October 31, 2010

I know what the next obvious card for a Card of the Weak series is (no, it’s not Portrait), but I can only think of two uses for it, so that will have to wait.

Instead, RPG whining.  No, not whining about balance.  Nothing so pedestrian as whining about how outrageously expensive books are.  Sort of whining about ideas.

I’m a big Elric/Stormbringer/Eternal Champion/whatever fan.  Still.  Probably not as much.  Okay, tangent, but first of all I realized the Young Kingdoms and the multiverse are not as appealing for gaming as I once did as the Eternal Champion’s escapades completely overshadow anything a ragtag, fugitive fleet of PCs might do, unless you get weird and do something like everyone is an aspect of the EC.  Second, I’ve really gotten tired of Moorcock’s formulaic writing in more recent books.  When you know exactly how everything will go (because he tells you), not terribly dramatic.

There’s an adventure I’ve been thinking of doing for Solomon Kane and I thought I could mine some of my Stormbringer supplements.  I found it interesting that I hadn’t even read one of the supplements and it wasn’t at all like I expected.  Also, from skimming through it, it looks like a total fail of a series of adventures because it’s so ludicrously heavy-handed and restrictive.  Anyway, I got out a second supplement, one I barely skimmed through.  Also useless for the sort of things I was looking for.

I was reminded of something, something ubiquitous when it comes to RPG products.  The information they think is important is not actually important.  RPG products frequently are heavy on the crunch (mechanics).  Stats for slavers.  Stats for guards.  Stats for monsters, including ones you want to run from.  Spells.  Powers.  Random encounter tables.  Treasure amounts.  It’s not just D&D style mods.  Alternatively, if not mechanics, then fluff that’s overly world specific.

Take the Victorian Age supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade.  I’m sure for some people it achieves what they are looking for – what is the Victorian World of Darkness look like in terms of how the clans are doing, what secret societies exist, who controls what.  What I wanted to know was what it was like to live in the Victorian Age.  Well, why not just go to the library or, in this day and age, hit up Wikipedia, or whatever?

Because the reality is that historical or real world information is still a hassle to research.  Online searches are scattershot and without any real end.  Books dedicated to history are often dense and excessively academic.  What I’m looking for in a RPG book is often a digestible amount of information that is applicable to gaming in such a world.  Sure, Victorian Age talks about transportation, but really, I can’t fathom what it would be like to live in the 1950’s, let alone prior – tell me more than the difference between a hansom and a Clarence.  Pretty much all I care about in the book is pages 45-46.

This is where GURPS supplements win.  While they too have a lot of crunch, I may be biased considering that I’ve never played GURPS, they have a relatively high level of world information.  Given that standard, it’s amazing how disappointing other supplements end up being when I actually need something.  Sure, I don’t expect to find river names in Mexico near Vera Cruz, even in GURPS Aztecs, which, by the way, trying to find geographic information at that level of detail is a total pain in the ass to try to find online if you just do a regular online search.  But, something like Testament, which got good reviews and is about a time and place that I think would make for kickass gaming, is just endless D&D crunch with only minor amounts of information on the world; I don’t recall any world info outside of how the religions differ – maybe I should dig it out and see.

Sure, I can look up flora and fauna for countries, as I’ve done.  The history of a lot of countries is often fascinating since you hear nothing about them in US schools.  For instance, I had no idea that Hispaniola was basically lost to pirates for a time after the English kicked Spanish ass in the late 1500’s.

One of my major weaknesses as GM or author is description.  I think that has something to do with not being terribly interested in it.  As long as things look right, can focus on characters, plots, and scenes.  But, things still have to look right.  Stuff still has to be appropriate.  Sure, can have camel-like bones in North America because their ancestors came from here.  Mashed potatoes in 14th century Germany?  Not so much, methinks.  I don’t want to overdescribe when I GM, but I want to be able to establish a texture while also being able to answer questions that come up.

Five, ten, fifteen pages of what it was like, even in a fantasy world or quasi-fantasy world like mythic Greece.  Or, maybe, the better approach is what it isn’t like.  What wouldn’t be the case that would get us out of thinking like modern people rolling dice to see how many goblins we killed.

For instance, I did some research on ships that would be used circa 1600.  That didn’t end up mattering.  It wasn’t because I couldn’t find differences in size, crew complements, etc.  It was because there was no link between information and how it matters to people.  That connection between fact and relevance is probably hard work, where just putting out the level progressions for prestige classes isn’t.

Now, worlds with no real world connection, arguably, have an advantage in that you just gloss over mundane details and get right to demonslaying.  On the other hand, for immersion, these worlds probably need more mundane details.  No doubt why worlds that get farther and farther from historical often are lacking.  I’ve been thinking of running something in mythic Greece for some time, but the amount of effort put into getting people to feel like they are in that world rather than some generic fantasy world with a bunch of familiar names has been daunting.

There’s a lot of things I can picture in my mind, it’s conveying those to others so that we are experiencing something similar is where I could use a lot more help.  Of course, as I look around, I see less of this material, not more.

Nice Hat

October 25, 2010

I just took the multiple choice test for the current Magic designer intern exams.


Only 38 right, only maybe 2 I’d argue, so I guess it’s Sad Nature’s Loser* time for me.

* http://www.cracked.com/article_16054_6-endangered-species-that-arent-endangered-enough_p2.html

Anyway, I can’t bring up the issue that question 50 addresses enough when I talk about CCGs. Okay, spoiler for those who want to take the test, so stop reading long enough to do that.

