Decision: 2010 – Restrictions Unbound

September 29, 2010

So, HoR3 has been announced. Not sure what the website will be, though the Yahoogroup is up. The overwhelming issue is, of course, what characters to play.

With HoR2, I made some regretful choices. My main was an Omoidasu not because I actually paid any attention to what the school did but because he was based off of a HoR1 character where the school actually did something (something pathetic, but something). I built him very badly and gave him an idiotic goal. In the end, it worked out, and I usually enjoyed my escapades, but I likely would have enjoyed them more if I thought through things better.

My first backup character was a character of necessity. I had to have someone who could survive serious combat. Unfortunately, he was the worst bushi imaginable from an offensive standpoint. This was occasionally amusing but not nearly as pleasing as I expected as I felt like I constantly wasn’t pulling my weight. Three really cool things happened, though. First, he really got into sailing, establishing a powerful (flavorwise) niche. Second, while building him up for another battle event, a mod gave him a unique goal, one with a lot of resonance for me. Third, he found a PC honey. That led to playing him more often than intended.

Not necessarily a good thing playing a backup more than intended. It meant my main was frequently far behind where I wanted him and was never going to achieve ultimate form.

Planning of playing multiple characters is something I utterly failed at. Let’s see if I can change that. As cool as it was how so many things worked out, nevertheless, I want to see if I can hit rank 5 with a character to try out some hawt tech.

There’s several schools of thought on how to approach the campaign. One school is to focus on my main and play my backup as needed. The second school is to have no main and play a variety of characters, giving two or three meaningful XP, this fails the stated goal of hitting rank 5 with a character, though. The third school is to have a main and a variety of sides. While an interesting concept to get to play more archetypes, I believe I’ll more enjoy developing characters than playing a lot of concepts, though it could be a close call.

I put together a doc of all of the great clan, minor clan, and imperial schools. I rated my interest in each school. I added families that I’d play with the schools. I labeled each possibility as either a prime, backup, both, or neither. Then, I started replacing non-neithers with neithers as I reviewed the panoply of options. It became quite clear that my primary interests are actually my primary interests. Tattooed Monk and Toku Bushi (school) are the headliners. With one backup exception, every one of my ideas is on the restricted list for HoR3.

So, once I finish off my HoR2 fics – Jun is done, Ryota is this week I hope, Zetsu is questionable – I need to work on my HoR3 fics to gain permission for my concepts. Unfortunately, someone I’ve played with a decent amount also wants to play a Tattooed Monk, which, while I know I will have my own niche with my concept and I know we probably won’t play that often together, still makes me think. In fact, the more I think about it as I write this, the more I think I care about rank 5 with Toku and only want to get to rank 3 with Tattooed. Awesome possum, I now have a plan.


Feature or Flaw?

September 26, 2010

#1 Booster Deck

I just opened 15 boosters of Third Edition V:TES to see what sort of deck I could build. As a limited deck, it’s fine, better than most draft decks using 8 or so boosters (a lesson?). But, it’s not remotely competitive, and there’s no real way to make a competitive deck using any sort of plausible number of boosters from the set. It’s only really with precons that someone these days could make any sort of normal deck through buying a modest amount of cards.

Feature or flaw?

Forcing people to buy starters has a couple of problems. The first is simply that margins are better on boosters, so if given a choice, want to sell boosters. Second is that preconstructed starters lack the gambling element of boosters and, while boosters are often disappointing, starters foist cards on you you will know you won’t want. It’s not sexy to crack a starter beyond a certain point, which may be the first.

V:TES is hardly the only CCG with this problem. I could never build a real L5R deck as I never had a non-promo stronghold. Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time needed starting characters and were heavily allegiance based. With a box of Magic or Ultimate Combat!, I think I could build a constructed deck, though certainly not a tournament deck for the former. But, even though it’s not really likely that V:TES precons won’t become available, there is the question as to what people would do if sufficient quantities of precons with particular cards ceased being available.

If a feature, the argument would be that it’s normal in the CCG world. If a flaw, the argument would be that there should be a better model where people can get into a game without buying multiple parts.

