Introducing L5R

June 19, 2016

I ran a one shot yesterday to introduce the RPG to people who had only played the CCG.

I realized while I was writing things up that it seemed very HoRish.  That wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want to just be HoRish, as the module structure is often constraining both in terms of activities and in terms of character ability relevance.

For instance, one of the four PCs I built was a Miya Herald since the player didn’t care about combat and I have constantly wondered what drugs the designer was taking who designed this school since its techniques do nothing.  Knowing that this would be a PC, I threw in a couple possible situations where someone would stop a combat nonviolently.  Something that pretty much is never going to happen unless you go out of your way to engineer it.  Adding Fire Ring to Horsemanship rolls would be a far more useful technique than anything below the R-5 technique in this incomprehensible school.  Of course, it’s not like Otomo or Seppun are suited to PCs, either.

So, I had this very HoR-module-ish adventure put together with a ton of back story elements that were going to be difficult for the PCs to find out about and maybe some openendedness that a module wouldn’t have.  Did I say module?  I mean two modules.  The next most HoR experienced player gave feedback that it came across like playing a combination of two common HoR mod archetypes.

Play.  In terms of actual play, it was even more HoRish than I was aiming for.

For a one shot, having court activities drag on with the absence of any sort of plot goal, then having a linear rescue mission abruptly begin had dissonance.

More feedback.  It was suggested that the order of things should have been inverted.  As an introduction, start with the linear activities to give time for a player to get a feel for the character, then move in to openended activities.  I think I have a hard time envisioning a way to do that coherently because I’m so used to HoR mods that start at court then move to combat.  But, trying to understand how to do this would make me better at writing up adventures.

Introducing …

What did the players have the most problem with?

Names.

Structure of society – roles.

How to penetrate the reticence of NPCs.

Caring?

Mechanical options.

Names

I don’t have a problem with names other than spelling them right when people speak them.  I just assume it will get figured out fast.  Maybe having some real world experience with family name first helps.

So, I don’t realize how hard names are.

Until it gets repeatedly pointed out to me and I blog about how hard names are.  I’ve run into at least three cases where people have said that they just can’t track who is who because of names.

I don’t know what to do about it other than print out a list of family names so that they can all be seen side by side.  Sure, Kitsu and Kitsune seem similar, but, if you know the clans involved, they are incredibly different thematically.

One player suggested avoiding alliteration.  While plenty of names can be made up, when I go to names websites to use actual Japanese names, there are lots of similarities.  Actually, we had two NPCs in the Princess Police campaign that were Hanahime, which is the worst of all worlds, though it didn’t bother me as one of them was important and the other not so, so it was easy for me to distinguish once I clarified which one was being talked about.

Anybody have good suggestions for helping new players with names?

Society

I’d say most of the frustration in L5R play will come from status, including legal proceedings.  Though, it’s not just status.  L5R is what it is because of the rigid society that it provides.  If you are just roving ronin, well, that’s not anything I’ve ever played with this game, maybe never played ever.

Who does what.  Who speaks of what.  Who doesn’t do what.  Who can do what and get away with it versus hoping it’s not seppuku time.

This is not easily explained in one session.  Which means that an intro session should have a set up that makes it easier to learn or avoid.

One suggestion was having the PCs be the only samurai.  I’m not fond of this.  Ordering around peasants does not remotely prepare you for abasing yourself before kuge.  A better idea, as I’ve played in mods where this happened and it was cool, is to have the PCs be working for the society dude in the background.  PCs run around and Commerce their way to victory, while the evidence is handed over to their Kolat boss at the end of the session and the Kolat boss gets some schlup eviscerated by the hideously lethal legal system.

Just like it’s not good to put newbs into a role of being authoritarian assholes, it’s not good to have them be nobodies who should not be heard.

Reticence

In D&Desque play, I find that PCs just are brutally blunt.  “Give me the info or I murder your soul.”

Rokugani society has some allowances for this when dealing with lessers, but it’s still crude and crude is anti-Honor.  Being difficult is often not intentional with NPCs.  They have no choice because the standard is to be indirect, unemotional, modest, and, yes, even secretive (in a “need to know” kind of way).

As a GM, I find it painful when PCs are struggling to get basic information.  I was playing a servant NPC who could have given info in a simple, informative way because he wasn’t trying to hide anything, but the player kept asking questions in a way that made it difficult to give the answer he was looking for.

Take Commune.  Commune is all about asking the question you want to ask in such a way that the GM can’t screw you over with a vague answer.  Of course, the only reason a GM wants to wiggle out of answering is because Commune is stupidly broken and makes investigations dumb (as well as other stuff, like trying to find something/somebody hidden).

Unless you get to torture phase, which itself is an annoying aspect of L5R, everybody is naturally less helpful than they could be.  That’s not interesting.  It’s also much more work for people not used to this than those of us who are used to this.

Caring

Samurai have specific responsibilities, unlike a lot of adventurers.  At times, I get the sense or someone flatly proclaims that a PC isn’t interested in pursuing a plot point.  Trying to get someone to care is tiresome.

Even something as simple as a competition or opportunity to show off can lead to player boredom as a PC ignores the event.  Now, I don’t think everyone has to do everything.  But, why care about +.2 Glory?  Glory doesn’t do anything.  It’s going to be 10.0 or 10.9 in two ranks, anyway, unless you go out of your way to not spiral up.

What’s the payoff?  In the Princess Police, Winter Court had the Emperor around.  Any event had massive rewards, which wasn’t remotely clear until people like me went “Wait.  What?!?  That 8 person polearms event sees the winner gain what??”  You don’t want massive rewards for newbs.  That skews play.  It’s also not going to be like mods except in rare circumstances (winning Topaz Championship, for instance).

But, it’s not just “fun stuff”, it’s also things like NPCs dicking with other NPCs.  In HoR, you have to care about anything that seems related to gaining the fourth XP for the mod, so you are on the lookout for plot hooks.  But, to achieve my goal of making it clearer what one NPC was angling for in yesterday’s session just required too much time and effort.

Sure, this is something that can be more easily fixed with “your daimyo told you to do this” or whatever.  But, it’s a feature of society in that society dictates what you care about where many a world it’s the PCs who drive what they care about and/or something is trying to kill them.

