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GhostSanta

Playtest report, Runthrough of Ronin's Path

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We just got through our playtest of Ronin's Path, so let's get in the the review here.

A bit about us:
We're a mix of people from their 40's to 20's, mixed genders and gaming experience. Some of us have been playing / running / writing / distributing RPGS for decades, some of us have been playing for years. 4 of us were available tonight to run through 5th ed.

Anyway, we got together to run character generation and get in to the prepackaged adventure. We had mixed first impressions. I had my doubts about the narrative dice coming in, but one of the older guys was pretty excited about it and eager to try it out. Despite some of us being a little skeptical, we all came in open minded hoping for a great new system.

We sat down to make our characters, and the experience was overall pretty positive. We hit roadbumps as we had to explain rules and systems and how they apply to the stats we were choosing, but it generally went pretty smoothly. We all had turns getting excited about our paths, lamenting the exclusion of our favourite schools, getting hyped about the Ninjo and Giri systems... To summarize our thoughts:
 - Ninjo and Giri is a great addition, and it adds depth and focus to the characters. Would definitely include in other editions.
 - The layout of the book is horrible. We had to flip all over the place to figure out what the heck was going on. It doesn't flow and it held us up on more than a few occasions.
 - The concepts of the Advantages and Disadvantages got us riled up in a good way. We all had a lot of laughs about our characters before they even got off of the ground (especially the Most Striking Features section 14 of the 20 questions. The Ex-sailor Togashi monk who was most noticed for his garbage tattoo of a geisha on his bicep that dances when he flexes.)
 - the techniques were a little clunky to sort out. Each had a lot of conditions and criteria that made little sense and was a lot to keep track of (esp. the tattooed monk with 3 kiho.) Some techniques that a character start with at rank one have a prerequisite of being rank 2. We ignored it and moved on.

Our characters were:
 - A Shinjo Outrider
 - A Togashi Monk
 - A Kitsuki Investigator
Total Character Gen time (including explaining rules and mechanics) 3hrs.

We began the pre-constructed scenario, and immediately things felt forced and confusing. Our commanding officer told us to find the rogue ronin on suspicion of murder, then told us to find evidence as though his word wasn't good enough. He said something along the lines of "You can bring him to justice" as a send off. The Kitsuki decided to roll to see whether or not our commander truly believed in the group.

This is where the game fell apart.

Deciding on the ring for the roll became a philosophical conversation about the nature of elements. Deciding on the skill became a nightmare of browsing a poorly laid out book with multiple overly-detail scenarios for hundreds of different scenarios for rolls, none of which really fit what we had intended perfectly. We finally decided on Air and Sentiment, and the player rolled 2 successes, 2 strife, and 2 opportunities. Looking up what to do with opportunities and how opportunities of that element with that skill could be used on the roll became another aspect of the mess. All in all we sank about 40 minutes in to deciphering the procedure and finally opted to glaze over it.

The characters then went upstairs to investigate the room. This became an even longer debate about the ephemeral nature of the elements. The unsatisfactory skills in combination with the metaphysical nature of the elements in combination with the arcanity of the approaches had us all baffled for another half an hour. Every player has different ideas of what would work, and the results of their rolls were undecipherable in the maze of write-ups of elemental skills and opportunities. None of their approaches were the correct ones either. After about 4 tries, players were throwing their arms in the air and wildly guessing at what to do. When they were told the proper combination of skills and elements (which sounded just as reasonable as any of the other combinations they had chosen,) for example, TN 2 Labor (Water 1, Fire 3) but NOT TN 2 Labor (Earth or Air) directed at the DOOR of the room, everybody really checked out. It took us about an hour and a half to make it through the second roll of the game, and almost all of that time was trying to decode the skill / ring interaction.

As none of the ring elements or skills actually imply an inquiry, we added a simple investigation skill to the character sheet to move on with the game in a timely fashion. A character rolled Fire and Investigation and earned no successes, 3 strife and two opportunities. She used the Fire opportunities to buy Air opportunities to reduce the Kitsuki investigators' strife as it appeared to be the only option. It was then that we all started laughing in exasperation.