But, is there really any model for a game like V:TES with 30+ clans and 30+ disciplines where you wouldn’t need to buy a number of parts? It worked to the extent that if you bought several boxes of boosters when the game was Jyhad, where starters were random and enough boosters produced enough Blood Dolls and Wakes eventually, but that was a 7 clan, 10 discipline world. Okay, several boxes to get enough staples to build one deck is not what I’m envisioning as working.

#2 Fourth Edition “Pithiness”

Here, there’s a more direct comparison between. It’s very, very noticeable how much less descriptive 4e Legend of the Five Rings RPG is in comparison to 3e. The book is just dry. It’s not especially crunchy – there are still disadvantages that don’t have any mechanics, e.g. Fascination. And, yes, removing a lot of complexity with things like kata made sense when the weirder something works the more likely it can be abused. But, given that I’ve experienced 3e, going to 4e is like picking up a RPG out of the 70’s or some ripoff of D&D or … D&D. The kata section may be the worst, where before clans had their own kata and they did interesting things. Now, it’s just generic kata with simple effects and no actual descriptions of the various kata. Advantages and disadvantages are explained in less verbiage.

I feel like the desire to fix balance problems in 3e were so overwhelming that the game was mechanized, with simpler mechanics, to enable playtesters to balance the game. “L5R Your Way” – the philosophy of 4e also lends itself to a lot of (dry) options that take the place of institutionalized, quirky mechanics that were often desirable in 3e. It’s easy enough to use the 4e Honor Roll mechanics, and the distinction in 3e between Tests of Honor and Honor Rolls was pretty awkward. But, Honor just seems so dull, now, with so much focus on Intimidation and Temptation where I’ve never found either to matter in my L5R play.

Then, wow, the changes in dueling from an often exciting build toward a climax to “roll 3 times” and “oh, look, you both hit at the same time” is Blah. Or, take how weapons now have no special abilities. Or, how equipment no longer has quality levels. Or, how much less interesting skill mastery is than 3e, which, by the way, I think is a step backwards in terms of game balance as characters are likely to just go for the “3 [points] for 3 [insight]” skill ranks and Heavy Weapons or Kenjutsu 7 for the massive damage increase, having little reason to hit rank 5 in side skills since there’s no general insight bonus and no free raise. I’d certainly much rather have interesting things going on with these written into the game rather than the absurd Spider Clan written into the game.

Feature or flaw?

There’s never a perfect world. Sacrifices in flavor helped tighten up a lot of broken/vague mechanics and meant more room for additional mechanics. (Though, the 3e book is just smaller to begin with by a lot.)

Does 4e’s lack of flavor get a pass because every edition was benefited from the history of products in earlier versions or does it docked more because it didn’t need to give up a bunch of the flavor of 3e?

I’m quite curious to see how 4e is supplemented. I’m hoping the supplements make things more interesting and less “+1k0”. Not to say I’m hoping they unbalance a game that they worked so hard to balance, but I’m looking for quirkier things to do.


Animal Style

September 18, 2010

My intention with “classic” posts was to find all of these sorts of long, opinionated posts I’ve made to gaming forums in the past and bring them into the view of those who may have never paid attention to the Babylon 5 CCG, Wheel of Time CCG, V:TES newsgroup, The Path of Blood, Presence.vekn.org, UK V:TES, Conan RPG, etc. forums of the world.  Looking for such, though, is incredibly time-consuming.

Here is a post I just made that is in the vein of those sorts of posts of yesteryear.

masika66 – In your opinion, what is the best Clan with Animalism and what is the best tactics to win with an Animalism-based Clan?

Answer really depends upon what the question really is.

If the question is “which clan is the best that happens to have Animalism as a discipline?”, then an argument could be made for Gangrel based on number of wins, maybe Nosferatu based on number of wins.  But, it’s not due to Animalism that I’d explain their success.

If the question is “which clan makes the best use of Animalism?”, then there’s an argument for Guruhi, which were awful pre-Nana, but which are taking the V:TES world by stiff breezes.

