Crisis Of Blog Why

November 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

It is the pinnacle of what the Arrowverse has done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does this have to do with gaming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flopping – Part Two

October 15, 2017

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

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

Arrow

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

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

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

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

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

Legends of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

Flash

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

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

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

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

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

Supergirl

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

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

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

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

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

Arrowverse

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

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

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


Lost Opportunities

April 2, 2017

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

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

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

Wins.  Losses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deeds Not Words.

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

Why?  I mean, why bother?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


INT, STR, … Fate Points?

December 1, 2016

Watching Arrowverse crossover, of course.

Among the worst things the Arrowverse ever did was have Barry clean out the League of Assassins HQ in seconds.  It drives home how irrelevant the Green Arrow is as a superhero, where being Mayor Handsome with assassin trained employees and whatnot is probably a better night job.

In the beginning (of Flash), effort was made to address this problem, with Barry being the brawn and Oliver being the brains (superhero brains != brains brains).  But, Flash progressed.  It had original-fake Harrison to provide clever and ruthless.  It has scientists for brains brains.  Barry does stupid things, but he fights better.

So, Barry can fix Team Arrow’s problems seemingly at will, in that Team Arrow still solves problems by fighting.

To restore balance to the justiceforce, Oliver should be able to solve Team Flash’s problems easily.  In last season, maybe nailing Iris would have done something, but that potential shipping seems to have sailed.

Anyway, bigger picture.  Brawn wins fights in some pleasing materials.  Brains wins fights more often, in superhero stuff and various genres.  Then, there’s luck.  There are stories aplenty where luck wins.  Take a show like Doctor Who, where the Doctor is supposed to outbrain enemies.  That happens, so does outlucking, even when given a coating of inspired genius.

So, is one better?  Martial arts and animefight often go the route of train to unlock another power level.  I’m okay with that, though it does get out of control.  Where out of control means that any attempt to scale back the power level just seems ridiculous.  “If I can nuke the moon at will, why can’t I deal with someone named after a seasoning plant?”

Not that animefight has a monopoly on such things.  Babylon 5 got frustrating to me because I was into the Shadow War and found xenophobia and teeps to be tonal dissonance.

The issue with brains is not just that this is a gaming blog, where being clever in playing a game is harder because you are on the spot with your cleverness rather than having months to rewrite your novel to be more clever, but that brains isn’t always brainy when given N amount of time to consider what the outwitter did.

How satisfying is outlucking?  Less satisfying when you think about it.  In many cases, it’s not how you win, it’s how the story plays out, so not necessarily always unsatisfying.

That’s in written stories.  In gaming?  Luck is everywhere.  Oh, I wouldn’t say luck is the primary determinant of victory, though let me distinguish between competitive gaming and role-playing games.

RPGs are inclined to a social contract where the PCs are almost always going to win.  Now, newer games do try to create a dynamic where you are supposed to lose before the climax, which I have some problems with.

How satisfying is gaming your losses?  In something like a sumo tournament, gaming your losses may get your buddy a higher rank without costing you anything.  But, as much as a superhero story or a martial arts revenge flick or whatever is structured with the “lose first, murder master later” paradigm, playing that as a game just takes you into the gamist world.  It’s like dropping the no-dachi to grapple because this fight is “real”.

I may care more about narrative, but, if you just script the narrative, what are you actually playing?

Losing is such a huge problem in RPGs because players don’t expect it and there are often mechanics that don’t support it, whether the reliance on stuff or because someone should just tanto you in the throat if they beat you.  Yeah, A1-4 existed long ago.  Know why it gets so much credit?  It set a standard for how to do a common trope.

What about competitive games?  Is luck a good way to determine victory?

So, you design a CCG.  Card draw order is a common feature that institutes luck into the games.  Just having the brawn of better cards or the brains of better deck design and better card play, you get some luck to shake things up.

