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.


Anima: Beyond Fantasy

October 6, 2008

I had picked this up only because Anima: Shadow of Omega, the cardgame, is such an awesome game.  Sadly, it seems none of the design logic behind the cardgame made crossover to the rpg, which brings us the state of the art rpg design from the late 80’s.  I liken it to Artesia, Exalted and Rolemaster getting into a boating accident.

What’s good?

Well, it is very pretty.  The artwork great and there’s lots of characters and neat monsters.  There’s tons of powers.  It has a couple of neat ideas about siloing powers and abilities with a point build system.  And, uh… that’s about it.

System Hurts, Setting Scattered

I’d like to say this is a could be a cousin to Artesia.  Like Artesia, there’s lots of crunchy subsystems to navigate.  Unlike Artesia, there’s a lack of cohesive vision of setting to hold it together, AND, the subsystems are pretty crucial to the system- even playing a simple combat monkey means you have to look hard at the Ki and martial arts stuff.

And combat.  Whew.  You have to cross reference at least 2 charts anytime you make an attack.  And then maybe a hit location chart.  And then maybe a critical chart.   There’s just a general kludgy-ness and inelegance to everything that makes you think of bad Rolemaster house rules.

Experience is rewarded typical “handwavey” style- points for showing up, points for roleplaying (“Interpretation”), points for challenges.  All at GM’s discretion.

And then the setting.  Which is classic heartbreaker.  Tens of thousands of years of history, a cruddy fantasy version of Earth set of nations,  poorly described shadowy organizations (it’s repeated at least a dozen times how powerful they are, without, you know, any indication of what they do ), and my favorite heartbreaker cliche that pops up here and there – “Jesus is a lie” thrown in as a footnote (somewhere, I see some designer is getting his or her adolescent “So there!” jollies).  The writing tone is pedantic and lots of “Realistically” admonitions towards “good roleplaying”.

To be honest, I have no idea what characters DO in this game.  The fact that the setting stuff is not in the Player’s section also makes me wonder what exactly players are supposed to work with other than powers to define their character.


The art is pretty.  But not without it’s problems.  

The biggest being that female is synonymous with cleavage.  To their credit, most of the women are wielding swords, summoning demons, or at least being kind of badass.  But of course, there’s the classic “Too weak to stand” poses and at least two pictures with a male figure looming over them.  Bleh.

The fantasy setting version of Earth includes a fake China, Japan, Mid-east, and South America.  The Euro/anime nations are basically Renaissance with better hygeine and more enlightened, while all the other areas fulfill stereotypes- fake China has martial arts competitions, fake Mid-east revels in slavery, and Latin America?  “Uncivilized Aborigines”.  Yeah.  Like that.  There’s also a remark that the enlightened areas abolished slavery “regardless of skin color”, though there’s no mention of color based slavery anywhere in the book.  

On the other hand, this game was produced in Spain, where we saw the “Chinky Olympic team photos”, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect much there.

All in all

Go buy Anima: Shadow of Omega.  It’s a great card game that really gives you the Final Fantasy epic feel and is an awesome game.

Do not buy Anima: Beyond Fantasy.  The system and the setting hurt.  You can probably find the images online somewhere if you want the pretty art.


The Subtle Fist

October 1, 2008

Hold a Subtle Fist
Walk Among Many
With Greatness, Inspire

10 years ago the King came to ask for our Queen’s hand in marriage. With 300 boats of treasures, oddities and wonders, performers, servants and slaves, gifts, all to woo the Queen.

But she saw into his heart, and that he came not to give himself, or his heart to her, but to take her, and add her to the many things he had taken from many lands, and that our great Island would just be another port, another stop for his armies to go to other lands, other places, and take even more.

And so, she refused.

And so, he came with 300 boats of soldiers.

The fighting was fierce and strong, but he laid siege to our Island for 2 years straight. Unable to get supplies from outside, eventually, our defenses weakened… and broke. At this point, the King had poured so much into it, it was a matter of vengeance. But our Queen is still free, somewhere on the Island. And though we are not free, we still fight back.

Our defenses fell, but our hearts will not.

Soon, all five of the Holy Artifacts will be gathered, and the Goddess will wipe these fools from the Island, and peace will return.

At least, that’s what your master said. Before she was betrayed, along with the other Masters. And now it falls on you and the other disciples of the Subtle Fist… for your people, your land, the Queen and the Goddess, you hope you’re up to the task.

Themes, ideas, etc.

I’ve been wanting an Avatar-ish game, and part of it has been taking time to really think about what appealed to me about the show. Aside from the geek squee over martial arts, fantasy, POC protagonists, etc. and general squee over 80’s-ish “Youth go on a quest” type stories, I really dig how it addressed serious issues in a non-triggering way. You’ve got war, colonization, and splintering cultures in the process.

So those are all things I want to have this game do.

But in the more abstract themes, the heart of the stories that I dig is when you have to choose between your ideals, which was what we saw Season 3 of Avatar heading towards and sadly drop at the very end.

System/design stuff

The system stuff is super vague and unformed right now, but I have some definite goals.

I want the system to be rock solid in helping the group find what’s interesting conflicts quickly and reach a good pacing point for episodic play.

I want the smallest episode cycle to be “Deal with this problem now”, the next up being, “Stressing your beliefs/challenging your issues” and the biggest climax being “Choose between your ideals”. How exactly that does/doesn’t fit with “Save the Nation” is something I’m still working out.

Anyway, more as I figure it out.