If the question is “which clan is most dependent upon Animalism for its success?”, there might be some TWDA evidence to suggest a particular clan, I have the sense it might be any of Ahrimanes, Guruhi, or !Nos.  Clans like Tzimisce, Ravnos, and Nos just have such strong things to do that don’t depend upon Animalism. 

Once you stop thinking in terms of clans, weenie Animalism is, of course, the best Animalism strategy, but that’s become so boring.

In terms of what to do with Animalism clans, some thoughts:

Ahrimanes – Intercept combat, tedious but surprisingly, IMO, successful. Animalism retainers are popular.

Akunanse – Similar to Ahrimanes, possibly put in even more of a support role.  Though, I don’t think Tunnel Runner sees as much play as it could.  Probably because people didn’t rush out to pick up EK.

Gangrel – Well, there’s synergy between environmental damage and dodges/damage prevention, but, as we’ve seen with Ahrimanes, people still play Majesty over Staredown, so I think the biggest kick these days from Animalism for Gangrel is Deep Song.  Does sort of depend upon what grouping you are using.  Group 1/2 has Second Tradition for intercept and Dominate for win.  While there are plenty of other group 1/2 builds, other groups lack such things and are pushed into other areas.

!Gangrel – Omaya wall, Aksinya untaps to bounce.  The existence of City Gangrel makes it harder to field a heavy !Gangrel Animalism crypt.

Guruhi – Some like Eze, but really, the new Anson is what elevated Guruhi.

Nosferatu – If playing group 4/5, I see transients being more common.  If any other grouping, I see permanents being more important.

!Nosferatu – Group 2/3 I see being more akin to group 4/5 Nos what with Dominate, even if Nos would be more Tradition-al.  With some of the vicious beaters in this clan, Deep Song is again another favorable action.

Ravnos – I’ve been thinking of intercept/combat Ravnos being a great metagame choice for a long time – annihilate weenie Auspex, weenie Animalism, Imbued; able to interact with heavy stealth decks; strong table control elements; under the radar.  But, I just don’t see it.  Even with the Week of Nightmares inspired breed decks seemingly on the outs, people still don’t seem all that enamored with a grinding defensive build.  Maybe I just don’t pay enough attention anymore, but I’m still inclined to believe people would rather figure out things to do with Mata Hari or Dementation than make much use of Animalism.  Note that Ani/For is really easy to find a crypt for, so a very fighty build is possible, too.

Tzimisce – They don’t need Animalism, but they often use it, anyway.  They can also focus more on it.  I’d tend to expect a tight mix of Carrion Crows, retainers, and a few strong transients of the Cats’ Guidance ilk.


Rise and Fall

September 12, 2010

As the only CCG I really play anymore, I suppose I have to say something about V:TES having gone out of production again.

I’m neither terribly bothered nor terribly concerned.  It’s not nearly as stunning as even Wheel of Time stopping production.  As I said on White Wolf’s forum, there’s plenty of variety, so my primary concern is rules consistency for the next year or two.  I’m not particularly interested in fan sets as I think there are plenty of cards in the game already, players often aren’t good designers/developers, and there’s still some hope that someone eventually resumes production.

The thing is is that I see CCGs in general withering until there’s maybe around 5 that actually sell at a given time with 3 or so being dominant.  Looking at the calendar for the nearest store, a pretty strong one, I see only Magic and Pokemon as regular events.  I would imagine that it will look like something like those two and Yu-Gi-Oh! being the three bigs and L5R and whatever else that I’m missing because I’m no longer plugged in to CCGs being the relevant survivors.

On the one hand, this makes sense to me because CCGs are such massive investments … not of money – compare to the people who buy electronics, work on cars, have kids, or whatever … but of thought and time and commitment to a play group.  The last being something that popular CCGs don’t need to worry about since you can always find players, whereas I’m so burnt out on CCGs because I just don’t have the energy to build playerbases like I did in the past, not because I find them any less desirable from a gaming standpoint.  Usually, the market was oversaturated, from the 1995 explosion to when just ludicrous ideas would show up on a regular basis that you knew were DOA … and some that weren’t dead on arrival to great surprise.

