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.

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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.


Affa-bull

November 6, 2016

I know this might be weird, but I think I’m going to add a blogpost about RPG theory.  I know, I know, everyone wants to see my True Dungeon Red Ranger, Blue Bow build or get my take on HoR4 crafting, but I need to let some ideas just spew.

While Flash is nowhere near as good as first part of season one, the other CW superhero shows are doing pretty well relative to where they’ve been.  The first season of Supergirl was one where I often wasn’t that interested in watching an episode but felt like I should.

Second season has been far more appealing to me.  Reducing Jimmy’s role helps immensely as everything with him is just so forced.  But, it’s Superman that inspired this post.

Some folks love the cheery Supergirl Superman.  Some folks complain about how it’s a boring take.  Ultimately, why I like him is that he’s likable.

Characters in movies, TV, plays (hey, I can fake class), books that are likable sell me on the product no matter how plotholeful something is, how cringeworthy some scenes/dialogue can be, and so on.

But, what got me thinking, because occasionally I think about gaming, is does it matter if PCs are likable?  I’ve run into the problem of unlikable NPCs that weren’t villains, but distinguish from that.

Do I even notice whether I like someone’s PC or not?

In convention play, where you get strangers and some people just dominate with their enhanced personalities, if you like, you like, and, if you don’t, you whine to your friends later.  My liking Gun-Bunny-Babette makes for a more pleasant experience than being annoyed by Gun-Bunny-Bambi.

Accents, mannerisms, amusing decisions, comedic timing – please.

But, home and/or living campaign play.  Do I even notice?

So much of the time, the focus in my play becomes on mechanics.  Sure, I may like or dislike mechanics.  I may get tired of abuse of grappling.  I may wonder why I bother doing anything when completely overshadowed or wonder why I have to do things I don’t think are my responsibility when others don’t manofsteel-up.

But, that’s not the point, either.  Actual, character likability.

In our Conan play, I liked cowardly Rald.  Maybe it helped that the GM liked him, too.  Maybe it helped to have the contrast from Hak.  Maybe it was because my character and he were kind of suited for taking very non-Conanesque roles.  Of course, as much as Rald and Ty might seem like good ole lads who favor a pint, a drag, and nubile women (one much more than the other), mechanically, 18th level characters are not good ole lads … come to think of it.

I rooted for our Princess Police PCs (most of the time).  Over time, PCs just gain depth and relevance to your own character, which is why long campaigns are preferable.  But, I don’t know that there was that much standing out of any particular character.

I hope my PCs are likable.  I know I can be frustrating in my wants.

But, does it matter?  Does your play really change based on liking another PC or not?

Speaking of another, I do want to like my PCs.  I liked Ikoma Jun.  I liked Hoshi Takumi.  I liked Usagi Kidai.  I don’t know that I ever got to liking Moshi Shigeo – he didn’t really accomplish much that was interesting, which was why I enjoyed playing Takumi more.

Let’s say likability does matter.  What does one do to improve it?  Have a coherent hook?  Have particular personality traits or avoid particular ones?  I don’t really know.  I tend toward supportive, sidekickish characters, as I’m not interested in intraparty conflict.  What about mechanics?  I also tend to have underpowered characters, and that can frustrate people.

Is it as simple as “save the day a few times” and everyone will like you just fine?


Reign Needed

October 8, 2016

I haven’t checked in to Kickstarter for a while.  After backing Age of Legends, Conan, Aquelarre, I could use the break.

I did back Ninja Crusade 2e’s expansion Kickstarter, but it didn’t fund.  It did relaunch.  It’s already funded.  The game sounds like my sort of thing, in that I’ve played 1e and wasn’t that thrilled with the mechanics but like the sound of 2e’s changes.  Where Feng Shui ended up being a huge disappointment because it focused on things I didn’t care about and ignored addressing things I did, to the point where I consider 1e a better game for campaign play, I have hopes based on the description of the ethos the game is going for.  Since I missed the initial 2e launch, I’m mostly backing for getting the 2e corebook.  I doubt the stretch goal will hit, but that would be more useful to me than worrying about expansion materials.

Empire’s Reign

When is the Shadowfist Kickstarter going to happen?

In other realms, there’s a bit lacking in reins.  Nothing is really holding my attention outside of my latest fixation.

I’m well aware that I’ve always been this way – enthused by the latest thing I turn my weary gaze to.  When I play a campaign, it’s typically the campaign.  When I play a CCG weekly (or playtest or design), it’s typically the CCG.  But, the interest in V:TES is weak, Shadowfist is very undemanding (which is a good thing), Nightmare War isn’t moving very quickly and HoR4 will likely have the same experience of waiting around for the next session.

Wandering mentally has had the effect of getting me to reread some books (well, parts of them I find more appealing).  It’s interesting how I’ll come back to a novel after N+ years and find a different take on things.  There is a series that I read the first book for and found it in my wheelhouse, in that I would read modern supernatural stuff.  I never got the second book.  Skimming through it, I now think it’s rather … not so great.  I guess I realized that at the time.

