We played two mods of HoR4 yesterday, backfilling with the help of our allies in Fresno (well, Bill, who spent a whole day just GMing for us). Prior to that, talked to some local L5R players about RPing. I’ve had a number of thoughts run through my mind as I tried to think about what would end up in this post.
Get to talking about my HoR4 character last because I’m guessing that’s the least interesting thing I could talk about, but I may need to refer to our three-PC core group to hit on certain things … at any time.
Dungeon Crawling – Rokugani Style
This was a topic, as both mods were relatively dungeon crawlesque. In my experience, doesn’t happen much.
I don’t know. I don’t mind the idea of being indoors as something is going on, but that in itself doesn’t make for a dungeon crawl experience. A dungeon crawl is more of a room by room experience, which the second mod was in golden spades. Room challenges, whether of the trap sort, the puzzle sort, or the monster sort.
I don’t hate traps. I hate certain traps whether because they inflict some crippling condition randomly, fine red mist characters randomly, or just seem like anyone with any sense would bypass them effortlessly. By sense, I mean adventurers. Do people who have experience with quicksand ever end up in quicksand? I don’t know. If you see a gas or smell something funny, do you not: hold your breath; cover your nose; retreat away from it?
Puzzles are not all that satisfying to me. Either you gnome it or you dgnome’t. When you dgnome’t, you roll some dice and either you succeed or you fail. Or, you trial and error. In pretty much every case, I don’t find it interesting challenge. I do acquire puzzle books. I find acrostics and cryptograms interesting, sudoku can be time filling, Scrabblegrams can be really good or really terrible. But, these are solitary experiences where time is not really a concern and my personal welfare isn’t much at stake. Then, for another take on puzzles – True Dungeon – I don’t normally feel anything about those, either. I’m curious as to what the solutions are, but I don’t feel invested in finding them.
In RPG play, puzzles have often been incredibly tedious. I appreciate some clever (rhyming) poetry, but that doesn’t mean I’m into the solving, as, again, tends to be too easy or too hard. Plus, figuring things out as a group doesn’t hold much appeal to me.
An inherent issue with puzzles and, often, with traps is no choice. See some blog post about how combat is such a compelling challenge because it offers, among other things, options.
Less plausible to me for L5R is having dungeon monsters. Whether humans or not, in the normal theater of the mind play of L5R, you fight things because they are in the same vicinity as you, not because they are waiting for a door to open. HoR2 did have a mod where you had dudes attack you as you progressed, but, still, it’s a completely different paradigm from the many D&D dungeons I’ve seen that expect you to rest for a while somewhere in the dungeon or just outside and keep incrementally progressing to the payoff.
Given that I find legal challenges tiresome in L5R as well as many similar social challenges, what challenges do I like in L5R?
One of the mods almost had something I would have really liked. It was quite humorous to realize that our core group of two bushi and essentially a third bushi are really well advantage to pursue careers in opium harvesting. Projects with multiple tasks where you check tasks off a list using obscure skills with possibly amusing trait combinations is generally favorable. Harsh Lessons was great for that, though my players may have gotten tired of having to full attack bamboo.
I like combat, at times. I tend to like more the fights where the party fights 2 or 3 big bads. But, there have been bandit fights or zombie fights that I’ve enjoyed. I just think it’s hard to structure combat challenges due to the randomness potential in damage output and the significance of good tactics versus poor tactics. Yes, the more you learn of 4e (or prior editions), the more you can control for the party. But, a few things are spanners in the works for such. One, maybe the PCs you thought were going to show up for a session didn’t. Two, PC combat prowess can change a lot with advancement and you may not have developed the calibration skills for such changes.
For example, PCs gain simple attacks. You don’t upgrade your opposition, it gets ripped apart. You give your opposition simple attacks and … so not good for PCs. In the Princess Police campaign, when we were R-3 or R-4 or something, we fought like six Mantis bushi, six … R-3 … Mantis bushi. Um, that’s like fighting six bears with better attack rolls. If. If the shugenja know what to do, then you may have an edge.
