Flopping – Part Two

October 15, 2017

The new TV season started (for me).  Supergirl, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow … nah, no pattern to what I watch at all.

Let’s work backwards.  I’m going to rant about shows and point out how this is relevant to RPG play.

Arrow

More than any other premiere, I just didn’t care what was going on.  Arrow did the worst job of following up on the season finale, which is saying something for these shows.  Is this because they don’t know how to do season premieres?  I would say it’s because they don’t know how to do season finales.  Do not have cliffhangers.  Cliffhangers are for when you follow up with a new episode immediately afterwards, like a week or two afterwards.  Cliffhangers work … when you give a damn what’s going to happen and can even remember what was happening.  I have only vague recollections of what happened in the season finales, which has something to do with how not great the season finales were, as well.

What is enjoyable about superheroes?  Right, as I said, antiangst.  What do we get in TV?  Wrongness.  Angsty wrongness.  Parenting issues.  Yup, that’s why I watch.

Here’s what I want out of Arrow episodes:  Ollie is working on his new trick arrow.  Ollie has a date with some hottie who doesn’t know he’s green on the outside, when Nyssa shows up and keeps saying “Husband, …”.  Secret identities are not for producing angst – comics actually tend to do a pretty good job with secret identities much of the time – secret identities are for humor and for those rare cases when you get inspired by the protagonist’s dual life.  You know what show did a good job with SIs?  Batman, ’60s Batman.  There was some humor.  There were times when supporting characters told Bruce or Dick about how great the caped crusaders are.  Anyway, humor ensues with Ollie doing stuff while not giving away his greenness.  Ollie wins fight at end with new trick arrow.  Do not bog down legit superhero stories with tedious melodrama.

Was last season better?  Sure.  Was last season great?  No.  Was last season good?  At times, but I got really tired of the endless losing by the protagonists.  TV back in my youth was so different.  It was episodic.  Protagonists won all of the time, and we were satisfied.  Nowadays, you take from the soap opera model of yesteryear and have losing, losing, losing.

RPG:  Don’t do cliffhangers unless you plan on playing again when everyone can still remember what’s going on.  Do not bring children into adult stories.  Do not go to the same dumb well over and over again – just accept the conventions of the genre like how SIs are for the SH to have an internal monologue about how they will keep their secret while actually doing fun stuff.  Get rid of fights that look generic – SH fights are cool because they emphasize the specialness of what the SH is doing in the fight, whether it’s cleverness, unlocking a new level, unlocking a new power.  Have PCs win, often.

Legends of Tomorrow

In its first season, the most cringeworthy show (unless you hate the progressive politics of shows like Supergirl).  At times, the most watchable of the four because it’s trying to be fun.

Season premiere’s problem:  the fun is repetitive and too broad for me.  I don’t enjoy the brofest between Nate and Ray.  Nate’s character has often not been good and the bro-ing only makes Ray seem like a joke.  Firestorm is completely wasted in every way virtually all of the time.  The best moments still tend to be Canary, Heat Wave, Cold making amusing remarks.  Then, LoT was about the less important proving they were important.  The premiere just hammers on the lovable loserness of the crew.  Few losers are lovable.  Sure, I watched Gilligan’s Island, but I also watched TV on TVs that had dials, where one of them was black and white and I had to adjust its ears.  I watched shows I hated, like I Love Lucy, because must show proper obedience to the tube.

There’s a huge time travel problem with the show.  Not that time travel is done all that well in any show I can quickly recall, but let me give some props to Doctor Who for something.  Doctor Who does future stories right, in that the Doctor and his companions can make the future better.  LoT cannot make the future better the way they play it.  All they can do is stop making it worse.  That’s depressing.  Have to fix things all of the time is not fun.  Let the future not be a case of worse and worse options.

What I want to see from LoT:  Mix up the character interactions as Stein is fine when he’s not interacting with Jefferson and the bro-down needs to chill.  Stop pushing how much these SHs are losers.  Stop focusing on fixing the time stream so it can be “meh” rather than catastrophic.  Show more cleverness in the humor.  Have Firestorm be an interesting SH, so bring on cosmic powered villains who can match his level in one-on-one contention.  Have better gender balance so that we can have relationship stuff that isn’t so limited.  Rip isn’t all bad but limit him so that we don’t feel the loser history of the group.  Have Amy show up in non-catfishing mode looking good.  Bring back villains doing their own thing because villains are way, way more interesting when they don’t just exist to be defeated (actually, this is hugely important for every SH show).

