Archive for October, 2008


Intended Hiatus

October 20, 2008

Seeing how at this point, I get more trollage than actual users, I’m considering shifting completely over to safe spaces. It’s really irritating to wade through what’s mostly deflections and cries for attention than to actually talk about games or media.


I’m not asking for pleas to stay on. I’d like to hear from folks who know me through safe spaces as to whether it makes sense to keep this up or shift focus over to those spaces. Those of you who -don’t- know me through those spaces? You’re not who I’m interested in talking to with this post. Thanks.


Mining for Situations: Seven Swords of Tianshan

October 17, 2008

I’m re-watching the Seven Swords of Tianshan and blown away at how good a lot of the situations are and how many of them would be great for a campaign or even a one shot.

The basic premise is that you have loyalists of the old dynasty seeking to overthrow the new dynasty, and generally being on the run as outlaws.  And the rest is pure drama – love triangles, misunderstandings, betrayals, etc.  (The series sadly has pretty wack roles for women- though each could really stand out on their own, all of them basically become sacrificial girlfriends for the men… grr.)

Here’s some of the situations worth mining:

– The rebels are hiding out in a cave while soldiers are searching the mountains.  Then they find out the water has been poisoned- they have a traitor in their midst…

– The prince has captured their ace swordsman, and is trying to break his will and convince him to join.  How long will he hold out?  Will he play the role of double agent, and can he maintain it convincingly?  How will he convince his friends when he gets back out?

– A few of the outlaws are in charge of the children of the village – they all hide out in a temple during a wedding with soldiers just a day behind them.  How will they explain themselves, how will they feed the kids, how will they keep their cover?

– A few days before a giant festival, a horrible storm has driven everyone inside.  A few rebels are laying low in an inn, while soldiers are searching for troublemakers.  At the same time, a spy for the enemy, a sword for hire who is seeking bounty and reputation, and a unknown loyalist all are in the same inn.  Everyone knows the others are skilled warriors, but who do they serve, and who is allied with whom?

Of course, all of these situations are even more loaded with the various characters falling in love, becoming jealous, having self esteem issues, getting separated, getting reunited, imagining betrayal, actually betraying, etc.  There’s also generally a lot of action (though, the fight scenes are pretty tame with handwavey-wuxia smoke and lights swordfighting).

I should probably dig out some Jin Hong books too and mine those for ideas as well…


Illusionism: Just a bad game

October 16, 2008

Last post got me thinking about the last Illusionist game I played, about 3 years back. It was a game of Unknown Armies, and I stuck with it for about 3 months, just to see and try out the group and the game.

I remember losing all investment when I realized the pattern to the game: It didn’t really matter what we did to investigate the mystery- the GM would simply delay, block, or withhold, and at the point when we gave up and started doing other things (say, focusing on character development between PCs and ignoring the pointless investigation) he would suddenly throw some uber-event at us.

In other words, the only way to “advance” the plot was to run from it and force the GM to slap us upside the head with it.

And this basically clarified my issues with Illusionism: It’s just a bad set up for play. You have to develop a massive set of skills as a GM to keep up the facade, to produce content, to pace it, to redirect attention of players, and most of the time, it doesn’t work. See all the threads, letter columns, advice etc. about “how to control the players” and complaints by players about “railroading” and it’s clearly not a reliable method.


The Grind Divide

October 14, 2008

I was thinking the other day about how much the activity of a lot of folks’ roleplaying has been built around either grinding in dealing with heavy, long, crunchy mechanics or grinding in the Illusionist technique of delaying then revealing.

Interesting enough, the crunchy mechanic side is where we get the whole myth of “Story vs. System”, with the idea that rules get in the way of story happening, while the whole set of delaying techniques which get used even in “rules light” games don’t get considered for what is basically the same problem: grinding 4 hours of play for 20 minutes of fun.

It’s also interesting to see how folks accustomed to one (or both) in their play react to games or styles of play which don’t operate with either kind of grind tend to either:

a) Be amazed (“We accomplished more in one session than what we’d normally get in 3 months of play!”)

b) Be at a loss as to how to make play go- how to “fill up” time because there’s not a half hour devoted to a single fight scene or playing “Guess what we ought to do next” type play.

On the flip side, it also kind of highlights another hurdle to getting into the hobby- if your friends keep telling you all these awesome stories they’re creating for a few hours a week, and you find out that most of the few hours revolve around juggling crunch or playing the Illusionist guessing game, it’s probably going to turn you off really quickly.


WOTC: Contrast Please

October 8, 2008

Ah. Wizards. When will you learn to have color contrast on your covers?

Whereas 3E books tended to blur with the browns and reds, 4E books look like they’re going to blur into greys and blues.