The Needle

September 23, 2018

So, let’s talk about golf.  Well, in a moment.

Let’s talk about sports, first.  Why do athletes get paid nine figure contracts?  Because there’s money in popular stuff.  The world is an opulent place (with high levels of variance in personal wealth, of course).  A boardgame KS with cool minis [ha] can get you $4.2m.  On the other hand, two people I know have companies/organizations fundraising at the moment.  One company is working on drugs to combat the typical effects of aging.  The other group would be a group that involves my brother who has found a film festival to show the Abaarso School film he made and who is working on building a bunch of schools in Somaliland.

Woodstock Film Festival Somaliland

Yup, sports.  Wait.

Sports.  Sports are entertainment.  One of the things that tends to get forgotten when commentators obsess over winning and losing, where winning often correlates to popularity but isn’t the be all and end all of popularity.  Sometimes, you can claim the lovable losers category, have sellouts for a decade while losing, keep players around to give your team a sense of identity rather than come up with a “process” or chasing the Moneyiest Ball of them all.

But, also, sports are an activity that quite a few can relate to.  In watching The Needle move this weekend, I was asked about taking up golf and noted that it was the most frustrating sport I tried up until fencing.  It’s so much more fun to exclaim at a TV (yes, I’m that old school that I don’t say monitor) about “just hit 2 iron, then middle of the green” than actually want to be hot, sticky, muddy, and frustrated by topping a ball, which are vague recollections I have from high school.  Meanwhile, I wish I could find a good wall to throw a tennis ball against to see how messed up my shoulder really is or whether it’s just lack of training.

Golf is an international sport, so I imagine that unless something weird is going on at the moment in the world of futbol, Tiger is the biggest sports story in the world.

Story.  Stories.  Finally, I get to my theme.

I was at a birthday BBQ yesterday and there was a point during conversation where there was a question as to whether what makes the better story is what drives human existence or procreating.  Fortunately, this one is easy.

There are multiple aspects to Tiger’s tournament win.  It’s not just another “Will he catch Jack?” or the banal nonstories 24/7 sports coverage likes to obsess over, such as what a sports figure will do after saying something stupid/offensive/politically incorrect.  Get a lot of pointing out how much humans like comebacks, blah blah blah.

Tiger isn’t my favorite golfer, yet I’ve rooted for him more than any other.  LeBron isn’t my favorite NBAer, yet I root a lot for him, Jordan is also not my favorite NBAer, yet it might be hard to tell back when I watched WGN constantly to see Bulls games.  Another aspect of sports is that people’s favorites can be quite arbitrary.  Other than my mother or maybe someone I’ve told, I don’t think there’s any way someone would guess who my favorite MLBer is.  I’ve lived almost my entire life in one region of the States and none of the local teams rate as favorites nor have local players been among my favorites with maybe a rare exception.  There is an incredibly strong pattern to what are many of my favorites, but I don’t think the reader cares – I’m not looking for sports memorabilia as presents.  I’m not really into presents, at all.  Meanwhile, I have often rooted against teams or even individual players because they were rivals to my favorites.

But, I digest.  No, wait, my blog posts aren’t remotely digestings.

So, good stories.  After all, it’s not *that* hard to not tell bad stories.

I come back to the concept of feeling like I’m being challenged in RPG play without necessarily actually being really challenged.  I come back to that, but that’s just one aspect of a good story.  You also need to plotacize your story.  Well, I think so.  Is there a good story without a plot?

To ponder this some, I looked up the definition of plot.  There are good aspects to stories that aren’t part of the definition of plot, sure.  But, do you really have a story if you lack a plot?  Well, I wasn’t much of an English student and I didn’t read most literature that got foisted upon students back in the pre-computer days of my youth, so my feeble mind probably can’t make use of this topic and this is not the direction to be moving in.

“I rolled a 20, then confirmed my crit, and the sinister priest exploded.”  I’m fairly sure this isn’t a compelling story to you all.  This particular description of events is either what happened in a memorable situation I played in or I critted on a 19 and confirmed the crit.  Anyway, that session and the results were meaningful.

I find when GMing that the good stories don’t seem that common.  There are events and dice are rolled and wounds are recovered later and I’m not sure what the story is.  When I play in campaigns, I remember what happens, at least in recent sessions.  Okay, maybe I’m a special snowflake who cares far more about such things to where I devote brainspace to trying to perceive and engage with a narrative.  Except, if that’s the case, how come narrative-ridden offerings are as popular as they are?  Folks must like stories.  Gooder stories.  Wellier stories.

What’s today’s big story?  Tiger wins tournament for first time in 5 years.  Not Justin Rose wins FedEx Cup.  Not Rory choking.

I see the advantage of RPGs over other sorts of games is that you can achieve stories that move the needle for yourselfem to the same degree.  I have, of course, said the same thing before because I wake up a certain Dog all of the time (shout out that there isn’t much of the Year left).

We are in a hiatus period on Rokugan 1600 because of work, work, travel, travel.  I considered filling up some of the down time with stories written by the GM, a GM who doesn’t make memorable villains and therefore reduces the rapturousness of the players.  Behind the scenes views into the lives and times of “Who is that guy?  Whatshisname?” may make events resonate more.

Because, as much as I might like HeroQuest or may have played SSI gold box AD&D games to nondeath, there’s more to existence than procreating.  Maybe.

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Gen Con 2018

August 9, 2018

What is the hookful opening to make everyone want to read about our Gen Con experience?

Let’s talk about food.  Bavarian food.

Maybe you know The Rathskeller chain.  Maybe you have had the traditional Bavarian Gulf Shrimp (North or Baltic) or the traditional Bavarian Southwest Cornbread (Black Forest baby) or the traditional vegetation Greek pasta or the traditional Bavarian Cajun Poppers or the traditional Bavarian Snickers Ice Cream Pie.

