Digital Travel

November 27, 2018

The plan has been in place for quite some time to have an electronic version of Traveller.

Yesterday, Horizon launched a Kickstarter to expand play beyond the rectangular cardboard into the world of zip zap that is the fu-ture …

Traveller CG Digital Edition

Posted about the KS on the VEKN forums, pointing out how our programmer is one of the most successful V:TES players in history.  I thought it was an interesting bit of trivia.

Only 28ish more days to back, back, back.  It could go all the way … with your help.  (Gratuitous sports jokes are all part of the payoff.)

I can, of course, be doing more to advertise the game.  So, with the theme of travel, I thought of how 2019’s convention schedule can be impacted now that cards are available in retail establishments and/or through their distributors.  If anyone has any suggestions outside of Origins and Gen Con, I’m interested in getting a better sense of which cons would have the most impact for exposing to people who don’t know the game is available.  International suggestions also welcome.

So, with the theme of digital, while Jeff and I were at GobbleCon Saturday to do some late notice demos, my Thanksgiving, besides being a blogging day, because one can be thankful of the opportunity to blog about gaming as well as write absurdly run on sentences, was a day of catching up on Rokugan 1600 fictions.  Not written with quill and squid but with the dread power of a keyboard while peering at a monitor.

I finally wrote something from a villain’s perspective.  I should just write those to begin with.  Though, thinking about it, are the villains really the villains or are they just antagonists to a messed up society of sword worshipers?

I wrote some other NPC stuff, too.  I could write all month (next month) and still not cover all of the NPC possibilities.

Yup, too many NPCs.  I knew there were from the start and, yet.  And, yet, you know what is fun for me?  More NPCs.  More stories that have nothing to do with the players or even really the campaign’s focus.  Well, rein it in, myself, rein it in.

Don’t rein in your end of year Kickstarter backing of the Digital Edition of the Traveller Card Game.

I know things I want to happen in the next installment of R.1600, I just foresee two problems.  One, too many things.  Two, how to adapt to player action.  Three … foresee three problems … everything is cooler in my brain than it normally ends up being in play.

It is funny, like when I read some reddit stuff on too many NPCs, how my problems aren’t special snowflake problems but rather mundane difficulties GMs routinely face.  It’s almost like there’s this human nature thing that happens that makes things suboptimal as, even though we know about a potential trap, we walk into the trap anyway.

Why is it so difficult?

You know who travels?  The Doctor travels.

I watched The Witchfinders and, then, hurriedly went to read reviews expecting to see comments supporting my one and only truth – that episode was atrocious.  Only to have people say they liked it.  Ye gods.  Hath Satan taketh controlleth of the interwebseth?  I kept wondering whether there was some clever audience manipulation thing going on that would make the tonal whipflash make sense.  It was like there was a parody running interlaced with the episode.

I’m not a fan of this season.  It does make me recall oldWho.  That’s not bad.  But, there was a lot of not so great oldWho, too.  And, there’s been plenty of newWho I haven’t thought highly of.  It’s like there’s untapped potential.

The Traveller Customizable Card Game is replete with untapped potential.  Potential that could be tapped … I mean … exerted with a few heroic actions.  All totally not pitching aside, there are some deep interactions in the card game, a lot of which have to do with how cards are money.  There were times I played complications on the contracts I was going to pursue just to be forced to bounce permanents back to my hand to use as money for going after more contracts.  It didn’t exactly work as I was far behind my opponent and had no way to really slow him down, but it was techy in a way that a lot of Magic puzzles want you to think.

Wow, haven’t mentioned Magic in a bit.  I guess that comes from not playing it or reading about it or having other people talk to me much about it while at the same time playing/running other games.  It’s almost like I’m stating something so keenly obvious that it has already sliced through the fabric of destiny.

Digital.  Travel.  Oh.  Nevermind.  For the one and only time in the history and future of this and every other creation, I managed to stray from my topic.

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Target Practice

November 4, 2018

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year.  The time when I begin talking about the new seasons of Arrowverse shows.

For the three people who are still reading, let’s get some contextual stuff out of the way, first.

Supergirl –

Have not watched a new episode, haven’t watched most of last season on DVR.  I’m so close to mass deleting as the show only really got me perked up (outside of crossovers) in the first two episodes of season “yo, Superman”.