RPG:  Villains can be cool.  Let them be.  Don’t go for the same humor over and over again, especially when it’s not nearly as entertaining as other, more clever humor.  Don’t make the PCs seem like losers.  Don’t make the PCs feel like their crusade is just one of keeping the status quo.  Tell more personal stories rather than having to have spotlight time make everything groupful.  Have serious fights, like Firestorm bleeding nuclear fire from half his body as he faces off against a godlike power.

Flash

Talk is about how they are trying to bring the fun back.  What you probably need is to bring Harrison back because he was the reason season one started off amazing, well, sure, there was also the fun that Barry had.

Repetitive.  That’s how it felt, which just made Arrow that much more of a slog because I had already gone through the been to the speedforce, done the speedforce.

Was there anything in the premiere that was enjoyable rather than tolerable?  Danielle can look good, but it requires effort – Killer Frost tended to look way better, for instance.  Don’t do the white t-shirt look.  I know, this is rather specific to my interests, but I’m kind of the one writing.  Felicity would be so much better on this show, if possibly only for a while.  I’m having trouble remembering anything I liked about this episode.  Barry may not act emo, but change the haircut so that I can forget his emo days.  Cisco is so much cooler than Vibe – a little bit of Vibe goes a long way.

What I want:  Interesting power interactions between superspeed and the villains’ powers.  Superspeed is a hugely problematic power because you are a god and speedforce type superspeed is even worse because you can alter reality pretty … quick.  The villains have to have a plan to counteract.  Speed on speed was obviously overdone and got really boring much of the time.  Bring back the fun of things like Barry and Caitlin hanging out.  Iris should hang more with Cisco, perhaps.  Contrast the ridiculous power level of superspeed with the mundane.  I enjoy more the idea of superspeed food runs than much of the drama.  I kind of liked the police force being a character – give them more to do besides getting wrecked – not talking about giving Joe more to do.  Joe can be good but also just seems redundant a lot of the time in preaching same old, same old.  Stop forcing the season to be all or nothing, which is not a premiere problem but a general problem in the past.

RPG:  You can tell fun stories with powerful characters, but it requires thought.  Even if you put thought into it at first, it’s hard to avoid the trap of going to the same well over and over because that’s thematic or mechanically viable.  Supporting characters can be fun, but they need to breathe.  Mix PCs up.  Don’t forget your setting.

Supergirl

Angsty Kara.  Yeah …  Season two started off Class 1000 strong.  Why?  You know who the best character in Supergirl is?  Clark Kent.  No, not Superman.  Superman is aight.  Clark is fun.  Now, sure, can’t have him take over the show.  Instead, have Kara embrace Clark [uh, just cousins, it’s cool].

Of the four, I probably enjoyed Supergirl more, but that could be because it came first, and, rather importantly, it’s season finale didn’t end like the other shows.  There was the least amount of undoing everything that happened, though angry Girl becoming less angry Girl was kind of pointless doing/undoing.

Even Arrow because it’s a DC SH show, but especially the other three need to get more cosmic.  Evil businessman is tired already.  Foreshadowing was fine.

Want:  Clarkbar?  I guess not.  Karabar … hmmm … mmmmm?!?  Actually, Kara was pretty tolerable at times when she was at CatCo until the whole whinefest about how Kara wasn’t important began.  Lena.  Lena and Kara.  Not Lena and Supergirl, that just seems a painful path.  Lena and Kara shopping, golfing, working out …  Alex having interesting things to do rather than dwell on how stuff affects her relationship or on fights I don’t really care about.  Maggie getting back to having some of the fun Maggieness, which probably means hanging out with the boys.  Find all of the funny things Supes has done in stories and make more use of that, as I find Kara’s SI the most annoying except … it’s hard to explain, there are times when she’s being reserved at CatCo or wherever that she’s pleasant.  How about more singing?  Do cool things with powers, since you are a god that can do it all, might as well do goofy power stuff for entertainment value.  Date Ollie, at least twice.

RPG:  While some similarities to Flash in that you have godlike PCs, even more than Flash, need to think through how using powers can be fun and not OP or repetitive.  If given godlike PCs, focus on the soap opera, especially a soap opera you can have with a Lena or a Maggie, who both seem like they just want to cast off the angst and have fun.  Jimmy was Supes’ sidekick, maybe have actual fun sidekicks.  Don’t make your PCs unpleasant for melodrama purposes.  Realistic emotions is better than arbitrary wild extremes.  Foreshadow NPCs.  Change the qualitative nature of challenges so that the focus isn’t on power but on how cosmic powered PCs face cosmic level challenges through interesting resolution.

