Design Essay, Part I

This is in reference to the essay test for Magic’s latest designer search, commented upon by Mark Rosewater here:

I have interest in being a CCG designer … again.  I just don’t have an interest in being one for Magic; I’m not passionate about Magic and have seen an alternative to Magic that just plays so much better.  So, instead of answering the questions for their contest, I thought it would be interesting to spend a bit of time thinking about the questions for a CCG like V:TES.

1.  Introduce yourself

Not really important.  I suppose I could say that I’ve designed for two published CCGs, worked on design for two unpublished CCGs, and playtested another four or so.  But, whatever, it’s not who says something that should matter but what’s said, even if that isn’t how the world works.

2.  Instructed to move one ability from one discipline to another

First, eliminate bleed bounce from consideration as I would move that ability out of disciplines and into cards that could go into any decks.  There’s so much ability bleed [ha] in the game already with intercept being in Celerity, Protean, etc. and whatnot that this just doesn’t mean nearly as much as it does in Magic, where the color pie is the focus of the game.  Probably best to actually take a look at abilities in the disciplines.

Okay, I’m writing this after writing the below, I didn’t think through just how long it would be to go discipline by discipline.  I should have kept comments to just core/common disciplines.  I’m only going to go through the common disciplines in this post as it would just get out of hand to get into even the indie/Sabbat disciplines, nevermind bloodline + Abombwe.  I also got sidetracked into what disciplines should do and not just what could be moved from one to another logically.

Animalism – Animal retainers that usually do damage or give intercept.  Rush (newer).  Controlling animals in play.  Anti-equipment.  Plus punch.  Ranged damage.  Reaction untaps, especially vs. bleed.  Intercept.

Kind of surprising that there aren’t more animal retainers and allies after all this time.  Nothing really cries out for moving, anti-equipment could be moved to Thaumaturgy (which has some), Chimerstry (unique discipline), Vicissitude (look, no hands, torso, …).

Auspex – Intercept.  Looking at hands.  Bleed reduction/bounce.  Bleed.  Untap as an action.

Surprisingly little in the way of core mechanics.  Auspex really should have more things to do, though it does get the most multidiscipline effects.  Strong contender for moving something to, if something that can fit can be found.

Celerity – Combat control:  maneuver, press, dodge, seeing opposing strike, restarting combat.  Additional strikes.  Long range damage.  First strike.  Stealth (expensive).  Hard to block bleeds without bleed bump.  Untap after actions (newer, should have been older).  Combat ends (bad).  Intercept (newer).

The true variety in Celerity is quite small as so many of the effects are combat support effects, though the discipline has been getting much more diverse in recent years.  Interesting amounts of stealth these days, even if it’s costly.  I wouldn’t take anything away, but another contender for being given.  Freak Drive should have been a Celerity card, alternately, Flurry of Action should have been an action modifier, but it’s not like Celerity doesn’t have untap after actions.

Dominate – Bleed.  Bounce.  Stealing permanents.  Getting uncontrolled dudes out.  Evasion (Bonding, The Sleeping Mind, etc.).  Anti-ally (newer).  Anti-frenzy (newer).  Vote manipulation, especially others’.

Written this way, it doesn’t sound like Dominate does much.  We all know, however, that Dominate does too much.  Stealing stuff gets into a bunch of areas.  Graverobbing is not entirely unique in that Serpentis, Obeah, and whatever can take vampires, but it’s just one example of how Dominate does some incredibly interesting things besides ousting people.  The more general area of stealing makes sense in Dominate, though Graverobbing specifically would be logical for Necromancy.  Bounce would make more sense to me in Dementation (after all, manipulation is something lots of disciplines can do), but that does nothing to fix the bounce scarcity problem in the game.  Anti-frenzy could be moved to something like Fortitude, but who cares?

Fortitude – Damage prevention/conversion.  Unblockability/limited blockability.  Agg damage outside of combat (essentially include The Kiss of Ra).  Gaining blood.  Getting out of torpor.  Untap and/or do stuff while tapped (reactively is newer).  Bleed reduction (newer).

Take away Freak Drive and this discipline has severe issues.  I don’t get the flavor of bleed reduction at all, that could easily be moved, but something should replace it.  As to where to move it, Animalism would be having little buddies mitigating getting screwed, Celerity could be yourself mitigating things Flash (the superhero) style though having any physical discipline reduce bleeds is weird, Dominate (yikes), Presence (has some now), Thaumaturgy (see below), Melpominee (good for mechanical reasons).  Physical disciplines are harder to expand into miscellaneous areas, which is why it was interesting what Fortitude did out of the gate.  Actually, thinking more about it, I do kind of get bleed reduction.  Like how damage prevent defends against physical harm, Fortitude can defend against non-physical harm.  Instead of bleed reduction, however, it would make more sense to me that it countered disciplines.  Problem with that mechanically is that listing disciplines means cards that are often useless.  Could have more cards like Resilient Mind that would affect all disciplines in minor ways.  Intercept wouldn’t be crazy – “patrol all night”.  Damage reduction/conversion outside of combat would make sense and be more interesting, if a problem to balance.

