Imperial Matchmaker III (5e 3PP); Disorganization Monogatori

This is the last part of my review of Imperial Matchmaker. In previous parts I have tried, often in vain, to scratch at the surface of this bulky, horrendously organized but laudably ambitious sandbox, only to be driven back, time and again, by layered bulwarks of flavortext and impenetrable references. We arrive at the last part, the weddings proper, only to discover they are all ye standard quests. Since Myler has been nothing but a good sport with me, and he isn’t getting a good review, I hope he will at least profit from the advice I manage to squeeze out of this part when I tell people not to buy this.

The organization of Imperial Matchmaker is EXACTLY WRONG to enable easy understanding and PERFECTLY REVERSED in terms of priorities, hierarchy and degree of importance. The current hierarchy of Matchmaker runs like this Pre-generated Characters -> ways of getting them into the game -> NPCs/Factions -> Sandbox Area interspersed with Character specific subquests -> The Main Tentpole Quests that are propping up the fucking game and are the center piece.

While you MIGHT want to start off Imperial Matchmaker with an overview of the city, the major NPCs and the general idea, I propose you go IMMEDIATELY to the 9 Weddings in general as they serve as tentpoles for the framework of the Sandbox, they are not dependent on you playing or knowing anything about the pregens and they are very likely to be the focus of the action as they are the most elaborate.

THEN you move on to the sandbox proper and you describe each region in detail, include generic sub-quests, shops etc. etc. all of them properly delineated so the GM knows where to find things by their nature, not their geographic location, since movement in cities is not movement in Hexes and resembles point-crawling if one would be a member of the starship enterprise. THEN you introduce the Pre-gens since the game is ultimately about the event AND NOT about playing the pre-gens, THEN you add the series of sub-quests, properly filed by character, cross-referenced by location. And then you smoke a cigarette in the afterglow.

The weddings function as mini-quests and are inoffensive but also a little infuriating since they by no means require all the elaborate preparation they receive in the NPC/Overview section, and can be understood easily upon a readthrough. I would be happier if EVEN MORE background would be omitted but for now they are at least manageable.

The adventures proper are linear encounters tied together with a more traditional plot structure, but occasionally, and I like this, events will have multiple forms of resolution, which I kind of like. For all its flaws, Imperial Matchmaker does reward good gameplay. That doesn’t mean its off the hook for essentially throwing 10 set piece battles with some reacharound in the main quest section of the game. Where ma dungeon or espionage at brah? 

The concept of the PCs being hired is introduced with a fairly drawn out scene with almost no interaction that reminded me very strongly of World of Darkness. I mean its not a bad scene and all but its all the preening and role-playing with nothing happening and you get taps on the fingers if you start acting up. Very New School.

Wedding 1: Hot babe marries a fucking asshole that wants her dead.

The first wedding is a tempestuous one, and even before it starts the PCs are receive word of an assassination attempt from a mysterious stranger who will only tell them if they accept a dagger of magic black glass. For a hook its pretty good, enigmatic even, and the rudimentary map along with the description of the encounters makes for something that is messy, but at least you are fighting ninja ambush death squads which is one of the reasons I would actually consider playing in the first place, and they do the cinematic thing where you notice guards with their throats slit before the shit hits the fan proper. Thank god for generic noble house floorplans so Matchmaker doesn’t end up bloating 9 fucking pages with the same noble house floorplan but at this point I assume Storm Bunny Studio engineers were emailing Tyler alarmist reports about the carrying capacity and volume of standard issue UPS trucks and he regretfully excised Appendix NX to AAX from the current publication.

The Day of the Wedding Proper takes place and you start to doze as you prepare for another nine hours of making Dignity Checks to prevent the characters from being forced to sit with the Invited Guests, which has no effect, but the boredom is soon interrupted with an airship dropping kamikaze ceramian (westerner) soldiers strapped with bomb vests into the wedding, possibly serving as allegorical payback for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The PCs have a chance to save a lot of the guests by shooting the bombers from the sky (but saving them will gain them nothing), but the princess will end up getting stabbed by the groom, secretely, with an ultra-rare poison that requires an uber-specific cure. The antidote on store has diminished because of great age to the point where it only slows the spread of the poison, so the PCs must go get the cure.

