Flaw Wars

December 25, 2015

When I was ten, I got the “kind of D&D, kind of AD&D” boxed set as a present.  I don’t remember a ton of gaming presents beyond that, though there was the time the Harts got me some cards and my gratitude level was my typical “I’m more bemused than appreciative” level.  So, it being Christmas doesn’t inspire this post.

Rather, seeing a third, yes, two more than one, movie this year helps inspire.

One thing I didn’t go into in my last post was how crazy the Weaknesses in Against the Dark Yogi are.  If you think L5R’s disadvantages are way too painful, and you should, then AtDY is many times crazier.  A number of them are missing limbs.  Huh?!?  Who thinks missing limbs are things PCs should have?  Sure, some PC might have that, but it’s more in the 1% neighborhood rather than the 5% neighborhood.  There’s like three Weaknesses I can see for most characters, and they are all far too gamey.

So, I watched a movie today where a main character essentially had no flaws.  Cries of Mary Sue ring out.  But, are flaws important?  As I’ve said before, a noticeable change in protagonists of TV back in the day and TV nowadays is that current characters have to be tortured, angsty, or otherwise screwed up.

That’s not the only way to make interesting characters.  Sure, literary Sherlock Holmes is not a ladykiller.  Sure, John Carter, Superman, and a bunch of others suffer from boyus scouticus.  But, I don’t need some crippling weakness to the allegorical color yellow, to wood, to Argonite.  I just need someone who cares more about some things rather than other things.  Bond cares about women with suggestive names, women who work for his enemies, women who happen to be anywhere in the vicinity.  Sherlock doesn’t.  He finds the peculiar and the clever interesting.  Yes, in various games that would come out as “PsyLim: Must solve unusual mysteries”, but that’s a slippery slope to silliness as well as points for doing what your character should be doing anyway.

My other RPG in mind to run is Champions.  I’ve never run Champions.  I’ve built like a 1000 characters for Champions because that’s the way my mind sometimes works (worked?).  I’ve lost interest in the disadvantage system for the game or anything remotely like it in other games.  Yes, some things are disadvantages.  Taking damage from being alive is worth points.  Having enemies isn’t.  PCs have enemies, whether they know it or not, otherwise they don’t have a story.  Having a secret identity is a story element, not a structural disadvantage.  This was the problem with such things as Dark Fate or Dark Secret in L5R – why do you get compensated for story aspects to your character?

Sure, some systems embrace the idea of forcing story and that mechanical constructs have built in story features.  Rubbish.  So unnecessary.  One would think that being a 100% storyteller would mean liking narrative systems.  Nope.  See, here’s the thing.  Stories are easy.  Do D&D characters, whether oD&D, d20, or 4e come with disad mechanics?  Are there stories told somewhere between the tactical wargame combats?  I think so.  Especially with d20, where there’s an actual skill system (not that it meant as much to D&D as it did a bunch of other d20 games).

Players should want their characters to be interesting, distinct, not in a “my +3 sword is +5 against red pandas” way.  But, in a “then I played my drum for him, my best for him, and the King of All Demons wept” way.

Quirks, where you get some minimal character point bonus, make more sense to me than “start with 100 points, then spend roughly 150 on disads” because they aren’t a mess of game balance versus thematic plausibility.

It’s far more important for a group of PCs to have each PC have a role (usually involving some mechanical niche) than in having Power Crab be vulnerable to boiling water and butter.

So, I’m thinking when I run Champions that I just create 300+ point characters and only take into account Power Crab’s Vulnerability 2x Stun vs. attacks from below, rather than Power Crab’s PsyLim: Obsession with Goth Culture or how Power Crab is Hunted: The Galactic Gourmand, 11 or less.

Story problems are exactly that – parts of the story.  Just like how Caste in AtDY doesn’t give or cost you any points, being a Dalit just makes things problematic when partying with the one-percenters until you achieve a blue hue in your skin.  (I wonder how I incorporate a PC taking Shyama Varna when he’s in the Kshatriya Caste – I guess lowlifes will give him street cred of the “yo, bro, divine thug life!” type.)

Flaws are also far more interesting when they develop from play.  I grow weary when players are supposed to write novellas about what they did before play began.  Becoming – Enraged: When seeing idiotic parodies 14 or less, recover 8 or less – should occur from “well, that session sure wasn’t subtle”.

As for the movie, three stars.  Solid, could have done some things better.  Maybe I’ll get more specific later.  Definitely didn’t inspire me to want to play in its world any more than I’m already not that interested in playing in its world, though.

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Dragons, Winds, Water

December 13, 2015

A curious follow up to my last post is that I got invited to play mahjong after I was back in the US.  To play with people I had never played mahjong with.

First time I ever played American Mahjong.  The way I explain it is that you have to win with a special hand.  Other styles have special hands – I certainly spent time studying esoteric special hands from books about Chinese, Japanese, or unaligned mahjong.  The difference is between playing a game where you can win with whatever or whatever that has 1+ fans (or, to be fair, Shanghainese “you can only win with all pungs or all one suit” is incredibly limiting) and have the option of special hands versus only being able to win with special hands.

We only played like six hands.  Two were wall games.  Andy won the first two, which was a good time to retire, and his great aunt won the other two.  I think.

Hard to remember because each hand is so slow.  For me, trying to figure out what legal winning hands overlapped in such a way to move towards multiple hands at once was paralysis by noesis.

Not really my thing.  I have to unlearn how to play normally, then have to work through memorizing a bunch of specific combinations, then calc the probability of being able to form different combinations so that I can focus on what’s viable, meanwhile trying to pay enough attention to realize what someone else can win with.  It strikes me a bit too much like mixing bingo into mahjong.

But, I understand why other forms of mahjong can be less interesting when you don’t play for money or track anything that relates to the type of hand you win with.  If all you do is play to go out as quick as possible, yeah, pretty boring stuff.  It’s like playing poker without playing for money.

So, while Shadowfist has some mahjong related cards, it’s an awkward transition into Shadowfist play.

Thursday

Played two games, no mooks nor Sacred Grounds, pay one less to play a FSS to a new location.

I played the YotG Dragon precon first.  Cut down, of course.

Don (7 Masters) -> Ian (Dragon precon) -> Justin (Martial Focus Hand) -> Joren (Plague of Moths)

I did not have a particularly easy time playing stuff, with Chun Qi Shuan being my main contribution to the game.  One time I got River of Lights, which I couldn’t play.  The other Junkyard Engineer.  The deck seems to either come out strong or not come out at all when I watch it played by others.

Justin got out an occasional character but was really only a factor when he had Joren’s Leashed.  Joren didn’t have removal to stop 7 Masters.  So, 7 Masters won, with a Sky Dragon and an Evil Twin of Sky Dragon among other masters.

Don (Purists) -> Ian (Abomination From The Sky) -> Justin (Cops) -> Joren (Jammers hate their own sites)

We kept murdering Don’s guys, but it wasn’t payback so much as I didn’t want Quantum Sorcery gaining him power.  He kept making us draw cards.  Justin got out some early cops that got murdered by the Jammers.  Joren didn’t make his sleaze bigger by losing sites until late.

