Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Comfort Zones

I realize it's at least a venial sin to blog about why I haven't posted for a week, but fuck it. This is my blog, and I'll break the rules if I want. Besides, it's not like I have more than a handful of readers anyway...

Speaking of which: whom do I have to fuck in order to join the cool kids' table? I realize my posting schedule is rather erratic and that my topics are all over the place, but I'm certain this blog falls under "general geekery" in that I regularly talk about guns, science fiction, superheroes and role-playing games. I suppose my inability to commit to a certain movement, like the OSR, prohibits me from being categorized as a "gaming blog" or whatnot like that of Jeff Rients or ChicagoWiz, but come on! I prefer to think of myself as a multi-lingual nerdette and would greatly appreciate it if someone, anyone, would include me in their Reindeer Games rather than just exiling me to a random spot on their blogroll.

I'm cute, I'm eloquent, I say "fuck" a lot and I can tell you anything you'd like to know about Larry Hama-era G.I. Joe. Doesn't that get me SOME kind of pass here?

Anyway, a quick explanation about my absence and then I'll pay my Joesky tax*. I'm not sure if it's hormonal, linked to my depression, or just a facet of my screwed-up personality, but there will be times when my patience to deal with the BS inherent in dealing with other people drops to zero, and I want nothing more to become a recluse. I typically retreat into my room where I listen to offensive comedy, read postholocaust novels, sharpen my knives and tinker with my guns. It doesn't happen often -- maybe once every three to six months -- but during that time I simply cannot be bothered to do anything constructive. As you may have noticed, last week was one of those times. I seem to be better now, though I make no guarantees.

It has been over a year now since I've run a game, and it's past time to correct that. Having been in a bit of a samurai mood lately, I've decided to run an L5R game over Skype. What I think will be unusual, though, is the premise. From the briefing I sent my players:
The year is 1120.  You are all samurai of the Mantis Clan, the largest of all the minor clans (which is a bit like being the tallest midget in the room). The Mantis are a clan of seafarers and their holdings are on the Islands of Silk and Spice.

Except for one. The Mantis Isles, while rich in many resources, do not have an abundance of fertile land. They have to trade timber, ore, and other items to buy the rice that feeds their people. Fortunately, they are rich enough that this isn't a problem.

Feeding their people IS a problem for the Crab Clan, however, who are cursed with the troubles of fighting an eternal war against the forces of the Shadowlands (aka Hell on Earth) and lacking the arable land needed to support the largest army of the Empire.

However... while the Crab are shit at farming, they excel at kicking ass. It was very easy for them to march north and claim a fertile village in the middle of unaligned lands for food production. The problem arose in administering it, because the Crab can't afford to garrison troops there when they are needed on the Wall.

Fortunately, the Crab and the Mantis share a common ancestor, and have always looked upon each other as brother clans. In addition, there is a proud tradition of the Great Clans using Minor Clans as buffer states.

So the Crab say to the Mantis, "Here is a village we can't protect. Would you like it? No, don't ask us where it came from, it fell off the back of a truck. Anyway, here's the deal: You protect the village and grow food. We get half your village's rice crop to feed our armies. Everything else is yours to keep or sell, plus you get a foothold on the mainland."

The Mantis agreed.

So here you are, Mantis samurai fresh from the boat, assigned to a new village on the Mainland (A15 on the map). It seems nice enough, but it sits at the intersection of two merchant roads. To your north and west are the lands of the Scorpion Clan -- liars, backstabbers, and cheats, and those are their nice qualities. To the south lie the lands of the Crane -- prissy fops who nonetheless control the machinery of the Empire and who have a wickedly lethal dueling school to boot. To the east are mountains, mountain passes, ronin, bandits, another Minor Clan called the Wasp who specialize in bounty hunting but who might also be bandits themselves. Your best neighbors are some monks to the southwest, but they're close to a hundred miles away.

Into this mess you are tossed, to serve the clan and protect this village. The locals call it Mimura, but your clan refers to it as "Promise Village". Your time here promises to be memorable. As low-level Samurai working for the local lord, you will have ample opportunities for heroism, but few of them will be epic. You aren't the FBI; you aren't even NYC homicide. You're small-town sheriff's deputies.

This will be a "return to base" game, in that at the end of each game session every character will need to return to Mimura. This is so that if one of the players can't make it that night, it's easy for the GM to state that the character had to pull guard duty at the castle (or whatever) and isn't available.

It's often said that samurai movies are westerns with swords instead of guns. If that's true, then this game is the samurai version of COPS. I've also never run L5R as a location-based campaign before; prior to this, the PCs have been wandering magistrates at either clan or Imperial level.  It will be interesting to run a non-epic game for once, where the stakes are small but no less important for all their immediacy.

Plus, with them all being Mantis, it allows me to make terrible "Fish out of water" and "Land-based pirates" jokes. This is an important consideration, because the GM needs to be amused, after all.

So far, I have 4 PCs: 1 bushi, 1 courtier, and 2 shugenja, all of the appropriate Yoritomo schools. I think I'd like to have one more bushi, just to balance things out, but I'm being very picky about whom I choose to play with me. I want this game to be as tightly-knit as possible. 

Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is a main source of inspiration, of course, along with Yojimbo and basically any small-town Western, ever. Tombstone seems particularly apt, along with Unforgiven.

