feels shorter.  I don’t take any breaks.  I used to leave an open slot to get some sleep and/or hit the exhibit hall.  Now, I just don’t have the lack of things I want to do to leave any slot open.  Even having HoR slots likely slows things down some because there are fast mods and slow conversations to break up the “well, got to run to the next game”.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about True Dungeon.  That’s not necessarily helpful as so many people on the forums are the types who think nothing of debating which ultrarares/transmuteds/legendaries are the better way to go.  Of course, now that I’ve seen most of the 2016 set of commons/uncommons/rares with my own eyes, I can pretty much figure out what I care about of those.  Still, it’s always interesting – I so ignore shuffleboard that I miss a lot of important things about it.

After GC, I had a family reunion, ironically in a place where I have more family on the other side.  Gaming hits so many notes for me – there’s the story aspects of RPGs, the puzzle aspects of deckbuilding, the gambling aspects of trusting in the heart of the cards or the whimsy of the dice, the analysis in determining component or action efficiency, etc.  No one else in my family is what I’d call a gamer, and many have virtually no idea what I’m talking about, though, to be fair, I game with people who knew nothing about True Dungeon until I started explaining it.

Both of my parents were relevant to my interest in games.  My mother and I used to play rummy or hangman when waiting for food at restaurants.  My father had some interest in chess and poker, but, of course, that side of the family was mostly about mahjong in terms of consequential gaming.

As I think about my mother’s birthday present(s), I wouldn’t consider anything gaming related, even RPG books that are more thematic than mechanical.  Buying anyone gaming stuff is rare, as I try to avoid getting into present exchanges with friends.  Not unheard of, but there are just some ways in which not everything ties into gaming, which I suppose has some benefits.

Not sure why daimyo info for HoR4 was worth posting this early – I would much rather know what character I’m creating than caring about NPCs that likely have no impact on my play experience.  Still leaving the door open to bail out on playing a Loremaster.

Of all the RPG campaigns I could run, would Legend of the Burning Sands be the one I’m most interested in?  It keeps coming to mind.  I think I hit some rich veins, though it wasn’t like I ran it for very long.  I sort of see why fantasy can be appealing to run – you can do strange stuff and it fits the genre.  Solomon Kane was much more rooted, and I get distracted by the mundane when trying to create the adventurous.  Camelot suffered from veering too far into the out of genre with not having enough in genre.

In the realm of solitaire, Card Invaders is too hard and Stalactites too easy.  I’ve come up with yet another way to try to make Card Invaders not be like a 10% win rate game – instead of burning aces and deuces to draw cards, once per turn, after drawing a card, can put a card from hand on the bottom of the draw deck and draw a card.  Seems to add slightly to decision making.  With Stalactites, it’s just too much like playing FreeCell, where you know you will win, you just have to run through all of the possibilities until you find the winning plays.

Kickstarter rewards have been showing up.  I’m not enthused.  One game is way less interesting than I thought; another is something I just don’t know if I’ll play, at least not until I get some session in at a con.  I have so much stuff that it’s just overwhelming to figure out how to manage all of the cards, tokens, books, etc.  Meanwhile, I still have little interest in ebooks for RPGs – I tend to be terrible about learning mechanics without an actual book I can peruse.

In general, my enthusiasm is more for L5R and TD and not with card games or trying to do something new with RPGs.  As the Summer has been eventful and Fall may be less so, maybe I can get some of the house in order and feel more open to additional things, as I’m not gaming that often.


Introducing L5R

June 19, 2016

I ran a one shot yesterday to introduce the RPG to people who had only played the CCG.

I realized while I was writing things up that it seemed very HoRish.  That wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want to just be HoRish, as the module structure is often constraining both in terms of activities and in terms of character ability relevance.

For instance, one of the four PCs I built was a Miya Herald since the player didn’t care about combat and I have constantly wondered what drugs the designer was taking who designed this school since its techniques do nothing.  Knowing that this would be a PC, I threw in a couple possible situations where someone would stop a combat nonviolently.  Something that pretty much is never going to happen unless you go out of your way to engineer it.  Adding Fire Ring to Horsemanship rolls would be a far more useful technique than anything below the R-5 technique in this incomprehensible school.  Of course, it’s not like Otomo or Seppun are suited to PCs, either.

So, I had this very HoR-module-ish adventure put together with a ton of back story elements that were going to be difficult for the PCs to find out about and maybe some openendedness that a module wouldn’t have.  Did I say module?  I mean two modules.  The next most HoR experienced player gave feedback that it came across like playing a combination of two common HoR mod archetypes.

Play.  In terms of actual play, it was even more HoRish than I was aiming for.

For a one shot, having court activities drag on with the absence of any sort of plot goal, then having a linear rescue mission abruptly begin had dissonance.

More feedback.  It was suggested that the order of things should have been inverted.  As an introduction, start with the linear activities to give time for a player to get a feel for the character, then move in to openended activities.  I think I have a hard time envisioning a way to do that coherently because I’m so used to HoR mods that start at court then move to combat.  But, trying to understand how to do this would make me better at writing up adventures.

