HoR4 – Same But More

June 25, 2017

I skimmed through my earlier post about HoR4 – Early Read.

Is there anything to add?  In terms of how I feel about playing, no, not really.

So, what’s the point of posting a rehash?  Let’s try to newhash as much as possible.

I’ve played CIT00 to CIT04, CIT06, CIT07, CIT10.  I can’t recall any standout mod.  Early on in HoR3, I thought some of the mods were way underdeveloped – SoB02 and SoB03, with SoB04 being suddenly over as well.  But, I liked SoB00 quite a bit, SoB01 seemed like interesting things were afoot, like maybe the Phoenix would be relevant for a change.  Then, SoB07 was one of my favorites, with all sorts of points for originality even if running it was not as good as playing it.

Then, there was SoB09.  SoB09 was something I thought was really cool at first.  As time wore on, probably because there wasn’t the payoff on Nothing in the series mattering, I grew less enamored with it.  I also read the Fire side which I neither played nor ran and was less interested in that part.  Even late in the campaign, though, it was memorable for having engaging combat, having the fantasy aspects I am more interested in, and just flowing well … like water or some liquid that flows well.

Playing HoR4/CIT, I now look back on SoB09 with much more fondness.

I’ve run at least four of the mods I’ve played – 02, 03, 06, 10.  Maybe ran 00, but whatever.

02 and 03 are both okay.  Neither 06 nor 10 appeal to me.  Yet, 10 was precisely my sort of mod in HoR3.

What happened?

I can reiterate how disconnected I feel towards CIT not just because I go months without playing or because I lack personal goals but also just because I have no concept as to what the campaign is even hinting at.  SoB may have had themes that our group never felt were (properly) executed on, but, early on, at least there felt like themes.  Balishnimpur, tension with Ivinda (not Ivindi, which is the language, or Invindi which is who knows what).  Except, Balishnimpur as a setting hasn’t mattered at all, could just as easily substitute more common things and tension with peasant Ivinda feels just like tension with peasant Rokugani.

I hated the Second City Boxed Set, well, hated may be only slightly off, more felt was a waste of effort because it didn’t develop the setting into something that was “yeah, dude, Ivory Kingdoms safari, yo”.  I feel like the point of having a setting is to explore that setting.  L5R does an amazing job of developing its setting, well, its Rokugan setting, kind of terrible job of developing the other parts of the world or other worlds.  Somehow, it would seem to me that more effort could be put into scoping out what the Ivory Kingdoms is really about for a five year campaign that theoretically is going to be spending half the time in it.

But, there’s more to whine about.

I realize I could write mods.  I realize volunteers aren’t being paid to entertain me.  I realize that Rob Hobart and his crew were fantastic at putting together HoR.  I cut SoB some slack for being a first time for a lot of folks – the mods weren’t my major complaint or my second major complaint.  Nightmare War, in my limited experience with it, actually was very cool, far far more interesting and coherent than I expected it to be.

I just feel like there’s too much similarity in mod structure.  Where HoR3 had a huge advancement was in court mods.  Sure, some of the mechanics didn’t hold together at all once you GMed the mod, but you could see what they were trying to do and provided a new spin on playing through social stuff.  At some point during that campaign and in this campaign, I already feel like the same court well is over used.  There are mechanics that never pay off that may seem like they matter when playing but are just tedious when GMing and become extremely repetitive for certain players.

In general, there just comes across a feeling of sameness to mods.  Yes, HoR4 has had one mod that was very noticeably different, even if it may have had some similarities to a previous or two.  By sameness, I don’t mean “oh, here’s another travel to a fight mod” or “is the mod just about talking down a god/crazy/recalcitrant kuge/etc.?”.  I mean that within the half dozen or so common mod archetypes, there just feels like going through the motions.

Yes, earlier stuff has the advantage of coming earlier.  Originality is going to generally fade.  But, that can be fought.  Engaging recurring NPCs like Daniel from HoR2 (not like cursed Toritaka) help.  What else?  I don’t know.  I’d have to think more about it.  I’m not saying it’s easy to be original and cool and cater to my tastes and whatever, though I thought some SoB mods that had way too much going on had some really cool things that I wish were expanded upon.

Oh, there is one thing.  Have what each and every PC do matter more often.  I’m tired of mods where, at the end, I realize that my efforts were pretty much irrelevant.  I also really dislike having mods where the crucial stuff doesn’t feel like a significant part of the mod, having been burnt on that in HoR2 once and still being irritated by that mod both for that and for having the most obnoxious NPC I recall.  Can’t have every mod be a “everyone is a special snowflake mod”, though Words and Deeds from HoR2 felt like that to me and I loved how that played for my character.  But, I feel so much like I’m tagging along in CIT not so much in an adventure but in an exercise to gain more XP.

I can try to fight this on my end.  I can try to finally figure out what to care about to where I can begin my character’s story arc.  I can actually put together my Bushido Tenet Ratings for this character.  What is going to be difficult, though, is being dedicated enough to complete a mod.  It doesn’t help that when I ask about whether one of my ideas should be followed up on, I don’t get any response.


Underpromotion

June 18, 2017

Since KublaCon, in terms of actual play, it has been pretty much Shadowfist.

But, let me digress for a while.

I finished the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  That was disappointing.  It was a slog to get through the books what with the constant verbiage taken up with “I can’t continue.  Someone else is better than I am.”  Just beaten over the head constantly with how awesome haruchai are, giants are, someone else is.  Sure, there was the gratuitous use of pretentious diction replete in the quadripertitus series.  I’m sure a staff could be found with lenitive properties to flush the experience.  Look, I’m sure it’s condign to make yourself hard to understand to the reader, your audience will grow properly chary.  But, when the first page of a new chapter is like 10 words you haven’t (over)used in book four, most of the way towards the end, that stick out like a sore pollex, feels like you are just trolling the reader.

But, here’s the ultimate problem – the ending was boring.  There were moments when things were cool.  There was potential, like the weird alliance that was crucial in book four.  But, it just seemed like after dragging and dragging, the ending was rushed just to get it over with.

Anyway, it’s not the only series where much more cool stuff could have happened.  So, how does this tie into gaming?

Satisfying endings aren’t easy.  I do find that con RPGs can often create the appropriate ending by simply having a very linear structure to the adventure.  This … does … not … bother … me.  You know, dungeon crawling has the feature of (typically) a linear path to the end.  I don’t dislike dungeon crawling.  I just view it different from role-playing.  One thing I don’t formulate in my mind well are endings.  And, I, too, fall into the “trap” of wanting players to have freedom to make terrible results.

Number second:  Don’t be repetitive.  Fights shouldn’t all feel the same.  NPCs shouldn’t feel the same.  Missions shouldn’t feel the same.  Unfortunately, when it comes to game mechanics, very often PC actions are highly repetitive.  Use same attacks or always try Diplomacy +26 roll or whatever.  Now, this is where having a player explain what they say or do can vary from just rolling dice.  Is this an argument for spell memorization with inability to duplicate overmuch spell choice?  Hmmm …

Number three:  Make your gods interesting.  Actually, one of the godlike powers in the series actually became interesting, though it didn’t get a story arc.  I’m a big fan of gods.  But, if they just do things the protagonists can’t or can’t affect, kind of not so exciting.  Then, if they just get owned by chumps, that’s kind of eh, too.  I should be more specific, since the point of Lord of the Rings is that a god gets owned by chumps.  If chumps are clever or cool in their ownage, okay, but it’s when chumps are just chumping and happy ending in the post-carnage world that it’s kind of chumptastic.

As you probably don’t recall, a recent Gen Con saw me playing yet another game where you play a god.  I complained about how the game was like two hours for something not actually billed as two hours.  But, I had relatively lots of pleasure in that brief period.  My god was cool.  My god licked blood off of folks.

Switching offhand weapons.  Back to thinking about True Dungeon.  We really don’t need more tokens at this point, well, except maybe one and only if we somehow play something besides normal level.  Didn’t get into Grind and probably don’t have to worry about it since my schedule is rather tight at Gen Con.

One question is whether to loan tokens to other players.  I actually did that last year when we had like nothing in the way of relevant collections, as class specific uncommons are still better than not.  I can see it to a degree – talking about PUGs where we actually have much more stuff than the others.  I mostly see it with class specific tokens below ultrarare rarity.  Masterwork Thieves’ Tools, Ring of Soothing Touch, instrument if Eric isn’t our Bard, whatever crap Monks use.  I don’t want to be in the position of being pushy in any way.  On the other hand, as unlikely as it seems based on comments on the forums that we would have a more beefed up group, sure, switch out your Redoubt Plate for this largely devalued Blessed Redoubt Plate.