Mechanical Options

I actually was much better than usual about overexplaining mechanics.  I didn’t go into the movement rules much.  I only pointed out combat maneuvers when combat actually occurred and one of the PCs was expected to commonly Guard.

I find highly experienced players really suck at using the options available to them.  I put some of this down to how L5R appeals more to thematic types than mechanical types in many cases.  Some of it is just that people aren’t good at math and/or good at understanding mechanics, something I run into with much crunchier play, like D&D.  I, myself, keep forgetting to use Knockdown more, though most of my PCs are Strength-deficient.

One thing I find odd falls under this topic but has little to nothing to do with new players.  I find it odd when players don’t try to use abilities.  I’ve often had the case where a player tells me that they didn’t know how to pursue something they wanted to do, and I just start rattling off using different skills that could have been used.  I don’t know what produces this problem.  Is it being used to games where you are constrained by lack?  In L5R, you can even roll things you are unskilled in.  But, I always want to roll obscure skills, so I often try to think of some way to shoehorn in a skill use to achieve something, no matter how trivial, like getting +.1 Glory for random P: Biwa play.

Lot of learning tactics is through observation and experience.  But, I don’t find L5R complicated.  I find it rather intuitive, I guess, in that I don’t recall fighting the system like I find myself fighting RuneQuest or Fading Suns or various other systems.

Boreyteller

There are things I think I do well.  I think my soap opera inclinations produce interesting back stories.  I think I can mechanize thematics well.  I think I can envision things to write up scenes.

But, the players often don’t find out about my back stories nor do I convey the images in my mind to a compelling degree.

I also suck at bringing life to my NPCs.  I have problems with scene transitions.  My combats aren’t as interesting as I would like.  I have lots of problems with player motivation.

So, what does this have to do with new L5R players?

I need to have set ups that are better for motivation.  One idea I had but didn’t try out was giving everyone a 3×5 card with three goals and have the player choose one or more goals on the card to pursue.  I just struggled with having that many things going on at once.

I need to focus on what is interesting.  I had lots of elements I cut from yesterday that were subtle court things to try to portray what was going on with the NPCs.  I keep saying it, but it affects how I perceive things so differently from my players – I care more about NPCs than pretty much anything else.  I want to relate to them.  Because of that, I would end up doing stuff in my own games that never happens when I run.

(I also don’t mind watching other people do interesting things and tend to try to make my PC relevant to what’s going on even when I’m not good at resolving a challenge, which helps my enjoyment of play.  The former bores some people a lot, while the latter is something I’m surprised more players don’t look to do.)

Violent is interesting.  I’m not talking about combat.  I’m talking about jarring events.  Prominent.  I do subtle.  Subtle is so bad, made even worse for new players who are just trying to figure out what their dice pools are.

Force action.  The linear opening, maybe not a four hour wolf fight but like a four round bear fight that TPKs, does make sense to me.  Get dice rolling.  Get clear objectives and clear resolution.  Then, optionally, change gears.  Or, not.  Keep having clear objectives and clear resolution.  Just don’t fall into a trap of making it generic FRPGing, though a veneer of L5R is possibly fine for new players.

The two mods I always think of as good intro mods for HoR are Secluded Village and Harsh Lessons.  Not because they are perfect but because they both have straightforward activities.  In the former, you wander from town to town trying to get a piece of the plot resolved.  In the latter, you take up full attacking bamboo as all great samurai do.

There’s a spiritual element to both.  Adding the spiritual elements to an otherwise straightforward preindustrial game gives it that “this is fantasy but not ‘fireball fantasy’ like those other games”.

I’m fond of the fantasy aspects of L5R.  Why don’t I think of focusing on those in an adventure rather than the shogi tournaments?  Why?  It still provides a distinctive angle, even if it doesn’t provide the court stuff that some may love with L5R.

Oh, by the way, for the players, the Crane Magistrate hated the fiancee because she blamed the older sister for getting the magistrate’s intended killed.  Yup, more back story that would have taken another half an hour to find out about.

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Shedding Light

December 24, 2015

I had some post name come to mind, then forgot it.

Anyway, ran first session of Against the Dark Yogi last night.

Takeaways?

The book is a pain in the ass to follow.  Put all of the mechanics in one place – have clear fonts, have clear sideboards, put in examples of character creation.  Without the index, it would have just been a nightmare, as I had to constantly bounce back and forth.  Then, mechanics often have either limited or nonexistent descriptions for how they actually work.  When does my Mag matter?  Why is initiative so weird and how come I find it harder to find it explained than to find the comment about how it can be abused?

Really needs a GM screen.  Way too much wasted ink and space in the POD book.  I could use a big map of the world or just do a big India map, I guess.

The resolution system is a lot flatter than I thought.  I was thinking more extremes and that Good Karma plays would be much stronger.  In reality, with the adders, a lot of results are 4+.  Pushing beyond your max “roll” is really hard as Luck doesn’t actually add, just give the possibility of higher.

Enlightenment is way, way more important than I thought.  E-1 opponents are just kind of awful.

I’m not excited by the idea of managing legend NPCs as the karma stuff just seems fiddly for how much it actually matters.

Speaking of karma, it’s rather gamey how easily you can keep increasing your lifetime Good Karma and not ever accumulate Bad Karma.  On the other hand, I want people to have more options, so maybe I’m just worrying too much about arbitrary numbers.  It just seems like it should be a big deal to go from 2/1 to 3/1 to 4/1, as opposed to just playing two sessions where you hung on to at least one Good Karma (it might have sucked, anyway).

Speaking of advancement, I don’t get starting characters at all.  Starting characters are inferior to nameless NPCs in rather important areas.  Starting characters are way too cookiecutter – should have like 30 points to buy up traits.

I’ve already houseruled initiative to use SPD rather than be the “we decide what order things happen” system that I just don’t get.  Actually, I could use a Savage Worlds style system, since decks are already being used.  Except that will accelerate jokers.

I don’t get critical failures or jokers.  Is a critical failure mostly a narrative thing?  Do you slam the PC with consequences?  Do jokers allow you to draw up to your Good Karma or only replace existing Good Karma?  The latter makes no sense to me because, then, if you spent all of your karma, there’s no upside to a joker.

The background on the world should really be explained much more extensively.  I can research India for stuff, but I have the sense that a GURPS India book would provide more background info on things besides locations and the Dark Yogi’s story.  In many ways, things are too simplistic.

