Weighing The Options

December 12, 2017

“After you push the door open, six goblins standing near a chest charge, roll initiative …”

“As you turn the corner, six orcs see you, scream something, and charge.  Roll initiative …”

I got to thinking about scale.  At a point in our Conan campaign, Brad and I talked about the point of playing higher level characters.  If all we were going to do was just face tougher enemies, why not just reboot the campaign and play at a more manageable level?

There’s a reason Gorgriffspidrascorps exist.  People crave variety.  Just increasing hit points, improving AC, increasing damage output is repetitive.  Different special abilities allow for playing essentially the same videogame over and over and still having a varied experience.

Then, I started thinking about several other things.

One, people may crave variety, but so, so many players crave doing the same sorts of things over and over as evidenced by how many players will play functionally similar or identical PCs.  I’m even prone to doing something along these lines in that my first two HoR PCs were the same character, at least up until the point where my second PC had some sort of personality and goals.  Gamehole Con wasn’t great, but it gave me important insight into which classes I enjoy and which I don’t in True Dungeon, while giving me more variety than what most seem interested in in terms of mechanical variance.

Two, I got to thinking about L5R in contrast to D&D style games.  It occurred to me that leveling up didn’t produce the same experience, that mechanics change as you rank up.  Combat goes from interesting at rank 1, rank 2ish in 4e to … vicious … above that.

Sure, it’s possible to adjust challenges to try to scale them, but offense so outstrips defense outside of certain spells that it’s a lot of effort to find the right numbers to make combat feel similar to lower levels.

Now, the D&D player, used to magical abilities and whatnot is going to bring up that “save or die”, et al, change the nature of combat.  Conan had a built in save or die mechanic, though that seems rather similar to just dealing enough damage with a bardiche to one shot some dude with 8hp, anyway.  If anything, Conan might have done a good job of maintaining the feel of low level combat.

Anyway, back to L5R.  Higher rank play does feel different.  The mechanics of brutality align(?) with the focus on culture to encourage less mechanical play.  What’s the most common challenge that is actually challenging in my experience?  Trying to prove someone did something wrong who has higher status than the party and/or trying to conduct an investigation with someone of higher status impeding it.

Do other sorts of games scale?  Putting aside dungeon crawl boardgames, obviously videogames scale – see Tetris.  But, do CCGs scale?  The players are generally better the larger the event, but the game itself isn’t providing greater challenges unless you make up your own in solitaire play.

Is there a reason to get (mechanically) stronger?

A challenge fight anime has is that the power jumps are so massive that you lose any sense of character abilities.  If you go by dubbed Dragonball Z comments, whatever the official stats may be, Super Saiyan Goku has a power level of one billion.  Compare that with the 180,000 that he reads at earlier in the same arc, nevermind what a wuss everyone is when Vegeta first arrives on Earth.  Bleach’s Ichigo’s fights become far less interesting because it’s just massive energy attack after massive energy attack.

Stronger has issues.  It’s prone to “fighting ogres instead of orcs”.  Now, more interesting applications of abilities is interesting in the moment, but how often do characters “forget” their own abilities because they need to be challenged in their stories?

Is higher level play more fun?  I certainly never found higher rank play more fun in L5R, though I got into a discussion with one HoR player who said that higher rank play was what appealed to her.

From a mechanical perspective, I have the sense that when we were in the 8th level range in Conan, we had the best adventures, but was that because of the level or some other factor?  Low level felt too much like you lacked a variety of abilities or anything that distinguished you from another bardiche wielder.  High level was prone to ability paralysis by analysis because of more Feats.

Because this topic isn’t well rooted in my mindspace, I’m going to just keep bouncing around.  L5R combat – is it memorable to me?  I remember fights, but do I remember them because of what I did or because of how they fit in the narrative.  I generally believe the latter.  Sure, the time I did more than 100 wounds in one round using a war fan against oni was memorable from a mechanical standpoint, but that’s because it should be.  I don’t remember much in terms of how many enemies I slew or how much damage I generated in most L5R play.  Kidai finished off a variety of things because he often guarded for a while until there was a reason to finish something off.  But, that’s a general style of combat and not a measure of growing stronger.  If anything, Kidai got weaker over time relative to the rest of the party and the challenges they faced because I didn’t create an advanced school that let me do two attacks a round with a yumi.

The point, perhaps, of this post is that powering up doesn’t seem to have a lot of payoff.  Whether you just up the numbers for everything or just have sillier and sillier monsters to fight, the payoff of a good story so far outweighs the payoff of being more badass.

With Kidai, gaining 5 ranks of status was far less interesting than hanging out with a widow.  With the vaguely courtierish Jun, losing a rank of status to run off to Unicorn Lands was far more interesting than having two oni consider him the greatest threat in a party with rank 4/5/6 bushi and shugenja.  Ty captured some magic with a Shot In The Dark, while rarely having much murder-impact, except that one time the priest was behind a bunch of followers and really needed to fail a massive damage save.

I think this is where D&D style modules often lose me – the focus is on mechanical challenge.  I like the ones the most that have a town of NPCs.  I want to harp on this.  Even Stormbringer adventures felt more like there was something going on rather than a series of “rooms”.  L5R modules/adventures are much more about the plot than they are the mechanical challenges … in general.  (OTOH, I have gotten into the problem of mechanics not really mattering, and I’m sure I’ll go into it again.)

Is it optimal to just hover around low levels all of the time?  In L5R 3e/3r, I’d say absolutely.  But, I can see a progression in other games.  I just don’t see the progression in combat effectiveness mattering a whole lot.  Far more important for Jun to pick up two ranks of Cooking and two ranks of Shogi than in “If I activate this kata and spend a VP, then spend a VP on my attack in the full attack stance, then Honor Roll after I call 11 raises and fail, I should be attacking at 10k10+42 with 5 free raises on damage …”

Unlocking abilities is a thing.  Vampire has the huge problem that the most interesting abilities are insanely expensive, though it’s hardly the only game inflicted with such progressions.  It’s obvious my lack of experience actually playing campaign Champions, as you can always come up with the weirdest abilities right off the bat if you want, though PC progression does seem to tend towards expanding skills since they are so expensive and don’t tend to increase your 8d6 EB’s effectiveness.