While wasting spoiler space, I can talk about my weekend. Drove an hour, half of that on a single lane road I’ve never been on before, driving so fast I couldn’t see the turnouts in time to get out of the way of the person tailgating me, to get out to P-town for some 4cl V:TES. Two fortitude decks and Enkidu. Not being the type to play nothing but combat cards, I eventually get beaten down. Four player game sees swinginess as I go from just having Elimelech and no ability to afford a second dude, to having Luna, Zelios, and a Graverobbed Aleph after my prey spends down way too low, only to get ground out because I choke on bleed bounce. Saturday, drive about 45 minutes, supposed to play Conan and, maybe run Solomon Kane, ends up turning into just running SK. Sunday, drive about an hour (in the rain), rushing around to finalize my San Francisco storyline decks and then have awful games dominated by bleed decks, mostly packing huge quantities of bounce. I keep imagining some sort of interesting metagame will develop in storyline events, when really, I should never run less than two Archon Investigations in any deck.

So, CCG complexity. This cropped up in the SF storyline, unsurprisingly. One of the reasons design is hard is because of the quest for elegance. Many folks can design cards. But, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen and had to suffer through with various CCGs where the cards made it to print is overly complicated text, usually because the CCGs I play are based on some material where the designer is trying to capture the flavor of something momentous – major character, unique item, major event, etc.

Take a look at Jyhad/V:TES cards. Yes, there are painful cards. Rotschreck was a disaster to understand. Then, there are cards that don’t have complex text, necessarily, but have complex interactions. But, take a look at Undead Strength, Enhanced Senses, Lost in Crowds, Boxed In, The Barrens, and on and on and on. The cards have straightforward text. Now, is Undead Strength elegant? I would tend to call it simple. The Barrens, on the other hand, is elegant. People use The Barrens wrong all of the time, so it’s clearly a skill card. It’s a terrible beginner’s card because newbs are more likely to think discarding is bad and just grossly undervalue the ability. In fact, my nemesis Sunday was a Dom/Obf deck that was pretty much just bleed, stealth, wake, bounce. It put The Barrens in play with the storyline rule for the Old Guard faction, and the player almost never used it, not even when I stole it. … maybe he had the goods all of the time.

Elegance is not about card simplicity, it’s about text simplicity. The goal should always be to only put in as much text as needed for the card to serve its purpose. This, of course, assumes the designers know what the purpose of the card is, but that’s a separate problem that CCGs tend to have.

Nor, is elegance about reducing text. Note that the use of keywords is not about reducing text. With Magic, yes, sometimes it occurs. But, if you read Rosewater’s articles enough, you know that the benefits of keywording abilities is not in text reduction – typically, Magic will explain what a keyword does on the card, increasing the amount of text. Keywords are to have consistency, to have something that you can reference, to have something you can easily modify, etc. In other words, they produce elegance as they make information to the players more digestible.

The downside of text complexity is that CCGs start complicated and grow exponentially more complicated as more cards are created and played. In my second round game Sunday, three of us lost 5 pool from Ancient Influence because we forgot that our Favor cards were tapped (can’t gain pool while they are tapped is a basic storyline special rule). The game state was not simple, the number of cards in play was large, and we were working under a rule we weren’t used to playing with.

What makes for a classic game? Chess – elegant (boring, but elegant). Go – elegant. Monopoly – not remotely elegant, but, then, it’s only argument for being classic is that it sells a lot and sees a lot of play (often incorrect play). Texas Hold’em is elegant; 5 card draw, deuces wild, not; 7 stud Baseball, not. Bridge – elegant. But, what about CCGs? Can Magic, for instance, ever be a classic game? Is Magic, overall, elegant?

Magic has such a major advantage over other CCGs because the basics of the game aren’t that complex, in fact fairly simple for a CCG. Whereas, the game becomes the most complex at its deepest levels. Now, a lot of that complexity is not from rules but from card text and large card pools. Though, the rules are actually extremely complex and pretty much incomprehensible before the 6th Edition cleanup of timing.

I can’t really see any CCG being elegant in a general sense, however, that just means that it’s essential to keep the complexity level under control. Chess can have Nightmare Chess added to it or be like Navia Dratp and people will still get it. I just gave up on trying to explain how the Babylon 5 CCG worked after around the Severed Dreams expansion. V:TES demoing? Can’t stand it. Pretty much at any point where the typical card has seven lines of text, the game has failed as a product marketable to the masses.

What’s so crazy about CCG design is that there are pretty much an infinite number of elegant cards. V:TES has no Celerity card that’s just maneuver at one level and dodge at another. Of course, there’s also a near infinite number of elegant cards that shouldn’t get made, whether for power reasons or because many variations on the same thing is deadly dull or because the effects simply aren’t needed. But, when talking about two nigh infinities, that still leaves no end to the number of elegant cards that could be made.

Not every card needs to be elegant. Some level of dense card text is not unreasonable. Spell of Life’s failure is not that it has a bunch of text and is complex in how it works; what makes it a failure is that it has draft text. Not because the draft text is broken, which it is, but because there was simply no reason to add draft text to a card that dense and that complicated. Most CCGs try to capture a specific flavor and sometimes the only way to do that well is to have some sort of unusual (therefore, probably complex) text.

Anyway, one can only hope that more designers and developers adopt a philosophy that card elegance matters. While the only CCG I play more than once in a blue moon is out of print, there’s still things like our storyline events where it would have been better if there was more editing of the storyline cards so that they weren’t overwhelming.