Introducing …

What did the players have the most problem with?

Names.

Structure of society – roles.

How to penetrate the reticence of NPCs.

Caring?

Mechanical options.

Names

I don’t have a problem with names other than spelling them right when people speak them.  I just assume it will get figured out fast.  Maybe having some real world experience with family name first helps.

So, I don’t realize how hard names are.

Until it gets repeatedly pointed out to me and I blog about how hard names are.  I’ve run into at least three cases where people have said that they just can’t track who is who because of names.

I don’t know what to do about it other than print out a list of family names so that they can all be seen side by side.  Sure, Kitsu and Kitsune seem similar, but, if you know the clans involved, they are incredibly different thematically.

One player suggested avoiding alliteration.  While plenty of names can be made up, when I go to names websites to use actual Japanese names, there are lots of similarities.  Actually, we had two NPCs in the Princess Police campaign that were Hanahime, which is the worst of all worlds, though it didn’t bother me as one of them was important and the other not so, so it was easy for me to distinguish once I clarified which one was being talked about.

Anybody have good suggestions for helping new players with names?

Society

I’d say most of the frustration in L5R play will come from status, including legal proceedings.  Though, it’s not just status.  L5R is what it is because of the rigid society that it provides.  If you are just roving ronin, well, that’s not anything I’ve ever played with this game, maybe never played ever.

Who does what.  Who speaks of what.  Who doesn’t do what.  Who can do what and get away with it versus hoping it’s not seppuku time.

This is not easily explained in one session.  Which means that an intro session should have a set up that makes it easier to learn or avoid.

One suggestion was having the PCs be the only samurai.  I’m not fond of this.  Ordering around peasants does not remotely prepare you for abasing yourself before kuge.  A better idea, as I’ve played in mods where this happened and it was cool, is to have the PCs be working for the society dude in the background.  PCs run around and Commerce their way to victory, while the evidence is handed over to their Kolat boss at the end of the session and the Kolat boss gets some schlup eviscerated by the hideously lethal legal system.

Just like it’s not good to put newbs into a role of being authoritarian assholes, it’s not good to have them be nobodies who should not be heard.

Reticence

In D&Desque play, I find that PCs just are brutally blunt.  “Give me the info or I murder your soul.”

Rokugani society has some allowances for this when dealing with lessers, but it’s still crude and crude is anti-Honor.  Being difficult is often not intentional with NPCs.  They have no choice because the standard is to be indirect, unemotional, modest, and, yes, even secretive (in a “need to know” kind of way).

As a GM, I find it painful when PCs are struggling to get basic information.  I was playing a servant NPC who could have given info in a simple, informative way because he wasn’t trying to hide anything, but the player kept asking questions in a way that made it difficult to give the answer he was looking for.

Take Commune.  Commune is all about asking the question you want to ask in such a way that the GM can’t screw you over with a vague answer.  Of course, the only reason a GM wants to wiggle out of answering is because Commune is stupidly broken and makes investigations dumb (as well as other stuff, like trying to find something/somebody hidden).

Unless you get to torture phase, which itself is an annoying aspect of L5R, everybody is naturally less helpful than they could be.  That’s not interesting.  It’s also much more work for people not used to this than those of us who are used to this.

Caring

Samurai have specific responsibilities, unlike a lot of adventurers.  At times, I get the sense or someone flatly proclaims that a PC isn’t interested in pursuing a plot point.  Trying to get someone to care is tiresome.

Even something as simple as a competition or opportunity to show off can lead to player boredom as a PC ignores the event.  Now, I don’t think everyone has to do everything.  But, why care about +.2 Glory?  Glory doesn’t do anything.  It’s going to be 10.0 or 10.9 in two ranks, anyway, unless you go out of your way to not spiral up.

What’s the payoff?  In the Princess Police, Winter Court had the Emperor around.  Any event had massive rewards, which wasn’t remotely clear until people like me went “Wait.  What?!?  That 8 person polearms event sees the winner gain what??”  You don’t want massive rewards for newbs.  That skews play.  It’s also not going to be like mods except in rare circumstances (winning Topaz Championship, for instance).

But, it’s not just “fun stuff”, it’s also things like NPCs dicking with other NPCs.  In HoR, you have to care about anything that seems related to gaining the fourth XP for the mod, so you are on the lookout for plot hooks.  But, to achieve my goal of making it clearer what one NPC was angling for in yesterday’s session just required too much time and effort.

Sure, this is something that can be more easily fixed with “your daimyo told you to do this” or whatever.  But, it’s a feature of society in that society dictates what you care about where many a world it’s the PCs who drive what they care about and/or something is trying to kill them.

Mechanical Options

I actually was much better than usual about overexplaining mechanics.  I didn’t go into the movement rules much.  I only pointed out combat maneuvers when combat actually occurred and one of the PCs was expected to commonly Guard.

I find highly experienced players really suck at using the options available to them.  I put some of this down to how L5R appeals more to thematic types than mechanical types in many cases.  Some of it is just that people aren’t good at math and/or good at understanding mechanics, something I run into with much crunchier play, like D&D.  I, myself, keep forgetting to use Knockdown more, though most of my PCs are Strength-deficient.

