Part Time GM

June 8, 2018

I am trying to find a Kickstarter that’s supposed to run in June, and I came across a Kickstarter for a RPG.

Part Time Gods Kickstarter

Considering that I’ve been largely disappointed with RPG Kickstarters and rather happy with the one boardgame KS I backed and fine with the Shadowfist KSs I backed, why back this game?

I’ve played it.

I enjoyed it.

A two-hour game (not billed as a two-hour game), and I enjoyed it.

I’m particularly down on foreign KSs where I get hit with international fees and shipping is quite expensive, but I just find what I end up with from RPG KSs so uncaptivating.  Now, this could be because the concept of trying to play anything besides L5R is challenging given the nature of who I play games with these days.

It’s a low buy in for the level I’m backing.  Amazingly enough, I’m not so into a game I’ve played once and don’t have on my mind-list of things to play that I’m looking to mortalize myself as a NPC in the game.  Or, whatever.

I really like Kickstarter because I can influence whether someone even makes something, rather than discovering something already made, and it seems like it gives way more capital to RPG publishers.

So, my PTG experience was mentioned in Gen Con 2016.  Saturday, if you want to skip down a few thousand words.

It’s just my kind of thing and the game played much like my early Ran Ackels Immortal: The Invisible War games which got me fired up about modern supernatural RPGing and made me a CCG designer.  Immortal greatly helped push me towards Precedence Games/Publishing/Entertainment, who put out the Babylon 5 CCG, where I ended up doing design for that CCG and Wheel of Time CCG and offered Tomb Raider CCG ideas which probably didn’t get used.

Part-Time Gods, though, gets me thinking about something.  The games I run are missing something.  I don’t feel like my players get to have the experiences that I, as a player, enjoy the most.  They don’t get the “How about I look into the future and keep what happens to myself so that it doesn’t necessarily happen?” moments.  The “I’ll lick the blood off of the dude’s face to sense where the enemy will strike next.” moments.

Or, maybe they do and I don’t know, but let’s assume they don’t.  Is it because I’m not a player in my own games?  Do I set up situations that enable the players to do the things I like doing, but they don’t jump through those hoops?

I don’t think that’s the main reason.  I think the main reason is that I’m not including an important hook that gives the players the clear enough openings.  Meanwhile, in trying to give players opportunities to do certain things, I also allow some things to happen that don’t make a lot of sense.

I don’t talk much about simulationist play because it always just sounds like not my glass of extremely sweet tea, but it occurred to me after the last Rokugan 1600 session when we talked about stuff for a long time that a weakness I have is accounting for simulationism.  I allow worlds, even ones I didn’t make, to go in directions that aren’t the right feel because I have this conscious or unconscious high fantasy agenda.  Oh, I’m not saying I make everything into some form of coherent high fantasy.  I’m saying that having a high tolerance for reality warping events leads me to come up with reality warping events that are incongruous with the setting.

To the extent that I understand simulationism, it’s about the play experience being consistent with a provided world.  Where I can see an example is that gamist play will tolerate out of character actions that are successful and narrative play will tolerate out of character actions that make for a more coherent story, simulationist actions should be in character to make the play experience more realistic and more meaningful at the character level.  Saying something similar, gamist is for players, narrative is for the plot, and simulationist is for the characters (to be thematic constructs and not just mechanical ones).

If I put more effort into my games, I could probably get a more consistent experience.  Though, as I said, I think rather recently, I often put effort into the wrong direction.  Somehow, I need to better understand the players’ perspectives and what actually matters to them.  For one thing, I need to have a better sense of how plot intersects with player activity.  I have things in my mind that are going on behind the scenes, but they just don’t matter to the players.  So, that’s not an area to focus on.  The area to focus on is “You did this, now the world is going to react in this perceptible way rather than being a convoluted series of impossible to notice adjustments in the grand scheme of creation.”

I think I think too widely.  Grand conspiracies don’t lend themselves to building a foundation for a campaign that can end on a high note with the resolution of some grand conspiracy.  Sometimes, Wolverine just needs to punch Sabretooth rather than understanding what the ultimate goal of the Weapon X program is intended to be and how that has to do with magic-using aliens.

When I ran Solomon Kane, I started with adventures from the core book.  Those seemed to go over better.  Again, personal, limited in scope, and consistent with the setting.  Why is this so hard for me to stick to until a campaign really calls for something else?

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Mind Tricks

April 29, 2018

You may have heard.  V:TES is supposed to go back in print … again.

VEKN.net announcement.

I feel some enthusiasm.  I felt some enthusiasm last year for having some of the Anthology Set cards get printed.  Mostly, though, I think it’s because it gives something for other people to get enthused about.  I may not be that excited by the tournament scene as I expect the game to continue to be oriented to things I’m not that fond of – fat vampires and bloat.  But, new stuff causes new stuff to be tried in tournaments, which produces some level of increased variety.

We’ve been getting games in every few weeks.  That works for me.  I enjoy playing the game.  As imperfect as it is, it’s a really good game.

Which segues me to playing Magic last night.  Type P.  I have played a lot of Type P and was into it at one point in time.  I think what holds me back from being into it again is the lack of a similar culture. Type P appealed to me far more than normal Magic because of the ability to evolve decks and to strive for particular cards. The old crowd was really into those things as well, where the new crowd seems more focused on effectiveness.

After Type P, most enjoyment I probably got from Magic was sealed deck tournaments.  Maybe success had something to do with that as I won a Mirage event, got prizes in Stronghold prerelease for 5-1 or something, got Urza’s prizes for a free sealed deck tournament that dragged on forever, and came in second in an Invasion tournament where I was a card mule for a far more serious player.  Never all that fond of draft where I may have had decent decks but found the play just tedious.  Constructed could be entertaining at times in casual play, like playing my one copy of Necropotence in my Essence Vortex deck and having that cost me a game.

I don’t know if last night was unusual or I had just forgotten how I generally feel about Magic, but the drawing one card a turn thing was really annoying.  It’s such a bad mechanic that sucks the joy out of what is otherwise a brilliant game.