The adventures in the book are weird, especially with the vassal combats.  Really?  That many animals are just hanging out waiting to beat down the party?  Vassal math may not make much sense, but it feels more plausible with human mooks.

I was worried about the accounting of prana.  If there were numerous other things to not worry about, I guess it’s okay, though you have to know what you can use prana for, and we don’t, yet.  With all of the other things going on, though, it’s just too many subsystems.  It’s also weird how much effort is devoted to excess prana and abilities based on excess prana, when I wouldn’t expect most characters to ever have excess prana.

We don’t dislike it.  I think the system is clunky and horribly explained.  The world info is underdeveloped.  Too many mechanics are not common mechanics, where the common mechanics are not easy to follow.

As for my adventure, pretty weak.  Would it have been better with more to work with?  I don’t know. I still put way too much burden on players to be natively interested in wanting certain things to happen.

Learning any system takes time.  I change my views on systems as I learn more about them.

Then, epic fantasy is not something people I play with seem to get.  I suppose I should take more time to frame adventures to give them the high fantasy elements, which might eventually rub off.

Stay tuned.  Next week is part two.


Goat Droppings

November 22, 2015

Been playing with Year of the Goat cards for a couple of weeks.

Maybe it’s a sign of change in general philosophy.  More so, I think it’s an indicator of how Shadowfist is a different hooved animal for me than other CCGs.  Sure, I picked out a list of three to five star cards to figure out how many copies of the precons I wanted.

Card Faction Stars
Agency Support Ascended 3
Agent Provocateur Ascended 4
Aimee Sprigg Jammer 4
Ancestral Home FSS 4
Angie Dao Dragon 3
Balancing Stones Site 3
Baxter’s Irregulars Dragon 3
Betrayers of the Crane Ascended 4
Desolate Mountain FSS 4
Bustling Metro Station FSS 4
Cat Stance Chi 3
Clueless Heroes Dragon 3
Corners of the Mouth Hand 4
Death Masque Magic 3
Decked-Out Moped Tech 3
Defending the Innocent Hand 3
Disintegration Blast Magic 3
Double Feature Dragon 5
Ejector Seat Malfunction Tech 4
Empire of Evil Lotus 3
Extortion Ascended 3
Faith in the Halls of Power Ascended 3
Familiar Spirit Magic 3
Firework Display Jammer 3
Frenzy Monarch 3
Grave Robbers Lotus 4
Heroic Rematch Dragon 3
Hidden Sanctum FSS 3
Highway Ronin Hand 4
Honor and Glory Monarch 3
House Arrest Ascended 5
Huang Yi Hand 4
Humble Beginnings Chi 5
Journey’s Reward Hand 4
Just Getting’ Riled Up Dragon 3
Kitsune Hand 3
Knight Templar Monarch 4
Maze of Little Passages FSS 3
Mesmerism Lotus 5
Mobius Portal Site 3
Mogwai Lotus 3
On the Wire Tech 5
Operation Hidden Tiger Ascended 5
Operation Tethered Goat Ascended 4
Plague of Moths Lotus 2
Political Favors Ascended 3
Rainforest Bridge FSS 3
Reformed Bandit Hand 5
Remix Artist Dragon 4
Renewal Chi 3
River of Lights FSS 4
Roar of the Lion Ascended 5
Rocket Launcher 5
Salamalah Sade Monarch 4
Scroll of Pain Lotus 3
Shadowed Ascended 4
Sky Burial Chi 3
Snap of the Crocodile Ascended 4
Snapping Turtle Cove FSS 4
Song of the Nightingale Hand 3
Sorcerous Return Lotus 3
Spirit in a Bottle Magic 5
Spontaneous Combustion Monarch 3
Stone Gargoyle Lotus 4
Sublime Melancholy Lotus 2
Sulphurous Cenote FSS 2
Touch of the Abyss Lotus 3
Twin Thunders Monarch 3
Underground Lake FSS 3
Undisturbed Meditation Hand 4
Wei Tian Hand 2
Weird Scientist Jammer 2
White Wolf Monarch 3
Wired to Blow Jammer 4
Yanyuedao Blade Hand 3
Zhuha Lotus 3

But, I didn’t do that for this blog or for some argument on a forum or to send out to a local list.  One knows.  Like I have done for other CCGs.  I did it to figure out where to spend money because somehow FCGs (fixed card games, to explain my own term) are [supposedly] less annoying than VCGs (variable card games … genius).

That list might have been pre changes to certain cards like Bustling Metro Station.  Actually, though, the earlier BMS should have been a 5, so maybe not.

Anyway, actual play.

I thought card images were available.  Oh well, guess I won’t have cool graphics to break up the monotonous letterings.

Netherworld Trickster

I hate this card.  I find the art disappealing.  I hate the effect.  I hate that it’s a foundation character.  I get that foundation characters are getting better so that people feel less bad about including them or drawing them late.  Dockyard is interesting in that it vastly reduces the need to play them, yet also makes ones you want to play that much more valuable.  The list of ones you want to play is surprisingly long.  Razor’s Hotties has counter action.  Imp is just another Rattlebones grower.

Anyway, back to the card.  It’s just antifun.  Balanced?  I don’t know.  I’m not an expert on Shadowfist’s competitive environment.  It’s griefy.  On Reddit, mention how it seems too much like an Ascended effect.  There’s a reason I don’t like Ascended and don’t play many of their best cards.  I’m not into griefing people.

On the other hand, some people like that sort of thing.  That’s the thing about CCGs – they do want to cater to a variety of players.  Cuz, business, yo.  Fair number of people like locking other people out of games.  I’m somewhat more tolerant of that in two-player CCGs because then you just concede and the irritation ends.

Oh, I should mention that I’m not going into everything, just some thoughts on some cards.

Heroic Shoulder Wound

In the vein of adding more alternate power to the game so that people don’t get locked out of playing it, we have a goofy way to do this.  I don’t know.  How about just giving people more power or having cards cost less rather than jumping through weird hoops to generate enough power to function?

I don’t feel strongly about it, but Möbius Gardens was already the best FSS.  Not superclear on what the intent with the metagame is.  Maybe, it gets to the point where power is so abundant that people stop trying so hard to acquire it.