We chose to forego such native delicacies and shared a hot wurst platte while I got grilled pork tenderloin with potato pancake and spaetzle noodles and authentic teriyaki BBQ sauce.  The others got other stuff.

It occurred to me after we ate much of the bockwurst, bratwurst, and kielbasse that I could have taken a picture for work and, uh, this blog.  As I said a couple of times, strikes me as a tad odd that you would cook tenderloin to make it not tender, but everything is better with Bavarian teriyaki BBQ sauce, so it was good even in its chewiness.  Pancake was the best thing.

We could have gone back for Snickers Ice Cream Pie, but we didn’t actually have time.

For, you see, in what is a brilliant writing stylistic flourish, it was only our Wednesday night meal that I have described.

So, you may not care about food, but all of this was supreme cleverness to segue into talking about logistics.

“What was the lowlight of the con?” was asked Sunday evening.  I thought it was pretty clearly two things:  I didn’t get enough sleep; I ate too much.  Both would have been solved to some degree by foregoing teriyaki BBQ sauce.  However, the focus was more on when we fly in.  I’ve been old.  I’m oldening.  To fly in Tuesday and sleep continuously would solve a sleep problem but opens up other problems.  Increased hotel expense doesn’t bother me that much.  Taking more time off from work bothers others in addition to me much.

One opinion was to fly out later than 6AM.  Actually, I used to fly out more like 8AM, so I only had to set my alarm for 4AM rather than 2AM to finish getting ready to go to the airport.  I’m not sanguine about flying out after 8AM, also flights tend to happen at similar times.  We can see about a somewhat later flight and see if that makes a difference.

However, besides flight changes and skipping sit down meals, a manifesto is required.  For, you see, we are TDers, at least I’m a token tycoon.  We engage in an activity that one person described as a cross between a haunted house and an escape room [plus shuffleboard].

The Truth (shall reduce structural damage to one’s shoulders, collarbone, back, et al)

  1. I shall not bring tokens to dump on newbs and/or casual players to Gen Con.
  2. I shall not bring tokens to Gen Con solely with the intent of selling or trading them.
  3. I shall not buy, sell, nor trade tokens at Gen Con if it requires meeting up with someone Wednesday.
  4. I shall have normal and hardcore builds that don’t require nightmare/epic tokens prebuilt and arranged in my binders.
  5. I shall have those builds in my Android app.
  6. I shall endeavor to get rid of as many irrelevant tokens (rares and less) from sealed packs, treasure pulls, treasure bags, or whatever as soon as we meet people in the coaching area for a run and not somehow expect anyone to hang around at 1AM to trade, buy, or receive some gift.
  7. I shall not plan on transmuting anything at Gen Con.

Note the frequent use of a term spelled with two words and six letters.  Gen Con is just too short.  It’s too dense (busy).  There just isn’t any time to fiddle with anything that isn’t essential.  Better to just offer to give people $5 to mail something to me than wander around for 15 minutes trying to find someone when I could be sleeping.

Even at GameHole Con where I had nothing to do but TD, fiddling with a bunch of low worth tokens was rather excruciating.

Thursday

And, so three of us begin with Heroes of Rokugan.  For, you see, because gamers are masters of socialism … socialiting …

Anyway, when I was a lone wolf, always on the prowl for booth babes and beer roots (with no ice), I could play games where you were a many-layered archetype or where you made snakes more important to your tribe or where you superheroed in Renaissance Italy.  But, now that we are a pack, we must do two things at Gen Con.  Heroes of Rokugan and True Dungeon.  Two things that aren’t available on Sundays and, thus, make our schedules dumb.

9AM – CIT20

The Soul Goes Forth was the best of our day one mods and the only open library mod we did on day one.  It’s my type of mod, though there should have been more to do.

Sadly for thou, in an attempt to avoid spoilers, even spoilers for things spoiled on Sunday at Gen Con and spoiled in the TD forums, my actual content is virtually nonexistent.  But, don’t worry, I’ll get back to food soon.

2PM – CIT25

The Game didn’t Change because I know nothing about what matters in this campaign so having high status people do stuff meant nothing to me.  The poorest experience of the three mods we did on Thursday.  Too much party arguing over nothing.

7PM – CIT24

The Balance Shifts well to courtiers.  Courtiers who decide all enemies must not survive more than a couple of rounds.  I could see how this could be hard on certain tables.  I don’t recall feeling all that threatened.  It was okay, neither being as surprising as it seemed to want to be nor as challenging as I’m sure it could be for a mid rank mod.

Late – Into the Viper’s Nest

Long thread on the TD forums about how this was not a good intro.  On reddit, you can find people who said they would not play TD again if they hadn’t also done N1 and seen a different dungeon.

I did not care for the puzzles in this 2014 redux intended for newbs.  I totally understand the frustration two of my friends had with room 5 and how they had nothing to do after that.

I enjoyed it.  I like snake themes (hellooo Setite seducers).  I got to play druid for the first time in ages.  I actually wanted to cast Detect Poison and Neutralize Poison.  I entered room 7 with only Resistance left of the spells I was ever going to cast.  I survived with 2hp left at the end.  I didn’t have to make a saving throw in room 5.

Not that you probably have any idea what I’m talking about, but, let’s say that I played TD a long, long time ago and witnessed the devastation that could be wreaked by dancing foes and had the presence of mind to take constructive action.  On the other hand, I’m not a quick thinker.  I know.  You must be shocked that my brain isn’t so perfectly adept at all things that I must be a master of speedextricitous actions of perfect wisdom and calculation.  Nope.  It never occurred to me to say anything to the rest of the party until after I considered the value of players developing good dungeon skills through terminal experience.