Normally this would entail a hook for a campaign on its own where the PCs visit corners of Soburin but fortunately they can just get teleported to the nearest city where the herb and flower are located, though it does beg the question why no other retainers are sent along. Very convenient. A page long description of the city really only takes up space as there is nothing to do there and one must enter the rainforest immediately and a long list of the MM creatures that occur in the Rainforest is very disappointing. My recommendation is to instead make…10? Encounters and put them on a table, since no one wants to fight generic combat encounters while travelling through the wilderness anyway.

You meet a bunch of ape-men that you need to impress in order to get them to lead you to the areas where the herb is located. You have to succeed at some sort of social test or you wont be invited to stay over in the village. Okay. What happens if I fail? The leader wants to be your friend so he challenges people to an honor duel, but he fights without armor? Bleeeegh. Trickery, like trying to follow a dude dressed as a priest to their sacred place at night is punished. Why? Why punish players for thinking of something clever?

Several set piece battles later, if you return with the cure you are dragged before an imperial court. The players can influence WHO speaks first but that’s the only thing they can influence. A waste. This could have been an entire section in and of itself. It’s a bunch of set-piece battles, with the occasional clever little twist, or over the top animu stuff like Zombie-demon gorillas or a ninja dropping a big ceramic bomb in a room WHATDOYOUDO but its all very breezy stuff. I miss the craftsmanship of a fine dungeon, the emergent gameplay of a sandbox, the faction play.

You can win the lawsuit and get the lady a divorce and then have the lady marry you, even if you are a zombie robot or a raccoon or a woman or whatever. Namida Clan is just going to allow their prime real estate to interspecies gay-marry herself off to a fucking raccoon samurai and have the bloodline wither without a living heir? You get penalized if you ask for a greater reward from the Emperor for saving his shitshow of a marriage, but the game does not have the courtesy of having him do something extravagant like pouring molten gold in your eyes or something. So-desne, you want a bigger rewardu? Boiling Gold Wave Attack! I am a Wolf, not a Golden Retriever.

Every other wedding is shorter then this one.

Wedding 2: Wedding Again


An old war hero, the Butcher of Butanso, tries to hire you to murder the groom for the second wedding. At least this one starts off pretty spicy. And he pays well. And the groom is a member of a horrific witch-cult that worships the Entities that consumed Nature. Well if you put it like that maybe he does need to die…

What I don’t get is the scenario takes into account the PCs might refuse, then watch if someone else takes the job, then assumes they might defend, but there is nothing about what happens if the PCs try to fucking warn the bride and the groom, or contact the imperial authorities. If the PCs take it they face the same guys that take the job if they refuse. The fucking matsuto comissars are going to be attending along with the emperor but you can’t even ask ole Matsuto to dole out some extra sheckles for some robot-samurai to guard a marriage he fucking masterminded. Damn.

I like the set-up I guess. The mip lacks a scale, which is fucking deadly for a tactical scenario, but there’s intelligence to it, there’s a bunch of terrain factors that contribute to the tactics of the adventure, and results for different resolutions, usually Dignity or Haitoku. Unsuprisingly, killing an imperial bride designate basically means you get Matsuto Comissars after you for a long ass fucking time. This one is alright.

Wedding 3 & 4: Double Trouble

You are hired to murder the groom. The bengoshi that hires you is a distant ancestor of Yagami Light and therefore has about fifteen different contingencies in place, ensuring that even if you refuse and run to warn the groom, the plan will go just according to kaikaku. And the mines he mentioned, those were decoys meant to lure you away from the real trap! He pays a lot less then the Butcher, which sucks dick. The murder weapon is the Jem-Hadar landmines from the DS9 episode ‘The Siege of AR-558.’

This one is also clever because it allows you to fix the initial problem but it’s a huge pain in the ass to do so. If you do the common-sense thing and point out a mined amphitheatre is no place for a wedding the Emperor has no fucking time for your goddamn bullshit an declares a double wedding, WHICH IS THE ACTUAL SITE OF THE AMBUSH OF THE BENGOSHI MURDER MAN. This is the sort of stuff a normal railroad would not allow you to do, so kudos.