Turf War

This was just brutal.  Get a couple victories, have some starting Toughness, even dorks become insanely hard to remove.

On the Wire

I have a build already written up to try to accelerate power as much as possible.  Will it work?  I’m not that clever when it comes to trying to break CCGs because I find brokenness rather boring.  Still, it’s almost like playtesting, where it’s your job to figure out brokenness.

Rocket Launcher

I’m really unclear on how some of these cards got made.  Where a bunch of cards require a bunch of hoops, this is just 1 power to do 3 damage to anything in play, assuming the card doesn’t “fizzle”.

Humble Beginnings

Speaking of adding power to the game, I don’t get why this card is so much worse than the others.  With tons of alt power generation, why develop a site structure?  This is antiparasitic in that your Chi opponents and you are going to be trying to undersite each other all game, while Bottle Spirts and Wire Ons continue to pay off.  Note that I would downgrade this card to like a 3 at this point, possibly even a dreaded 2.

Pacifists

One of these got to 7 for me.  They are weird.  I threw one in front of Guerilla Nihilists (see below) to Quixotically Defend.  I have a hard time imagining why I’d bother in constructed play, where I’m already Fu Lionsing my Humble Dojos so that no one sane will ever look my way.

Gao Family Banquet Hall

Does offering more of the same (Fox Pass, Kinoshita House, etc.) mean anything?  In other words, does it make things suck more?  I used this a lot, I guess because people weren’t paying attention to what it did.  That you don’t unturn is rather wicked.

Well, whatever.  It’s not like my environment currently is into the attack-failers.

Quixotic Defense

This it totally my kind of card.  It is rather silly, though, to sacrifice a dude just to get this out of hand.  Sure, can Iron and Silk or about 300 other things in Shadowfist not to lose somebody, but it’s just going to get me to play dumber cards and just keeps feeding M. Gardens.

Kitsune

Such an amazing thematic fail.  When I first saw this card listed, I was intrigued.  Then, I read it.  Then, I saw the art.  What is so hard about putting out some foxy chick who does spirited things?

Yeah, he comes back … like a spirit.  Yeah, I actually like the art.  It’s just a misnamed card.

Journey’s Reward

Alt power.  Toasting.  Event stopping.  These are things I see a lot of in the set, with event stopping being seen in a bunch of character abilities.  Some alt power I can see to balance things.  Not sure the rest of this stuff is all that great an idea.  On the other hand, have to do something with new cards.

Extortion

More affecting than I thought.  I expect to see a lot of edges in play, what with Empire of Evil and the Ascended deck.

Quanqiu Wishing Well

This ended up getting a lot more power than I expected.  Hidden Sanctums are making smashmath harder.  Just more power everywhere.

Campaign Manager

Steal.  Beget antisteal, I suppose.  That and ways to toast annoying characters like Netherworld Trickster.  Yet again, I just don’t feel the Ascended’s CCG role.  They are actually kind of interesting in the RPG (not the humans).

M.A.D.

What is the only precon deck I have won every game with?  After removing all of the monkey cards?  (There’s a reason I didn’t just get 5x every precon – Jammers have much more limited appeal due to my antimonkey stance.)

This is another obnoxious card.  I get that there are tons of ways to stop attacks in ‘Fist, but why add more?  It’s such a frustrating experience when someone can not only shut down a bid for victory but can do so in a way that additionally helps them.

Remote Temple

This just seems bad.  Why does it need to be in a back row other than first turn plays?  Could have just said “If you control at least two sites and control no characters at this location, turn :: Play a Character at -1 cost.”  I guess it encourages you being the one to play site movers.

Guerilla Nihilists

I already hate this card.  I wasn’t a fan of Dark Traveler, which to me is undercosted.  Not only is this undercosted, but it’s easy to play, triggers off of any sites, and helps a faction that doesn’t need more Fighting (unlike, say, Ascended).  I guess it will encourage more Discerning Fires, as putting two 12 Fighting dudes in play for 6 power is harsh on my decks.

Weird Scientist

Too random?  As much as I’m not big into weird cards, this effect does odd things, almost like how Math Bomb does even things.

Bottles?

I’ve opened up a Lotus deck.  Played against both Lotus and Monarchs.  Can’t say it’s thrilling to have yet more Lotus character steal or have them toast a bunch of cards.  As I consider Lotus the greatest recursion offender, would rather see recursion control in other factions.

I don’t know.  Worrying about metagaming Shadowfist doesn’t seem like an issue.  I metaed a lot for other CCGs because I cared about what was effective.  In ‘Fist, I’m just prone to playing cards I like or find interesting and have so many of those that it’s only really an issue when I’m not pulling enough weight.  For tournament play, maybe I go simple decks that just try to pop out Fighting and lose to Tortured Memories.  Then, in real play, I go back to trying to find the all-Loyalty deck.


Season Premiers

October 31, 2015

There’s not much for me to talk about with Halloween.  It’s not like I play a card game based around vampires or taking on a persona is relevant to roll-playing or …

Let me see if I can tie some things together.

New TV seasons/shows started a bit ago.  Supergirl was okay.  Arrow is far better than it was most of last season.  Flash is kind of slow.  Doctor Who is far, far better with multipart episodes.  And, the best TV show on air remains the same – Open Court.

Yeah, not a lot of people are NBA TV watchers.  As moneymaking as the NBA is, it’s not like a show about it is going to captivate people the same way that … uh … NCIS Helena will captivate people.

Different people have different flavors.  Some people can stand listening to local news, and the rest of us can’t.  And, so forth.

Open Court is like the PBS, “Taste of the Bay” or whatever it’s called shows for people who find sports more interesting than food.  It’s not Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption or the far inferior Mike and Mike and the two arrogant guys (just remembered, First Take) shows.  All of those shows deal in superficiality and a bunch of meaningless crap, like whether someone said something politically incorrect.  It’s not Sportscenter or even Baseball Tonight (which I should probably watch more) in that it isn’t “reporting”.

What it’s kind of more like is Siskel & Ebert.  In that, it’s people expressing real opinions.  Except, unlike S&E, it has people telling stories.  It just wins TV.

Well, said the same thing before.  Just need replication, er, reminders.

I didn’t post anything about Sunday’s V:TES besides foreshadowing, dum dum dum.