Of the six games I played, one was actually interesting.  It was the only game that was close and I think we forgot a special ability that would have caused me to lose rather than win at one life.  That’s the problem.  I can play six games of V:TES and find four of them interesting, six games of B5 and find three of them interesting, six games of Shadowfist and find four of them interesting.  There were numerous times I or my opponent could have scooped multiple turns before the game was over.  In a couple of cases around turn two … playing sealed deck.

Maybe the feel of the L5R LCG is a problem because I’m used to multiplayer CCGs where people get to have fun as opposed to two-player games where people just stomp on each other or grief each other constantly.  Of course, I could play some Ultimate Combat! and see if that will rekindle my appreciation for a two-player CCG.

The other players were playing Dominaria.  The set just didn’t seem remotely interesting.  Sagas are fine, but the cards I was seeing just seemed dull with there being not very strong themes in the set.

So, I knew some of the Phoenix expansion cards for L5R.  I got shown the rest of the cards.  So griefy.  I get that negative plays can make for a more balanced game, but it just strikes me as a lost opportunity.  oL5R was a terrible game (IME) because it had terrible mechanics.  But, I would argue I actually like magic samurai in that I like the RPG’s world even if it includes dumb stuff like ronin.  nL5R could have been fun, focusing on thematic elements.  Instead, it seems to be increasing the focus on mechanics over doing cool stuff.  In general, I don’t feel like I’m doing cool stuff when I’m winning, I feel like I’m beating my opponent down to where they can’t recover.

Yeah.

Give me Counter X for 15 to knockout out someone foolish enough not to play Movement.

Could be too late for me.  Could be that I’m only a social player.  A party hearty flopper.  I can’t deal with having a single opponent who is trying to win and not Vorlon Rescue Mr. Morden.

Well, there is Traveller, which can be played two-player.  I’d much rather play Traveller than L5R.  An interesting question is whether I’d much rather play Traveller than Magic.  I could say I think Traveller plays better, but that should be obvious and to have someone prefer a game they helped make over a game they bitch about constantly being nowhere near as good as it should be doesn’t strike me as compelling opinion.

Where I’m not clear what value I get out of L5R, as I don’t feel any thematic coolness and I don’t like the mechanics, I know I get different value out of Magic vs Traveller.  Magic is about discovery for me.  It’s why I like sealed deck, where I’m trying to think of the best way to build a deck, where constructed just feels too open-ended to me.  Traveller is something where I can learn that cards don’t play the way we expected, but I’m so much more focused on what my opponent is doing to try to determine what the game needs more of or less of through either their deck construction or their play experience.  The massive experience gap between me and everyone besides Jeff just causes me to not take my own play all that seriously.  Magic is also about visual appeal to me.  I don’t mean the card art.  I love things like multicolor templates and various land templates.  I like hybrid mana costs for cards.  Just get striking color combinations.

Change your perspective, change your world.  Maybe I get too far into my existing views on things and don’t try a different perspective.  Maybe I should embrace the idea of the quick scoop in Magic as fun.  Maybe I should roll a die when choosing what Ring for my attacks in L5R or when deciding how much Fate to put onto a dude because random chess is better than chess.

Speaking of painfully unpleasant.  Arrow.  I was explaining recently that the reason you do a Green Arrow show is so that you can knock someone out with a boxing glove arrow.  Can imagine how I feel about the tiresome angstaggedon that the show loves so much.  Flash at least tries for some amusement and Legends of Tomorrow does some amazing stuff along with the dumb.  Maybe the trick is to root for the villains because they pretty much constantly win until Counter X for 15 because … good has to suffer until it wins in some dumb ass way.  I can’t even bring myself to watch Supergirl, yet.  Maybe in May.  Meanwhile, Into the Badlands might get some viewing action – it got rid of its albatross storyline by fridging an idiot.  OTOH, child.  Off the top of my head, that worked in Dragonball Z and nothing else that comes to mind.


DunDraCon 2018

February 20, 2018

Do I just keep saying the same things as if we are in a chronic hysteresis?

I don’t think I’m going to come across as chipper in this post.  I can’t be mister positivity 100% of the time [… uh …].

I’m not as engaged with local cons.  When you ponder which DDC’s were more memorable out of 20+, it’s not like there isn’t a been there, done that aspect to it.  Why don’t I feel the same way about Gen Con when I play HoR a lot and may end up playing the same systems over and over, like Four Colours Al Fresco for a while or Feng Shui or whatever?

Because in person play of HoR locally is very different from in person play of HoR at Gen Con, for instance.  At GC, you get the core players and people who put thought into metagaming the campaign, even if it’s just deciding how to form Battle Interactive tables.  I’ve never played any 4CAF outside of GC, nor any Babylon RPG, etc.

KublaCon is more interesting to me from a gaming standpoint because I get to play card game events that don’t exist outside of the con, e.g. Shadowfist tournaments.  Have to defend my title as Classic Champion for the sixth largest economy in the world this year, for instance.

But, let’s get back to DDC.

No hotel this year.  While I didn’t mind driving back and forth in the moment, I needed a break and DDC wasn’t much of a vacation.  Now, my first vacation of the year is coming up soon …  At some point, get on topic.

I skipped Friday because, sincerely, I’m not in the mood to game Friday nights at cons after being at work much of the day.  It’s just a desire for a mental break.  Now, I’m willing to game if there’s something I’m particularly interested in playing, but there are few things I’m particularly interested in playing.  Again, RPG events may sound good, but I’ve had the spectrum from amazing to atrocious, from excellent to bad, from solid to mediocre, unforgettable to forgettable.  I am more likely to enjoy playing than thinking about the possibility of playing.  It’s like how I have no problem working out but hate thinking about working out so I hardly ever initiate the exercise.

Also, I don’t think my friends and gaming associates realize how little I have always been interested in quick games or pick up games or whatever.  I invest in certain games (or types of games) and want to play those a lot, and I play what other people want to play that doesn’t feel like it will be a drag.  I’ll demo games I haven’t played, but I don’t go out of my way to do so unless they have a hook that is extra hooky for me.  I’d much rather talk about a game that interests me or even hear someone’s review of a game that doesn’t interest me than play filler games.

