Sunday, September 22, 2019

Gloomhaven: review'd

GH is a game which can take upwards of 10 minutes per turn to simulate 6 seconds of combat. I spent years of my life trying to get away from overcomplex rpgs. Pathfinder is a mess. Sleepovers spending 4 hours making characters and then whatever energy we have left trying to run the first combat.

The appeal of being a nerd is fiddling with minutiae. Conversations about parliamentary procedure, debates about art, Gloomhaven, all yammering obsessives trying to squeeze approval points out of each other by means of what ultimately comes down to aggression. I'll admit though that Gloomhaven handles this process, mass quarreling, gracefully, by encouraging competition between the mercenaries. Secret objectives, unlockables, perks, XP, all the rewards are best won via selfish actions like abandoning your teammates for gold. So there's something *fun* to argue about.

I like Gloomhaven enough to emulate it using Tabletop Simulator. For a game that is very much alike emulating a video game, I am emulating it using a video game. I felt embarrassed talking to my babe about this, the shuffling and parsing of minutiae, dragging digital cards around, muttering to myself and sitting hours in a simulation. My partner was like, why are you ashamed? "This seems totally normal to me."

"Shut Up & Sit Down" has a good review which covers the benefits and frustrations of Gloomhaven, and the reviewer summarizes his affection as a feeling of "warmth" when extracting or putting away the complex innards of the box. Very much the nerdy management of minutiae, but let's also give credit to the game for creating continuous iterations of interesting puzzle-combat.

Monday, September 16, 2019

I wrote my own version of dnd

I had a rush of energy and wrote down my own little version of dnd, like one does. Someday I may playtest it... but for now I'd just to like to curate the good or interesting ideas I had.

SUMMARY OF THE "GOOD IDEAS" IN MY DND-LIKE I JOTTED DOWN:

  • Three stats, between which you can distribute 2 points at character creation:
    • Strength, Magic, Cunning.
      • Strength: 1 point of strength = +3 hp, +2 bab, and +1 ac. Also helps some skills.
      • Magic: 1 point of magic lets you cast one 1st level spell per day, 2 points of magic lets you cast as many 1st level spells as you want. 3 points of magic lets you cast 1 2nd level spell per day (and as many 1st level spells as you want), 4 points lets you cast as many 1st or 2nd level spells as you want etc. etc.
        • many spells have their own restrictions about how often they can be used to limit the power involved.
      • cunning: 1 point of cunning gets you 1 free action before initiative is rolled. So if you have 2 cunning you get two actions before everyone else goes.
        • if multiple participants have cunning, these free actions happen in random order.
  • skills, from which you get to assign 2 points at character creation:
    • hunting- str OR cun +hunting vs. prey. can also be used to track
    • healing- d4 hp per patient per day, per point
    • climbing- str and cun + climbing vs. DC
    • thievery-- includes sleight of hand and all stealth. vs. prey's cunning, or 
    • no social skills at all.
  • advancement:
    • you can improve skills by fulfilling conditions like "practice this skill for a year" or "achieve great wealth using this skill". 
    • improving stats, however, happens mostly on the basis of patronage, that is, service to divine figures in exchange for power.
      • this is essentially a substitute for classes.
      • examples of patronage:
        • serving god:
          • you get rewards for building churches, burning heretics, bringing righteous justice, leading a flock, converting nonbelievers and so on.
          • rewards include the ability to channel divinity, stat bonuses, "taking communion"=full heal by going to church, holy weapons.
          • however you are required to follow a strict moral code and receive
          •  forgiveness from powerful priests if you misstep.
        • serving the devil:
          • can directly trade your soul for money or stat bonuses, and greater amts for a more pious soul.
          •  Also you're destined for hell.
          • Also the devil then can speak to you whenever it wishes, and will try to tempt you with, like, better positions in hell. or other stuff.
        • serving the chaos god
          • directly trades stats bonuses for people killed, e.g. +1 at 10, +1 at 100, +1 at 500, +1 at 1,000...
    • You can improve your magic score by finding eldritch texts, building a library, communing with other wizards, and practicing the art; essentially the study of esoteric knowledge is its own "patron".
    • Patronages can usually be advanced to some extent by spending money. Churches built, monuments to satan, etc.
    • Failing patronage requirements usually doesn't take away the stats, but rather imposes other penalties: wizards who get their libraries burned get mishap chances when they cast, for example.
REFLECTING ON THE "GOOD IDEAS":
  • Cunning
    • Cunning awards actions before initiative is rolled, essentially free surprise rounds. Thus, the more often you can trigger initiative being rolled, the more often you get your free actions. So to some extent, paying attention to when initiative is rolled will be necessary for the design to prevent abuse.
    • Free actions like Cunning gives might be very overpowered.
    • Potentially complex and/or bad interactions with how chases work.
    • Making initiative more complicated might not be good.
    • This seems like a unique take on initiative, and I'm proud of it. Going first has always been a huge advantage and often underlooked by design, so I'm happy to place it as a primary feature of the character mechanics.
    • Also seems like a good way to keep tactics fresh. Goblins have 0 strength but 1 cunning so they're weak but they get to do something surprising.
  • Simplicity
    • Not sure how much benefit there is to constructing a very simple framework for characters, especially since so much of the appeal of DND-like games comes from specialization. With 2 points to distribute between three stats, every character will be shades of each other.
      • On the other hand, there is a lot of variety presented by a party composition such as this:
        • guy with 2 magic
        • guy with 2 strength
        • guy with 2 cunning and stealth.
  • Patronage
    • the essential idea is that instead of XP you have class-specific goals. Improvement happens in a wider context, such as a hero's rise in a church or a deepening debt to the Devil. 
      • This lends more drama than just becoming more powerful by defeating monsters.
    • Asking players to pay more attention to their advancement seems like it might turn people off or split the party more.
  • No social skills at all
    • LOTFP gets away with just using reaction rolls, and for a while I've insisted that players offer good deals if they want NPCs to do stuff. I don't like "roll to convince" so I'm fine taking it off the table. However, there will probably be unforseen consequences.
I don't know when I'll give it all a playtest. Sharing on my blog because its where my creative mind is rn. 