In the vein of new, and that’s what Halloween is all about – the split between the past and the less past, I came up with a new experiment.  I had created it a while back but only got around to implementing it Sunday.

It’s called Dirty Dozen.  The entire point is to test the brokenness of Govern the Unaligned.  You run 12x Govern as your only Dominate cards.  You, then, pick four other cards you play 12 copies of because all decks must be perfectly symmetrical and can only ever be 60, 70, 75, 80, or 90 cards.

In the first game, my Obtenebrators had to wall up against !Salubri bleed (the only noncombat deck, you know, what happens every game), so I only ousted my prey by his transferring out with 11 minutes or so left.  My predator, then, poofed, and we had a table split.  My other four cards?  Sudden, Arms of the Abyss, Target Vitals, and Shadow Strike.  My combats with my second prey, a gun deck, were inconclusive.  I Suddened four Blood Dolls, methinksies.

Having little time, I played my second DDD.  The other four cards were Zip Line, Skin of Rock, Skin of Night, and Freak Drive.  This died pretty fast as I had three decks that could stealth bleed behind me.  Ophidian Gaze gave my prey the lock in the endgame.  Not good design, in my mind.  I realize it’s too much card text, but a more appropriate (if less good) effect would be “Reduce a bleed against you by one.  Put this card on this reacting minion.  You may burn this card for +1 bleed.”  Why give FoS something they don’t really care about?  Because just shoring up a weakness makes clans more alike, while bleed reduction is not a good effect for the game.  Don’t want to reduce offense, want to redirect offense to another player because that keeps games moving towards resolution.

So, what did I prove?  As is always the case, two V:TES games reveals the truths of the universe.  The truth is that Govern is not broken in the broken sense (rather than the “broken” = top power level sense).  You cannot just play Govern and win all of the time.  To win all of the time, you do need to play Deflection, as well.

We continue to try different things with Shadowfist.  Thursday, we did Mooks/Sacred Grounds/+1 power per turn in a … four-player game.  It was terrible.  On turn two, one of the players had six power.  One player could drop his hand and still have power left.  One player played Queen of the Darkness Pagoda and Beaumains in the same turn and was just irrelevant to the game.  I failed a bid for victory with three Burning Mans, Mistress of Blotted Moonlight, two Floating Teeth, and a Skin and Darkness Bats in play.  Now, only two of the Burning Mans, the Mistress, and the Bats went for the final site.

Game two, we went with “FSSs cost you one less if you play them to the front row.” in addition to Mooks and miscellaneous FSSs open to all.  I played my 36-Legged Horror deck.  That has 5x Great Wall.  I had six power generating sites in play, including three 20-Body Great Walls, and my sites never got hurt by a character with fighting greater than 1.  There were double digit sites that could be attacked at times.  I liked this format.  You don’t have to use the rule, unlike the extra power every turn rule, but you can.

How does this all tie together?

Freshness.  Sometimes something fresh isn’t good, something I blogged about years ago.  Sometimes, it is.  By good, I mean entertaining.  I have been more entertained by Arrow and Doctor Who than in the previous annum.  I constantly need to find something different to do with V:TES – note that because Govern is on my personal tournament banned list, my concept decks are irrelevant to my post All Soul’s Day competitions.  Shadowfist house rules have often worked fine for making entertaining, if not plausible in tournament play, games.


Fisticuffs 20151022 and 20151024

October 25, 2015

Yup, multiple fisting in one week.

Thursday, we had six.  We decided to try the dreaded three player game … with Mooks … and Sacred Grounds … and you also got an extra power every turn.

Finally, the Shaking the Mountain has come back to Shadowfist.

I played my “I guess I’m playing Hand so that I have chi to play miscellaneous chi cards” deck in one game.  It got Sifu Beumer and three Shaolin Supplicants in one turn.  They didn’t survive long.  My Kung Fu Master survived a bit longer.  I played against a three faction Red Bat deck and a Monarch/Lotus deck that got out both queens and one of the kings.

In the second game, I played Architects – Arcanomoths were joined by Blood Eagles, some of which were being played from my smoked pile.  Jammers to my left cleared the board with Thermobaric Explosion preventing me from Fire in the Skying Red Bat, who multiattacked for the win.

Games were swingy, explosive, reasonably balanced.  Burning for power seemed weak – I just kept playing sites in game two since the penalty for putting them out was relatively less.  I would seize.  I should have burned for victory early in game two, maybe earlier in game one.  We liked our games.

The other group didn’t so much like the format.  The whole point of most of our rules is to prevent someone from getting beaten down so much that they don’t do anything anymore, waiting for someone to win.  In their second game, someone got into a position of feeling like they couldn’t dig out of the hole.  Don’s argument for why an extra power would be bad is that everyone would have a bunch of hitters in play that make a lot of other characters worthless, that hitters would lose specialness because they would be so common.  Character removal would be ubiquitous to deal with hitters.

I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing that someone can get out all of the Monarchs royalty reliably.  High levels of character removal is annoying but so is one deck having cards like Tortured Memories and other decks not.  I think slow decks gain a lot.

Of course, it’s breakable.  Sacred Ground pile is breakable by playing no FSSs in your deck.  Mooks are breakable by having any resource at any time and being able to swarm people to death when you have 12 power lying around.

Yesterday, Earl hosted a games day.  I played Forbidden Desert with his daughter and two of his friends.  We were pretty ineffectual and sand buried us.  I always bring Shadowfist to his house but never expect to play on the general gaming days, but Miguel was there, so we played four games.

Miguel started game one, he won in a not terribly balanced affair where I played … something.  Earl won game two off of Ming I in a Modern Lotus deck; I played Syndicate and somehow my dudes couldn’t survive Spirit Wracks.  I won game three with Ascended, using The She-Wolf’s ability once but mostly because Tears of the Crocodile is pretty good.  Earl won the last game, where I played my 25 card Butterfly Knight deck inspired by Miguel’s Butterfly Knight deck that he played in this game.  He adds Ascended for Moonlight Raid and various trickiness, causing my bid for victory to end with a Suicide Mission.  Earl won with his two faction demon deck.  So, yes, someone else chose Stand Together Thunder, and the third player played Stand Together.  I lost by decking, by the way, though this game probably took 45 minutes or more.