Saturday, I get in a bit after 7:30AM and find ample parking at the hotel.  I get my usual breakfast from Bagel Street Cafe of pastrami and swiss on a poppy seed bagel (because they don’t have the bread rolls baked yet) with a large peach smoothie with whip cream.

Bagel Street Cafe.  It’s a chain.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to one other than in San Ramon.  There’s one in the shopping center where I get my hair cut and I’m not entirely sure where it is.  Yet, conwise, I’d be happy to eat twice a day at the place with the occasional dinner somewhere outside of the adjacent shopping center where I can get a burger or fish and chips or whatever.

I show up like 8:30AM for my 10AM Traveller demo.  Try to work on my piracy deck for a Developer’s Corner article on travellerccg.com and fail to make much progress as people are already showing up to demo the game.  Demoing happens, with Jeff leading.  It’s only 2 hours for the event, but we continue demoing for another 2 hours.  Then, food, or, as I like to call it, smoothie number two, berry [blackberry?] smoothie this time.

Saturday night is V:TES, which is a couple of games.  We call the second game after my Hermana Mayor deck has gotten a VP from my prey’s Anarch Revolts and ousts a second player, while my grandpredator finally stealth bleeds out my predator.  The first game was a spin on Hatchling.dec where I had .5 VPs at time and 3 VPs playing the game out with Arika as my predator and my Aus/Pre/Vic bruise bleed deck as prey.  Sucked up a bunch of Starvations of Marena, but my prey decked.

Not home too late … if I wasn’t old and decrepit.

Sunday, roll in an hour later as I didn’t get out of bed at 5:20AM to build decks, like I did on Saturday.  Get the strawberry smoothie and am pleased with it, as well.  Which to get Monday?  Which?

Demo, similar structure, different people, at 10AM.  Then, tournament time.  Time for ruthless beats.  Time for glory, honor, status, and swag.  Except, I’m one of the guys who made the game, so like none of those apply.

Match 1:

I’m playing against a precon.  I’m not winning.  I then have a crazy complicated turn after having relatively straightforward turns earlier.  Oh, I’m playing my Prepared Scout deck from my website article, with a few adjustments to the crew and maybe one or two other cards.

I have a Body Pistol in play and shoot Rika Honami.  I Freelancer Flint into play and jettison her.  I have played a SureShot Missile Turret and Just a Little Longer … another SureShot Missile Turret and I Glitch one of my Turrets to reuse it so that I do 6 or whatever damage as a pirate to bankrupt my opponent.  May not sound that intense, but I think also Freelancered another crew in play for some reason and used my Starship Graveyard to get back one of those Turrets.

As usual, I was virtually bankrupt myself.  A Scout may always be prepared, but this Scout is always poor.

If I hadn’t taken out Rika, he might have completed his contract and won.

Now, I think I only won – not because my constructed deck was the wasp’s elbows – because I understood the game far better than someone who just started playing in the Sunday demo.

Match 2:

Paired off with another 1-0 player, some guy named Jeff who has played the game before.  This was a very casual event due to people kind of getting in late and not being quite sure who was playing.  He got out to a lead.  At a certain point, he was up 13-11 in VPs.  Then, his friend showed up who was planning on playing and took over.

On the penultimate round, I went for a big contract to try to get 6 VPs and win.  I got 5.  I had numerous ways to get 6, but I had two cards left in my hand and none in my deck and didn’t have the money to play both cards or play one and use my Luxury Suite for the 20th VP.  I was ready to concede as I thought that round was my only chance, as bankruptcy or my opponent getting to 20 seemed inevitable.  With one card left, we went to the next round.  I used my last card to jump to a cheap survey contract.  With zero cards in hand or deck, with two crew who would have been jettisoned if my opponent had not healed each for one damage for amusement value, I scored three more VPs and my opponent got stopped by my deck that doesn’t actually interact hardly at all with my opponent (except when I can pirate on the last round for the kill) because he didn’t choose to gain Survey with the Empress Marava Far Trader during the resource phase and my last complication play was Electro-Magnetic Interference.  Of course, if he had pirated me, I was dead.

In other words, if Jeff had played the game out entirely, he would have been 2-0 instead of me.

At this point can make a point by pointing out that knowledge of games is really helpful in games that aren’t luckfests of lucksackiness.  Many, many plays could have prevented me from winning, but, when you get dumped into the middle of a game that you aren’t particularly familiar with and are playing against someone who helped create the game, sometimes you don’t win.

Match 3:

During the second round, I had more than 30 cards in my discard pile.  In two rounds, I played or used about two-thirds of my deck.  That’s some two legit two spit right there.

I outraced my opponent who didn’t have enough ways to stop me from gaining VPs.  He had a slow start and was way behind and only because I do a great job of getting close to bankruptcy did I manage to get to 21 VPs with only a couple of cards left.

My intention is to write a “takeaways” article for our website.  An obvious takeaway is that knowledge of the game matters.  And, this is good.  It shows we came up with a game that rewards things that should be rewarded.

Another takeaway is that the precons are fairly playable.  Only one other player built a deck and he was 0-2 after two rounds of playing against precons, finally getting his piracy deck to work in the third round.

Went to dinner at a Cajun place and I got boring Cajun Burger since I was in the mood for a burger.

At one point, Brad and I were talking about FCGs versus VCGs.  We are VCG fans.  Do I go into a rant now?

I guess.  It seems gratuitous to rant in a separate post.

VCGs are better.  Here’s why.

Complaint number one:  I don’t get all of the cards when I buy random packs.  If you want to get complete sets, go to eBay to get complete sets.  If eBay doesn’t have them, reach out to the publisher or the player base and offer to buy complete sets.  Meanwhile, without randomness, you lose sealed play outside of “duplicate”, draft play that is remotely interesting, and you even lose any interest in opening up any product since you know exactly what will be in there when you do.  Well, okay, *I* lose interest in opening any product.  As much as I often feel bad opening up boosters for games where I need copious numbers of certain cards, I also find it interesting to occasionally crack a booster, though more so with Magic where I don’t own all of the cards already.