I played a bunch of Aerial Bombardments – murdering two Mutators in one turn with the 10 damage I could spread around.  Arcanomoth, fatter Arcanomoth, three Blood Eagles, and an Assassin Bug were my only dudes.  Don made one last bid for victory.  I had open targets in a variety of places, swung with Blood Eagles and Arcanomoth on my own Hot Springs, figuring M.A.D. would get played.  It didn’t.  Victory goes to the noble and virtuous death from above Architects.

Saturday

Five games?

First game was precons.

Cy (Ascended) -> Miguel (Lotus) -> Ian (Hand) -> Earl (Jammers)

Miguel discarded a lot of his good cards, having problems getting stuff out.  I got a strong defensive position after a while with a Buddhist Bellringer, Pacifists (3), Wei Tian, Reformed Bandit, Kitsune.  I had two sites burned for victory and a Garden of Eternal Spring that lasted all game.  So, I was a threat.  I tried some bids for victory, the last one being shot down with Fireworks Display.

Cy put out Campaign Managers, but they just got murdered.  His second Roar of the Lion was much more relevant.

Earl’s A Clockwork Orangutan got put under House Arrest.  He made a dude gigantic with The Blackboard and Personal Assault Vehicle, then made it even bigger with Exo-Skeleton for the win.

Cy won the second game when the only other deck that did anything was mine and my Khofesh died right away.

I played my Abominations From The Sky deck in the third game, and my Helix Mines couldn’t quite stop Cy from winning with Dragons, again.

Miguel had to leave.

I played Syndicate, ambush characters version.  Earl played his Hand Monkey deck.  I don’t get frustrated by a lot with Shadowfist because I don’t care enough most of the time to find plays frustrating, but the “this card doesn’t target”, “my card only stops people’s events that target my guys” stuff is really obnoxious.  Jammers get fantastic counterspells, but I can’t play them because they are monkey cards.  Hand has counterspells, but I don’t want to build a bunch of counterspells + superleap decks.  I think Cy won after my Xu Mei was ganged up on.

I finally played my most recent Insurance Policy deck, with Tears of the Crocodile as the main hitter.  I was a threat.  I had two Tears and Raven Li in play when we had to call the game.  Earl was not winning but had a lot of edges in play to go with his monkey mass.

I keep saying it, but I need to build more decks.  The tools are there to build amusing decks.  I’m sure I can even find something Lotus to do that would be fair and interesting.  I really need things to annihilate weenies and edges.  But, I don’t want to play Dragon all of the time.

A propos of Shadowfist, I decided to watch the first episode of Into the Badlands.  I’ve thought about a list of the movies I’ve never seen that I’d most want to watch.

Much of the list would be like this:  Kill Bill; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; Chinese Ghost Story; etc.  Yet, the reviews were exceedingly mediocre on ItB, and I’m highly reluctant to watch TV shows after getting burned on shows that I watched lasting only one season.  It was interesting enough for me to record the other episodes.

What do I like about it?

The setup with the Barons.  It’s so suited to RPG play.  The look is nice – vivid.  That I simply don’t watch enough martial arts stuff.

While I really dislike post-apocalyptic settings, I could see a more palatable variation being used as a basis for RPG play.  After all, Naruto isn’t dissimilar.  I’ve had the thought of a school vs. school Ninja Hero game for a long time because Ninja Hero just seems like such a cool take on the Hero System.  I’m just not sure there’s enough “the weakness of the praying desert oyster technique is that you can counterrotate your invisible base” to it, though.


RPG Yarn

September 19, 2015

So many good titles to use that I won’t remember, like Con-Fluence, which, of course, has to be used when I write something about a con.

Anyway, FFG bought L5R, which has primarily meant to me that I can’t read the RPG forums on a daily basis like I used to.  This, in turn, has caused me to read more rpg.net, since I’m interested in what people have to say about L5R, and I don’t use Facebook.

In reading rpg.net forums, I come across other things.  Add to that that our online group is talking about what to do next for online play, and I run into the question of the ages – what do I want out of a RPG?

Thematics

So many times, I, 100% storyteller, get bogged down in talking about mechanics.  So, let’s start with this, first.

No fake Tolkien.  I don’t hate elves and dwarves … completely.  Norse elves and dwarves are goodsome.  Fairy elves are okayum, I aguessum.  I despise Tolkien knock-offs.  D&D did that.  Videogames did that.

Humans.  Occasional variants.  Melniboneans are fine, though I think that world is not so good for gaming in, not that I have a great idea since I’ve run far more Stormbringer than I’ve ever played.  This is where Conan shines.  Human races are totally the way to go.  Hawkmoon has this, though I’m a bit leery of Hawkmoon as a setting for both thematic and mechanical reasons.

Limited technology.  I’m not very forthright about this with the people I game with because I care more about gaming than I care about specifics or care more about doing things with people than care about specifics, but I’m really not interested in high-tech.  Mech games are fine to me because you just don’t feel the tech.  But, I’d much rather play something with zero sci-fi component, including near future.  I still think of phones as something you dial, not as a chat machine you live off of for everything, even if I do have WeChat installed (to coordinate with people in China, of course).

The idea of a bronze age game is so much more appealing, something like Greek Mythology.

On the other hand, modern is fine.  And, supers high tech doesn’t bother me for the same reason mechs don’t – it’s not really high tech.  Sometime, consider how many superheroes have magical backgrounds or some sort of ludicrous “science” background that is really as explainable as magic is.  “I am an alien, from the planet that gives us the ability to be superstrong at night.”  Yeah, sure.  “When this lightning bolt hit while I was taking chemicals to deal with my health problems, I can now fly!”  Yes, yes you can.

A world that doesn’t hurt my sensibilities.  Wow is this vague.  Mythology?  I get it.  Historical with vampires, witches, and shapeshifters?  Sure.  Some bronze age, religion is everything, yet all we care about is money setting where you bribe monsters who are the monsterification of everything you seek to destroy and which has an afterlife so that dying in a vain attempt to deal with the more powerful is meaningless?  I just don’t get it.

There are plenty of worlds I just can’t engage with because they either don’t make sense to me or I don’t care about what sense they do make.  Star Wars actually hits this.  Not the Star Wars of theory but the Star Wars of practice, where the party is typically a bunch of mercenary scum on the edge of the galaxy, playing Han Solo before the movies.  That’s not Star Wars.  That’s a less depressing Traveller.  My sensibilities in this case are epic space opera.

So, yes, it’s all about context.  It always is.  Expectations affect desirability of presentation of setting.

I think the Young Kingdoms doesn’t work well as a setting for gaming because the books really aren’t about the Young Kingdoms, they are about a specific demigod fighting gods.  I can see one-shots with Rackhir style stories where a PC could actually fit in, but a campaign to me seems to miss out on “I’m Elric and this is my Stormbringer.”

7th Sea is something I don’t embrace more strongly because it just feels like something is off about the world.  There’s a lot of putting forth pirates, then you have adventures where the sea portion is “You arrive at port, what do you do?”  Dungeon crawl angle that I don’t recall ever being used in a session?  Okay.

