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.


Shake Out

January 13, 2018

There are rather a number of thoughts on diverse subjects I have had recently.  I’m sure I will forget half of them.

Before I forget:  John Carter Kickstarter is going on right now!  Finally, the Dotar Sojat has returned to Jasoom!


Steak and Shake in Campbell closed recently.  It was open four months.  It was designated to be opened for far longer.  Its closure was sufficiently notable to not only be in the paper (that would be newspaper for you young ‘uns) but also be on the radio (that would be … um … radio for you young ‘uns).

We went to it.  I’m not remotely surprised it closed.  First, the location was terrible in that it was just East of the upscale-ish downtown.  Second, it was not Steak and Shake.  Well, it was not S&S a la Indianapolis’s S&S is.  One in Indy is a fast food place that’s slow, somewhere along the lines of being at a more focused Denny’s in terms of ambiance.  This S&S was pretentiousized for the hood.

Now, I don’t live in downtown Frisco or NYC or whatever, but we get plenty of pretension in the San Jose Bay Area.  Whole Paycheck is ubiquitous, et al.  Why have another burger chain that competes with Five Guys, The Counter, The Habit, Smashburger, or whatever?  It wasn’t trying to?  Well, then where is the audience?  Best milkshake I can recall, which, admittedly, is not something I think a ton about since it’s kind of effort to screw up a milkshake, I got at Fuddruckers of all places.  5-Way?  Well, sure, not a lot of places to get 5-Ways in the Silicon.  (That’s what all the kewl kids call this milieu, n’est-ce pas?)

Bad fits.

That’s a topic for today.

I’m going to talk about L5R.  At some point, I’ll switch to the LCG.  But, before I forget, I had some RPG thoughts.

Campaign Ideas:

Greek Mythology convention meets L5R.  Everyone has an ancestor from one of the 4e books because they hardly ever see play.  Rather than lose your ancestor over something black and white and rather arbitrary, you incur the ancestor’s displeasure for a time until you get your act together.  Great idea, people.  Make it so number one.

Welcome to the kuge, minorlings.  Widowed emperor decides he’s good to go without a word to say on marriage number two to some minor clan yumyum.  Guess how many PCs are not related to the minor empress?

Not Campaign Ideas:

One of the Friday night LCG players is someone who would much rather be playing the RPG.  Actually, that’s how I met him years ago.  He’s hot for getting into HoR4 or like anything else RPG related but especially L5R R&K.  So, we’ve been talking.

I mentioned Odyssey, TCGMGtCM, and how it related to my running stuff for him and the rest of our local RPG group that dispersed.  We talked about old campaigns.  We talked about how our interest in the LCG is strongly based on the world and not the game [foreshadowing alert, foreshadowing alert].

I may have problems with aspects of Rokugan, but it’s so, so easy to think about playing more L5R.  It’s so easy to think of campaign ideas.  I found my mod attempt for HoR3 that I ran a couple of times and got unenthused by due to my just not having the ability to polish efforts up to the level that makes them acceptable.  Well, also, staff consistently ignored me, so I stopped bothering trying to contact anyone.

It’s such a fleshed out *game* world.  Sure, if everyone knows some book/TV/movie series, you can grok possibilities, but, for us veteran Rokuganites, L5R is just so meaningful.  For instance, I was looking stuff up in Strongholds of the Empire.  I’m perfectly willing to read about towns and cities I don’t plan on using as settings.


Back to the topic of whether the game is any fun.  First, it is.  As long as you are winning.

My experience of going back to playing a two-player CCG  is utterly fascinating to all multi-celled organisms.  I get so much enjoyment out of multiplayer CCGs when the results are inconclusive.  It’s this bizarrely mundane feeling of liking doing better than my opponents in L5R, the LCG, that is palpable.

Or, maybe, it’s just that I hate playing Unicorn, and the fact that I often suck while playing them is incidental.  Except, I played at least one game of Unicorn where I was feasting on my opponent’s soul and it was tasty.

It is “funny” how switching to Crab is perpetually like “Huh, my cards do stuff.  They do good stuff.”

For the others, it also seems to be a game that is enjoyed when you are crushing throats and tearing off limbs.

I read forums.  Multiple forums, in fact.  No, I don’t read Discord.  Not a fan of the interface and I have better things to do, like read the newspaper.  Seems to be a certain level of disenchantment.

Then, I ‘fist with a L5R player, and he’s telling me his group is losing interest.

It’s this like really interestingly designed, very possibly well designed, game that is just so not as fun as we-folk want it to be.  I’m finding that I’m already reverting to my random-game-element meets minimum-threshold-of-viability tendencies with what interests me in L5R.  I’m struggling with the idea of trying to develop superior decks in what’s a very limited environment.  I’m more interested in happy, friendly Scorpion, Lion wall, Cautious Scout.dec, and/or whatever.

