KublaCon 2009

May 31, 2009

Yet again, slow to post.  Last weekend was KublaCon – www.kublacon.com.

Friday, I got to the con later than I wanted but earlier than I needed.  Once upon a time, at local cons (I still do this at Gen Con), I signed up for lots of scheduled events and I was busy all of the time.  Then, I started hanging around the same people all of the time, people who have minimal agendas.  We talk about doing things but do very little.  I do like just seeing and talking to people I see only/mostly at cons, but talking about what to do for hours is terribly unproductive.

With nothing in particular to do, as the V:TES demo wasn’t going to happen Friday night, I played in the Alara block, Magic sealed deck tournament.  I wasn’t too happy with my deck build and it was trying to be tricky – I maximized my removal at the expense of reasonable creatures.  Tricky was not a good idea when I hadn’t played competitively forever and hadn’t played with any of the new sets before.  I made one obvious mistake in playing a creature I thought had flying but doesn’t.  Another mistake I noticed later seemed to be putting in the wrong 2 casting cost black enchantment.  I lost badly to my first opponent, didn’t help that I played horribly in using my removal.  I beat three other players who were very inexperienced to win a pack of Conflux and a pack Alara Reborn.

I forgot to bring any Type P Magic decks.  Type P is an open, sealed league format for Magic that sprung up in the area and has only seemed to be exported to the Northern Virginia area by a friend of mine.  I should do a dissertation on P sometime.  Anyway, without P decks and without time to make my sealed product into one, I had nothing else to do except get dinner.  A pattern at the con was to forget to bring food from home.  I did eat lunch late, so I wasn’t starved like I was Saturday and Sunday. 

Saturday, I wasn’t clear on what I needed to be ready for.  I’ve been trying to run the Solomon Kane RPG at local cons to have more to do, but my primary player had tentative wargaming plans.  I tried to be ready for SK, for our Conan campaign, and for V:TES while bringing Type P decks.  I hung out for a bit in the morning until my main P partner (these days) showed up in the afternoon and played some P.

I brought some of my more interesting decks.  First game of first match, I got the Urzatron!! (you have to understand P to understand that no one else has even tried to get all of the Urza lands for one of their decks) out on turn 3!!! but couldn’t get it in games 2 or 3 and lost the match.  I turned my sealed product into a P deck and lost a couple of games only to sweep the next match I played.  I played my samurai rat deck in its Myojin of Cleansing Fire configuration, winning one game off of rat tokens and getting crushed in the others.  That might have been it for Saturday.

Saturday night, after we went to one of my favorite restaurants on Broadway in Millbrae, we played our Conan campaign.  The campaign was in a story arc I cared a lot about (I try not to care about what the party is usually involved in because it’s too frustrating when the party starts doing random, stupid stuff).  We blew through a lot of resources – I was perfectly winning to get my 14th level character killed to achieve some level of success and it could have happened – and had one of those “at the time” strange ways for things to turn out that actually had some long term value.  I was happy almost entirely due to the results as things worked out the way I was hoping for the most part.  We talked about whether we wanted to continue on with the 5 year old campaign and decided we still had unfinished business.

Didn’t get home too late, but still, commuting was annoying and I was short on sleep.  Sunday morning, I had failed to try to get into a game I was interested in so decided to assist our Conan GM with his Conan game that he was running as a scheduled event.  I ended up playing.  It worked out well.  Maybe, I did too much explaining of tactics, but having spent years and years watching players ignore sound tactics, I couldn’t help it.  I did create all of the PCs, so it was more useful for me to explain things about them than the GM.  One PC died saving my PC, and the ending was funny and useful with one of the PCs betraying the rest of the party to escape the demon-infested isle.  Very much a successful event.

Sunday night was my V:TES “tournament”.  One person had been told it had been cancelled, probably because the person doing the demos Friday and Saturday flaked both days.  I was annoyed by the lack of caring, but then, none of the local cons give a damn about CCGs anymore.  We had 7 different people, three 5 player games.  I was really tired and impatient in the first game I played (game 2) but got better for game 3 and had fun.  Guy who never gets to play, coming from Monterey, “won”.