Wedding 4, The Wedding of Crimson Rain, involves divination to plan an ambush months in advance. The end result is a sort of killbox with blimp-flying archers and wizards and exits closed with Walls of Force, your average 5e scenario. I kind of dig it, even if its just more straight up combat. Bonus points: When the Emperor arrives he is so fucking angry he orders the wedding to continue without even removing the dozens of bodies that must be littering the fucking place. You again have a chance to get forcibly married if one of the bride or groom dies and again the game makes sure to include an all-gender pass, even though every wedding in Imperial Matchmaker is the traditional boy/girl. That poor Hawk Clan guy was just trying to serve his house and now he is being married off to a necroji ninja. Soburin is a dark, dark place.

Intermezzo:
A clever decision, if long-winded, there is an intermezzo where the party fucks around the docks and finds hints of an impending attack. The last wedding will end with one Bengoshi unleashing A FUCKING BIOWEAPON that replicates the Mists of Akuma on the wedding. Anyway, several investigation dice rolls and charisma checks later, you fight a steam-oni. There’s a nice side-bar on what to do if a player gets too much Haitoku, and its basically call a break and then modify his character-sheet with the Addeno-Oni Template, give it back to him, and tell him to kill his fellow players.

Wedding 5: W5?

A silly wedding. The bride and groom are in love, but the groom has lycanthropy picked up during his adventuring pastime and is too embaressed to mention it. I love how in this game, adventuring is a pastime for wealthy aristocrats and lycanthropy is a minor inconvenience that could be cured easily with readily available restoration scrolls but the groom is so embarrassed and the social repercussions apparently so dire he will only allow the PCs to help him do so if they either succeed at very high Charisma checks, or even worse, retrieve his stolen book of poetry from some gangers. A farce.

Two bengoshi are trying to shit in this punch bowl. One is ‘trying to exploit his power’ but basically ends up wanting you to murder the weretiger while the other is a demon with special pronouns (I shit ye not) that promises the PC money if they off the groom. A DC 10 Insight check reveals that ‘this new benefactor intends to make good the promise’. It’s a shapechanging extradimensional demon thing but any average joe can see this deal is too good to pass up!

The affair takes place at a steampunk japan yachtclub and involves a rival adventuring party, whether you are on team kill the groom or on team save the groom. I think an opportunity is missed to do some sort of purist reward where you unlock an achievement if you either A) save all the grooms or B) kill all of them. No opportunity for gay-marriage in this one, in fact even if you succeed, if you didn’t befried the poor groom and help him out with his weretiger problem the wedding is still ruined.

Wedding 6: You Can(Not) Return

I like it that the weddings keep getting more insane as Emperor Matsuto sees more and more of his peacemaking efforts turn into a shitshow. This one takes place in the fucking wizard academy, in a magically sealed inner fucking sanctum. The pronoun-demon teams up with some degenerate bengoshi to fuck up the Groom through a convoluted plot involving magically linked mirrors and actor duplicates holding drug-potions…? At least this one does not involve the PCs fighting something.

I am a little miffed the plot here relies on unique magic that the PCs can’t possibly know of beforehand (it is explicitly said they can’t detect it by any means) and the solution to the scenario is either too obvious or too hard but at least with a sub-optimal solution you can gay-marry [1] so its not a total write-off. There is another incremental process where the pronoun-oni (prononi?) is gathering the blood of imperial descendants in her animated cup, which triggers a ritual down the way…I think? I like cascading effects like that.

Wedding 7: This Time it’s personal.

Emperor Matsuto has had it with you fucking clowns. The next wedding is in a secret location. The theme of this episode is drug-addiction. The groom is being blackmailed after being addicted to a magic-healing resistant herb. Also anime-batman shows up to the wedding.

The wedding proper is so well guarded it might as well be impregnable but since the assassin is actually the groom it doesn’t help. The wedding is soon overrun by power-armored hob-goblin warriors and you and Batman must stop them with violence. I had to reread it to make sure I had not stroked out and started hallucinating but that is in fact what happens. There are so many guards and NPCs present I imagine this battle is hard to run, with different tactics and all the different parties scattered throughout the text. An overview of the combatants and a round by round overview of everyone’s moves would have made this one easier to use.

