Mind Tricks

April 29, 2018

You may have heard.  V:TES is supposed to go back in print … again.

VEKN.net announcement.

I feel some enthusiasm.  I felt some enthusiasm last year for having some of the Anthology Set cards get printed.  Mostly, though, I think it’s because it gives something for other people to get enthused about.  I may not be that excited by the tournament scene as I expect the game to continue to be oriented to things I’m not that fond of – fat vampires and bloat.  But, new stuff causes new stuff to be tried in tournaments, which produces some level of increased variety.

We’ve been getting games in every few weeks.  That works for me.  I enjoy playing the game.  As imperfect as it is, it’s a really good game.

Which segues me to playing Magic last night.  Type P.  I have played a lot of Type P and was into it at one point in time.  I think what holds me back from being into it again is the lack of a similar culture. Type P appealed to me far more than normal Magic because of the ability to evolve decks and to strive for particular cards. The old crowd was really into those things as well, where the new crowd seems more focused on effectiveness.

After Type P, most enjoyment I probably got from Magic was sealed deck tournaments.  Maybe success had something to do with that as I won a Mirage event, got prizes in Stronghold prerelease for 5-1 or something, got Urza’s prizes for a free sealed deck tournament that dragged on forever, and came in second in an Invasion tournament where I was a card mule for a far more serious player.  Never all that fond of draft where I may have had decent decks but found the play just tedious.  Constructed could be entertaining at times in casual play, like playing my one copy of Necropotence in my Essence Vortex deck and having that cost me a game.

I don’t know if last night was unusual or I had just forgotten how I generally feel about Magic, but the drawing one card a turn thing was really annoying.  It’s such a bad mechanic that sucks the joy out of what is otherwise a brilliant game.

Of the six games I played, one was actually interesting.  It was the only game that was close and I think we forgot a special ability that would have caused me to lose rather than win at one life.  That’s the problem.  I can play six games of V:TES and find four of them interesting, six games of B5 and find three of them interesting, six games of Shadowfist and find four of them interesting.  There were numerous times I or my opponent could have scooped multiple turns before the game was over.  In a couple of cases around turn two … playing sealed deck.

Maybe the feel of the L5R LCG is a problem because I’m used to multiplayer CCGs where people get to have fun as opposed to two-player games where people just stomp on each other or grief each other constantly.  Of course, I could play some Ultimate Combat! and see if that will rekindle my appreciation for a two-player CCG.

The other players were playing Dominaria.  The set just didn’t seem remotely interesting.  Sagas are fine, but the cards I was seeing just seemed dull with there being not very strong themes in the set.

So, I knew some of the Phoenix expansion cards for L5R.  I got shown the rest of the cards.  So griefy.  I get that negative plays can make for a more balanced game, but it just strikes me as a lost opportunity.  oL5R was a terrible game (IME) because it had terrible mechanics.  But, I would argue I actually like magic samurai in that I like the RPG’s world even if it includes dumb stuff like ronin.  nL5R could have been fun, focusing on thematic elements.  Instead, it seems to be increasing the focus on mechanics over doing cool stuff.  In general, I don’t feel like I’m doing cool stuff when I’m winning, I feel like I’m beating my opponent down to where they can’t recover.

Yeah.

Give me Counter X for 15 to knockout out someone foolish enough not to play Movement.

Could be too late for me.  Could be that I’m only a social player.  A party hearty flopper.  I can’t deal with having a single opponent who is trying to win and not Vorlon Rescue Mr. Morden.

Well, there is Traveller, which can be played two-player.  I’d much rather play Traveller than L5R.  An interesting question is whether I’d much rather play Traveller than Magic.  I could say I think Traveller plays better, but that should be obvious and to have someone prefer a game they helped make over a game they bitch about constantly being nowhere near as good as it should be doesn’t strike me as compelling opinion.

Where I’m not clear what value I get out of L5R, as I don’t feel any thematic coolness and I don’t like the mechanics, I know I get different value out of Magic vs Traveller.  Magic is about discovery for me.  It’s why I like sealed deck, where I’m trying to think of the best way to build a deck, where constructed just feels too open-ended to me.  Traveller is something where I can learn that cards don’t play the way we expected, but I’m so much more focused on what my opponent is doing to try to determine what the game needs more of or less of through either their deck construction or their play experience.  The massive experience gap between me and everyone besides Jeff just causes me to not take my own play all that seriously.  Magic is also about visual appeal to me.  I don’t mean the card art.  I love things like multicolor templates and various land templates.  I like hybrid mana costs for cards.  Just get striking color combinations.

Change your perspective, change your world.  Maybe I get too far into my existing views on things and don’t try a different perspective.  Maybe I should embrace the idea of the quick scoop in Magic as fun.  Maybe I should roll a die when choosing what Ring for my attacks in L5R or when deciding how much Fate to put onto a dude because random chess is better than chess.

Speaking of painfully unpleasant.  Arrow.  I was explaining recently that the reason you do a Green Arrow show is so that you can knock someone out with a boxing glove arrow.  Can imagine how I feel about the tiresome angstaggedon that the show loves so much.  Flash at least tries for some amusement and Legends of Tomorrow does some amazing stuff along with the dumb.  Maybe the trick is to root for the villains because they pretty much constantly win until Counter X for 15 because … good has to suffer until it wins in some dumb ass way.  I can’t even bring myself to watch Supergirl, yet.  Maybe in May.  Meanwhile, Into the Badlands might get some viewing action – it got rid of its albatross storyline by fridging an idiot.  OTOH, child.  Off the top of my head, that worked in Dragonball Z and nothing else that comes to mind.

