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.


The Road To Mana

October 26, 2014

I know that part of my purpose is to share observations.  It occurred to me that that falls under talk story, though I may need to graduate to storyteller at some point.  Maybe that’s one of the difficulties I have running RPGs.  I’m so caught up in sharing a particular element and I don’t put all of the elements together into a complete story.

Let me tell a bit of a story.  Well, a 4000 word story.  At some point, it will tie slightly into gaming.

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I haven’t posted to this blog in weeks.  Reason being that I was traveling for two weeks.  Because my father’s family is from Hawai’i, going to Hawai’i is not a momentous event for me.  And, while I’m there, I tend to do things that aren’t remotely adventurous.  Eat at the same old places, hit the same old beaches.  Primarily what I think of as the meat of the trips is seeing family and friends, which may be something I’d write about if I used Facebook or whatever, but it’s not something that is all that sharable except when some interaction is directly applicable to a matter at hand.

This trip had two primary purposes.  One was to make more use of the house in Honolulu [ladies …].  The other was to do more adventurous things.  A key component to doing more adventurous things was hitting the other islands.  Friends and acquaintances would travel to various islands and I had really nothing to offer about them.  So, two of my brothers, the twins Stephen and Blair, and I arranged a four part trip.  Short time on Oahu to get organized, Big Island for four days, Maui for four days, back to the house for a couple of days before heading home.

Stage one was mostly about familiar food and a get together with our cousin and her friend at a nice Japanese restaurant.  Let’s move on to stage two.

We get to the Big Island and have an agenda.  Because we are there in the middle of a Tuesday, we hit the Kaumana Caves on the way to our vacation rental, which is 25 minutes North of Hilo on the coast, so in the middle of nowhere.  Well, we actually had lunch first, but rather than go into a series of restaurant reviews, I’ll say that the food on the Big Island was underwhelming with a French restaurant where we got crepes being the highlight (for Stephen and Blair, I got a dessert crepe for breakfast on the day we left that was okay but not lifechanging).  Buttered mochi from the farmer’s market was good, but I now know why fresh guava is not something I’ve ever seen before.

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So, the caves.  There are two.  A lava tube split open and there are steep stairs down into a Dagobah-like environ.  There are warning signs but no one is posted to prevent people from doing whatever.  Fortunately, my brothers are much more the active sort and have such useful things as flashlights.  The caves aren’t lit.  We went down and down one side.  Supposedly, there’s an end, but after we got to something of a split, we turned back.  I think it was more than 30 minutes one way.  The other way stopped not that far in.

So, being a gamer, what was the obvious thought?  This is what’s like to really be in a cave, to really be underground.  No light – complete dependence upon flashlights to find one’s way.  Having to crawl in one place and stand easily in another, with variations in terrain but bumping into the rocks always being painful due to pointiness.  There weren’t creatures, but there was stuff hanging from the ceiling, colorful rocks, and, when the flashlight was pointed toward the ceiling in the dark, it looked like that lightsaber image, though we didn’t seem to catch that picture.

A cool start to the trip.  And, it was kind of cool and kind of damp.

We got into our palatial estate.  Blair had arranged the place but didn’t realize it was just going to be a huge, fancy house with eight rental areas.  I had looked at the website and had a much better idea what to expect.  We were in the right, upper wing of the house.  Kitchenette area to the right, living area to the left, master bedroom’s reception area was past the kitchen where you could step out on the front veranda, then around the corner for the bed.  The rear veranda was beyond the living area.  My room was connected to both.  The backyard had fish pools and required a bit of a walk to get to the edge.  No water access as this coast was all about cliffs.

Backyard

Backyard

We checked out Laupahoehoe to see about a beach.  Not really a beach place, but it was cool looking with channels between the rocks.  We couldn’t find the cafe that was supposed to be on the road to the Point, so we drove to Hilo for dinner and then returned.