Monday morning, I had signed up for Stormbringer.  I had never played Stormbringer before, I don’t think.  I did run a couple of adventures when I was in junior high school of first edition (this was fifth).  The adventure was based on The Fortress of the Pearl, a book only the GM and I had read.  The adventure unfolded very linearly.  It was good but not great.  One of the players did a great job playing a beggar.  Too many players.  I’m a believer that more than 5 is too many and find 3 to be best.

The GM thought that this particular book would make for a good RPG adventure.  Could be.  But, I do think that adapting stories to adventures requires some extra effort of thinking about how a party can do things differently from the characters in the story so that one doesn’t feel railroaded.

Friends were around after I was done, so I played some more Type P.  I played some of my better decks and whooped ass.  The first game of the match where I played my squirrel deck was one of those highly unsual Magic games – an interesting one.  I love Magic.  I love CCGs.  I find Magic to have only one flaw:  it’s rarely fun to play.  Far too many games are blowouts.  Now, CCGs typically have lots of bad games.  It took me years of playing the Babylon 5 CCG to realize just how many games sucked.  But, Magic’s percentage of fun games is just so low.  Sure, the bad ones can go quickly, but a fair number don’t, and it just feels so hollow playing the game.  At least in comparison to thinking about the game, as the analysis for Magic is awesome, which is why I read daily articles about it even though I don’t normally play the game.

Anyway, my opponent’s deck was full of removal, so I would play something strong and he’d nuke it.  He almost got control of the game between his annoying creatures and his removal, but I kept playing threats and getting small amounts of damage through until I could burn him out.  Game 2 was a blowout as I sided in land destruction and cut two of his colors while he had manascrew.  In the next match, my Mirari Madness deck got Mirari in play both games … and used it, which pretty much blows opponents away.

A fair con.  I did stuff I wanted to do.  It just felt like nothing great happened and playing that much Magic was suboptimal.  I just wasn’t into things as much as I’ve been in the past, which could have been a function of not being better prepared for the con.

Advertisements

Taurus II – Zodiac I

May 18, 2009

I must admit that while I appreciate strength of purpose, steadfastness, and conviction, I’m not inclined to create characters who would seem very Taurus-like.

I have been spending quite a bit of thought on how to build efficient, inefficient characters using Third Edition, Legend of the Five Rings rules.  Clearly, the appropriate ring for a Taurus is Earth, with both Stamina and Willpower suiting them well.

My analysis of the relative advantages of the traits and rings goes something like:

  1. Strength – Weak and usually uninteresting, something to put to 4 when using heavy weapons or for a water shugenja.
  2. Perception – Decent and interesting but suffers for being paired with Strength.
  3. Stamina – Weak and uninteresting.  But, getting Earth up for more wound boxes (or for earth shugenja) is huge.
  4. Willpower – Narrow.  Besides being part of the Earth Ring, failing fear rolls is not so good.  I wish both this and Stamina did more individually.
  5. Agility – Strong.  Not just the key to most attacks but one’s Defense at times.
  6. Intelligence – Strong and interesting.  I occasionally try to play not so bright characters as a role-playing stretch.  But, with so many rolls in my Heroes of Rokugan experiences being skill + INT, this is easily the most fun trait for me.  Gots to luv the Fire Ring, maybe nots so luv the fire shugenja.
  7. Awareness – Narrow.  Sure, social skills all go off of this and it has duelling applications and whatever, but I’m willing to forego its benefits to put points into other traits that help me pursue my interests.
  8. Reflexes – Strong.  The TN to be hit benefits vary depending upon build, but initiative rules in a game where any sort of random hit may kill you.  And, having a solid ranged attack doesn’t hurt either.  Yet, I don’t find it terribly interesting and keep thinking of playing low Air characters because of my ambivalence towards this and Awareness.
  9. Void – Everything and nothing … em … no wait, that’s just gratuitous pretension.  Strong, of course, and really interesting.  I constantly lament not having Void higher.  There are just so many uses for it.  I don’t know that it’s more fun than Intelligence, but it’s right there.