Practical Testing

October 20, 2010

I was recently reading AEG’s L5R RPG forums, when I was reminded of a method for testing for value. I might as well get talk of CCGs out of the way for those less interested in applying the methodology to RPGs and whatnot.


A bit of wisdom that is passed around in the V:TES community is to look at what cards you discarded over the course of the game and remove or, at least, consider removing them from the deck. While I don’t think that many players actually use this – I don’t in any sort of rigorous sense, it is a relatively easy way to weed out (likely) suboptimal cards. The closest I come to applying this process is keeping in mind that virtually every Crocodile’s Tongue and almost every Diversion I put into decks ends up getting discarded, which is why I never play the former anymore and play the latter more as a joke. For instance, the latter shows up in my Striga deck, and we all know that Striga is so broken that even joke cards “work”.

So, great, a way to tune decks. But, then, I rarely tune decks, so I’m more interested in other applications of the same sort of thinking. What is the core concept? That what people actually play has value and what people don’t is lacking. Particularly profound? Not so much. Underutilized as a system for balancing games? Way underutilized.

Balancing games? … moving on to playtesting. There were all sorts of reasons to be frustrated by playtesting niche CCGs. Rather than rant about yesteryear, I’m focusing on a particular aspect of playtesting that should be more worriesome to game managers (if anything about playtesting is). The usual situation, in my experience, is that a small amount of a new set gets an inordinate amount of attention and much of the set gets no meaningful testing. Let’s think about the logic of this. Certain cards or groups of cards attract for various reasons, but the primary reason is power level. Sure, I tried repeatedly to get Walker Smith printed for B5, and I playtested Gerontocracy so much more than anyone else that I’m credited as its designer, but taking out individual interests, groupthink tends to lead to focusing on power cards. So, logically, cards that are ignored are, on average, below the power curve.

In my ideal playtest world, the playtest manager would force everyone to provide a list of all of the cards they didn’t want to test. Why not just force people to actually play every card? Because, really, playtesting is painful enough without the mindnumbing process of trying to generate interest in chaff, nevermind that the interest level will be so low that any testing is questionable, anyway. So, you get the lists. Because you allotted enough time and resources, because you are terribly clever, or just because you’ve gotten fed up with junk playtesting far too often, you start the playtest with the bottom of the set. Well, after you test any new mechanics or other stuff you expect to undergo major overhauls. Not that you actually play-test the crap. You brainstorm reasons why people aren’t interested in it. Throughout the playtest, you repeat the process so that there’s no cards left behind. In theory, every card will rise to the level of interesting enough to people that they do get tested. No, this doesn’t provide some sort of balance of power, since it is well-established that different players look for different qualities in cards, but it should reduce the variance in attractiveness of cards.


Whereas the idea of tracking what gets played and what doesn’t is underutilized in my experience with CCGs and RPGs, my friend who runs lots of boardgame events is a proponent of using this methodology with Dominion.

What we do, since Dominion plays fast, is take a look at what people buy and remove those cards for the next game, repeating until we stop playing. Now, I don’t like Dominion. I actually believe it’s insanely overrated. I am of these opinions because I find that Dominion lacks variety, i.e. within any given game, people mostly buy the same cards or, at least, the people who have any chance of winning buy the same cards. While it seems like the process we use to weed out obvious strategies has some effect, each individual game still sees rather little strategic variety. Not finding the variety between games all that compelling … at least it’s quick – tellingly, a common justification for why people should continue to play Magic even though so many of its games suck.


I consider there to be three classes in d20 Conan: barbarian; scholar, thief. I keep mentioning this even though it’s a waste of time to try to convince non-analytical people of anything. Borderer? Barbarian strictly better. Noble? Mechanically crippled. Nomad? Pretty much a borderer. Pirate? Not bad, but easily replaced by barbarian/thief. Soldier? The worst class yet the hardest to convince people that it sucks – skills matter in Conan (so do saves). Temptress? Just a scholar/thief or thief, depending upon what you care about.

Obviously, if I’m right, then the game is flawed. If the game is known to be flawed, it shouldn’t be printed (in some imaginary world where balance matters more than anything else), or if not caught until too late, then it should be repaired. RPGs are trickier than CCGs, of course, as they aren’t competitive and speak to different interests. Actually, one wonders whether the psychographic profile system of Timmy, Johnny, and Spike can be applied to RPGs. Given that I’m somewhat more of a Spike when it comes to CCGs and I’m a big powerlessgamer in RPGs, probably not. Anyway, while little can be done on the publisher’s end for Conan (don’t see a problem, not publishing the game anymore!) and everything can be done on our playgroup’s end (a feature of RPGs not shared with CCGs), I still find the exercise of determining balance, both in terms of mechanical balance and in terms of interest balance, based on what people decide to play and what they don’t a compelling one. Given that the playerbase, if accurately represented on the Conan forums, for this particular game is so out of step with my analysis, maybe my analysis is just off. But, probably not.

To me, Conan made no attempt at balance. Based on comments I see, such as “barbarian should be more powerful”, imbalance could have been entirely intentional. But, what of L5R 4e, where an obsession with balance seemed to take hold. I can see little value in trying to chart clans and families, after all, the differences mechanically are mostly trivial except for how you combine with schools. In particular, there’s no benefit to rating clans when there are hardly any mechanical benefits at the clan level, nevermind that people strongly attach to clans and the like in RPGs for flavor reasons. It’s really about schools or the combination of schools with families for doublestacking traits or avoiding getting saddled with a trait bonus that one doesn’t care about. It could be argued that Crane and Scorpion having multiple doublestack possibilities makes those clans stronger, but anyway, back to spotlighting schools.

