Gemini positive qualities are versatility, mental alertness, quickness of perception, deductive reasoning and flexibility. Expressed in their negative form they become restlessness, glibness, shallowness, double-talk, unreliability, and self-deception. – Linda Goodman’s “Love Signs”
And, so I move from the baby of the Zodiac – Taurus – to the teenager in my continuing series on using astrology as inspiration for gaming. As with last month’s entry, I feel like starting with V:TES.
Versatility. In CCGs, versatility and power aren’t the same thing, but versatility adds value to cards, strategies, and decks. I tend to rate versatile cards higher than cards with great magnitude of power. In particular, some tend to think of staple cards as just staple cards where I consider cards that rise to the level of staple as proving their value over most other cards.
But, I’m not going to go much into individual card values. I want to talk about disciplines. I’m going to separate out disciplines into some groups I find intuitive and comment on their versatility.
The “original 10”:
- Animalism – So much a support discipline out of Jyhad, Animalism grew up quickly into a mainline discipline with Carrion Crows. More recently, we see Flesh Bond adding to the list of disciplines that get combat ends (ignoring the multidiscipline Alpha Glint), Deep Song being a highly valuable addition due to its versatility, and the retainer discipline get its first ally.
- Auspex – A great discipline that hasn’t changed much in nature. The many Auspex versions of bloodline discipline cards and the many multidiscipline cards haven’t gotten Auspex away from being “the intercept discipline”. Still one of the most common disciplines in the game – being a bounce discipline is huge, of course – but looking over what’s out there has changed my perception of the discipline; I can see the desirability of reserving it some more design space.
- Celerity – For so long, just a mindnumbingly boring discipline with nothing going on but combat support. I had hopes for Precision, a welcome change from maneuvers, presses, additional strikes, and dodges. But, it’s Fleetness and Resist Earth’s Grasp that have had significantly more impact on my deckbuilding. Looks like Celerity is finally becoming a fleshed out discipline.
- Dominate – “The bleed discipline”, “the steal discipline”, the discipline of Deflection, Obedience, Govern, Seduction. Why would it need anything new? But, it got equipment steal, ally burn from a combat card, Murmur of the False Will.
- Fortitude – I find it interesting just how much more versatile this was coming out of Jyhad than its RPG, physical discipline buddies Celerity and Potence. One wonders why Celerity didn’t get a Freak Drive effect. Much like Auspex, the nature of the discipline has been minimally affected by new cards. It does appear that the discipline is getting more reactions and, in hard to grasp thematics, bleed reduction.
- Obfuscate – Much like Auspex, what Obfuscate does well it does so well and, even more than Auspex, is so highly desirable. Old Friends, No Trace are providing things entirely new to the discipline, but Obfuscate has so many good, versatile partners that it can support rather than branching out on its own.
- Potence – Celerity’s equally boring sibling has gone from being the combat beatdown discipline to being a general damage discipline with the likes of Touch of Pain and Horseshoes. Tangle Atropos’ Hand’s Potence outferior is a bizarre thing for the game to have, but it does give Potence something no other non-bloodline discipline has.
- Presence – “The vote discipline”, the original “other bleed discipline”, the “combat ends discipline” has been getting complex rush actions and more evasion, especially for anarchs (Gear Up, Undue Influence, Power of One). I think of Force of Personality as more of an anti-ally play than a versatile card, but Perfect Paragon is like, “whoa, was this necessary?”
- Protean – I have always felt like Garfield, et al were trying to make this discipline more flexible since none of the other clans had it. More recently, we see Protean expanding as an intercept discipline and getting some interesting anarch options. There’s Dual Form* for a unique effect. Then, there’s my favorite Keepers of Tradition card, Loki’s Gift for sheer, unadulterated “that’s a lot of different things going on, boyo”ness.
- Thaumaturgy – One would think that a discipline that starts with Cryptic Mission and Magic of the Smith would have branched out a lot more sooner. One would think that the, and I mean THE, most versatile discipline in the RPG (in that it only did pritnear everything) would have become the versa-discipline of the game. But, it’s only with the Mirror Walks, the Visceratika outferiors, the Biothaumaturgic Experiements, and the Rego Motuses of the world that the discipline is finally beginning to live up to its potential. On the other hand, it’s still getting the overly narrow and/or expensive stuff that started with the likes of Seed Corruption and appears more frequently with the likes of The Name Forgotten and Blood of Sandman. Is the intent for Thaumaturgy to be “the hoser discipline”?
A two horse race for most versatile original gangsta discipline. For all that Presence has, Dominate is coming from more angles with viable strategies.
The game expands:
- Chimerstry – A discipline which crammed in a lot of odd effects for having so few cards until The Final Nights made independents hot stuff. While Chimerstry has gotten some sweet cards over the years – Occlusion, Mirror Image, Will-o’-the-Wisp – it’s interesting how some of the unique effects the discipline has to offer have been largely left behind. I might see Mass Reality trotted out, but I don’t recall the last time I saw a Horrid Reality deck, and there are so many things that could be done with Illusions combat that aren’t. Far too many of the newer Chimerstry cards are too similar to old. For instance, how many Sensory Deprivation variants (all inferior to the original) do we really need in the game?