You can see the rough design doc here.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

SEPTEMBER 1ST SUPERFIGHT

a superfight is an exercise where you run a fictional tournament between some fictional combatants. today's fighters are:

kirby
mahatma ghandi (2nd time participant)
mewtwo
morrissey
a lamp
me
president bill clinton circa 1994
horse (returning champion)


Mr. president.



ROUND ONE

kirby v me

I am able to grievously wound wound kirby. however the kinetic force of his "suck" power is able to carom me off a wall or piece of furniture, dislocating my spine. Match: kirby. 

president bill clinton v. horse

bill clinton: not in shape, however has been photographed riding a horse (see above). Tame a wild horse? Unlikely. Victor: HORSE

mahatma ghandi v. a lamp

ghandi cinches this? Dude can break a lamp.

mewtwo v. morrissey

mewtwo uses confusion and flips morrissey into the ocean. the battlefield for this superfight is on a beach. winner: m2


ROUND TWO

mahatma ghandi v. a horse

mahatma could swing this. however, he wisely chooses not to ride the horse, as it poses a health risk.

match: mahatma. he is able to calm the horse down or simply outwait it until it sleeps.

mewtwo v. kirby

the actual fight we've been waiting for. obviously kirby copies mewtwo off of the bat. from then on we have a classic shadow ball match. kirby however does not have a reflective ability and I think that means mewtwo has the upper hand. perhaps the wound sustained in kirby's fight with me earlier makes an unfortunate reprisal. 

match: mewtwo

FINALS

mewtwo v. mahatma ghandi

mewtwo is curious about philosophy enough to stay its psychic powers. Can the mahatma sway mewtwo to the the path of pacificism? my gut instinct says no. ghandi is obliterated via psystrike

**MEWTWO WINS**

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Pros and Cons of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Additionally: How to Prep, and the Game's Basic Tenets As I Know It, After 4 Year's Experience

THE PROS OF A GAME OF LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS:
  1. The game simply enables quick, deadly, and meaningful combat. This was the retroclone that did it for me and keeps on doing it.
  2. Character creation is brief.
  3. The rulebook is lightweight, full of good art, and generally easy to reference.
  4. The skill system is versatile and lightweight and simple. It also encourages "avoiding the roll": the player is encouraged to use inventive techniques to avoid the often difficult skill checks.
  5. "Avoiding the roll" is innate to the tactics. The stats are imposing, and this encourages imagination over rote gameplay. 
  6. The GM does not know how the PCs can win or even if they will win, so the story is that much more uncontrolled and up to the player's wits.
  7. Diplomacy is not a roll, instead it's up to the referee's rulings. In my games the players have to offer good reasons for NPCs to do what they want.
  8. Heavily balancing the odds against the players means there's no reason to flinch when the PCs acquire some kind of heavily overpowered item/spell/demon. 
  9. The game's portrait of magic is "high risk, high price, high reward" which makes for good horror storytelling.
  10. The rulebook has many hidden power levers, the Summon spell is the most standout.
  11. A focus on horror is a focus on glorious and weird adult drama.
THE CONS:
  1. Players should be warned/informed of a number of factors:
    1. Player Characters can easily die.
    2. Extreme content. You need to ask what everyone's comfortable with.
    3. The skill system is radically different than D&D's. Ditto for magic, XP, leveling up, classes/race, and diplomacy.
    4. Combat is super deadly, retreat is important to keep in mind.
    5. There are special combat options (charge does double dmg, press, parry, etc.)
    6. Alignments don't govern behavior.
  2. Being able to improvise well requires having a proper prep workflow (see section below).
  3. The encumbrance system works best if it's not thoroughly addressed.
  4. Fleeing from combat is somewhat under-written.*
  5. Rules for stealth, sneak attack, helplessness, and surprise are not collated.
  6. The system of saves is a pain to copy down or check against and seems overcomplicated.
  7. The skill system is often confusing for new players.
  8. High player character death volume can be demoralizing and hard to explain in the fiction.