Which schools will people eschew? Is it for power reasons? Of Scorpion schools, I tolerate Bayushi Bushi and none other for flavor reasons. Likely, many others have similar personal interests that are hard to account for. But, maybe the methodology can be tested. For instance, it might be quite interesting to see how many people play Mirumoto Bushi in 4e vs. a hoped for apples to apples comparison with 3e. Mirumoto Bushi in 3e is broken. In 4e, I only see a subpar and dull school. This is quite unlike how Akodo Bushi is quality in 3e and, arguably, the best bushi school in 4e. My sense, which is quite specious at this early date, is that few are interested in Mirumoto for HoR3 where I commonly adventured with Mirumoto in HoR2.

Another observation is that few players play Agasha Shugenja and many play Isawa Shugenja. This may be an intentional imbalance as the world calls for far more Isawa than Agasha. But, what of Asahina Shugenja? They were grossly powerful in 3e, I believe nerfed in 3r, and I don’t know what in 4e. I like the school, but I like defensive powers. The meaningful comparison, of course, being between Asahina and other shugenja schools. What of people’s inclinations when doing Different School? I see Daidoji Iron Warriors being an attractive option, especially if not terribly concerned with doublestacking. I don’t see Yoritomo Bushi being an attractive Different School (or school to begin with).

What of the Imperial schools? The minor clan schools? With cool RPGs, everything gets adherents based on flavor. So, there’s always going to be the Boars of the world. But, check out the ridiculously synergistic Badger/Badger build.

What won’t a meaningful number of people play? If something, that something was a waste of ink better used for coming up with something people will play. Of course, this comes from someone who thinks about Omoidasu builds, so whatever.

Tattoo Ratings

October 17, 2010

So, my first HoR3 concept gets shot down. I came up with something cool that was too much of a hassle to GM. So, on to the next concept – Tattooed Monk.

While I still need permission for this concept, the bigger problem is deciding what second tattoo to play with. Actually, if either I liked the 4e tattoos better or if I knew that there would be more options available soon out of supplements, this character may not have been my second choice. But, much as how I’d be less interested in a 3e TM without Masters of Magic, I think it’s likely the cooler tats will show up in some power-elevated supplement. So, I was thinking of working on a main character while having this one waiting in the wings for more options.

I put together a table of my views of the value of the 4e mainbook tats to help try to confirm a second choice. The valuations are tied to this specific character. Scale is 1 to 5, unlike my usual CCG valuations, 3 is average rather than being above average. Power is my estimation of how useful the tat will be for this character in play. Amusement and cool are similar, but amusement is more about what I think of using the tat and cool is more about what I’d think others would think of the tat being used. Amusement is, of course, the most important value, making it the tiebreaker. I could have gone with power, amusement/cool, interesting as values, I suppose, as something like Wind is more interesting for seeing what can be done with extra simple actions. But, I kind of roll interesting into amusement and cool, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Tattoo Power Amusement Cool Average
Mantis 2 5 5 4.0
Ocean 3 3 5 3.7
Ki-Rin 5 4 1 3.3
Crane 4 3 2 3.0
Spider 1 4 3 2.7
Balance 3 3 2 2.7
Scorpion 3 3 2 2.7
Bamboo 4 2 2 2.7
Phoenix 3 2 3 2.7
Wind 3 2 2 2.3
Dragon 4 1 2 2.3
Void 4 1 2 2.3
Crab 3 2 1 2.0
Storm 2 2 2 2.0
Lion 2 1 2 1.7
Blaze 1 1 2 1.3
Centipede 1 1 2 1.3
Hawk 1 1 2 1.3
Mountain 1 1 2 1.3
Wolf 1 1 1 1.0

Mantis is, of course, the first choice. Ocean would be the second choice if I wasn’t going to wait until rank 3 for it, when I think it would get far more use (in Shadowlands, spirit realms, and the like). Ki-Rin is the most useful of the also-rans, which is why I keep coming back to it, but it’s kind of cheaty in my mind, reducing its cool factor by a lot. I want one general use tat, but I don’t want it to be that mechanical, even though 4e in general comes across as highly mechanical to me. It’s interesting that 4e doesn’t have Arrowroot, yet, as that’s more the sort of thing (healing) that would be so useful and non-cheesy that I’d probably go with.

The problem I have with Crane is that, on the one hand, it suits the character well, supporting a strength, but, on the other hand, seems cheaty in that social abilities being buffed by magic doesn’t have the same flavor as, say, combat abilities being buffed. I should probably take it since it’s the sort of thing other characters wouldn’t. Of course, this is why this is such a struggle. There’s a number of possibilities below the primes that have sufficiently mixed values in play. As rank 3 is far off, the “comfort” option of Ki-Rin is hard to bypass.

As for creating my own, while something I want to do, I’ve already had one of my top two concepts killed, and I actually want to play a character I want to play, rather than worry overmuch about having a signature ability.


October 12, 2010

Far be it for me to post frequently about casual game days, but I was amused by last Sunday’s games, even when they weren’t terribly amusing to play. All hail 10/10, a great day in any year.

Game 1:
Principia Discordia, et al -> Malk vote/bleed -> Rachel Brandywine -> Persistent Fanfare

I drop Info Highway and bring out Yseult. Crosstable, Lutz appears. Oh, boy. Not so good for my predator since I’m eager to crush souls with the power of Fanfare for Elysium. Yseult Persistent Echoes Fanfare for Elysium and I bring out Angela and Tupdog. Angela goes anarch to burn off some blood so that I get maximum value from the Tupdog calling Fanfare for Elysium.