I thought of an idea umbrella for trying to put the casual back into causality.  League.  You must play a role that is not the official tournament role for your deck’s clan.  You may, of course, change decks, including changing clans.  Or, some variation thereof.

I played a game last night.  I played Crab, and I had fun.  My first turn Kaiu never left play, having Reprieve that also never left play.  I flopped three Iron Mines in the game, put another Reprieve in play that also never got used.  I Way of the Crabbed once.  Now, my opponent was playing Lion, so his military sucked, and he wasn’t running Feast or Famine, which I kept trying to play around.  Nor was he playing the required 3x Policy Debates.

See, forumites are bitching a bunch.  I think for good reason.  I don’t think it’s a particularly fun game to play, though it’s also not terrible.  The card pool sucks.  Oh, a lot of it doesn’t.  Provinces are mostly the problem.  That Unicorn have so many subpar or oddly narrow cards is kind of antifun.  That Voltroning is such a thing is problematic.  That Iron Mine got added to the mix, so that Crab Voltrons never die seems like poor development.

Part of the problem with the card pool is that it’s not a multiplayer game (yet).  In a multiplayer game, I’d be beastmastering and war dogging all over the place because it would be entertaining.  In a throatcutter game, you just do the same old, same old of top tier stuff, with the occasional Miya combo deck or try to do your own spin on Drop Bears, Switchycorn, or whatever.  With Wheel of Time, because so few people actually played, when you ran with an idea, you might have been like one of one posters.  With a game that’s actually kind of popular, just another clone deck with maybe a few cards changed.

If the card pool were bigger, then maybe there would be more interesting variation.  But, I don’t think the card pool needs to be bigger to have fun.  Just to have fun as a throatcutter game.

Would banning Policy Debate make me happier?  Um, no.  I don’t presently care about Policy Debate, except that I do think that the one area of the LCG that is just bad mechanics is dueling.  Dueling is hecka boring and full of NPEness.  Sure, it’s not a guarantee that everyone always chooses 1 in every single game.  It’s just a guarantee that I have so little interest in resolving duels that I’m okay with mentally seeing tables being flipped.

But, wait, that’s actually kind of like the RPG.  In that, duels aren’t guaranteed to go one direction, but the whole concept of resolving anything important with a subgame that’s grossly uneven so much of the time is not strong in the PPE side of the Force.

I played a game the week before where my opponent won when I broke his third province, as he went to 25 Honor.  If he doesn’t win, then, I break his stronghold as my first conflict the next round with my unstoppable Imperials and their Unicorn flunkies.  30 minute game.  Takeaway #1 – it was how CCGs should play in that it was close with decks doing different things and there was interaction.  Takeaway #2 – because I felt I did so little in the game, it felt rather unsatisfying even while I was playing, nevermind the end result.  Would I have enjoyed that game if he only got to 24 Honor and I shred his soul on the next round?  I don’t think so.  Would I have enjoyed that game if he got to 24, I went after his stronghold, he stops me from breaking with all sorts of cards getting played, he does something clever to get to 25 (instead of just declare an Air Ring conflict)?  Poss-i-bly …


We ‘fisted for the first time in months last Thursday.  The first game was terrible.  I spent a number of turns not being able to play a site, then had no characters to do anything when I got sites and a Test Subjects out.  The second game I won in a game where everyone was hanging around at four FSSs, and I used superleap cheese and recurring counterspells.  Because, who is the … Master?  Sho’nuff.  Check Youtube if this exceeds the vertical elevation of your brain.  Some parts are cringeworthy, but I really like that movie.

Third game went to third player.  My Salarymans kept killing unimportant things, and got killed when real characters showed up.

Given how prevalent superleap is and buffs are, I’m surprised Hand isn’t more popular.  Now, there is a weakness against site effects, evidenced by how I got stopped by a site effect in one bid for victory, but there are antisite plays to deal with that.  Character removal from events is countered by, uh, Hand counterspells.  Of course, 7 Masters exists for the classic players, and that’s another level of sleaze.

I enjoyed playing.  Shadowfist is usually fun.  Sure, it has some terrible design, pretty messed up card pool (especially if you play Modern), requires making extremely complicated decisions even if you don’t realize they are extremely complicated.  But, it’s not chess.  You do stuff and stuff happens.  You don’t wonder if you made a mistake putting two fate on some dude.  Now, normal ‘fist does have the problem that you may very well not be able to play anything, which is where it did an even worse job than Magic with forcing requirement cards to be in play to play the game.  But, you might be able to come back because it’s not a one v. one game.

Well, I may have forgotten a few other things that would have made my bad fits topic fit less badder.

Wait.  I had a topic?