Yet, L5R works well enough.  I’d rip out a number of things from the world that don’t make any sense to me, but, at some point, I got that the culture is what it is.  So, maybe it’s just getting used to something over time.  I was attracted to L5R by the image of PCs wandering through an Asian Fantasy world smiting ogres.  I’d still rather do that (in a very Inuyasha sort of way, only without Inuyasha and without swords being more important than abilities).

WoD no longer matches my sensibilities.  It did.  It can when it’s just humans fighting things that reside in the darkness.  But, the idea of a bunch of supernaturals all acting like high schoolers towards each other just seems so passé.  It’s overdone in TV, in books, in games.

It’s the halflingification of vampires.  I got to use halflingification more often.  What I mean is that hobbits are cool because the point of Tolkien’s use of hobbits is that the loserman wins.  Halflings are just insipid caricatures of Bilbo.  In 1e V:TM, you get a sense of the otherworldliness of a vampire, that it has all of this ancient power that it uses to own the night.  Then, you play, and you go “Uh, during the day?  I try not to be discovered in my three hours of preparation to be useless so that someone doesn’t just fry me.”  No, most sessions aren’t like that.  It’s that that sort of thing becomes unescapable once you start thinking about it or have to do it once where it becomes pain.

Does Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or whatever hurt my sensibilities?  Don’t know, never played sufficiently in them.

Exalted did.  I hear people talk a lot about broken mechanics.  I played Exalted a couple of times and was like “What is this world?”  Where Immortal throws so much jargon at you that you may just want to go himsati form and serenade into your … I don’t even remember the term off the top of my head … creche? as you give up on the stratagem of counting coup against the book’s authors, at least Immortal used the modern world as a backdrop.  Exalted was just “Wait, what am I?  What is that?  Where are we?  What is it we care about?  Who the hell is everyone else?”

There are numerous fantasy worlds that got created with some sort of conceit in order to set themselves apart form Tolkien.  I understand the thinking.  I don’t get the execution much of the time.

I just continuously come back to one of the following as a basis for a world:  real world (modern, historical); mythic version of our world; something I’ve read or watched.

The Land, out of the Thomas Covenant series, that sounds like a great fantasy world in certain ways, though I worry about the “I am not a leper who has a power greater than that of god.” situation with having PCs do stuff.  High fantasy based around parties rather than individuals requires a bit of thinking through the modeling.  Some of that is just modeling what it is the campaign is about as it’s probably not about the same things books in a series are about.

Related to sensibilities is that place names, character names, etc. aren’t silly.  If you set a game in some fantasy world that had nothing to do with Thailand and used all of the actual Thai city names, I might balk until I realized that they were real names of things (and begin to wonder why the game wasn’t set in a Mythic Thailand).  (I worked in an office where all of the conference rooms in the building were names of Thai cities.)

Sure, I’ve read stories with Bink in them a bunch of times.  Bink is frickin’ awesome as a character, with a kind of clever, kind of “this doesn’t really make any sense” nature to why he has a power greater than that of god.  But, I don’t want to game with characters named Bink.

No low.  No low fantasy.  No low anything.  If I want to live in a depressing world where I scrape by, I can look at my retirement savings.  This is where settings like Traveller are a fail to me.  Why would I want to be in that world?  Yes, I’m much more of a high fantasy sort, but Conan isn’t high fantasy nor is Hunters Hunted.  Feng Shui can be, but other martial arts settings … can be.

Related to low, is that I have no interest in money.  Wealth, to me, is a meaningless motivator.  I understand on some “intellectual” level that other people can get motivated by playing a game to pursue money, but I just can’t relate to that in any way.  Money in gaming, to me, is “You saved the Kingdom of Kool Kats, you get a palace made of Unobtainium and your garden grows Rubies.”  Otherwise, you just ignore money.  Now, again, this seems to fly in the face of how I like to shop in L5R, but that’s because I see shopping when it’s meaningless to your character to be ironic and about thumbing your nose at games where shopping actually matters.

The motivators in RPGs should be revenge, love, duty, overcoming weakness, building a better world, and the like.

Mechanics

I need to move on.  Probably a million more words on thematics in RPGs.

No accountanting.  One forum post from rpg.net I copied was ranting about character sheets looking like something on an accountant’s desk.  I’d take this a step farther.  I don’t want to spend my time doing accounting.  I’m an Excel expert, building reports is a core competency, I crunch deck win statistics.  I do not want to spend my time fiddling constantly with character numbers or their possessions’ numbers (i.e. money).

Why is a game like L5R so appealing mechanically?  Look at the character sheet.  Okay, don’t look at the character sheets that come with the books or whatever that are a mess of nonintuitive layout.  Look at my character sheets that nobody else can seem to read.  Traits/Rings, Skills & dice pools, technique descriptions, spell lists, about five combat stats.

As much as I get Hero in some weird way for character creation, just no.  The Speed chart I can sort of understand and oddly doesn’t feel broken when I play, but it has to be broken in some way.  Recovery stat to go with your Stun Pips, your Body Pips, your PD, your ED, then throw END on top?  Accountanting in play to go with the supercrunchish character creation.

When I say L5R 3e/4e hits my sweet spot on mechanics, that’s what I mean.  You don’t have too little information that describes your character, like not having any skills.  You aren’t a d20 character sheet, where you track irrelevant things like encumbrance or your AC varies three different ways depending upon which side you get attacked from.

Savage Worlds has a decent character sheet.  But, it falters in a different way.

Resolution mechanics should feel like you are doing something.  In other words, have a decent dice or card system.  But, what is decent?  I dislike d20, d100, 3d6.  I’m not fond of Savage Worlds’ system because it doesn’t feel like the dice are doing anything interesting.  I like d10, R&K.  For some reason, rolling a single d10 just feels reasonable, even though it’s rather simple.  I used to like the up die/down die mechanic more as well as FUDGE dice, but both have become a bit too focused on the middle to me.

But, what I love the most is playing cards.  I may find The Zero Movement’s high school students in a World of Dimness to be not thrilling in two ways, but play Tarot cards from hand to resolve things?  That’s just the best thing ever.

One chart … and it better be funny.  Savage Worlds does, on the other hand, have the amusing Terror Chart, where the normal result in my play is:  heart attack.  Other than specialized charts, like Conan’s out of control sorcery chart, no charts.  You roll your cards and you tick off your hit boxes.

No hit locations – screwjob.  No bleeding – screwjob.  No action loss (stun, knockdown, shaken) – antifun.  No AoO, no matter how unrealistic it is that someone can just run away.  No grappling.

Descriptors?  For one-shots, ‘k.  For campaign play?  I must admit that I haven’t played a host of descriptor based games in a campaign style, so maybe it works better than I think, but I just think it’s likely to exacerbate all of the problems that descriptor oriented systems have from a mechanical standpoint.  Namely, that descriptors are open to interpretation.

Funky dice?  Maybe.  If by funky, you mean things like having + on two sides, – on two sides, and nothing on two sides, that’s okayish, if kind of limited.  If you mean “Uh, so I spelled URAID10T, what does that mean?”, then take me home to my country road and my single d10.

Highly lethal?  Highly boring.  Unless the game handles PCs going from lifed to unlifed largely intact, it’s just too disruptive to be worrying about how any fight might require rewrites.