Rolling crappy in Wheel of Time was never supersatisfying.  Risk management is a thing that’s not a matter of luck but of better decisionmaking.  I’ve lost my share of V:TES games because I didn’t make the good decision but occasionally ousted or survived because of a bad decision.  Seems like luck, but I don’t think so.  Luck != random nor != two unknowns produce third unknown.

Back to RPGs.

Some of our biggest triumphs in Conan felt like luck triumphing over brawn and our lack of brains.

On the other hand, Princess Police didn’t feel like luck had much impact, at all.  We were routinely outbrawning challenges.

A good mix.  Is that the point of this post?

There was the lack of GA outwitting Supergirl, which some of us might have enjoyed if it was anywhere near as clever as shooting Barry in the back.  Wits is not strong in Invasion!, with “defeat mind control” being about as witty as things have gotten, yet that was also something of a brawn situation, since it involved a particular power.

So, you are the GM or game designer, what do you do to mix things up?  When I try to add thinking to RPG sessions, it routinely fails.  A lot of cleverness in competitive games has to be something the designer didn’t intend but was emergent intelligence.  Brawn can be controlled, but do you unbalance brawn?  By that I mean, in a RPG, one ability is just better than another for victory, in a CCG or whatever, one card/component is just better.

I put Fate Points in the title, but are FPs luck or the opposite of luck?  For players, they reduce luck, for characters, they are luck.  An interesting topic for another times, since this post just meanders all over the place – how does perspective change your perspective?  Many say that Arrow was fine focusing on its 100th episode rather than on the crossover because 100th is a thing.  Whatever, the series could be worse, much worse, like previous seasons worse.


Cleanse The Slate

April 9, 2016

I might post next week but won’t be posting for a couple of weeks after.

I don’t have anything on mind that is philosophical.  I just have on mind miscellany.

Shadowfist

We played two games Saturday after I got out of a meeting.

Chi Bomb is really annoying, much more so than I expected.  It’s easy enough to work around once I remember that Jammers are being played, but I’ve gotten annihilated by it, like Thursday, when I played Crown of Thorns and lost three dudes and had sites take four damage just because I didn’t bother revealing all of my sites first.

Jenny Zheng multiattacked for the win.

In the second game, I played Purists and had three Quantum Sorcery in play at the end.  I had two revealed Great Walls, an unrevealed site, played Kisa Serkov, and she got Killdeered.  Then, someone ran into her until she died.  We were supposed to play a quick game so that we didn’t have to move tables when the store section closed, but we can’t seem to choose to play a quick game.

Which brings me to my thought on Shadowfist.  How to speed up games without making them boring?  More power is not the way.  Our house rule of playing sites to new columns for one less power is good for this sort of thing – opens up a lot more targets of attack.  Obviously, people could play decks with less stoppage.  People could play more superleap.  Both of those sound not that great, in that, for the former, the average amount of stoppage isn’t that high.

I don’t know.  We tend to like the amount of stuff that happens in our games, we just don’t want to play for more than 3 hours, so we rarely start a third game.  Superleap does a good job of ending games, but it can often end them in not very satisfying ways.

I was mentioning how the fastest games I tend to play in are ones where one or two players get rolled over by someone, which is like the opposite of fun.

V:TES

Stick with CCGs for the moment.  The tournament got me thinking more about V:TES.  There’s something of a discussion on vekn.net about tier one decks, which I don’t really have anything to say about since I’ve never played in an environment where you could define best decks nor am I even sure such a thing as best decks exists.  Better decks, yes.  My Ass SB deck is not as good as stealth plus Govern plus Conditioning.  Whether that makes Malk94 more likely to win a tournament or less is not as clear, but, if Kate and I had switched decks, she would have likely had no VPs where I could have ended up with the same or more without that much difficulty.  But, best?  I much rather prefer playing against decks like Malk94 or Dembleed because I actually bother to put bleed defense in most of my tournament decks.  They win the argument of “if a newb can win with this deck, then that makes it better than …”, but they lose often.  Lot of time they lose because I think newer players are more likely to be the pilots.