I have even more tokens that make me want to vaguely try a different class just to see the token get used, though the problem is that it would encourage me to play a style that doesn’t interest me, with probable results that don’t interest me.  For example, I have a solid one-handed melee weapon.  In a PUG, playing normal, I might do something boring like play a Paladin that goes sword and board or, just to see how boring it is, a Fighter.  In this scenario, I’d likely be a prime damage dealer at air hockey shuffleboard.  I can’t see how this is a fun result.  I want other folks to be +2 Slayers.  They will enjoy murder.  I will be embarrassed or bored hitting or missing for average double digit damage.

Contrast with Barbarian.  I cannot actually see how you build a Barbarian that doesn’t just annihilate things.  Even when you aren’t using a +3 relic, damage output is so absurd when you make even a token effort [ha, ha ha] to not undermine what the class does.  I have a STR 14, level 5 Barbarian build written up, and it still is just gross.  Then, I decided to see what our best Grind, Barbarian build would be, and it averages 22.5 damage ranged and just under 38 damage melee.  Point of reference?  Last year, most of my spells did 6 damage.  Even now, with my normal build where I don’t worry about damage pumps much, looking at those spells doing 10 damage.  Sure, I could Mad Evoker’s Charm for some base doubling, but that’s not why you … I mean … why I play a Wizard.  I play a Wizard to point out planes of existence on a chart, not because I feel a need to polish off monsters.

It’s going to be really interesting to see how it will play out at GC, when we finally get a chance to use collections that didn’t exist prior and whether I want to regress into playing builds that are more green or red than purple or whether I’ll want to be even more violet end of the color spectrum.  Or, gasp, get orange.

I’m trying to find builds that are different yet still relevant.  Purple tokens have a habit of converging builds, at least for me and for my concerns.  Paladin retribution damage build is an interesting build, though not one we could do.  All Dex, all the time Wizardy builds (more Elf Wizard) may end up more interesting than it seems what with maybe having a decent AC somehow mattering.  Ranged damage builds with Bard or others is maybe a thing to do that’s different.  Unfortunately, there’s only so many ways to pump ranged damage not dependent upon STR, and I doubt there will be a lot more tokens to pump ranged damage given what Rangers can do.  Of course, just put it into a slot Rangers may care about, which is … uh, probably all of the slots I already care about, like wrist slot, feet slot, neck slot.

Haven’t tried to put together a V:TES session, haven’t even been able to make Berkeley sessions on the weekend – just too many things going on.  Do plan on playing next HoR mod tomorrow.  Expect to play Saturday, two weeks after, so may start talking about HoR again before Gen Con.

So, Shadowfist.  We have had short games and long games but less in the middle games.  In our last session, we actually failed to complete a game because the new rule at the store is you have to be out of there by 10PM.

It’s hard to hate in Shadowfist since everybody does obnoxious things.  Oh wait, I hate lots of stuff already, including non-Feng Shui Sites, monkeys, Lotus recursion, most edges people play, site removal (not site damage, though Orbital Laser Strike is essentially site removal).  I’ve tried not to hate the Jammers.  They have some non-monkey, non-nuke cards.  Unfortunately, they don’t have enough joy and only lend the world Pain.  I may have to just abandon any pretense of not being a hater and go full on hating with maximum metahate.

Then, there’s Ascended.  I struggle so hard to find things I want to do with Ascended.  For instance, I have a module of Ascended cards I want to play with another faction, but I can’t find another faction to put the module in.  Something like Syndicate might make sense, but it’s a Modern module.  To be fair, I do find Ascended cards I will play and even not hate long enough to play the decks multiple times.  But, I find that even then I’m discouraged, as the Ascended just can’t hold back.  I was sitting on a bunch of power and had two hitters in play that allowed me to do stuff, so I didn’t want to overcommit, yet by not dumping my hand to have four hitters in play, I lost a dude I didn’t want to lose and expected to not even make a bid for victory.

Of course, I might have tried harder to play the game if the three Nuked that successfully resolved didn’t Nuked my FSSs.  Jammers just make you want to stop doing anything.  Or, maybe, the only answer is to load a deck up with counterspells and go for hand size so that you can always counterspell when you try to do anything.  Yup, that’s how gagworthy Jammers play – I’m thinking of hand size increasing plays.

If you’ve read this far, you finally get an explanation for the post title.  What else have I been doing gamingwise?  Why, I’ve been reading my shogi book, taking the quizzes over and over and still not seeing the moves without memorization.  I have this huge problem with chess where I just don’t see the connections between pieces.  With shogi, I feel like I have a better sense because the ranges are more limited and the emphasis is less on gaining material.  But, I still think my brain that does some things so well does some things so poorly, like get spatial connections.  Of course, there’s a lack of experience element.  People get better by doing.  Since shogi isn’t like a thing that I’m likely to do and chess doesn’t interest me, seems like getting better isn’t going to happen.

Yup, still haven’t gotten to the point of talking about deckbuilding with Anthology Set cards.  Well, I do need to get back to all things Traveller for a while.


KublaCon 2017

June 3, 2017

It seems like each year KublaCon is less and less convenient for me.  I don’t know if it’s because I do monthly financial reporting for work that is timed toward end of month/beginning of month or what.  Well, even with my previous company, where I didn’t have such things, there were things like doing training on the East Coast, so maybe what.

Add in how less enamored I am by local con RPG play and add in how Gen Con did something dumb and scheduled event registration on a holiday weekend, and what I get is a barely there fare.

I skipped Friday to try to get rest and/or something done for the Saturday evening Traveller demo.  I skipped Monday, even though there were two RPGs I had interest in, because of old man disease.

Saturday

I move slow.  Build my Shadowfist Classic deck, figure I’ll play it multiple times rather than switch decks between games, so I bloat it to an absurd 45 cards to give me lots of extra options.  Base it on my ole Aerial Bombardment, Fire in the Sky deck that sometimes worked … somehow.

I get to the con about 11:30AM and find out CCGs are in a different room this year.  Get to the room.  A good room!?!

Maybe trying to separate CCGers from mainstream sorts is a new goal, and we just got the benefit of isolation’s blessed windowfulness.

Watch Earl and Jason finish up on Star Realms.  Then, we get five players.  Earl keeps offering to sit out so that we don’t have to endure five, but he-y-y-y, it’s all good, who doesn’t love five player CCG play?

Game 1:

Drew (Architects) -> Earl (Hand Monkeys) -> Jason (Architects w/ Napalm Belchers) -> Miguel (Big Bruisers, et al) -> Ian (Blood Eagles)

Actually, I think maybe Miguel went first.  I’d give my deck a better name except:  1, unlike V:TES, there isn’t a bunch of real world flavor text to steal; 2, Blood Eagles.

I lived the cheese dream … I actually make an effort to do strong things in my Shadowfist tournament decks because I don’t have a history of repeated accidental success that leads to winning every tournament I’ve ever played with a Sensory Overload deck … and get Möbius Gardens, Test Subjects, and Manufactured Island out on turn one.  Or, I could be totally wrong and my Gardens was a Dockyard, otherwise known as the only other Modern relevant FSS, but I think it was a Gardens.

Then, it doesn’t take forever for me to get a Blood Eagles in play.  I’m doing stuff … I’m doing stuff.  Miguel also does stuff and I’m not so threatening that he doesn’t backwards or crosstable his stuff.  In fact, his armada of two Good Ol’ Boys is feverishly eager to inflict heinous beats upon my poor partially damaged Manufactured Island.

So, I Bzzzzzt! one of them.

Drew plays Loyalty Officers.  They eventually get cleared by Final Brawl.  Earl has a slow game, lacking Monkey madness but still Iron Monkeys and picks on people who have more power than I.  Jason can’t get any resources so keeps playing sites but eventually gets out a Napalm Belcher and the “fun” part of Shadowfist ensues.

Drew puts out Dr. Jean-Marc Ngubane, so he can unturn a Belcher.  My CHAR gets Tracer Implanted, so I never turn it again, though I considered the possibility of turning it when going for the vic-tor-y play.

Instead, CHAR is an Expendable Unit, and I eventually get down to Assassin Bug, Arcanomoth, Blood Eagles.  I believe Arcanomoth is turned for some reason and still in play but maybe got wiped by this point, then all of this stuff is wiped.  Earl and Miguel have generated heft, with Big Bruisers being kind of easy for my deck to kill if I have the cards but not so much when I don’t have the cards.  Everyone has been a threat except Drew.