See, this is the problem.  In normal ‘fist, I think I’m bringing a Wooden Stake to a Weighted Walking Stick fight (reference will make more sense if I post about today’s V:TES games).  Sure, my 25 card deck is a concept deck (foreshadowing).  It’s not intended to be complete.  It’s intended to provide the minimum required to have Butterfly Knights take sites.  Adding more cards isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t pad out the deck so much that it loses its focus.  Stolen Thunder isn’t an option because it’s a Modern deck, but some plays are.

Before getting back to ‘fisting in general, this deck is an example of how my casual decks are more focused and smaller than my competitive decks.  A lot of the time, I want to see one specific aspect of the game in casual play because it’s only that aspect that makes that deck purposeful.

Okay, back to the problem of not having an extra power every turn and whatnot.  In our team games, I can be sucky and slow and may or may not matter.  Sucky and slow in competitive ‘fist just makes for terrible games.  This is why I prefer five player V:TES.  I have so much more opportunity to do nothing until my inevitable victory.

Yes, I should be building decks for any CCG that are more proactive, faster, more threatening.  After all, being the target for table hate is … is … um … em … a sign of respect?

This is where I wonder what it would be like if I played a two-player CCG competitively again.  Table hate is a meaningless consideration, and I build decks that come out with Both Heron-Marked Blades Blazing because winning and having your deck do its thing have tremendous crossover.

After ‘fisting, we played a three player of Splendour, and I seem to be getting better at the game.  One would think it’s right up my alley based on what sort of mechanics I intuit, but I don’t know.  As mathy as I am, other people are mathier.  Mahjong is probably my best game in terms of managing hands, if not necessarily from a maximizing money standpoint.  But, one could argue that playing it competitively since the age of 8 probably has something to do with that.

I think I mentioned something about auction games in a post this year.  If I haven’t, I need to.  Getting off topic into what sort of mechanics suit me (as opposed to what sort I like), so will table this.

Anyway, I proposed a quarterly or more often Shadowfist day in Fremont, as that is central enough for people to congregate.  People want to play, just not enough to jump through a bunch of hoops.  I’ll be looking to organize that on the Bayfist list and the general list, when I have a better sense of when I’d like to do something.  Probably December, but I have some family travel to do at an unspecified time, and we have our annual V:TES events after Christmas.


Incarnatable

October 4, 2015

I’m sure everyone basically has a progression of:

Thursday – Shadowfist with random FSSs in the middle of the table and only one from your deck that starts in your opening hand.

Friday – Fading Suns where ambushes kept almost happening.

Saturday – Read Against the Dark Yogi only skimming over some geography sections.  Designing a BattleTech scenario based on reading AtDY.

Sunday – Instead of BT, play three player Magic with my friend’s decks as he is trying to teach his son how to play.

Yup, pseudo-Indian fantasy inspiring BattleTech play that leads to playing Magic.

Let’s be a bit more specific.

Shadowfist

The goal of our numerous house rule tries is to make the game smoother but endier after a certain point.  The “Mooks” rule and the Sacred Ground rule are designed to allow someone to always have the resources and FSSs they need.  These have worked fairly well.

Actually, stepping back, the “take one non-unique foundation character and one FSS into your opening hand and draw 4” rule was intended to prevent crippled starts.  This has worked fine, possibly well.

The intent with the “here is a pile of face down, random FSSs that you must use instead of any from your deck except for your opening hand one” rule was to create an inevitability to someone winning.  For, you see, Shadowfist is one of the few games that doesn’t build towards a higher probability of winning in the way that most games do.  It was also to see some FSSs you would never see.

The first game was awful.  It was five player team, one of the players used the “if you don’t have a FSS in play at the end of your turn, you are eliminated” rule and left, leaving the game a four-player free for all.  Not much longer later, it ended.

The second game was an entirely reasonable four-player game where if I only had Mountain Retreat in front instead of whatever, the game would have lasted slightly longer with a funny event.  Actually, the game ended at a good time.  The player to my right was too strong, the player to my left swooped in for the win.

We are thinking of a mechanic where you look at the top two cards in the stack, put one into play and put the other on the bottom of the stack.

Two things about this format.  One, if you build decks to use certain sites, you will not be happy with your random “this may do nothing” FSS.  Two, not having any FSSs in your deck means you draw way more action.

I really don’t care about it one way or the other.

The prior session had cards in play that gave you some additional effect, like the starting card that gives you an additional power each turn.  I think we are overcomplicating things.  Why don’t we just have everyone generate a free power every turn, like we’ve talked about?  Probably because it sounds kind of stale.

I’m a bit worried about a too quick jump on turn two or three, which is why I wonder about something based around turns in the game.  For example, at the end of the last player’s turn on round three, everyone gains a power.  Could then have this keep happening or could have it kick in every three times around the table or whatever.

The reality is that we aren’t trying to be competitive, we are trying to play a game where lots of wacky stuff happens, so people just aren’t abusing these various variants, so simpler might just be best to identify whether it’s a more fun way to play.

Fading Suns

If you read RPG.net, you will find comments about how bad FS is mechanically.  Quite true.  It’s rather absurd, a game of failure with a bunch of unnecessary attributes and a nonsensical skill list (though, natural skills is a good idea).

Friday’s session was one of a few where I didn’t feel like it was just a string of accomplishing nothing rolls.  There was the ladling soup at a soup kitchen opportunity to fan the Inner Flame of some bread thief.  Oh, maybe I should mention that my PC is an Eskatonic who knows no theurgy, is no longer trying to be an alchemist because I could never figure out what alchemy actually did, and whose contribution in combat is absorbing hits to the jaw.

I’m beginning to see things that PCs can do, where before I just had no sense of what PCs were supposed to do.  Some investigation.  Some dealing with a murderer.  Some hearing confession.  Other PCs get to smuggle, an activity that seems incredibly weird for the primary aspects of the setting, but whatever.

Against the Dark Yogi

It uses cards from hand.  Great.  It only gives you two to choose, possibly more if you are Karmarrific.  What?

I’m not sure why it’s a good idea to be a total badass but still have a bunch of levels of far more badder assness that you could achieve through your reincarnations.  Why start at Enlightenment 2 other than it gives room for you to die into higher power levels?  Or, become Elderly into higher power levels, which is rather bizarre since spending 5 years meditating upon how to achieve Super Saiyan isn’t exactly a long period of time.  Sure, it’s more like spend 18 years as that’s how long it might take for someone to reincarnate into an adult, but it still seems odd to me that you are supposed to be the chosen ones and only hit your peak after you bite it several times.