Anyway, what always comes up when I play is just how many decks I’ve yet to play.  It’s not always cards I haven’t played, sometimes it’s combinations of cards I haven’t played to a significant level.  I still haven’t gone hardcore Preternatural Strength plus Spike-Throwers, for instance.  Nor have I done casual Clan Impersonation.

I haven’t embraced my suggested variants, whether Ancilla Antics or Distinct Directive.

Magic

Type P for me is not the same thing as it is for most of the people who play it.  I’ve got some new “wizards” together, and I become reminded of what actually interests me and what doesn’t.

What I’m most enthused by is a deck that has clear and limited goals.  A card pool that is too strong and/or that has little you would want to change just doesn’t have much long term appeal.  I have an all Journey Into Nyx wizard that looks like a lot of fun to play, but it may get boring fast because there might not be enough interesting ways to evolve it.

Meanwhile, a wizard that has good enough cards to function but no hook is forgettable.  Type P wizards are a bit like RPG characters in that they have successes and failures and should have character development.  Just getting your 2/2 for 2 that can’t block upgraded to a 2/2 for 1 or a 2/2 for 2 that can block just isn’t compelling character development.  My Nightstalker deck can be hilarious, which makes it structurally interesting.

It’s not that I hate all of my good decks.  I have a blue/red deck that is extremely oriented to how I like to play, that also comes across as quite the beating (I haven’t played it anywhere near as much as 30 or so other decks).  It doesn’t have any coherent evolution plan.  If anything, its distinctive cards actually run counter to what makes it good.

I’m increasingly cognizant that any new wizard needs to build around the cards I’ll enjoy building around and not just trying to be good … since I don’t aim for just being good … trying to be good at whatever falls into some middle ground of balancing being good at something specific.  I really need to just pick those cards that are the most fun and really ignore whether the deck is remotely functional playing them.  Well, I might play a build that can win some useful cards to make it more functional at playing them.

Of my new wizards, one has an obvious, interesting goal – become mono-red.  It has some awful creatures in it even in a more viable R/U/w configuration just because I needed more creatures.  It would love 2/2s for 2 that can’t block, as a huge upgrade.  I know what packs I’d pity pack it with.  Winning something interesting might alter its path.  My dragon-collecting deck didn’t have a dragon-collecting plan until someone was fine with losing a dragon to it.

But, it’s these sorts of “this deck will be known as the deck that does …” things that makes me keep playing so many of my wizards.  With everything from Alpha to Shadows Over Innistrad available as potential antes to win, can end up with creations that no one would ever see, whether it’s because constructed play would weed out to many weaker cards or any popular format of limited Magic wouldn’t have the ability to end up with cards from any set.

Heroes of Rokugan

I still have yet to play any Nightmare War module.  I no longer really have any interest in trying.  If people I game with want me to play, sure, whatever.  But, I just don’t have enough interest to justify putting a bunch of effort into getting tables together.  Then, so much time has passed at this point, that I would rather just find out what the plan is for HoR4.

I wonder if Gen Con will have any HoR event that isn’t NW.  If it’s only NW, I very well may not end up doing anything L5R at Gen Con for the first time in a long time.

A format that opened up ancestors, not having to ask about kata, playing any minor or imp you wanted, any path or advanced school.  That format holds some interest to me.  Nonhuman PCs and guns really don’t.  That’s not L5R, anymore.

I do have interest in playing L5R characters.  I suppose if I were playing I’d have that much more interest.  As should be obvious in my pattern of posts, whatever I’m playing at the time is what I spend most of my time thinking about.

I have my HoR4 characters planned, I just have no sense of what’s going to happen.  I assume 4e will continue to be the mechanics – the buyout by FFG probably simplifies timing, though knowing that 5e isn’t around the corner in advance may have seen HoR4 follow right after HoR3.

Since L5R RPG posts are far more popular than my other posts, I could try to figure out what else I think about 4e.  I’m just not sure there’s that much more to say.  Do people have things they want me to opine about?  They sure seem to keep looking at the same posts over and over, so I don’t know if I’ve said everything I could usefully say or not.