To avoid the L5R well and to give some love to Conan play, I did a lot of things with Ty to try to broaden his abilities rather than just hack … and slash … better.  I felt like it had payoff, though I would have preferred not falling further and further behind on the kill-ometer by not just focusing on high yield abilities.

Anyway, does any of this matter?  I have my doubts.  The powergamers and buttkickers enjoy powering up, and I often play with their kind.  I’m certainly pro “spend XP to gain XYZ” and not opposed to “I’ll take this Feat at this level”.

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Crisis Of Blog Why

November 29, 2017

The beauty of having a blog is that it allows one to be as self indulgent as one is wont to be … as someone wants to be.

How can I pass on commenting on Crisis on Earth-X?

Is it better than Justice League?  I don’t know.  I have no plans to watch Justice League.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Is any TV perfect (anymore, ever)?

Talking about four flawed shows, at least in my supremely brilliant opinion.

It is the pinnacle of what the Arrowverse has done.

Sure, one can say some of the early Arrow flashbacks or early Flash season one or particular scenes in Legends or moments with Superman or the early Arrow/Flash interactions were better in isolation.  But, this is what all right-thinking and left-thinking and centrist-thinking fans of superheroics wanted – a real crossover of an absurd number of supers.

It also gave Ollie and Kara “relating”, though not in the optimal way.  Nitpicking is easy.

But, let me counternitpick for a moment before we get closer to talking about gaming.

Olicity has been a thing for many a year.  As a thing, doing the comicbooky thing with it is the proper genre convention.  While I doubt the special effects could get better, though the fight choreography perhaps could, as much as the relationship drama could be better, it fit.

I don’t mark out for much.  And, I couldn’t help but think I’d want more interaction between Sara and Oliver, who, like, were a couple, and Palmer and Oliver, etc.  But, every minute held my attention because it was doing a solid job of servicing fans.  I even laughed at the sticking to things really well.

Better to try and service others than never get into servicing.  Compare what has been bequeathed upon us today versus Smallville, old Flash (had its moments), shows of yestery years.  I don’t recall Shazam! very well from the ’70s, but I somehow doubt it produced anywhere near the comicbook feel that this miniseries and these shows can achieve.

Maybe next year, they have a Green Lantern to show that the small screen can do that better, too.

So, what does this have to do with gaming?

No, it’s not time to say the same thing said around three times before.

Fun.  Gaming is supposed to be fun.  Looking forward to something.  I looked forward to night one, then to night two.

Do I look forward to playing L5R?  Shadowfist?  Heroes of Rokugan?  Attending Gen Con?

Not really, at least not in the same way of there being anticipation.  For most of the gaming I do, I hope to avoid disappointment.  V:TES would be the one thing I still do that I look forward to.  Now, more so when I know the other players as, for me, it’s a casual game to be savored for the entertainment factor.

The other aspect of the event, though it does tend to get into RPG commentary, is “pull out the stops”.  Gaming shouldn’t be mundane, repetitive.  This is why I can’t generate much enthusiasm for a lot of games I’m willing to play – there’s no spectacular.  It may be harder for games that live inside the box, like boardgames, but there can be the “holy ay caramba!” moments in games.  CoE-X was epic.  Games can be epic.

Sure, much easier for RPGs to be epic, which is why I gravitate towards an inclination to prefer and/or favor theoretical RPG play.  But, sometimes Jake Washington ousts two players.

Finally, CoE-X gets into reasons for wanting to play a superhero RPG, even if just a one-shot.  I do think comics still have an advantage in that actors can’t always come across as badass as drawings can, but live actiony, special effects flavored entertainment gets closer and closer to rendering the images that have made people care about supers.

You don’t just have powers, you have a place in a world as an ultrabeing.  You live a huger than life … er … life.  The fate of the “world” is in your hands.  I probably mentioned playing Wasp in a convention game.  I may have mentioned looking in the Destroyer’s visor and pulling Surtur’s sword (Twilight Sword?) free because Iron Man failed his saves.  Supers embody ideals.  They aren’t realistic for good reasons.  Wolverine’s popularity can be in part attributed to calling forth the ideals of being the ultimate survivor, of being the ultimate tough (not strong) guy.  Green Lantern’s oath doesn’t sound all that cool when you say it … unless of course the Sun is being consumed by space darkness.

Now, next crossover should have Jay Garrick, Supes, Nyssa (because everything is better with Nyssa), Deathstroke?, Legionnaires, and a green ring.


Strength

November 19, 2017

I got inspired to develop a theme, on the way back from the park this morning.

Plans for physical exertion got cancelled, so I did something I do a couple of times in the Fall/Winter, I went and shot some hoops.  Aside1, I don’t play basketball – I enjoy shooting hoops, by myself, when it’s cold, don’t care if it’s raining or if there is ice on the ground.  Aside2, one might think I think to do this because it’s NBA season, but I don’t think so.  I think it has more to do with weather and vague recollections of going out on Christmas mornings and shooting some while food was being prepared.  There’s Spring when it might not be hot and, yet, I don’t recall thinking too often about it in the Spring.  Well, also, I suppose in the last decade or whatever, there’s my allergies to keep me from going outside.

So, I was walking back and got to thinking about my coworker struggling to carry a 50 pound bag of rice around for our company’s annual food drive (to give context, that’s around half her weight; half my weight wouldn’t be that easy for this decrepit body).

In this world, there are applications for strength.  Moving furniture/books/whatever.  Opening bottles.  Tightening and untightening whatever.  Sports.