Complaint number two:  VCGs are too expensive compared to FCGs.  If you are the type to buy three core sets of L5R and be satisfied, you aren’t playing a CCG, you are playing a boardgame with customization.  You may feel differently, but that’s the way I feel.  I consider the correct number of L5R core sets to be minimum 18.  Every three core sets allows for two decks (with extras, of course).  So, 18 core sets is 12 decks at once (in truth, slightly more because you will avoid splashing too much of the same thing because you crave variety).  I’m a card flopper, 12 decks is a norm.  I range from 7 decks to 22 decks built at once for most card games I play.  I think I have around 20 Shadowfist decks built at the moment, about 12 V:TES decks (not counting decks for my limited collection experiment and the like), and only 4-5 L5R decks because I’m not taking L5R seriously yet.  Not that it’s a fair comparison because my Magic decks are almost all Type P decks, but I have about a hundred of those built.  Amazingly enough, 18 core sets is like $600-$700 plus getting like three copies of each expansion pack so that you have nine copies of every expansion card costs more money, though only nine copies of cards sounds rather low to me as some of those cards may go in every deck.  Then, if you really aren’t into being able to build every deck possible for a game, like I am, pretty easy to play CCGs for free.  Want to play Magic for free?  Just ask people for their extra commons.  Want to play V:TES for free, find me and I can hand over a thousand cards.  Will you have exactly three copies of every card for a three card limit game?  No.  But, I imagine the only need to have such a collection is for tournament play, in which case can just borrow a deck.  CCGs are about infinite variety.  I embrace that.  Hard for me to get into the mindset of only wanting to have like a thousand cards for a game, even if I’m also willing to play card games with only like a thousand card collection … up until the point that I end up with 20,000-40,000 cards.

Now, obviously, not everyone approaches gaming like I do, which is probably why I have this blog and not everyone who plays games has this same blog.  I mean, look at the market – we never considered putting out Traveller as a VCG because I’m in some sort of minority based on visible opinion.

Get home early, watch some Olympics because freestyle skiing halfpipe qualification is interesting.  Land high – ooh, not that high.

Monday is the key day.  The day that doesn’t involve showing people how to play the greatest card game, no, the greatest game ever possibly thought of in all of the multiverses in all of time, even the funky nonlinear time(s).  Monday is the day I decide to go with the berry smoothie again.  Monday is the day I fail forwards …

Brad is running 2d20 Conan.  For most of us, this is the first attack, the Pictish Frontier of Conan play, the day that ole Ian forgets to bring the character sheets he has been carrying around all weekend.

Character creation is involved.  Already, the suffering.  Plus, certain people, who shall remain nameless until I out him, did not back the Kickstarter and, thus, we are trying to learn how to play with four players and two core books.

Spoiler:  we didn’t like the system.  Now, we (most of us) played Conan d20 for like 9 years.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect [see blog posts for mini rants], but it wasn’t hard to jump into.  This was just hard.  For some, the dicerolling wasn’t clear.

For me:

Antagonism

I read a long thread on rpg.net about Conan after I got home.  There were posters who talked about how antagonistic the game feels with Doom Pool uses.  I felt that in my half a session.  Em, we didn’t finish an adventure because Brad got tired of trying to run the system and it was close to the end of the con.  Now, I can’t say I’ve never felt like a GM was shutting me down when I wanted to do something, and maybe the adventure in the book just sucks, but I felt like there was way too much preventing us from doing things, which seems like the opposite of what narrative mechanics are intended for.

Complications

I grew so tired of these right quick.  Because geniusness also can include overlooktheobviousness, I didn’t realize until our postgame analysis that the reason rolling 20’s comes up so much more often than d20 is because … er, 2d20 is twice as much as d20, while 3d20 is like more than twice as much as d20.

Fail forward, “yes, but”, complications – all of these strike me as actually getting in the way of just playing a game.  They put more pressure on GMs and players to justify mechanics rather than just ad hocing on the fly as you are freewheeling … okay, okay, I’ll hinder myself.

Gamistier Than Thou

I’m going to pummel this live donkey in another classic gaming rant.

Narrativist mechanics aren’t narrativist – they are gamist.  Because, pssst, let you in on a secret that nobody else can possibly derive – mechanics are gamist.  “But, old, decrepit, get off my AD&D 1e lawn dude.  You don’t understand gamist/simulationist/narrativist.  You are going to be defeated once I enlighten you to the true RPG metaparadigm whatsit.”

The more you mechanize a game, the more the focus of the game shifts from story to mechanics.  This is why I don’t like crunchy systems.

Before I forget, let me tell a story, like old, cranky people are wont to do.  When Origins was in San Jose, I attended and I was introduced to Immortal: The Invisible War.

I played two sessions run by Ran Ackels, who some of you may know as the guy who created Immortal.  I retain, in my feeble memory, a recollection that the way he ran these games was “Roll a die [d10], and I’ll tell you what happens.”  That is narrativist play.  Dice exist to give some level of randomness to short term results; as the party succeeds or fails at things in the short term, the long term is adjusted.

They don’t exist to be an economic engine.  Momentum, Doom Points, Fortune, Complications are all mechanisms for having players and GM focus on and manipulate mechanics.

Do I hate Fortune?  No.  It’s obviously related to Bennies in Savage Worlds which I do pretty much hate (slightly).  It reminds me of Fate Points in d20 Conan, Hero Points, and their ilk, which I actually like.

You know what else I like?  When we played oConan, we got ladybugs (reroll for you) for writing fictions/session reports, spiders (+2 to roll) for bringing food, arrowheads (reroll for anyone, including NPCs and antagonists) for extra effort.  Are these gamist in the way trying to maximize Momentum or trying to build Fortune is?

No.

They are modifications to existing rules, whereas Momentum is a subgame.  This was my problem when I was exposed to Fate.  I felt like Fate was far more gamey than d20.  You do things not because you want to but because the *mechanics* of the game reward you for doing them.  I’m now playing a game of manipulating mechanics rather than playing a game of seducing the immortal witch (“failed Diplomacy, reroll, reroll”).