I like it that in this one, like many other weddings, your reward is dependent on the number of civilian casualties, and how many power-armored goblins manage to escape. The Emperor as always cannot die because of the Daern’s instant fortress that will fucking murder dozens of nobles as collateral damage. I am somewhat surprised that, despite the many casualties that are no doubt likely to occur during this wedding, you are not given any opportunity to gay-marry the survivors.

Wedding 8: Kidnapping No-Jitsu.

A short one, the actual wedding here takes place without further incident, it is just that before the wedding, they attempt to kidnap the bridge. The PCs can elect to take the place of either the kidnappers or try to guard the escort. There’s not much to this one, its fairly straightforward, though the 8500 gp are certainly welcome.

Wedding 9: Kaijin Troubles

To appease the by now seething emperor Matsuto, the Ninth wedding takes place in one of the clans lavish mansions, which has been gifted to the Emperor. One Tanuki assassin and one Ambiguously gendered demon try to take a shit in the punchbowl.

Wacky shit ensues as land-mine tsukumogami battle with tanuki sniper-wolf in a battle to assassinate some noble-man over revenge. The map here is not useful and it is not clear where everyone is, which is a major hindrance.

A damnable oni bengoshi gracefully flits into sight, rich crimson dripping from whatever ze has grasped in zir clawed hand. Zir monstrous face splits into a wicked grin as ze spins, disappearing from sight and bellowing out an ominous, foreboding, and victorious laughter that strikes a dark chord in the hearts of all who hear it. Whatever ze came for, ze has acquired it.

Just us it if it matters.

I think batman shows up again but I am not entirely sure. If you are going to do what are essentially set-piece battles it helps if the location and strategy of each participant is made abundantly clear and a cheat sheet of their tactics is made on a round by round basis. The sniper is actually 1300 foot away which is an interesting tactical challenge but the decision to have Asian batman take him down is lame, no one likes being upstaged. The wedding kind of loses interest and no aftermath is discussed, though we can presume the Emperor is absolutely fuming.

Oni-chan’s Evil Kaiju Summoning Plot:

There is some absolute fucking bullshit going on with the aftermath of the three weddings that are crashed by Zir, namely that the adventure pulls a White Wolf and goes ‘uh actually this encounter is too cool not to use, zo zhere ziz a lizt of zhings that Ze can do inztead zo zir plan can zucceed’.

There’s different resolutions depending on whether or not the demon succeeded in capturing a heart during Wedding 9 so you can either fight the super-powered Enmu Kaiju or the super-powered Oni-chan in Dragon Form. This idea is very cool and I was instantly reminded of Emerald Weapon from FF7 but THE ADVENTURE GIVES YOU NOTHING IN THE WAY OF ASSISTANCE IN RUNNING A CR 14 ENCOUNTER AGAINST LEVEL 5 PCS. Man, what? Kaiju attack on Steampunk-tokyo. That’s an adventure that writes itself. Random encounters, houses blowing up, you having to prepare a defence, a possibility of getting in a giant mecha, distracting the Kaiju while someone charges up his positron gun using half the city…these are all possibilities that could have been considered. If you are going to do fantasy Japan and borrow clichés at least go balls to the walls, rewatch some Godzilla and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and go for it.

Wedding 10: Bio-weapon Tango.

Emperor Matsuto can’t catch a fucking break. At this point I halfway expected a sub-quest where you have to function as his personal therapists but instead everyone soldiers on and initiates wedding 10, where a rogue Uragi Bengoshi releases a weaponized Akuma-bioweapon on the wedding, so her river barge ghost can kill the wedding guests.

The wedding takes place on a barge. The barge happens to be a Tsukumogami (jesus I am getting so well versed in Akuma lore I can just rattle this shit off without a hitch and know what it means), batman shows up again and someone is pulling a joker by throwing a corruption gas. Despite the fact poor fucking Matsuto has literally provided two entire warships as escort they get sunk by elemental people with drills and he gets to look fucking incompetent yet again. I think the assassin being a barge with a comical cartoon monster mouth and arms is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the adventure so at this point I am not complaining but actively cheering. Anyway, you know the drill, no scale for the map, no meta-data on how to run the encounter quickly and delicious set-piece combat to help win everyone over. No resolution on this one, no bonus for saving guests, no countdown and AGAIN NO GAY-MARRIAGE. FUUUUUUUCK.