Because I’m prone to bad habits and didn’t stretch afterwards, I’ll likely be sore tomorrow as I can feel my shoulders, back, and abs work just expending these meager efforts launching a ball into the air, unlike when I was younger and more resilient.

So, gaming.

Will get to CCG play in a moment.

I tend to avoid STR builds in RPGs.  I found Conan d20’s focus on STR to be dull.  I’ve never been all that interested in STR in L5R, even when I got to STR-4 with my Hare.  I had a STR/Potence character or two written up in Vampire, but I don’t think I played them.  I will have STR when the game virtually requires it, of course.  I just don’t find it all that interesting.

Yet, it’s a foundation attribute.  While some RPGs will do Body or Physical or whatever that incorporates strength, agility, and/or endurance, it’s extremely common to distinguish between STR and DEX.  One of the simplest games I have that is kind of a RPG (but not really) is Melee, and it has STR and DEX and, with those, STR builds and DEX builds and balance builds.

What RPG do I enjoy STR in?  Not Champions, though, to be fair, I’ve spent almost all of my Champions energy building characters and virtually none playing.  Still, I’m not into straightforward bricks, though superstrength is so common that there are concepts I could probably get behind.  I do like gods, after all.

In Stormbringer 1e, INT and POW attracted me.  But, I digress.

To me, even given how versatile comicbook strength is, STR just comes across as simplistic and inflexible and blatant.  I’m not into blatant.  It’s not even necessarily subtle abilities so much as surprising abilities.  I like fight anime, where abilities keep getting unlocked.

So, CCG play, which is something I was going to write about before I got to philosophizing.

I have now played as many L5R games outside of tournaments as in tournaments.

Andy and I played new decks.  I played Crab for the first time.  He played Phoenix.  While his deck may have been challenging, it was such a change to play a clan that wasn’t Unicorn level difficult.  I get to play good characters.  I don’t just spend lots of actions to replace the Spyglasses and Favorite Mounts I put on wusses.  I Way of the Crab away Kaede and others.  I flop triple Kisada on the last round.

In the second game, I played Unicorn against someone newer to the game than I.  I won, but it still had aspects of “I’m not really scary in, like, any way.”  Of course, I was still playing a deck with no 4’s and 5’s.

I have been saying and will likely beat this dead pony many more times that it’s good for me to play a competitive two-player CCG because it forces me to play good decks, something multiplayer CCG play has never really forced me to do.  Good being powerful.  Good having strength.

I’m supposedly a Spike, but I’m sure there’s some Timmy (and Johnny).  Big numbers don’t excite me.  Efficiency excites me.  I like ruthless beats in my friendly two-player play (doesn’t appeal that much to me in tournament play, a sign that I will never achieve Hatamoto or anything notable).  I just like doing it with a bunch of weefolk, removal, and reach.

So, I rejiggered my Unicorn deck to put 4’s and 5’s back in with some new tech to try to be more scary.  But, while that happened, I keep trying to figure out how to avoid playing 4’s and 5’s with other clans in the name of weefolk efficiency.  I’m so not Voltronesque, even if it amuses me for Jake Rattlebones to get up to 17 Fighting.

In L5R, having reach without 4’s and 5’s seems to be the issue.  Sure, one can lunge with a multitude of cards, especially Banzai, but it’s so card intensive when your dudes are running around with strength two, that it fails even being viable.  Maybe changes in cardpool will do something about making doofi scarier, but I have a feeling I actually become more dependent upon big stats as I try to cut down on Fine Katana and Ornate Fans and any other buffing attachment dependencies.

Speed, agility, surprises, tech – I strive for these things even when I’m trying to win.  Only when brute force amuses me, like my Type P deck that is collecting dragons, do I embrace raw, unbridled hugeosity.

Even if I get more competitive, I still will likely find a way to be unsatisfied winning off of the backs of Shoju or Kisada or like any champion besides the purple, sucky one.  On the other hand, I might have to break down and play Scorpion, as Kachiko might even seduce someone as principled as I given that I’m already a big fan of Scorpion Dropbears and find possibilities for amusing Scorpion splashes out of triple core.


Living Legends

October 28, 2017

I’m sure the most fascinating thing I could write about is how Arrowverse shows generally improved after the season openers, especially Flash.  No?  How about about how I’m catching up on season 10 of Doctor Who and I was quite interested in things up until the terrible parts 2 and 3 of the monk trilogy?  Nyet?

What about the Shadowfist Kickstarter that is moving slow?  I guess at some point, games just die.  I certainly feel like there aren’t enough people actually playing to generate enough backers to make it happen.

Okay, let’s talk about something that will stir your soul, well, at least if part of your soul is floppy.

Last Sunday, I played in a L5R LCG tournament.  Single core, which almost everyone is done with, so it’s kind of irrelevant how the decks were built.

I played Lion, not because I’m so into … [redacted].  But, because the first thing anyone should ever learn in card game play is aggro, beatdown, 3 to the dome – one.  Two, Kitsu Spiritcaller could have supplied brokenness in a single core environment to a degree higher than the benefit in a 3x core.  Yup, I was trying to build a good deck.

In preparation for the tournament, I had to deal with family stuff, so I didn’t prepare.

Round 1:

Bye.

Round 2:

Play against Kenneth with Phoenix/Scorpion.  Single core tech?  Adept of Shadows is a body (not that kind of body, well, who knows?).  I had body problems in the end.  This proved rather important as, when we were getting short on time, I conceded to the overwhelming power of his two Wandering Ronin with fate on them.

I felt I learned some things.  In this game.  My first ever tournament game.  My second ever game.