Wednesday was volcano/lava day.  Well, up until our helicopter tour of the lava flow was cancelled due to weather conditions.  We drove to the Volcanoes National Park and did what I always do – hike six miles.  We started with a short sulfur vent hike.  While not spectacular, it was like being on another world, with the steam rising up from the ground and the ubiquity of a certain gray/green plant that made me think original Star Trek planet.

Then, Kilauea Iki.  Four mile hike.  My brothers do Tough Mudder, I barely leave the house.  I was fine on the way down.  I was pleased with the overcast, windy, and cold environs of walking through the crater.  I was laboring once back up through tropical rainforest.  Good cardio workout, which brings up how walking from place to place in a non-industrial world, a la many fantasy worlds, is not so great unless you are physically awesome.  Also, I had not planned for the level of hiking we did, so I could have used better clothes, better planning of replacing shirts, which were gross, etc.  We stopped at the Thurston Lava Tube because we planned to and because we forgot when we got back up to the road that the full hike went past it.  It was very boring after Kaumana Caves.  Looks like a Disney ride’s cave.

Drive.  Few takeaways about the Big Island.  One of them is that everything was further than I thought.  I’m used to Oahu where 45 minutes (without traffic) takes you anywhere you want to go.  Big Island was “We aren’t even close to where this place is.” after 45 minutes of driving in a number of cases.  Also, jumping ahead a big, driving in complete darkness or really doing anything with no lights anywhere is not what this child of the suburbs is used to.  Big Island was this rural environment that I only ever might drive through on the way to some city.

Petroglyphs.  They were pretty dull.  The combination most interesting thing about the park’s petroglyph’s was the contrast of the biomes.  I’m not even sure biome is the right word, let alone describing things correctly.  But, anyway, went from tropical rainforest to open, treeless shrubland(?).  The petroglyph hike was just walking in a flat, open area over rocks to an amusing boardwalk built a bit above the ground to prevent people from getting too close to the petroglyphs.

Then, “end of the road” and sea arch.  Really, it’s the end of the road, as the road that used to go through this section of the coast was overrun by lava.  The rock remains here are more of an oily black sort.  Well, it was hard to see too clearly as we only got to the end when the Sun was setting.  Bit surreal to be walking in the dark, along a cement road that leads nowhere with the only trees in existence being this strange copse of palm trees near the cliffside.  Then, a long, long drive back through the park in the dark.

To the museum in the park.  On the Big Island, I was very hot once.  I was very cold twice.  This was the first time.  With the elevation, at night, to see the glow from a lava hole next to the Jaggar Museum, there was wind and there was “wearing a wet shirt and shorts is not comfortable” ness.

Hilo for dinner, then to the house.

Thursday was supposed to be beach day, but we had rescheduled our helicopter ride, as it’s not so easy to actually see lava on the ground, these days.  There’s no spurting lava up into the air or peer over the side of a crater like they show in videos.  No flow that you walk up to and stick a stick into, as far as I’m aware, unless you want to break some laws and get near the flow that is threatening Pahoa.  So, we had perfect weather in the morning.

Actually, while Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ana did cost a day of doing some stuff on the Big Island and we got some heavy rains at points, in terms of how we scheduled things on the various islands, we ended up pretty fortunate.  When we had to get clearer weather, we got it.

I think I’ve been on a helicopter since I wasn’t a baby, but I can’t recall specifically when.  A plus to having had the original ride cancelled was that I moved seats and ended up in the front on our actual ride.  My favorite part of the Big Island stretch was floating up into the air, zipping towards the clouds, and having the clear cockpit beneath me to look down upon the world.

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While I don’t know that learning to fly will have the same enjoyment as having someone else fly me around, this was the closest I think I’ll get to the feeling of what it’s like to fly.  I’ll get into my lack of scuba diving later.

It wasn’t all that spectacular as the lava is underground, just some burning of trees and seeing some of the magma through holes in the ground along with the wide destruction of forest.  We also checked out some waterfalls from a distance.  We didn’t do the doors off tour as we didn’t even know that was a thing.  Next time, the suggestion was to do a tour where we land places and get out.  My second favorite part of the ride was landing, so anything with more close ground action is probably to my taste.