There’s some discussion of the aftermath which I applaud and I get it that with this much effort its very easy to point to specific bits and say THAT COULD HAVE USED MORE WORK so I’ll try to judge Matchmaker as a whole. Some ideas for follow up are discussed and with the insane chaos of 10 weddings worth of intrigue you’d be hard-pressed not to be able to find something to follow up on.

There’s some optional class archetypes which are alright and a weird absentee meta card system that I can’t really get into but which is a nice idea although a little hockey, basically it ensures the PCs get some sort of ability if one of them unexpectedly croaks that they can invoke at the cost of Hit Dice Healed.

Let’s get down to Brass Tax. One can make the argument that Imperial Matchmaker should be one-starred. The layout, bloat and problems of organization made me want to put it down about three times before I got past page 100. Normally that’s a fail. However; I reserve * for things that are BEYOND REDEMPTION. For utter shit. Imperial Matchmaker is definitely not that. With proper organization, IT MIGHT NOT EVEN BE SHIT. The COST of saving it is beyond its total added value so I will count this as my first Technical **.

I think IM represents a missed opportunity of tragically immense proportions, a ludological Tale of the Heike, of potential drowned under the weight of its own flawed nature. In a fallen age, this is perhaps our lot.

Without further ado, a bullet point recital of improvement points, followed by a low score.

Organizational:
* Topics are not presented in their primary order of importance and do not build on eachother (i.e. the sequence does not make sense).
* Topics are not grouped together with useability in mind (e.g. shopkeepers w. shopkeepers, quests with quests. Personal quests with personal quests).
* Insufficient use of meta-data to allow one to quickly find and reference information, to the point it is a technical write-off.

Writing:
* Too much. The subject matter is anime-fantasy with steam-boat spirits and fantasy batman. Page long backstories for the bride and groom are unnecessary and might inhibit understanding. Cut it down. BY A THIRD. I could have read fucking War & Peace or Tale of the Heike with this word count. Speaking of which, I am reading the Tale of the Heike.
* Inconsistent tone. IMM does not know whether it wants to be serious, deep-lore fantasy or balls-to-the-walls crazy animu fantasy and while it is possible to be both (Wh40k is both very deep and very over-the-top), it is not a combination that is easily handled.
* Filter ideas. There are tonnes of good ideas in here, and tonnes of mediocre ideas. I think paring the thing down would have helped bring some of them to the fore. As it is its almost too unwieldy to get a grip on.
* There’s little moments where players are rewarded for finding an alternative solution or coming up with a clever idea. Keep doing that.

Useability:
* I think the idea of having individual sub-quests is a nice idea but do people really want to play as Iconics if they can make their own characters? I use pre-mades for one-shots but for an entire campaign, to be given a backstory and character seems like a needlessly restraining feature. Would have been better if it had been more generic, i.e. attuned to non-specific character backgrounds.
* If frequent use is made of set-piece combat it helps to have a map with clear scale, a bolded overview of all the players, followed by a round by round report of their tactics
* There are all these cloak and dagger services and methods and almost nothing ends up being useful in the main quests? A wasted opportunity. There are admittedly some of the bazillions of hastily written side-quests that might benefit from it but why not showcase it more
* I expected more sandbox type challenges in this sandbox. Problems without a fixed resolution are the heart of emergent gameplay.   

Misc.
* Good anime shit. Corrupted Forest Spirit that has to be uncorrupted. Kaiju attack. Mecha hobgoblins. Ninjas.  Gangs. Tower of challenges. Weddings. Oni. Putting spirits at rest. Steamboat fights. Intrigue.
* Immersion-breaking stuff. Masuto allowing your characters to gay marry the widowed brides or grooms when he sets it all up with the express purpose of fomenting peace is a bit much, as are the pronouns. It doesn’t belong in a grimdark feudal setting, and it stands out.
* Nice evil/good-path, in keeping with the setting. Too many times adventures assume you will play as the heroes and fix everything. This one at least allows you to act like a total fucking asshole and kill everyone.