It would seem like I’d be inclined to build a lot of Fire characters, but actually, many of my concepts are high Earth with bumps in Intelligence and maybe Perception or Reflexes (and Void, except for the Momokus).  Again, with surviving any fight being so precarious, a jacked Earth is the hotness when you are willing to let others do your killing for you.  And, Earth spells are reasonably interesting.

Besides, there are numerous ways to mix and match families and schools to start with a 4 Stamina or Willpower.  While I’m not inclined to build an Ox clan character (what?!?, isn’t this Taurus month?), there are all sorts of amusing builds I may or may not get around to.  I love the Toku Bushi school, a Shiba of the Hida Bushi school, Dragon schools where you can pick any trait to bump to double up on Willpower – hard not to fall back into Earth-iness.

When the next HoR campaign rolls around and I make my Toku school Isawa, I may just remember to consider using Taurus as inspiration.  Just have a little patience …


Taurus I – Zodiac I

May 18, 2009

“Taurus positive qualities are strength of purpose, patience, steadfastness, and conviction.” – Linda Goodman’s Love Signs

Patience

Anyone who reads this blog certainly needs it what with the excruciatingly long posts and the inconsistent publishing.

On April 8th, I wrote about the usefulness of astrology for gaming.  It’s Taurus time.  Last month, I started the series by creating a RPG character and moved on to creating a V:TES theme deck.  This month, I’m starting with a deck.

Deck Name:  Patients
Created By:  Taurus

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 14, Max: 20, Avg: 4.16)
———————————————-
  2  Francois ‘Warder’ Loehr          DEF JUD          3  Judge
  2  Jack ‘Hannibal137’ Harmon        DEF JUD          4  Defender
  2  Jennie ‘Cassie247’ Orne          INN JUD VIN      5  Visionary
  1  John ‘Cop90’ O’Malley            JUD VEN          4  Avenger
  2  Paul ‘Sixofswords29’ Moreton     DEF VIN          4  Visionary
  2  Travis ‘Traveler72’ Miller       DEF MAR          5  Martyr
  1  Xian ‘DziDzati55’ Quan           DEF INN          4  Defender

Library: (90 cards)
——————-
Master (21 cards)
  4  Angel of Berlin
  1  Brothers Grimm
  1  Channel 10
  1  Church of Vindicated Faith, The
  1  Direct Intervention
  4  Liquidation
  1  Millicent Smith, Puritan Vampire Hunter
  1  Pentex Subversion
  1  Powerbase: Montreal
  1  Smiling Jack, The Anarch
  1  Society of Leopold
  3  Specialization
  1  Vigil: The Thin Line

Reaction (3 cards)
  3  On the Qui Vive

Combat (11 cards)
  10 Concealed Weapon
  1  Dragon`s Breath Rounds

Ally (6 cards)
  2  Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)
  1  Gregory Winter
  2  Vagabond Mystic
  1  Wendell Delburton (Hunter)

Equipment (13 cards)
  1  Brass Knuckles
  8  Flash Grenade
  1  Ivory Bow
  3  Saturday-Night Special

Event (4 cards)
  1  Blood Cult Awareness Network
  1  Narrow Minds
  2  Unmasking, The

Power (11 cards)
  2  Champion
  2  Discern
  4  Rejuvenate
  3  Vigilance

Conviction (21 cards)
  5  React with Conviction
  8  Second Sight
  8  Strike with Conviction

What’s more patient than an Imbued deck?  Certainly, no vampire deck will have so much “conviction” …

These theme decks aren’t intended to be the best decks ever, though the Aries deck has won every game I’ve ever played with it (all two of them).  I haven’t built an Imbued deck in a fair while, so this may have some off distributions or unintended omissions.  Though, I am trying to do things I haven’t done before and using Liquidation to dump conviction into the ash heap to recurse while getting some pool gain to survive while setting up is something I haven’t seen yet.  I just realized I intended to put Failsafe in here as I haven’t done anything with that card yet.  Oh well, I can make that change later.