I have no idea how well this game is going to turn out, and that thrills me no end. It's exciting to go outside my GM comfort zone and try something new. 

If you'd like to know more about this game, and how the campaign progresses, leave a comment. You guys know I'll always write about things in which my readership shows an interest.

*Basically, any time you whine about RPGs, be it players, DM styles, edition wars, etc, the Tax requires you to post something of creative use in your system of choice. This offsets the entropy inherent in whining. 


  1. Talysman the Ur-BeatleJune 1, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    As far as I can tell, you need to publish something to be at the cool kids table.  Hell, I'm not very popular, but what little popularity I have comes from *threatening* to publish something.

  2. Larry Hama G.I. Joe?  Wow.  I thought I was one of the only ones...

  3. Very cool campaign idea. If I were to run a L5R game again I would be very tempted to steal it.
    I've never gotten around to starting my own gaming blog, though I keep meaning to, so it might not mean much when I say this, but as far as I'm concerned you are one of the cool kids.

  4. I think you're at least as cool as Chicagowiz. Alas, no one's as cool as Jeff Rients. 

  5. Are you asking for blog tips/advice?

  6.  I'm looking for ways to break through this glass ceiling and actually be considered a blogger worth reading without having to devote my blog entirely to one subject.

  7.  I grew up on Army bases in Europe during the Cold War. I know a LOT about 1980s military doctrine, most of which is now obsolete.

  8. Somebody needs a hug!  I don't know the magic answer either; just keep writing about things you're passionate about, and whether you get loads of followers or not, you'll have the right ones.

  9. OK. I didn't want to just type some tips without being sure. A few things in general (I'll have a separate comment for things unique to your blog):

    1. Treat Google like a lazy parasite - they want you to do their work for them. Make sure you link out to specific posts on other blogs if you find them interesting, or link to a source article. If you're writing about your favorite rifle, link to the Wikipedia page about that rifle.

    2. Extra care on images - go into the HTML source and add details to 'title' attributes of images on your posts. If the image is of your rifle, add the weapons personal name into the title attribute. You don't have to do this all the time, but Google's image search can work for you.

    3. Readability - If you like to write long posts, then you might want to avoid the 'white on black' scheme. Remember, us grognards are old, crusty, and half blind with rage. Make sure your font sizes are readable.

    4. Frequency - Posting frequently is important, overall. It shouldn't be about a 'single theme' - quite the opposite. An artist's personal style isn't about being different from everyone else - it's about trying every kind of art and subject and seeing what is cohesive in all the resultant works. You don't have to surrender the 'diary' aspect of your blog.

    5. Traffic - Once per week, check out your traffic and see which posts draw the most views. You'll find patterns that often have nothing to do with content.

    6. Spiders - Many of the tips above have nothing to do with human visitors. A LOT of 'traffic' is automated search 'robots', and keeping them fed is a good thing.

    7. Writing - Don't just write and hit publish. It's like a knife fight. Take an extra moment or two to think and edit. Don't rush for a fast strike. Google will be (if they aren't already) analyzing grammar and spelling patterns. Remember, they have to find anything possible to differentiate one page from another in terms of their definitions of quality.

  10. These are specific to this blog, as if I was your 'Web PR' consultant... (none of this is meant to be a personal criticism or anything...)

    (1) You have a nice color scheme, but experiment with inverting it and move away from white on black for your text.

    (2) Disqus is weird - consider different handling of comments.

    (3) Try to avoid a large background image - see if you can create or find something that will keep the 'mood' of what you have but is a small image that can tile, or consider a solid color.

    (4) Update your header image - the blue marble that you currently have might be better used as the background for an updated header pic. Your current header shows JPEG noise and could've been a GIF file instead. A header pic is a new visitors first greeting.

    (5) Lose the straight jacket profile pic - a new visitor won't understand that in the context of the color scheme or your writing.

    (6) Profanity is just a strong flavor, but a lot of instances in every post could be working against you in the swirl of search engines.

    (7) There is no 'cool kids' table. There are, however, rivers of strange politics and allegiances that go back to the dawn of TSR. No one knows them all. Do your thing and let people pick what they like. I observe that people like downloads, so instead of writing a story and dropping it into a post, it might be better to make a PDF or Word Doc out of it and put it up for download. Personally, I'd like to see you do reviews of game materials. A sharp and smart review is always worth doing.

    (8) Comments aren't an indication of post quality - at all. A post that has comments, however, is more likely to get more. It's like the ice has to be broken by someone, and then comments are easier for everyone. Go figure.

    (9) It's usually more useful to link to a larger entity than a small one. When you check your stats, examine the 'traffic sources'. There's always surprises.

  11. I just saw the trailed for 13 Assassins and that makes me want to play L5R again. A Mantis campaign's an interesting idea and gets away from the PCs as Magistrates syndrome. I read John Wick's Blood and Honor recently- his take on samurai using his Houses of the Blooded rules. I don't like the system much, but he has some great ideas on cooperative clan building and campaign structures in that book.

  12. I thought you were one of the cool kids. Now I'm sorely disillusioned. ;p

  13. "I'm cute, I'm eloquent, I say "fuck" a lot and I can tell you anything you'd like to know about Larry Hama-era G.I. Joe."

    It'd probably get you into the House of Paincakes and goodness knows I'd like another RPG blog around.  It feels so lonely...


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