Other stuff that happens in no particular order: I Golconda Rachel rather than Lutz as my predator seems intent on ousting me, though his first Kindred Spirits bleed went backwards where it got bounced backwards to my prey. I discover just how useless Member of the Entourage is, can’t quite give him two intercept with my one copy of Tourette’s Voice as he was down to 1 life. He does get turned into a Set’s Curse just to help my prey out. I really need my prey to have a bunch of pool because as soon as my initial predator is out, I’m screwed. Sadly, I have no wakes, so I can’t double Madrigal to kill one of my predator’s KRCs and the pool damage to my prey is sad. After all, the less pool he had, the less he could give me when I played Extremis Boon (discarding Wash, knowing that I was going to go to zero pool before my turn came around). I Fanfare choosing only Yseult, the only vampire older than Angela I had, so I can Voter Cap. I Con Boon Nagaraja with none in play to Voter Cap. Every single one of my votes passes, including the Lily Prelude doing 4 to my prey and giving me 1, while I never gained any permanent votes. As for the Extremis Boon, I only got 1 pool out of it, which forced Lutz to bleed me out. Would have been interesting if my prey gave me all of his 3 pool to see if I can do anything in the endgame while I lose 1 pool from Lutz every time I pass a vote.

On to game two, it’s go time. Time to whip out the power deck for supreme annihilation.

Game 2:

Malefiction -> Kiasyd SB -> EuroBrujah -> Salubri

It was looking bad for the Brujah as the Kiasyd Infoed up three dudes fast. I was hideously handjammed with Greater Curse, Minor Curse, and Barrenness … not because I couldn’t burn them all away any time but because I didn’t want to tip my hand. Actually, Greater Curse ended up being the wasp’s elbows.

Somehow, a couple Kiasyd got beaten down, as the Brujah remembered the Tradition that is between First and Third. Brujah stabilize! Everyone stabilizes! Well, that’s because the Salubri deck doesn’t go forward and my deck was far away from accomplishing its necessary toolups. Gerald Windham did get Ankara and did get Rutor’s and finally got Textbook Damnation after Nergal had been holding down the fort with his Malefic ways. I go down to 2 pool. Nergal achieves Golconda and I’m safe forever, including after he decides Golconda has too many whiny losers and returns nobly to the battlefield. In the meantime, Gerald has mastered Maleficia, gotten a crosstable Vessel, two Blood Dolls, Perfectionist, and a partridge in a pear tree. My Anarch Convert has also whipped out his Nightstick.

Hours go by. My predator starts tooling up himself – Robert Carter, Tasha Morgan, Pulse, gets his 5 minions. With the power of my Evil Eye and – amazingly – not one of my Greater Curse bleeds getting bounced by the Kiasyd, I hold on long enough for my prey to get ousted. My new prey is not strong in the pool. Actually, I think the Kiasyd could have tried lunging if he didn’t discard Song of Pan. But, my predator is not strong in the ways of the pool, either. Around the 3 hour mark, my prey plays at 1 pool and keeps trying to oust. I keep trying to get 1 pool of bleed through and fail either due to intercept or bounce. My predator only survives by Serenna reducing on my turn and my prey’s turn. Finally, with my prey having about 1 card left in his library, I oust him and sweep a bit later with about 1 card left in my library.

Now, as amusing as games can be, the less important thing to take away from games is what we learn from them. Much as I had learned that Striga is broken and, truly, omnipotent. I have now learned that the same can be said of Maleficia. The only possible way one can fail to bring victory is in opposition to each other. The unstoppable actions of Maleficia (that don’t do anything) versus the impregnable defenses (+1 intercept, -1 stealth) of Striga.

Actually, I was surprised to realize that I actually think Striga is better in a general deck sense. Evil Eye is far better than anything Striga can do and Greater Curse at Dai was a lot of bleeds for 3 at stealth that gained me pool, but action cards that don’t win or don’t prevent losing are sketchy with infernals, making Barrenness and Minor Curse cards I’d rather cut … if Maleficia wasn’t so overpowered that it leads to guaranteed sweeps. As pathetic as the Striga cards are individually, they all fit together into a godlike conglomeration of awesome. Maleficia is more about individual plays. Now, I did burn a vampire with Scourge of the Enochians (stupidly costing me my own Anarch Convert as I forgot I didn’t have any Barrennesses left to blow others up and my predator failed to get ousted) because of Barrenness. And, Minor Curse was incredibly annoying to my predator, but that may have been because he didn’t order his actions well.

Of course, Maleficia is better for decks if you are an eta and don’t play Barrenness and Minor Curse.

And, of course, games are different when you don’t use a time limit. In reality, I don’t think anyone would have been ousted at the 2 hour mark even if people played more urgently.

Finally, a three player game where it was time for silliness. No non-discipline naughtiness, just good old fashion Malks/!Malks.

Game 3:
Principia Discordia (above) -> Toreador block/bleed -> Wrong Number (The Call, Grenades, Nightsticks)

I bring out Quentin King III, which doesn’t give me vote lock, but The Parthenon and Powerbase: Rome quickly give me vote lock. What follows is a lot of eh. Powerbase: Montreal gets passed around. My prey keeps bringing out guys. I keep getting weapons and Calling without having much impact on the game. Eventually, my predator gets ousted and somehow I survive for another 30-45 minutes even though I can’t cycle as my stealth is useless and can’t get into combat to Concealed out something. My only hope is to draw into all of my remaining vote bleed and bleed twice in one turn with my five guys, but I keep drawing stuff that has little game impact and eventually get ousted by stealthed bleeds (not being able to stop +1 stealth actions most of the time is a feature of Wrong Number).