Hard times at Ravenloft High?  If my character just constantly fails, I can go back to creating solitaire games to play while watching TV.  I don’t know if it’s too high target numbers or that PCs are losers or what, but I’m shocked at how many games I’ve played where I just felt like my PC was less competent than I was.

Crits and fumbles?  Most of the time, these don’t work.  PCs build to do what they need to do without crits, so crits usually just screw them.  Fumbles can be funny, like that Mekton game I played where I twice shot my training sergeant in the back as I learned mech-jockeying.  But, mostly, they introduce a silly element into games that aren’t supposed to be silly.  Even having mooks stab each other in the brain gets tired pretty quick.

By this plate mail I shall rule!  Armor is not my glass of incredibly sweet tea.  I don’t always hate armor, just often hate it.  Conan was great for having reasons to not wear any armor and to have better reasons to not wear anything more than light armor.  L5R 4e makes armor too good, but 3e seemed okay.

While many a protagonist in a fantasy novel will wear armor, they often don’t and, when they do, it’s often not something emphasized.  I can live with the idea that people sometimes have protective clothing on or whatever, but I just picture play involving things other than warring (including “dungeon warring”).  Then, nothing is more annoying than “I spend this round putting on armor because we once again got attacked in the middle of the night.”  Okay, there are more annoying things, but that’s pritnear the top of the list of tedious gaminess.

Have reasonable character creation and experience systems.  This is another place where I get concerned about descriptor games.  But, there are so many ways this goes wrong.

If I have to spend two hours making a character, even my sweet, sweet Ars Magica characters, fail.  If I have one stat at one and another human max because it’s cheaper to do this at character creation than to advance to human max, fail.  If I have no clue how my character will function after I build it, given that I’ve only created thousands of characters for maybe half a dozen primary systems and miscellaneous other systems, fail.  If I randomly can’t be a farmer, fail.  If I have to take Enraged: When angered, 11 or less, recover 8 or less to have enough points to make a functional character, fail.  If skills matter, and some other class gets tons of skills/skill points, and I get only enough to Spot for the party, fail.  Advance in stuff I don’t care about?  Fail.  Buy up one stat because that’s all that really matters to character effectiveness?  Fail.

Again, this is where recent L5R works for me.  You buy up traits, Void, skills that cost the same as they would when advancing, and that’s almost everything a player will have to do, with some odd exceptions for kata, memorizing spells, kiho, emphases, most of which only apply to certain characters, all of which you could ignore.  Advantages don’t work “properly”, but that’s usually tolerable (but not always …).  When you get XP, you spend them on what you want to improve.  You aren’t having to save up for 10 sessions to add one dot to your highest discipline.  You can improve multiple things in a not outrageous amount of time.  New skills aren’t prohibitive.  You aren’t getting better at things that are either irrelevant or out of character.  You aren’t paying one cost for one type of skill and another for a different type (though, I kind of understand the concept that not all skills are the same value and how problematic that can be).

Essential to my experience when playing a RPG is feeling like my PC is unique.  Mechanical distinctiveness goes a long way to assisting that.  If my only distinction is that my 4th level miller/3rd level ditchdigger has one more point of Intuition than Haifa Wehbe’s 4th level miller/3rd level ditchdigger, I’m not going to feel that there’s any difference between the two of us.

Then, I’m in the “My starting PC should be a badass as well as being an expert in pewter watch chains” camp.  So many times, when a game has a loserville phase, people want to start as losers, even when they’ve done the goat to G.O.A.T thing before.  I like character advancement, I just like it to be from major league all star to major league hall of famer, not single A to major league middle reliever.

Character features are either obvious or cool.  Feng Shui may have “feats” just as d20 has “schticks”.  But, FS (1e, 2e maybe not …) won.  Because Carnival of Carnage and Both Guns Blazing and Willow Step and Armor of Life are not Power Attack, Improved Unarmed Strike, or Exotic Weapon Proficiency.

Not everything needs to have a cool name.  Having a skill called stealth is fine.  This is where looking at a character sheet and going “I understand, understand, understand, whoa, what’s One With God do?” is better than “Does this Advanced Knack do the same thing as this Basic Knack?”

Everything on the character sheet matters.  While a preference, this will never happen, so this is more like some Kantian Ideal.  Well, as much as possible matters.  Don’t have more than 20 skills (sadly, the only game I can think of that I play that limits skills sufficiently doesn’t give you skills I think characters should have).

Don’t have combat be inconclusive up until you die.  This is where I find systems with parrying to often cause pain.  While an epic one-on-one duel should have “Btw, I’m underhanded.”, party combat just grinds in a hellish grind of grindiness when you don’t reduce something’s hit boxes every round.

Have something going on besides combat.  Well, by something, I mean something interesting, not just lockpicking or “you detect an ambush” rolls.  I like skills.  I like horizontal diplomacy.  I like brain stuff.  Harp strumming should be a thing.  Things that the system considers important and not just “secondary skills”.

Enemies should not be so complicated that I ignore the rules.  Actually, this is a place that L5R doesn’t work for me.  I routinely overlook or ignore NPC techniques or mastery abilities because tracking on all of them exceeds my interest level.  This *is* a place where Solomon Kane has worked for me, as monster abilities might involve many more lines than PCs, but there’s not much more going on besides their specials to have to think about.  I actually don’t mind systems having one set of rules for PCs and another for other, as long as there’s still enough mechanical clarity to balance encounters.

Gah, I’m sure I’m missing tons of other things, but I have failed my Endurance + P: Blogging check.

So …

From a mechanical standpoint, there’s a reason I keep mentioning L5R.  Other systems just end up bugging me from a little – Conan’s imbalances, grappling – to a lot – my 366 year old Ventrue cannot possibly survive combat with an angry teenager wielding a brick – to “I have no idea how anyone plays this”.

From a thematic standpoint, obviously, generic systems – Hero, GURPS, d20 – have as much theme as the supplement someone wrote provides.  So, it’s not so much about system.  And, I’ll tend to buy only those games where I like the thematics when the system isn’t generic.

So, it’s more about what groups decide to do in the game, which really isn’t the publisher’s fault.

However, there are a few things that will get me to not Kickstart your RPG.  Fake Tolkien, low fantasy, sci-fi, worlds that mean nothing to me.  Meanwhile, I will totally consider buying a hard copy of Against the Dark Yogi.  I will totally sign up for your beta Babylon (not 5) RPG, your “a man or a multi-layered archetype?” game, your fantasy pseudo-Nigeria game, though I’d only look to campaign one of these if I thought it would have the mechanics to support campaign play.


The Road To Mana

October 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backyard

Backyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilo for dinner, then to the house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Sands Beach's pond

Black Sands Beach’s pond

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

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

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

Green Sands Beach

Green Sands Beach

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

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

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

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obvious gaming relevance.

Obvious gaming relevance.

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

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

That shirt got really wet.

That shirt got really wet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, gaming.

Few things.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


Dungeons and Dragons … and Dungeons …

September 6, 2014

Fifth edition D&D is out.  Maybe it’s my seeing the Player’s Handbook at the local game store.  Maybe it’s having read those reviews of starter rules.  I just read a review of the PHB and skimmed through a review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I don’t have an opinion about 5e, at least about whether it’s good or bad.  I don’t know enough.  It sounds like they tried to undo some of the “why am I not just playing WoW?” of 4e, which is a good goal, but I just don’t know the game.