The game has a great many interesting ideas and systems (Aside from the Opportunity system, which appears only to exist to negate the Strife system, which is questionable to begin with,) and character creation gave us all high hopes.
The base mechanics of the system were, in a word, arcane. Every approach had to be explained or considered through wu-xing philosophy and the massive meandering chapter on skill / ring interaction was little to no help whatsoever explaining how on Earth things were meant to be accomplished. We didn't even make it to the added layers of stances, intrigues, damage and resistances or anything.
All in all, we got the impression that this game was designed by videogame devs who had likely never played a pen-and-paper RPG before. In a videogame, the door in the room would light up with a mouse-over effect and indicate that one might consider a labor check. in an RPG with no way to generally investigate and be pointed towards the door we found ourselves wondering how the players are expected to discern the correct approach / element / skill / item in the room out of a list of hundreds of possibilities. Perhaps a videogame would better keep track of the multiple stats and tracks and points being exchanged and altered on a moment-by-moment basis as well, but I don't understand how players and GMs can be asked to keep an accurate running tally. Every single roll to glance around a room can simultaneously cause social damage, earn opportunities, heal social damage, exchange opportunities for other opportunities, and all of that can be modified by stances that do the same.
The concepts seem sound and we all liked the theory behind the game, but in practice the rules descended in to a serpentine maze of rules minutia lost in lofty meta-concepts pinioned by bizarre dice and effects.

At the end of the session we hadn't found a single clue and no one had any interest in continuing or further playtesting. We had a good time running the analysis, but unfortunately the system does not even come close to standing on it's own two legs. When you add the fact that L5R 4th edition was a brilliant and effective system, 5th seems astronomically worse by comparison.

We'll definitely be adding some of the concepts to our future games of L5R (such as Ninjo and Giri, and honestly most of the 20 questions mechanics for char-gen are excellent and enjoyable,) but as it stands unless major fluidity concerns can be addressed those future games will be in 4th edition.
 

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3 hours ago, GhostSanta said:

...TN 2 Labor (Water 1, Fire 3) but NOT TN 2 Labor (Earth or Air)

TN 2 Labor (Water 1, Fire 3)  includes TN2(Earth) and TN2(Air) (as well as TN1(Water) and TN3(Fire)). The general rule of thumb is that you can use any approach but some will be better or worse than others (or not depending on DM discretion).

I think part of the problem you had was that A Ronin's Path starts off with an investigation (which is a significant gap in the system as it stands). Also I think you overthought approaches a bit (which it seems is quite easy to do) if you don't think about approaches and just consider rings to be like attributes, have a general understanding of what each one means, and you pick an attribute and a skill for each check (at least until people feel confident in the system) then it's pretty straightforward (even roleplaying wise characters will use their highest ring a significant majority of the time).

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11 hours ago, GhostSanta said:

A character rolled Fire and Investigation and earned no successes, 3 strife and two opportunities. She used the Fire opportunities to buy Air opportunities to reduce the Kitsuki investigators' strife as it appeared to be the only option. It was then that we all started laughing in exasperation.

Mechanical Opportunities suck. Narrative Opportunities are awesome. Unsure what went wrong with your check? Spend 1 Opportunity of any Ring to automatically learn what Skill and Ring would be the best for the check (this would help your investigation)! Feeling the heat in a skirmish? Spend Water Opportunity to expand the battlefield for your own advantage! Forgot to take the Yellow Key Card? Spend an Earth Opportunity and it appears right in your pocket! 

You just gotta learn these and remember them, pretty much the hardest part of mastering Opportunities. 

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Deciding on the ring for the roll became a philosophical conversation about the nature of elements.

This will, undoubtedly, be the most problematic part of this game for non-contested rolls outside of combat. I haven't even tried to play yet and I already saw this as being an issue.  Maybe 4E's system of tying every skill to a specific Trait was imperfect, but completely detaching them from specific Rings is inevitably ambiguous, and ambiguity almost inevitably leads to disagreement and game disruption. Some groups, the arguments will be peaceable and friendly with no hurt feelings or grudges or rage-quits, but no matter what, what you aren't doing, is playing the game while you're discussing.  At worst, and in groups that will be painfully familiar to many, the ambiguity will just lead to power-gaming. Yep. I Water Stance all of my uncontested rolls.  What? I'm flexible, aware, and adaptable. Yes, with everything.

