The Best of … 2014

December 31, 2017

Our annual exercise in calling out what was notable from three years prior.

January

[Classic] Yu-Gi-Oh! meets V:TES [10/19/2002]

I never got much response to this as an email or as a blog post.  Every time I read it I’m reminded that sometimes I entertain myself in profound ways.  Lot of times I only write somewhat along the lines of what I want to; this is a case of writing just the way I wanted to.  This and old tournament reports help justify the [Classic] posts.

Is it better to watch episodes of YGO! first or read this first?  Note that I don’t think you need to know anything about V:TES besides that it’s a card game for this to have some level of meaning.

Might, Right, Or Contrite

I don’t feel strongly about this post, but, given how popular my L5R mechanics posts are, this seems like one that the 4e players might want to take a look at if they haven’t.

February

Core-Tier

Profound?  Not so much.  I didn’t analyze courtier schools as much as analyzed them for my own interests, which has little application to others.  However, I did settle on my two HoR4 possibilities being a Miya Herald and an Asako Loremaster, with the latter maybe being a better choice in hindsight and the former working adequately.

Finish Line

A callout because I don’t think this got a lot of attention, though I may have lost so much of my old V:TES audience that anything V:TES is not going to get as much attention.  While I didn’t aim for solutions to other people’s problems, I thought I did a good job of pointing out reasons card floppers seem to struggle building V:TES decks more than they do other CCG decks.

Btw, while I’m fine with V:TES continuing as was, if I were going to reboot it, card limits.  Card limits produce a far more digestible game.

Orccon 2014

I was really getting to like how California decided to play with each other.  The reason to highlight this post was not only because it was a last hurrah of sorts but because it’s good balance for me to point out when I suck, even when it doesn’t involve wandering around Berlin.

Mysterious

That I may read Xanth novels or watch Inuyasha or whatever may not be touchstoney enough for my audience, but one hopes the audience knows something about Sherlock Holmes.  I thought this did tie together something important about gaming with an important observation about more mainstream entertainment.

March

Review – Book of Water

It’s long, therefore it must be good.  Insert banal joke.  Why call this out and not Book of Fire review in the previous Best of …?  Well, I did kind of call out Book of Fire by not calling it out.  My frustration with the rather poor series got me motivated to explain why I thought early 4e supplements were superior supplements.

Eject The Tape

If you understand why this report of casual V:TES play is … important? … interesting? … entertaining?, then I think you get more value out of my blog.  If you think this was dumb, especially the play reporting, then I’m going to disappoint at times.  If I beat a zombie pony with certain comments in various posts, this sort of post cuts to the heart of the matter (in a far more subtle and therefore geniusy way).

Bushi Analysis – Extended

Is it heartening or disheartening that so much of what gets read in my blog are posts like these?  Did I ask this question before?  I used to have an audience for V:TES, and I get why that doesn’t seem to be as important because I don’t play as much and, thus, spend less time talking about the game and people I used to play with don’t and, maybe, there are fewer people playing in general.  I wonder what V:TES players do consume.  Regional forums?

Anyway, I rated stuff.  I’m not aware of anyone else rating this sort of stuff, therefore I win the blogosphere?  I could try to clickbait by putting this sentence in my preview – Kim K. or Haifa Wehbe hotter in her prime?  I’ve never used a picture of the former for a NPC, I did use the latter (also Adriana Lima in a very different campaign).  All I got was comments about how HW wasn’t what people thought of as a “girl next door”.

I haven’t really changed my opinions on how bushi rank.  Maybe I’d get more argument from folks if I posted on forums instead of in a place where I can control the message.

Generic Bushi School

Speaking of winning.  Look, everybody has bad ideas and a lot of people have good ideas.  I just happen to have good ideas that occasionally get shared (when I’m not sharing bad ideas).  And, no, I don’t think the R-5 technique is overpowered compared to other R-5 techniques in 4e.

Strong Sorrows?

I had a coworker note that I was dead inside (recently).  Is that better than being dead outside?  Seems like it.  I enjoyed putting together this post.  Again, I got really, really tired of doing the Zodiac posts back in the day.  I should have fun on rare occasions.  Harkening back to yesteryear pleasures me (well, when it’s about things like gaming).