Damn, druid is so good.  Can just cast forever both murdering stuff and saving folks.

Not much sleep.

Friday

9AM – CIT26

Whereas Thursday was about sharing mods, Friday was about splitting up since we didn’t expect Andy to do HoR on Friday.  I played the intro mod, which required that I spend no XP from 1PM Thursday to 1PM Friday as I sat at 149 Insight.

I like intro mods.  This was not a good intro mod.  I got value out of it.  Liked it better than any of the other four mods I played at GC, but two of the newbs were completely lost and two others were mostly lost.  This mod is just way too complicated and exotic for newbs.  The very young girl playing the Seppun Guardsman who was a veteran of sorts of HoR play, however, got to win a duel and was quite proficient in the role-playing parts.

2PM – CIT23

Best start ever.  Two of us burned a Luck (because of course it’s “a” and not “the”) on the first activity!

The GM was willing to let someone(s) roll INT/Spellcraft at one point.  I kept saying “Someone … should roll INT/Spellcraft.” in the direction of at least one of our two shugenja (both of which with INT higher than 2) … up until the point that I rolled 2d10 and got a 13.  Then, the moron herald with no knowledge of magic … Honor Rolled …  Ah, the mechanics stories that will live on until my future self blows up the Sun and wipes out the human race [sorry, not all that I see seems to come to pass, so there’s still hope].

After 7PM – N2

So, Andy and I had done N1 at Origins and we figured it would be easier to get into a N1 late in the con.

Lot of forum complaints about how hard N2 was.  I liked it most of all, but, then, I had lots of hit points with my mini barbarian build (10 token) and didn’t realize how much everyone was getting beaten down and not just some of the newer players.  I passed out a number of healing potions at one point.

The most important thing, however, was I got to play my mini-barbarian build that uses … wait for it … this probably means utterly nothing to you … but it’s still going to blow your +1 Fae Blowgun Flute … as its two-handed melee weapon my +1 Quarterstaff.  Yup, my wooden +1 Quarterstaff.  I saw it pop up once, but, apparently, it kept popping out of the disk.

For, you see, I played wizard a lot and had a +1 Quarterstaff as one of my few “relevant” tokens.  It was irrelevant.  Now, I could never bother with a non-focus staff.  But, it’s a two-handed weapon.  A dozen or so years in the making – +1 Quarterstaff beats.  And, now that I’ve proved my amazingosity and my total disdain for being a good player and teammate, I will move on to using only weapons that actually stay in the disks.

Later – N3

This was our improvement over the nearly deadly GC 2017 – back to back runs in a RPG slot rather than everything after a full day of RPGing.  This was the group’s favorite dungeon.  I liked it.  I just liked N2 more, which was prettier to me.  I was struck, though, by how similar puzzles were between dungeons.  I have this sense that TD comes up with clever ideas but tends to go to similar wells too close in proximity to each other.

I played wizard and was not effective in the last fight.  Not effective at all.  I could rant about it, but it didn’t affect my experience here like it may have affected my experience a couple years prior due to the same cause.

Saturday

9AM – Political Interactive

My first announcement at a major political interactive and I chose my words poorly.  Not to say it was related, but the other notable thing was how totally uninterested everyone was in the Imperial Advisor contest.  Nobody ever wanted help from any of the four of us Imperials to choose a candidate.  I may have been lame, but so was that.

The four of us started with five influence chips and the four of us turned in our 20 influence chips.  What was good was that the Crab Lion War sides were much better balanced and more amusing than it sounded like they would be.

Actually, I thought the Battle Interactive premise was weak, but having this event precede it helped immensely, methinks, in building up the clan vs. clan event into something for people to care about.

Playing an Imp in the PI was so, so much better than not.  Previously, I was an irrelevant flunkie who accomplished nothing.  Now, I get to be my own nobody who helps newbs and accomplishes nothing.  Win-win-win.

3PM – Battle Interactive

I was an observer, of course.  Eric chose to join team Observe In Force, where I pushed heavily engaged on the group for our opening round.  We did some arranging to end up with one shugenja and someone who didn’t suck at Battle rolls.

The table GM then told us that I had to make all of the Battle rolls due to my military status and because, for some reason, no delegation from table commander to battle commander to have someone good at something weak actually get to make use of their abilities.  I thought it was funny, but it kind of impacted our entire table and theoretically could have been really punishing to a PC.  It worked out fine for us, but I’ve already tried lobbying for not having military status dictate these things.

So, I rolled my 3d10 (first VP gone) and failed the Tier 2 TN 20 by 1.  I spent my second and last VP in the first round of combat against Matsu Berserkers.  Oh, why?  Why did we have to be on the Crab side?  I’m a huge fan of Matsu, whether Berserkers or the even more feline kind.

Eric finally got to Kenjutsu-Kill and did 98 wounds with his first ever Katana-7 attack.  We were actually in pretty good shape after round one, but decided to go easy because I couldn’t make any TN higher than 15, anyway.  Disengaged Tier 2.

Our shugenja got wrecked.  Team two courtiers, a monk, a shugenja, a Taoist, and the Flower Champion would have been good to go without a world to slay, but we just went for Engaged Tier 2 because some folks are not all that into harshness.  I Honor Rolled to make the roll.  We had to slaughter some poor pussies and their […].  I almost had a full attacking animal ready to reduce me by more than the 20 wounds I had.  Some Initiative manipulation and it ended without Observers In Force carnage.

I did get dinged Honor, though, for pinballing extra attacks off of grappled samurai.  Mechanically bad for me and the mechanical rewards for BIs are pretty lame for the people who play, but it doesn’t bother me as it would be hypocritical to bitch about how dumb grappling is and still feel entitled to abuse it.