I felt I learned that I’m not an expert at this game and not only made some serious decision mistakes but forgot card abilities at times, including the Imperial Favor pump.  Here’s the thing as the real world intrudes upon the better world of gaming – I said to our latest hire in my department “I don’t care if people are stupid.  I care if they don’t get less stupid.” or something similar.  Point being, I believe learning is important.  I still make terrible Shadowfist decisions, as evidenced by Thursday night’s play, but I think I make decent decisions within our meta a reasonable amount of time.

I learned that Wandering Ronin is like the best card ever … when the only two characters your opponent can play from their dynasty flop is two Miya Mystics.  Actually, given the format, admittedly an irrelevant format at this point, Wandering Ronin is actually a house.  It can deal with conflict type flipping, which, of course, I ran into playing against Phoenix under the stronghold.

I had 13 fate when I conceded.  It was an amusing game and a key part of my, yes, committing to L5R, so now I’m some fanatic who must pledge his reincarnatable spirit to a single clan as well as a weirdo dice chucker.  I was at 5 honor, with three broken provinces and two cards left in my dynasty deck, though, we could have theoretically survived the round … Kenneth was at 2 honor.  Yup, typical Lion vs. Phoenix – see if you can somehow not honor suicide yourself.  Btw, I never drew one of the Assassinations in this game.  I’ll get to honor more, soon.

Last two cards of my deck were Toturi and Matsu Berserker (useless due to playing against Phoenix).  My Spiritcaller got face down broken pretty early on.

Kenneth’s average card bid?  I figure about 1.2.  I lost honor multiple times bidding 2.  Welp, that’s Shadow- … er … L5R.

Round 3:

Erinn was also playing Lion but went with … hmmm … I should have written this earlier in the week, I actually can’t remember.

My intention when putting together the deck was to play the fate game.  Figure Lion lose on the conflict card side so just manage fate better and have more permanents with better abilities.  I somehow didn’t really play that game in my first tournament game ever.  I did in this game.  At the point where I could Stand Your Ground to keep Honored General in play with multiple other dudes or the round I started with like 5 dudes in play to his zero, I figured I had the game.

We were running low on time because this game plays slow, especially with people who – get this – play tournaments without dozens of games under their belt.  I set up to break third and attack stronghold in last round, Assassinationing his attempt to win a conflict on the round because, oddly, neither one of us was that low on honor.  His average bid?  Maybe about 1.2.

I did cheat to a degree in that I had two Favorite Grounds and a Spyglass on a dude and drew three cards, but I ended the game with like 9 cards in hand to his 3, where his two Ornate Fans didn’t help defend in my military conflict against his stronghold.

What did I learn?  Putting fate on Wandering Ronin is like totally broken …  I should try this play in triple core and see how it fares.  Sarcasm aside, I hated flopping Miya Mystics most of all.  Otomo and Seppun consistently screw me not just because I often don’t have the Favor but … new paragraph for emphasis time …

So much of what I read was how dashes were often better than zeroes as it meant people couldn’t hook you or duel you or whatever.  Well, dueling is not a thing in single core in that I don’t know if a single duel took place during the tournament.  What is a thing is conflict type swapping.  What is a thing is chumping to preserve honor.  I would love for the Imperials to have zeroes so that when I can’t attack with them, they can actually do something besides stand for Favor.

I’m now somewhat katana shy on dashers.  In fact, I’m more excited by 1/1’s for 1 due to dorkiness.  I can murder provinces if I can just get someone to attack.  I can chump block.  Is this relevant for triple core?  For real constructed next month or the month after when something besides a tiny card pool exists?

Maybe.  Actually, bunch of deck ideas already for me, including the all neutral, all the time deck, the Unicorn political honor runner, Dragon swarm, etc.

Round 4:

We didn’t have a round four.  We did have a raffle.  With three tickets in the raffle, I managed to fail to get any of 20 or so raffled prizes in a 15 player tournament.  I think one other player, with possibly a worse record, therefore fewer tickets, shared this honor.

That contributed to a general feeling I had.  I played all of two games.  I lost a game I felt like I could have won if I had made any of a number of decisions better.  I blew out my opponent in my only real win.  I got no meaningful participation prize.  It was just a generally disappointing and frustrating experience.

And, yet, I still decided to go get more cards.

I find that neither V:TES nor Shadowfist metagames matter to me.  Not that V:TES doesn’t have metagames for various tournaments, they just aren’t predictable enough for me to take advantage of them.

Trying to be competitive, trying to build good decks, having card analysis and metagame analysis theoretically give me an edge, playing more games with more people – these are good things.

Okay, so what’s wrong with L5R?

Already went into how easy it is to get honored out of the game.  My concern is that honor will continue to suck, possibly becoming even worse.  Think about it.  In order for a deck to win with 25 honor, not currently realistic, it has to be able to deal with taking at least some honor hits.  In order for a deck to honor murder you, you have to not be rising towards 25 honor.  Sure, FFG can print swingy honor effects so that honor murder and honor happytimes can fight with each other and somehow have a meaningful game, though I doubt it will happen – I think one or the other has no chance.  But, that’s not the biggest problem.  The biggest problem is what happens when one of these extremes fights the middle.  If I can gain like 5 honor a round to make 25 plausible, the deck in the middle which is playing enough honor gain to fight the lose 3 honor a round decks can’t really do anything.  Well, that’s overstating.  They may not be able to do anything.  It is possible to create card pools where players can metagame.

But, how does the middle deck deal with both extremes in a meta?  An honor murder deck isn’t viable unless it can murder an honor runner.  Natural meta reaction is to give up on honor murder if everyone becomes enamored with running, which is its own problem.  But, let’s say that honor murder remains viable.  Then middlers have to deal with even more race to the bottom.

It might have been interesting if the range for honor was like 0 to 15 and clans started at like 8.  The range from 0 to 25 is vast and calls for especially swingy effects.  I guess this is a serious, ultracompetitive CCG, so players adapt and run enough cards to not have the extremes win before you can break dance, plus the extremeys run enough break dancing to have game.