On the other hand, CCGs have, as far as I’m aware, done quite well monetarily.  Certainly, they seemed to be a source of revenue far and away superior to RPGs, which is why so many RPG companies seemingly dipped into CCGs.  Even if the market for CCGs has shrunk significantly and the fadness of CCGs, to a degree, ended up getting proved eventually (if a lot later than some expected), there are so few CCGs that appear to be relevant these days that you would think that there’s a big enough player pool to sell a few more.

Maybe it really is true that the CCG model is inferior to the NCCG (non-collectible card game, I believe usually referred to as LCG) model that some games have gone to.  As a Mr. Suitcase for games I play, it’s not like it really makes a difference to me in terms of being able to build decks, compete at the highest levels, or whatever.  So, I might not be the right person to see the benefits of the LCG model.  I do think the gambling aspect of opening packs and the hunt for scarce cards are going to be missed for those people who give up on CCGs, while the companies are going to have missed out on a lot of sales that scarcity generated.

Do I really think V:TES will leave torpor again?  Seems like a real coin flip with, on the one hand, Dragon Dice still being a living game and V:TES having been revived previously, and on the other, numerous CCGs having permanently gone out of production and the messy licensing situation for V:TES being a major hurdle to someone else deciding it’s worth reviving.

So, why so little concern?  I’ve always been someone to desire more cards.  The reality has been that, while every CCG pretty much has technical “infinite” variety, in competitive play, the game will become staid fairly quickly.  V:TES, though, is odd for a CCG.  Even other multiplayer CCGs, Babylon 5 for instance, have needed new cards to keep the game varied.  V:TES is the one CCG where I don’t find that deck strength matters a whole lot, add in that there’s far greater variety in building decks due to no card limits, and that the game just has a really big card pool already, and I don’t see playability dropping off a lot.  Okay, Dominate may end up being permanently broken, but that’s nothing new.  Okay, Quietus will be permanently pretty sad, but that’s nothing new.  Okay, Laibon will always have too few crypt options, well, if Ebony Kingdoms didn’t fix that, there was always questions to whether anything would.  V:TES players have been conditioned to expect little change when new sets come out in ways that other CCG playerbases could not fathom.

There’s no end in sight to decks that I should build.

Meanwhile, the biggest complaint from players seemed to be new sets.  As an older playerbase, perhaps, at least in certain places, constant newness wasn’t the draw that it was for other games.  People want group 5 filled out, well, how much do people really care versus it just being something that was expected to be done eventually?  The draw of the game has not been rooted, as far as I can see, for quite some time, in more options.  The draw has been in the strong multiplayer dynamic and the tremendous variety of options already available.

Do I want to see someone pick it up?  I guess.  Do I want more sets?  Wait, what’s the difference?  The difference is that someone can manage a game without printing new cards, even without printing any cards.  Anyway, I guess I want to see new sets.  I still want to see the underpowered and underdeveloped get their rewards and Dominate and all of the other boringly overeffective crap get their comeuppances.  I’m certainly the type to buy anything new, even if I don’t care that much about it.

V:TES has not been doing well around here, and that’s because growing niche CCG playerbases is a bitch.  I don’t see anything change for locals.  They already tended toward apathy or playing the game more like a boardgame than they were into it competitively or for newness.  I think the game can deal with having a break where those of us who are motivated constantly to build new decks will and those who aren’t won’t be in any different of a situation.  Already, we are talking about how to grow the playerbase, what to do about tournaments, and whatnot – nothing has changed, and I don’t expect much to change for a while.

Two years down the line?  Maybe it will be another dead CCG that I own massive quantities of.  Another game with no opponents.  I’m often amazed at how much RPGers care about RPGs being supported when I consider RPG stuff to just be reference materials, and reference materials never become obsolete.  Certainly, once you lose a sense of community, things go downhill.  Perhaps, with RPGs, it’s the feeling that nothing ties together the players anymore rather than the truth about what sort of materials you need.  I could easily run a game of D&D using nothing but the red book, could probably run an AD&D 1e game with just the Player’s Guide (no Monster Manual, et al).  But, the existence of new options likely precludes either from ever happening.