“Expressed in their negative form, they become obstinacy, blind prejudice, and lack of reason.”  – Linda Goodman’s Love Signs

It’s not the Imbued who have the blind prejudice but the people who play against them.  Ever since Nights of Reckoning came out, sizable portions of the player base have despised Imbued decks.  Some believe that it was due to early decks playing many Gehenna Events, but then, people stopped doing that and started playing good decks and it was shown that Imbued were broken, dominating the tournament winning deck archive in 2007, and people despised them for that.  But, mostly, I see and read about players despising them just because.

Personally, I don’t like Imbued decks and I don’t like playing against them.  Not because they were grossly overpowered, not because they ignore too many effects that hurt vampires, not because of flavor, but because I find Imbued decks dull as hell.  What drives the Imbued engine is conviction and permanents.  Sure, it’s always possible to put surprises into decks, like the one copy of Dragon’s Breath Rounds, but typically, Imbued decks play their board.

I realized years ago that the reason I so vastly preferred CCGs to CD(ice)Gs or CM(iniatures)Gs was because of the hidden information of the CCG hand.  I like trying to figure out what someone else has and seeing if I’m right.

Imbued did one really good thing – they forced players to metagame against something new.  So much of what comes out for V:TES has minimal impact on what is effective.  But, then, endless ally hosers got printed in typical nonsensical reaction.  An interesting experiment – the conviction mechanic was fairly well done given the difficulty of introducing something alien to a CCG with a long history – but a painful one.


Companions or Fodder

May 5, 2009

Party NPCs.  What do they bring to the table?  What problems do they cause?

In our Conan campaigns, they bring a lot.  They often have knowledge skills, connections, or sorcery that move the plot along.  I often try to point out how a lot of the Conan system is only really relevant to NPCs – certain races, certain classes, certain combat styles, and many, many feats.  I can’t see the attraction to a player of the noble class, for instance.  It sucks at doing anything on its own.  Yet, every party should want to have a noble to be able to move in higher social circles, to get better treatment (including by the law), etc.  Meanwhile, players don’t want NPCs overshadowing them in things like combat prowess and the noble pretty much sucks at doing anything, being vastly inferior in social skills to a social thief build and having nothing else that it even tries to compete at.  In Conan, noble = perfect NPC.

NPCs also cause problems for our Conan parties.  Sometimes, they do overshadow PCs in something they shouldn’t.  More often, the problem is that they are either really poorly designed to handle danger or are enough levels below the party to be out of their depths when dangerous stuff needs doing.  We currently have a sidekick 10 levels or so below the average party level.  Unlike our combat poor PCs who mostly just take up space in combat, this sidekick is a constant detriment to the party being functional.  Simply don’t want to constantly be carrying unconscious bodies around when running like hell.

In one of my old campaigns, a D&D 3.5 game, while I was overseas for four months, the party ended up acquiring a boatload of NPCs who completely bogged down play.  It was incredible.  NPCs were arguing with other NPCs about what the party should do, and the PCs were just following their leads.

In the Solomon Kane campaign I started running, the party has “allies” (mook level followers) that come in groups of 10.  They handle much of the logistics which isn’t terribly exciting while having the flexibility and expendability to act as more of a plot device than a character who needs to be managed.  It does require some sort of excuse to separate the PCs from their followers to have personal scenes, and they are likely to die like crazy, but then, they can be easily replaced unlike a developed NPC.

So, positive:

  1. Skills, abilities, connections that the party lacks without them.
  2. Extra hands/bodies to deal with minutiae, to be cavalry/rear sacrifices.
  3. Add another world element for the characters to bounce off of.
  4. Often are more plausible than not in games trying for some level of realism.

Negatives:

  1. More sets of numbers to deal with, can be especially bad in combat.
  2. More personalities the GM has to worry about.
  3. May overshadow PCs.
  4. May be too weak to adventure with PCs.
  5. Prevent personal PC moments unless some excuse is found to move them off stage.  Moving off stage may be hard to undo – “We just went through this wormhole, you guys wait for us to come back.  What do you mean that the only way back puts us on a different continent 1000 years in the future?”