Arrowverse

Most of all, do crossovers.  Take advantage of characters not burdened with their same old tiresome problems and give them a wild party of SHing … or have them date each other.  Green is so much more pleasant when he’s hanging with Red.  Green and Alien should hang more often.  LoT is a bit of a problem because of number of characters, but I also like the supporting characters mixing it up, so it’s not that much different.  Canary and Nyssa making sarcastic comments while Green and Alien are working together – that’s unobtainium.  Firestorm and Martian going full on (please not against Kryptonited Supes but like an actual villain) against big bad.  Guest star some Wonder because who wouldn’t want more Wonder?

RPG:  Give the world enough depth that other characters interact in interesting ways with it.  Maybe players have multiple PCs who mix things up, like an Ars Magica troupe.

Well, here’s to hoping I’m more invested in second episodes.

Advertisements

Anti Death And Dismemberment

October 7, 2017

Well, dismemberment isn’t really the likely result.  Disintegration is probably more likely.

So, it’s not that I haven’t looked at, skimmed, and even read my AD&D 1e books and modules in the last 35+ years.  It’s that they have low penetration because I’ve used so little of the game besides Polymorph Self followed by Invisibility in order to polymorph into a Storm Giant and backstab other giants.  You know, compared to what you see in mods for optimal PC play, that actually seems reasonable.

The material is inspiring to some degree.  Oh, not much of it.  Most of it is boring as hell.  Some of it is amusing if not quite to the same level as Temple of Set lunacy.  Treasure locations and types are particularly bizarre.

Just to be positive because everyone knows I’m all about the positive, monsters, magic items, and locations are what I find most inspiring.  I realize the intent of towns in mods is to provide adventure, which is why half of every town seems to be evil rather than just being people trying to live their lives in worlds where monsters can attack at any time from any direction.  Still, towns are just so much more interesting than dungeons.  Even when towns are treated like dungeons, where every location has stats and treasure notes.

While lots of monsters are absurd/silly, there are actually evocative monsters.  Something about ghouls.  I can’t stand level drain (should be attribute loss of some sort), but other undead are also more interesting.  Not so much liches, at least not when a mod just throws a lich into a side passage.

Almost all DMG magic items just come across as insanely gamey, but, that’s probably because AD&D is a gamistfest of gamistness.  Meanwhile, mod magic items or the odd stuff NPCs might have are more akin to the distinctive items folks in books might actually have.

Segue time …

I tried to think of what magic items book characters run in series I have taken seriously.  Stormbringer is a special case, but, sure, magic swords are a thing.  Elric even runs around with a magic ring, gets a magic shield at some point, and whatever.  Actually, magic items are rather important in Moorcock’s other stuff.

I can think of cases where characters have special equipment that isn’t magical but is, uh, special.  Jon-Tom has his staff and his cape.  Actually, when trying to think of what sort of magic items are more likely (ignoring stuff like Arabian Nights’ style stories which tend more towards fairy tale style), cloaks are it.  Cloaks totally get play.  Corum had a magic cloak.  Invisibility is super relatively common.

I have ideas I’m putting down for an adventure.  Magic cloak for PC totally works for me in ways that so many other things don’t.  I could buy a staff (not a wand or a rod, unless it was Egyptian style scepter or the like), I guess.  Weapons, to a degree.  Sting was fine because it fit, even though how the party got those swords was grade A dungeon crawl stuff.  The big problem with weapons is that someone else can just take it from you and be that much more badass, whether someone who downs you in a fight or another party member who would use it better.

For example, you have two N level fighters.  One has a higher STR to hit/damage bonus, otherwise their stats are essentially identical.  One has a +1 shortsword and the other a +2 broadsword.  Who should wield which weapon?  It’s not like Mudge uses a shortsword because he’s compact and all about speed and Jon-Tom uses a long staff that gets longer because he’s unusually tall and not much of a weapons expert.  In terms of team optimization, either balance things by giving better weapon to lower STR lass or unbalance things and make stronger lass just better.  Same with armor.  I was looking at one module where a multiclass character had much lower HP but had a Ring of Regeneration.  Sure, that makes sense, but doesn’t it make more sense to just pass around the Ring tactically?