Having played Wrong Number twice, once in a cutdown 4cl version, I see that it has much nutpunching puissance and must be purged. Well, that just frees up Grenades and Nightsticks for other decks, huzzah!

Weak 1 – Laecanus

October 9, 2010

Those who read this blog may have seen my comment about doing Card of the Weak exercises as an inspiration for deck ideas.

From http://www.vtes.net:

Should every card have at least one purpose? Sure. At least two? At least three? Most cards in CCGs are coasters when it comes to constructed play. Not that that’s a good thing, but it does put into context the idea of how worthwhile any individual card should be. When it comes to vampires in V:TES, I tend to believe that they should have multiple uses, but to be fair, a lot aren’t terribly flexible.

Just as an example, in and of herself, Victoria Ash is a quality cupcake. Yet, she’s played way, way less than one would expect, checking her out, out of the context of what sort of Toreador decks are typically played group 1/2 or 2/3. She even has frickin’ Dominate to fit in with the Ansons, Annekes, and Alexandras of the world … and misses the AAA cut … often.

But, getting back to Laecanus, he has an obvious use. He came out of the same set as Hell-for-Leather just to make sure that nobody missed the synergy. Like:

Deck Name: 080605 For Hell
Created By: Laecanus

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 4, Max: 21, Avg: 3.58)
4 Anarch Convert none 1 Caitiff
1 Idrissa aus CEL 4 Osebo
1 Jeremiah Noble obt pre CEL POT6 Brujah Antitribu
2 Laecanus obt pre CEL 5 Toreador
1 Rodrigo pot pre qui CEL5 Brujah Antitribu
1 Scarlet Carson O`Toole pro CEL 4 Gangrel Antitribu
1 Skryta Zyleta obf pot pro CEL5 Gangrel Antitribu
1 Steve Booth CEL pot pre pro5 Brujah

Library: (80 cards)
Master (18 cards)
6 Blood Doll
2 Fame
2 Haven Uncovered
1 Heidelberg Castle, Germany
5 Obtenebration
2 Tension in the Ranks

Action (9 cards)
2 Big Game
7 Bum`s Rush

Action Modifier (1 cards)
1 Monkey Wrench

Combat (39 cards)
2 Acrobatics
5 Concealed Weapon
2 Dragon`s Breath Rounds
2 Flash
2 Groundfighting
7 Hell-for-Leather
8 Psyche!
2 Pursuit
2 Side Strike
2 Sideslip
5 Taste of Vitae

Equipment (7 cards)
7 .44 Magnum

Event (3 cards)
1 Break the Code
1 Dragonbound
1 Uncoiling, The

Combo (3 cards)
3 Resist Earth`s Grasp

Then, when more Toreador with Obtenebration came out, we got possibilities like:

Deck Name: 090313 Laecanus Storyline
Created By: Laecanus

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 24, Max: 40, Avg: 8.41)
3 Allanyan Serata ani AUS CEL OBT PRE9 Toreador
3 Laecanus obt pre CEL 5 Toreador
1 Melinda Galbraith obt AUS CEL DOM POT PRE10 Lasombra
1 Melinda Galbraith (ADV) obt AUS CEL DOM POT PRE10 Toreador Antitribu
3 Montecalme obt AUS CEL DOM PRE10 Toreador
1 Ondine ‘Boudicca’ Sinclair obt AUS CEL PRE PRO9 Toreador Antitribu

Library: (75 cards)
Master (17 cards)
1 Aching Beauty
1 Art Museum
1 Barrens, The
4 Blood Doll
3 Dreams of the Sphinx
2 Information Highway
1 Pentex Subversion
4 Villein

Action (6 cards)
4 Descent into Darkness
1 Entrancement
1 Portrait, The

Action Modifier (16 cards)
3 Aire of Elation
1 Blanket of Night
4 Perfect Paragon
1 Shadow Play
1 Shroud of Night
1 Stone Travel
1 Tenebrous Form
4 Voter Captivation

Political Action (8 cards)
2 Consanguineous Boon
2 Kine Resources Contested
2 Neonate Breach
1 Political Stranglehold
1 Reins of Power

Reaction (13 cards)
4 Eyes of Argus
1 My Enemy`s Enemy
4 On the Qui Vive
4 Telepathic Misdirection

Combat (8 cards)
2 Dodge
1 Flash
4 Majesty
1 Unholy Penance

Ally (1 cards)
1 Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)

Equipment (2 cards)
1 .44 Magnum
1 Bowl of Convergence

Combo (4 cards)
4 Resist Earth`s Grasp

I have a hard time believing the Descents into Darkness are real, I’m thinking they are probably proxies. Maybe I’m missing something from what the storyline rules were or maybe I was into some seriously weird tech at the time, but I think assuming that those are supposed to be good cards may be the way to go.

But, the problem with Laecanus in the second deck is that you pretty much never want him instead of another vampire. Why? Because Auspex is kind of useful, especially the older you get. The omission isn’t all that noticeable with some sort of CEL gun deck, but it’s painful when mixing with clanmates. Does that matter?