I survey the sadness that will come after I pass my turn and decide there’s no place like resting all hope on an Assassin Bug.  Assassin Bug feasts on Ngubane’s soul as nobody has anything to intercept with.  Blood Eagles with two damage and an Arcano- … wait, not an Arcanomoth since my Reinvigoration Process gets undone … my Dark Traveler … my 2-Fighting Dark Traveler go for Drew’s damaged FSS for the win.

And, that’s Shadowfist.  Hey, pun-time.  My deck could have been called Traveler, The Next Generation to … um … to … em … to achieve ultimate dorkiness.

That was not a quick game.  Then, there was game two.

Game 2:

Drew  -> Miguel (Monarchs) -> Earl (Lotus w/ Uniqueness) -> Ian -> Jason (Lords)

This was not a quick game.  Miguel came out fast with Queen of the Ice Pagoda and continued to threaten, though never did the annoying Ice Sword play on her that I see so often.  With his Netherworld Returns, the game got funky at times.  His Monarchs kept getting beaten up, even Darkness going down, but Returns was undermining Drew’s ability to “We Can Rebuild Him”.

Earl just got stronger and stronger over time, though we did manage to toast a couple of his Underworld Trackers and Miguel did turn the Queen of the Ice Pagoda into a ghost before she could get Tortured Memoriesed.

I was not strong.  I discarded a couple of times before playing any cards.  By the time I could get a site and a foundation in play, I had lost something like six characters to discards.  When I finally play a CHAR to have something that isn’t a foundation in play, it gets toasted by a redirected fight of the Darkness Queen, leaving me with pretty much Arcanomoth as my only way to have more than a 4-Fighting character in play, and I couldn’t even do that because I didn’t have three Architects resources.

Seemed to be payback for game one to prevent someone from sweeping to undisputed victory for the Championship of the sixth largest economy in the world.

Miguel was so threatful, only by decking did he ceased being a factor, which also didn’t help me any as I kind of liked his threat factoriness to rein in Earl.  Jason got strong at one point with Lord Shi and Lord Hawksmoor, but he got beset by Wailing Apparitions.  Yes, that’s Shadowfist, and I told Earl I’ve routinely seen their annoying ability matter.

Drew got a Napalm Belcher and didn’t Belch Earl when Earl had one location and lots of little stuff.  Typical Shadowfist stoppage (aka every possible effect) stopped stuff to keep the game going.  Oh, I remember why I wanted Miguel in play – his sites were easier to take than other people’s.  I decked without a real chance to win.

Later, I found out Earl had won.  For you see, I had a Traveller demo to do.

Traveller Demo

We had like seven people, no one who actually knew about our Kickstarter.  We didn’t have great demo product to show people, but things seemed okay.  We are still moving towards putting what we think is a good looking, solid game out.  Mostly need to get things printed at this point.

Bohnanza

As mentioned, I defeat a 10-year old on tiebreakers.  Who’s the Bean Harvester Now?

Game 3:

Back to Shadowfist.  Miguel has stuff he needs to do, so time to play crummy less than five-player Fist.

Ian (Lotus Killing Rain) -> Jason (Reentry Squad) -> Drew (Hand) -> Earl (Purists)

I so hated this game.  It happens.  It happens with V:TES, with B5, with … er … Blood Wars? and all sorts of other multiplayer card games.

Some day, I need to actually have more Killing Rains in my Killing Rain deck since I rarely play them.

Here’s the problem.  Jason’s deck is a site suppression deck.  Drew didn’t play sites but somehow got enough power to keep putting out annoying Hand characters like Buddhist Bellringer and Reformed Bandit.

None of us had answers to Reentry Squad until late in the game, when I was irrelevant.  The thing was that early in the game I wasn’t irrelevant, getting enough fight in play to take sites, but I didn’t know what to do when only Earl had any sites in play.  Oh, sure, if I was the only one with dudes, I could take on the table, but Jason and Drew had dudes, just no sites.  Then, my sites kept getting taken out by either Jammer crap or being attacked, which meant I couldn’t generate any power as my dudes started disappearing, which led to Shadowfisticus Ineffectualitus – an extremely common disease when playing normal rules.

Sure, it was funny when I took one damage to each of my FSSs and I revealed two Diamond Beaches to go with my third Diamond Beach, but, after that, I was sitting around waiting for Earl to win.  For, you see, Earl’s decks tend to have long game play, so they will keep getting Mutators out or whatever and no one will board wipe.  I did try an Underworld Coronation on my Exorcist, but, predictably, Jammers players always have Who’s the Monkey Now? in hand when I play character removal.

Drew eventually ended up winning after spending much of the game attacking right, with a decent sized horde that included some superleap.

The Thursday night group whines about superleap constantly, but it doesn’t really bother me that much.  I find sitenuke far more annoying not because it’s more powerful but because it undermines the basic nature of the game of putting sites in play and having characters attack them.  I find power steal far more annoying because it can easily lock a player out of the game.  I find edges far more annoying because the power level on a lot of them is way too high for a repeatable effect when there’s really relatively little edge removal in the game.

Pretty much every Shadowfist game really needs one Final Brawl played, one Thunder on Thunder played, maybe one Neutron Bomb played.  Instead, either feast or famine on these sorts of plays, though only the first gets really annoying when it happens multiple times.

Sunday

Gen Con event registration, the second most stressful day of every year, though, actually, my wish list hardly mattered due to how many HoR events I was signing up for.  When I saw Don Thursday, he said he didn’t get into anything he tried to.  I just assumed I’d get into everything except Friday 2PM because I wasn’t our group’s True Dungeon guy.  Dave had the lamentable task of trying to get us into TD and True Grind.

We did well.

I go back to sleep.  I eat something at home.  While I did have tan tan mian from Shanghai Dumpling Shop, I will say this – I’m disappointed with what was my favorite restaurant.  Both tan tan mian and the sesame dumplings in crushed peanuts are nowhere near as good as they used to be.  Yeah, I can continue to get savory dumplings from them, but I miss what were two of my favorite dishes in the panverse.  Also, Zorba’s pizza way overpriced for what it was.  So many places could drive to in the area that would interest me.

I roll into the con 3:30PM to be available for pickup V:TES and to drop off Anthology Sets.  I sit around for a while with only Brad and Rob being around to talk about stuff.  I also unload some 30,000 cards I was sitting on to be passed to needful players.

Seriously, I don’t know if it’s because of shipment costs, but anyone in California can effortless have a 30,000 card collection just by waiting around until someone leaves the game.  V:TES staples are not remotely hard to get.  I could probably drop 10,000 extras on someone if I felt so inclined.

My V:TES event starts half an hour after the Shadowfist Modern tournament.  I have no chance to prove I dominate at all multiplayer CCGs that lack Dominate.  I was the defending Modern champion from last year’s Kubla.

We have seven players at first.  Yes, multiplayer CCGs are a Bear Market when it comes to having the right number of players.

I don’t try running tournaments at cons anymore, just too unpredictable who is playing, how long anyone is playing, etc.  So, I give away my precious boosters as table prizes and let people play for a pack.

I win my first game with like 11 Hermana Mayors in play or it timed out or whatever.  I remember the last game, when tiredness was kicking in, that I killed my predator with Can’t Take it with You to table split with my prey.  My predator had like double digit pool.

It’s not that I’d rather play Shadowfist.  It’s just that getting to play CCGs is rare enough that I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to play all of the CCGs I could.

Long, boring drives home after midnight.  I’ve got to start scheduling my events at 8AM, when I’m up and at ’em.

Traveler, The Next Junction Point

Faction: Architect
Size: 45

Architect Cards (24)
Characters (14)
3x Arcanomoth
2x Assassin Bug
4x Blood Eagles
2x CHAR
3x Test Subjects

Edges (2)
2x Reinvigoration Process

Events (8)
3x Aerial Bombardment
2x Bzzzzzt!
1x Expendable Unit
2x Fire in the Sky

Generic Cards (21)
Characters (2)
2x Dark Traveler

Events (8)
1x Ejector Seat Malfunction
1x Salvage
5x Scrounging
1x The Algernon Effect

Feng Shui Sites (10)
2x Dockyard
5x Möbius Gardens
3x Manufactured Island

States (1)
1x Disintegrator Ray

You know, just because Imprisoned, Nerve Gas, and Neutron Bomb are on my personal banned list doesn’t mean I don’t love me my Architects.  Yeah, I actually find Architects very pleasing, sometimes even more pleasing than Lotus for when I’m tired of same old, same old deck building with Lotus.  That’s me – the removal guy.  Yup, I’m a Red/Black kind of player.  I Shake Up.  I … I … have a hard time continuing the theme though B5, WoT, et al do have character removal.


EC 2017: Veni. Vidi. Suxisti!