Arrow –

Keep seeing comments about getting back to roots.  Um, nope.  I have had a higher tolerance for Felicity than most after she became a main.  Great supporting character, terrible main.  But, I just can’t stand her this season.  Her arbitrary “I’m more important than everyone else”ness is exactly contrary to what makes superheroes heroes (well, what makes anyone heroes).  Helping others is what society deems Good, as I’ve stated before.  Sacrificing to help others is more Gooder.  Whining is not Good.  Arrow always should have been one of two things – modern take on vigilantes where they just straight up murder the bad guys all of the time … or … ignore early season 1’s straight up murdering people right and left and all hail boxing glove arrow time.  To keep trying to play on the fence of what vigilantism means is really, really boring.  Almost like I said this before – angst is bad, m’kay, there are plenty of ways to have drama without caring whether someone has dealt with their personal demons or not.

It’s like other folks, the folks who like this season, want something different than what I do.  Oh, right, they do.  They want Amell shirtless in prison fights.  I want a superhero show about an archer (well, not really, since Green Arrow isn’t an important character to me, but, given that we don’t get supers I like better, sure, a show about a superhero archer).  Of course there’s lots of agreement on the weak parts.  For instance, get rid of every other main character and have some fun supporting characters, like season 1 Felicity and anyone who is like “Whoa, you are a Bratva Captain?”.  Just to show I don’t hate women – make Nyssa mainish and have her be the rival/foil.  “Husband, while you were fiddling with your long, thick expanding arrow, I straight up murdered all of the bad guys and solved the problem … again.”

Flash –

Not bad.  But, see below about Legends of Tomorrow.  Cicada is actually less interesting already.  I can accept the ludicrous tropes needed to make a god threatened by ungods, but oh my does it get tiresome when they set up scenes where anyone who moves, I don’t know, four times as fast as a normal person wouldn’t be remotely threatened.  Cisco is not as cool as he once was.  Caitlin’s problems are boring.  Ralph is boring.  Wells has yet to get anywhere near season 1 Wells, though that may not be possible.  Having JPK play the daughter of two actors who are actually younger than her is somewhat amusing.  Just too much locked into tropeland rather than capturing the really cool dynamic of early season 1.

Legends of Tomorrow –

At no point has Supergirl been what I wanted it to be as a show.  Sure, Supes’ first two episodes were there, but that didn’t last long.  Arrow had moments but really lost its cool after like the first three episodes.  The Yao Fei training and early Deathstroke stuff was on point.  Even later Deathstroke was just a slog as:  one, wasn’t Ollie’s fault; two, the whole setup was really stupid when you stopped to think about it at any time even though the plan to pit them against each other made perfect sense.  Flash was what it should be early to mid season 1.

Oh, hold on.  All of these shows tend to be what they should be when they do crossovers.

LoT was not good in season 1.  Two characters were such a downer.  But, it got better.  Season premier of this season may not be perfect television, but it’s exactly what LoT should be like.  I’ve had bigger laughs, but that they made a Woodstock episode work at all was an achievement as I don’t have any nostalgia for Woodstock (okay, I’m maybe not as ancient as I think), so I find it a boring historical reference.  Then, the second episode happened.

Which brings me to my gaming topic.  !!

There’s a line in storytelling, even highly mechanical storytelling, where on one side you have good or better and the other you have not good or worse.  LoT had the same ideals and generally the same components but failed the execution.  The second episode was actually exceedingly obnoxious.  Boringland called and paid a visit.  The supernatural antagonist (not really the real antagonist) was not terrible.  The singing was timely.  It was just how mindnumbingly stupid Zari was that left me disgusted with the episode.

My concern with running … since there’s only so much I can do as a player and I have a high tolerance for suboptimal play of RPGs … is that I try to do what sounds righteous and don’t get on the righteous side of the line.

This is likely a terrible example for this particular topic, but it’s something from recent Rokugan 1600 play that hasn’t worked.

Usagi Yumi

I steal so much stuff from prior campaigns.  So, one thing I did was have an object that mattered to me as a player show up in the campaign as a subplot device.  Besides passing comments on rare occasions about getting rid of the yumi, at no point did it matter to the player of the PC tasked with finding the rightful owner to find the rightful owner.

When the lack of progress kept getting commented upon, the players finally came up with some ideas for pursuing the subplot.  One idea was okay, but I called it “prosaic” in an email I sent – prosaic doesn’t fit my style of RPGing.  The other idea I called “I Love Lucy” level thinking to just be rid of the subplot.  Because latchkey kids had to watch TV from the time they got home to when they went to bed and I’m from an age when there were maybe eight TV stations to watch with only about three mattering, I suffered through I Love Lucy.  And, Laverne and Shirley.  And, other shows about incompetents.  Which is maybe why I have such a deep, abiding hatred of entertainment about incompetents/losers.