Goes back to how many uses a card should have. I can probably find another half a use for him, but if he had inferior Auspex, he’d still be weak for decks where Auspex is important, yet not be a cripple. Oh, but someone who doesn’t understand balance will claim that it would make him too powerful – too many points or some nonsense. By any reasonable way of measuring vampire value, he’s underpowered and having aus would only make him okayish (graduating to being a real midcap Toreador, now, if only they found better looking models for some of these Toreador …). He still ends up being filler in Toreador decks and gains insignificantly for Hell-for-Leather decks – with Auspex added, joining a 6 cap and a 9 cap as untitled vampires in his groups with Aus/Cel/Obt.

Can’t even fit into Shadowed Eyes decks – Mon Dieu!

However, given all of this, I feel compelled to try to come up with decks where he adds value. Not horrendously costed for someone with CEL, so there’s always throwing him into mono-Celerity stealth bleed, though how he differs from others in the crypt is questionable. Cel/Pre at a reasonable cost, though it’s not like that discipline combo is anything other than ubiquitous. Obt/Pre goes back to voting, where he pretty much sucks since he has no title, both disciplines at inferior, and weird combat-related specials; on the other hand, if you really, really had to make an Obt/Pre baron deck, he has friends.

Speaking of his combat specials, again with the gun theory. No frenzy means fewer equipment hoser effects, press to end is trivial to a combat deck but, in theory, means pressing out of combat when your gun maneuver is spent or the other deck is a second round combat deck (these don’t really exist, anymore, do they? well, okay, there’s ally combat decks) and saving your Psyche! to get your gun maneuver back. Of course, being immune to ‘schreck may be techy. But, by far the most important reason why no frenzy is the shiznit is that he can’t play Scourge of Alecto, therefore, any deck with Laecanus is that much less likely to have Scourge of Alecto in it, therefore you just win, baby.

Being Toreador is usually pretty sweet. You get to go to Balls where you get “tapped” while the bigshots go do the actual work. You get invited to Art Museums, which I’m sure is full of easy mortals. And, best of all, you get to do people’s Portraits, which, as long as you avoid the sewers (or bad luck or people with way too much reactions in their hands), typically ends up in a marginal profit … and awesome stories for when you are mingling in Society …

… Thing with Laecanus, though, is really, from a game play standpoint of taking advantage of clan cards, the use you usually want is him being the target for Art Museum – again and again and again – up until the point where you have conquered your fellow Methuselahs without ever having to put the supposed scholar* to work.

* A backstory scholar with no Auspex. Right. At least he can find his books fast.

Of course, I already talked about most of these things in one of my Aquarius posts. Has anything changed? Well, few more CEL/Pre options after Twilight Rebellion. Why go with a card I’ve already talked about for my first in this earth-shattering, rainbow-inducing series? Well, as much as I like Portrait better …

Stanford Games

October 7, 2010

Because Brandon is “too busy” with life to bother, I wrote a bit about the games we played a couple of weeks ago. Or, actually, the game I played and the game I tutored.

As it has been a couple of weeks, I’ve forgotten who started these games. Brandon and I went up to Stanford to play with Gerentt and his friends.

First Game:
Toreador intercept guns w/ bleed -> AAA -> Lucian Is Too Perfect To Bleed -> EuroBrujah thrown junk version

So, I keep working on the Perfect Lucian deck. Sadly, while Lucian must never bleed, I used him to bleed, so this deck was an abject failure. The key features of this game were: EuroBrujah never drawing a Second Tradition and so being easily run over for no good reason; my stealing Papillion with Dominate Kine and applying it to feed Alonso Petrodon; my axe having enough intercept + wake to slow down AAA; my Confusion of the Eyes killing multiple Parity Shifts [stop playing Parity Shift, you wankers]. Actually, at a certain point, I was fairly low on pool and my predator could maybe have gotten me, but I had been discarding Redirections and bouncing other bleeds, so he was conservative and the bleeds going all the way around the table to my prey were helpful. I did boringly bleed with Lucian for 6 with one card just to oust my prey. AAA got ousted. We timed out, though I would have won the endgame in a couple of turns.

Key card: Confusion of the Eye. Usually, it sucks for me. But, our metagame is so Parity Shift heavy right now, that I even Dreamsed one to kill a second Parity Shift of my predator’s. Of course, we are also Salubri heavy, so Qadir decks should be all the rage – change clan to Salubri, Confusion of the Eye.

Second Game:

ANI -> Ventrue -> 16 Daggers -> Cock Robin

This game was kind of painful. I was helping both of Gerentt’s friends since they had little experience. Gerentt never got going and my Dagger deck just overran him to where he begged to be ousted. The Ventrue deck was a major threat, but it was tricky to play as it had rush in front and intercept behind. Haven Uncovereds kept going backwards to (correctly) slow her down. In the endgame, it was an incredibly close affair where the Dagger deck had to topdeck a Dagger after putting a Frontal Assault in play (just to dig deeper). It was still close until the Dagger deck’s Ashur Tablets went off. An interesting endgame as the Animalism could outmaneuver, but the Dagger deck could still do some damage, especially with Target Vitals, and had enough prevent not to get beaten down.

Key card: Haven Uncovered? It bought the Dagger deck enough time. It was kind of funny how the Ventrue deck had a bunch of prevent which didn’t hurt against predator and would have been solid against prey, and two The Kiss of Ra did slow down her predator.