Obfuscate – Stealth.  Tap.  Combat avoidance.  Equipment coming and going (Conceal, Disguised Weapon, Hag’s Wrinkles).  Bleed pump (newer).

Another great discipline with a dearth of mechanical variety, a la Auspex.  An obvious area to work with would be stuff protection – cards that prevented retainers, equipment, maybe allies from getting nuked/stolen.  Sleep Unseen does this, but it’s so limited and usually more relevant to protecting the vampire.  I can see “blink” cards that move cards out of play for a while and then back into play, like an action modifier that blinks a piece of equipment out of play until one’s next turn.  Not trivial at all as that would almost assuredly mean it couldn’t be messed with.  However, the question here is about moving abilities not creating them.  One of the abilities that shows up in fiction is kicking ass in combat because the other dude can’t touch you; that obviously fails as combat ends, maneuvers, or dodges as you don’t hit back.  Dodge with an additional strike – yeah, it’s a little goofy, also steals some Obtenebration thunder where it makes more sense.  So, maybe, better would be more cards like Hidden Lurker where you nullify an opposing strike, but who currently has that?  Temporis, where it makes sense.  Stealing is an existing thing, so it can be stolen from Dominate.  Bleed pump doesn’t need to be in Obfuscate and could be moved to something like Potence …

Potence – Smash.  Location smash.  Press to smash more or be smashed less (!).  Smash toys.  Noncombat smash.

Um, yeah.  It’s interesting that a card like Power of One exists because we are talking about the most boring discipline in the game.  Unblockability/limited blockability was something I considered years ago for a new Potence theme – “Hulk smash any puny humans in Hulk’s way” or just intimidation.  Superstrength is actually quite flexible on superheroes (or even in the Conan RPG).  Make impromptu stuff.  Damage prevention would work flavorwise, mechanically it would need to have some sort of drawback, like not being able to smash while defending oneself, to leave some weakness to Potence in combat; obviously wouldn’t steal conceptually from Fortitude but from Protean, which has weird damage prevent.  Could do something like Magic of the Smith.  Bleed is okay as physical manipulation affects resources.

Presence – Bleed.  Combat ends.  Tap/untap dudes.  Vote manipulation.  Uncontrolled.  Evasion (newer).  Bleed reduction (Rewind Time, Scobax).

The vote discipline.  Move combat ends elsewhere and give more evasion or combat avoidance (Obedience, Hard Case, Mental Maze style)?  Take away evasion, which could go to Auspex (bad mechanically, probably)?  Moving bleed reduction isn’t a big deal, but then, it isn’t a major theme with Presence.

Protean – Agg.  Combat ends.  Stealth.  Noncombat damage (newer).  Combat control.  Damage prevention (weird).  Intercept.  Untap at weird times (Homunculus, Carrion Coffin, Movement of the Slow Body).  Unblockability.

Given some of the oddball cards, e.g. Loki’s Gift which does feed into noncombat “damage”, there’s already some things to do that aren’t just 1994 retreads.  The untapping at weird times could be moved, though it would probably be moved into a discipline already with untappiness.  Intercept would make more sense here if Spiritus didn’t exist to provide some thematic redundancy, though one of the outferiors on Spiritus is for thematic consistency.  Why does Protean get Shattering and Shattering Crescendo levels?  That would be an obvious thing to move out, but as to where it goes, Animalism (who doesn’t need it), Potence (who already has it), Thaumaturgy (see below)?

I don’t know about Protean.  It doesn’t have a lot of cards.  But, what the cards do is often unusual, like Dual Form and the evil zen robot that is Loki’s Gift.

Thaumaturgy – Blood denial/steal.  Smash that bypasses Fortitude and/or is slow (second round).  Intercept (newer).  One-off effects.

I wasn’t going to include the one-off effects separately since they were obviously not core, but the idea that Thaum is the one-off effect discipline makes perfect sense.  The discipline is a joke in the RPG, where it can do everything – if it doesn’t do what you want, create a new path and/or ritual.  This is why it’s stunning how limited the discipline is in the CCG.  Now, the philosophy here should be to keep making cards that don’t do the same things as existing cards.  But, where do you steal that from?  Can just steal it from anywhere – Dual Form, Mesmerize, Mask Empathy, etc.  But, that’s not really a coherent answer to this question, so Thaum should really just be more about having more cards.


So, to continue on with question 2. or to move on to the other questions?  Guess that will get figured out in Part II.


2 Responses to Design Essay, Part I

  1. […] Continuing on from Design Essay, Part I […]

  2. […] Design Essay, Part I Design Essay, Part II […]

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