Other than the honor thing, and the offensive tournament rules (apparently standard for FFG because … I have no idea why companies hate so much on players playing things that are supposed to be fun), I don’t really have a problem with the game, based on my vast and near infinite play experience.  Maybe I’ll hate more later.

Because other topics aren’t likely to generate enough inspiration for their own posts because somebody is the antipithy master, a quick comment about RPG modules.

I keep looking at my D&D, AD&D modules from like the 80s, and I am mostly pained.  I realized I despise the layout.  Contrast with HoR mods.  HoR mods have a story with admittedly limited rails.  These old mods have dungeons with treasure and monsters just incomprehensibly allocated to provide challenges largely of three types:  traps, beef fights, special ability fights.  I guess I can comment more on things like UK1 some day, but I just wanted to throw out that I actually kind of like I2, Tomb of the Lizard King.  Oh, I have no idea whether it works mechanically, but it feels like there’s something more than rolling on random dungeon tables for monsters and treasures.  Ironically, for the serious dungeon crawling group, it has a major fail in that it isn’t remotely clear how you move to the end of the adventure.  I suppose a real DM will notice and put stairs on level 2 going down.

May have been something else, but I think that’s good for now.  Got to finish up my Dragon deck, figure out what splash to do for the third of my test decks.  Of course, if those three are my test decks, what’s “my” deck going to be?  Crab?  Crane is too … Craney.  Phoenix may be too Phoenixy.  You know, Unicorn does actually have a few cards I like.  Courtier/monk, honor runner it is.


Flopping – Part Two

October 15, 2017

The new TV season started (for me).  Supergirl, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow … nah, no pattern to what I watch at all.

Let’s work backwards.  I’m going to rant about shows and point out how this is relevant to RPG play.

Arrow

More than any other premiere, I just didn’t care what was going on.  Arrow did the worst job of following up on the season finale, which is saying something for these shows.  Is this because they don’t know how to do season premieres?  I would say it’s because they don’t know how to do season finales.  Do not have cliffhangers.  Cliffhangers are for when you follow up with a new episode immediately afterwards, like a week or two afterwards.  Cliffhangers work … when you give a damn what’s going to happen and can even remember what was happening.  I have only vague recollections of what happened in the season finales, which has something to do with how not great the season finales were, as well.

What is enjoyable about superheroes?  Right, as I said, antiangst.  What do we get in TV?  Wrongness.  Angsty wrongness.  Parenting issues.  Yup, that’s why I watch.

Here’s what I want out of Arrow episodes:  Ollie is working on his new trick arrow.  Ollie has a date with some hottie who doesn’t know he’s green on the outside, when Nyssa shows up and keeps saying “Husband, …”.  Secret identities are not for producing angst – comics actually tend to do a pretty good job with secret identities much of the time – secret identities are for humor and for those rare cases when you get inspired by the protagonist’s dual life.  You know what show did a good job with SIs?  Batman, ’60s Batman.  There was some humor.  There were times when supporting characters told Bruce or Dick about how great the caped crusaders are.  Anyway, humor ensues with Ollie doing stuff while not giving away his greenness.  Ollie wins fight at end with new trick arrow.  Do not bog down legit superhero stories with tedious melodrama.

Was last season better?  Sure.  Was last season great?  No.  Was last season good?  At times, but I got really tired of the endless losing by the protagonists.  TV back in my youth was so different.  It was episodic.  Protagonists won all of the time, and we were satisfied.  Nowadays, you take from the soap opera model of yesteryear and have losing, losing, losing.

RPG:  Don’t do cliffhangers unless you plan on playing again when everyone can still remember what’s going on.  Do not bring children into adult stories.  Do not go to the same dumb well over and over again – just accept the conventions of the genre like how SIs are for the SH to have an internal monologue about how they will keep their secret while actually doing fun stuff.  Get rid of fights that look generic – SH fights are cool because they emphasize the specialness of what the SH is doing in the fight, whether it’s cleverness, unlocking a new level, unlocking a new power.  Have PCs win, often.

Legends of Tomorrow

In its first season, the most cringeworthy show (unless you hate the progressive politics of shows like Supergirl).  At times, the most watchable of the four because it’s trying to be fun.

Season premiere’s problem:  the fun is repetitive and too broad for me.  I don’t enjoy the brofest between Nate and Ray.  Nate’s character has often not been good and the bro-ing only makes Ray seem like a joke.  Firestorm is completely wasted in every way virtually all of the time.  The best moments still tend to be Canary, Heat Wave, Cold making amusing remarks.  Then, LoT was about the less important proving they were important.  The premiere just hammers on the lovable loserness of the crew.  Few losers are lovable.  Sure, I watched Gilligan’s Island, but I also watched TV on TVs that had dials, where one of them was black and white and I had to adjust its ears.  I watched shows I hated, like I Love Lucy, because must show proper obedience to the tube.

There’s a huge time travel problem with the show.  Not that time travel is done all that well in any show I can quickly recall, but let me give some props to Doctor Who for something.  Doctor Who does future stories right, in that the Doctor and his companions can make the future better.  LoT cannot make the future better the way they play it.  All they can do is stop making it worse.  That’s depressing.  Have to fix things all of the time is not fun.  Let the future not be a case of worse and worse options.

What I want to see from LoT:  Mix up the character interactions as Stein is fine when he’s not interacting with Jefferson and the bro-down needs to chill.  Stop pushing how much these SHs are losers.  Stop focusing on fixing the time stream so it can be “meh” rather than catastrophic.  Show more cleverness in the humor.  Have Firestorm be an interesting SH, so bring on cosmic powered villains who can match his level in one-on-one contention.  Have better gender balance so that we can have relationship stuff that isn’t so limited.  Rip isn’t all bad but limit him so that we don’t feel the loser history of the group.  Have Amy show up in non-catfishing mode looking good.  Bring back villains doing their own thing because villains are way, way more interesting when they don’t just exist to be defeated (actually, this is hugely important for every SH show).