1001^n Deck Ideas

October 3, 2010

Putting aside actually pulling the cards, making sure they are sleeved correctly, and the other logistical aspects of deckbuilding, I find deckbuilding easy. Not everyone does. There are various reasons, including the possibility that others have the same issue I do with actually assembling a physical deck but, unlike me, don’t write out decklists. This post is just going to focus on generating ideas.

Act On It!

I’d have hundreds more decks written out if I spent just a little bit of time writing down deck ideas whenever I play. Note that the more you play, the more ideas you should have, and the more decks you should have. Unfortunately, it works the other way, too. Sometimes, I do write down ideas, and … it helps – a lot. Just creating that note is action that will lead to more decks. Of course, there are other actions that will lead to more decks.

Like, looking at cards. Not glancing at a pack of this, a box of that, some loose pile here, boxed bunch there, or scanning decks that get posted online but actually just studying one card, whether through a deckbuilder or a physical card. Of course, there’s a subsequent action which needs to take place, namely taking that physical/electronic card and taking a lot of other physical/electronic cards and adding them to that card. Yes, building a deck is by definition deckbuilding, but the inducing action was to just focus on that one card. “Card of the Week” threads, like those that can be found on http://www.thepathofblood.com for V:TES or many places for Magic, are a good way to increase the amount of brainstorming that can be done on how to make use of a card, as can talking with other players. But, anyone who has the mentality to play CCGs regularly shouldn’t have any problem considering enough possibilities for how to use a card to where at least one deck can be generated.


One way of generating ideas has already been mentioned – looking at a specific card. I spent a lot of time, if not really a lot of years, playtesting CCGs. Obviously, reading and thinking about each card was essential to playtesting. Playtesting even involved building decks!! Though, it’s kind of scary how much playtesting for CCGs is throwing out opinions in the absence of actual play-testing, well whatever.

But, there’s lots of cards. What speeds up picking cards that are productive for making decks? Again, playtesting needs point out a useful (and obvious) answer – look at cards you haven’t played before. Even those who aren’t into taking advantage of the ludicrous amounts of variety CCGs offer benefit from playing with cards they haven’t played with before. Even in a CCG like V:TES where sets often have a minor impact on whatever metagame a player may be concerned with, something within any set should have a competitive impact.

In many cases, the set one should be examining card by card is the most recent one. If the set has been out for a while, there might be little left that will be that inspiring. Whether for this reason or for other reasons, it’s often the right call to look at older sets. As new cards get added to the card pool, older cards change in value and ability to interact with other cards (or so one hopes). For example, with V:TES, I have been looking at Heirs to the Blood cards but am also looking at Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts cards. I should really be looking at Kindred Most Wanted, a set I never felt I explored as deeply, also a set which wasn’t as linear* as others, even with the trophy mechanic.

* Linear mechanics, as explained by Mark Rosewater, are mechanics that want the deckbuilder to play more cards with the mechanics as they synergize with each other. In other words, rather than cards with the mechanic competing in function, they reinforce each other. Black Hand, anarchdom, Prince/Justicar, trophy, etc. are not linear in the sense that many Magic mechanics are linear, but for V:TES, they are relatively so.

Okay, so have picked a set, removed cards that are familiar, now what? Cards with more text are often less understood. Then, it’s fairly easy to remove cards that have effects that are common. What shouldn’t be immediately removed from consideration are cards that seem overly narrow, including hosers. While most hosers should never see play, it’s possible that a hoser can have some odd effect that can be exploited. I built a deck around Jackal and talked of other concepts around Jackal. Was the deck insipid? Well, only if you think that Stanislava bleeding at stealth is easy to do without Jackal.

By the way, I find that it’s incredibly common for a deck I build around a particular card leads me to put in other cards I either haven’t played or have played only minimally.

Thirty Something

Moving on, CCGs aren’t just about individual cards. They have categories, mechanics, whatever that provide structure to the game. V:TES decks are most often built around either clans, disciplines, or both.

With 30+ clans and 30+ disciplines, it’s easy to pick one that I haven’t played in a while. For some people, there’s picking one they haven’t played ever. I’ve been considering Ahrimanes ideas recently since I haven’t played them in quite a while (because they tend to be boring). I was just looking at Kiev Circle Blood Brothers today both for the clan (the most boring clan in the game) and for Sanguinus as a discipline that I haven’t played with in quite some time.

Then, there’s sects. I may have thrown together a decklist for a Sabbat oriented deck recently, but I haven’t played a deck that depended upon Sabbatness in recent memory. As a subsect, I haven’t built a Black Hand deck in a while, so I’ve been ruminating about what I could do that would be different.

And, titles. Actually, I have at least two decks written that I haven’t physically built that rely on Sabbat titles. I eschew Prince/Justicar decks for the most part because of how common they are, but I think there are some things I’d be interested in trying, and I may have a First Tradition deck written up that I never put together.

Or, card types. I’m actually a big fan of allies. There are bunches of allies I haven’t played with in a while.

Two Plus

Still at a dead end? Mix and match. Take two disciplines that have never been played together, two clans, or whatever. The best system for people who really have done a ton of different deck archetypes is to mix and match individual cards. One of our former players did it randomly, and it was as awesome as it sounds. I’m sure, these days, it’s easy to come up with a random way to determine cards that a deck must be built around, but if that’s too much effort, there’s always rough randomization that can be done. For instance, maybe roll a 20 sider to find out what set to use (can decide not to include 3 sets for V:TES pretty easily, I’m sure), a 20 sider for card type, a d6 for rarity, etc. until there’s an identifiable card.

Card of the …

Weak. Yeah, that’s a regular topic I should engage in. Maybe soon, maybe not.