One thing I find odd falls under this topic but has little to nothing to do with new players.  I find it odd when players don’t try to use abilities.  I’ve often had the case where a player tells me that they didn’t know how to pursue something they wanted to do, and I just start rattling off using different skills that could have been used.  I don’t know what produces this problem.  Is it being used to games where you are constrained by lack?  In L5R, you can even roll things you are unskilled in.  But, I always want to roll obscure skills, so I often try to think of some way to shoehorn in a skill use to achieve something, no matter how trivial, like getting +.1 Glory for random P: Biwa play.

Lot of learning tactics is through observation and experience.  But, I don’t find L5R complicated.  I find it rather intuitive, I guess, in that I don’t recall fighting the system like I find myself fighting RuneQuest or Fading Suns or various other systems.

Boreyteller

There are things I think I do well.  I think my soap opera inclinations produce interesting back stories.  I think I can mechanize thematics well.  I think I can envision things to write up scenes.

But, the players often don’t find out about my back stories nor do I convey the images in my mind to a compelling degree.

I also suck at bringing life to my NPCs.  I have problems with scene transitions.  My combats aren’t as interesting as I would like.  I have lots of problems with player motivation.

So, what does this have to do with new L5R players?

I need to have set ups that are better for motivation.  One idea I had but didn’t try out was giving everyone a 3×5 card with three goals and have the player choose one or more goals on the card to pursue.  I just struggled with having that many things going on at once.

I need to focus on what is interesting.  I had lots of elements I cut from yesterday that were subtle court things to try to portray what was going on with the NPCs.  I keep saying it, but it affects how I perceive things so differently from my players – I care more about NPCs than pretty much anything else.  I want to relate to them.  Because of that, I would end up doing stuff in my own games that never happens when I run.

(I also don’t mind watching other people do interesting things and tend to try to make my PC relevant to what’s going on even when I’m not good at resolving a challenge, which helps my enjoyment of play.  The former bores some people a lot, while the latter is something I’m surprised more players don’t look to do.)

Violent is interesting.  I’m not talking about combat.  I’m talking about jarring events.  Prominent.  I do subtle.  Subtle is so bad, made even worse for new players who are just trying to figure out what their dice pools are.

Force action.  The linear opening, maybe not a four hour wolf fight but like a four round bear fight that TPKs, does make sense to me.  Get dice rolling.  Get clear objectives and clear resolution.  Then, optionally, change gears.  Or, not.  Keep having clear objectives and clear resolution.  Just don’t fall into a trap of making it generic FRPGing, though a veneer of L5R is possibly fine for new players.

The two mods I always think of as good intro mods for HoR are Secluded Village and Harsh Lessons.  Not because they are perfect but because they both have straightforward activities.  In the former, you wander from town to town trying to get a piece of the plot resolved.  In the latter, you take up full attacking bamboo as all great samurai do.

There’s a spiritual element to both.  Adding the spiritual elements to an otherwise straightforward preindustrial game gives it that “this is fantasy but not ‘fireball fantasy’ like those other games”.

I’m fond of the fantasy aspects of L5R.  Why don’t I think of focusing on those in an adventure rather than the shogi tournaments?  Why?  It still provides a distinctive angle, even if it doesn’t provide the court stuff that some may love with L5R.

Oh, by the way, for the players, the Crane Magistrate hated the fiancee because she blamed the older sister for getting the magistrate’s intended killed.  Yup, more back story that would have taken another half an hour to find out about.


Flurry Of Woes

June 4, 2016

Addendum to KublaCon 2016:

In one of the V:TES games, I played Taunt the Caged Beast at superior.  Two vampires went to torpor.  I am the king of the world!!

I did play two pickup games of Shadowfist.  I got a Marauder Lord up to something like 11 with a Disintegrator Ray.  Two of us had Wall of a Thousand Eyes as our first FSS.  In the other game, the Hand Monkey deck kept having monkeys killed by two of my decks.  The fourth deck won, even after I spent one power to smoke four of his Dragon characters.

I played Flip City.  We did not get to the point where someone won off of 18 Convenience Stores.  It’s like a parody of deckbuilding games.  I have no idea if it’s fun.  Just seems overly chrometastic, which appears to be my latest general observation turned complaint.  Looking nice does not make for an appealing game.  You need an agreeable personality, too.

We are still playing Shadowfist regularly when people aren’t traveling on Thursday nights.  I’m not sure the game descriptions are that compelling.  I didn’t do a whole lot in any of our last three games.  In one I Wrath of the Monarchsed away a Mobius Gardens – apparently, have to run five Wrath in every deck, now.  In another, my Accupressure Masters just kept getting taken out and a couple got put into play with “We Can Rebuild Him”s.  In the third, my zenith was attacking with a Maverick Cop and an Old Uncle.  Game didn’t last much longer.  We were done by like 9:30PM after starting around 7PM.  Just quick games where not as much happened.  Other than the Fractured Soul on Zheng Yi Quan (Master of the World version) where the spirits were the only thing to stop me from winning with “mooks”.