I wonder if I would get more value out of GMing BIs.  At their best, they are my favorite thing to do in HoR, so the idea of doing them is ingrained in me, unlike PIs where I’m typically bored after 30 minutes.  But, GMs get interesting things that might shape more interesting characters and so many BIs are monotonous.

Late – N1

Finally, the Paladin and Monk get back to the Astral Plane.  I played fighter, for the first time ever.  I could see playing fighter again, but I never used the reslide and I doubt I would except when things are not going well.

We played this normal.  The 19hp rogue (to my recollection) and a low hp ranger (maybe) both got hit for 8 damage twice in the first room.  That was weird.  It was way better doing the stupid arrange lights puzzle (so, so over coordinating lights in that way) when it was known exactly how to proceed.  Another fight made no sense to me in that the rogue kept getting targeted when the rogue wasn’t overequipped for this run like two of our group were.  I actually participated in the final puzzle room and it was pretty easy.

So, I’m not as big of a fan of N1 as others.  I don’t tend to find puzzle rooms with a physical component (not a physical challenge necessarily) appealing.  The first puzzle in N1 I like, though I think it’s rather easy.  The second sets me off.  The third is a great room, but I just don’t really care.  And, … well, that describes the fourth puzzle room as well.  I just don’t feel stimulated by those sorts of challenges.

Not to say I was super thrilled by the logic problems.  I did like the seven image puzzle in terms of style, just finding the dungeon kind of foreboding, where N2’s bright, snowy features were far more appealing to me.

To be fair, I don’t know that hardly any puzzles really excite me.  One forumite was mentioning not liking role-playing style challenges like Moongate’s first room.  That’s the stuff I love.  I got tired of it after the first couple of times and my efforts weren’t appreciated as much as I appreciated thinking about them before GHC, but I’m all over kneeling before naked hotties, er, and, um, sucking … up to them.  Even when I solve puzzles quickly, I often feel like then the puzzle was too easy.

As much as I didn’t like playing bard, there’s something about bard that is more engaged with the seven room romp to where I could see some effort to do a spellcasting build, of course, that’s helped by my owning Briano’s.

Maybe two hours of sleep.

Sunday

8AM(!!) – Invisible Sun

I was physically struggling.  After my game, Andy brought me bitterish coffee that tasted along the lines of unsweetened tea.  During the game, I was very interested.  The theme appeals to me.  The chrome is a bit much for regular play, but it seems good for convention play.  I just didn’t get to do hardly anything.  Normally, when I have supernatural powers, I find good uses for them.  My main contribution was causing a demon to vomit up a bunch of insects long enough for us to get what we needed.

I’d be willing to get into Invisible Sun, though I have my doubts it will see any more play than Age of Legends, 7th Sea 2e, Weapons of the Gods, et al.

12PM – Spirit of 77

Charlie’s Angels … on the Love Boat … with Ricardo Montalban as a possible Charlie.  Kris tried to prove herself as the new Angel by taking on toughs by herself.  I played Sabrina and lost a close chess match in a Battle of the Network Stars style competition to Captain Stubing.  Jill (party NPC) had to give mouth to mouth to Doc.  Kelly outshot the bartender and brought up her former heroin addiction.  We never did reconcile the divorcing couple who struck me as right out of Love, American Style.

So many of these references and others will make no sense to younger folks.  I want to go back and watch episodes because I don’t really remember them that well.  I watched a ton of TV when I was growing up and it’s largely a blur of impressions rather than detailed knowledge.

Everyone answered my question correctly – four players, four middle-aged men, only one Bosley.

Spirit of 77 strikes me as something to look at for rules light play.  Again, likely just a con game, but maybe not.

And, so we get to the crucial part of the con.

The after con BBQ.  I made a poor decision due to factors that are too involved to articulate and ate a rack of ribs, a cheddar-jalapeno link, and a Sugarfire Pie Milkshake for our Sunday dinner.  Dave’s strawberry milkshake sounded much yummier.  The ribs had a lot of fat to where I pulled some off and there was no real advantage to a rack over a half rack.  I’d go back to Sugarfire Smokehouse Indianapolis, but I wasn’t stunned by the awesomeness.  I could see trying the pulled pork and brisket and getting a different milkshake.  Because, if there’s one thing hard to find in downtown Indy, it’s milkshakes.

Food highlight?  My TGIF berry smoothie was solid and not overpriced.  The drink I probably enjoyed the most was the grocery store sweet teas, stirred not shaken.

Oh, and the highlight?  Playing True Dungeon.  I enjoyed ItVN well enough and everyone liked N1-3 a lot.  I got to rage with a quarterstaff, cast Neutralize Poison, and talk with another Dungeoneer.

I also got to completely avoid going into the exhibit hall.  No ticket issues.  Not late for any games.  Had a little bit of HoR conversation.  We somehow got exactly the Blessed Redoubt Helm we needed from one of our treasure bags.  And, I started making my fun buys for Miya Tatakisu where maybe I’ll get to be a cavalryman or assassin or deckhand or something and really relate to it.


Agent 88

July 29, 2018

A title people totally won’t get.  I kept trying different Get Smart related titles, but they didn’t quite work for what I was going for.

Agency in RPGs.

I mostly hear or see complaints about lack of agency.  I’ve certainly played in games where I felt like I had no control over what my character was doing.  By games, I mean one game I can think of in 20+ years of RPGing.  I played in a Maelstrom convention game that was one of the awful games I played in, where the PCs were irrelevant to anything happening.

And, that’s the thing – “felt”.  There’s a world of difference between not actually having meaningful decisions and feeling like not having meaningful decisions.  Based on other things I hear or see, a lot of GMs have one-shots planned in the beginning and the ending and it’s just a matter of getting the PCs to the end after they do whatever in the middle.  Is that a case of having meaningful decisions or not?