See, it uses astrology, which you may realize I find a rich vein for fiction.  But, it just isn’t cool enough.  The writing now seems extremely repetitive.  The world just isn’t all that.

I kept up with Anita Blake stuff for ages because the world was just so interesting from book one.  Of course, it got sillier, though the world was not as much of an issue as the way the main character was handled.

I skimmed through one of the Deryni books I had only read a couple of times or so.  Far more engaging.  What I took away, though, since it was familiar ground, was just how different from a FRPG campaign it would be.  It’s political, whether religion politics, politics politics, or relationship politics.  One could analyze early books from later books and maybe say that the series has moved away from action and toward soap opera.  But, I don’t recall a tremendous amount of action in earlier books and I don’t recall caring about much of it, anyway.

Whether hinting at l33t swording by Morgan or energy battles, just not the draw.  If anything, the incredible stupidity on the parts of the protagonists in how they use their powers is a frustrating distraction from what’s often pleasant drama.  (I especially have a hard time with any of the books involving Camber because of how dark they get and how easily wizards can own non-wizards if they bother to.)

I did come away, though, with a bit of a new view.  Maybe I’m just really crotchety, but there’s too much “[blank] is the greatest of them all” to characters.  I’m not looking for flawed types who agonize through life.  I just don’t need people to constantly express how great someone else is.  Should be more subtle.  Can convey that someone is respected in all of the 11 Kingdoms without actually having one character state to another character how the person is respected by all.

Of course, this is from someone who can’t even write a short story to submit for publishing.  But, opinions are why blogs are written.

Speaking of opinions, Flash and Arrow premiered.

As I read reviews’ comments, my opinions feel like a rehash, but here we go, anyway.

Both series suffer from repeating annoying things.  That doesn’t make them bad, though I wouldn’t call Arrow good – Flash still has enough humor to be good.

Some folks commenting on Arrow are all thrilled by going back to a season one feel.  Um, look, I found it interesting when the series opened with Oliver murdering people left and right, but to go back to that undermines the supposed character development in later seasons.  I like better action, but I’m still not feeling it.  What was better in season one was the sense that characters were actually doing something interesting.  Even if the filming of action is less bad recently, it still feels like people going through the motions.  What was appealing was how Oliver and The Hood felt like the same justice warrior, not Oliver’s relationship problems and Green Arrow’s bow parries.

Then, Flash’s repetitive superspeed fights is repetitive.

But, back to Arrow.  So, so tired of Oliver having to navigate relationships.  What made for the best scenes in season one were the surprising interactions with folks.  Let me pull my shirt down to show you I’m Bratva.  Let me speak foreign languages to maids, et al.  Let me try to keep my secret in the most flimsy way possible from techbabe.  Oliver the outsider who plays by special rules so much better than Oliver the “oh look, I’m angst-ridden”.  Thea has her moments but is too slight to be credible as a super and too slight to be eye candy, Diggle is nowhere near as interesting to me as he is to a bunch of others, same with Lance.  If anyone, have Katrina Law be in more episodes, but don’t turn her into something else, even though that already started – she was so good early on.

What wasn’t all that was the family drama, the friend drama, the girlfriend drama.  Those things are old.  Be novel, or, at least, be short story.

Flash, meanwhile, has gone the same route of dipping into the well of time babble.  Just stop.  Find something creative to do.  I’m not saying avoid using superpowers, since I actually find superpowers more interesting in superheroes than lack of superpowers.  For instance, what’s a fight between two speedsters?  It’s a bunch of punching and kicking and pushing and throws and tossing stuff.  Gee, that sounds like a fight between two bricks or two martial artists (without cool martial arts moves, which Arrow did better in season one).  Now, there’s a problem.  Psionics is not interesting, probably even less so in TV.  Brick versus speedster can often be problematic interaction.  Teleporter versus speedster is awfully like speedster versus speedster.

Flash is more appealing because the characters are more appealing.  Harrison was amazing early on, still good.  Cisco may be a tad too forced sometimes but mostly good.  Some of the combinations work out well.  Course, swapping Felicity and Iris on the two shows could be so much better than the relationship slogs we’ve had to endure, as one of Oliver’s best moments involved Iris’s take on him, where Felicity and Barry always was at least decent.

I’m curious as to how Supergirl will go now that it can be better integrated.  I don’t really look that forward to it because it focuses too much on romance.  You know, as someone who actually likes romance in things, it’s not necessary to be beaten over the head with how it has to be a source of conflict.  There are other paths to go.  I’m also less clear what the show should be about.

Legends of Tomorrow actually ended on a higher note, though LoT is really all about certain characters doing fun things.

That’s the thing.  Superhero shows should be about doing fun things.  Make amusing use of powers.  Have conversations full of double meanings due to secret identities.  Fire boxing glove arrows.  Salmon that ladder (aka focus on training).  But, more than anything else, do crossovers because you get out of the quagmires of your own angst and just do fun stuff.  Nyssa showing up is like a crossover.  I do look forward to the Supergirl/other crossover, hopefully with Mayor Handsome being on her list of guys she can make an exception for.