Let’s see.  L5R LCG appeals to people who like theme, want to play game where they get to enjoy playing beastmasters.  Difficult and highly “mechanical” card game may be good for some, but it doesn’t end up being most goodest for others.

RPG is a decent fit for those of my ilk.  On the other hand, campaigns like our 20 Goblin Winter campaign were bad fits because we didn’t really get to enjoy anything about L5R while also being unclear on what we were supposed to be doing.  Second City sucked as a campaign; I would say part of that is that you remove the familiar world of Rokugan and fail to replace with something as rich or interesting because you just didn’t develop the Second setting.

Trying to take throatcutting seriously is a bad fit for me, while offgoofing is good fit.  It occurs to me that WoT was a case where I didn’t end up throatcutting that much, as most of my play was playtesting rather than striving for prizes.  So, I’ve never been a master throatcutter, with my two-player tournament wins usually being in sealed deck play, where I focus more on building better decks rather than tier 1 decks.  I’m the guy who played one copy of Necropotence in his Essence Drain deck, rather than the other way around, yet beat a Magic world champion in a sealed deck game with repeated use of Capsize and with a Rolling Thunder with zero cards in my library.

Doh!  That’s what I need to do to get my competitive fix on – only seriously compete in CCGs where sealed deck tournaments occur and have decent prizes.  Octa-libra!  That means I have to take up Magic, again …

Speaking of bad fits, the John Carter movie was a bad fit because it failed to explain why Jesus C-, um, JC is a fun dude to hang with or why sword and planet is a compelling genre or explain how you can do a 21st century movie with a bunch of races defined by their skin color.  Read the books.  Compared to a lot of other stuff, they are better.

Now, will the setting be a good fit for RPG play?  Will it be a good fit for people I play with?

Barsoom Or Bust

March 21, 2012

I don’t like movies.  In a general sense.  I just don’t like movies.  I’d much rather read a book or watch TV.  I’m not all that into special/visual effects.  Even better movies are typically too short and unsatisfying.

So, why did I see John Carter when I hadn’t been in a movie theater in years?

Eventually, I will get to how all of this relates to gaming, in the meantime …

I particularly think it’s a bad idea to see a movie when you are familiar with the source material, especially if that source material is a book (including comic books).  I’ve read the I Am Legend novella.  I didn’t like it.  I wouldn’t recommend it, though I’m not a fan of true horror, so maybe it’s more appealing to people who like horror.  But, it had a very specific point to it – the ending.  A point utterly failed by Will Smith’s movie.  Use the same names and a similar situation … and tell a different story – that’s what movie adaptions typically do.

The adaption might be far better, but I don’t recall any instance when knowing about the original going into the movie made the movie seem so, rather it just struck me as different.  There are James Bond novels I’ve read after the movies, and I enjoyed the movies more, hardly remembering the particulars of the books.  Can I think of an instance where I was happy to read a novel after being introduced to a story through a movie?  Not off the top of my head.

So, it may just be that I identify a story as something unique.  One can see this in comic books as well, where I rarely had interest in reimaginings of characters I knew, even though comic books do that all of the time.  Note also, this is why I don’t watch superhero movies, even ones that get good reviews, like Iron Man, though I never cared that much about Iron Man, so maybe I could break down and watch that some day.

Obviously, I’ve read the John Carter stories.  I think of them as an eleven book series, but originally, they were magazine stories as most science fiction, fantasy, and/or adventures stories from back in the day seem to have been.  I’ve read them multiple times.  I like them.  In fact, given how much other series I’ve read deteriorated to the point where they are embarrassingly bad (Laurell K. Hamilton’s stuff, Wheel of Time, Elric stories), my respect for series that didn’t fall apart had been growing.  I suppose it helps to just stop at some point and no longer continue a series just for monetary reasons.  That book 11 suddenly ends without a resolution to JC’s predicament is unfortunate.

While I never expected to enjoy the John Carter movie because of my experiences with not enjoying movies based on books I’ve previously read, I did feel compelled to check it out because it felt important.  I was amazed that someone had finally tried making a movie after only a hundred years.

The box office has been far worse than the reviews.  The reviews have been mediocre.  The reviewers have pointed out the numerous difficulties of selling an audience on the property, given how much later properties have drawn upon the (more) original and have already claimed the minds of those unfamiliar with the older stories.

Though, reviewers often give passes to movies they shouldn’t have, such as Star Wars Epidodes 1, 2, and 3, which I find to be abominations.  Maybe, if they weren’t Star Wars movies, they would be adequate movies, appealing to those who care about special effects.  But, they are just offensive in how boring they are, how unappealing the characters are, and how obsessed they seem with special effects over an enjoyable story.