I was proud of bringing more magic items into a fantasy campaign because I noticed that I should do more of that sort of thing to play up the fantasy elements of, er, fantasy campaigns.  Instead, griping and sarcasm.

The intent was to motivate towards a goal, since I don’t really require players/PCs to have goals yet goals add depth to a campaign and contribute to having a PC story arc.  Sure, this sort of thing is well familiar to GMs.  They have in mind something they think will make for a better game, a cool story, and the player doesn’t care.

So, what could I have done differently?  Well, since I think in a way that most people I play RPGs don’t, maybe the hints I made recently could have been made earlier.  Though, to be fair in the sense that this isn’t the most important thing to the campaign, I was fine with letting the player deal with the subplot when he felt like it.

Now, there’s another reason not to tip my hand.  I like other people figuring out things, perhaps because I like figuring out things.  I like guessing.  I like having an opportunity before I get an answer handed to me.  I find it weird when other people aren’t into guessing, which a lot of people I quiz aren’t into.  To me, being handed an answer either undermines or invalidates knowing something.  Since this is so “profound”, I’ll come back to it another time.

As a GM, I don’t see my job being giving answers.  I see my job being to give mysteries where the players can discover the answers.  Feel like I’m getting off topic, in that maybe I have a bunch of topics related to CW TV shows.

Anyway, ideas are easy, execution is hard.  Oh, also said this before.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, there are things I think I do poorly that seem to find favor with players.  This should not be surprising, but it suggests the closeness to the line that a GM can run at.  With just the right dice rolls or player interpretations or improvisation, something uninspired can be inspirational.

Another example that may not even fit.  There’s a geisha that two of the players met in a side session.  She worked in that session better than expected, so I’m obviously having her return to the stage.  Maybe that NPC will engage in a way so many others don’t.

We’ve played enough sessions for players to either gain a feel or reassess their characters.  If I don’t start adding depth rather than continuing to create breadth (shallow and broad I be), going to miss out, methinks, on a better experience.

More engaging villains.  More engaging NPCs.  More engaging locales.  More engaging objects.  More engaging plots, subplots, events.  If wishes were fishes, fish sauce might be more expensive.

So, how to do the better things Arrowverse shows have done and eschew the worse?  Well, no, I don’t look forward to Mick and Constantine working together.  Just sounds Odd Couple level “I only watch this show because nothing else is on this channel I watch for four hours every day” grating.

I’m not very hard on the players.  I was reading some story ideas in L5R supplements and they are *harsh*.  Permanently being made an eta harsh.  Maybe events would be taken more seriously if there were actual consequences.  OTOH, doesn’t sound like that would be any more fun, just more intense.

GM Fun

Because who really cares whether I have a coherent blog post or not?

I was asked what was fun for me as a GM, what would make things more fun.

I enjoy research.  I enjoy worldbuilding.  I enjoy using research in my worldbuilding.  I enjoy coming up with interesting takes on mechanics.  I enjoy the soap opera lives my NPCs have that players generally couldn’t care less about.

What makes me stop enjoying anything is if players aren’t enjoying play.

I’m sure the writers of Arrowverse episodes enjoy Gorilla Grodd or messing up the timelines or trying to address political issues.  See, getting related to my own post – booyah.

I can enjoy building a world that doesn’t get played.  What seems like it would be more fun is having the players enjoy the world.  I’m pretty sure that’s true, as players caring about some aspect of the world gets me motivated to keep creating more of the world, while players not caring about the world hardly at all gets me disinterested in running.

When I can find the time and am in the mood, I enjoy writing stories that are relevant to the PCs.  This is an area I’ve been poor at for R.1600, as we often schedule sessions in quick succession or have long layoffs.  In theory, if we had more every other week sessions, that would give me a week to work on a session and to write up what’s going on with the NPCs so that the players have more insight into how I view the world.

Arrowverse seasons are still early.  Flash feels like it’s wavering between the two sides of the line.  Arrow is relatively good for Arrow but that doesn’t say much as so much of Arrow has had similar problems to so much of Wheel of Time.  I don’t expect it to rise to new heights or to rise to the heights of its crossover episodes.  LoT is where I hope to be continuously entertained, but it needs to figure out how to use its current crew better as I feel like it’s a Sara and everyone else show, at the moment, because only Sara feels fully “present” as a protagonist.  Mick is underused, Nate is annoying, Ray gets too silly, Zari doesn’t work when she’s serious, Constantine is not integrated well, at all.

R.1600 isn’t early.  If only it was easier to implement GMing advice rather than just reading it.  If only it was easier writing good TV.  Oh yeah, still absolutely on theme for today.


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.


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.