I lost a really bad game the week prior when I saved a power in my pool and attacked with a bunch of “mooks” into a Blessed Orchard only to have that be the one additional power for a Thermobaric Explosion to go off.

Woe #1

I don’t know.  We seem to be having a fair number of bad games.  Maybe I need to put more control cards in decks, like removal, which is something I was saying week after week months ago.  I just don’t really care about stopping people from doing things, being more interested in putting funny characters in play.  But, that might be failing the social contract of playing to win.

Woe #2

So, the TV season ended.  It’s pretty sad when you are more into the ending of Legends of Tomorrow’s season than Flash’s or Arrow’s.  Wonder how Supergirl will fare on the CW.  But, I still have a lot of agreement with criticisms of the shows.  They all have similar problems.

A problem with Arrow and Flash is having the stakes be too high.  And, this is where we enter the relevance to gaming.

As a player, I want to care about what happens.  With a TV show, I have to relate to the stakes.  I can’t relate to what could have happened in Arrow or Flash within the contexts of those shows, so I didn’t care about the challenges.  With a game, something has to draw me in.  Sure, this ties back into caring about NPCs or locations or other aspects of the world, but it could also just be caring about what the villain(s) have done.

One of my weak points as a GM is getting the players to care about what is going on.  I think there’s quite a difficulty I have with building investment.  I too much swing from none to lots when I play.  Progressive investment building while still having fun stuff going on like blowing up mountains to burn off some extra energy is something it would be nice to figure out.

I don’t know.  I’ll have to spend some time thinking about how I develop caring about things to try to draw upon that to give my players things to care about.

Woe #3

Because of finalizing pledges for the Modiphius Conan Kickstarter, I have been looking at some of the old Conan fictions I wrote.  I really like some of them.  But, it’s Conan.  Dark has a time and a place.  I suppose a good number are publishable, though I don’t know how much anyone would care besides those who played and already saw the fictions.

Woe #4

Speaking of Kickstarters, I’m feeling overwhelmed with all of the gaming stuff I’m getting.  That’s amusing.  There are so many downloads from some of these things that I don’t know where to start.  Besides, I hate reading .pdfs for games – I find it unpleasant and slow.  I already stare at a computer screen all day at work.

When am I going to get hard copies?  Well, I don’t read those either, anymore.  I still haven’t read through Of Dreams And Magic, which I didn’t Kickstarter (and didn’t notice the last Kickstarter).

I want easy to read stuff.  When I’m watching TV or trying to fall asleep.  Quick, easily digested, entertaining.

… I guess I should go back to reading my RPG fictions.

 


Your Better Third

March 26, 2016

Let me be mundane and explain the title.  People often use the term the better half to refer to their life companion, SO, or whatever term is in these days.

How do I see PCs?  This is not in any way scientific and YMMV, but I see the RPG experience for me being:  one third player – I make decisions; one third character sheet – resolution goes off of values; one third world engagement – primarily through NPCs.

“But, what about other PCs?”

As I’ve said before, I rate this as far less significant.  Tangent alert.  Tangent alert.

Why?  First, let’s compare tabletop RPG play to LARPing.  I’m not that into LARPing for so much of it is player versus player, even with such things as gathering information.  I’m really not into human vs. human.  If I play videogames, I want to destroy supercheaty computer opponents.

So, what about tabletop play?  I just care less about other PCs because reasons.  One reason is that the PC already has a spokesperson in the form of the player, but, really, the main reason is probably more that I’m interested in exploring the GM’s world and not another player’s world.

I’ve played in pure storytelling games.  No resolution system beyond “I say this happens”.  Feels hollow to me.  Why do I need other people to make up a story?  I can just write a story that interests me.  I don’t feel like I accomplished anything, overcame any challenges, because the challenges are all self-imposed and/or player vs. player.

Yeah, my 100% storytellerness has always been suspect.  There’s something gamist in the idea that a GM creates a qualitatively different world from another player and that a resolution system is necessary to determine event outcomes.

So, to get on topic.  NPCs.  These are the primary interfaces into a world.  Sure, events happen, locations exist, whatever.  But, how much more engaging is it when those events affect NPCs, those locations are populated with NPCs, whatever with NPCs?

My last post was an example of romance.

Romance

Why do I consider romance the easiest form of NPC interaction?  Read a book.  Watch a movie.  Watch TV.  Love stories are superultramegaubiquitous.

Even when entertainment is about murdering those who murdered your family or crashing helicopters into submarines, you get romantic subplots.  Indiana Jones movies, the better ones, have female character to provide motivation.  Even Doctor Who can’t get away from “this new hobo with a science degree is kind of hawt” anymore.

Let’s not create elephants where room don’t have them.  Sex for sex’s sake amounts to a tiny, little insignificant throwaway.  There’s a reason I don’t normally have characters with some form of lechery disadvantage, even though it’s really hard to avoid chasing loincloths/kimonos/et al.  Anyone can go off … and envision their own fantasies.

To have the meaningful romantic subplot means doing that silly romantic comedy stuff where the couple can’t just be with each other until challenges occur.  I see the aim being more like chivalric romance, where you do crap for your beloved, when you aren’t banging other people because of illusions, love potions, or other things straight out of the Camelot stories because Galahad needs to be born.