RPG:  Villains can be cool.  Let them be.  Don’t go for the same humor over and over again, especially when it’s not nearly as entertaining as other, more clever humor.  Don’t make the PCs seem like losers.  Don’t make the PCs feel like their crusade is just one of keeping the status quo.  Tell more personal stories rather than having to have spotlight time make everything groupful.  Have serious fights, like Firestorm bleeding nuclear fire from half his body as he faces off against a godlike power.

Flash

Talk is about how they are trying to bring the fun back.  What you probably need is to bring Harrison back because he was the reason season one started off amazing, well, sure, there was also the fun that Barry had.

Repetitive.  That’s how it felt, which just made Arrow that much more of a slog because I had already gone through the been to the speedforce, done the speedforce.

Was there anything in the premiere that was enjoyable rather than tolerable?  Danielle can look good, but it requires effort – Killer Frost tended to look way better, for instance.  Don’t do the white t-shirt look.  I know, this is rather specific to my interests, but I’m kind of the one writing.  Felicity would be so much better on this show, if possibly only for a while.  I’m having trouble remembering anything I liked about this episode.  Barry may not act emo, but change the haircut so that I can forget his emo days.  Cisco is so much cooler than Vibe – a little bit of Vibe goes a long way.

What I want:  Interesting power interactions between superspeed and the villains’ powers.  Superspeed is a hugely problematic power because you are a god and speedforce type superspeed is even worse because you can alter reality pretty … quick.  The villains have to have a plan to counteract.  Speed on speed was obviously overdone and got really boring much of the time.  Bring back the fun of things like Barry and Caitlin hanging out.  Iris should hang more with Cisco, perhaps.  Contrast the ridiculous power level of superspeed with the mundane.  I enjoy more the idea of superspeed food runs than much of the drama.  I kind of liked the police force being a character – give them more to do besides getting wrecked – not talking about giving Joe more to do.  Joe can be good but also just seems redundant a lot of the time in preaching same old, same old.  Stop forcing the season to be all or nothing, which is not a premiere problem but a general problem in the past.

RPG:  You can tell fun stories with powerful characters, but it requires thought.  Even if you put thought into it at first, it’s hard to avoid the trap of going to the same well over and over because that’s thematic or mechanically viable.  Supporting characters can be fun, but they need to breathe.  Mix PCs up.  Don’t forget your setting.

Supergirl

Angsty Kara.  Yeah …  Season two started off Class 1000 strong.  Why?  You know who the best character in Supergirl is?  Clark Kent.  No, not Superman.  Superman is aight.  Clark is fun.  Now, sure, can’t have him take over the show.  Instead, have Kara embrace Clark [uh, just cousins, it’s cool].

Of the four, I probably enjoyed Supergirl more, but that could be because it came first, and, rather importantly, it’s season finale didn’t end like the other shows.  There was the least amount of undoing everything that happened, though angry Girl becoming less angry Girl was kind of pointless doing/undoing.

Even Arrow because it’s a DC SH show, but especially the other three need to get more cosmic.  Evil businessman is tired already.  Foreshadowing was fine.

Want:  Clarkbar?  I guess not.  Karabar … hmmm … mmmmm?!?  Actually, Kara was pretty tolerable at times when she was at CatCo until the whole whinefest about how Kara wasn’t important began.  Lena.  Lena and Kara.  Not Lena and Supergirl, that just seems a painful path.  Lena and Kara shopping, golfing, working out …  Alex having interesting things to do rather than dwell on how stuff affects her relationship or on fights I don’t really care about.  Maggie getting back to having some of the fun Maggieness, which probably means hanging out with the boys.  Find all of the funny things Supes has done in stories and make more use of that, as I find Kara’s SI the most annoying except … it’s hard to explain, there are times when she’s being reserved at CatCo or wherever that she’s pleasant.  How about more singing?  Do cool things with powers, since you are a god that can do it all, might as well do goofy power stuff for entertainment value.  Date Ollie, at least twice.

RPG:  While some similarities to Flash in that you have godlike PCs, even more than Flash, need to think through how using powers can be fun and not OP or repetitive.  If given godlike PCs, focus on the soap opera, especially a soap opera you can have with a Lena or a Maggie, who both seem like they just want to cast off the angst and have fun.  Jimmy was Supes’ sidekick, maybe have actual fun sidekicks.  Don’t make your PCs unpleasant for melodrama purposes.  Realistic emotions is better than arbitrary wild extremes.  Foreshadow NPCs.  Change the qualitative nature of challenges so that the focus isn’t on power but on how cosmic powered PCs face cosmic level challenges through interesting resolution.

Arrowverse

Most of all, do crossovers.  Take advantage of characters not burdened with their same old tiresome problems and give them a wild party of SHing … or have them date each other.  Green is so much more pleasant when he’s hanging with Red.  Green and Alien should hang more often.  LoT is a bit of a problem because of number of characters, but I also like the supporting characters mixing it up, so it’s not that much different.  Canary and Nyssa making sarcastic comments while Green and Alien are working together – that’s unobtainium.  Firestorm and Martian going full on (please not against Kryptonited Supes but like an actual villain) against big bad.  Guest star some Wonder because who wouldn’t want more Wonder?

RPG:  Give the world enough depth that other characters interact in interesting ways with it.  Maybe players have multiple PCs who mix things up, like an Ars Magica troupe.

Well, here’s to hoping I’m more invested in second episodes.


Anti Death And Dismemberment

October 7, 2017

Well, dismemberment isn’t really the likely result.  Disintegration is probably more likely.