Beaches.  This was the only day we actually went to beaches on the Big Island.  The storm took out our planned window for manta ray swimming.  Beach parks were closed on Friday.  We didn’t do anything on the Kona side of the island, even though Pu’uhonua o Honaunau was one of my top things to do and snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay was going to be part of hitting that area of the island.

Just means we need to go back.  We did everything we cared about from the North tip to the South tip of the island on the East side and nothing we were looking to do on the West side.  Mauna Kea will be gotten to in a moment.

First up, Black Sands Beach.  I did get into the water but not for very long.  It was rocky.  It was choppy.  We had other stuff we needed to do.  Memorable about BSB were a couple of things.  Hottest sand on the trip.  Coldest sand I can ever recall just below the top layer.  Very pretty pond behind the beach.  And, of course, like everyone always does, I bought a sweatshirt at the tourist shop.

Black Sands Beach's pond

Black Sands Beach’s pond

For, you see, life tries to make up for some of my stupidities.  It will sometimes cause gaming events to be cancelled when I’m too sick or exhausted or whatever to really be doing stuff, and so forth.  In this case, it said “This idiot forgot that the plan was to drive up to Mauna Kea for sunset this evening, where 10,000+ of elevation is not balmy.  We must make up for this lapse in bringing long pants and a jacket to beach trips by giving a tourist shop that happens to sell sweatshirts in 90 degree heat.”  Now, my brothers did forget long pants, as well, and fleece jackets, but they did have raincoats with them.

Green Sands Beach.  The guidance is that it’s a long hike to get to the beach.  First it’s a long drive on the highway.  Then, it’s a long drive to get to the parking.  Then, it’s a 2.5 mile hike to get to the beach.  Okay, even though this gave me bad blisters and led to my slipping and falling on a cement boat launch, I was happy to do it.  I’m not so sure I’d bother to do it again, unless I was with people who hadn’t done it.  Unless you really enjoy tedious 2.5 hikes over a bunch of rocks, pay the locals to drive you to the beach from the parking area.  Then, pay them again to drive you back.  If there’s one thing less palatable to me about hiking 2.5 miles to do something like swim, it’s hiking 2.5 miles after I’ve been swimming.

Amazing beach.  Stephen and Blair liked it more than I did, with it being the highlight of the trip for Stephen.  I still thought it was really cool.  It’s this tiny little bay with a steep lava rock backing, where there are no rocks on the beach, soft (green) sand, good visibility.  One side has a little cove thing.  Ironic that the black crabs were here rather than at Black Sands.

Green Sands Beach

Green Sands Beach

Still, while I couldn’t avoid any hiking on the rest of the trip, this pretty much did me in for anything more than maybe a half mile hike.

There was no way were going to make sunset on Mauna Kea, but we had a jeep, so we had to go up for stargazing.  We stopped on the way at Jack in the Box since it was open and since everyone knows how useful their parking lots are for changing into dry clothes.

Visitor Center at 9200 feet.  We got there just after the center closed and wanted to stay a bit to get used to the altitude.  We opened the jeep doors.  It was so cold we had trouble getting jackets on.  Still in shorts, I stood next to the visitor center to have no wind.  For, you see, wind … and rain (well, not that much at the center, itself).

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Only Mauna Kea picture I have.

Stars were starry.  Looked cool.  Thought it would be cooler at the top.  Colder, for sure.  We drove up to the summit area.  I say area because it was dark and we weren’t entirely sure where we were, but the road appeared to end.  White buildings were around.  So was snow and wind and rain.  We rushed out to touch one of the buildings then drove back down the 4000 feet to the visitor center and did some stargazing there.  I saw a shooting star.  It was amusing, but Mauna Kea is another thing to do next time, with hopefully a fuller experience.