I like some social challenges, when the rolls work out or when you can try things that involve lesser used skills, like your perform skill(s) to help convince some cutie pie to go for someone. I’m into clever ideas for social challenges, I’m not into clever arguments for social challenges – too much pressure on the spot.
I have had some good experiences with contests but also lots of not good experiences with contests as R&K is not a fantastic system for PvP or PCvNPC. Curiously, duel tournaments actually seem to work better than a lot of contests, perhaps because more die rolls are involved. But, contests with lots of die rolls become tedious, especially to people not involved or not competitive. Races don’t often work, but sometimes they are fun.
Anyway, got off track. Besides the dungeon crawl just to do something different, I don’t know that a dungeon crawl is going to be something I look at as all that for L5R or any sort of RPG that isn’t designed for dungeon crawls. Just too narrowly focused on what’s sort of a weird paradigm. On the other hand, True Dungeon is fine to me as a dungeon crawl with all of the aspects of self-contained challenges and managing resources across rooms, though I haven’t found the right balance with it, either – challenge balance that is.
I really like 3e/3r/4e’s combat system. I find that they have the right number of options and that they feel exciting much of the time (sure, there are grindfests that suck). It occurred to me yesterday that I also just find L5R a really, really easy system to understand and play.
I’m pretty sure there are other people who don’t. But, it’s just so intuitive and so … straightforward. You aren’t burdened with tons of math [yeah, I said that … about R&K]. Should be easy to learn. Don’t have to track too many abilities. And, yet, somehow, other people struggle with the system(s).
I’m increasingly perplexed. Sure, if you struggle with all systems. If you struggle with systems beyond just “roll your attack roll”, I guess. I just don’t see how playing L5R after a couple of fights or outside of combat resolution is anything but one of the more basic resolution systems. Hero may be easy for people who understand maneuvers or when to recover REC or whatever, but I find its options far more intimidating, though I also haven’t played much Hero. A lot of D&D style play just seems like you have no real choices as to what to do, though Conan could be the opposite when you had the Feats or when grappling reared its painful tentacles.
Now, good tactics is something more. I often fail good tactics, as I’ve repeatedly mentioned, forgetting Center Stance, forgetting Knockdown (though it’s almost always a bad play for my low STR PCs), not playing shugenja hardly ever also probably means I would make poor spell choices when put on the spot. How many raises to call is always a question, which is a facet of a deeper system than if raises didn’t exist.
So, with our three-men team of fighty sorts, we didn’t feel like our combat tactics were all that bad yesterday. But, again, no gods in this party. So, when we take wounds, we take them and dislike them. We also are three fighty sorts with approximately to the absolute degree zero ranged attacks outside of funky stuff like the good ole wak throw.
Yup, like three PCs with REF 3 and not a single bow between us. My Miya actually has Kyujutsu but doesn’t have access to a bow, which is kind of incredibly dumb and kind of incredibly distinctive. How many games enforce social restrictions on equipment (though, this particular social restriction could be obviated if I tried)?
Team Opium Harvesters
Our team has mostly the same strengths and mostly the same weaknesses. That is not what one might call … optimal. We are all morons, for instance, which seems to actually matter in HoR4. We have one perceiver, who has Void 2. We have two-thirds Void 2 PCs. Sure, we all Earth reasonably well. I have a good attack roll. Damage rolls are decent. ATNs range from solid-high to pretty suck (same way I can get a yumi and ya, I could get light armor).
We aren’t amazing at social or perceiving. We have zero Medicine.
What would be the fix?
Replace my PC, as mine is the least relevant in many ways no matter how much I just broke a mod with an awful school technique. Replace with a god (shugenja) who does brains and brawny-Path-to-Inner-Peace. My replace idea is half that, just being yet another moron. Hiruma-san is the sponge and half-perceiver. Yoritomo-san is the socialite and Void recoverer. I become half-perceiver and … Well, one of those two could have been the brains, as, after all, bushi are much better oriented to being brains than courtier/shugenja, as only bushi might care about Agility. Everyone is a food taster. I become the ranger with my mud build as I walk fast and carry a big Grasp of Earth’s Stagnation. Any of us could grapple. Any of us could murder.