Maybe a bit too much of the usual – my example of Junhime and Kidai.  They can’t be together as a couple (no matter how much they horizontally socialize) because one is way higher status than the other.  So, motivation is to do something that results in evening up the status difference, while pining (with nontrivial pinewooding).  As events occur, goal gets closer and closer until … the horrible tragedy occurs that leaves everyone traumatized.  Well, or, you get a GM who doesn’t believe misery is fun and you get a pleasant ending.

Basic writing 101 – the relationship has to have challenges.  Soap operas exist because they screw … over … their characters endlessly.  Basic RPGing 101 – the relationship should actually involve some sort of relating, i.e. just rolling dice is hollow.  Don’t need some full-fleshed NPC, can be things like “I go on quest number 81 for Count whatshisname to prove my eternal devotion.”, though may want to make it a bit more realized than that.

Got to move on.

Business/Economics

I bring this up second because it’s something I constantly think about when thinking about ways to try to interact with NPCs, yet it’s one of the hardest to make work.  Speaking of work, not going to spend time on coworkers for the obvious reason that we play games to get away from real life.

Let’s say I’m playing L5R and am playing that mundane, ole boring character concept – Asako Henshin grain merchant patron.  So, my peasant slaves, I mean, peasants have grain production.  I want to turn that into kites to give away to my besties so that they can gloriously fly them.  This is not something that I find all that challenging.  Yes, weird as it is, Rokugan, where money isn’t supposed to matter and commerce is beneath samurai is a place where I actually not only can see but experience business transactions.  Probably because Rokugan is more real than a lot of worlds.  Instead of “heh heh, give you some gold for your diamonds”, you get “the harbormaster is into sculptures of monkeys” … as a totally I-can-roll-with-this thing.

Where I’ve seen it be painful is in such things as Vampire: The Masquerade or even games that are supposed to have an economic component, like Shadowrun or Traveller.  It’s just way too much effort.  Probably because it’s too modern.  We live in a world where we deal with currency and credit transactions every day, where we shop based on prices, realize monopolies exist, marketing is a thing, and so on.  In gaming, I don’t want to deal with the real world.  It’s the concept of “how do I start a business? maintain a business profitably? ruin my enemies? embezzle enough to run around in a private plane and have tactical headsets for the party?” that we are looking for.

I see dice-rolls being useful to economics.  However, couple of things.  First, don’t want to overdo dice-rolls, then you are just scratching off lottery tickets.  Second, the point of this post is NPCs.  I’m not into NPC interactions where it’s all about who can rip off whom.  Sure, you can get ripped off, but there should be some story reason behind it, not just because you only put two ranks in Commerce and every NPC businessperson has five dots.

There should be some coherent goal with ecomonics.  I had a Ventrue PC who settled in the New World back when it was the wild Colonies, who had to survive Sabbat ownership of territory.  The in game goal was credibility with the other Ventrue and everyone else.  “Yo, yo, yo, I just woke up from a hundred year nap, and Ize got all the banking and lumberyardz under my never diablerized by a Sabbie thumb.”  Then, it was a way to actually interact more with a Giovanni PC – no, I don’t totally ignore other PCs.  I want them to succeed and not be eviscerated and stuff.  It was a way to relate to other NPCs by saying “of course I, Ventrue extraordinaire, not only have bucks but neither work for a living nor get involved in crime”.  It was not a strong enough goal.  Our business endeavors came up like once and was resolved weirdly.  Needed to have something more tangible to abuse with wealth.  Also, there was no specific NPC to interact with.  Without a “face” to put on the challenge or interaction, it is prone to becoming background noise.

The other pitfall I encounter is having to be responsible for something that is constantly being screwed with.  I get incredibly weary of my nightclub being shaken down by the mob, burned down by gangs, etc.  That’s not the point of having economic assets.  We aren’t playing a videogame where economic survival is all you do.  We are playing a game where commerce interacts in enjoyable ways with the PCs – enjoyable involving challenge but also not overriding the importance of murdering people who murdered your family.

A similar “can we just burn everything down and become murderhobos?” situation is when you have incompetent employees.  Employees who could use raises, better health care, getting off drugs, not being stalked by vampires, or the like are far more palatable than what I’m used to.

Rivalry

As someone not into player vs. player, I’m not into PC rivalries.  Oh, sure, there can be a bit of friendly rivalry over who wins at snooker.  But, besides just not getting the appeal of counting up how many goblins you murdered, rivalries over prowess*, rivalries in getting NPCs to favor you, and similar stuff just doesn’t seem fun.

*  A note about prowess.  One reason to never get into prowess competitions with PCs is because then you open up the whole whoever designs better mechanical characters feature of RPGs.  This is pure anti-fun for me.