"Young Girl Eating a Bird" Rene Magritte,1927

How to prep for LOTFP well:
  • Make a large map which has loosely sketched locations on it.
  • Have a handful of modules or adventure locations which you bought, read, or wrote, and have (agonizingly) sat on for years. Put some of these on the map.
  • If the PCs go beyond your prep, you need to be able to improvise until the end of the session, and then spend the interim week catching up. This is the core of the workflow-- bringing something to the table, and if necessary, catching up between weeks.
  • Be able to, at a moment's whim, discard hours worth of prep. This is crucial! if the PCs leave your adventure zone, you need to be able to keep up! Don't dawdle!
    • As a gm, your role is imagining and writing stuff which may not ever be played, and the more gleefully you can embrace that, the more efficiently you'll prep, and the more fun you'll have. Plus you can and should save unplayed prep for later campaigns, even for years later in your life.
Basic Core Tenets of Lotfp (as I know it):
  1. Success in adventure is not guaranteed.
  2. Moral behavior is not especially rewarded.
  3. If the players depart from the extent of the referee's prepared notes, the referee must improvise and follow their lead.
  4. Humans and their power structures are usually predictable and genuinely powerful in their own rights. 
  5. Monsters and magic are by nature horrifying, weird, and variously powerful.
  6. If a participant in the game is not content with how the game is played they should address the group's agreements on how the game is played. 
The end result should be a game about planning and taking risks against desperate and weird circumstances, with unexpected results. It should spit out weird horror and invite unique contemplation. 

* It comes down to a fairly random roll off (1d20 + speed/10) with a few additions-- monsters have to pass a morale check if you drop food or treasure. Rules on how failed escapes work would be appreciated-- are the players are able to flee again after being caught?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

border 2018 review

This movie at heart is about troll sex. The film is similar to the director's previous hit, "Let the Right One In". This guy is establishing his own cinematic universe-- modern day monsters in Sweden. 

The prosthetics glued to the actors do get in the way a little but they are pretty good. The sexual attraction between the trolls is the best. They are sniffing and it feels relatable and revealing. The actual sex is somewhat shocking. 

However the B plot which is about child pornography unfortunately feels folded in by coincidence with the A romance plot, and the movie's pacing struggles in the second half also. "Let The Right One In" had a more functional and compact story.

There's some amount of ironic gravitas surrounding trolls and baby-stealing which, like in "Let the Right One In", plays off the original emotions of the mythology. However as I said the conflict is a little less centered and therefore the protagonist's struggle at the climax fell flat for me.

Which do you exclusively choose: community with others of your kind or a sense of universal ethics? I don't think the film suggests a more interesting question.

"Prog rock" sexy.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hereditary & Midsommar

The films are mirror images of each other. There's an obsession with sacrifices made by fire. Cults and manipulation in the face of grief. There's a formula:
  1. Messy family trauma played realistically
  2. Loud crying scene
  3. Cult enters; first signs of cult
  4. Cult influence and horrid intentions become more obvious
  5. Total abandonment of reality as cult reigns supreme 
Like "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Wicker Man" pretty much but with family trauma and loud crying scene upfront. The contrast between grief and the supernatural is what "Hereditary" receives praise for. I think both films don't stick the ending.

"Hereditary" has a perceived resolution with the Mom hanging above her son (Peter) and cutting her own head off with piano wire.  Unlike my mom who would never do that. In "Midsommar" the main character watches her boyfriend burn alive in a bear suit.

I think it's about the cult in both cases-- in "Hereditary", the cult is mostly invisible, and therefore their web of power can be easily imagined. The supernatural flourishes in the dark. In "Midsommar", the cult is very visible.

"Midsommar"s visibility leads to a lot of beautiful and striking crowd scenes. It's all shot in a giant field which, by the end, feels claustrophobic. The utter presence of every building in every exterior shot is a notable accomplishment for the filmmakers.

However, the acts of violence that start piling up feel too extreme for the Swedes. By the end it's a horror movie bloodbath. What we deserved was a more nuanced and realistic tale.