Things I haven’t written much or anything about:  supplement mechanics – schools, paths, advantages/disads; advanced schools, in general; much about paths, in general; ancestors; kiho (because these don’t actually exist in my play); ninja stuff (might as well ask someone else who actually finds these sorts of characters interesting); and whatever.

BattleTech

I played a week ago as a demo on mechanics.  BattleTech, in the absence of narrative, is actually a pretty not good boardgame.  It really needs the story.  Whether you care about your pilot who got an Awesome shot out from underneath her, so she’s stuck with a Charger or you care about your Charger that went XL with double heat sinks and Gauss (or, even dumber, stole clan tech to effectively just be a clan mech) or you care about the scenario you are playing with its ice floes and explosive decompression rules while every third round someone bombs you, the resolution system is actually kind of a weak point in that it’s rather random for attacks while movement/terrain rules kind of suck.

I kept hitting the same left arm with a single large laser against a heavier mech, taking out half the AC/10s on my opponent early on, and our one on one was just kind of dumb after that.  That would make for good fiction, but it makes for a crap competitive game.  Sure, with experienced players, much like a two-player CCG, just call it and start up something new, but BT requires far more setup IME than shuffling up another deck.

TV

I read a lot of reviews of the shows I watch, most of which are superhero shows.  I find criticism interesting, but I also find myself thinking “okay, it’s not perfect, maybe not even well acted, well plotted, well staged, but … did you find it entertaining?”

A big difference between young me and old me is that young me watched a lot of TV and only really cared whether he enjoyed it or didn’t, where old me thinks about wasted opportunities, plot logic, acting, dialogue, fight choreography, special effects quality, etc.  On the other eye, I still decide to watch flawed shows just because they are entertaining.

I don’t know if I’d enjoy a high quality show, but, then, I don’t watch any high quality fiction.

Since pretty much all of the fiction I watch are DC superhero shows, one thing does come to mind.  Look.  The things that happen are often because the producers are trying to emulate comicbook logic.  Sure, it’s dumb the sort of things characters decide to do or the situations they may find themselves in.  Sure, a guy who can run fast enough to travel through time should never be threatened by anyone who can’t move that fast.

Yes, plenty of people will post comments along the lines of “The reason this happened this way in this show is because it’s a trope/genre feature/CW show.”  So, I’m really just adding support to them rather than being all uniquely special.

Where I can see it being frustrating that time travelers with a variety of superpowers can’t take out some guy who lives a long time and has nebulous street level superpowers, I do respect that Berlanti and crew are not giving me Smallville, Lois & Clark, or whatever that felt more like a TV show with superheroes rather than a comics style superhero story on TV.

May

What should I write about in May?


Flaw Wars

December 25, 2015

When I was ten, I got the “kind of D&D, kind of AD&D” boxed set as a present.  I don’t remember a ton of gaming presents beyond that, though there was the time the Harts got me some cards and my gratitude level was my typical “I’m more bemused than appreciative” level.  So, it being Christmas doesn’t inspire this post.

Rather, seeing a third, yes, two more than one, movie this year helps inspire.

One thing I didn’t go into in my last post was how crazy the Weaknesses in Against the Dark Yogi are.  If you think L5R’s disadvantages are way too painful, and you should, then AtDY is many times crazier.  A number of them are missing limbs.  Huh?!?  Who thinks missing limbs are things PCs should have?  Sure, some PC might have that, but it’s more in the 1% neighborhood rather than the 5% neighborhood.  There’s like three Weaknesses I can see for most characters, and they are all far too gamey.

So, I watched a movie today where a main character essentially had no flaws.  Cries of Mary Sue ring out.  But, are flaws important?  As I’ve said before, a noticeable change in protagonists of TV back in the day and TV nowadays is that current characters have to be tortured, angsty, or otherwise screwed up.