May 24, 2017

So, I went to the 2017 V:TES European Championships.  An obsession with Eyes of Argus (on my banned list), Enkil Cog (banned list), er …, Deep Song (banned list) …  Okay, it was cherry juice.  Cherry juice was the driving force behind going to Berlin.  That and Australian women.

Maybe I should start over.

Before V:TES ceased to be a thing, I wanted to hit a EC and a NAC in Columbus.  I had worked out in my spreadsheet how to have enough hours (stealing from my future accruals) to accomplish both.  Then, I used up more hours than I planned, so I let NAC drop for this year.  Still, with everyone under the Moon, even those who don’t actually play, wanting Anthology Sets and my mother figuring out whether she was going to vacation in Europe, Berlin was booked.

As was London because I didn’t see the point of going for less than two weeks and I didn’t see a point in spending two weeks in Berlin.  My mother had spent a few years going to school in London, so, in theory, we could visit places she knew.  Nigh 60 years absence kind of made that not part of the trip.

We arrive.  In the East End.  To the pub!

See the mustard. Too much mustard.

As is the norm among all middle thinking people, the pub is where you go to drink water and eat.  Yes, every single pub in England I’ve been to I’ve just had water to drink.

My hope was to have localish food in England, pub burger, pub fish and chips, kind of forgot about pub meat pie.  Meat pie.  It was good.  The mustard tray came with dijon, whole grain, and English.  Not liking either of the first two, I figure English would taste … whoa!  Okay, I guess it’s just Statespeople who like sweet mustard that isn’t remotely horseradishy or wasabii.

We only had four days fully open to tourist.  We did not effectively use them all, however I could say we reasonably touristed three days.  We did hit the Childhood Museum a block away from our room.  We did have ice cream at Harrods.  Before getting into other touristing, I should note that my breakfast lasagne at E Pellicci was some of my best food.  Thing about hole in the wall places there – crowded and loud.  I’ll comment more on food hither as I’m sure my insights will sea shanty your world.

Llort! Llort?!?

Yessim.  The key to going to London is to go to Cambridge and do what everyone does in Cambridge – get some Babylon 5 CCG in.  We played two very long games with some cafeteria food lunch and a bit of a crisis averted.

First Game [this is a gaming blog, wrong?]:

I played Ivanova Death Incarnate.  I completely mangled the opening.  I was supposed to Rapid Growth on turn one and sponsor Susan.  I forgot how Rapid Growth/Airlock Mishap openings work.  I set myself probably two turns behind.

Other decks played were home faction Narns, Minbari with intrigue, Non-Aligned.  Narns, for some reason, didn’t develop any infrastructure.  What was interesting was one of the last few groups to play doesn’t use standard openings that get you to 10 influence rapidement.  I didn’t seem terribly threatening, mostly because I couldn’t draw any conflicts and was mostly screwing around with putting things like Spin Doctors out while the Non-Aligned seemed out of control.  I finally started on conflicts.  The Narns Allianced us.  I attacked some with Ivanovas since I could just replace them all.  I brought out Diplomacy characters.  I Rally the People and have enough with A Rising Power to win.

Second Game:

I switch to Llort.  Not Chosen of Llort.  Llort Fast Learner Bodyguard and Non-Aligned Fanatic Llort.  Maybe the spiritual realm was trying to tell me something about playing ineffectual decks as I was ineffectual, actually going back to 10 influence from being above 10 influence.  Home Minbari, Home Centauri Shadows, Bester opposed the righteous Llort.  Centauri should have won.  Then, for some reason, he put Forced Evolution in play to make it harder for him to win and the game times out with a Minbari/Centauri tie.

Crusade cards suck.  I don’t care that they played The Fen constantly and even adapted their play to The Fen.  I care about undercosted or zero costed cards coming into play and dumb turns like making Probes be less huge and just general getting away from what the game was supposed to be about, like Llort.  Oops, argument fail … argument fail!

The highlight of London … em … England was punting on the Cam.  It was relaxing and touristy and our punter was entertaining.

Next day, Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge.  Interesting observation.  No effort to leave time for shopping.  It just felt odd to be rushed about.  Sure, you could shop, but, then, you didn’t spend much time castling or bathing or hengeing.  The guide also didn’t guide much.

Bath was the weakest part of the tour as it was far too museumy for me.  Windsor was wandering around a castle.  Stonehenge was a bright day in the countryside without any interdimensional portals opening up or whatever.  Oh, I should mention that while there was a decent amount of Sun in London, most days it was chilly due to wind.  Sunday, the day when we spent much of the time indoors and on a bus, was warm.  Now, I’m not a warm person, running rather hot [oh nevermind] [see enjoying Scandinavia in January], but we wanted to Thames at some point and warmth on water body not terrible.

As anyone can get pictures of Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge, here’s (of course) a Bath picture.

Nicer looking than broken stone.

Monday, we did get on a ship cruising the Thames, hit Greenwich just before Royal Observatory closed but didn’t think to go to Average Time until time was annihilated into the past.

So, food.  Food was surprisingly cheap in London.  In that, we ended up eating very oddly and kept missing out on pubbing or tourist-fooding.  We had fast food.  It was bad.  Every single time I’ve had fish and chips in England it has been rather awful.  Speaking of chips.  Every single time I’ve had chips [sic] in England, they have been gross.  Soggy crap like you get from fast food places in the States.  Every single time I’ve been to Greenwich, I’ve gotten a burger and French Fries [sic] and it was good.  Now, I did ask them to crisp up my French Fries [sic], but they were better cooked to begin with (I didn’t notice any difference with my mother’s).  Plus, Peanut Butter Cup milkshake was good.  So, secret to eating in London is pay for the extra privilege (aka quid) of having Americanized food.  Or, seek out your breakfast lasagne, whatever.  To be fair, our only pub food was good.

I need to move on … to Berlin.

We get into Tegel, I stupidly have us use public transportation to get to our service apartment.  Not only did that fail when we got to Alexanderplatz because heaven forbid that you put information counters in major public transportation hubs where tourists can find them, but the trek to Alexanderplatz was pain.  Even the better, less stoppy bus, would have taken you through awful looking town in unenthralling weather.  I like overcast, but going from London’s bright and cheery and woodsyness to drab and boxy and congestedness of our bus trip made me hate having to spend so much time in Berlin.

Then, we settled in and wandered a bit and the city was much more pleasant.  We were a five minute walk from Museum Island.  We had the Magic Museum on our block (I eventually didn’t bother due to its reviews).  Walking to U-Bahn stations not so bad.

Speaking of bad.  I hated public transportation besides U-Bahn.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s underground subways and everything else is misery.  Tube – fine.  Metro – my hood.  U-Bahn – same old, same old.  Buses?  Nein!  Trams, S-Bahn, regional trains, trains to other cities?  Icksome.

Speaking of dumb.  I got us Welcome Cards for Berlin, figuring 8 days was enough to tourist.  I was wrong.  We only used the discounts once on the entire trip.  Either too busy, too tired, or the museum or tour we had to pay for didn’t give discounts.  The only good thing was that we never had to get transportation tickets due to the timing of when we validated the Welcome Cards and when we were leaving.

In the hood.

So, food.  London cheap.  Berlin expensive.  Of course, we did mostly sit down restaurants in Berlin in our hood.  Also, what killed the pocketbook wasn’t food.  It was cherry juice.  Every single time I’ve spent more than a week in Germany I’ve never had a beer.  Oh, I should mention that I had no tea in England, not even in the room.  Drinks aren’t just expensive – $4.50 Cokes, for instance – but the volume is weak sauce.  In the US, you pay $2.50 or possibly more these days in a sit down restaurant for a Coke, but you get free refills.  I had like $3.50 juices of .2 liters.  How can someone eat food with .2 liters of drink?

Now, KiBa was really good both times.  My Coconut Kiss was really good and not horrendously priced at the place near the EC.  But, tea, coffee, water outside of the local places near the EC were just incredibly expensive relative to the volume.

Then, there was the EC’s hood.  Pop out of the Birkenstraße Station and you get a coffee/pastry shop with decent sized cafe au lait.  You get döner kebap sandwiches that are huge, may have amazingly good bread, and cost like $4.  And, there’s markets around to get drinks from if you take your food to go.

Oh yeah, the EC.  I played 8 competitive rounds, a storyline pickup game, and three casual games.  This is my tale.

Because we have a limited tolerance for wandering around, we go by the EC on Thursday to see what’s going on.  I get into a pickup game with Rudolf as my predator, Ali as my prey, Dean as my grandprey, and I can almost remember my grandpredator – Peter, maybe.

I borrow Dean’s !Toreador Embrace deck because I was touristing and didn’t bring decks.  I didn’t draw Embraces until the game was essentially over.  I can try to search my mind for who started my games, but, since I didn’t post this when I got home last Wednesday, I’m just going to rush through by listing myself first in every game.