Oh, did I get away from gaming?  Well, probably next time.


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?


Season Premiers

October 31, 2015

There’s not much for me to talk about with Halloween.  It’s not like I play a card game based around vampires or taking on a persona is relevant to roll-playing or …

Let me see if I can tie some things together.

New TV seasons/shows started a bit ago.  Supergirl was okay.  Arrow is far better than it was most of last season.  Flash is kind of slow.  Doctor Who is far, far better with multipart episodes.  And, the best TV show on air remains the same – Open Court.

Yeah, not a lot of people are NBA TV watchers.  As moneymaking as the NBA is, it’s not like a show about it is going to captivate people the same way that … uh … NCIS Helena will captivate people.

Different people have different flavors.  Some people can stand listening to local news, and the rest of us can’t.  And, so forth.

Open Court is like the PBS, “Taste of the Bay” or whatever it’s called shows for people who find sports more interesting than food.  It’s not Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption or the far inferior Mike and Mike and the two arrogant guys (just remembered, First Take) shows.  All of those shows deal in superficiality and a bunch of meaningless crap, like whether someone said something politically incorrect.  It’s not Sportscenter or even Baseball Tonight (which I should probably watch more) in that it isn’t “reporting”.

What it’s kind of more like is Siskel & Ebert.  In that, it’s people expressing real opinions.  Except, unlike S&E, it has people telling stories.  It just wins TV.

Well, said the same thing before.  Just need replication, er, reminders.

I didn’t post anything about Sunday’s V:TES besides foreshadowing, dum dum dum.

In the vein of new, and that’s what Halloween is all about – the split between the past and the less past, I came up with a new experiment.  I had created it a while back but only got around to implementing it Sunday.

It’s called Dirty Dozen.  The entire point is to test the brokenness of Govern the Unaligned.  You run 12x Govern as your only Dominate cards.  You, then, pick four other cards you play 12 copies of because all decks must be perfectly symmetrical and can only ever be 60, 70, 75, 80, or 90 cards.

In the first game, my Obtenebrators had to wall up against !Salubri bleed (the only noncombat deck, you know, what happens every game), so I only ousted my prey by his transferring out with 11 minutes or so left.  My predator, then, poofed, and we had a table split.  My other four cards?  Sudden, Arms of the Abyss, Target Vitals, and Shadow Strike.  My combats with my second prey, a gun deck, were inconclusive.  I Suddened four Blood Dolls, methinksies.

Having little time, I played my second DDD.  The other four cards were Zip Line, Skin of Rock, Skin of Night, and Freak Drive.  This died pretty fast as I had three decks that could stealth bleed behind me.  Ophidian Gaze gave my prey the lock in the endgame.  Not good design, in my mind.  I realize it’s too much card text, but a more appropriate (if less good) effect would be “Reduce a bleed against you by one.  Put this card on this reacting minion.  You may burn this card for +1 bleed.”  Why give FoS something they don’t really care about?  Because just shoring up a weakness makes clans more alike, while bleed reduction is not a good effect for the game.  Don’t want to reduce offense, want to redirect offense to another player because that keeps games moving towards resolution.

So, what did I prove?  As is always the case, two V:TES games reveals the truths of the universe.  The truth is that Govern is not broken in the broken sense (rather than the “broken” = top power level sense).  You cannot just play Govern and win all of the time.  To win all of the time, you do need to play Deflection, as well.

We continue to try different things with Shadowfist.  Thursday, we did Mooks/Sacred Grounds/+1 power per turn in a … four-player game.  It was terrible.  On turn two, one of the players had six power.  One player could drop his hand and still have power left.  One player played Queen of the Darkness Pagoda and Beaumains in the same turn and was just irrelevant to the game.  I failed a bid for victory with three Burning Mans, Mistress of Blotted Moonlight, two Floating Teeth, and a Skin and Darkness Bats in play.  Now, only two of the Burning Mans, the Mistress, and the Bats went for the final site.

Game two, we went with “FSSs cost you one less if you play them to the front row.” in addition to Mooks and miscellaneous FSSs open to all.  I played my 36-Legged Horror deck.  That has 5x Great Wall.  I had six power generating sites in play, including three 20-Body Great Walls, and my sites never got hurt by a character with fighting greater than 1.  There were double digit sites that could be attacked at times.  I liked this format.  You don’t have to use the rule, unlike the extra power every turn rule, but you can.

How does this all tie together?

Freshness.  Sometimes something fresh isn’t good, something I blogged about years ago.  Sometimes, it is.  By good, I mean entertaining.  I have been more entertained by Arrow and Doctor Who than in the previous annum.  I constantly need to find something different to do with V:TES – note that because Govern is on my personal tournament banned list, my concept decks are irrelevant to my post All Soul’s Day competitions.  Shadowfist house rules have often worked fine for making entertaining, if not plausible in tournament play, games.