Do I hate Doom/Momentum?  *shrug*  Maybe.

Accomplishment

Fail forward is, in other words, succeeding.  If you can’t actually fail at whatever the adventure is supposed to be about, what sense of accomplishment do you get?

This is a tricky topic that I’ve touched on before – the topic of players feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I worry about this when running systems where you either succeed at die rolls or fail at die rolls.  Because I can’t escape the epiphany that what I enjoy as a player is feeling like failure was possible but not actually failing, so accomplishment is an illusion of perceived ability to be disaccomplishmentary.

In oConan, we failed.  Oh, we succeeded fairly often, at times because of pulling a reroll out of our gamebags, at times probably because we weren’t doing something all that difficult, it just seemed difficult.  But, we also straight up failed.  We ran away from demons loosened.  We ran away from Pict harriers.  We Fate Pointed to be found on some island beach or in wreckage at sea or whatever that I no longer remember.

And, in seven years of one campaign, things moved forward and stories were told and retold.  This is what the intent of these narrative mechanics is – stories move forward with setbacks until you climax [sic].  But, you don’t need that in any given session.  You can get that across sessions to where a campaign isn’t some exercise of fudging [ha] results.

Why give power to the dice?  They already hold players’ pathetic little minds within their sway.  “These dice suck, I’ll go get other ones.”  “Don’t roll the GM’s dice.  They will curse you.”  “Look at how sparkly my dice are.”  “I always fail Honor Rolls.”

2d20

I don’t dislike the system (the part of the system that doesn’t involve Momentum, Doom, or Complications).  Though, I’m trying to figure out how you can build a functional sorcerer in the beginning, which I guess I could go to the forums and read about.  I just find it incredibly clunky and extremely gamey.  Just the fact that PCs get to decide what order to take actions in is itself gamier than rolling initiative.  Yes, it is.  It becomes a subgame, and the more subgames you have, the more game you have.

There’s also way too much emphasis on equipment, with a lot of equipment being obscenely expensive.  I bought a bow and that used up all but one of my gold.  A crappy bow, by the way.  This was something d20 did really well – outside of primary weapon, equipment was something you hardly paid any attention to.  Sure, armor could be good, but armor could also suck.

I might get used to the economics of the subsystems of Momentum and Doom that are built into the system.  I’m not sure I’ll ever think they add value to playing, but rewriting the game to take them out is a waste of time, when we could just go back to playing d20 or I could homebrew another Roll & Keep variant.

So, yeah, DunDraCon.  It was good.  Traveller isn’t perfect but playing Traveller gets me thinking more like a player of the game rather than being in developer/designer mode.  I think about how the game has all of these cards that you want to play but can’t at the same time, which seems positive.  Conan was something worth doing even if it wasn’t nearly as fun as our old convention sessions tended to be.  I got to talk to people.  I had four smoothies in three days, though the waistline impact is not a victory.

If only we could get more Traveller cards to the people who are enthused about playing.  If only I was a beam of sunlight reflecting off of a unicorn’s horn during a musical on Christmas Eve.  If only I remembered to pass the character sheets to Brad before Monday.  If only I could remember what else I wanted to write about so that I could get to 4000 words in this post.


Wanderful

January 28, 2018

In recent days, it’s been mostly about Traveller.  My friends and associates have been getting their Kickstarter rewards.  Coworker showed me his stuff.  Went up to Oakland the day after the Berkeley tournaments to help explain how Traveller works.

Then, we realized the printing issue where the crew skills lack clear silver and gold borders.  That’s unfortunate.  We had a summit to go over the plan for making things right and I would expect an update from Jeff on what Horizon Games is planning to do.

See, I may not be able to see things at a distance so well, especially writing on flat surfaces, as I didn’t wear glasses in college except when I was trying to read blackboards (yes, that old).  But, I can still perceive small details, so I wasn’t that perturbed until a couple of things.  One, the realization that I have a huge advantage over people seeing the cards for the first time because I largely know what the cards already do, including what levels of skills the crew have.  Two, internal comments have been that the lack of clarity on the skills is a monumental deal.

Anyway, I didn’t post just to dwell on how many things can go wrong with publishing material.  I’ve been building decks now that I have real cards and not just samples – something that only happened yesterday, days after other people got real cards.  I’ve been answering questions on travellerccg.com‘s forums because I’m actually not just an authority but a “designer intent is this and since I’m a …” type person thingy.  I usually eschew answering rules questions for card games because, as a player of those games, I never wanted some random playtester to tell me how something worked but wanted someone who decided what the rules are to tell me how something worked.  Of course, I also happened to often be a random playtester myself.

Every once in a while I remind myself that:  we put out a game.  Yes, there are some miscellaneous things that didn’t go as planned, but it looks good.  I think it plays as intended, though it is not a simple game to get down right away.

And, we hope to keep making it better – expanding the card pool, addressing any production issues, addressing rules questions and concerns.

Shifting gears.  The John Carter KS continues on in a similar way to various other RPG [sic] KS’s that I’ve seen where the original threshold is just something to blow through for the stretch goals.

Now, what doesn’t get me as excited is that it’s not just a RPG KS but a minis KS as well.  I don’t hate minis.  I, in fact, backed a KS that was all about a board game with lots of minis.  But, I also have essentially no use for them.  I don’t know how to store them (and, I have way too much stuff already).  I’m a theater of the mind style player/GM.  I don’t hardly ever play games that require minis.  I also don’t see how more “different dice” is actually a goal of any sort or worth anything.  I want winners … er … I want content.

I got to thinking about content.  First, JC content.  There are nine books published based on various compiled magazine stories or whatever.  Decent number of locations are used or referred to.  Various cultures, as defined by races with different skin colors … uh … yeah, exist.  Some monsters.  Some tech.  Some weird psionic style powers exist.  There’s material.  Now, how you finesse putting a book out that goes into the differences between the black martians, the white martians, the red martians, the yellow martians, and, maybe, someone very PC will also find the green martians a problem is not entirely clear to me.  At least some of these have other names besides what color their skin is, but we live in a precarious age, which is no doubt some of the problem with pushing JC 100 years after it was written.