- Necromancy – When I started playing V:EKN sanctioned tournaments, I quickly began to build decks to prove points. One of the points I tried to prove was that Necromancy didn’t suck nearly as much as people thought. Jar the Soul was playable. Spiritual Intervention was adequate. But, mostly Spectral Divination was highly flexible. I failed. I ousted a prey for the second straight tournament in the finals when my prey played a Game of Malkav (choosing 6 in both finals) which was too soon for the game and failed to be able to say, prior to The Final Nights being on the street, “Here, this is how you win with Necromancy.” Times changed (a month or so later) and Call of the Hungry Dead came in and Shambling Hordes started beating people down and people were happy with Necromancy. Times changed some more and what was once a stealth discipline with combat ends really stopped being a stealth discipline and combat ends that didn’t do something besides end combat stopped being all that. Necromancy remains a discipline of wacky cards/effects, but it’s more that Giovanni have greatly expanded competitive diversity than Necromancy has.
- Quietus – An irrelevant discipline for the longest time. My vague recollection is that nothing about The Final Nights bothered me more than the lack of help that Quietus got. Take a discipline that pretty much just smacked you at long range and give it a bunch of long range strikes. Oh, but now you get Thin Blood and short range strikes, too. Years later, Black Sunrise, Selective Silence, Loss helped make the discipline relevant, but it’s still saddled with a host of borderline unplayable cards.
- Serpentis – Once upon a time the most top heavy discipline in the game with Form of Corruption and Temptation being yummy, a massive drop off to Form of the Serpent, and falling off the cliff to anything else. Ecstasy and Enticement gave other things to do. Nowadays, I find myself impressed by how effective nothing but Serpentis is. That has more to do with how bleedy the discipline is with The Eternal Mask, Revelation of Desire, Truth of a Thousand Lies than with great versatility, though. Still, I find Serpentis interesting and not top heavy at all these days even if it still gets unplayable cards.
- Dementation – “Dominate lite” has always had one huge problem with being a more interesting discipline: what it does well is so much better than other things it could do. I’ve tried many a “I don’t just Kindred Spirits bleed” decks only to find very few of the actions worthwhile. Lunatic Eruption has worked well as a sideline but not as a focus. Two things have helped Dementation branch out. The first is having the Auspex + Dementation cards, which are highly playable. The second is that the discipline appears to be expanding upon its anti-ness seen early on in Blessing of Chaos with Touch of Clarity and, with a different spin, Wrong and Crosswise.
- Obtenebration – At one time, my pick for most versatile discipline in the game (considering only cards that were worth playing). That might have been overboard when you consider that it still doesn’t bounce, vote push, or even have a plus bleed card. It could use more, but what it does have now are Nocturn and Hell-for-Leather to encourage some very different strategies.
- Vicissitude – Sabbat War did so much for this discipline. Chiropteran Marauder was the all star, but Inner Essence, Meld with the Land, et al fleshed the discipline out considerably. While getting some new, weird stuff and the occasional playable, there’s not much to hang a hat on since White Wolf’s first set.
I have to go with the versatility of Chimerstry out of this batch. As long as you aren’t paying full cost for it, a lot of different things that aren’t worthless can be done.
Bloodlines, say hello to variety (and shallowness – how appropriate to Gemini month):
- Daimoinon – Without Sense the Sin, this discipline would just be absurdly limited.
- Melpominee – One of the few voting relevant disciplines helps tremendously for its versatility. Speaking of versatility, Echo of Harmonies encourages vote card diversity.
- Mytherceria – Take flexability to the next level by adding Fae Contortion on top of ultrarare weapon hosers, et al.
- Obeah – More notable for the power of its better effects than for the desirability of playing a wide range of its cards.
- Sanguinus – The effects are diverse; the use of them is not. So constrained by the circle requirements, which makes sense but it’s unfortunate that Blood Brothers or random sanguinators don’t have more viable options.
- Spiritus – Never a sexy discipline, there’s really not a lot of different things to do here. No wonder I can’t get enthused by making more Ahrimanes decks.
- Temporis – Can a discipline be too versatile for its clan? Mix this discipline with something besides Potence and Presence and it could just get nuts beyond nuts. As is, True Brujah struggle mightily even with Temporis’s numerous effects.
- Thanatosis – Suffers from how many of the cards just aren’t worth playing.
- Valeren – Has gotten significantly better. Melee weapon combat decks remain insipid, which takes away much of what the discipline was intended to do.
- Visceratika – The Bloodlines cards just smacked of being for the wrong clan. Combat ends, continue the action? Stealth? Wow! Hot, but not so hot for dudes with Fortitude and Potence. New cards have helped primarily with combat, which could be said to be an interesting decision.
Temporis has all kinds of craziness, but Mytherceria’s flexiness has shown to be so much more playable. Of course, having two of the more versatile disciplines in the game as discipline partners solves a lot of problems.
And, then, there was one:
Abombwe just hasn’t gotten the sort of help it could use from Ebony Kingdoms. Akunanse came into the game like if you played Gangrel straight up – no out of clan disciplines, no weird Justicar voting strategy, etc. But, Protean came in with power cards and solid role-players: Earth Meld, Form of Mist, Earth Control, Claws of the Dead. Abombwe has some second line effects; Predator’s Communion is decent due to its versatility. It had unique effects like Predator’s Transformation. But, it isn’t even as fleshed out as some of the bloodlines disciplines.
So, great, what does this have to do with being inspired by astrology? Actually, not much. Double-talk? Think so. Self-deception? Maybe not the “self” part so much.
Yet, there’s value for me to study the area of versatility. I get bored extremely easily. As someone who frequently builds decks with disciplines in mind, I’m naturally attracted to versatile disciplines to be constantly churning out new and different decks.
For the more competitively minded, it should be interesting to consider how more versatile disciplines can improve flexibility in tournament decks.
* I could talk more about cards like Dual Form. What’s more Geminian than creating a clone (twin)? By the way, this card is woefully underplayed. Well, maybe I’ll write something about having decks that have two parts that do two very different things.