That’s not the only way to make interesting characters.  Sure, literary Sherlock Holmes is not a ladykiller.  Sure, John Carter, Superman, and a bunch of others suffer from boyus scouticus.  But, I don’t need some crippling weakness to the allegorical color yellow, to wood, to Argonite.  I just need someone who cares more about some things rather than other things.  Bond cares about women with suggestive names, women who work for his enemies, women who happen to be anywhere in the vicinity.  Sherlock doesn’t.  He finds the peculiar and the clever interesting.  Yes, in various games that would come out as “PsyLim: Must solve unusual mysteries”, but that’s a slippery slope to silliness as well as points for doing what your character should be doing anyway.

My other RPG in mind to run is Champions.  I’ve never run Champions.  I’ve built like a 1000 characters for Champions because that’s the way my mind sometimes works (worked?).  I’ve lost interest in the disadvantage system for the game or anything remotely like it in other games.  Yes, some things are disadvantages.  Taking damage from being alive is worth points.  Having enemies isn’t.  PCs have enemies, whether they know it or not, otherwise they don’t have a story.  Having a secret identity is a story element, not a structural disadvantage.  This was the problem with such things as Dark Fate or Dark Secret in L5R – why do you get compensated for story aspects to your character?

Sure, some systems embrace the idea of forcing story and that mechanical constructs have built in story features.  Rubbish.  So unnecessary.  One would think that being a 100% storyteller would mean liking narrative systems.  Nope.  See, here’s the thing.  Stories are easy.  Do D&D characters, whether oD&D, d20, or 4e come with disad mechanics?  Are there stories told somewhere between the tactical wargame combats?  I think so.  Especially with d20, where there’s an actual skill system (not that it meant as much to D&D as it did a bunch of other d20 games).

Players should want their characters to be interesting, distinct, not in a “my +3 sword is +5 against red pandas” way.  But, in a “then I played my drum for him, my best for him, and the King of All Demons wept” way.

Quirks, where you get some minimal character point bonus, make more sense to me than “start with 100 points, then spend roughly 150 on disads” because they aren’t a mess of game balance versus thematic plausibility.

It’s far more important for a group of PCs to have each PC have a role (usually involving some mechanical niche) than in having Power Crab be vulnerable to boiling water and butter.

So, I’m thinking when I run Champions that I just create 300+ point characters and only take into account Power Crab’s Vulnerability 2x Stun vs. attacks from below, rather than Power Crab’s PsyLim: Obsession with Goth Culture or how Power Crab is Hunted: The Galactic Gourmand, 11 or less.

Story problems are exactly that – parts of the story.  Just like how Caste in AtDY doesn’t give or cost you any points, being a Dalit just makes things problematic when partying with the one-percenters until you achieve a blue hue in your skin.  (I wonder how I incorporate a PC taking Shyama Varna when he’s in the Kshatriya Caste – I guess lowlifes will give him street cred of the “yo, bro, divine thug life!” type.)

Flaws are also far more interesting when they develop from play.  I grow weary when players are supposed to write novellas about what they did before play began.  Becoming – Enraged: When seeing idiotic parodies 14 or less, recover 8 or less – should occur from “well, that session sure wasn’t subtle”.

As for the movie, three stars.  Solid, could have done some things better.  Maybe I’ll get more specific later.  Definitely didn’t inspire me to want to play in its world any more than I’m already not that interested in playing in its world, though.


Flash VS Arrow

March 26, 2015

TV time.  For, one medium of storytelling can say something about another.

Throughout this first season of Flash and third season of Arrow, Flash has been the far superior show.

Why?

Angst.

Or, fun, the antiangst.

See, here’s the thing.  There are people in this world who like dark.  They like misery.  They like certain graphic novels or whatever with goofy pointy-haired art on Wolverine, or whatever.  Then, there’s people who like superheroes.

Superheroes are not about dark.  The grim, antihero avenger is notable for being different, not for being the norm.  Except, TV doesn’t work that way.  At least, not anymore.