I never bought 4e D&D.  I hardly played 3e D&D, though I played lots of d20.  I didn’t like the 3e books and pretty much hated the idea of 4e, since, you know, gamers I know have computers and can play WoW or whatever whenever they feel like it.

As may be fairly clear, I’m down on D&D.  So, I decided to do something.

I pulled out my AD&D (1e, of course) PHB and read it, skimming through a bunch of sections, but made an effort to spend some time on those sections I never cared that much about.  When I finished doing that, I pulled out my D&D Basic red book and read through that.

No, I didn’t stop to read every spell description or every monster writeup in Basic.  I did move quickly through most things because, as much as they haven’t been that relevant to me in my life, I looked at some of this stuff (far more AD&D than D&D) a good amount in my formative years.

I got D&D product for my birthday in 1980.  I picked up the AD&D PHB, DMG, MM, and Deities & Demigods in short order.  As with most RPGs where I bought a bunch of books prior to getting older and actually getting into campaigns, I created hundreds if not thousands of characters.

Will I pick up 5e D&D?  Probably not, though maybe something will change my mind.  Would I pick up AD&D today if somehow I lost my books?  Not to play, no.

Still, there’s something about AD&D that I think 3e and 4e, both of which I’m at least somewhat familiar with, lack.  Every version of D&D now strikes me as overly mechanical.  What’s funny is that the Hero System feels less mechanical to me, even though it’s supernumbery.  Something about D&D has always been off when you try to envision taking a fantasy world from fiction and turning around and playing it.

But, it was first, and it was the only real game in town.  I still own zero Tunnels & Trolls products.  Why?  Don’t recall them ever being available when I was young.  Meanwhile, I have a bunch of modules for D&D and AD&D that are pritnear useless to me because they are statblock after 40×40 room after statblock after new magic items after new monsters after wandering monster tables after statblock.  There are interesting story ideas to be sure.  I3-I5 sounds like a cool desert trilogy.  I went to look for inspiration for a desert setting.  I found mechanics.  And, that’s one of the best sets of modules I can think of.

I love L1, The Secret of Bone Hill.  All of the little town shops that have some statted up low level dude do paint some sort of picture to me of a fantasy town.  The interactions of NPCs was something to hang a hat on.

But, getting back to the point.

Which is?

AD&D had something I haven’t felt from 3e and 4e.  It had flavor.  It felt like fantasy.  D&D has caused me to hate dwarves and elves unless you can get into Norse Mythology deep enough for me to forget how much D&D makes me hate dwarves and elves (and I always hated halflings and gnomes, which, by hate, I mean I tried to ignore them as much as possible).  But, that took time.  When I poured over the PHB character mechanics, I was perfectly happy to come up with multiclass builds for elves and half-elves.

Being the primary game in town gives you a lot.  See how reinventing Magic: The Gathering is just a waste of time, unless it’s done as a martial arts game with pictures of real martial artists and was done in 1995.  Still, the PHB made me want to play different characters.  The class system especially but also racial differences made me think of possible PCs.  I should say that the art in AD&D is just so much better than what I can remember seeing in other D&D products for making fantasy feel serious/important.  As silly as I may find D&D undead now, undead then was stylish, no matter how moronic level loss was.

Psionics?  Ludicrous.  Bard?  WTF?  Spell abuse?  Whatever.

What’s my main takeaway of reading the PHB these days?  It’s short.  It’s a lot shorter than it felt.  Note that I only focused on a small portion of it back in the day, but that’s kind of the point.  Back in the day, I was interested in creating characters for the game.  I was interested in what abilities got unlocked as you leveled up, even though I hardly ever played pre-d20 D&D to have characters level up.  Ten or so pages in the PHB opened up a massive world of fantasy.

I’m older now.  I’ve seen better.  I actually can picture fantasy PCs better with Body Pips and Stun Pips than I can with THAC0.  Of course, Fantasy Hero never had the world baggage that D&D acquired.  You didn’t need articles on the ecology of ochre jelly or how flying monsters twice as wide as people were behind dungeon doors that a human had to squeeze through.

oD&D is also so amazingly treasure focused.  Not to say nD&D isn’t, but it’s so fundamental to oD&D the idea that monsters guard treasure straight out of the videogames that came after D&D.  I used to not hate +2 swords.  I quite despise them, now, for their complete lack of flavor or specialness.  Retainers get a lot of paragraphs in those old books, yet I don’t recall, off the top of my head, ever having retainers in any RPG be something I spent virtually any time on or having virtually any impact on play.  But, when PCs died like flies, retainers dying first was great.

I read an article recently, which I’m pretty sure I blogged about, about how the point of oD&D was survival of the fittest.  It was a gamist venture from the wargame roots to survive as long as possible.  Just one more dungeon.  Just one more boss fight.  Just one more check for traps on the empty room with the chest in the corner.  Boardgames, such as Descent, cover this for tabletop play, and, of course, videogames.

Mechanics matter.  When I get together to talk L5R, most of the conversation has to do with character sheet stuff, whether what a character currently can roll or how XP will be spent.  I found better mechanics than D&D.  I quite dislike the 3-18 attribute system, these days.  I do like how D&D Basic/Expert/et al respect stats that aren’t 16+, if only slightly.  I actually quite dislike d20’s every two points is a one modifier, though, as it’s horribly inelegant compared to halving everything.  Nor am I fan of using a d20 for resolution.  It’s fine to roll a d20 for some esoteric table to give 20 possible results.  For standard resolution, however, a d10 is so much better (not to be confused with percentile – percentile is even worse than a d20 for the same reasons – it gives too many empty results, leading to everything feeling terribly mechanical even if it’s possible to scale everything in the game to where there’s no mathematical difference between the systems).

It’s funny to read how 5e making feats optional is bad because it takes away player choice.  Um, AD&D and Basic had nothing remotely like player choice after you adjusted your starting attributes and chose a class besides things like spells.  And, that was not the end of the world.  Sure, systems where you spend XP to make the improvements you want to make are vastly superior … vastly.  But, the d20 feat system sucks.  No, really, it sucks.  It has good intentions, but it sucks.  It has feats you would never take, feats you always take, and so many feats just come across as pure mechanics, lacking any sort of Both Guns Blazing or Carnival of Carnage flavor another RPG might have.

Would I play AD&D (1e, probably not 2e) or Basic?  Yeah, I can see it.  That Basic only has leather armor, chain armor, and plate armor is nice simplification.  Alignments are Chaotic Evil, but they are easily ignored.  I just feel like the oD&D mechanics, though screwy in all sorts of ways, were more elegant than more recent versions of the game.  I write down my strange saving throw numbers.  I have to get a magic weapon ASAP in order to hurt certain things.  I wonder why there are racial limits on classes and hope everyone dies before they matter.  I ignore how busted some spells can be … really, D&D Expert Haste affects 24 allies by giving them double attacks with no penalty … really?!?

I’m not opposed to dungeon crawl play – see interest in HeroQuest boardgame.  I’m not opposed to videogame role-playing.  I think my greatest problem with any new edition of D&D is just going to be the baggage of it never being what I prefer out of a RPG, which is an elegant set of rules for both character creation and resolution to tell stories in fantasy worlds (that aren’t silly).