I’m sure there are some other positives and negatives that don’t come readily to mind, but it can be very interesting to figure out how to have the right type and quantity of party NPCs to make a game better.  As with so many things, it’s a juggling act for the GM.


Tupdog Will Have His Day

May 1, 2009

I actually didn’t realize the quote (from Shakespeare) went:   Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.
[1600-1 Shakespeare Hamlet v. i. 286]

Anyway, there’s something I struggle with constantly and that’s the disdain for the almighty Tupdog as a ubiquitous play.  I should post the text of the card.

Tupdog, 1, POT VIS, Gargoyle, 3, [LoB:C]
Sabbat. Tremere antitribu slave: Visceratika cards cost Tupdog 1 less blood to play. Tupdog may enter combat with any minion as a (D) action. Tupdogs are not unique. At the end of your minion phase, burn Tupdog and move the top card from your crypt to your uncontrolled region. Flight.

While there are a fair number of players who respect the power of this temporary vampire in decks built around it, it’s an amazing struggle to get players to incorporate it commonly into decks as a means of improving deck efficiency.

What sort of efficiency?

The first sort should be obvious.  Quite a bit of pain in V:TES deck construction comes from having the right crypt.  In my Jyhad days, I was happy to have crypts that were 2 copies of six different vampires.  Times have changed, lots of crypt options have been printed, and some decks can easily run 12 different crypt members.  But, then again, some can’t.  The number thrown around for when you need to get one particular crypt card in play is to run 5 copies.  Tupdog, and the newer Anarch Convert, act as cryptthinners without taking up precious master slots (Effective Management) or requiring successful actions (Clotho’s Gift, Mozambique Allure).  Any time I see heavy duplication in crypts without one or both of these cryptthinners, my mind boggles at what the deck’s builder is thinking.

But, there’s so much more to Tupdog.  Anarch Convert will see more play, not only because you get about 5 per box in Twilight Rebellion and about 2 per box of Tupdog in Legacies of Blood but because the Tupdog has a group restriction.  But, they aren’t really the same card.  Tupdogs are temporarily in play.  Both parts of that sentence are extremely important:  “temporarily”; “in play”.

The second part first.  People worry way too much about whether Tupdogs can take directed actions like bleeding, actually, they worry way too much about Tupdogs taking actions at all.  While I’ve called second turn votes on various occasions with Tupdogs and while they can do nifty things like rescue my torpored vampires or bring out allies or whatever, Tupdogs are random blockers.  More importantly, they threaten to be blockers. 

Furthermore, Tupdogs come out with blood on them, blood that can be moved with Heidelberg, blood that can be moved back to pool (paying for bringing the Tupdog out) with Blood Doll, Minion Tap, et al.  Stupid?  I won a tournament in which I Blood Dolled a Tupdog one round and Minion Tapped one another.

Speaking of Heidelberg, all of the sudden a Tupdog can effectively employ retainers and equip.

Why is it more important that they threaten to be blockers?  Because of the first part.  The temporary aspect of them is supposed to be a major drawback.  I can’t say it isn’t a drawback of some sort most of the time, but it’s also routinely an advantage.  Why?  Complete expendability.  Players do not want to waste resources messing around with a minion that isn’t disadvantaged by being beaten up.  Sure, if you can burn it, it won’t give the controller a free decrypt, but who wants to expend the resources required to burn something that was going away anyway?

The psychological and, yes, the mechanical benefits of throwing out a Tupdog as a potential blocker are huge.  If the Tupdog stops someone from rushing for a turn or bleeding for a turn, that should be worth far, far more than the 1 pool spent on it.  I find it common to time bringing out my Tupdogs to when my permanent vampires are going to be most vulnerable.  I can’t recall a single instance where someone beat down one of my vampires when there was a Tupdog ready to leap into the way.

And, sometimes, Tupdogs block actions.  I’ve had big bleeds bounced around the table get stopped by my 1 pool “Effective Management”.

I’m big on playing Anarch Converts, too, but I will make decisions on which groups to play because of the power of random Tupdogs.

Of course, Tension in the Ranks makes me sad …