RuneQuest has you bind magic items a lot of the time.  I find it to be a terrible mechanic, but it does address the problem that equipment is just, er, equipment.  This is why I hate equipment that matters.  My style of FRPG would see fighters do more damage based on things like level or based on skill level, with STR following, finally maybe care about your stuff (well, obviously, magic stuff is going to be better than non-magical stuff).  I know games have done something like this.  L5R, to an extent, does this sort of thing with techniques that add damage or attacks, though a k3 katana is way better than a k2 katana.  Power Attack, et al, in d20 works this way, but, then, every fighter is going to have Power Attack, so back to being dependent upon equipment for differentiation.

Of course, it’s not just non-spellcasters.  Even magic-users are frequently going to focus on using things like wands to supplement how few spells they cast.  “I’ll whip out my Wand of Annoyances and do 1d2 damage.  Hey, Gindalf, you have any charges left on your Rod of Explosive Decompression?”

Speaking of death … oh, I wasn’t?

Speaking of death, I didn’t use to pay much attention to HP for pregen PCs or monsters.  I’m focusing more on that sort of thing because I realize that when you have a 12hp PC, it’s going to die young, unless it’s Neutral or Evil.  Get it?  Not just a joke, more likely the N or E PCs are going to split when the going gets dangerous.  But, I’m also paying more attention to how many attacks it will take a PC to off a monster, which is basic stuff, I know, but I gloss over the dull ubiquity that is numbers in mods.

Speaking of deadliness, I do find it humorous when the module calls out how dumb highly intelligent monsters are for using weapons when their natural attacks are far more dangerous.  But, go with it because you want to give the PCs some hope of surviving.

I’m anti-death.  Oh, sure, there are compelling arguments around how it destroys any sense of narrative when you just replace one victim with another victim.  But, that’s not my problem so much.  I just don’t see the point of not caring about your characters and that’s what random death does.  I’ve heard people talk about how much they loved certain characters for how they survived the massacrefest that is oD&D.  Sure, but that’s in the style of playing something more akin to a boardgame (one might even say a … wargame).  I’ve played way more RuneQuest than oD&D and I really couldn’t care less about any of my characters or anything they do because they are just waiting to die.  Oh, I did more enjoy the troll I played because he wasn’t guaranteed to die in half the fights, though he still never lived beyond one dungeon (in campaign play that was mostly wilderness encounters).  Even with ubiquitous resurrection so that you can keep playing the same PC, it’s just some numbers on a sheet of paper that gets murdered by numbers in a book.

On the other hand, if you play a game where death is as common as Rot Grubs, you are depriving people of the experience by allowing them to avoid falling for 20d6 damage.  It’s like a different game.  A weird game where monsters don’t devour you or turn your skin slimy … and then take your place in the party only to betray it later.

Maybe that’s the thing.  Forget campaign play.  It’s all about one-shots-in-the-head.  Play it tournament style where you score points for how successful team looter is.  Yes, that’s the model for various boardgames these days, but what sort of campaign do you have when the only continuity is Grog17, cousin to Grog16?

I still find parts of AD&D charming.  It still entertains me to stat up a group of teenage “gang” members even if I have no idea whether any of their thief skill percentages are good enough to matter.

One way I’m different is I find Deities & Demigods to be quite inspiring.  But, then, I like mythology.  I’m not going to have PCs fight gods so I’m not terribly worried about what spells a god can cast 1/day, but somewhere, between the numerical nonsense, you get something.  The art helps.  I like AD&D 1e art, when it’s serious, and am not bothered when it’s cartoonish.  I guess so does having some idea about who the various deities are besides what AC they have, what their Magic Resistances are, etc.

So, one can run something any which way but Chaotic Neutral.  …  What I meant to say was that it’s possible to steal small amounts of 1e and run something that interests me, 100% storyteller, more.  In theory.

In practice, well, maybe I’ll generate enough interest to try it.  And, if it doesn’t work, just switch systems to Fantasy Hero … then Stormbringer 1e … then The Fantasy Trip … then Weapons of the Gods … then Maelstrom … then 7th Sea 2e …

 


HoR4 – Same But More

June 25, 2017

I skimmed through my earlier post about HoR4 – Early Read.

Is there anything to add?  In terms of how I feel about playing, no, not really.

So, what’s the point of posting a rehash?  Let’s try to newhash as much as possible.

I’ve played CIT00 to CIT04, CIT06, CIT07, CIT10.  I can’t recall any standout mod.  Early on in HoR3, I thought some of the mods were way underdeveloped – SoB02 and SoB03, with SoB04 being suddenly over as well.  But, I liked SoB00 quite a bit, SoB01 seemed like interesting things were afoot, like maybe the Phoenix would be relevant for a change.  Then, SoB07 was one of my favorites, with all sorts of points for originality even if running it was not as good as playing it.