That aside, what’s the importance of this post?  Look, I have done things others haven’t.  Sure, I’m not likely to be a Hatamoto in the L5R LCG and I was never a World Champion at any CCG I was ranked in the top 10 in the world for and I’ve never been credited with breaking a non-playtest play environment and I have lots of opinions on things I don’t know jack and diane about.  But, I’ve also taken a number of CCGs seriously.  There’s some probability I may know something rather than just blogging made up words.

On another note, I stopped reading Magic articles because they became hard to read.  Why do people do that?  I may not particularly want to play Magic, but I find Magic interesting.

April

HoR Strategy

Is HoR important to me?  Right this last day of 2017?  Today, no.  Yesterday, no.  Day before that, no.  Pretty much since Gen Con 2017 ended, no.  And, that’s become the norm.  This post addresses why it’s so easy to lose the plasma on HoR play.

That being said, I’ve gotten a lot out of HoR.  I really like 3e/3r/4e basic mechanics.  I’ve had some great play experiences.  I’ve met some people I really enjoy doing things with.  I played in an epic home game because of HoR.  So, at some point, I’ll look to ramp up, again.  We might be able to play some missed mods next weekend.  It’s just brutal how disengaged I become during the months when there isn’t anything going on.

May

June

July

BattleTech Scenario Building

I did post stuff in May and June, in case you want to relive more of my 2014.  This post has to be great … cuz I’ve seen it get some continuous reads in 2017.  BattleTech is such an interesting game in that it’s often awful to play yet is so evocative.  Well, it can be fun … and I tell you how.

August

Sure, my Gen Con 2014 post was long.  They usually are.

September

October

Ambivantaged

Ah, a rant about gear.  Or, is it?  Maybe I just feel like calling out one of the easiest to read pieces of Statesish, ever.

The Road To Mana

This has very little to do with gaming.  But, it hints at something that I’ll mention because I doubt other people would make the same connections.  I’m quite fortunate to be able to have a variety of first-world problems.  Gaming in the form I consume it is a first-world activity.  Gaming can be really easy.  Bust out Advanced Squad Leader and make up some homebrew rules for simultaneous turns and you are platinum.  But, sometimes, you can run into problems of people having other things they need to do besides play games, like raise children or work.  Here, my problem was that I was getting closer to living an adventure yet couldn’t make a connection to improving my gaming experiences, something so ridiculously first-worldy that I get … amused.  Now, that’s not all downside since I get to Beware of Invisible Cows, keep it real, et al.  This is not the post to get much out of, unless you want something from this blog besides gaming thoughts, like tourist suggestions on the Islands.

I do seem to have some portion of audience who finds travel log stuff more interesting.  Btw, would you be shocked to hear that my ideal lifestyle would be “travel the world and play games”?

November

Exploring Villainy

It has been said that actors prefer villains because those are meatier roles.  While this post isn’t likely to be helpful to others, it does clarify why I’m a villain vegan.

Lo, The Fun

Do you play CCGs?  Do you enjoy them?  Why are CCGs the best form of competitive gaming ever?  The Fun.

L5R Campaigns

I believe there’s plenty of room for other types of L5R campaigns.  Now, I don’t see the people I play with being into some of the types, but they exist.  Where this has maybe a touch more value than it seems is that it was before I started running LBS – Black Water Lake [sigh], and it helped inform things I tried in that campaign, a campaign I was actually more happy with than most.  I’m still into the idea of LBS as a setting (well, part of a setting) because it addresses some of the problems Rokugan has a setting.  (Topic for another time?)

December

Clan Cards – Camarilla

I do try to use my analytical awesomeosity to be helpful, even if nobody cares.  *weep*

Note that there are two other posts in this series, but I don’t feel energetic enough to link them.

RPG Fiction Guide

You know what else my two long-running campaigns had?  My writing fics for them.  It adds so much to the experience.  So much of game time is spent on combat, rolling dice outside of combat, arguing about what to do, arguing about treasure splits [not really but sadly this has actually happened], looking up rules, etc.