I can go into a dungeon.  Draw a map.  Hope nobody cares about the party light source or how many feet it provides visibility for.  Hope we don’t have to stop and check for traps every 10′ and check for secret doors every 10′.  Maybe even play a spellcaster, as it occurs to me that I’ve played spellcasters a surprising amount in D&D play compared to other games.

Meanwhile, for more narrative play, I imagine using some other system because the habit, if not the requirement, with D&D is to fall into the dungeon crawl/tactical wargame aspects of it.  Oddly, that other system could be d20, of the Conan sort – I’ve never played Pathfinder and don’t get the sense that there’s any reason to start.  I’d prefer it to be Roll & Keep, but that requires effort and removing expectations.  Savage Worlds is not terrible, but I’m not sure I think it’s adequate.  Hero might be worth a shot, might not be.  GURPS?  No.  Unisystem?  Is there a reasonable fantasy option.  BRP?  No.

I’m not against D&D.  I don’t have a problem with it being an industry leader, nor do I really care that Pathfinder has surpassed other editions of D&D.  Though, I suppose there’s one way I have a problem with it.  It distracts from far better games, even far better fantasy games.  It gives people the wrong idea about what FRPing should be like.  The number of FRPGs that have elves and dwarves is horrendous.  No matter how brilliant the game might be, as soon as I see these sort of generic, I mean Tolkien, nonhuman races, I will lose interest.  Might as well play one of the versions of Middle Earth, even though I have a hard time seeing how to run a game in the world.

Okay, maybe I am kind of against D&D.  I’d rather see games on the shelf that let me play the game I’m interested in rather than some extraordinarily gamey world.  One might say GURPS has that niche, having a universal system for whatever genre you want, but GURPS is too heavy.  Okay, some people really like Savage Worlds.  I tolerate it.  I’m sure the system closer to what I want a system to be has been made, but it probably included halflings or something and, thus, made itself unregardable.

Anyway, for those people who enjoy it, more dragon-subduing for ya … and dungeons.


Kill The Wizard

May 10, 2014

A thought for individual games has solidified some, recently, into a general philosophy that I may increasingly embrace.

PCs shouldn’t do “magic”.

There’s a reason, of course, for those quotes.  What is “magic”?  “Magic” encompasses those abilities that are disproportionately versatile, world-altering, or otherwise too efficient at challenge-solving.  These sort of superior PC abilities put an extra burden on the GM when it comes to fashioning challenges.  Furthermore, there tends to be a massive discrepancy in usefulness of PCs with regards to each other, which can affect player enjoyment.  I’ll start with giving some examples of “magic” and come back to the issues with it later.

Let’s start with supers.  Superstrength is quite versatile in superhero worlds and in a number of superhero RPGs (to their credits).  But, it’s not “magic”.  Variable Power Pool in Champions is obviously “magic”.  Green Lantern does “magic”.  As does Magneto.  But, so does Professor X and numerous other psychs.  This could be why I hate the idea of psy based supers.  When you can read minds, game over, you win.  When you can control minds, game over, you win.  Techlords, aka gadgeteers, also do “magic”.  Reed Richards can make anything.  Tony Stark can come up with any modification to the armor.  Bat sharkfood.  Whatever.

If it’s boring that Superman can pretty much do anything with his angel/god powers, it’s also incredibly boring that somebody can just kitbash victory.  If.  I don’t find Superman all that interesting as a character, but there are adventures of his that I find interesting.  It’s a staple of fiction that the genius puts together some ad hoc world-saving device that may very well never be seen again (or, much more rarely, find an old one in the closet to deal with a repetitive problem).  I don’t have a problem with the Doctor throwing something together, etc.

However, I lost focus, there.  “Magic” is something characters in fiction do all of the time, and it works because fiction and RPGs are two different things.  PCs should not be about the “wait around a few hours, then roll Science to make the Winning Tool”.

Talked a bit about superworlds, very lightly on how science can fix every problem with the power of science!!  Obviously, magic lends itself highly to “magic”.

For various reasons, Elric is a terrible RPG character.  One of those reasons is that the way he solves problems is “Now, what was that summoning spell to bring some god or army of supernatural monsters to save me?”  Thomas Covenant *is* magic/”magic”.  Etc.  But, I think it’s time to stop on the fiction side of things and get into the game side of things.

D&D.  Are magic-users and clerics, et al, doing “magic”?  In some cases, yes.  In some cases, no.  The pattern with many D&D versions is that the magic-user starts off weak and becomes dominant later.  Cleric may never start off weak and may not have quite the upside a magic-user does, but there’s still a very different power* progression to the magicless.  The “Do I cast Sleep or Magic Missile today?” magic-user is not doing “magic”.  On the other hand, it’s not just higher level spells, it’s just effects that can be overly effective with the right GM, like Invisibility, that get into doing “magic”.

*  Power isn’t the clearest term to use, as power can mean magnitude of effect to some, where I often factor in versatility/effectiveness when I speak of power (including when I talk about it in CCGs).

D&D is heavily predicated upon PC magic, either in terms of permanents – the ubiquitous magic items – or in terms of spells.  What about Conan d20, a far more swords and sorcery game?

Magical ability very easily becomes a situation of “magic”.  Yes, the system is far more subtle, but that just means that the player needs to be cleverer to really exploit it.  There were many situations where some spell, possibly one that wasn’t spectacular, could deal with challenges in a way that the rest of the party had no ability to use.

Vampire.  V:TM or V:TR, though my experience is much greater with the former.  A key feature of the game is that PCs have superhuman abilities, many of which are essentially magic.  Without those abilities, not vampires anymore.  The more openended disciplines, such as Animalism, Dominate, and Presence, are “magic”.  Clever use can just blow apart challenges.  Thaumaturgy in V:TM is, of course, the worst offender unless the GM clamps down on what PCs can learn to do.

Hopefully little point to dragging out more examples of magic=”magic” or where XYZ=”magic”, but, of course, can’t skip over expending words on noting the brokenness of shugenja in L5R.

There’s a vaguely amusing thread on the AEG forums at the moment where someone asked about how much buying additional spells with XP should cost.  The shugenja player isn’t happy, where the monk (admittedly, kiho never see play in my campaigns, so I don’t bother learning much about them) and four bushi are all satisfied.  My amusement at someone being frustrated by not having a higher level of godlike power is tempered by the idea that it’s probably just someone who doesn’t understand the system well enough to understand just how much shugenja are better than everyone else.  On the other hand, the GM might be reining in spell effectiveness to a much greater degree than most do.

Why are shugenja gods?

Commune.  Commune is the single most broken effect in L5R.  As much as GMs may anticipate how Commune destroys investigation challenges and come up with cheesy “the kami were all banished” or makes kami a pain in the ass to get info out of even though it’s pathetically easy to call max Raises on a Commune spell for clarity every single time, then just recast it over and over until you ask the right questions, those who can’t speak to the kami can’t just ask the world to supply the investigation destroying information that kami can provide.