Then, there was SoB09.  SoB09 was something I thought was really cool at first.  As time wore on, probably because there wasn’t the payoff on Nothing in the series mattering, I grew less enamored with it.  I also read the Fire side which I neither played nor ran and was less interested in that part.  Even late in the campaign, though, it was memorable for having engaging combat, having the fantasy aspects I am more interested in, and just flowing well … like water or some liquid that flows well.

Playing HoR4/CIT, I now look back on SoB09 with much more fondness.

I’ve run at least four of the mods I’ve played – 02, 03, 06, 10.  Maybe ran 00, but whatever.

02 and 03 are both okay.  Neither 06 nor 10 appeal to me.  Yet, 10 was precisely my sort of mod in HoR3.

What happened?

I can reiterate how disconnected I feel towards CIT not just because I go months without playing or because I lack personal goals but also just because I have no concept as to what the campaign is even hinting at.  SoB may have had themes that our group never felt were (properly) executed on, but, early on, at least there felt like themes.  Balishnimpur, tension with Ivinda (not Ivindi, which is the language, or Invindi which is who knows what).  Except, Balishnimpur as a setting hasn’t mattered at all, could just as easily substitute more common things and tension with peasant Ivinda feels just like tension with peasant Rokugani.

I hated the Second City Boxed Set, well, hated may be only slightly off, more felt was a waste of effort because it didn’t develop the setting into something that was “yeah, dude, Ivory Kingdoms safari, yo”.  I feel like the point of having a setting is to explore that setting.  L5R does an amazing job of developing its setting, well, its Rokugan setting, kind of terrible job of developing the other parts of the world or other worlds.  Somehow, it would seem to me that more effort could be put into scoping out what the Ivory Kingdoms is really about for a five year campaign that theoretically is going to be spending half the time in it.

But, there’s more to whine about.

I realize I could write mods.  I realize volunteers aren’t being paid to entertain me.  I realize that Rob Hobart and his crew were fantastic at putting together HoR.  I cut SoB some slack for being a first time for a lot of folks – the mods weren’t my major complaint or my second major complaint.  Nightmare War, in my limited experience with it, actually was very cool, far far more interesting and coherent than I expected it to be.

I just feel like there’s too much similarity in mod structure.  Where HoR3 had a huge advancement was in court mods.  Sure, some of the mechanics didn’t hold together at all once you GMed the mod, but you could see what they were trying to do and provided a new spin on playing through social stuff.  At some point during that campaign and in this campaign, I already feel like the same court well is over used.  There are mechanics that never pay off that may seem like they matter when playing but are just tedious when GMing and become extremely repetitive for certain players.

In general, there just comes across a feeling of sameness to mods.  Yes, HoR4 has had one mod that was very noticeably different, even if it may have had some similarities to a previous or two.  By sameness, I don’t mean “oh, here’s another travel to a fight mod” or “is the mod just about talking down a god/crazy/recalcitrant kuge/etc.?”.  I mean that within the half dozen or so common mod archetypes, there just feels like going through the motions.

Yes, earlier stuff has the advantage of coming earlier.  Originality is going to generally fade.  But, that can be fought.  Engaging recurring NPCs like Daniel from HoR2 (not like cursed Toritaka) help.  What else?  I don’t know.  I’d have to think more about it.  I’m not saying it’s easy to be original and cool and cater to my tastes and whatever, though I thought some SoB mods that had way too much going on had some really cool things that I wish were expanded upon.

Oh, there is one thing.  Have what each and every PC do matter more often.  I’m tired of mods where, at the end, I realize that my efforts were pretty much irrelevant.  I also really dislike having mods where the crucial stuff doesn’t feel like a significant part of the mod, having been burnt on that in HoR2 once and still being irritated by that mod both for that and for having the most obnoxious NPC I recall.  Can’t have every mod be a “everyone is a special snowflake mod”, though Words and Deeds from HoR2 felt like that to me and I loved how that played for my character.  But, I feel so much like I’m tagging along in CIT not so much in an adventure but in an exercise to gain more XP.

I can try to fight this on my end.  I can try to finally figure out what to care about to where I can begin my character’s story arc.  I can actually put together my Bushido Tenet Ratings for this character.  What is going to be difficult, though, is being dedicated enough to complete a mod.  It doesn’t help that when I ask about whether one of my ideas should be followed up on, I don’t get any response.


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.