Putting aside the potential for getting people who don’t understand the source material riled up, I was just wondering why more RPG books weren’t part of the early stretch goals.  Because, I think about how insane the material is for both Conan and L5R.  Now, L5R is a game world, so you can expand it as much as you want.  But, I’ve read a good amount of Conan and I don’t recall there being that many locations and cultures and whatever well defined to where you can write an entire book about Aquilonia or, even more ridiculous, Cimmeria or Khitai and somehow find it challenging to write an atlas of Barsoom.  Maybe it isn’t challenging.  Maybe it’s just not a priority compared to having ship to ship combat rules or whatever.

I happen to have Savage World’s Lankhmar book handy and I have repeatedly wondered why there’s so little material in it and/or the property.  I haven’t read many stories, but I know there are a number, and I’m pretty sure they are more vivid than the game supplement.

But, then, I thought of a few things.  One, not every estate is as eager to expand on material that isn’t in stories written by the original author or official authors.  Two, Conan is different.  Barsoom is a made up world.  Lankhmar is in a made up world.  Conan’s world is a world of historical cultures mashed together.  You can expand on the societal norms of Shemites by just opening up an anthropological book.  Want to get Hyrkanians?  Well, not super challenging.  Brythunia was a bit of an uncertain match, but I interpreted as kind of like Ireland and kind of like Poland and maybe something else.

Conan’s world so good.  I can bring in famous Yemeni poets into my LBS gaming or Saudi festivals or whatever to flesh out that underdeveloped setting and find that entertains me as a worldbuilder.  But, with Conan, you can choose any corner of the continent you want and draw inspiration from this world.

I just haven’t been as enthused with KS as the end/intended results of things I’ve backed or tried to back haven’t been to my tastes.  Sure, I want to have PDFs for supplements rather than not, but what I really want are printed versions, and, yet, where would I even put more books?  I can’t fit what I have in terms of either books or cards.

Speaking of Savage Worlds, we have started playing a Spelljammer game using SW mechanics.  Still early.  Not what I would pick as a person’s first RPG experience, but that’s the case.  New setting for others.  We have intentionally not proclaimed “this is our new RPG campaign” to see if it works for people.  Is kind of interesting to me that my gaming seems to be expanding again, what with trying to play L5R LCG, Traveller, trying to have RPG play on a regular basis, plus Shadowfist getting back on track, the potential to get V:TES in the South Bay back on track.

It’s almost like everything new is old again.  How wanderful.


Labors Of Love

September 4, 2017

Who mentions love in a blog post some almost seven months from Valentine’s Day?  I’m that guy.

I avoid Pacificon because I don’t think it’s a good con and because I don’t think it treats GMs well.  When Celesticon was around, I got to the point of avoiding both because they split the gamerbase and made everything too much effort for what weren’t particularly good experiences.  I don’t have that justification anymore, yet I feel no particular desire to start attending Pacificon, which long long ago was my favorite of the local cons.

Close to the con, I was informed we were going to demo Traveller with actual sample cards.  So, I dragged myself the ten minute walk to the con that I normally make just to go to dinner with my friends and got a weekend badge.

Hmmmmm … let’s see.  I looked at the Conan RPG corebook for a bit.  I watched Arkham whatever (they all run together in my mind since it seems like pretty much a money grab to just make another variation of the same game).  I watched some AGoT 2e Boardgame play barely, glanced at some wargaming.

Mostly, I made myself available for demos.  Jeff had run a con listed event on Friday, which attracted more interest than our plop ourselves down wherever we could find space demoing.  Jeff and I talked about stuff, made some notes about next ship deck inclusions based on what we think the game could use more of.

It’s theoretically weird that I eschew saying much about Traveller here, but it does make more sense to post thoughts about the game on our website when we decide to launch it with content, which I expect to be soon.

No, the point of posting about the con is to give … insight … into my predilections, I guess I suppose.  I’m willing to actively oppose the activity of playing games when I feel like it.  I could have played Type P, but didn’t.  I could have played boardgames, but didn’t.  I could have suggested something, but didn’t.  I could have pushed for us doing something with the Conan RPG once I had a better idea when I was going to be at the con, but didn’t.

And, yet, I consider what I do as an activity of gaming.  Before I got into Shadowfist, some 20 years after it came out, I would watch people play because I knew the people.  I also played every few years, but, mostly, I watched people play.  I didn’t glean a ton from that, but I may have gleaned some tiny amount and I could have more-gleaned.

There are some games I ultraglean from watching.  Then, there’s discussing.

As an aside, I don’t have much desire to watch V:TES games, as I find them frustrating to watch, much like I find watching pretty much any CCG I play frustrating.  I realized why at the European Championships while talking to a Swedish player.  For games I know, I want to point out what people are doing that doesn’t make sense to me.  That totally doesn’t work.  Yet, I’m perfectly happy to watch games I don’t know and seek just to learn because I don’t have opinions on what people should do.  It’s not just CCGs, it just happens that CCGs are more likely to be games I know well enough to think I’m more brillianter than the people playing.  I can tolerate watching mahjong being played better because I used to do that a lot and, possibly, because I don’t care as much whether people make good decisions in simpler games.

Discussing games can be far more fun than playing them.  I never liked 1e A Game of Thrones Boardgame as a game, but I found it interesting as a puzzle.  Since it wasn’t terribly random, what moves should you intend on making as each position?  It’s like figuring out optimal moves for whatever boardgame given some particular set up.  Like how people talk about chess and bridge, et al.

Obviously, terrible play can also make for good stories.  I value my terrible RPG experiences for the ability to bitch about them forever.  The “mostly the game consisted of shooting our own mechs” Mekton game that prevents me from playing Mekton locally, the “when do the PCs get to do something instead of watching the NPC do stuff” Maelstrom game that solidified the unbreakable law that Brad and I are not allowed to play in the same scheduled RPG events, the “yup, this is a pretty typical way people play D&D” D&D games that mean I never will sign up for D&D at any con, etc. all offer something besides con strategizing.