If there’s one thing that I feel incredibly strongly from shows I watched while growing up and shows from the last decade or two, it’s angst.  I realize that telling the same sort of pollyannaesque stories that shows typically did gets old, but not everything needs to be edgy.  Sometimes, you can not be depressing.  You can avoid angst.

Sure, TV shows from the 60’s and 70’s weren’t as simplistic as I recall when I watched them as a child.  There’s an episode of Wonder Woman on this weekend that will have an alien point out the problematic nature of calling the US the good guys in WW2 given the treatment of Japanese in this country.  While I didn’t watch that episode as a child, I doubt I would have even noticed.  I was much more likely to notice the incredibly awful fight scenes in the show and, depending upon age, how wonderful Lynda Carter was.

I don’t recall Smallville that well, even though I watched most to all episodes and taped a lot of them.  But, what I do recall is the constant darkness, not just of the sets but of the tone of the show.  I’ve felt that a lot with superhero shows or shows about protagonists that essentially have super powers.

There are some interesting exceptions.  Oddly, one of them is part horror – Buffy.  Buffy could be dark, but Buffy had fun.  Buffy did humor.  Why in the world is a superhero show less humorous than a show full of demons?

Charmed was generally much more positive.  Now, it was top tier in the cheesiness, to the point where I actually had to turn the channel and watch Sheena.  So, I’m hardly going to point to Charmed for being more enjoyable or desirable TV (some parts were obviously desirable).

Arrow was good.  In season one.  In the first five or so episodes.  As soon as the Huntress appeared, I felt like it took a turn for the worse.  Now, sure, Thea was incredibly annoying, Laurel was annoying, the soap opera stuff was way overdone, and there were various things to nitpick.  I’ll get to nitpicking later.

But, it was different.  The superhero straight up murdered a bunch of people.  That might be the in thing these days, but I only watch a few shows anymore and my childhood was A-Team level violence for the most part.  It was clever.  Oliver expecting to get accused was clever, though his way out of it didn’t make a ton of sense.  It had fun.  Oliver speaking other languages.  Oliver being Russian Mob Captain.  Oliver parkouring around in broad daylight.  Felicity when Felicity was lovable.

Then, angst.  Oliver whining, going through a crisis of identity, whatever.  Felicity going from flirty girl to true love.

Does Flash suffer from the Barry/Iris relationship?  Sure.  But, that’s a given.  It’s also incredibly weird given the set up that they are de facto siblings, but whatever.

But, Flash has fun.  I don’t mean Barry having fun, like embarrassing a mugger, though that’s part of it.  I mean the entire show does humorous things.  It has characters laugh.  It has Eddie hug Barry.  It has Iris whack Barry for not telling her that Oliver is a friend of his.  We aren’t looking for Batman (60s) camp, even though that show is amazingly awesome for adults.  Where that show kind of failed was being a cool action show for kids because I did watch that as a child and I didn’t like it as much then as I do now.

Lots of people say Arrow season 3 is a mess.  I’d say season 2 was a slog of ludicrous motivations.  Plus, the action scenes were much better in early season 1 episodes than what I can recall of season 2.  I don’t just mean fights.  Again, Stephen Amell scaling a building in broad daylight is way cooler than some dark, too fast to see what actually happens fight between stunt doubles.

I’ve read that the writers of Arrow moved to Flash.  Maybe that’s why Arrow went into decline and Flash has been so good.  It really has been good.  It feels like a show about a superhero.  Arrow went down the path of Smallville of feeling like a show about someone burdened all of the time.

While it’s problematic to have Arrow maintain a murderer as its hero, it can recapture what made it exciting from early season 1.  How do I know?  Because Oliver visiting Barry was a really good episode.  Because Arrow still has moments, sparse as they are.  Laurel and Thea aren’t hatable anymore, which is amazing progress.  It shows that things can be improved.  The big problem is that Oliver went from lovable to hatable (Felicity too).  He went from supersmart to incredibly stupid.  I don’t like stupid characters.  Felicity still has fun … when she guests on Flash.