Well, that was a lot of posts.  As much as I feel like I’ve lost some of the magic early on with more profundity, I also can see where I can keep going far, far into the future.  As long as I throw numbers into more posts.

Advertisements

Same Phat Channel, Same Phat Time …

April 20, 2015

Episodic RPG play.  It’s not my strength.

So, it was my turn to run something, and I floated Legend of the Burning Sands.  I mentioned to the players that I was going to try to make it more episodic, both to make it easier for people to drop in or drop out for sessions but also to try to be more like Heroes of Rokugan.  Why?  Because I think self-contained sessions have certain advantages.

So, I run my first session.  It could have left off there, but I wanted to introduce an additional NPC.  So, session two was just a second part to session one.  Pretty much at no point have I had a session that didn’t tie into a previous session, usually the one just prior.

I just don’t think in terms of TV episodes.  I think in terms of a continuous narrative that builds upon prior events.  Developing storylines is what waters my camel.

Let’s take NPCs.  My NPCs are often trying to accomplish something because it has been hammered home to me that NPCs without their own thing going on aren’t as deep.  The campaign set up of trying to take out the Caliph and her Khadi obviously requires that the Caliph and Khadi be doing something that impacts the party.  But, the various allies the party has all have their own things going on.  Because that interests me.

I can run a tactical wargame.  I’m a big fan of the HeroQuest boardgame, and I’ve made it somewhat RPGish.  What I struggle with is the idea of running a RPG campaign that uses a RPG system like how D&D and the like are played – videogame RPing.

Because there are so many stories to tell.  I have had so many ideas for characters or scenes for short stories or longer efforts that I’ve never even bothered writing down.  Maybe, I can push myself to write a novel during my lifetime, but it’s so so much easier to write stories while playing or running RPGs because it’s so much more focused than when I’m left to my own devices.

Anyway, getting off topic.  What is good about episodic play besides the ease of handling players dropping in and out?

Less pressure.  Episodic play will tend towards resetting things.  Now, for RPGs, it’s different.  While the narrative might not progress, the PCs will.  D&D will see level increases, as you go from dungeon to dungeon.  HoR sees character improvement and probably rank increases as one plays mods.  But, success/failure/just general impact on the world is muted.  This can not only make the players’ lives easier as they can screw things up and only lose out in XP or goodies or whatever.  This can make the GM’s life much easier by not having to have PC actions change the world much.

Less engagement.  While I find that too much of my play sees players who don’t engage as much as I think they should, by setting the standard to “what you do this session stays in this session”, you don’t need as much engagement.

Less quagmiredom.  Continuing a narrative can mean continuing a story where the party is in some sort of highly problematic situation or some really boring situation.  Sure, a superior GM will figure out how to have fun things prepared no matter what.  I’m not a superior GM.  I don’t have fun options always prepared for every possible player decision.  As a player, I might meta hard to make sure that my PC is doing stuff, but I get players who seem tolerant with doing nothing because their characters wouldn’t do interesting things.  More specifically, when it comes to structure, if the players like having 20% combat, 20% investigation, 20% puzzling, 20% arguing about how every plan someone comes up with is dumb, and 20% joking about Star Wars, then you can consistently plan those breakdowns when coming up with sessions.

When you have a coherent narrative, some things may not make any sense to do, like murdering enemies.  For instance, I had a LBS session planned at a party.  It turned into two sessions (spread over three sessions because someone missed one of the sessions).  In part one, there was nothing to fight, except for sparring or other play fighting.  It was a party.  In session two, there was something going on that had various possibilities for combat, but it was pretty much up to the party to activate any combats.  After a certain point, things seemed to drag, as the players didn’t know what else to do.

Now, not knowing what to do is a separate axis.  But, it connects.  What do I mean?  When you have an episode, the plot of the episode, the results, the set pieces, etc. should all basically be in place.  I’ve only gotten stuck in a few HoR mods in terms of completing the adventures, but I’ve almost always known what I was supposed to do.  I thought it was interesting when a couple of my players thought of my Gaki Mura campaign as a sandbox.  I didn’t think of it that way, but I could be wrong.  While having a preplanned plot is against the idea of sandboxes, I do go light on forcing my players into the plot much of the time.  And.  I expect players to have their own interests in where to take things.  I don’t mean that I expect every player to have a non-party goal or to have an idea what the PC’s story arc should be.  I just expect players to engage with the world to the point that their characters have things they want to accomplish to where the players help shape the direction the campaign goes in.