Similarly, awful CCG experiences can make for stories that I’m sure everyone is utterly fascinated to hear about many times in their ephemeral lives.

Had two meals with con-goers and shed some enlightenment upon them as to the Truth.  What was that about not playing but still gaming?  Oh, yeah, probably 99% of my True Dungeoning is not actually playing it but wondering whether to sleeve more tokens, deciding when to jump into auctions, and adding builds to the app for various different formats of play since I now have to have significantly different builds for normal versus hardcore/nightmare, possibly different builds for hardcore versus nightmare, different builds for Grind, and do this for a bunch of classes I probably won’t play but might.

I guess the point of this post is not just that, yes, Traveller is progressing and Pacificon annoys me, but that we do things that sound suboptimal because we care enough.  Love, yo.

Extended credits:  Couple of us are going to Gamehole Con to play True D/G.  Since I both have real looking cards (and it would be very possible that I would have final print cards by November) and not anything to do in the mornings when there are no True D/G events, I expect to set up shop in open gaming or wherever and demo Traveller to those who wish to be exposed to a game so brilliant it like radiates UHEGRs or UHECRs or whatever (latter is more searchable if you don’t 说 my lingo).


Forgive And Remember

February 6, 2017

This is my 499th blog post.  I think I have an idea about the next one that makes sense as a milestone post.  But, when it comes to real world, this is more important.

My youngest brother is part of a team Kickstartering something that doesn’t have virtually anything to do with gaming.

Direct link to Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/71323644/somaliland-the-abaarso-story

Link to Facebook post (then click to share): https://www.facebook.com/somalilandfilm/posts/1268242429935727

Expanding educational opportunities and developing the international community is something far more noble than anything I spend my time on.


I did have some thoughts on gaming.

I played three games of Second Edition A Game of Thrones LCG yesterday.  It got me thinking.

But, first, some comments on AGoT card games.  I played the CCG when it was new.  I was amazed at how similar it was structurally to Babylon 5 and looked at the designer credits only to not recognize the names.  Not to say it played anything like B5 or Wheel of Time, but it was e-e-rie.

I hardly played in the next 15 years.  I’ve not read any of A Song of Fire and Ice nor have I watched a complete episode.  Nothing I’ve ever heard enthused me (okay, one thing I’ve heard about the TV series might interest a dude …).

These games were far more comprehensible than anything I had played previously.  In part, that is likely due to each time I play I get more familiar with the strategies.  I think it also helped that I wasn’t just suddenly handed a deck for an impromptu beatdown but knew I would be playing and was handed relatively simple decks (limited card pool).

So, I got to thinking.  Not so much about AGoT.  I got to thinking about decisions.  Yup, decisions, again.  I don’t mean deckbuilding decisions, though I whined about a deck I played not having enough economy and cheap characters.

The impact of decisions on play.  Why do I find games like V:TES and Ultimate Combat! more fun than games like AGoT and L5R (card game)?  Why do I kind of hate Outpost, yet find The Scepter of Zavandor to be like my favorite EuroBG?

Probably for multiple reasons, but it occurred to me that a reason could be that mistakes are far more forgiving in the games I prefer.  Outpost is a game, in my experience, where, if you make one mistake, you are waiting for the game to end.  Defend that province?  Oh, sucks to be your lack of any characters.  Don’t defend that province?  Oh, economic shortfall ruins you.

Can put aside some of these games as not being terribly relevant to hardly anyone.  Let’s bring V:TES into the discussion.  You can lose a game by making a bad decision in the beginning.  You definitely lose games by making bad decisions at the end (by you, I mean, a lot of people and me, or I would have had the first Abominations win and couldn’t have put Conditioning on my personal banned list).  However, because there are so many players and the game isn’t a race (like B5), mistakes often not only go unpunished but provide advantages.  Get Kissed by Ra early on?  Hey, hang out in torpor for a bit and have people gang up on the table threat.

AGoT has always felt like a game where decisions mattered too much.  Not that it’s alone.  Magic makes me feel like decisions matter too much, which might not be the case if you drew more than one card a turn.

I don’t just look to be able to play odd decks (aka forgiving deck construction) but also look to be able to enjoy playing without the pressure of always having to make an optimal decision.  Oh, gee, note why I don’t like chess.  The randomness of card draw with hidden information feed the idea that you aren’t always going to make the correct decision.

Note how this angle on game features ties into how I’m not really that into playing Dragon Dice or CMGs, where there’s a lack of hidden information and the randomness is still calculable.

Branching off into RPGs, why I got so annoyed with Conan d20’s lack of viable character builds is that a poor decision just assigning attributes was crippling.  Meanwhile, the much less rigid [sic!!] character building of L5R has always appealed to me.  Yup, L5R less suicidal character creation than Conan – that’s molybdenumic.  Yes, Stamina 4, Willpower 2, with Intelligence 3, and Spears 4 is probably going to feel masochistic, but you can get out from under this awful by leveling off Earth and “remembering” that you are a Boar who Mai Chongs like mad.  Or, if not a bushi, can find some excuse to Multiple Schools into shugenjahood.

Some people are into the intensity that can come with gaming.  I’m not.  I want to be able to guess what to do and, while that may mean I lose, at least I still have a chance to come from 25 points down in the second half while not having shown the ability to stop the run.


Reign Needed

October 8, 2016

I haven’t checked in to Kickstarter for a while.  After backing Age of Legends, Conan, Aquelarre, I could use the break.

I did back Ninja Crusade 2e’s expansion Kickstarter, but it didn’t fund.  It did relaunch.  It’s already funded.  The game sounds like my sort of thing, in that I’ve played 1e and wasn’t that thrilled with the mechanics but like the sound of 2e’s changes.  Where Feng Shui ended up being a huge disappointment because it focused on things I didn’t care about and ignored addressing things I did, to the point where I consider 1e a better game for campaign play, I have hopes based on the description of the ethos the game is going for.  Since I missed the initial 2e launch, I’m mostly backing for getting the 2e corebook.  I doubt the stretch goal will hit, but that would be more useful to me than worrying about expansion materials.

