Derik Badman's Journal

2020-02-09 08:15

Another week of winter passed, still mostly warmer than... usual? the past? I can't say normal, because I think this is normal now. We did have one day of rain and heavy winds and thunderstorm warnings that then became snow but it was so warm it just melted as it hit the ground.

Star Trek: Picard, three episodes in, still entertains. It's slow moving, I think the idea of Star Trek stories that take more than the length of 2 episodes (or one movie) is still fairly novel. Discovery did it, but they also had a limited number of subplots and B stories. So far Picard is basically all one main plot, though split between mostly two focalizing characters. One place it really disappointed this time around (episode 3) is in the introduction of some new characters, one of whom is such a cliched "cool guy who had some traumatic event in the past and acts tough but really cares and oh yeah he smokes and drinks and of course his previous trauma has psychological connections to the current situation". It's lazy and boring and he's already the most annoying thing about the show. There was also one scene that Picard being a little too action hero-y considering how old he is. I was kind of worried that would happen and the writers would not... deal with it in a way that seems realistic (Picard would easily get beat up by trained Romulan assassin). Letting him get all action-y takes away from a clear theme of the show about his aging.

Before sleep last night, I finished up Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, a science fiction novel from last year that I saw on a lot of recommended lists, and they did not steer me wrong. I don't read a ton of space opera-esque science fiction, so my best touchstone is Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (also excellent by the way). Both take place in non-Earth based societies (empires) and deal with identity and language and political maneuvering. Martine's book is focused on an ambassador who is put in a political thriller type situation while also focusing on her complicated relationship with the culture and language of the empire, which her people are trying to avoid being annexed into. To them she is a barbarian, but to her they are a culture that she mostly looks up to, having studied their language and poetry and dramas for most of her life. It was well written, tightly plotted, intellectually engaging, and, of course, left enough larger plot points unresolved so there can be a sequel. Though, I will say that the main protagonist's story is resolved sufficiently that I didn't feel like I was left just waiting for a sequel to find out what happened.

Yesterday we also played our next one-shot in Eric's RPG "tasting menu," Colonial Gothic. The genre is basically Call of Cthulhu in colonial America. The rules are 2d12 skill based, where you roll, add attribute modifiers and skill modifiers and try to beat a target. The default in the game is 18 which we ended up changing halfway through cause it was too high. The combat systems uses a numbered initiative slot system where you get multiple actions but spaced across different numbers. That means that with 5 PCs and a couple opponents rounds of combat take a really long time. You have to count down and track the inititiative number and whether you get an action on that number and then... you reroll every round, so you can't even get into a steady order. Damage is also based on how much you beat your target number, which while less dice rolling also feels more fiddly than just rolling a separate die (but... they only use d12s so I guess all weapons would have had to do d12 or more damage...). All in all, I found nothing much to be attracted to in the rules, it's nothing I haven't seen before and nothing that seemed to make it more worthwhile a system than any other option (like just running a Call of Cthulhu game in the same setting... or just using basic D&D rules).

The adventure, which I assume was a starter module in the rule book or introductory module from the authors was just... boring. We had a lot of fun because we had a pretty crazy collection of characters to interact, but the adventure itself was extremely linear and had no real choice or depth to it.

Afterwards we talked about the idea of playing new games to try new rules versus just playing one-shots to try different genres and settings, and pretty much all seemed to agree we are more interested in the latter. Finding a consistent, simple ruleset and than just using it to play various adventures of different sorts. I, of course, argued for just using basic D&D rules, as there already are tons of variations on those rules for all sorts of genres (I myself have quite a few on my shelf).

But all that said, we are going to try a Powered by the Apocalypse game next time as Eric really wants to try the more player narrative driven style of those games. It was going to be Dungeon World but we decided to try The Sprawl instead, since we haven't played a cyberpunk game before. I've only played Dungeon World once, but I've also read the rules as well as Apocalypse World. I'm not convinced allowing players to take more control of the narrative requires using different rules, I think you can easily just ask the players to contribute to the world building/narrative no matter what rules you use. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited to play a cyberpunk game as I haven't since we used to play Cyberpunk 2020 back in high school.

I was so negligent in my writing this week, I'm sure ther was something else I wanted to write about, but now I can't remember what it was. Only into the second month of the year and already my time scheduling has broken down.