With a product of this size, and taking such obvious effort, this is a waste. Some of the flaws could have been saved in editing. You put in all this work and now most people won’t make it through. The amount of shit people will let you get away with is inversely proportional to the length of the work. If you make a short adventure, people are inclined to forgive the odd structural error or two because its easier to grasp the entirety of the work. In big fucking works if you make a fundamental fuckup the effect is much larger and compounds with every iteration.
I want you to imagine that as soon as you finish writing you are running outside, bumping into the first D&D player you know, force him, at gunpoint, to quit his job, and then tell him that you will come back and shoot him in front of his family if he doesn’t run your game within the week. Do you really want to be a murderer? Respect people’s time. Do as much as is needed, not more. Always ask that question; if I pointed a gun at his face while we are playing an otherwise friendly game of DnD, and I just WHIP out my Glock G17 Gen5 with 9mm hollowpoints and point it at his face and tell him he is going to see what God looks like if he can’t immediately tell you where Subquest 3 of the Necroji is located, do you paint the room red, screaming Slayer lyrics as you unload seventeen one-way tickets into another world into him until the only thing people can hear over the tinnitus is the repeated dry clicking of the firing pin hitting nothing but air and sacrifice your whole career as a mid-tier publisher of third party products of the world’s most popular rpg to do a lifetime in a maximum security penitentary facility or does everyone get to have a friendly game of Mists of Akuma? I want you to think about that happening.  
**.

You can check it out here.

[1] I think, it is not specified, it just says one of the PCs with the highest Dignity. So many questions. Can I gay-marry the princess after I have already been gay-married to another princess?


7 thoughts on “Imperial Matchmaker III (5e 3PP); Disorganization Monogatori

  1. WordPress refuses to let me Like any posts (*any* posts at all; it is annoying as hell) but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the review articles and glad you found some stuff in Imperial Matchmaker that you are keen to! ^_^

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    1. *Also* if you want to delve into Book of Exalted Darkness it’s probably more up your alley and I’d be happy to send a PDF over. There’s a big metaplot for destroying the utopian world (appropriately named Askis) with open-ended set pieces (all of which have some details and suggested resolutions), all the NPCs are in the back, and of the two adventures at the very very back one kicks off the campaign and the other is a scaling escape-the-underworld thing should the party have a TPK along the way. It’s another big goddamn book though, albeit the most gorgeous one I’ve made yet.

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      1. My cue has some stragglers and they are all heavy-weight and need to be finished off first, so with the coming year perhaps I’ll shoot you an email. I added a link in the description below. This was good. A chore at first, the sheer bulk of Matchmaker forced me out of the enfeeblement of my cushy Role Aids guru role and back into the Beast-Mode I take when I tackle these fucking doorstoppers with all the fire and fury of a platoon of feral tigers. Thanks for being a good sport about it. I always imagine what a game would be like if it was run by the guy who wrote it and Akuma sounds kind of fun in a batshit insane animu way. Expect a mail in the next year about Exalted Darkness.

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  2. It occurs to me that you may hate Sold Down The River after all, and that thought saddens. It indulges in many of the same sins as the work in hand, as a city book, and despite its breadth and depth of unveiled Things you are correct in the assertion that life is short and we are not reading these things like Literary Fiction and can we just have the threads drawn through the work at the start, and the features grouped in a way that the GM can say “you want a weaponsmirh and you’re on the Street of A Thousand Harlots, very good, Madame Jemima’s One Stop Whips And Flails Emporium is just off the boulevard, they also do chainmail bikinis.” Possibly some sort of cross-reference table. Take me to the Tree of Woe: I wish to contemplate.

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    1. Not so fast there buddy!!! Most of the things I saw from Warhammer I absolutely fucking loved so I wouldn’t be suprised if I liked Marienburg too. That being said, organization is king, and things should be organized optimized for utility. I’m trying to recall if I know any city book that really does this well but I am drawing fucking blanks.

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