The game sounds like it will be an absolute nightmare to GM with all the ridiculous bookkeeping, planning, Disad/Void Point maintenance, TN/Trait/Skill determination, session-based ninjo/giri focus, etc.  4E: "Did you rest last night? Oh good, you get your Void Points back."  5E: "Did I get my Void Points back?" "I dunno, did you have a crisis of conscience in the last couple hours, or is your fractured spine giving you trouble recently? Or, did I conceal the target number for the test, which is often meaningless in a system where TNs scale 1 point at a time so you can just guess with a reasonable degree of certainty (+/- 1) based on experience unless I'm a jerk?"

 

I dunno. Either that or I'm just not the target audience for this game. It is ironically both ambiguous and free-flowing, and overly complex and cumbersome, at the same time. To love this system, you seem to have to want to be led by the nose, but only so far, and then the game needs to get out of your way. The comparison to a video game is fairly apt. Either that or a cat wanting you to rub its belly three times, but only three, and then it bites.

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On ‎11‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 5:54 AM, GhostSanta said:

Some techniques that a character start with at rank one have a prerequisite of being rank 2.

If you're school either gives you a technique at a starting level, or lists it on a school advances table at a lower rank than normal, you get it at that lower rank. It's on page 44 but not exactly highlighted:

Quote

To purchase an advancement, a character must meet all of its prerequisites or the advancement must be listed in the character’s current school rank.

 

On ‎11‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 5:54 AM, GhostSanta said:

TN 2 Labor (Water 1, Fire 3) but NOT TN 2 Labor (Earth or Air)

That is a Labour check. You can try it with any approach, and when you say the approach, you find out the difficulty (or don't).

The bit in the brackets means if you try it with water it's easier than normal, whilst with fire it's harder. Which is a reason you might not want to just use your best ring if you know you're trying to be interactive and examine something (which is generally a water/air type action).

A few more generic descriptors for each ring in actions might be useful.

On ‎11‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 5:54 AM, GhostSanta said:

As none of the ring elements or skills actually imply an inquiry, we added a simple investigation skill to the character sheet to move on with the game in a timely fashion. A character rolled Fire and Investigation and earned no successes, 3 strife and two opportunities. She used the Fire opportunities to buy Air opportunities to reduce the Kitsuki investigators' strife as it appeared to be the only option. It was then that we all started laughing in exasperation.

There's a description box on this on P.95 - essentially any investigation uses the relevant 'doing stuff' skill for the thing you're investigating (so Labour if the clue is in the frame of a building, smithing if the clue is damage to a sword, theology if the clue is the aftereffects of Maho, etc).

also - opportunities are smeared all the way across the book (one thing I agree is an issue). Remember the generic list of opportunities on P18:

With any ring, you can provide assistance to someone trying the same check (giving them an extra skill die)

Fire opportunities would let you notice something conspicuously missing or out of place in the vicinity that is not directly related to your check (good for spotting something else for someone to look into!)

 

 

Sorry it didn't grab you.

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Great write-up.

My group has just made characters, we'll play the scenario next week.  It'll probably stretch over two or more weeks.  I've got a bevvy of rules-lawyers that love to get all philosophical about the application of rings/skills/whatnot.  We'll spend about half of the session fussing about rules with each other, but that's just what we do.

I'll try and tack on my experience when we go through the same thing.  I suspect we'll confirm the long discussion periods you found, but I doubt it will result in frustration.  Its good to be vigilant about it though.

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I had discussion with my players of 4th edition, and clearly, the choice of rings and TNs will be something that will waste hours on. We'll disagree and make people unhappy with choices here. I had seen it in another game system so I expect this system to face the same problem.