I suppose I can do this myself or hope that a GURPS India is available some day, but I’d rather just use a fantasy version of India rather than have everything renamed, including the gods.  I know L5R doesn’t take that approach, but, somehow, I’m not expecting 20 years of material for AtDY.

Still, I can imagine adventures.  I even find the story behind the Dark Yogi to be quite reasonable.  I might imagine sessions being more like one-shots in that momentous things happen often.

BattleTech

It’s funny how much story I can produce for scenarios.  But, maybe, that’s why BT works as well as it does.  For all of the silliness of how mechs work/are built, how completely ridiculous the setting is when you spend any time thinking about it or considering various possibilities of characters, or really how not fantastic the actual resolution of mech combat is, the setting did something to take soldiering into a place where narratives occur.

Of course, I also have an interest in war stories, so maybe it’s just that I’m overstating BT’s contribution to the idea of war stories.

Mechwarrior is still painful, though, methinks.  Every attempt to get characters to do things outside of mechs just seems to completely defeat the setting.

Magic

Not particularly great games of Magic, which is normal, and, thus, why I don’t play more Magic.  First game saw child basically play nothing as the deck needed at least four mana to ramp to fatties.  Second game saw elf deck roll over everybody.  Third game was more interesting, could have been even better if Wildfire would have gone off to clear all creatures in play.

But, putting aside how easy it is to have a bad game of Magic, it was different from my multiplayer CCG experiences of late in that how a deck was built mattered, a lot.  Magic hits that analytical bone on what the current card choices are, what your curve needs to look like, how to maximize the value of everything, what cards are making your ability to function worse by their inclusion.

Next time, we might use my Type P decks for games.  Whether those are any better is hard to say, especially since the decks we were using were intended more for multiplayer play and my P decks so aren’t.

The other takeaway is that there’s so much to learn about Magic that isn’t just learning what cards do.  With other CCGs, I think a relatively large amount of understanding how to play better is knowing what cards do and what may see play.  Now, sure, timing is important to everything, but timing seems a more subtle thing in V:TES or Shadowfist or B5 or whatever.  With Magic, timing is crucial constantly.

Epic Combat!

What?!?  More Ultimate Combat!??  So, Thursday, I was watching a game of Epic.  I’m really not a fan of how it forces a “this is s-o-o-o broken” battle, but I looked at the rulebook.  The mulligan rule caught my eye.  I think it should be used with Ultimate Combat!.  Basically, you shuffle back in (not discard) any number of cards from your opening hand, draw up to hand size, and take damage equal to the number of cards you shuffled back in.

So, of course, when I went to goldfish this rule, I kept getting amazing opening hands – play 5-6 cards in turn one sort of hands.

Using the idea of not starting from nothing, another possibility for how UC! should start is something like everybody starts with two foundation of their choice and a gi patch playable off of one of those foundation.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea, in that it gets everyone to swingy cards that much faster.  But, it’s the possibility of incredibly unbalanced starts that worries me about the game.  Foundation, gi patch, Mantra of Power, Bear’s Jaw, gi patch, Elixir of the Gods, Mantra of Power, Yamashita’s Belt, Gi Patch: Rat, Mantra of Power, Dragon’s Fire is a theoretically possible first turn play.  Just getting up two power on an opponent is probably game after players have a first turn.

Meditations

No, not talking about a B5 card.  One of the effects of not doing much gaming at the moment is that I have time to consider ideas.  Too many ideas.  But, who knows?  Maybe one of the ideas becomes doing something.  I might even have some interest in running a one-shot of something, which, normally, I eschew as I like long stories or, at least, recurring characters from my short stories.


Strong Sorrows?

March 22, 2014

Making up words is totally a worthwhile thing – a worthing.  So, should these be strorrows?

I haven’t used a Magic article as inspiration for a post in quite some time.  Booyang!

In Magic‘s ancient past, removal, counterspells, and card draw were constantly made very strong because of the belief that that is what competitive players liked. Well, to an extent, that was true, but I think in general most competitive players liked them because they were the strong cards. When looking at competitive play, it is dangerous to overlap “cards people played” with “cards people liked playing.” Players make (mostly) rational decisions in deck building and playing the strong cards, so simply seeing what decks look like won’t tell you what people really want to do. I think people are generally more happy with the cards that are more flat in overall power level, and the fun and interesting decks have a little more room to compete, as opposed to when the range of decks that can be played is incredibly narrow and focused on a few pillars of the format.

From “Playtesting Constructed” on wizards.com.

This is so true.  This is something I see creep into CCG discussions all of the time.  Powerful cards are desirable to play with not because they are necessarily “fun” cards but because it’s fun to crush your foes and hear the lamentations of their offspring.  Or, whatever.

So, you try to argue about how a powerful card is bad for the environment and the reaction becomes one of “I have fun playing this card.”, “The game will be boring if you take away all of the good cards.”, or whatever.

For every CCG I’ve played, I’m sure, I’ve played with cards that were strong that I didn’t think were fun cards.  Let me pull out my Babylon 5 decks’ box.  Hmmm … a number of decks have playtest slips for a CCG a couple of us were designing.

Secret Strike; Support of the Mighty; Not Meant to Be; Aggressive Action; Liberating Resources; Cosmopolis; Meditation; Exploration; Commerce Raiding; Hidden Treasury …

Okay, should I bother going through a second deck?!?

B5 certainly was full of antifun plays, though I’ve got my Wheel of Time decks’ box handy and my main V:TES boxes, so maybe not the only CCG with this problem.

Secret Strike

Cheese or obnoxious.  Secret Strike was the way to nuke We Are Not Impressed, the most important card in the game during stretches for its ability to prevent people from winning.  Prior to WANI, Secret Strike was all about what obnoxious conflict you could fire off when people’s shields were down to screw with somebody, like Forced Impairment on somebody with a good special.

Support of the Mighty

I put cards in play.  Eventually, I win.

Not Meant to Be

“Counterspell.”  Rare counterspell.  I played this card a ton, often maxed out to three copies, though sometimes I only ran two copies because, you know, genius.