I get tired of the nitpicking of the two shows because I think nitpicking just misses the fundamental features of the shows.  Yes, Flash should just win in no time against anyone.  That’s a flaw with the character that can’t be escaped, much like how ridiculous Superman villains are, with their endless supplies of Kryptonite.

Nor is it the soap opera romances that I find worth dwelling upon.  Sure, they suck.  But, so much of them is to be expected.  Iris doesn’t actually bother me.  Enough *fun* stuff is going on that I don’t have to obsess over their awful relationship.  Plus, Eddie can be really funny when he’s not being jealous.

Arrow needs to recover or develop a sense of humor.  Or, it’s going to continue to wallow in its angst.

So, what does this mean for gaming?

Gaming is supposed to be fun.  While some folks might want to play Vampire: The Masquerade as it seemed to be intended or play Call of Cthulhu in a noncampy way or whatever, I don’t.  Nor do I see much in the way of others getting into an angst ridden lifestyle.  Because, you know what, we get that in our real lives.

Superheroes are appealing because of their superpowers.  No, really.  They aren’t terribly different in story form from numerous other types of characters.  Well, yes, there is a bit of old school upbeat sentimentality in their tales that other genres may or may not use.  But, the reason I read comic books wasn’t to dwell on failed romances and crippling psychological trauma but to see gods fight each other with lightning or to have some blue guy wrestle an angel on the moon.

While making fun of a genre detracts from it, to where I see it being challenging to play a superhero RPG a la comics, having humor be involved in play is fun.  Gallows humor can be fun, but it doesn’t need to be that all of the time, either.  I played a Conan adventure where my greatest enjoyment was picturing my character trying to hook up with a noblewoman’s daughters in her mansion, without it being obvious to everyone.  Offering to help another PC with a more puritanical bent get in with the older daughter was memorable.

But, it’s not just the funny that produces the fun.  It’s also just fast pacing.  Flash moves.  Arrow stalls.  I get really tired of planning in games, as I do enough of that in my life.  I want to do things.  Even high risk, low reward things are better than sitting around talking about what could be done.  Use abilities.  If Knowledge: Hilly Watersheds isn’t getting use, make up a reason to roll it.  Cut from one scene to another.  Don’t dwell on the logistics of travel or having the right equipment, or whatever (I know, some people, like Brad, like this sort of thing).  Keep things happening.  Give scenes that excite people, like pretty much any seen with HG Wells (except his Gideon scenes) – he is the best thing about Flash.

Where Flash focuses on using superhero abilities, Arrow seems to have them just be part of the background.  Focusing on the cool things that PCs can do rather than brushing aside the Whirlwind Death Cyclone Kick should matter.  If abilities aren’t cool, can make them cool.  RPGs are flexible that way.  Maybe you don’t want to change mechanics, but a GM can create enemies highly vulnerable to a mechanic that doesn’t play as cool as it sounds.

Try to make PCs feel competent.  Interestingly enough, Oliver griefs Barry on his poor use of his abilities, but, actually, the way the series go, Barry feels like the more competent superhero.  Oliver is way too tortured to enjoy any success.  Successes should be fun.  Of course, it’s great when failures are fun, too.  I think players get too used to succeeding and to the story being mechanical rather than thematic that the value of failures is overlooked.  I don’t think failure should be common, as that’s antiheroic and amazingly antifun.  I don’t think certain types of failure are fun – “Oh, you needed a 25 to swim to the other side of the lake to continue the chase.  I guess you drown and die.”  But, having setbacks that only emphasize successes later or by others is key to creating drama.

It doesn’t bother me that things go wrong for The Arrow and The Flash.  What bothers me is when it feels like the show is mostly about failure (Arrow) and the inability to enjoy anything (Arrow).  The pattern I see being preferable is one of mostly success with some interesting failures, not dark, dark, dark, dawn, dark, dark, dark, dark, dawn.