In my experience, being railroaded is overblown.  HoR mods are structured and we all may realize they are to the point of following what the mods want you to do, but I have a hard time remembering any campaign play where I felt adventures were as railed as HoR mods.

Then, I don’t have a problem with being on rails.  I’m sure there are cases where even not being able to choose from different stations didn’t matter to me.  If I think about some of the side adventures in Princess Police, they were pretty much “get to village, kill stuff or decapitate zombies” and I really liked the side adventures.  I don’t have a problem with HoR mods having limited things to do, though it is nice when you get mods that do allow you to pursue your personal interests.

So, the reason I got to thinking about agency again is that I was thinking about the disconnect between my GMing style and what players are looking for and I got to wondering whether my problem is that I try too hard to give players more agency.  I can just picture Chris running Princess Police, especially early on, probably having the exact same perspective of “I have these story hooks and no one is impaling their flesh upon them.  *sigh*”

I would say most of the players I’ve played RPGs with in campaign play have wanted to be given clear objectives and the only deviance was in doing “wild and crazy” things rather than an interest in creating one’s own story arcs, helping to define the world, etc.  This being true even of players who say they want things that sound a lot like taking on some of the storytelling responsibilities.

And, so, throwing out hooked nets seems to work far less well than just coming up with a straightforward mission and executing on that mission, with the variance being the occasional personal interest … which is awfully like HoR mods.  I usually know exactly what the mod wants us to do and I will try to get in some shopping or kite-flying just to have a “character” and that can work well enough when the right kite-flying situ arises.

It’s not that there isn’t interest in doing something more than being put on the last train to Jigokuville.  It’s that matching up the GM’s attempts to allow for more sandboxiness (or whatever) runs into a player lack of grasp of how much sand there is and whether the tide will just wash it all away.  Oh yeah – an analogy so perfect and so imageriffic that it will transcend understanding.

Rather than speak in the abstract, even though only joy and weal comes from abstractedness, let me lay out an example where I see an inherent flaw in being a better GM.

In Rokugan 1600, session 2.3 had the party continuing an extended trek back to base with a stop in Dark Edge Village.  The characters have no particular goals in DEV, just waiting for the leadership to push them on to the next stop.  This actually reminds me a lot of Princess Police early on, except that campaign didn’t have more important people entouraging the PCs temporarily.  The players, similarly, don’t have any particular goals.  The party vampire (Chris, if you read this, Bird) is no longer the party’s problem.  The khadi who showed up in 2.2 is not emphasized as an action item for the party.  The aftermath of dojo deaths is nonexistent.

There’s just hanging out waiting for theater and listening to gossip about a Lion EM and an Utaku duelist planning on dueling.

When broken down like this, it’s clear to me that this isn’t ripe for player engagement.  When presented with similarly nebulous and not-relevant-to-my-PC milieus, what would I initiate?  Wouldn’t I just be waiting for plot to send me back in time or into a spirit realm facsimile of temporal displacement?

The Ikoma/Utaku subplot suffers from not being clearly relevant to the PCs.  Where I think I did a better job with a previous session was in having these sorts of “Whelp, that’s Rokugan” elements cross paths with the PCs to where there’s a feeling it matters.  While there’s a Unicorn PC, there’s no cost/benefit calculation to what happens with the two.

Touring DEV is similarly nonimpactful.  Rokugan is extremely detailed and I can pull setting from multiple sources, but, if you aren’t into Kakita or trying to be Emerald Champion or aren’t hung up on dueling (which this campaign downplays a lot), why care that there are shrines or the Calm Heart Dojo?  Now, there was some interest in the shrine to the Lords of Death because two PCs are into esoteric knowledge.  So, this wasn’t a total waste, but it brings up that players are hardly ever looking to be tourists.  They want action.  Or, they want to pursue some goal.

If the player’s goals don’t line up with the situation, then just left with action.

I have this tendency to think big picture.  Maybe I am inclined to much more beach than I think I am.  My interest in a world is in the world.  My focus, though, needs to get back to how the world matters to the players.

Now, not every player has the same interests nor does every PC have the same interests.  So, there is some room for providing for different activities, but I get so easily into the mindset of “Do you want to take the 11:20 train through Narnia or the 11:45 express?” rather than “Corpse to your right, corpse to your left, nobody wants to be corpse up the middle.”

Also, I have all of these elements I’m trying to incorporate and they just aren’t consistent enough to be impactful.  That a khadi has penetrated as far as the Unicorn’s Eastern border and is apparently on some mission is supposed to be a big deal, but why would the players care if they only encounter him once and their superiors are all “Time to head home and get back to warring.”?  Far too many elements are just not well thought out in terms of campaign impact.

Maybe Gen Con will give me an opportunity to brainstorm with a couple of the players on how to make elements that are supposed to matter matter more.  In turn, this can maybe get me to focus not on the 10,000 things going on in the background but on the 1.5 things that put PCs into situations that engage them.

And, maybe, that there is a two-front war will actually matter – I’m thinking the two best sessions so far have had nothing to do with the wars or the Northern Front enemies.


Part Time GM

June 8, 2018

I am trying to find a Kickstarter that’s supposed to run in June, and I came across a Kickstarter for a RPG.

Part Time Gods Kickstarter

Considering that I’ve been largely disappointed with RPG Kickstarters and rather happy with the one boardgame KS I backed and fine with the Shadowfist KSs I backed, why back this game?

I’ve played it.

I enjoyed it.

A two-hour game (not billed as a two-hour game), and I enjoyed it.

I’m particularly down on foreign KSs where I get hit with international fees and shipping is quite expensive, but I just find what I end up with from RPG KSs so uncaptivating.  Now, this could be because the concept of trying to play anything besides L5R is challenging given the nature of who I play games with these days.