Aggressive Action

Built in recursion.  Oh, joy.  Ability to spite someone when you can’t win.  Oh, joy.  Ability to win off of causing someone else to lose by doing the same thing every round.

Liberating Resources

Because B5 was always about the cheese, countercheese was all of the rage for a while.  Not that this card was anywhere near as commonly used as Not Meant to Be, Carpe Diem, Meditation, You Are Not Ready, and the like, but it had its day in our local metagame, at least.

Cosmopolis

Because B5 was always about the noninteractive cheese …  Actually, the original homeworlds never bothered me anywhere near as much as so many other plays did.  At least, you had to gain influence from winning a conflict with them, unlike so many of the original gangster decks that just put cards in play or played events and won.  While this is a crappy card, that’s the point – it’s a hoser.  I take away your good homeworld and drop this worst of the homeworlds on you, though it still has enough positive uses to actually play myself.

Meditation

It was amazing that I ever had to argue that this is a three copy in every deck card.  Sure, when I built “no events” decks for my own perverse amusement, there was a reason not to play this.  Other scenarios for not maxing out on this … shrug.  So, besides being the best card in the game, what’s so unfun about such a low key effect?

Any time you have a card that you play in every single deck, there’s seriously something wrong with the design of the card.  When you further always maximize the number of copies of the card …  CCGs are about deckbuilding – one of the various reasons the Tomb Raider CCG wasn’t a good CCG (though not a terrible boardgame).  Diversity in deckbuilding is fundamental.

Exploration

Cheese.

Commerce Raiding

Cheese and countercheese.

Hidden Treasury

Cheese.

Wheel of Time

As much fun as it might be for me to continue to rip on all of the design problems in B5, a game I like by the way and … um … did design work for, I doubt my loyal (and no doubt cute) readers will put up with such a diatribe.  No, let’s pick another dead CCG with design problems (that I’m in the game credits for as of the second expansion) and see what I can extract.

Starting with my Heron-Mark Blade Rand, Wolves Deck.  And, if you think that description is long, for a game where you can start with two cards in play and have an opening hand of three cards, the effective opening for this deck involves nine cards.

Decisive Tactics; Blood and Ashes; The Pattern Decrees; Moment of Transition; Lucky Find; Overrun; Invasion

Decisive Tactics

A common “I play this in the Last Battle to win … unless you play one as well” play.  Maybe certain events should have been restricted from being used in the Last Battle.  Maybe not, though, as decks like this one that actually play challenges are far more interesting than the “I sit and recruit my 200 dice of permanents” decks.  Not a major offender.

Blood and Ashes

Unlike this pure hoser.  At the point where you are designing cards that say “Name a card.  That card cannot be played.”, you have a cardpool problem.

The Pattern Decrees

You may not recall this blog post, but I’m pretty, pretty sure that we were playtesting this card when I repeatedly mention how broken Decrees was.  As this deck only runs one copy, it must have been a finisher, like Decisive Tactics.  I’ll keep a look out for whether it pops its head up more often in other decks.  Of course, the good point of this card is that some decks just didn’t give a crap about Pattern, which was a bad thing and a core design issue.  Oh, if you look up the card on mahasamatman.com, note that it has errata to limit it to once a turn – have I mentioned lately how frustrating playtesting is?

Moment of Transition

Is this the most offensive card ever printed for any CCG that has ever existed to one such as myself, one who had a hand in its development?  Let’s make the best card drawing card in a game where card drawing is only behind card searching in terms of the broken (after some of the early card drawing engine cards got nerfed) a promo card.  Yes, B5 wasn’t the only CCG that caused me to hate promo cards.

Lucky Find

… card searching.  Rare.  Not always a three-copier in my decks.  Not always.

Overrun

This kind of card was necessary.  But, it wasn’t fun.  Given that characters and troops could just ignore each other without this and the character damage becomes troop damage card and given that optimization in the game was often mass recruiting either all characters or all troops or close to all of one or the other, this card gets quite the pass.  It was certainly not that hard to metagame against it.  Actually, metagaming was reasonably interesting, possibly even very interesting (I haven’t played in a long, long time) in the game, so points for that.  But, this card sure ended a lot of games.

Invasion

Unless you played the WoT CCG, you will have no idea how crazy broken this card is.  One effect is draw three cards … in a game where card drawing was only less broken than card searching.  Oh, wait, another effect was take two cards of your choice from your discard pile and put them into your hand.  The third effect even saw use, more use than the third effect of Dreams of the Sphinx by the way.

Dark Wise One Deck:  Lucky Find; Sabotage; Connections; A Murder of Ravens; Invasion; Assassination Attempt; Couladin; Lord Argirin Darelos; Tion.

Not going to break all of these out into individual unfunness.  Sabotage (random discard) and A Murder of Ravens (name a card and discard) are hand destruction, and we all know how much people love hand destruction.  Connections is not as much of a nobrainer as Meditation in B5, but it’s almost the same card.  Assassination Attempt is only unfun in that certain characters are crucial to being able to play certain decks; otherwise, it’s kind of a good thing that you can go after characters in the game and this card being a challenge means that there’s theoretical interaction in a game that could easily be noninteractive.  Couladin is quite fun but suffers from one key problem – he’s incredibly important to too many opening hands, which isn’t an issue for this deck but makes Light Maidens vs. Dark Maidens pain.  Lord Argirin Darelos – kind of an Icy Manipulator if you happen to know Magic cards.  Tion openended buff.

For a game I keep saying has as its most broken feature being card searching, I didn’t mention a lot of card searchers.  There’s a reason for that.  There’s too many to list.  Holy Yu-Gi-Oh!, Batman!!  There are so many search effects.  The Wolves deck above puts a Wolves searcher in play on turn one as a key play.  Wise Ones just keep searching more Wise Ones.  Special set, alternate starting cards and ultrarares search out rares and ultrarares.  And, so it goes.

This was immensely fun.  As much as I may rag on these games, they were hugely important to me back in the day and I had lots of fun with them.  While I could go into V:TES cards in this post, it’s late and I think that makes for a reasonable follow up post to this one.  It’s also cool that Sam’s site is still available to get info on these two CCGs.

Oh, and why wouldn’t I do some Ultimate Combat! commentary in another post, as well?