At this point, even though we were going to miss out on stuff we had planned, it still felt like we had been on the Big Island for ages and had done a ton of stuff.  Friday was just driving up to Waipi’o Valley, where we didn’t decide to go down into the valley.  I couldn’t have hiked it.  We lacked either horses or mule drawn wagons, and the locals aren’t fond of people driving on their private land.  Horses.  There’s a reason horses play such an important part in non-industrial worlds.  They help you get blisters on your ass and not on your feet.

We drove to Waimea/Kamuela to hit Village Burger.  Checked out some cowboy stuff.  Drove to Polulu Valley Lookout.  Went down the Northwest coast highway, then back to the house.  Tropical storm only affected us in that all of the beach parks were closed.  Saturday, we tried Akaka Falls, the only thing on our list actually close to us, but it wasn’t open, which might have been due to it being shortly before 8:30AM or due to hurricane.  We got our crepes, noted that the lunch/dinner menus had tamales and chile rellenos at our favorite French restaurant on the Big Island, finished some shopping, and spent some time at the airport talking to a very attractive local.

Propeller plane to Maui.  Nice to make our flight, as we had early Sunday plans.  Saturday evening, we relaxed, finding our rental condo to be an interesting contrast to the house.  Maui, itself, was such a contrast with my main takeaway being just how much of a suburb of Oahu it feels with how new and manicured buildings look.  When I was on Maui for a day trip five or so years ago, I didn’t catch the same feel.

Sunday morning was diving.  For me, snorkeling as I don’t have medical clearance to overcome how I take blood pressure medication.  It felt kind of awkward, but I enjoyed the boat ride and talking to the captain.  We boated out to Lana’i.  We boated back.  Blair more so but both of my brothers had some motion sickness issues.  What I found trippy was how, after the helicopter ride and after boating, I could close my eyes and feel my body roll and sway.  Oh, besides the not being able to dive thing, this wasn’t my best day for another reason.  My blisters had gotten good enough that I ignored them.  I may have broken my toe while just standing outside the shower that morning.  That was annoying.

We didn’t do a lot in Lahaina, just some shave ice (too sour for me, with Tiger’s Blood being the best flavor) and Cool Cat’s, where my burger was fine, but I need to stop ordering medium rare as it’s getting kind of raw for me, which may just be how people cook things these days as medium rare was my norm when growing up, or I’m just changing.  Speaking of changing, we got Thai food one night on the Big Island and I had the hardest time getting through it, even though I only went spicy and not “Thai spicy”.  Weak.  It would have been my favorite food on the Big Island if it wasn’t such a pain to eat and the quantity of curry was so ludicrously vast, three times as vast as the rice to go with it.

Rest of the day was slow.  Because of the diving, we had to plan when to do flying and Haleakala.  Monday, then, became our day for the Road to Hana.  If diving could have been disappointing because snorkeling off Lana’i wasn’t that interesting, the Road to Hana was the biggest letdown by far.  They say to focus on 2-3 things as the trip is so damn long (Stephen did all of our driving on the Big Island and Maui, which displayed impressive patience).  We tried Waikamoi Falls.  We found the hiking trail.  I think we found the falls.  But, we couldn’t find the way you are supposed to go up.  We hiked up rocks that I think was the base of the falls.  They say it only shoots water when there’s rain.  Well, we just had a hurricane.  Very little water.  Okay, but not that great.  Our next thing was Waianapanapa.  The “Alice in Wonderland in Hawai’i” hike was more “Hobbit in Hawai’i” to me.  It was okay.  The beach was awesome.  Unfortunately, due to needing to hit other stuff before dark, we didn’t stop to swim or anything, just wander around a bit and take some pictures.  Black sand beach with a lot of contrast of beach from rock, to smaller rocks, to sand.  Places where you could be inside the rock formations.

Obvious gaming relevance.

Obvious gaming relevance.

We continued on to Ohe’o Gulch and the Pipiwai Trail.  I asked the ranger if it was common for their to be no water access at the Seven Sacred Pools.  He said that the storm meant the water flow was too dangerous.  If I would have known, since being there didn’t involve anything else for me to do, I would have been dropped off at Waianapanapa.  Stephen and Blair did have enough time before dark to do the Pipiwai Trail, but they would have liked to jump in the water afterwards, themselves.