So, it’s not that I haven’t looked at, skimmed, and even read my AD&D 1e books and modules in the last 35+ years.  It’s that they have low penetration because I’ve used so little of the game besides Polymorph Self followed by Invisibility in order to polymorph into a Storm Giant and backstab other giants.  You know, compared to what you see in mods for optimal PC play, that actually seems reasonable.

The material is inspiring to some degree.  Oh, not much of it.  Most of it is boring as hell.  Some of it is amusing if not quite to the same level as Temple of Set lunacy.  Treasure locations and types are particularly bizarre.

Just to be positive because everyone knows I’m all about the positive, monsters, magic items, and locations are what I find most inspiring.  I realize the intent of towns in mods is to provide adventure, which is why half of every town seems to be evil rather than just being people trying to live their lives in worlds where monsters can attack at any time from any direction.  Still, towns are just so much more interesting than dungeons.  Even when towns are treated like dungeons, where every location has stats and treasure notes.

While lots of monsters are absurd/silly, there are actually evocative monsters.  Something about ghouls.  I can’t stand level drain (should be attribute loss of some sort), but other undead are also more interesting.  Not so much liches, at least not when a mod just throws a lich into a side passage.

Almost all DMG magic items just come across as insanely gamey, but, that’s probably because AD&D is a gamistfest of gamistness.  Meanwhile, mod magic items or the odd stuff NPCs might have are more akin to the distinctive items folks in books might actually have.

Segue time …

I tried to think of what magic items book characters run in series I have taken seriously.  Stormbringer is a special case, but, sure, magic swords are a thing.  Elric even runs around with a magic ring, gets a magic shield at some point, and whatever.  Actually, magic items are rather important in Moorcock’s other stuff.

I can think of cases where characters have special equipment that isn’t magical but is, uh, special.  Jon-Tom has his staff and his cape.  Actually, when trying to think of what sort of magic items are more likely (ignoring stuff like Arabian Nights’ style stories which tend more towards fairy tale style), cloaks are it.  Cloaks totally get play.  Corum had a magic cloak.  Invisibility is super relatively common.

I have ideas I’m putting down for an adventure.  Magic cloak for PC totally works for me in ways that so many other things don’t.  I could buy a staff (not a wand or a rod, unless it was Egyptian style scepter or the like), I guess.  Weapons, to a degree.  Sting was fine because it fit, even though how the party got those swords was grade A dungeon crawl stuff.  The big problem with weapons is that someone else can just take it from you and be that much more badass, whether someone who downs you in a fight or another party member who would use it better.

For example, you have two N level fighters.  One has a higher STR to hit/damage bonus, otherwise their stats are essentially identical.  One has a +1 shortsword and the other a +2 broadsword.  Who should wield which weapon?  It’s not like Mudge uses a shortsword because he’s compact and all about speed and Jon-Tom uses a long staff that gets longer because he’s unusually tall and not much of a weapons expert.  In terms of team optimization, either balance things by giving better weapon to lower STR lass or unbalance things and make stronger lass just better.  Same with armor.  I was looking at one module where a multiclass character had much lower HP but had a Ring of Regeneration.  Sure, that makes sense, but doesn’t it make more sense to just pass around the Ring tactically?

RuneQuest has you bind magic items a lot of the time.  I find it to be a terrible mechanic, but it does address the problem that equipment is just, er, equipment.  This is why I hate equipment that matters.  My style of FRPG would see fighters do more damage based on things like level or based on skill level, with STR following, finally maybe care about your stuff (well, obviously, magic stuff is going to be better than non-magical stuff).  I know games have done something like this.  L5R, to an extent, does this sort of thing with techniques that add damage or attacks, though a k3 katana is way better than a k2 katana.  Power Attack, et al, in d20 works this way, but, then, every fighter is going to have Power Attack, so back to being dependent upon equipment for differentiation.

Of course, it’s not just non-spellcasters.  Even magic-users are frequently going to focus on using things like wands to supplement how few spells they cast.  “I’ll whip out my Wand of Annoyances and do 1d2 damage.  Hey, Gindalf, you have any charges left on your Rod of Explosive Decompression?”

Speaking of death … oh, I wasn’t?

Speaking of death, I didn’t use to pay much attention to HP for pregen PCs or monsters.  I’m focusing more on that sort of thing because I realize that when you have a 12hp PC, it’s going to die young, unless it’s Neutral or Evil.  Get it?  Not just a joke, more likely the N or E PCs are going to split when the going gets dangerous.  But, I’m also paying more attention to how many attacks it will take a PC to off a monster, which is basic stuff, I know, but I gloss over the dull ubiquity that is numbers in mods.

Speaking of deadliness, I do find it humorous when the module calls out how dumb highly intelligent monsters are for using weapons when their natural attacks are far more dangerous.  But, go with it because you want to give the PCs some hope of surviving.

I’m anti-death.  Oh, sure, there are compelling arguments around how it destroys any sense of narrative when you just replace one victim with another victim.  But, that’s not my problem so much.  I just don’t see the point of not caring about your characters and that’s what random death does.  I’ve heard people talk about how much they loved certain characters for how they survived the massacrefest that is oD&D.  Sure, but that’s in the style of playing something more akin to a boardgame (one might even say a … wargame).  I’ve played way more RuneQuest than oD&D and I really couldn’t care less about any of my characters or anything they do because they are just waiting to die.  Oh, I did more enjoy the troll I played because he wasn’t guaranteed to die in half the fights, though he still never lived beyond one dungeon (in campaign play that was mostly wilderness encounters).  Even with ubiquitous resurrection so that you can keep playing the same PC, it’s just some numbers on a sheet of paper that gets murdered by numbers in a book.

On the other hand, if you play a game where death is as common as Rot Grubs, you are depriving people of the experience by allowing them to avoid falling for 20d6 damage.  It’s like a different game.  A weird game where monsters don’t devour you or turn your skin slimy … and then take your place in the party only to betray it later.