It’s a low buy in for the level I’m backing.  Amazingly enough, I’m not so into a game I’ve played once and don’t have on my mind-list of things to play that I’m looking to mortalize myself as a NPC in the game.  Or, whatever.

I really like Kickstarter because I can influence whether someone even makes something, rather than discovering something already made, and it seems like it gives way more capital to RPG publishers.

So, my PTG experience was mentioned in Gen Con 2016.  Saturday, if you want to skip down a few thousand words.

It’s just my kind of thing and the game played much like my early Ran Ackels Immortal: The Invisible War games which got me fired up about modern supernatural RPGing and made me a CCG designer.  Immortal greatly helped push me towards Precedence Games/Publishing/Entertainment, who put out the Babylon 5 CCG, where I ended up doing design for that CCG and Wheel of Time CCG and offered Tomb Raider CCG ideas which probably didn’t get used.

Part-Time Gods, though, gets me thinking about something.  The games I run are missing something.  I don’t feel like my players get to have the experiences that I, as a player, enjoy the most.  They don’t get the “How about I look into the future and keep what happens to myself so that it doesn’t necessarily happen?” moments.  The “I’ll lick the blood off of the dude’s face to sense where the enemy will strike next.” moments.

Or, maybe they do and I don’t know, but let’s assume they don’t.  Is it because I’m not a player in my own games?  Do I set up situations that enable the players to do the things I like doing, but they don’t jump through those hoops?

I don’t think that’s the main reason.  I think the main reason is that I’m not including an important hook that gives the players the clear enough openings.  Meanwhile, in trying to give players opportunities to do certain things, I also allow some things to happen that don’t make a lot of sense.

I don’t talk much about simulationist play because it always just sounds like not my glass of extremely sweet tea, but it occurred to me after the last Rokugan 1600 session when we talked about stuff for a long time that a weakness I have is accounting for simulationism.  I allow worlds, even ones I didn’t make, to go in directions that aren’t the right feel because I have this conscious or unconscious high fantasy agenda.  Oh, I’m not saying I make everything into some form of coherent high fantasy.  I’m saying that having a high tolerance for reality warping events leads me to come up with reality warping events that are incongruous with the setting.

To the extent that I understand simulationism, it’s about the play experience being consistent with a provided world.  Where I can see an example is that gamist play will tolerate out of character actions that are successful and narrative play will tolerate out of character actions that make for a more coherent story, simulationist actions should be in character to make the play experience more realistic and more meaningful at the character level.  Saying something similar, gamist is for players, narrative is for the plot, and simulationist is for the characters (to be thematic constructs and not just mechanical ones).

If I put more effort into my games, I could probably get a more consistent experience.  Though, as I said, I think rather recently, I often put effort into the wrong direction.  Somehow, I need to better understand the players’ perspectives and what actually matters to them.  For one thing, I need to have a better sense of how plot intersects with player activity.  I have things in my mind that are going on behind the scenes, but they just don’t matter to the players.  So, that’s not an area to focus on.  The area to focus on is “You did this, now the world is going to react in this perceptible way rather than being a convoluted series of impossible to notice adjustments in the grand scheme of creation.”

I think I think too widely.  Grand conspiracies don’t lend themselves to building a foundation for a campaign that can end on a high note with the resolution of some grand conspiracy.  Sometimes, Wolverine just needs to punch Sabretooth rather than understanding what the ultimate goal of the Weapon X program is intended to be and how that has to do with magic-using aliens.

When I ran Solomon Kane, I started with adventures from the core book.  Those seemed to go over better.  Again, personal, limited in scope, and consistent with the setting.  Why is this so hard for me to stick to until a campaign really calls for something else?


Breaks & Brakes

June 2, 2018

Now to transition into Origins mode, where I will metagame hard against antiSalubri and Samedi rush.  Might have to play Blood Brothers now that they have bleed reduction??  I figure take about 10 new decks to Origins, see if I can get two boxes worth (14 decks) for “variety”.

Before Kubla, I ran my skirmish combat session of Rokugan 1600 and it did not go as planned.  Rather than find the cast abstracted into assistance mechanics where I was hoping would make them feel like folks the party would find endearing, the party hardly used my table of NPC mechanics.  The skirmish rules were terrible for the set up, as the set up didn’t have clearly defined distances and everyone was on horseback.

Got into a long discussion on players and GMs not connecting on mechanical expectations.  Basically, I want people to do different things because doing the same actions over and over bores me, but the players don’t feel like they can judge the value in creative solutions to problems, and encounters end up being far harder (seeming) because nobody tries a literature solution.

I make up all sorts of one-off mechanics, and they don’t often work well.  Well, duh, they aren’t playtested.  A little bit of that goes a long way to messing with players.  Then, in this case, introducing both skirmish battle rules and abstracted NPC mechanics charts and a host of unexplained antagonist abilities.

Was it terrible?  It was just a waste.  Rather than add any depth or caring to the campaign, it was an exercise in murdering named enemies whose names didn’t matter to anyone.  Boring combat that came across as largely meaningless combat.

I’m going to try to focus more on personal stories and maybe actually try to build up to big set pieces rather than rush them on stage.  Plus, peasants and Yobanjin because everybody else seems to love … Yobanjin.

Following up from the last post and switching gears hard, Shadowfist has an advantage in just enjoying play over various other CCGs to me in that it’s less predictable to me.  Sure, a player can get locked out of a game due to insufficient power or lack of resources, but players can get nerfed hard when they get out of control.  Of course, I could argue that V:TES has an advantage over Shadowfist for me because I’m psychic and will know every last thing that will happen except half the things, so I can make informed decisions, where I mostly try to do something in the moment with Shadowfist and fail.