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9 hours ago, okuma said:

I had discussion with my players of 4th edition, and clearly, the choice of rings and TNs will be something that will waste hours on. We'll disagree and make people unhappy with choices here. I had seen it in another game system so I expect this system to face the same problem.

To be fair, even if you don't disagree, it's something you'll waste hours on.   It's just a very time-consuming mechanic in general since there's so much room for interpretation. If they want to keep Approaches, skills should be tied to two traits, max, so you can have varied ways to do a thing, but within reason and with something of a clear direction.  Combat is possibly the only exception, but the Stances need to be reworked.  Maybe I fight aggressive and proactively, looking for ways to strike (Fire), or I fight fluid and reactive, looking for opportunities to counter-attack (Water).  Turtle up and fight defensively (Earth). I mean, 4E basically had that.  The first option I suggested was called Full Attack. The second was called Attack. The third was Full Defense. Maybe Air is Defense, and Void is Center.  This wouldn't be a problem. Most games have multiple pages on combat mechanics, so they aren't going to be intimidated by them. This game already has multiple pages itself. They seem to love charts. Add a new one with Stances for Skirmishes. Stop me if I'm getting too wacky or making too much sense.    But why am I trying to figure out if my character is Restoring a boat, or Producing a boat, or... convincing someone to hire my boat?  Wait, what? Now my Seafaring skill is a social skill too, lol. My Courtier friend is going to be pissed, especially since to convince somebody to go for a voyage, she had to sacrifice 10 Honor at character creation. Managing my sailors during a voyage? Isn't that Command?

There's nothing inherently wrong with getting away from the Archer Courtier of 4th Edition (in fact, I experimented with house rules designed to do such a thing). But this game can't decide if it wants to be free-form and narrative, or mechanically crunchy, and it ends up with the worst traits of both.  There's immense complexity in the things you can tell it is trying to simplify and approximate for players not into crunchy mechanics.  Problem is, you aren't crunching numbers, you're just crunching theory and philosophy instead, and numbers at least have the common courtesy of being consistent and predictable.

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Thanks for sharing your experience!

On 10/10/2017 at 9:54 PM, GhostSanta said:

The Kitsuki decided to roll to see whether or not our commander truly believed in the group.

This is where the game fell apart.

Deciding on the ring for the roll became a philosophical conversation about the nature of elements. Deciding on the skill became a nightmare of browsing a poorly laid out book with multiple overly-detail scenarios for hundreds of different scenarios for rolls, none of which really fit what we had intended perfectly. We finally decided on Air and Sentiment, and the player rolled 2 successes, 2 strife, and 2 opportunities.

A couple thoughts:

  • Sentiment/Air was definitely an appropriate approach--Air gives the "Analyze" approach, after all. Plus, personally, I'd consider that situation similar to (or actually) a lie, so "Seeing Through Lies" on p. 95 might help.
  • Don't know which strife were on which dice, but you don't have to keep all your ring dice. Minimum 1, maximum = ring value.
Edited by sidescroller
Insufficient funds

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4 hours ago, sidescroller said:
  • Don't know which strife were on which dice, but you don't have to keep all your ring dice. Minimum 1, maximum = ring value.

I know, it was the opportunities that screwed us up there. We all went "Oh, an opportunity! What do those do?" and then we all started going through the entire book and we all came up with different pages sort of referencing things. The one chart we found basically said "for two air opportunities, you can exchange them for a fire or water opportunity and with those you can choose another character and give them a -1TN for their -Next- roll, etc" and that's when we threw our arms in the air.

How is anyone supposed to keep track? We started joking around about that scetch in Monty Python Meaning Of Life where the school master is telling their kids to move their jackets to a lower peg.

It's a die roll. Suddenly we're all going through books, doing math, consulting charts, dragging other characters in to tally modifiers for future rolls, deliberating on the potential of -which- character should get the modifier for -which- future roll, then having to keep track of who gets what bonus for what and when... All for a result on a frigging die. This wasn't even anything that the character tried to do. Just like "Yo I glance at this guy to see if he really thinks that we're cool like he says" and then the dice did this to us. It was hellish.

Edited by GhostSanta

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