However, prowess competitions with NPCs is a great way to get someone to either dislike or respect a fellow archer.  When we were at Winter Court in the Princess Police campaign, we had anywhere from a bunch to a ton of competitors for various events.  I was all set to care about some Daidoji dude because he owned me at kyujutsu, though that never happened because I had better things to do, like not-doing a Scorpion.  While the competition was kind of nuts in that dice mechanics do not favor an individual in a large competition who might have some advantage (I ended up at the bottom of the top third – more than 30 competitors – even though I was by far the best archer in the party at the time) as dice explode and stuff, the competition managed to identify certain NPCs as someone to take interest in.  Because – Glory is a thing in L5R and kind of should be in a lot of games (Reputation was a thing in Conan).

If the blind archer dude had done better, I would have been more motivated to “sensei, teach me all of your blind secrets”.

Where I worry about rivalry as a tactic is when it feels forced.  The premise of us having two competing martial arts high schools just doesn’t really engage in the same way that organic rivalry can.  There should be several instances of competing to build things up to a level where you care what happens.

I suppose organic is a good word.  Any sort of NPC relationship gains from organic development.

Enemy (but not that kind)

There are enemies you murder, then there are enemies that you can’t.  Enemies you murder are not what I normally think of when I think of NPCs.  I think of those as antagonists, villains, or some number of hit dice.  Yes, recurring villains should be in every campaign, but …

Let’s talk about not-rivals-but-enemies as present forces.  Someone who just screws with you constantly is obnoxious, so we aren’t talking about “my boss is an elder dragon lich with a crystal ball”.  We are talking about someone who is in opposition to you in a way that still allows for you to interact with the NPC in a variety of ways.

Another key.  Variety of interaction.  The jealous lover can be fun if not nearly as much fun, perhaps, as the “game on, big boy” lover.

HoR2, where I felt like I interacted more with the campaign villains, had some instances where you would hang with someone who didn’t like you, you didn’t like, but you two didn’t do more than play a shogi match.

More compelling are situations that arise where it’s like “Oh crap, we won, but this only makes Heinous Warlock get more souls.” or like “At least poisoning are entire water supply so we are forced to drink imported Tang will mean Heinous Warlock’s microbrewery is shut down.”

Government/Criminal

Might think of this like business/economics, but it usually plays out somewhat differently.  Government is all about authority and the perception of power (where wealth disguises power).

Again, an oppressive government is just annoying.  Far more interesting is having officials that you favor and disfavor and either try to get someone elected or appointed or couped.

I do mean someone.  Government can be a world interaction without involving an individual, but that’s a different topic.  What we want here is someone in government, even possibly a subordinate to a PC who is an official.

Other than get out of jail cards, the official can provide intel, invitations to parties, affect your business, detain someone you want to interrogate.  This all seem obvious?  How often does it come up in your games?  I find that having a specific person I interact with in government is virtually nonexistent.  This may be due to things like traveling the world in Conan or the government being in pure opposition in something like Shadowrun (one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of playing a criminal).

One of my goals in the Princess Police campaign was to promote minor clans.  Trying to get someone appointed in a position of status meant the possibility, if not the actuality, of having that someone nebulously improve the lot of minor clans.  Beyond just playing favorites when it came to clans or personality, there was also the game of trying to get someone into your debt or for swapping political benefits (favorable marriages, for instance, in a world like Rokugan).

Criminals work much like government, suspiciously so …  They get you stuff or they have authority or they rescue you from jail.  I’m not a fan of criminal activity, but, for those genres where it can be better appreciated, can try to have interesting things happen.  Note that “I go to the fence and haggle for 10% more” is a boring activity.

Informants

Assuming some sort of reused locale, informants are a rather common thing to develop.  But, are they interesting?  Is it just a way to progress plot?  I find that I rarely come to care about informants because their roles are so limited.  Again, variety of interactions.

Society

Can overlap with government, especially in a world like Conan.  We are talking about having someone who relates to you in some sort of social way that faces others, rather than a direct relationship.

It didn’t develop much, but I saw potential for this with one of my V:TM campaigns.  My Belgian Tremere was totally willing to French with some Toreador at Elysium.

I’m not much into embarrassing people, so the caustic society of, say, V:TM Harpies doesn’t interest me as much.  But, just like how someone might want to be a successful businessperson, someone might want to run with the in crowd, whether death bikers or parents’ groups or the well known death biker parent group.

Again, what’s the goal?  Just having bigger parties at nicer mansions isn’t much of a goal in our murder those who murdered your family world.  I find society less of a thing in games because most games aren’t oriented to popular-but-not-rich-nor-powerful-nor-more-swordrrific.

Family

I hate thinking about family before playing a character.  Well, not always, just much of the time.  I don’t give a crap who my parents are, who my siblings are, who my children are up until the point that I need to murder someone for murdering them.

Or, up until the point I play for a while and need to flesh out my PC.  I never find parents to work well as actual NPCs.  As hooks, “Emperor Evil hates you because your mother called his painting pedestrian”, that’s fine, troperrific.

Children I see being more of a goal for a campaign.  You not only murdered those who murdered your family but rescued supercutie from their murderous clutches and now breed to create a new family from which your child will survive and lead a life of perpetual vengeance.

Siblings are good for providing contrast.  Sure, everyone can have schoolmates or whatever, but the feeling of connection to such is more limited than someone of your ilk.