Using LBS as an example, so the PCs want to get rid of the Caliph – what’s their plan for doing that?  I’ve yet to get any input on how they would accomplish that.  They could go intrigue/politics to remove them from power, go combat (sort of, kind of hard to fight things that cannot be destroyed, but you could just imprison them), explore (to find their hearts), “magic” (find a power great enough that it can take out indestructible “humans”), get them to fight each other (and take it out into the desert), or whatever.  If they don’t do something, then that aspect of the campaign remains status quo.  Now, I have things in mind that don’t relate to this core campaign element, but the players don’t seem to have any sense of those, either, partially because I’m too subtle, partially because of lack of curiosity.  Yes, a selling point of this campaign was to educate the players on the setting, so we can just have weekly stuff happen that doesn’t really blow up Medinaat al-Salaam.

Meanwhile, there are so many ways to take advantage of things to move their supposed agenda.  They have a relatively large number of allies that they don’t ever ask anything of.  They don’t make any effort to learn about their enemies.  They don’t make any effort to really change anything about the world.  What burned me out on running the Gaki Mura campaign was this precise lack of player input into the campaign, where every session felt like it was just me coming up with something happening to the PCs.  I very much try not to just dictate events to players as that’s supposedly a bad thing – taking agency away from players.

So, maybe the campaign should be far more episodic.  Maybe it should just be “The Medinaat al-Salaam Files”, where the Caliph is always the sheriff/Nazis/Gargamel, where the Betty and Veronica of the campaign are always waiting for the PCs to take interest, etc.  Except, I suck at that, and it will bore me silly to not have some sort of progressing narrative.


Definitely Good and Evil

December 22, 2014

For a while, I thought it was easier to define evil than good.  Evil to me was intentionally causing others to suffer, where unintentional causing of suffering to others was more complicated.  But, what was good?  The lack of causing suffering not so good.  Relieving suffering in others?  Yeah, sure.  But, there was something not terribly clear about self vs. others.

Not long ago, for whatever reason, I was thinking about how obvious good is as determined by humanity.  More specifically, humanity has produced entertainment and that entertainment makes good easy.  Good is helping others.  The only thing good has to do with the self is that if you suffer to do more for others, you are more gooder.

Philosophers can debate the rationale for this, but it’s ubiquitous.  Heroes sacrifice themselves so that others, even the baddies, gain more/suffer less.  A trope, because apparently it’s impossible to avoid using the term trope anymore, is that only the heroes are in the know and knowing sucks because horror, but it’s to save/protect innocents.  It’s always about someone else.

Which makes sense in that society has an incentive to encourage helping others as that makes for more society.  D&D originally just had Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, whether because it took inspiration from Moorcock’s and others’ use of Law vs. Chaos or because it realized that adventurers in games don’t tend towards good or evil but do tend towards collaboration (to varying degrees from what I’ve seen) or schism, where being some loner monster fits the Chaotic side.

Okay, so once you settle on good = do stuff for others and the more it sucks for you the more gooder and evil = cause others to suffer and the more you enjoy it the more eviler, what then?

RPG parties are often dysfunctional.  One way that they can end up being so is that some folks want to be good guys and some folks don’t.  I personally have a hard time with the don’t.  It’s not that I can’t see settings where the protagonists aren’t goodies, it’s that I don’t see the point in playing any of those settings.

This lack of interest in being the goodies, meanwhile, kills certain settings.  Star Wars, in my experience is an awful setting for role-playing because so few people embrace being a goodie.  Superhero campaigns aren’t something I’ve gotten to experience, but I think my lack of experience with them has something to do with the lack of interest in people playing goodies.  I’ve found fantasy role-playing to be problematic because good just gets thrown off the cliff so regularly.