As is, we have two demi-talkers, no brains, demi-ranger, all possible grapplers, all murderers to some degree, no chasm crosser (well, maybe I am), two shoppers (and an anti-shopper), and three possible food tasters.
I guess I need to add more roles to my list of L5R PC roles as one of our biggest problems is the lack of Healers, plus there’s an argument that Buffer is a fully real role, even if you are like a Void Shugenja who just buffs yourself – Improver may be a more appropriate name for the role, as a key aspect of playing to the dice system is figuring out ways to improve rolls. On the other hand, if you think about it, we all have Luck and I have a solid Honor Roll, so we do have a fair amount of die results improving at hand, which is possibly the only way we got through either of those mods or any of the other mods that were challenging.
And, of course, I left off Sneak from the list. But, my Miya has that covered and I think our party is actually reasonably sneaky, though the others being afflicted with armor impairs that.
Herald of Annihilation
Was so long between Gen Con and yesterday I didn’t remember much about choosing to serve Galactus/Onnotangu/whoever. I’ll have to review my notes.
My experience with my character is that I’ve enjoyed what the character has done, I just don’t find much of interest in the character’s sheet. Buys are slow and add little value. Tons of weak areas. The Showoff archetype is already a poor party member and we’ve only got three and are godless.
I have no goals (unless I check my notes and refresh some goal I may have had besides “they all need to burn”). I didn’t even find horizontal dancing with a sailor to be as captivating as it may have been for another character. I’m rich and find shopping rather dull.
I’m sitting on exactly the XP to make a critical mechanical buy for what my intent was and I’m torn. I could brain up, though I wouldn’t have Sage. I could, hmmm, almost every idea involved braining up. I would probably enjoy having a reasonably sized brain. It’s not even anathema to my concept. If I had infinite XP, I would have an INT above 2. I just don’t have that on my buy list until around the 212 XP mark. Of course, being one with the soil isn’t absolutely essential. It’s just that I defeat my own concept by not making the 20 XP buy I can make right now. Small buys don’t change the character hardly at all – it’s all whether I go to three in a Ring or not.
Btw, if I did 3 a Ring, I’d get my next broken school technique. Can’t wait until someone tries to influence me and I get to roll Etiquette with a +7 (currently) bonus. That will be the ultiproof that the future has already happened.
A bigger brain is just so XP crippling, and it doesn’t really solve the healing problem given how crap Medicine is, though it would be funny to completely rethink the character and make that ultidoctor PC. Aiya! Is that what the omniverse is trying to tell me? Can I actually … achieve … enjoyment … through the power of nuclear accident and become the biggest brain of them all? Oh, except, problem with going brain surgeon path – I failed to take Great Potential Medicine, so I’m still horrid at actually restoring the beaten down bushi.
Still, it’s almost a half-baked idea. One that can involve browning and braising.
My feeling about the campaign at this juncture?
Still have no idea what matters. Have a hard time hooking a character into anything because there doesn’t feel like anything to engage with.
But, that’s not terribly different from HoR3. What is different is that I haven’t really considered any mod so far a superior mod. There are some decent ones. But, two of the ones that come to mind as decent would have been largely forgotten in the other campaigns. There are some ideas I see that try to be novel, but I’m just not feeling payoff to those. Lack of meaningful NPCs, lack of the Ivory Kingdoms mattering at all (part of our discussion on the drive back was how the Ivinda lack any recognizable NPCs), lack of even such things as the Nightingales or getting a cert for encouraging a ronin.
Maybe it’s a meta thing, where it’s just become old hat. Or, maybe it’s just the difference between HoR2 and 3/4, where people felt like something was going on early on in the campaign and people discussed it, and … and … it actually mattered what was going on not that far into the campaign! Unlike HoR3, where the end is just a whipsaw of “um, sure, cool conspiracy, bro, I have, uh, demon cats to murder so I can awaken this sword, yeah”.