What’s the downside of family?  Most of the time, I come up with my own family, rather than the GM.  So, this runs into the “trying to explore GM’s world” problem.  A NPC I create might be fine for interacting with another PC, but it’s awful for interacting with me.

Yeah, the GM can have things happen with family that don’t require you to interact with the family member but with the NPCs or situation that interact with the family member.  This can feel forced or not, depending upon how interesting the situation is for your kin.

Secret family is not something that comes up that often IME, but it is something in our Through the Breach campaign for one of the PCs.

Expertise

This could fall under a bunch of other categories, but let me start with an example.  Because Kidai wanted his novels illustrated, he sought out a painter.  He also developed his painting skills because it was a way to get hot chicks to pose for him, er, a way to bring the beauty of art to the world.

This is a diamond mine for games.  Consider.  PCs tend to be really good at certain things, mostly murdering those who murdered their families, but, occasionally, because of the game mechanics or ancillary needs, also stuff people actually care about, like putting on puppet shows.

Why wouldn’t NPCs seek out expert PCs to help or teach them in the ways of putting on better puppet shows?

Yet, how often does that happen?  Sure, in a supers game, Brainmaster may be found at science-con until Mindrot appears to steal all of the knowledge of the elite scientists in the world.  I don’t play in supers games.  What I play in hardly ever sees NPCs want PCs for anything besides investigations, murder, murder investigations, infiltration, escort duty.

Meanwhile, how often do PCs seek out NPC experts?  Occult ones, all of the time.  In one-shots, seems common.  But, this sort of “can you illustrate a hot chick with a sword and a tiger for me?” thing doesn’t happen enough, probably because players don’t care enough about creating fantasy novels in a fantasy world to get into areas where PCs aren’t already awesomest.  And, if it’s something important, like healing or murdering, players don’t want NPCs to be more awesome.  Where, I’m totally okayish with a NPC teaching me the fullest depths of Lore: Tropical Fish.

The thing about experts is that it’s rarely adversarial.  Instead, we get helpful without “you can’t defeat Emperor Evil, Brainmaster, I, Nuclear Propulsion Champion will send him into the gray hole” levels of players feeling overshadowed by NPCs.

On the other hand, experts are experts.  How much variety can you get out of them?  Kind of similar to informant in that a specific need is addressed, rather than a relationship that could be varietous.  On the other paw, Kidai was quite fond of his painting instructor, without wanting to “brush” her “canvas”.

Guides can make for another form of expert, though I find guides are often either too much into screwing you or too much into running away when the fan cuts your fingers off.  Dangerous worlds should have guides expecting danger.

That’s it, folks.  Ran out of brainvapor to make this longer.


DunDraCon 2016

February 18, 2016

Had something to post about before the con … and ran out of time.  In theory, have next few posts planned.

So, the con.

Friday

Drove from work.  Had nothing to do once I got to the con.  Tried going to bed early.  Scintillating, I know.

The main thing is to start the whining.  The con schedule was terrible.  There was nothing I could play in I felt strongly about.  Even in those slots where I was running stuff, there wasn’t anything I saw that was, like, “Oh my god, I am so going to bawl.”

Saturday

I have my first of two boardgame slots to run at 9AM.  I have someone interested in 20th Century Limited, but he can do other things, and I have other people already started in on something.  I run Cardcassonne, Priests of Ra, Loch Ness, Mogul.

Yup, another year of Rio Grande miscellaneous.

Unlike my own group that liked Loch Ness the most of a previous batch, Loch Ness really didn’t appeal much.  Cardcassonne wasn’t that much of a hit, though, of the games I had with me, it’s the one I find most interesting.  Where my learning game of Mogul with three players was rather boring, Mogul ended up being the favorite for this group.  It seemed to play better with four people, even though, ironically, when I was trying to find the five player setup rules which I haven’t been able to find in my effort to quickly scan boardgamegeek, people said the game plays best with three.

Unlike last year, I eschewed playing myself.  That allowed me to run multiple games at once, which didn’t happen.  It prevented my making more informed decisions than the others, which seemed like a problem before.

I really should have scheduled for like 9 players.  I could run two games at once and get through my con responsibilities in half the time.

Meanwhile, Brett was running V:TES demos.  He had seven people signed up.  Not all of them showed.  He did a second demo with three Asian women that looked familiar.  I found out why.  A couple of them were at my event last year because they were friends of an old B5 CCG buddy.  We were talking and he mentioned how his friends ended up doing a V:TES demo, which was the last thing he could imagine them doing.  I was, like, “Oh my god, I so totally now know why I, like, totally thought they looked familiar.”

After my thing, food.  Since I had nothing to do until the V:TES tournament that night, I had a long lunch with one of my roommates.  Then, nap time.

The tournament was four players, not unexpected for a con event.  After the tournament, we played a five.

Brett (!Nos) -> Kevin (weenie Celerity) -> Ian (Little Mountain 4/5) -> Brad (merged Tariq)

Kevin gets Carter on turn one.  Brad gets Lazar.  Brett transfers.  Kevin brings out a second minion.