The twin contexts of, one, having the books to compare to and, two, not generally liking the medium of movies left me quite unimpressed with John Carter.  Much like Natalie Portman was the only thing of interest to me in the more recently made Star Wars movies, Lynn Collins was the primary thing that held my interest, calling to mind someone I used to work with.  And, for those who have read of Dejah Thoris, perhaps read the comic book stories I’ve never read, it can be amusing to contrast the damsel in distress of the novels with the warrior/scientist of the movie.

Conan, Spellsinger, Gor.  Versus.  Thomas Covenant, Wheel of Time, any Eternal Champion.  I don’t expect people to have read the same series I have – I certainly haven’t read many series others have and don’t remember all that well some series I have read, such as Lord of the Rings.  So, the difference between the first group and the second group needs some explanation.  One could say the second group is either high fantasy or prone to high fantasy, but that isn’t the point.  The point is that the first group has worlds that make for good places to set a role-playing game where the latter group has worlds where that’s a problem.

What problem?  The problem that the world is far too dependent upon a singular character or small group of specific characters.  Conan may be the most badass dude in his world, but he isn’t necessary to it.  Whereas, no Eternal Champion story functions without an Eternal Champion or three.  It’s unfortunate in that Thomas Covenant’s fantasy world and Wheel of Time’s world are both well suited to having RPG characters – those characters just wouldn’t be the characters who are of prime importance (outside of playing an established character).  It’s certainly possible to play some bit character in the grand scheme of things; I just find it offputting to know that no matter what my character will ever do, it won’t be relevant in the way that the book characters are relevant.

John Carter may be the Jesus of his world, but he’s not necessary, unless you give a crap about every race uniting, which I just see as a side plot to the constant attempts to recover kidnapped women.  So, Barsoom fits well into the group of worlds where the characters can carve out their own destiny.  JC and Conan are much alike in how they both rise to a level of great prominence but are easily replaced.  When I reread the whole series, I’ll know, but my recollection is that about five of the eleven books in the John Carter series aren’t about John Carter at all.

While reasons have been given for why a movie took a hundred years to make, needing the special effects technology to catch up mostly, it has been amazing that so little had been done with a RPG.  I was in a local game store a few months ago and stunned by how a RPG completely ripped off the Mars books.  Why not just get the license for the real thing?  Probably because estates are weird and reluctant to do such, even if it’s unlikely to be screwed up.

I don’t hold out much hope that a new official RPG will be made.  There was the 1978 miniatures game John Carter, Warlord of Mars and there is the newer game, whose name escapes me and which I cannot find with an online search, that is a complete ripoff.  I’ll just have to check the store again.

Still, you don’t need an official RPG to set a game in a world.  I believe JC was written up as a 30th level fighter in AD&D terms.  Can scale however you want, but given unaging warriors who fight for the thrill of fighting to the death their entire lives, a mediocre swordsman on Barsoom could be 10th level, with 20th level fighters being rather commonplace.

I hadn’t thought much of what system would work well.  I don’t find that level systems model source material all that well, unless you freely start characters at mid/high levels or have them jump in level rather easily.  A percentile system could possibly capture the difference between the 90%/90% attack/parry “common fighting man” and the 99%/99% or 180%/180% or whatever elite fighting man of Mars.  I have a hard time envisioning L5R working, what with there being far too much variance in results and far too many rank 8, 9, 10 Swords skill characters.  I wonder if Savage Worlds might scale correctly with numerous d12+1 vs. d12+3 fights, though, again, variance.

The whole point of sword fights on Barsoom is that you are either clearly better and cut down a dozen warriors easily or face a highly skilled swordsman and have to open a dozen minor wounds before polishing someone off with a desperate/rage-induced/lucky final strike.  Actually, 3e L5R dueling rules might capture the nature of important one on one fights.

Speaking of one on one fights, another huge problem that RPGs have modeling.  Interestingly, Conan has a supplement that has rules for an epic duel.  But, in general, the mechanics just don’t lend themselves to duels.  I suppose I could play with it a bit to see if normal L5R can model general combat where my Agility 7 Earthling with Swords 10 just rips apart a dozen Agility 4, Swords 5 nobodies, while the Iaijutsu rules get used for one on one fights.  Though, a huge problem with one on one fights has nothing to do with mechanics and everything to do with the difference between a single protagonist in a book and a party in a RPG.

Well, okay, that and the rather important bit that book characters don’t die (unless they can be resurrected), that they are irreplaceable to the story where RPG characters are rather less interesting when they must win fights for the story to make any sense.

Given the nature of Barsoom, one could try to find players into modeling duels, one could abstract action to some degree to avoid having a single player fighting a long, drawn out duel while others aren’t involved, or one could just choose to find a more party friendly world.

Given that few people I know have read the books and, therefore, have no particular allegiance to Barsoom, probably just not bother coming up with something, just as I don’t bother with most of my RPG ideas.