I need to get around to doing my 2018 True Dungeon builds.  Going to consider some metagaming for the Lorigorgon and Into the Shadowlands events.  Then, we need to decide what to pack to transmute some of our crap.  And, I should make sure I can actually find my ultrarares and other hard to replace tokens.

Not running out of time just this day but going to be running out of time soon if I don’t start actually prepping for a major event.  And, I need to write some adventures, including side adventures.


L5R Bonus Rules

May 19, 2018

I ran a session of Rokugan 1600 last Tuesday.  A side adventure as we only had two players.  For the Princess Police, we often did side adventures with three players, otherwise known as about half the party.  I have four players for 1600, and it’s typically going to be the situation that if one can’t play another can’t play.

The session went better than I expected in certain respects.  Rather than ignore my party NPC, the players made an effort to engage with her.  A lot more effort than I’m used to.  I’m sure there’s a lesson in not having so many NPCs who look a lot like Adriana Lima.

I could blow this off as a joke, but I think it is important.  Eventually, I’ll get back to my main subject.  As a player or a person, I don’t need every female around to be gorgeous.  It is even the truth that beauty isn’t always attractive, but that’s getting off topic.  Why be inclined to have a Buffyverse with RPGs?  Because that’s what literature is like.  Love/lust interests for fantasy protagonists tend to be … looking better than the norm.  Just picking out one example, which romantic interest in the the John Carter stories is not stunning (when in her own body)?

I choose Buffyverse as the term because … uh … TV tends to have attractive people, too.  Was talking recently about soap operas and, while a lot of the women aren’t my idea of sensational, some are.  Whether talking about Arabian Nights or Shakespeare, mental image I have of many a character is attractive, distinctly attractive, and looking better is something that correlates with attractiveness.

You also get distinctly unattractive, where ugliness correlates to that.  It’s a way to call out characters.  But, it’s not a great way to call out characters when the only difference between them is one has long hair and the other short or whatever.  And, it’s simplistic to rely upon such a device.

I don’t spend a ton of time on fleshing [hmmm … fleshing] out characters.  However, because I have a not small cast for 1600, I did try to go through and give every character, yes, even the male characters, multiple interests.  Well, Toku Rekku may not have broad interests, just intense interests in broads, but anyway.  This has, so far, helped, with the potential, perhaps, of continuing to give my players more to engage with.

Sound like banal observation?  Well, sure.  But, I find that L5R is particularly prone to creating large casts of NPCs.  I find this to be the case because L5R has a society.  When we played Conan, we were often on the move.  Have some young, hot noble in a session, next session raiding a tomb where the only living things are insects.  Sure, could be a L5R group often on the move, roving magistrate or whatever, but you have your Topaz/Emerald Championships, your Winter Courts, or whatever to ground the play in a fleshy world.

Large casts are troublesome.  I have some problems with L5R names in that people’s pronunciation is inconsistent and there can be very similar names and the names aren’t ones you hear all of the time, like distinguishing John from Sean or John from Joan.  But, I seem to have far fewer problems than others because Kitsu and Kitsuki mean very different things to me as do Kitsuki and Kitsune, so I’m listening for the distinctions.  Point being that it’s easy, in my experience, for players to get overwhelmed by NPC names.  In Princess Police, we had Hantei Hanahime and Shosuro Hanahime and I seemed to be the only one of the players who realized that until I pointed it out.  Have a family of Akodo, and may get Akodo Ichiro and Akodo Ichigo and Akodo Chisei and so on to where which NPC being talked about is not easy to track.  Obviously, if you run another game where Marcus Smith the Elder, Marcus Smith Jr., and Marcus Smith the Third are characters, that may not be so easy to track, either, but I haven’t played in a lot of those sorts of games.

By giving more attributes than “this is the incredibly handsome … uh … Yasuki”, may mean something in a player’s mind to where they bother remembering the name.  Just like how Topaz vs. Winter Court was completely different for me in PP after the WC folks got a few traits/interests.

But, anyway, kind of not why I wanted to talk about large casts.  Large casts are a problem for GMs because they require more work to make those distinctions.  I don’t care if the PCs are interested in five of my 20 NPCs or interested in two, but there’s a chicken and egg problem that I don’t know which two they will want to engage with and they don’t know which two they want to engage with until I fleshisize 20 out.

Got to move on to the point of my post before taking 1000 words on a common subject.

Another feature of that session was underwater combat.

Here are my house rules on underwater combat:  Scrolls aren’t so good if they are wet.  Don’t expect to swing a sword underwater.

Rather than come up with a bunch of mechanics to make ATNs lower for PCs and affect weapons differently and alter the effectiveness of spells, I just finned it.  I just scaled sea creature attacks and whatnot to the PCs normal stats, though it was kind of fortuitous, I mean totally intentionally planned [yeah], that the one NPC that joined the party that included a knifer was also a knifer.  I handwaved speaking with the breathing spell cast on the party.  The shugenja had memorized enough combat spells to do combat things.  Memorize spells, cheesemeisters, memorize spells – always Jade Strike, Path to Inner Peace, and some aggro combat spell (probably not ones that require being outside to cast).

Here are my house rules on climbing out of pit traps, something that is of great concern to one of the PCs:  “L5R doesn’t concern itself with elevation.” – some precious gift of a hu-man.

It’s almost like L5R is like some ancient RPGs that didn’t feel a need to mechanize everything in existence.  How much falling damage do you take for jumping into a 20′ pit?  30′ pit?  Depends upon my mood.

Ironically, I consider it a strength of mine (whether anyone else does is unknown) that I whip up ad hoc mechanics for specific scenes in specific sessions that strike me as balanced and of exceeding joy to the world.  Or, well, joy to me to see whether the PCs encounter the horned fish that stares at them or not.  I have rather elaborate Lore results tables for the amulet that the party was sent to retrieve in that session.  Sure, they are just longer versions of gossip results in HoR mods, but this is just an example of something I was looking at recently.