Pickup 1:

Ian (!Toreador horde) -> Ali (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> Dean (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> ?? (??) -> Rudolf (Tzimisce high caps)

General observation – Armin, Dmitra, Hektor, Tara, Jan, et al were extremely popular across all of the events.  What was somewhat different was how fighty the versions were I saw.

Dean brings out vampire.  Ali stops transferring to same vampire.  I bring out dorks, I Palla Grande a couple of times, Ali has no game.  Dean ousts his prey somehow, not entirely sure how.  I go ahead and oust Dean.  I concede after a couple of fights in endgame.  If I wanted to play a better game, I would have played differently, letting Dean work on Rudolf harder, but it was not a great game, so might as well end it.

Storyline:

I didn’t build specific storyline decks.  I happened to have a deck that could work for End of the Line, which a lot of people couldn’t play due to the low cap crypt requirement.  I did have leftover decks that were clanny, so I played Samedi, taking out some of the cards that didn’t work when I played my LMC/Groaning Corpse deck prior.

Samedi -> Ravnos Fatuus Mastery -> Ralf playing !Toreador with sticks -> Ben playing Matasuntha -> Tito playing Aabbt Kindred (storyline!)

I had no predator early on, as only Aabbt came out and started Camera Phoning.  My prey tried SensDep forward.  Tito had no predator.  I ended up with three Samedi SensDepped.  Yup, my two times in life having three minions SensDepped were the time I played a Regaining the Upper Hand deck and the time I played Samedi Groaning Corpse in a storyline event.

My prey did get two VPs, so it was the right play.  Tito, of course, won, once he could start bleeding and I had like three Deflections in my hand at the end of the game having played none all game.

Samedi -> Bart playing with an Archbishop of Berlin! -> blanked -> Kari still blanking -> NewJah

This was maybe my most irrelevant game, as NewJah just rolled over me with stealth bleed as is its wont.  This game timed out with only my being ousted.  It shows how weak my frail mind has become that I don’t recall what other people were playing, just that titles mattered across table and I’m pretty sure Kari was Governing.  I think she was playing !Trem because I expected Oriandus to pop, probably a Malgorzata deck, but I could be making things up.  It’s really bad that I can’t even picture anything of my grandprey’s deck anymore.  Tzimisce, I think, as it torped Bart’s dudes reasonably often, maybe advanced Sascha was in play.

I didn’t feel the storyline flavor of this event.  But, then, ever since the first one, I never understood why people play good clans in storylines.  That someone likes a clan is not an argument for seeing Malks, Ventrue, et al.  I like Tzimisce but don’t play them in an event designed to make the world more interesting.

I was surprised that it was just a 2+F event.  Not that I want to play 3+F events, but I was surprised.

Pickup 2:

I hung around to play a rather Americanized pickup game, where James played his Corrupt Construction deck, Kevin played some Ravnos deck that didn’t do much.  Some Swiss guy was my predator.  Phillip was my prey with Tremere.

Yes, I went to Europe and all I got to play against was a Los Angeles/Taiwan Corrupt Construction deck I’ve played like five times against.  What did I play?  Standard Matthias gets Temporis and Summons History.

I got 2 VPs just before time as I beat down Phillip’s board mostly due to Ivory Bow as Ponticulus was in play.  Pickup game 2 VPs – that was towering crescendo of effectiveness.

Day 1:

I thought about metagaming harder against hyperbleed, but I just wanted to play my deck.  I didn’t realize it was a sloppy 90 cards until I counted it up.

Ian (Aus/Dem/Obf/Vic) -> Gines (Giotto, Nos Princes) -> (Grinder) -> Peter (Thucimia) -> (Winnie Dementation)

I should know my predator’s name as I talked to him on Day 2 quite a bit, but I’m actually fading writing this post.

Gines was going to win unless my predator crosstabled him.  I thought about suggesting that and didn’t bother.  I did hang around a little bit longer so that I could play a Madman’s Quill on Giotto with only three Dementation bleed decks at the table.  Gines got rid of it, right away.  My predator ousted me because he didn’t want to be ousted.

Gines got too fast a start for his prey and I didn’t control Gines in any way, though I had the cards in the deck to kill Parity Shifts.  Gines 4.

Ian -> Frank (small cap Tzimisce wall) -> Dean (Gangrel Animalism) -> Michael (Carna and friends) -> Kari (Trem/!)

This was surprisingly NoCalish, in that Dean took three actions to burn the Pentex on my Gravitnir and they all got blocked by my prey.  Kari gave me some rope to push on the wall, but I was largely ineffectual.

How ineffectual?

I bring out Gravitnir.  My prey places The Erciyes Fragments.  I take an action to steal it.  We fight.  I don’t maneuver.  He uses Dean’s Aid from Bats to maneuver.  I Breath of the Dragon.  I continue to try to take Erciyes or play Madman’s Quills on my prey, and every single attempt gets blocked.  Did I do any pool damage?  After the game I thought naught.  But, maybe I did Changeling bleed once.

I played with two vampires (Luc).  I got Pentexed by my prey, my predator’s first Magic of the Smith was for Signet of King Saul when her predator was kind of already strong and the only 8+ cap that hit play was mine, I got ‘schrecked when playing a combat ends.

General observation backed up by some other people agreeing.  People would rather lose to Govern/Conditioning and Kindred/Confusion than face the unknown.  People expect Dementation bleed from Zettler and Gravitnir?  Why would anyone bother?

I pontificated about my lack of success and in what way my beliefs are wrong about the game.  Does deck construction matter more than I think?  Am I suckier than I think?  Is my play style all wrong?

Play style for the moment.  I rely heavily on other players realizing that I’m virtually never a threat and that someone else is.  I rely on people not crippling the weak.  General observation – a lot of players in crossregional metagames don’t go after the strong but cripple the weak and seemingly play for 1 or 2 VPs.  This is interesting because one thing I’m pretty sure about is that I don’t build decks oriented to multiple game wins and you need multiple game wins to win 156 player tournaments or even 88 player tournaments much of the time.

I had my Sanguine Instruction between two !Malks … for Vicissitude … blocked.  My prey feared my !Malky bleed possibilities – my prey had bounce.

Dean, Frank, and I just beating on each other meant Michael had an easy game.  Kari finished me off, I played Extremis Boon, Michael spent some time calculating the amount of pool to give me, Frank Suddened the Extremis Boon.

Ian -> Bart (Winnie Auspex Anarch) -> Jaakko (Kiasyd SB) -> Enrico (Malk94) -> Jan (!Brujah beats)

Jan Havened and IGed backwards but gave up on eviscerating his predator.  Enrico didn’t bounce early but just kept bleeding and being torped.  Jaakko had sporadic bleed.  I kept trying to Madman’s Quill Bart, but it didn’t work.  I tried Concealing his Bowl, that didn’t work.  I lost a variety of cards to Constant Revolution, which didn’t really hurt me, I wanted one more round to discard 3 cards at random.  I lost Extremis Boon and Personal Scourge.  I did Inner Essence/Coma one of Bart’s dudes, but we mostly just handsed each other.  Yet again, someone tried Pentexing me, though I did bring out three vampires for a change.

Enrico ousted Jan.  Jaakko took the rest.

Did two wall decks in front of me hinder my VPing?  I don’t think so.  Walls are to be expected.  You need a game plan for getting through them.

Actually, with The unnamed doing really well (foreshadowing), Auspex is just not as good as it once was.  I would have vastly preferred Deflection as my bounce of choice from a metagame standpoint.

End of the Line

We finally got a four player together for End of the Line.  Petri was my prey with !Gangrel.  My predator played Kiev Circle.  I played Hermana Mayor.  The other deck was Tupdog.  I actually had a plan for dealing with Tupdog.  Everyone failed me, including my predator who didn’t bother blocking a bleed that ousted him, leaving me tapped out with 4 pool and my new prey having a minion with Groundskeepers.

An awful game, and I think the format has some strong potential for awfulness, yet another game going on during ours was like five player and the Corruption deck won at time or something.

Sunday

Obviously not qualifying, I played in the side event, with its 88 players.

Ian (Pre/Vic BB?) -> (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> (Forestal anarch) -> (Kiasyd combat?) -> Luis (unnamed bleed focus)

I had no way to defend against my predator.  My bounce got cancelled as predicted.  His predator did nothing.  My grandprey didn’t realize Forestal can only fake one discipline at a time.  My prey was the only one who could stop the Baali but didn’t.  Luis swept.