In the end, I don’t see V:TES being dead.  I don’t know if it will ever go back in production.  But, for the moment, whether it does or doesn’t has no effect on my plans with the game.


Con-sequences

September 6, 2010

Just had Pacificon (ConQuest) 2010.  Where to begin with the problems?

Let’s begin with getting something important out of the way.  When ConQuest moved to its present location, I had low expectations.  I hated its previous location and mostly hated the Clarion, too.  Though, occasionally, I’d enjoy the con.  I quite enjoyed its first year in Santa Clara.  I did some different things, some interesting things, some things I wanted to do.  Hasn’t been that way since.  And, to a significant extent, that’s my fault.  I’ve grown tired of cons in general and, especially, the local cons.  Too much been there, done that.

However, I want cons to succeed.  I have fond memories and I’m still a big fan of Gen Con.  I could be more of a fan of local cons if I made an effort.  So, I’m going to list some problems in the order that they come to mind and what should be done about them.

1.  Respect

ConQuest is notorious for not caring about its gamemasters.  Few years ago, there was a huge RPG problem.  There’s no priority sign-ups for GMs (or, maybe there is!, see below about lack of organization).  This year, I submitted a game.  I found out I was running something only because I asked a friend who put me in touch with a friend of his who forwarded my questions to people and who let me know that he thought things were okay … the day before the con … because not once did anyone who was actually responsible for my game request ever contact me.

Annoying GMs is not wise.  Yes, there are plenty of people who take advantage of the system by running trivial stuff to get in for free or who don’t show up or whatever.  But, you need people to run games.  Why?  Without enough people running, you don’t have enough events – without enough events, there’s no real value to the revenue sources to attend.  I understand that giving away entry for someone only contributing 6 hours to the con is not terribly cost effective, especially when a number of people might be gaming the system.  I’ll get to economics later, though.  Here, I’m more concerned with communication, and the like.

2.  Professionalism

I’m going to throw organization in here, too.  The website and booklet schedules are horrid, being virtually unreadable as to what events are happening, when they are happening.  Then, nobody bothered to tell me what the sign-up process was nor did anybody check to see if I was running my game.  Besides the obvious, not tracking who is doing what for how many people leads to GM flakiness and misapplication of resources.

I heard that a 20 player (I joked that was 75% of the con attendees) LARP had no GM.  The person who was supposed to do it was the same person who flaked in a previous ConQuest.  My games are often poorly attended, so I can see a lack of desirability of scheduling my events, but the flakes of the world need to be eliminated as they ruin people’s experiences.

The con booklet was cheap.  I understand why it was cheap – cons are not the path to monetary gain.  But, besides being poor marketing, the cheapness of the con booklet also came with a lack of information.  Nowhere did I see where it was explained how to sign-up for stuff.  In order to know that the California ballroom, where open gaming was moved to on Monday, was the same room as dealers, miniatures, boardgames, one had to read the summary of where stuff like miniatures were at.  The map was tolerable to me, since I knew where everything was likely to be, but it’s stunning that in Silicon Valley, in a nerd hobby, that you can’t get someone to put in parantheses or some such what the hotel’s names of the rooms are.

What do real conventions do?  They have searchable schedules on their websites.  They index events so that you can find them in the booklet.  They mark useful features on maps.  They explain how the convention works.  There was some sort of “free market”.  I never found out what that was, though I assume it was a flea market where the space was free.  They track who runs events and how many people play.  They banish flake GMs.  They market intelligently.  They try to grow segments.

Funny thing.  Someone was supposed to run a dead CCGs event, advertised bringing B5, Anachronism, and Lord of the Rings.  Of course, he didn’t show up.  Perfect metaphor?  Fantastic prank?  Whatever it was, it meant I did no scheduled events at the con.  I had an event no one showed up for.  I ran an event for people I knew.  I played 2.5-3 hours of a boardgame, which I enjoyed, run by someone I’ve known for a long time and whom I can game with on any Tuesday.  I played one match of Type P, a format I’ve essentially lost all interest in.  I played two games of Ultimate Combat! with someone who had no interest.  In total, I spent maybe 9 hours gaming/running games.  Why did I bother going at all?