So far, Maui wasn’t doing much for me.  Tuesday was kayaking.  Well, kayaking and snorkeling, but Stephen and I didn’t realize that was part of the event.  This redeemed Maui for me.  I may not have good balance or control seaborne vessels well, but I love the alternate transportation stuff.  It was a personal tour, so we opted for maybe about an equal distribution of kayaking and snorkeling.  Snorkeling was fantastic, much better than off Lana’i.  Right off Makena Beach, so it was 10 minutes from where we were staying in Kihei.

That shirt got really wet.

That shirt got really wet.

Lunch, the family store in Kula (Keokea, whatever).  The society house that our father and I visited on our day trip for Ching Ming wasn’t open, so it wasn’t much of a family thing as had been the previous trip.  Up Haleakala.  Had the usual drive through clouds thing.  Actually, the morning was so clear that there weren’t that many clouds, but we got out clouds.  Did much the same stuff I had already done.  Drive back down through clouds didn’t see the lateral rain I experienced previously, but it made the forest section below the visitor’s center kind of spooky.  I got to use my sweatshirt for a second time.  Yes, Hawai’i is all about the sweatshirt wearing.

Just keeping it "real" at 10,000 feet.

Just keeping it “real” at 10,000 feet.

The unfortunate thing, here, is that I think the massive temperature changes and elevation changes got me sick.  I had a sore throat on the way down.  I ended up badly congested that night and am still congested.  Too much Sun probably didn’t help, either.

We had most of Wednesday to do stuff.  Having hit very few beaches and since we were staying across the street from a beach, we decided a morning swim.  Kamaole 3.  Softest sand I’ve ever been on.  It was like walking on flour.  Clear morning.  Great visibility (water and out).  Calm.  Fish would appear and disappear out of the sand at our feet.  I was in the process of decongesting using my go to saline solution of the Pacific Ocean.  Just exquisite (well, could have used more beach babes, but whatever).  Having tons of time to kill, we decided to hit the aquarium.  It was okay as an aquarium.  What I liked a lot was that most of the time I was inside, in the dark, with cool air blowing.  I was feeling sunsickness pretty bad.  I just wanted to sit and not move.  I was a bit concerned that any worse and I might embarrass myself.

Weather turned.  Pouring rain while we were at the gift shop.  Made me feel much better.  Don’t know if it was adrenaline for getting out of the rain or things cooling or humidity turning into water, but it was a vast improvement.  Sam Sato’s was closed, so no noodles.  We got flatbread (essentially pizza) in Paia as driving on Maui, outside of the Road to Hana, Hale’akala, and maybe Lahaina was superquick.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with our flatbread.  We got gelato.  Insanely expensive.  Still not that impressed.  Actually, the food on Maui wasn’t any better than the Big Island.  My Cool Cat burger was better than my veal burger at Village Burger, but the veal burger meal was tainted by how unimpressed I was with my strawberry milkshake (nevermind that $24 for a burger meal doesn’t impress me much).

We stopped at a beach park and sat in the car while it rained.  We drove to a mall and my brothers wandered a bit while I tried a nap.  Significant rain and needing to be ready to hop a plane do not make for a lot of stuff to do, especially when not into shopping.

Weather was decent enough for our night flight back to Honolulu.  Had a family reunion on the Lee side Thursday night, saw a few Pangs before I left, but I flew out before the Pang dinner.

So, gaming.

Few things.

One obvious thing I thought about was my Feng Shui Tu Huo campaign that I started after my last trip to Hawai’i.  I had some trouble thinking about how to incorporate specific experiences into sessions, as a lot of the experience of the experiences we had was on a very micro level, where the action is the personal strain of hiking or swimming or paddling.  In other words, for an action game, don’t want to get too bogged down in mundane things.  The less mundane things, like the massive temperature and elevation swings need to be fleshed out.