Ian -> (Pot/Pre/Cel vote) -> (Kiasyd SB) -> (Lutz/Maris) -> (Aus/Tha/Vic)

This was the only talk game I had.  This was what I kind of expect in Day 2 of big tournaments.  There was like a 10 minute discussion that led to not playing a Parity Shift.  Malks Deranged backwards, ended up on Dmitra.  Never left Dmitra as afraid would end up on Hektor.  My prey had to deal constantly with Dmitra’s ability.  I had Velya in play, so I was vote relevant.  I Starvation of Marenaed my predator’s Malgorzata to torpor but didn’t interact much after that.  Kiasyd just kept trying to bleed.

Because Malks were in danger of death, kept dealing to get off Parity Shift.  One Parity Shift was possibly four different targets before eventually going backwards.  My prey asked me afterwards when the game went to my predator.  We agreed it was when he brought out Sha-Ennu after Malgorzata and Mistress Fanchon.  Malks called Reins of Power to bring me to 3 pool, first 3 bleed by predator killed me.  He deemed that his only clear mistake.

It was rough with how to deal the votes.  Yet, it didn’t time out.

Ian -> Kari (Aus/Chi bleed) -> (Shadow Court Satyr w/ Dominate) -> (Winnie Dom/For) -> (Winnie Dom/Pre)

I asked for the time twice.  The other players said something like “with two weenie Dom decks, I don’t think the game is going to time out”.  I considered giving my reason for asking about time.

My first action of the game was Creamy Jade rescues my predator’s Ingrid Russo.

In the first 50 minutes of the game, I played one card – Enchant Kindred (Matteus to Enid Blount).  My predator did 3 pool damage to me all game with his four minions, a bleed I let through hoping he would bleed for more.  I did not Entrancement my grandprey’s SCS.  Misdirection killed me as I was out of wakes for my second predator.

Competitive play was done.  I enjoyed my games, actually, parts of all of my games.  Well, maybe not the second round storyline, thinking about it.  But, I was useless.  I was going to get into why in this post, but I think I need to finish up with the reporting and get into analysis in another post.

Pickup 3:

Ian (!Toreador blocky) -> Peter (Samedi, Genina focus) -> Rudolf (Tupdog) -> ?? (Rudolf’s Montano) -> Ali (Rudolf’s Tzimisce)

Rudolf wasn’t as scary as one expects from Tupdog.  He didn’t draw any Raking Talons for a while.  He didn’t Graverob that much.  I did Soul Painting his Selena, which somehow didn’t instantly burn her, but maybe I’m wrong about Soul Painting as well as many other things.

Peter Nightmare Cursed at double superior my Greta late in the game.  That didn’t hurt too much, as I had Majestys.  Ali didn’t threaten me much.  Montano did one Baltimore Purge and ended up in torpor when it went off.

Rudolf ousted as his prey couldn’t keep minions ready.  Peter ousted.  I should have been able to oust Peter but couldn’t get the right combination of Unholy Penanced, Melanged, Aire of Elationed, Palla Grandeed bleeds lined up before we timed out.

Yes, I was that sad.  Multiple Unholy Penances, a Melange, Palla Grande, like four vampires with Presence, and I couldn’t do like 2 more pool to my prey’s Samedi with Auspex deck when I needed to.

We did talk about teaching English, as the EC was less an opportunity to get VPs and more an opportunity to speak with people who learn multiple languages about how a middle-aged American be less monolingual.  It was kind of funny that Peter mentioned that people count in their own languages, when I find numbers the easiest thing to remember in other languages, though I was in an elevator trying to remember how to count backwards from 100 in French.  Learning a little bit of Mandarin constantly screws up my remembering any French outside of memorized phrases.

My mother and I went out to eat with Hung-ary Peter (you know, it could be that some of these Peters spell their names Pieter or whatever, but I hope I’m getting their names right) and a bunch of Swedes.  Large contingent of Swedes.  They may think I’m a goofball, but I quite enjoy hanging out with them.

Only two people mentioned my blog.  Ralf.  Tomas (sp?).

Rudolf, Ali, my mother, and I arranged to meet Monday for touristing.  We did a hop on, hop off bus trip, finally using a Welcome Card discount (still kind of expensive compared to … foreshadowing).

Speaking of my mother, what was she doing while I was playing cards?  Fortunately, Martin’s mother also wanted to do some sightseeing.  So, his mother who doesn’t speak English and my mother who doesn’t speak German had a good day of sightseeing on the weekend, including a river jaunt.

Martin, his mother, Rudolf, Ali all really helped make the trip better.  As did Michael (B5), organizers, opponents, people I spent some time with outside of play – had lunch with a couple of Italians and Dean, lunch with Kevin who I had never met in the US (to our knowledge), etc.

 

Symbolic.

Tuesday, went to Potsdam on a guided tour.  Interesting thing about this tour.  Unlike the UK tour, where we were just sort of dumped into places to look around at stuff, this tour didn’t have much in the way of going in palaces or churches or whatever but had a lot of history.  Like our punter, the tour guide was entertaining.  We still didn’t have time to shop on the 6 hour tour.  We hit Sanssouci with various pauses along the way.

My phone doesn’t do wide shots all that well, so all of my palace photos show only parts of the palace.

Ironicful.  Best touristy thing in our trip to London was in Cambridge.  Best touristy thing in our trip to Berlin was in Potsdam.

Good size group – 12 + guide.  Guide was Australian.  No, he wasn’t a woman.  But, there were a coincidentally disproportionate number of Australian or Australian-connected women on the tour.  They hung out with cool Spanish/Portuguese guys rather than uncool Statesperson guy.  I can’t blame them.  Who wants to hang out with a guy who talks about logic puzzles and racist pidgin languages?

Foreshadowing1:  unnamed was in EC Day 2 finals, in Shadow Twin finals.

Foreshadowing2:  Tour to Potsdam was 15 euros apiece, 1 more euro than hop on/hop off bus.  Can’t say the latter was bad in any way, just seems like a bus ride with audio guide should be less demanding than live guiding.  Of course, compared to the W/B/S tour in the UK, which was over a 100 sterling apiece, maybe bus rides are superoverheadful.

Well, I think I failed to write in the way I wanted to write, but I have to get this published and get back to Traveller and work and getting on a normal sleep schedule.


Lost Opportunities

April 2, 2017

Been traveling, work conference, then vacation immediately after.  That was poorly planned, as a lot of early mornings, with travel, with time zone changes, with 50 degree (F) temperature changes leads to health suboptimality.  But, that has little to do with gaming.

Work conferences and family vacations do not lend themselves to much in the way of gaming.  However, I have books to read, so I read on flights, something I should do more often as it really does reduce the discomfort of flying.

I read the first Grisha Trilogy book on one of the flights and most of another on another flight.  I have since finished the trilogy.

Wins.  Losses.

These are necessary things for drama.  Literature is replete with such.  Gaming?

As an aside, women’s college basketball is interesting for the first time in a long time.  Friday is why sports is sports.  As wagerable as it is, weird stuff happens, and that drives the future interest.

You have to both lose and win or gaming is boring.  Even competitive gaming.  Why do I value some of my achievements?  Because I lose often enough.  Why do I disdain certain achievements?  Because the challenge wasn’t there, the win didn’t come from doing anything more than showing up.

Losses can sting, but they build (player) characters.  If all you do is “17, hit, 6 damage, any more orcs, open chest”, well, I guess that is a videogame and videogames and videogame RPing have appeal, but it’s not the same level of appealing.

I like reviews.  I prefer movie reviews to movies.  I read reviews of TV shows I watch.  I read reviews of the Grisha books.  Why?

When I finished Wise Man’s Fear and got bored reading Auri’s book, I decided to start in on the Grisha Trilogy.  It seemed goth.  I was expecting dark fantasy.  I was not expecting young adult.  Not even romantic fantasy, though maybe I could have made a bit more effort reading blurbs.

Tonal whipflash.  What is romantic fantasy, btw?  I was thinking about it.  I differentiate a romance story with fantasy elements from a fantasy story with romance elements (aka all fantasy I am aware of).  To me, Grisha is in the former, but, then, I’ve read very little young adult.

I was not fond of the first book.  The rest of the series felt more pleasant, but that could be because I reset expectations.  Low expectations – enjoy life.

Wait, what’s the point of all of this again?  Well, I’m going to continue reviewing the series and maybe include something spoileriffic, but let’s take a moment to get back to wins and losses.

Kingkiller has wins and losses, as one might expect.  Grisha just feels like endless losses.  It’s morose.  That’s a turn off to me.  I don’t just want happy endings, I want “this is pleasant” at other times.