Path to Inner Peace.  Sure, there are some other abilities that enable real healing, i.e. non-Medicine healing since Medicine is garbage healing.  Pritnear no PCs have them.  While it should be obvious at all times, our 20 Goblin Winter campaign, which didn’t allow shugenja, clearly showed that the lack of real healing completely changes party action.  We would have to head back to Shinsei’s Last Hope and mope about for a while to not have someone sit in wound penalties … while hunting for Shadowlands monsters.  I would say that the real problem with Path isn’t that Path is “magic”, but that all RPGs should pretty much have daily instaheal, which is a whole separate blog post that can get into my thoughts on a thread I was reading not long ago.

Jade Strike.  Invulnerable?  Okay, everyone guard the shugenja.

Fires of Purity.  Forget that it’s something like 4k4+ damage every round in real combat situations.  As mentioned in at least one previous blog post, it makes kidnapping impossible.  It destroys cavalry.  It turns grapple from murder into turbomurder.  It prevents party members from being attacked, at times.

The all shugenja party is the optimized party.  Can go on about how great your murder prowess is with simple attacks and no-dachi 7 or testsubo 7, but the all shugenja party will murder just fine and have a host of abilities that the magicless won’t have.  As for courtier/artisan/monk abilities, outside of Henshin, I never see them do anything you can’t do by improving Awareness or whatever, which has a lot to do with how poorly the game explains how these abilities are supposed to be useful, but it is what it is.  I really don’t expect Sword and Fan to change my play experiences significantly.  Of course, YMMV.

So, great, plenty of examples of “magic”.  Whining isn’t that useful.

There are other reasons I think hunter (with a lowercase “h”) campaigns make far more sense than monster campaigns in the World of Darkness, but a major reason would be the difference in the nature of challenges.  If the PC vampire can run around Dominating kine left and right, going to be a lot different than “shotgun to the head” sort of challenges that hunters will face.  Clearly, there’s a difference between Garou and mages, though Garou ability to interdimensionally travel is rather a huge “magic” problem.

Quite a few players of supers are probably going to be fine with character concepts around punching buildings apart, blasting buildings apart, flying charges into buildings until they fall apart, and the like where “magic” isn’t so much of an issue.  I’m vastly more familiar with Champions than other supers games, so I think in terms of every single ability being built and bought, which greatly limits versatility.  Again, just don’t allow the Variable Power Pools or Multipowers with 15 slots or any of the sort of stuff you might see in Mystic Masters.

The most problematic situation from a marketing/sales perspective is taking “magic” out of fantasy by limiting/restricting/removing PC magic.  Yet, fiction is full of (and used to be mostly about) protagonists who killed the foul sorcerers with no magic or extremely limited magic.  That was kind of the point of Elric – being the supreme sorcerer was a twist compared to the Conans of the genre.

I think it can be done.

I think removing shugenja from L5R as a PC option is entirely viable.  Sure, I would come up with healing house rules to make Medicine Raises give +1k1 instead of +1k0 to wound treatment, though that’s still probably not nearly enough healing to where I’d probably just say you heal Stamina xN after every scene or each day (x8 or something for the former and x15 or something or the simpler full heal for the latter).

Our Conan campaign didn’t always have the sorcerer PC(s) around.  Again, though, magic != “magic”.  With L5R, it would be incredibly hard to remove the “magic” abilities of someone who could do magic, though it would actually be far easier if the party wizard was a maho-tsukai, where your spell selection is much more tailorable by a GM.  But, with Conan, it shouldn’t really be that hard to limit spellcasting, especially with the far more esoteric Defensive Blasts of 2e, versus the nuclear option Defensive Blast of 1e.

RuneQuest’s battle magic, with the exception of healing, tends to be incredibly narrow and just a lot of buffs.  I don’t feel the “magic” in the game at all.  Rune Magic being one-shot also makes that awful and largely irrelevant.  I know my characters have never found Rune Magic remotely effective.

Shadowrun is a world I just don’t get, so there’s little point to my commenting on how to take the “magic” out of the game.  May be that the whole point of the game is that everyone has “magic” since it’s a world that combines the two things that are most prone to leading to “magic” – high technology and … magic.

“But, when are you going to elaborate on why ‘magic’ is a problem?”

From a GM perspective, consider this scenario:  You have a party with one or two “magic”-users and some inferior PCs.  You aren’t lazy and actually consider all of the different ways “magic” can overcome challenges too easily.  Then, game day/night happens and your “magic”-users don’t show up.  Okay, GMs who adjust on the fly better may be asking “And …?”  But, it’s just more work when I already find GMing to be choreful.

From a player perspective, it can get really old to be a spearchucker.  Not so much for me, as I embrace sidekickness to a far, far greater degree than others, but even I can get tired of “taking up space” in games.  Some RPG campaigns are also far less about mechanics than others, and I can get into my personal narratives to a greater degree to where mechanical spearchuckerness is not so bad.  L5R is like that for me where I’m far more into NPC relations and shopping than I am trying to find a purpose as a non-shugenja.  Lots of folks aren’t so keen on being mechanically disadvantaged by lacking that old time “magic”.

Then, why even bother having it be an issue in the first place?  Why not just have parties where the PCs are competing (because PCs do compete – if they didn’t, folks wouldn’t complain about how unbalanced different character builds are) on a relatively level playing field?  “Okay, you scurvy lot.  Who is the fighter?  Who is the talker?  Who is the rogue?  Got it.  Now, at all times there’s this ghost that hangs out with you that heals you to full twice a day …”


Fan-tizzy

January 29, 2012

I’ve been thinking about fantasy RPG systems.  In particular, it’s the age old question of what FRPG system I would want to use.  Hardly exciting.  Can already predict talking about L5R’s sweet spot with mechanics and flawed world.  But, I started thinking about some specifics.

First of all, what games are FRPGs?  I don’t mean so much whether Shadowrun counts as fantasy or whether mixed genre games should go in their own, though this is relevant.  I mean more that there’s a particular subtype of fantasy role-playing that I have in mind.

Conan d20 is certainly a FRPG, but it isn’t what I’m concerned with at the moment.  Conan simulates swords and sorcery, a genre with limited magic and where supernatural elements are typically rooted in the “bad”, the enemy.  Or, if “good”, only show up to counter evil.

What I’m wondering about these days is what system would I play something like Wheel of Time in or Spellsinger or Young Kingdoms – worlds where magic is in the hands of the heroes.  There is a Wheel of Time d20 supplement, yet there’s no way I would want to use d20 as a base.  Young Kingdoms is covered by the Chaosium model, which I have no interest in either.

Why not these systems, though?

d20

Too mechanical.  Too much accounting.  I feel like I’m playing a MMORPG, which should give an idea of how pointless I view 4e D&D, which is an obvious MMO ripoff.

Starting characters are too weak.  Experience benefits are too slow and awkward.  Feats are boring.  The only thing I actually like about d20 is the skill system and “improvements” on d20 keep trying to “fix” the skill system.  I don’t even like how d20 or any D&D version does attributes, even though it’s the 3-18 system that I was first introduced to and has been used extensively in RPGs.  I hate using a d20 for resolution as to me it produces far too much variance and too many dull rolls.

I can’t speak to how well the magic system works for D&D d20, too little experience too long ago.