I always think about superheroes when I’m in Hawai’i.  I don’t know whether it’s because I watched Kamen Rider, Kikaider, and Condorman (not the American thing, the 1975 show where the meteor allows you to see demons and throw explosive darts from your condormobile) when I was visiting.  Maybe it was having more time to dream, like when I was thinking of how to create a Transformers RPG when visiting.  I thought of a concept for a super for me to play.  Two problems.  One is that I’d need to find a GM in order to actually play much rather than run.  Two is that I start thinking about worlds and genre conventions and stuff and run into a lack of wanting to go to the effort of creating a supes world.

So, there I was, bored at Ohe’o Gulch, listening to the people in the neighboring car tell their rental agency they couldn’t start their car, not even thinking about jumper cables until my brothers got back and we looked for some to no avail, running through just how fast inches of flight in Champions are when multiplied out by Speed.  I kept coming to the conclusion that going fast in Champions at combat speed is really, really hard, with the noncombat multiplier being jacked up really high being how you get into mach speeds.

I thought of another fantasy premise, but I don’t see it going anywhere.  Can’t even quite conceive exactly what the enemy is.  Had some V:TES anarch card ideas.

In general, I tried to think about how actually doing exotic activities would relate to RPGs and didn’t get that far.  I have a somewhat better idea on physical challenges of various things that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  I have a better sense of what it’s like to actually be flying, which plane travel doesn’t give me.  But, it was mostly a more personal and more immediate adventure that I’m struggling with translating into things I’d run.

 

 


Kill The Wizard

May 10, 2014

A thought for individual games has solidified some, recently, into a general philosophy that I may increasingly embrace.

PCs shouldn’t do “magic”.

There’s a reason, of course, for those quotes.  What is “magic”?  “Magic” encompasses those abilities that are disproportionately versatile, world-altering, or otherwise too efficient at challenge-solving.  These sort of superior PC abilities put an extra burden on the GM when it comes to fashioning challenges.  Furthermore, there tends to be a massive discrepancy in usefulness of PCs with regards to each other, which can affect player enjoyment.  I’ll start with giving some examples of “magic” and come back to the issues with it later.

Let’s start with supers.  Superstrength is quite versatile in superhero worlds and in a number of superhero RPGs (to their credits).  But, it’s not “magic”.  Variable Power Pool in Champions is obviously “magic”.  Green Lantern does “magic”.  As does Magneto.  But, so does Professor X and numerous other psychs.  This could be why I hate the idea of psy based supers.  When you can read minds, game over, you win.  When you can control minds, game over, you win.  Techlords, aka gadgeteers, also do “magic”.  Reed Richards can make anything.  Tony Stark can come up with any modification to the armor.  Bat sharkfood.  Whatever.

If it’s boring that Superman can pretty much do anything with his angel/god powers, it’s also incredibly boring that somebody can just kitbash victory.  If.  I don’t find Superman all that interesting as a character, but there are adventures of his that I find interesting.  It’s a staple of fiction that the genius puts together some ad hoc world-saving device that may very well never be seen again (or, much more rarely, find an old one in the closet to deal with a repetitive problem).  I don’t have a problem with the Doctor throwing something together, etc.

However, I lost focus, there.  “Magic” is something characters in fiction do all of the time, and it works because fiction and RPGs are two different things.  PCs should not be about the “wait around a few hours, then roll Science to make the Winning Tool”.

Talked a bit about superworlds, very lightly on how science can fix every problem with the power of science!!  Obviously, magic lends itself highly to “magic”.

For various reasons, Elric is a terrible RPG character.  One of those reasons is that the way he solves problems is “Now, what was that summoning spell to bring some god or army of supernatural monsters to save me?”  Thomas Covenant *is* magic/”magic”.  Etc.  But, I think it’s time to stop on the fiction side of things and get into the game side of things.

D&D.  Are magic-users and clerics, et al, doing “magic”?  In some cases, yes.  In some cases, no.  The pattern with many D&D versions is that the magic-user starts off weak and becomes dominant later.  Cleric may never start off weak and may not have quite the upside a magic-user does, but there’s still a very different power* progression to the magicless.  The “Do I cast Sleep or Magic Missile today?” magic-user is not doing “magic”.  On the other hand, it’s not just higher level spells, it’s just effects that can be overly effective with the right GM, like Invisibility, that get into doing “magic”.