Which brings me to Arrow.  Arrow is better.  Prometheus is better.  It’s still way too dark.  Just stop.  Superheroes should have fun.  I know.  That seems weird when everyone thinks the only way to have drama is to be dark and when comics do get into bad stuff.  But, you don’t dwell on the bad stuff in my comics like TV shows love to dwell on bad stuff.  For all that soap operas are a model for superhero shows, I often found soap operas to be less dark.

I’ve played in campaigns that were just misery after misery.  That wasn’t fun.

Challenges, setbacks, losses – they don’t have to be a murderfest of murderyness.  They don’t need to involve torture and imprisonment and disfigurement.  Actually, if you think about quite a bit of fiction, the loss is just not getting a lot of money.  Having the potential love interest hook up with someone else, not scoring a big haul, getting assigned escort missions, having the regional map borders redrawn – these can be losses.

So, interesting reviews for Grisha3.  Some people absolutely hated it for how it resolved.  For many (I presume), the Darkling is the favorite character.  The complex bad boy who is oh so sexy.  Except, he’s neither complex nor bad boy.

Deeds Not Words.

More than anything else, L5R’s value to society is that.  Not a new concept, but it needs to be a mantra.  This is why I get so frustrated with sports talk shows.  I like sports talk shows.  Some of them are the most relaxing thing I usually do.  But, they obsess over comments athletes, coaches, and owners make.

Why?  I mean, why bother?

People say untactful things.  Politicians get crucified for it in many cases, though I don’t know why we are so concerned about what people say.  Is it insight into their souls?  Perhaps.  But, people aren’t paragons of virtue, nevermind that people don’t agree on what is virtuous.  I, for example, am not enthralled by sales tax increases, but I have no problem with gas tax increases (with credits or whatever for the trucking industry because, you know, the country is dependent upon trucking).

What’s important in sports is numbers.  Focus on numbers.  111-1 is a number that should have been a bigger story.  There should have been all sorts of sociology analysis on how losing saved the sport.

Darkling’s deeds – murder, torture, mind control.  That’s it.  Can say stuff, but that’s it.  There’s nothing complex there.  There’s no bad boy, just an awful man.

Sure, the series wasn’t suited to me.  I’m not opposed to romance being the primary driver … or am I?

I tried to think of what I read that was more romantic fantasy than not.  Spell for Chameleon?  Nope.  That’s somewhat comedic fantasy.  Anita Blake?  Now, here’s romantic horror … in classification.  But, I think the better description of the series when I enjoyed it was hard boiled detective novel meets supernatural romance.  There was a balance.  And, btw, if you want a real dark, sexy bad boy, Jean-Claude is that archetype.

I got to thinking about how you can identify romatic fantasy from fantasy with romance.  The romantic object in the latter is often underdeveloped.  John Carter/Barsoom books are romantic.  They are driven by the need to rescue love interests.  Hardly unusual when they were written.  But, still, the love interests are objects, something that reflects character rather than being interesting characters in their own right.

Spellsinger.  Love interests are bit players.  What of second Covenant series?  Better balance, for sure, but I don’t put the romance at the heart of the story, though there’s a relationship at the heart of the story.  The two lovers who struggle to just be happy together is so common that even when it’s huge, it doesn’t necessarily strike me as the point.  Well, maybe that’s more Covenant, which can be a burdensome psychological examination of victimhood rather than “I’m so jealous slutty empress batted her eyelashes at you, boyfriend material”.

Anime I often watch has similar balance, of it being more about fights or humor or whatever than true love.  Magic girlfriend shows so often are episodic humor.

Anyway, I enjoyed aspects of Grisha.  I would agree that it was a pageturner.  That doesn’t speak well of the term pageturner, though, as I was mostly waiting for some sort of resolution rather than looking forward to the next chapter.

I wasn’t bothered by the faux Russia culture.  I would agree that the worldbuilding was off.  It was neither overly missing nor done well.  I would say the problem is that the worldbuilding had the wrong focus.  I have no sense of one place versus another.  I don’t know why the various cultural elements are the way they are.  I didn’t care about NPCs (nor most of the PCs).  The politics wasn’t given room to develop.  And, everything was miserable, which might be a stereotype for Russia, but fantasy is about living in a world you prefer to live in to this one.

There was an opportunity to do something far more appealing to me, even given tropes that may get overplayed.  But, was I supposed to be the audience?

Reviewers hated Mal.  I didn’t.  I thought he was okay.  Third love interest?  Okay.  Neither OMG, so sexy.  Nor, seems a little marysue.  But, I’m not into guys, so maybe those characters were more appealing to those who are.

Pacing.  Having stuff happen is good.  Dwelling on certain narrative building things, like Covenant’s wife, is not enjoyable.  Grisha had maybe even a good pace.  I’m trying to tie back learning something from this series to gaming – give me more rope.

Anyway, I’ve talked about wins and losses before, but it’s my main takeaway from the series – it could have been so much more appealing if the PCs won more often.

Meanwhile, challenges in any sort of gaming don’t need to be torturefests.  They can be “I just realized if I dropped my lance on C-5 instead, I could have promoted it next turn and feasted upon your soul”.

Also, keeping love interests constantly fighting is not necessarily.  You know what’s great about soap operas?  Everyone hooks up with a ludicrous number of partners over time.  Who doesn’t want to see Kara and Oliver date?  Thea and HR?  The appeal?  Humor.  Soap operas are at their best when they are funny.  True love can survive until the show’s finale.

Well, the next series to work on is last Covenant series.  It’s a drag just trying to reread Runes of the Earth, which I hadn’t read in years.  I’m sure that will manage to prevent me from writing more about L5R character builds and combat strategies.


Riffing

February 26, 2017

There’s something I’ve tried explaining in recent years a bit more to people I know.

I picked up some fantasy novels in an effort to use up an Amazon gift card.  Because of True Dungeon, I became aware of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle.  It occurs to me those two sentences would logically be switched in order, but, if you read my blog, you may grasp that I don’t always follow logical order.

I finished the first book last week and am a bit more than 750 pages into the second book.

I got into something of a discussion Thursday with the Shadowfist group, mostly around my view that the series purposefully endeavors to merge low fantasy and high fantasy.

And, so, the usual trying to explain what low fantasy is and what high fantasy is.  I was a bit surprised anyone would think Lord of the Rings wasn’t high fantasy.  To me, it’s a classic and illustrative example.

While it’s hard for me to argue against high magic being prevalent in high fantasy, there’s more to it than that.  D&D is not philosophically high fantasy.  It’s videogame fantasy.  You obsess over power, whether through stuff or levels.  You hope some random wheel of fate gives you +5 Strength.

But, I’ve said as much before.

I’m quite enjoying the series.  In fact, it’s addictive.

Movies aren’t.  TV can be.  I’ve said as much before, but let me try it a different way.

Movies are complete.  They are straightforward.  They are bombastic.  TV has more opportunities to twist and turn as there’s so much more content, and they are often incomplete.  At least, for me, they are incomplete, as I often don’t pay much attention to series when they end.  The threat of ending is why I am so reluctant to invest in series that sound interesting.

Books are different.

When I was in sixth grade, the teacher brought a box of books, put them in the side room (storage?, was there a sink?).  The box was full of fantasy and science fiction novels.  She was giving them away.  The other students may have taken more than I thought, but I remember only a casual interest.

I took an armful, a stack.

I may have read some of those books – I believe a few.  I’m fairly sure I didn’t read some.  I’m fairly sure I still own them and could read them at my leisure.

What have I been trying to explain?

Not yet.

I have an affinity to the Kingkiller Chronicle.  Oh, I don’t think highly of my abilities.  I found myself increasingly weary of the obsession over low fantasy concerns, like paying tuition or going hungry.  I don’t embrace entertainment for real world concerns.  I embrace entertainment for adventure, for drama, for melodrama, for another world.

I have fantasy novels that I have no affinity for.  Perhaps I didn’t read long enough.  But, my way of explanation for giving up on them is that they throw too many fantasy names of people and places at me too soon without my caring a jot about the characters or the plot.

I have some … criticisms isn’t the right word because writing is hard and different people have different tastes … hindrances to elevating the series to some lofty perch.

I said an addiction.  Books do that to me, even ones that aren’t so great.  I’ve read a good number of Xanth books, and they become much more childish over time.  One of those books I read when on vacation with family in Honolulu.  A day or maybe one and a half.

An addiction because stories do more then tell stories.  They inspire other stories.

RPG play is more like TV to me.  I don’t mean RPG campaign ideas or whatever, I mean the actual play.  The actual play lives beyond itself to a degree but not the same degree.  It’s too much one thing.  The value in the long running campaigns, with the PC development, is that they expand beyond one thing.  I still think of Usagi Kidai beyond the Princess Police.  Ty maybe not as much, anymore, but Ty and Rald and Hak and Smed and so on.