Maybe that’s the thing.  Forget campaign play.  It’s all about one-shots-in-the-head.  Play it tournament style where you score points for how successful team looter is.  Yes, that’s the model for various boardgames these days, but what sort of campaign do you have when the only continuity is Grog17, cousin to Grog16?

I still find parts of AD&D charming.  It still entertains me to stat up a group of teenage “gang” members even if I have no idea whether any of their thief skill percentages are good enough to matter.

One way I’m different is I find Deities & Demigods to be quite inspiring.  But, then, I like mythology.  I’m not going to have PCs fight gods so I’m not terribly worried about what spells a god can cast 1/day, but somewhere, between the numerical nonsense, you get something.  The art helps.  I like AD&D 1e art, when it’s serious, and am not bothered when it’s cartoonish.  I guess so does having some idea about who the various deities are besides what AC they have, what their Magic Resistances are, etc.

So, one can run something any which way but Chaotic Neutral.  …  What I meant to say was that it’s possible to steal small amounts of 1e and run something that interests me, 100% storyteller, more.  In theory.

In practice, well, maybe I’ll generate enough interest to try it.  And, if it doesn’t work, just switch systems to Fantasy Hero … then Stormbringer 1e … then The Fantasy Trip … then Weapons of the Gods … then Maelstrom … then 7th Sea 2e …

 


Hazard Play

October 1, 2017

I built two Commander decks.  Both use the same Commander because it’s a three color legend I can find.  Coincidentally(?), one of my decks has a warrior thing going on and the Commander is a warrior.

I almost got a new V:TES deck done yesterday … for a session that never happened.  I suffered injury before I could complete the deck.  Old age?  Stricken down by higher powers?  Don’t try to move around heavy boxes of cards in cramped spaces without care for one’s back?  That the deck runs at least three cards on my personal banned list would suggest higher powers, but, since my back still hurts, maybe not everything can be blamed on malevolent spirits.

I am in the process of reading AD&D 1e materials.  Clearly, True Dungeon got me thinking about oD&D, while there’s this recurring question as to whether oD&D materials are actually useful for anything except humor.

I have an inkling of a goal.  Maybe I abandon it before it becomes a second stage inkle.  I’m actually thinking of using AD&D mechanics for a non-VRPG (videogame RPG) experience.  First thing to do is strip out things that I don’t consider relevant, like races.  Then, put back in racial modifiers for different tribes of humans; just kidding, possibly, or not.  One questions why not just use Conan d20, a system known to be playable, unlike the highly questionable system where a PC might have 9 hit points at level 5 (using max HP at first level for this magic-user).

Already arbitrary to start PCs at 38,000 XP (or so), rather than have players enjoy moving up through levels in the old school, Survivor-style play. Then, I have a vague idea for how to roll attributes that will lead to superiorites rather than loserites, like how the DMG offers up a variety of ways to not start out with a loserite.

Far less weird to play something else, like Fantasy Hero with 150 point characters or whatever, though as much as I’m curious about playing a basic FH campaign or a mythological FH game, part of the idea was to take only that which I find charming in AD&D and rip out a bunch of mechanics that mean nothing to me, like weapon to hit modifiers based on opposing armor type.  Or, do I rip out those mechanics …?

How to deal with magic items?

My view on magic items is that they should always be personal and specific.  Sure, once upon a time, I thought in terms of +3 Frostbrands and whatnot, but no more.  A magic item is special and not just something you will to your replacement PC for when you are guaranteed to fail your disintegrate save while your magic items pass.

That requires work.  See, that’s the thing.  You can play anything anyways you want given enough work.  But, the more work, the less it makes sense to bother since there’s, like, a lot of alternatives and one or two alternatives are better.

What’s really going on?

Lack of something to focus around.  I’m looking for something different because I don’t have V:TES or Shadowfist or HoR or “other” to keep my brain energies channeled.  I’m mentally wandering, looking to be entertained.

If I play Commander or run AD&D or find something else to latch on to for a bit until Gamehole Con pushes TD to the fore again, well, that’s fine.  This is why I’m a gamer and not elsenkind.

How to deal with spells in a less gamist experience?  No idea.  Sure, memorize that Feather Fall when the likelihood of it doing anything is:  implausible.  It’s not like Dungeon-451, part 8, wherein the party has gotten to level 5 of the dungeon and discovered a mighty waterfall guarded by owlbears and xorn.  Sorry, I played some AD&D but not enough ever to see Feather Fall or a host of other spells cast.  My magic-user/thief would just Polymorph Self all of the time, anyway, so I could always fly while scouting/fighting.

Maybe abandon the charm of AD&D as written with tons of expurgations.  Have clerics and magic-users (I’m thinking avoid druids for the moment and illusionists seem bizarrely pointless) just cast whatever they like up to their spell slot limits each day to allow for flexibility.  Well, whatever they like except limits on known spells and deity approval.

What sort of armor do PCs wear?  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

I don’t really like the D&D paradigm in the first place.  I just want to use classes because I suddenly have this enthusiasm for classes and distinct abilities.  Actually, I was hoping to have rangers and paladins cast spells, but I forgot how high level they need to be to do that.  Definitely not dealing with 9th+ level characters in systems I’m less familiar with.

It is amusing to pay more attention to the ridiculous.  Sure, I have Best of Dragon Magazine I, II, and III, so I have consolidated articles on why monks and bards are absurd mechanically and could be done differently.  Nope.  Monks and bards don’t exist.  Now, psionics …  If you ignore psionic attacks/defenses and just looked at the powers, those are almost a functional magic system.  Not really, as some are just completely over the top, but Cell Adjustment is like how healing should kinda sorta work.

People played the game.  A lot.  Not sure how.  But, they did.

Anyway, the preference would be more V:TES, more Shadowfist deckbuilding, and finding some way to get more RPG play in either my running or someone else running.  It’s time to flame on, er, game on.