It's a case where utter visibility defines, for me, stricter requirements for my suspension of disbelief.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports, Spring/Summer 2019

Session 1:
OK SILENT TITANS PLAY REPORT... DRUNK DRUNK DRUNK... THE "TIME TORNADO" NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE... FRIEND BRINGS OUT KNIFE... IS THIS THE END OF OUR SOCIAL CIRCLE?

Session 2:

Play report of 2nd session of SILENT TITANS.... folks wander around wir-heal.

NOTES ON WIR-HEAL:

  • it became obvious that is hard to leave wir-heal, due to the travelling mechanic. There's only two spots to get to the "southern border" which you have to roll randomly. In addition tracking your own location can be difficult.
  • Court of wapentake happened, went pretty well, fairly disheartening for the convicted player who was sentenced to the gibbet for killing a pig child
  • Near end of session: court of wassail overturned this conviction, freeing the player character (after the player had already made a new character)
  • Players got separated within wir-heal, to avoid too much b.s. gonna start off new session "you all found your way back to legion's fort"
  • They were on a quest from the Cathedral of the Duck to check on the other two churches, they will be rewarded 5 shillings on return to Legion's Fort

Session 3:

 SESSION SUMMARIZATION: They go into R8-BY in search of lost memories after speaking to NPCs about titan-lore. There they find the Wraeca, a scrambled ghost of one PC... after some trouble with the Court of Wapentake this Wraeca is sentenced to "crawl" on all fours for a year.

The Wraeca leads the party to R8-BY's Titan Mouth. Within the titan/dungeon they defeat a giant screaming owl and some associated ghosts... The environment: flooded libraries and stained-glass angel doors.

It takes them a while to understand, but they learn they can open the dungeon's doors with eyes stolen from cephalopod monsters. Wandering further in the Titan, they feed milky fluid to some ghosts and listen to lore-fragments from a giant damaged android. They climb to a central room full of damaged cephalopods. Striking battle there to claim more cephalopod eyes, they win, but are damaged. They choose to retreat from the dungeon.

On the way out they are harassed by ghosts and sadly a PC is lost. They head back to legion's fort, numbering one less...

PLAY/MECHANICAL NOTES:
  • they are learning how to navigate Wir-Heal surprisingly fast, and I think the navigation system is reliably providing strange picaresque elements as well as a melancholy doom.
  • the R8-BY titan went very well, considering the bizarre elements. I really thought the tone came across, and the descriptions went well! Christian Kessler's layout was generally helpful, I just read from the specific notes when they wanted more information. ((should take more time to analyze this later)). Flipping back forth to the monster stats was an issue although a minor one.
  • players were appropriately confused by R8-BY's eternally flooding room, not by first encounter but by their second.
  • I didn't realize until later, but I was misusing the table with the talking damaged android. I was summing all the d8+mods and reading one entry/turn instead of using each d8+mod to read one entry for a total of 3 entries per turn.
  •  I used the R8By map, printed out full color, with unexplored segments of the map covered with scrap paper. It worked really well, particularly bc the more straightforward elements like the hallways and doors are very clear and simple. (there's a picture below)

(I used scraps of an extra copy of the ravens dungeon map to cover the unexplored parts of the R8-By map)
  • I think I'm good at running npcs now as a dm. I should also commend the text. The Wraeca seemed like a challenge to run when I first read it, but I found that the loose and shallow amount of information provided encouraged me to rp the character as glitchy and confused, which is exactly how it should be.
  • the combat; one player (who's pc died) complained that they don't know if they really like it. We had some ambiguity about Critical Damage. I'm generally very generous with initative. Lots of ghosts wrestling each other in this session.
  • overall this game is going very well. The mechanical elements flow smoothly, nothing takes too long as far as I'm concerned. Both wir-heal and the Titan function well, and the Titan in particular is exploding with bizarre detail. I'm having much less trouble describing this detail than I initally feared.

xxxxxxxxAs for difficulty: Into the Odd combat seems to lead to escalating stakes as PCs start taking Critical Damage. IF the last PC is knocked out, everyone dies, but if they kill the monster first, everyone recovers quickly. There was at least one time where one die roll would decide whether everyone died or everyone was fine. I consider one PC death after a dungeon delve to be pretty good result in terms of player demoralization, not too bad.

Silent Titans Session 4:

ok we dropped silent titans gonna do a veins of the earth campaign instead

:/ basically we concluded that the wir-heal navigation system + random encounters was bullshit having to repeat dense adjective-laden prose on a random, frustratin basis, and then encounter one of two wandering Courts, was kinda bullshit like. it just got tiresome after they figured it out, and involved a lot of guessing and for me, stumbling though a lot of dense prose :/