Roll Void

< 10 = You are cursed! You have one less Void Point to spend until the curse is lifted.
10-19 = Just another day in the desert ruins.
20-24 = As long as you are in Mada’in Saleh, you have one extra Void Point per day.
25-29 = You gain a rank of Luck while in Mada’in Saleh.
30-39 = You gain a rank of Luck.
40+ = You gain Great Destiny.

This is more my sort of special rules tables.  Is it balanced?  Worked, and one knows that all analysis of goodness can be determined by results.

By the way, I think I mentioned Mada’in Saleh before, but maybe not.  This is the sort of thing that gets me fired up when GMing – taking interesting stuff from a real world and using it in a sort-of-real world.

Yodotai decorations also figured on the troglodytic tombs when the territory traded with the Yodotai. In contrast to the elaborate exteriors, the interiors of the rock-cut structures are severe and plain.

I’m sure you can figure out how this description came about if you cared, which I’m also sure you don’t.

At some point, you may have considered giving up on this post because I hadn’t given you something to steal for your own play.  But, then, you made your Willpower roll and are going to be rewarded with the greatest thing since adding cashews to your pork stew, which only ended us as stew instead of pot roast because you had never used your Instant Pot before.

“What does Battle (Skirmish) do?”  “Nothing, but I give an Initiative bonus …”

Skirmish Battle Rules

PER/Battle (Skirmish) TN 15 “contested”, rolled at the beginning of each round

Failure:
Choose one combatant of consequence, that combatant cannot act this round (includes no Full Defense).

Success:
Free 10’ movement for one combatant that is not limited by Water.

Raises > Enemy:
Each Raise can be used to increase one Initiative by 5 or for 10’ movement.

Geniusness?  Jigoku, no!  But, it’s a start and maybe I’ll use some of my precious nap time this weekend to, instead, write up even more extensive rules that are completely untested.

Geniusness-of-a-sort?  Tengoku, yes!  Every time I read 4e mass combat rules I come away with “What is the point of this?  How would any PC survive most of these heroic actions?”  They are garbage.  In that, what is remotely appealing about using them?  Gen Con Battle Interactives may not always work well mechanically, but they have interesting stuff going on either thematically, mechanically, or both – probably some brilliant stuff.

Take garbage mass combat rules, take that while I wanted mass combat to be a thing in this war campaign I realized that the upcoming encounter isn’t really mass combat but is … wait for it … not normal combat … stay on target … red, red, red!! … Skirmish Battle!?!  Take that I like creating my own mechanics.  And, you get the single most defining thing in any campaign in the history of the hu-man races – the introduction, adoption, and total rewriting/dropping after they don’t work as intended Skirmish Battle Rules!?!

Well, I could find something else to mine from one, kind of 2.5 hour session, but I’m all for terse pithiness …


Jinn Con

May 6, 2018

Gen Con event registration was earlier today.  I got into everything I signed up for, which is pretty normal as my wish lists are Heroes of Rokugan heavy, even more so this year, with my esoteric RPGs not even as popular as previous years.  According to my friend, we got into all of the True Dungeon events we wanted, which involved lots of late night sessions, which is probably how that worked out.

Speaking of previous years, I was doing some house cleaning and found miscellaneous items from Gen Con 2005 and 2006, including a disturbing number of Steak & Shake receipts for the same transaction (#258, not to be confused with the receipts I found for something like three other transactions that year).  I have both program booklets.  One year, we stayed at the Omni and it was like a total of $160 a night after taxes.

In 2006, I played:

Puritan Dogs in the Vineyard

Brawny Thews (Conan d20)

Rescuing the Dead (Armageddon RPG)

Bonfire of the Vanities (Four Colors al Fresco)

Work Sucks (Hunter: The Reckoning, probably the hotel game where a vampire convention was going on and I was playing a chef)

The City of Lies (HoR2)

HoR Open

Serenity 003: It’s Been a Pleasure (Serenity RPG)

Escape the Spider Cult (not writing the whole title, True Dungeon) x3 (three tickets, think that was the year Bernie went)

Escape the Spider Cult x3 (I don’t think we did the same adventure twice …)

Ten events.  That makes sense as I think of Gen Con having 11 slots, 3 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2 on Sunday.  In recent years, I no longer leave a hole in my schedule as there are far more things I’d like to do than I can schedule in the paltry four days of gaming that GC provides.  Would need like six days to have a leisurely schedule of three games four days and two games the other two days.

Speaking of 2006, I also found my invitation to an April 1st birthday party.  A birthday party for a 90 year old Japanese woman.  I went to it.

I found other amusing things.

I seek the ninth level of power and, maybe, an inexpensive hairbrush.

I say this as an elf.  I have worked with reindeer for years.  I’ve driven a reindeer sled to work for the last eleven years.  They are the dolphins of land animals.  They speak English!

After all, you can’t spell slaughter without laughter.

You think you the first barely legal chick to tie me up and try to eat my friend right in front of me?

Ah, the good ole days, when I used to gather quotes to use as email sigs.

Speaking of sigs …, er, speaking of L5R home campaigns, I ran session two of Rokugan 1600, The Northern Front.

Session zero was March Unto Death.  Session one was Briefing, the heavy in what’s going on session before a quick rescue mission.  Session two was Tonic & Jinn, a vignette heavy session to give more opportunity to engage individually with NPCs, where an assassination attempt was foiled by two non-blind PCs.  Though, Jinn Toxic or a variety of other variants would have also worked.

Our window to play is short, as we use weeknights.  That means I need to prepare to only cover sections of an overall narrative.  Still heavy on explaining and light on activity, but we will see if next session, which involves mass combat, will feel more vigorous.