Chaosium

RuneQuest, Stormbringer/Elric, Call of Cthulhu, Basic Role-Playing, etc.  d100 resolution has the same problem as d20 resolution, only providing more “empty” values – rolls that don’t interest me in any way.

All of these games are far too crippling to PCs in my experience.  In our RuneQuest play, I just figure that a limb will be lost every fight, that death is two or three hits, that combat doesn’t really work unless you are superior to the enemy, have a bunch of potions (mainly Heal 6’s to restore limbs), and enough PCs know Healing 2 or Xenohealing 2 for recovery and stopping bleeding.

It’s RQ that inspired me to about a few things.  The first is the usual problem I have with features such as hit location, bleeding, fumble charts that screw over PCs.  Other than building the “there’s no symmetry between PCs and what they fight” arguments for why these things suck, which is kind of interesting when you think about just how much difference there is and how that impacts game design, there’s not much gained from this line of thinking.

The more interesting line of thinking for me that got me on this kick was two-fold:  what sort of magic system I want to see when the PCs are expected to be spellcasters; how games should handle recovery.

The more I’ve come to participate in RQ’s magic system, the less it makes sense to me from a marketing standpoint.  Much like Vampire: The Masquerade made a mistake by having variety of abilities at discipline dot levels PCs wouldn’t have and not at the levels that players care about, RQ is all about having this giant world of magic that PCs barely touch.

Even Battle Magic, which is readily attainable, depletes power points in a death spiral way and the costs of learning it are absurd relative to our income.  My recollection is that, in fact, the intention is to limit each PC to a few spells.  Unfortunately, that rules out the focused spellcaster and just causes everyone to look the same, which is the number one thing that I complain about.

Then, there’s Rune Magic, which seems like it would be important.  It’s laughable how poor the incentives are.  Sure, we are dumb and don’t sacrifice to learn Rune Magic every chance we get, which seems to be the way the game is supposed to be played.  But, even so, when I knew a Rune Spell, I never wanted to cast it, just like any one-shot effect that seems good is something no one wants to ever use.  Even at Rune Lord, every spell is a one-shot.  To actually play the game they talk about requires a bunch of Rune Priests, which I’ve been told shouldn’t be adventuring, anyway.

So, what should a “PC magic” system look like?  Daily spell slots?  It might get tiresome to hear, but I do think it works with L5R, though maybe only because the need to cast is relatively rare.  I actually have found, in my not so recent experiences, that D&D spell slots work okay.

Power points?  I don’t find this to work.  It’s all about replenishment rate.  In games with this mechanic, I find someone blows their wad out in a fight and, then, can’t do anything forever.  In Conan, sorcery is better suited to bad guys as they can replenish with human sacrifices.  But, then, Conan isn’t a “PC magic” system.

Fantasy Hero

Which brings us to Fantasy Hero.  The Hero engine was intended for Champions, and it often shows in how the system often doesn’t capture the flavor of genres without a lot of work under the hood.  On the plus side, the engine is so customizable from a power standpoint (the skill system blows), that you can eventually find a particular flavor.

Anyway, if you play it without a bunch of limitations, casting a spell is pretty much just a factor of making a skill roll (which blows) and spending END.  Rechargability is easy, so you can produce consistent effects (depending upon making skill rolls) each and every fight.  This is more what I’ve been thinking of when it comes to recovery.

I find that recovery can be a huge problem.  In Conan, sure, you will get your hit points back after three days of rest, but fighting back to back major fights is crippling.  L5R is not remotely designed for multiple battles in a row – shugenja will run out of Water slots for healing fast and possibly all slots; Void Points will be gone by the second fight.  Another case of how D&D does things better, as the whole engine was built around the idea of multiple fights.

Take an extreme example.  You fight a major battle with everyone a mess and half your offensive spells gone.  Clerics replace enough hit points and the other half of the offensive spells enable a second engagement of the same level.  When tapped out (spellwise), you are done for the day.  Now, of course, D&D’s dungeon crawling philosophy is predicated upon the idea that you can secure a part of the dungeon long enough to refresh, which is not different from other situations where you know when you have to stop and you stop.

With Fantasy Hero, if you want to enable an easily recharged battery, it’s simple to have that recharged battery.  Can take five phases, or whatever, to replenish END every fight.  I think a lot of people are opposed to this.  I’m not sure if they’ve thought it through or not, but I can see how it sounds wrong.

If you can instantly recover (heal, have full spell options, etc.) after every fight, then what’s the real cost of a fight?  Preventing death could be, though death is not a viable option in some worlds, like worlds that make any sense.  A lot of adventures don’t have a viable alternative to winning a fight.  In fiction, you would just get captured or you would fail some mission critical objective, like preventing the damsel from being whisked away or a village being burned to the ground.

Being captured has often been considered worse than death in the hack and slash world.  After all, can get resurrected, but being captured means losing stuff, and stuff is the game’s god.

Precious

Okay, I forgot to mention earlier another thing that always bothers me in FRPGs that I’m choosing to dredge up.  I hate stuff.  I hate external power.  To me, characters and not just fantasy characters should be defined by what makes the character special and not how special their stuff is.

Admittedly, in certain cases, a character is tied to stuff.  Elric is tied to Stormbringer, even if he is special without it.  There’s a certain allowance that can be given to a character, though only when the stuff is unique.

I particularly hate armor.  I quickly got tired of AD&D’s armor system where you always chose the heaviest armor you could.  RuneQuest is exactly the same way.  I don’t care if it’s realistic or not.  It has terrible flavor, and again, it makes everyone the same.  I find that in RQ, every single one of my characters gets exactly the same armor because any other choice is moronic.  For a variety of reasons, Conan has grown in my esteem, but one thing I always credited it with was that armor was something to be minimized.  Sure, it’s hecka useful to have some, more so than I thought for quite a long time, but in a world where the outdoors matter, anything above light armor is suicidal.

So, what system succeeds in the stuff department?  Conan does a very good job, even though some weapons are much better.  L5R does well enough, though 4e is a step back with how powerful armor turns out to be.

None Of The Above

And, so it goes.  I may really like L5R at the moment, but I have major questions as to how adaptable it is to more generic fantasy with even just the system.  I suppose anything can be house ruled, with house ruling the closest system being more sensible than another.  I could change basic healing in L5R to something where you pretty much restore all your wounds after every fight without Path to Inner Peace.

But, I wonder.  I wonder if I’m overcomplicating things and missing an obvious choice if all I wanted to do was dungeon crawl or reflect a specific fantasy genre where magic resided heavily in the party.  AD&D or oD&D would probably be fine for dungeon crawling.  As for high fantasy, I’ve already argued that the nature of it is antithetical to mechanics.  Medium fantasy, for lack of a better term, is not even something I have a clear grasp on.  Maybe Spellsinger would fall into it.  Maybe when you cross swords and sorcery with high fantasy, as Moorcock does, you get a balance rather than two different genres.

Maybe if I understood Ars Magica better.  Maybe if I went to the trouble of playing around with Fantasy Hero (and just ignore how much I hate skills in Hero).  Savage Worlds isn’t going to do it – I never developed a good sense of the mechanics.  RQ, in theory, could be made more palatable to me, but it would completely change the nature of the game, and it would likely be less palatable to others.