There are some who believe good is boring.  I don’t know how that’s the case when the vast majority of fantasy and other genres that RPGs set in have goodies as protagonists.  Can read a book, watch a TV show or movie, watch anime – helping others is all the rage.  Nevermind that the actual amount of getting into character I find to be much less than the looking up of numbers on character sheets in my play, so why spend what little time role-playing as a jerk?

Maybe it comes down to thinking being a goodie is simplistic or, even, difficult.  Ha ha, you are a naive goodie while I’m a badass ninja with my own code.

Well, different strokes for different blokes.  I find not being good to be hollow in my play.  If I’m not trying to help someone or make the world a better place, why do I care about anything?  Any set up where you are just trying to survive or trying to get rich or whatever just seems like a setup more suited for a boardgame, where mechanics can just rule the day.

Great, why does this matter now?

I might end up running Legend of the Burning Sands.  There are a lot of factions.  There are way more factions than L5R.  Unlike L5R, there’s no standard for good (essentially Honor in Rokugan, Integrity is the same mechanic but it doesn’t feel like a standard).  Every faction has its own issues, which makes for a much more realismish and complex milieu.  I can easily anticipate that the party won’t be good if the players are left to build their own characters.

One of my problems with Mechwarrior is that I don’t feel like anyone is good in the setting, it’s all point of view based.  That sort of realistic, shades of grey morality just defeats any sort of moral component to a campaign.  Many mech pilots righteously battle in character … and I just think “Why would anyone think they have moral high ground?”

As said, I have a hard time seeing playing a supers game except online because supers games, more than other settings, just don’t make any sense unless you are willing to embrace good.  I would say Star Wars games almost never end up making sense for the same reason, but I think I already said that.

Shadowrun, I think, is supposed to be a heist game.  Again, at the point where good is meaningless, the game becomes mechanical to me.  Gritty space games strike me the same way – I’m never trying to do good, so why do I care what I’m doing?

Feng Shui assumes goodness.  Maybe that’s why I like it so much.  Players of the game seem to buy into the idea that they are goodies.

Call of Cthulhu seems to me to be run with the intention of showing how PCs can be destroyed no matter what they do.

Vampire is kind of funny because I’ve seen it played a number of times where the PCs are goodies, maybe because the setting does so much to bring up those that are worst.  In our Conan play, we moved in and out of goodness, sometimes being quite selfish or even awful, but, as little time as we may have spent being good, it felt like we would sometimes be heroic.  I guess it was a game/campaign in which moral complexity actually arose, built up over years of trying to figure out who our characters actually were and what we were trying to accomplish.  For some, it was self-interested prick who learns to give a damn, though, for me, it was more dashing hero who ends up doing horrible things at times.  Anyway, I always much more enjoyed the sessions when I got to be heroic.

Heroic.  That’s a good word to bring up, some 900+ words in.  I always want to play heroic characters in RPGs.  Heroes are good.  They suffer so that others don’t or suffer less.  I could have avoided using goodie and just used hero this whole time, I suppose.

Anyway, I know what I like.  The question becomes how to end up playing or running the games I like.  Is it a conversation with the players beforehand?  Yeah, I think that’s an obvious step.  Is it choosing genres that are heroic?  Yeah, that helps, though I kind of expect the PCs to be heroic in every genre.  I kind of question how much enthusiasm I’ll have for LBS if the players gravitate to the darker elements.

Because it can really suck when some players want to do one thing and others don’t.  Just as much as some players hate social challenges or combat or investigating or sneaking or whatever, some players hate having no moral compass … and, I suppose, some players hate having one.  What I’ve found with some groups is that what annoys players the most are loose cannons, whether those loose cannons are Chaotic Good or Chaotic Evil.  Gets back to how Lawful/Chaotic is not so bad for gaming.

I just had another thought.  I think I so often embrace the idea of playing a sidekick to another PC or to the party because of one of two reasons:  either the sidekick is being good by helping someone else or the party is not good/heroic and being a sidekick removes any sort of feeling of responsibility for the party’s actions.  “Master, I have procured for you many more sacrifices so that we can more effectively release Hell on Earth.  I do good, right?”