3.  Money

Do I truly know what it takes to make money running a con?  Having never run one, I might be talking out of my ass, but maybe I can put my Masters in economics to some use.

Local cons grew up on RPGs.  Maybe miniatures and wargaming were important, too, but whatever.  There were no CCGs, no LARPs once upon a time.  And, maybe there wasn’t much in the way of boardgames.  RPGs are not cost effective, certainly not how local cons do them.  Sixish people taking up a hotel room for 8 hours is low return.  I have no interest in getting rid of them, so I’m kind of happy people don’t care that much about the lack of value. 

But, there are things that have value.  Pacificon had the West Coast Boardgame Championships – good.  LARPs – probably good – one hall for hopefully 20+ people for around as long as a RPG.  CCGs, though, were shit.  They are shit at DunDraCon, too.  Even at KublaCon, it’s dropped off immensely, and Kubla came out of Manafest, a CCG convention.  Now, CCGs ditched cons, not the other way around.  CCGers were often only at the con to play one particular game and didn’t want to pay the con price when CCG events could be easily held at either game stores, halls, or hotels (for major events).  Okay, CCGs don’t particularly want to be at cons.  That doesn’t mean cons should ignore the tremendous value of CCGs.  While few CCGs might produce 20+ person tournaments, any 20+ person tournament was three times the number of people for a RPG in barely more space in half the time.  Niche CCGs that get 4-8 people?  Lot of them can be played in a tournament in 4 hours.  Better to run one RPG in 8 hours or two CCG tournaments with comparable players in the same time period, taking up the same amount of space?  How about how limited events require people to spend money, which might make the dealers happy?

But, one says, the CCGers don’t care.  So, make them care.  What is the real value of a con?  I can play boardgames probably 5 times a week in the area.  I can play CCG tournaments for a particular CCG probably weekly.  I was playing RPGs at least weekly for a while and about average that.  The value of a con is in what you can’t do otherwise. 

EVENTS and not just events are what we are looking for.  Specialty events – there’s a reason that RPGs still have such a following at cons – many RPGs are hard to find players for.  Okay, Magic has its timetable for championships that often won’t sync with a con.  Make up events that sound special.  Games Caucus used to do a free Magic tournament – I ended up with 2-3 starters and various boosters from one of them (an amusing story I should find a blog post for).  For all of those struggling CCGs and those that aren’t, make sure you have some sort of championships.  Give interesting prizes.  Have interesting rules.  One of the greatest losses was when the L5R crowd stopped doing Kotei at cons.  Sure, screaming banzai annoyed people not into it, but it provided energy, passion, excitement.  Even Kubla, where it still feels like stuff is happening, I don’t get any energy.

Someone might argue “Hey, what about boardgames?  People are playing those.  Those are cost effective.”  Sure, and I can play boardgames nearly any day of the week.  Yes, they are doing fine at the cons and boardgames are really the hot place to be these days in tabletop gaming from everything that I see, but how many more people could you get if you made events special?  How about, how many more people could you get if you actually made an effort to match people’s interests?  There are boardgames I’d be willing to try, but instead, I just hung around people I knew who were content to play Battlestar Galactica and Arkham Horror, two games I don’t hate, but that I also care nothing about playing ever again.

Make everything seem important.  Then, maybe people will consider it important.  Then, maybe they will show up.

I feel like the cons are dying.  Now, that could be because I can’t seem to get into RPGs I want to play and there are no CCGs anymore.  But, I’m questioning why I even bother going to some of these cons.  The primary value I’m getting is seeing people I rarely see.  That’s fading as people move on.  Maybe, it’s just me.  I’ve aged.  I have that strong been there, done that element.  I game a lot more outside of cons.  I game a lot more of games I want to play outside of cons.

As usual, I’m sure I’m forgetting some key points, but I’ve lost steam on ranting, and I think I hit enough of the points.