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Anomaly Log

March 17, 2018

I could rehash about no snakes in Ireland [did I ever hash?], how boring my day has been, and whatnot, but I can blog about gaming.

For, you see, I was in Virginia for a while.  And, North Carolina.  And, Maryland.

I got into VA on a weekend, did a family brunch on Sunday, but two brothers were out of town and other siblings had stuff to do so there wasn’t much group activity after brunch.  Monday, I drove to Raleigh … and back.  That was another clear instance of low life wisdom.

Why Raleigh?  To pick up True Dungeon tokens from someone I had never met.  Because … I have a game blog for a reason.

I showed him Traveller, briefly.

Tuesday was more normal for me and the scene and I had a lunch in Glen Echo with my mother’s cousins.  Cuz, there’s no shortage of people I know in the DC area.  I displayed to people who aren’t gamers our two-player starter set box and some of the cards.

Wednesday, I caught up on sleep until the point that three of my brothers came over to learn Traveller.  Now, a four-player game is not the best way to teach something as intricate as a customizable card game, especially not to people who aren’t card floppers.  But, we tried, and one brother got out to a lead, another felt like he was learning the game when we called it, and the third was the one who was interested in learning.

Thursday, was Steve’s demo of Traveller at Huzzah Hobbies in Ashburn.  I did not really expect to do a lot of driving on the trip outside of the casual run from Fairfax to Raleigh and back.  But, that’s because I wasn’t thinking through what I was committed to.  Steve’s demo went fine, with one person being completely new, the others having been shown before, and two people being interested in another demo who didn’t demo the game.

I got rid of our sample playmats.  We expect our cut when those things go on eBay for $1000+.  I figured that mound of playmats would just get replaced with tokens and one suitcase would work well.  Foresh-, um, foretelling – no, it did not work well to carry 40 pounds of tokens back with one suitcase, a gamebag, decks of cards, books, and a laptop + accessories.

Friday, I got together with people I knew due to V:TES.  I showed Traveller – three straight nights of demoing.  We played other games.

We played Shadow Hunters.  It was amusing how Pete kept getting attacked by his fellow hunter.  It was down to two of us and the other hunter fully healed while I didn’t.  Then, we played again, and the same two players won, this time as shadows as the neutral sprayed machine gun fire all around killing most of us, though I thought maybe he could win playing the steal equipment dude as there was enough equipment in play to steal, but he couldn’t steal all of it in one shot.

Then, down to four people, we played Star Trek: Five-Year Mission.  Not to be confused with other Star Trek dice game?  The owner discovered they had been playing stuff wrong and the game was not too easy.  We failed.

Saturday, I slept in.  Finally getting moving, I drove some more.  To Occoquan.  Because, who doesn’t casually drive to Occoquan when the need to buy birthday presents is afoot.  It was reasonably pleasant, with my not realizing George Mason’s main campus was just South of the house.  This has to do with gaming, how?

I drove to Occoquan to buy jigsaw puzzles, as we are all wont to do.  Now, I don’t recall how many decades ago I worked on a jigsaw puzzle.  But, it was something my sister mentioned for presents and, since the birthday celebrating early thing was not well known to everyone ahead of time, this seemed fortuitous.

Sunday, dim sum followed by birthday and unbirthday stuff.  Then, played a movie game that one or more of the siblings came up with.  It was enjoyable, but, since I don’t watch hardly any movies, it was hardly a surprise when I came well in last.

My youngest brother got in Saturday and did not have to go to work Monday, so we did what I do all of the time – we went and saw a movie.  I didn’t realize Red Sparrow had such mediocre reviews until after I saw it and read some, er, reviews.  Doesn’t really matter to me, since it’s not even the sort of movie I make some effort to see (Star Wars, …, …).  It would have done well in the movie game if the right categories came up.

Speaking of reviewing things that don’t have to do with gaming, I did not find Flash:Flashtime remotely comicbooklike nor remotely good.  To me, it was very TVepisodelike.  I got to trying to think of what TV episodes feel like comic book stories and I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head besides the crossovers even though the Arrowverse does have normal episodes that likely qualify.

No V:TES.  No L5R (talked about it some with game store guy demoing Traveller).  No Shadowfist (didn’t make any effort).  No mahjong (Traveller instead, possibly to the regret of some).  Only a bit of solitaire at the airports.

Well, that was …  Why the title of this post?  Well, if you played Traveller, you might know how Stellar Anomaly Log is goodsome for Type S Scout Survey decks.  Survey.  Like as in travel around and explore.  Because I had never been to North Carolina and Optimist Park (yup, I went there … the place I was meant to be), Ashburn, Glen Echo, Occoquan.  See, my titles are superduperclever.  So clever.  And, not remotely obscure with injokes that only like one person in the history of the human race gets.


Crisis Of Blog Why

November 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

It is the pinnacle of what the Arrowverse has done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does this have to do with gaming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Flopping – Part Two

October 15, 2017

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

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

Arrow

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

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

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

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

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

Legends of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

Flash

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

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

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

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

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

Supergirl

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

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

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

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

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

Arrowverse

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

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

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


Lost Opportunities

April 2, 2017

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

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

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

Wins.  Losses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deeds Not Words.

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

Why?  I mean, why bother?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


INT, STR, … Fate Points?

December 1, 2016

Watching Arrowverse crossover, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to RPGs.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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?