*  Power isn’t the clearest term to use, as power can mean magnitude of effect to some, where I often factor in versatility/effectiveness when I speak of power (including when I talk about it in CCGs).

D&D is heavily predicated upon PC magic, either in terms of permanents – the ubiquitous magic items – or in terms of spells.  What about Conan d20, a far more swords and sorcery game?

Magical ability very easily becomes a situation of “magic”.  Yes, the system is far more subtle, but that just means that the player needs to be cleverer to really exploit it.  There were many situations where some spell, possibly one that wasn’t spectacular, could deal with challenges in a way that the rest of the party had no ability to use.

Vampire.  V:TM or V:TR, though my experience is much greater with the former.  A key feature of the game is that PCs have superhuman abilities, many of which are essentially magic.  Without those abilities, not vampires anymore.  The more openended disciplines, such as Animalism, Dominate, and Presence, are “magic”.  Clever use can just blow apart challenges.  Thaumaturgy in V:TM is, of course, the worst offender unless the GM clamps down on what PCs can learn to do.

Hopefully little point to dragging out more examples of magic=”magic” or where XYZ=”magic”, but, of course, can’t skip over expending words on noting the brokenness of shugenja in L5R.

There’s a vaguely amusing thread on the AEG forums at the moment where someone asked about how much buying additional spells with XP should cost.  The shugenja player isn’t happy, where the monk (admittedly, kiho never see play in my campaigns, so I don’t bother learning much about them) and four bushi are all satisfied.  My amusement at someone being frustrated by not having a higher level of godlike power is tempered by the idea that it’s probably just someone who doesn’t understand the system well enough to understand just how much shugenja are better than everyone else.  On the other hand, the GM might be reining in spell effectiveness to a much greater degree than most do.

Why are shugenja gods?

Commune.  Commune is the single most broken effect in L5R.  As much as GMs may anticipate how Commune destroys investigation challenges and come up with cheesy “the kami were all banished” or makes kami a pain in the ass to get info out of even though it’s pathetically easy to call max Raises on a Commune spell for clarity every single time, then just recast it over and over until you ask the right questions, those who can’t speak to the kami can’t just ask the world to supply the investigation destroying information that kami can provide.

Path to Inner Peace.  Sure, there are some other abilities that enable real healing, i.e. non-Medicine healing since Medicine is garbage healing.  Pritnear no PCs have them.  While it should be obvious at all times, our 20 Goblin Winter campaign, which didn’t allow shugenja, clearly showed that the lack of real healing completely changes party action.  We would have to head back to Shinsei’s Last Hope and mope about for a while to not have someone sit in wound penalties … while hunting for Shadowlands monsters.  I would say that the real problem with Path isn’t that Path is “magic”, but that all RPGs should pretty much have daily instaheal, which is a whole separate blog post that can get into my thoughts on a thread I was reading not long ago.

Jade Strike.  Invulnerable?  Okay, everyone guard the shugenja.

Fires of Purity.  Forget that it’s something like 4k4+ damage every round in real combat situations.  As mentioned in at least one previous blog post, it makes kidnapping impossible.  It destroys cavalry.  It turns grapple from murder into turbomurder.  It prevents party members from being attacked, at times.

The all shugenja party is the optimized party.  Can go on about how great your murder prowess is with simple attacks and no-dachi 7 or testsubo 7, but the all shugenja party will murder just fine and have a host of abilities that the magicless won’t have.  As for courtier/artisan/monk abilities, outside of Henshin, I never see them do anything you can’t do by improving Awareness or whatever, which has a lot to do with how poorly the game explains how these abilities are supposed to be useful, but it is what it is.  I really don’t expect Sword and Fan to change my play experiences significantly.  Of course, YMMV.