Empire’s Reign

When is the Shadowfist Kickstarter going to happen?

In other realms, there’s a bit lacking in reins.  Nothing is really holding my attention outside of my latest fixation.

I’m well aware that I’ve always been this way – enthused by the latest thing I turn my weary gaze to.  When I play a campaign, it’s typically the campaign.  When I play a CCG weekly (or playtest or design), it’s typically the CCG.  But, the interest in V:TES is weak, Shadowfist is very undemanding (which is a good thing), Nightmare War isn’t moving very quickly and HoR4 will likely have the same experience of waiting around for the next session.

Wandering mentally has had the effect of getting me to reread some books (well, parts of them I find more appealing).  It’s interesting how I’ll come back to a novel after N+ years and find a different take on things.  There is a series that I read the first book for and found it in my wheelhouse, in that I would read modern supernatural stuff.  I never got the second book.  Skimming through it, I now think it’s rather … not so great.  I guess I realized that at the time.

See, it uses astrology, which you may realize I find a rich vein for fiction.  But, it just isn’t cool enough.  The writing now seems extremely repetitive.  The world just isn’t all that.

I kept up with Anita Blake stuff for ages because the world was just so interesting from book one.  Of course, it got sillier, though the world was not as much of an issue as the way the main character was handled.

I skimmed through one of the Deryni books I had only read a couple of times or so.  Far more engaging.  What I took away, though, since it was familiar ground, was just how different from a FRPG campaign it would be.  It’s political, whether religion politics, politics politics, or relationship politics.  One could analyze early books from later books and maybe say that the series has moved away from action and toward soap opera.  But, I don’t recall a tremendous amount of action in earlier books and I don’t recall caring about much of it, anyway.

Whether hinting at l33t swording by Morgan or energy battles, just not the draw.  If anything, the incredible stupidity on the parts of the protagonists in how they use their powers is a frustrating distraction from what’s often pleasant drama.  (I especially have a hard time with any of the books involving Camber because of how dark they get and how easily wizards can own non-wizards if they bother to.)

I did come away, though, with a bit of a new view.  Maybe I’m just really crotchety, but there’s too much “[blank] is the greatest of them all” to characters.  I’m not looking for flawed types who agonize through life.  I just don’t need people to constantly express how great someone else is.  Should be more subtle.  Can convey that someone is respected in all of the 11 Kingdoms without actually having one character state to another character how the person is respected by all.

Of course, this is from someone who can’t even write a short story to submit for publishing.  But, opinions are why blogs are written.

Speaking of opinions, Flash and Arrow premiered.

As I read reviews’ comments, my opinions feel like a rehash, but here we go, anyway.

Both series suffer from repeating annoying things.  That doesn’t make them bad, though I wouldn’t call Arrow good – Flash still has enough humor to be good.

Some folks commenting on Arrow are all thrilled by going back to a season one feel.  Um, look, I found it interesting when the series opened with Oliver murdering people left and right, but to go back to that undermines the supposed character development in later seasons.  I like better action, but I’m still not feeling it.  What was better in season one was the sense that characters were actually doing something interesting.  Even if the filming of action is less bad recently, it still feels like people going through the motions.  What was appealing was how Oliver and The Hood felt like the same justice warrior, not Oliver’s relationship problems and Green Arrow’s bow parries.

Then, Flash’s repetitive superspeed fights is repetitive.

But, back to Arrow.  So, so tired of Oliver having to navigate relationships.  What made for the best scenes in season one were the surprising interactions with folks.  Let me pull my shirt down to show you I’m Bratva.  Let me speak foreign languages to maids, et al.  Let me try to keep my secret in the most flimsy way possible from techbabe.  Oliver the outsider who plays by special rules so much better than Oliver the “oh look, I’m angst-ridden”.  Thea has her moments but is too slight to be credible as a super and too slight to be eye candy, Diggle is nowhere near as interesting to me as he is to a bunch of others, same with Lance.  If anyone, have Katrina Law be in more episodes, but don’t turn her into something else, even though that already started – she was so good early on.

What wasn’t all that was the family drama, the friend drama, the girlfriend drama.  Those things are old.  Be novel, or, at least, be short story.

Flash, meanwhile, has gone the same route of dipping into the well of time babble.  Just stop.  Find something creative to do.  I’m not saying avoid using superpowers, since I actually find superpowers more interesting in superheroes than lack of superpowers.  For instance, what’s a fight between two speedsters?  It’s a bunch of punching and kicking and pushing and throws and tossing stuff.  Gee, that sounds like a fight between two bricks or two martial artists (without cool martial arts moves, which Arrow did better in season one).  Now, there’s a problem.  Psionics is not interesting, probably even less so in TV.  Brick versus speedster can often be problematic interaction.  Teleporter versus speedster is awfully like speedster versus speedster.

Flash is more appealing because the characters are more appealing.  Harrison was amazing early on, still good.  Cisco may be a tad too forced sometimes but mostly good.  Some of the combinations work out well.  Course, swapping Felicity and Iris on the two shows could be so much better than the relationship slogs we’ve had to endure, as one of Oliver’s best moments involved Iris’s take on him, where Felicity and Barry always was at least decent.

I’m curious as to how Supergirl will go now that it can be better integrated.  I don’t really look that forward to it because it focuses too much on romance.  You know, as someone who actually likes romance in things, it’s not necessary to be beaten over the head with how it has to be a source of conflict.  There are other paths to go.  I’m also less clear what the show should be about.

Legends of Tomorrow actually ended on a higher note, though LoT is really all about certain characters doing fun things.

That’s the thing.  Superhero shows should be about doing fun things.  Make amusing use of powers.  Have conversations full of double meanings due to secret identities.  Fire boxing glove arrows.  Salmon that ladder (aka focus on training).  But, more than anything else, do crossovers because you get out of the quagmires of your own angst and just do fun stuff.  Nyssa showing up is like a crossover.  I do look forward to the Supergirl/other crossover, hopefully with Mayor Handsome being on her list of guys she can make an exception for.

Oh, did I get away from gaming?  Well, probably next time.