But, books, they inspire me to riff.

Being incompetent with music besides knowing what’s good, bad, and interesting better than anyone else who has ever lived, I imagine that musicians feel that way with music.  They want to riff.

I will stop reading.  I will peer into that other world and I will construct my own story.  The characters may be much the same or the scene may be much the same or the concept may be much the same.  Sometimes, it’s an idea for a novel but usually it’s dialogue.  I so love dialogue.

Eventually, I will return to reading.

The more I riff, the more entertainment I will get from a book.  Even bad books, which is why I continued with bad series long after they stopped being decent series.  I’ll forego naming names, as I can respect those who have abilities beyond my own.

I’ve been riffing a lot more with this series than I have in a long, long time.

I’m starting to remember something, something important, but that’s either going to sound ridiculous, pretentious, or will not elicit enough reaction to bother.  People don’t listen to me, but it’s not my job to force them.

I suppose one piece of that, though, may sound not so ridiculous.  I perceive the world differently at the moment.  Sure, Star Wars movies can do that, too, and music does that, and so can other things.  The mind is rather malleable when you let it be.

I have his children’s(?) book to read after day two.  I have a series my sister had on her Christmas list that I decided to try out for myself afterwards.

So many distractions.  So much time.


DunDraCon 2017

February 20, 2017

Should be reasonably quick.

Friday, head from work and get to con at 5:30PM, which is not long but felt long in the rain and with a missed turn.

No dinner plan.  Jeff and I do two hours of Traveller CG play.

Saturday morning, I did my usual pastrami (unfortunately on a bagel) and peach smoothie.  Ran my Rio Grande games.  I taught Cardcassonne, Assyria (which ran surprisingly long).  The Assyria game was incredible for how close it was.  At times, it looked like someone was behind only to develop in a way that allowed for catch up.  The game ended with the winner being one point ahead of second (140-something to 140-something) and last place only being maybe 6 points behind.

I show Loch Ness to one player, when we sit around waiting to see if more people show up.  He’s not enthused.  We play two player Assyria, which I hadn’t done before.

Then, V:TES.  So, I’m all in favor of new players or returning players, but it’s not fair to anyone to throw people who don’t know how to play into a five player game.  In hindsight, quick hindsight as I realized when the game ended, the way to teach someone is with three player games.  The more time other players take, the less the learning player spends doing things and seeing what happens.  Also, never give a new player “toolbox” Gangrel or Brujah or Nosferatu or any of the other clans that don’t bleed for a bunch.  It’s incredibly frustrating to be trying to bring out allies and retainers or to bruise bleed or to rush or whatever when a player could have been learning Govern/Conditioning.

It’s not just being a simple deck.  My +1 STR deck with Sport Bikes that I played wasn’t complicated in what it was trying to do.  An inexperienced player needs to see and learn bleed.

We really need more demos and casual learning games to recruit.  Alternatively, throwing someone into a fire can work … if they are not at a con.  If it’s all V:TES, all of the time, only people who attend such things are likely to be motivated to learn all sorts of challenging rules.

Sunday morning, I actually played a RPG.  I put my priority into Feng Shui.  The game was enjoyable, but a few things.

Feng Shui’s mechanics just seem suckier and suckier as I endure them.  Skill rolls are boring because you either have an insane skill that should make rolling meaningless or you have a target number so high that it’s far too unlikely you make the roll.  But, that’s not the big problem.  The big problem is that FS combat sucks.

I loved our home campaign of FS back in the day, and I enjoyed combats where we would all whip out our AK-47s, so it’s not impossible for combat to be fun.  It’s just unlikely.  Mook murder is incredibly unsatisfying.  Named battles are tedious grindfests.

Sure, the set up for the combat can be made to where there’s more to do than blast away over and over again.  But, the thematics of FS lend themselves to mechanical monotony.  See, the action flick is typically about beat down.  But, it’s beat down that doesn’t particularly work.  Named characters take way too long to take out.  Everyone is doing their own thing rather than “ritual rending” big bads into oblivion.

I used a homebrew for Feng Shui Tu Huo precisely because I knew combat was a weak point with FS and not a weak point with L5R.

The GM did have cool cinematic combat that didn’t involve mechanics at all, based on playing cut scene music.  Meanwhile, normal combat just dragged on interminably.

The other thing is that both my RPGs put action-y stuff after breaks.  That’s not the end of the world, but I think it’s suboptimal.  Players who want to use their combat abilities are going to wonder if they ever get to use them.  Players in general are going to get whipsawed by how much the game changes in nature between character interaction and dicefesting.

I keep thinking that the games I should run should be high action, like FS thematically, with an opening of dicefesting and more dicefesting after a reflection point, second reflection point, final dicefesting.

Finally, the party did some really weird stuff.  One group got thrown out of the police station for trying to convince the sheriff that we were in town to help in ways that didn’t lead to constructive discourse.  The other group choked out a forest ranger for unclear reasons.  It was hilarious.  When two PCs got arrested and one of them called our monster hunter team boss to get help getting out, his response was “Just two?”

I had nothing afterwards, so I walked over to try to get curry only for the place to be closed (even though internet said it was open), so I got a burger at the Hopyard, which was okay foodwise but going to restaurants by yourself tends to be rather boring.  So many of the places I wanted to go to or try just had awful hours, being oriented towards breakfast/lunch, which I don’t have time to run around to get.

I played some turns of Paths of Glory with Jeff because he wanted to talk about wargame mechanics.  We played a three player A Game of Thrones LCG 2e game, which had all of the usual elements of what does not enthuse me about the game – inability to play cards, getting annihilated by things I can’t do anything about, having no way to hold on to gains and just getting rolled with no comeback ability.  Now, we were not playing real decks.  But, real decks make me often feel the same way, which maybe is more due to how I wasn’t involved in building something with the economy and permanents I want.

Monday, I played in a Changeling game.  It’s a recurring con game where many of the players were used to playing specific PCs.  I had little choice and took the leader.  Oh my … it actually worked out fine.  While I hate being party leader, I could play a somewhat subdued leader who mainly stepped in when there was a reason to step in.

It was really good in certain ways early on – both my RPGs had really good role-players in them.  Hilarious, meaningful feeling.  But, when we left town, too much worrying about trivial things, like whether to eat a restaurant or a fast food place.

I didn’t feel a lot of Changeling to the game.  I hadn’t played Changeling in a long time, plus I haven’t played Changeling much, so the mechanics of how your powers work were mostly lost on me.  While there’s the struggle between growing up and wonder in the ethos of the game, there wasn’t much of that conflict in this game.  This was far more about interpersonal relationships, which I don’t have a problem with, as I like soap operas, but I can see someone wondering why there isn’t more magic.

Admittedly, if you have 10 player games, you kind of need the players to interact with each other a lot to give everyone time to do stuff.  Apparently, I played my character the way he is normally envisioned.

Getting back to mechanics for a moment.  In both games, there were lots of things on the character sheets that never ended up mattering, including a bunch of “this is what sets you apart” stuff.  Even if the stress is on character interaction, still seems to me that it’s good to make use of abilities characters have.  My PC had True Faith, which is supposed to be rather rare, and at no point was it mechanically relevant, as an example.  Of course, in the FS game, a couple of my abilities were used at the end in what was far more of a cut scene than actually resolving things, so that made the abilities irrelevant (to play).

Or, choose a different system that doesn’t give PCs these abilities.  Now, I guess it’s a lot of work to mix and match systems, plus the GM may really like part of the system and just not care about other parts.

Score

Amusingly enough, it was my mother who asked what score I’d give the con.  I’d give it a 6 out of 10, as something pleasant but close to mediocre.  I’d give the gaming a lower score because of the non-RPG stuff.  The RPGs were enjoyable but could have been more so if there was a faster tempo and/or more plot.

I got into both RPGs I tried to get into.  As both were series, I find the parties interesting.  But, I just don’t really care about playing con RPGs at local cons, anymore, because I’ve had the awful games, I’ve had the amazing games, I’ve had a bunch in the middle.  I’m just not engaged at the level that I can get engaged with trying out something new at Gen Con, playing HoR, playing certain home games.

Nostalgia kicked in to some degree.  What I miss with gaming is more the small group V:TM game, Conan, doing research for FSTH/LBS/Solomon Kane.  I don’t think it’s because I was wrong about con games being on average better, but it’s that I’ve done enough of them that there’s not the same level of resonance that sets in.  They are increasingly blurring together, might even get that way with Gen Con games at this rate, though 2017 is a big HoR/TD year (in theory), so I won’t have as many miscellaneous RPG sessions.