Parmenides.

And, that’s why we play CCGs.

Brett Villeins Parmenides to make him extra valuable.

I don’t transfer much so that I can LMC for as much as possible.  I do bring out Baroque to help Morlock out.

Brett !Noses.  Stealth defeats Kevin’s minions and Kevin discards rush cards in back to back turns.

For a while, Tariq and company fight the !Nos, but, eventually, Brad doesn’t think he can take out Brett or me, so they make a table split deal.  I fend off rushes well enough to get Brad but never bounce a bleed through my skill card on Baroque and have a pretty poor set up in the endgame for surviving KRCs.  Oh, Brett did fail his Political Stranglehold when he realized I’d gain six pool from it.

After that, someone who still has a collection but didn’t bring his stuff showed up and borrowed Brett’s Tremere demo deck.  The rest of us randomized in the same seating order, so …

Brett (Mummies) -> Kevin (Tariq from above) -> Ian (Tzimisce Don’t Block) -> Brad (Cel from above) -> ?? (Trem)

Forget about results.  Here are some highlights from just another, typical, mundane, banal game of V:TES

Seeing Brett get miniony and Kevin be impotent, I decide I must be a balancer of tables.  I choose to reshuffle Aranthebes back into Brett’s deck with Carlton untapped.  Carlton blocks.

Skin Trap.

Lucky Blow.

My next action was to put a Graft Counter on Qetu the Evil Doer.  Yup, that happened.

I burned Halim Bey and Black Lotus to stop bounces.  I burned Brad’s Max Lowell to stop him from having enough actions to tap out oust whatshisname.  I burned Brad’s only .44 with a Canine Horde.

Brett got ousted by Dominate.  In the endgame, I got ousted because Tzimisce Don’t Block.

Not too late, sleep time.

Sunday

Another four hour block of Rio Grande.  I run Cafe International, a game I just don’t find that compelling, though it might be more interesting if you get the nuances of it.  Loch Ness, Cardcassonne, Mogul.  Never bust out Pantheon, 20th Century Limited.

Yet again, Mogul seems to do okay, though the result being a blowout might have mitigated enthusiasm.  Cardcassonne did a bit better this time around.

Having nothing to … wait, hold on, I do have something to do.  I grab food quickly.  I go to a seminar/workshop on writing RPG adventures.

The primary concept of the workshop is using a two-goal paradigm rather than a single goal paradigm.  It was pointed out that not many movies or whatever actually only have a single goal, especially not among popular movies.  Raiders of the Lost Ark was an example used of a successful movie where the protagonists tried to do the same thing throughout the whole movie.

It was okay.  One of the notable things was how many people’s stories were really similar.  Seems like quite a few GMs are into epic fantasy, which amuses me, though the others were often bringing up Pathfinder or 5e D&D as what they were building off of, where I didn’t bother sharing my nine-act example because it was so similar to someone else’s that was still fantasy, just Against the Dark Yogiish.

I hung around after that to find out who would win the roll off for beds, then who to bribe.  That led to my hanging out and talking with my only current GM for a while about Through the Breach and other things, while he helped run A Game of Thrones Boardgame 1e.  That game only lasted like four turns.  Guess.  Don’t know the game?  Do know the game?  Yes, white won.

Off to bed.

Monday

Speaking of Through the Breach, the most appealing thing on the schedule that I could play in was my GM’s con game at 10AM.

I think some of the players were frustrated by how our patron was (secretly) playing us.  I was amazed at how much time people put into talking about what to do, especially such things as writing up a contract over mineral rights.

I played Wild Bill, the robot, uh, construct from some starting adventure.  It worked okay.  If we played out things at the end to actually understand what was happening, might have had a crisis at the betrayal, but, mostly, was just happy with how everyone treated me like a person.  It was amusing how I Black Jokered a lockpicking test, given that it was one of my specialties, which only helped us in the climactic battle to prevent zombies from coming up out of the mines.

Gave me a chance to get more familiar with the world and mechanics.

Summary

I keep saying “that I could have played in”.  There were two events I was interested in on the schedule.  Both were during the day Friday.  Both were Feng Shui 2e.  Both were run by the same person.

Maybe just me, but that seems like suboptimal planning.  I could take off Fridays, but that burns my personal time.  I get that I’ll miss stuff that could be interesting.  I fail to see why so many things I would find interesting are just not doable when you have work to do.

The con schedule was awful, like an F.  Of course, if you are into D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Hero Games, you would have been much more jazzed by the schedule.  But, the con was okay.  I didn’t feel bad about it.  I kind of expect to not have much I want to do.  I got to talk to people for a while, including people I rarely see anymore.  That’s as enjoyable as anything else.

I nuked Carlton with an 8-cap Tzimisce playing Lucky Blow.

Food?  Did someone wonder about food?  Three straight days of pastrami sandwiches on dutch crunch from Bagel St. Cafe with a large peach smoothie with whip cream.  My friend Eric drove up Monday morning when I was leaving BSC, and he made some comment about my eating there.  “It’s the only place I’ve eaten at.”

Assuming I get some time soon, I will power up the wayback machine.