So, great, plenty of examples of “magic”.  Whining isn’t that useful.

There are other reasons I think hunter (with a lowercase “h”) campaigns make far more sense than monster campaigns in the World of Darkness, but a major reason would be the difference in the nature of challenges.  If the PC vampire can run around Dominating kine left and right, going to be a lot different than “shotgun to the head” sort of challenges that hunters will face.  Clearly, there’s a difference between Garou and mages, though Garou ability to interdimensionally travel is rather a huge “magic” problem.

Quite a few players of supers are probably going to be fine with character concepts around punching buildings apart, blasting buildings apart, flying charges into buildings until they fall apart, and the like where “magic” isn’t so much of an issue.  I’m vastly more familiar with Champions than other supers games, so I think in terms of every single ability being built and bought, which greatly limits versatility.  Again, just don’t allow the Variable Power Pools or Multipowers with 15 slots or any of the sort of stuff you might see in Mystic Masters.

The most problematic situation from a marketing/sales perspective is taking “magic” out of fantasy by limiting/restricting/removing PC magic.  Yet, fiction is full of (and used to be mostly about) protagonists who killed the foul sorcerers with no magic or extremely limited magic.  That was kind of the point of Elric – being the supreme sorcerer was a twist compared to the Conans of the genre.

I think it can be done.

I think removing shugenja from L5R as a PC option is entirely viable.  Sure, I would come up with healing house rules to make Medicine Raises give +1k1 instead of +1k0 to wound treatment, though that’s still probably not nearly enough healing to where I’d probably just say you heal Stamina xN after every scene or each day (x8 or something for the former and x15 or something or the simpler full heal for the latter).

Our Conan campaign didn’t always have the sorcerer PC(s) around.  Again, though, magic != “magic”.  With L5R, it would be incredibly hard to remove the “magic” abilities of someone who could do magic, though it would actually be far easier if the party wizard was a maho-tsukai, where your spell selection is much more tailorable by a GM.  But, with Conan, it shouldn’t really be that hard to limit spellcasting, especially with the far more esoteric Defensive Blasts of 2e, versus the nuclear option Defensive Blast of 1e.

RuneQuest’s battle magic, with the exception of healing, tends to be incredibly narrow and just a lot of buffs.  I don’t feel the “magic” in the game at all.  Rune Magic being one-shot also makes that awful and largely irrelevant.  I know my characters have never found Rune Magic remotely effective.

Shadowrun is a world I just don’t get, so there’s little point to my commenting on how to take the “magic” out of the game.  May be that the whole point of the game is that everyone has “magic” since it’s a world that combines the two things that are most prone to leading to “magic” – high technology and … magic.

“But, when are you going to elaborate on why ‘magic’ is a problem?”

From a GM perspective, consider this scenario:  You have a party with one or two “magic”-users and some inferior PCs.  You aren’t lazy and actually consider all of the different ways “magic” can overcome challenges too easily.  Then, game day/night happens and your “magic”-users don’t show up.  Okay, GMs who adjust on the fly better may be asking “And …?”  But, it’s just more work when I already find GMing to be choreful.

From a player perspective, it can get really old to be a spearchucker.  Not so much for me, as I embrace sidekickness to a far, far greater degree than others, but even I can get tired of “taking up space” in games.  Some RPG campaigns are also far less about mechanics than others, and I can get into my personal narratives to a greater degree to where mechanical spearchuckerness is not so bad.  L5R is like that for me where I’m far more into NPC relations and shopping than I am trying to find a purpose as a non-shugenja.  Lots of folks aren’t so keen on being mechanically disadvantaged by lacking that old time “magic”.

Then, why even bother having it be an issue in the first place?  Why not just have parties where the PCs are competing (because PCs do compete – if they didn’t, folks wouldn’t complain about how unbalanced different character builds are) on a relatively level playing field?  “Okay, you scurvy lot.  Who is the fighter?  Who is the talker?  Who is the rogue?  Got it.  Now, at all times there’s this ghost that hangs out with you that heals you to full twice a day …”