Knowledge: Architecture

September 26, 2011

Part two in my series of looking at RPG skill lists and their problems, mostly to do with excessive numbers of skills.  Will help immensely to have read “Lore: Doors” from earlier this month to have the context.  I have no plans for a part three.  But, I did want to provide Conan d20’s list of skills as a compare and contrast to L5R’s.

Going to include my tier ratings.  One thing about Conan is that there are far more skills I roll often, so the average tier should be far better.  Another thing is that I can’t reasonably comment on what I’d expect “average” Conan play to be like, so I’m going to rate based on our play, which has some clear biases.  I’m also including the “named” skills for the macro skills as there are good reasons some are presented so prominently in the book, the book being 2e Conan d20.

Appraise  [3]
Balance  [1]
Bluff  [1]
Climb  [1]
Concentration  [4 scholar, 5 anyone else]
Craft (alchemy)  [2]
Craft (herbalism)  [2]
Craft (any mundane)  [5]
Craft (macro)  [5]
Decipher Script  [2-3]
Diplomacy  [1]
Disable Device  [4]
Disguise  [5]
Escape Artist  [5]
Forgery  [5]
Gather Information  [3]
Handle Animal  [3]
Heal  [1]
Hide  [4!]
Intimidate  [3, 1 for a certain build]
Jump  [3]
Knowledge (arcana)  [1]
Knowledge (geography)  [2]
Knowledge (history)  [5]
Knowledge (local)  [4]
Knowledge (nobility)  [4]
Knowledge (religion)  [1!]
Knowledge (rumours)  [4]
Knowledge (macro)  [2-5]
Listen  [1]
Move Silently  [4!]
Open Lock  [4]
Perform (macro)  [P: Ritual 2-3, other 5]
Profession (macro)  [5]
Ride  [4]
Search  [2]
Sense Motive  [1]
Sleight of Hand  [4]
Spot  [1]
Survival  [1]
Swim  [1]
Tumble  [3, but should be 1]
Use Rope  [1]

Going to break out some unofficial groupings of skills.  While maybe some of my tiers should be adjusted as I didn’t spend a whole lot of time assigning them, it’s fairly clear that Conan tends toward more like three tiers:  necessary; useless; in between.  The reason I say this is because L5R’s skills tend to be bottom heavy, with a lot of skills being flavor.  Conan’s skill list, on the other hand, is top heavy to where there’s little ability to invest in flavor.

Outdoorsy Skills
Balance  [1]
Climb  [1]
Jump  [3]
Survival  [1]
Swim  [1]

A clear bias in our play.  Jump is the only skill that’s even remotely uncommon.  Swim might vary depending upon where we are, but the three most likely things to kill a PC in our play, in order, are:  failed Climb; failed Swim; failed Balance.  The first PC to ever die died because of rolling three straight 1’s on Climb checks.  Obviously, having an outdoorsy GM and a world that is relatively realistic with being outside of civilization as a major theme creates this environment.

When I rant about how much the soldier sucks, I make an effort to temper my remarks with “as long as your campaign cares about skills”.  Not only does the soldier suck in our play because there’s no way it will be able to keep up with some of these skills, but heavy armor is suicidal in our campaigns, something that also kind of sucks for the noble.

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to generally comment on Conan skills but to look for ways to shorten the list.  I don’t think anyone would get to this number, but I put the list length at 42, retaining all of the broken out macro skills and slots for the macro skills themselves except for Craft (macro) which is not sufficiently distinct from Craft (any mundane).

One of the common suggestions for skill consolidation – yes, there are those who float the idea of skill consolidation or even do it – is to consolidate some of these and the likes of Tumble into an athletics skill.  For our play, this has massive impact, far more than what I’d expect with other groups.  I don’t like that a PC should need to be good at all of these and a bunch of other skills, but it’s hard to envision us consolidating Climb and Swim, for instance, together.  Jump should go away, with Tumble being a natural partner.  Balance, Jump, and Tumble together is fairly thematic and since we way underuse Tumble (the best D&D skill according to various sources), it wouldn’t have that much impact.  Still, seems a really tricky area as I both want to have an athletics skill but don’t want to lose the distinctions between Climb and Swim and other stuff.  Note that we lack the Emphasis mechanic of L5R, so there’s no specializing in a broader skill.

Social Skills
Bluff  [1]
Diplomacy  [1]
Gather Information  [3]
Intimidate  [3, 1 for a certain build]
Sense Motive  [1]

This is where it gets really funny in terms of biases.  One can see where outdoorsy skills are prominent given our GM and players.  One does not as much understand where the social theme comes from.  We usually have a highly social party.  Where other groups seem to be broke bandits barely tolerated in towns, we are or keep the company of nobles and diplomacize or “diplomacize” the hell out of NPCs to where we rarely fight people.

As for consolidation, Gather Information could maybe be merged into Diplomacy, even though Diplomacy is already awesome and it’s so easy to get synergy bonuses into it.  Intimidate and Bluff are virtually the same thing in some cases but incredibly different in others.  “Manipulation” might be a plausible thematic skill to cover both, though it’s not clear whether both should be covered.  It makes the Steely Gaze/Feint build that much more efficient.

Knowledge Skills
Knowledge (arcana)  [1]
Knowledge (geography)  [2]
Knowledge (history)  [5]
Knowledge (local)  [4]
Knowledge (nobility)  [4]
Knowledge (religion)  [1]
Knowledge (rumours)  [4]
Knowledge (macro)  [2-5]

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how cool it is the diversity of skills we use in Conan on a regular basis.  You can’t say we are too far into man vs. nature or too far into the social realm (for Conan) or too much about esoteric knowledges.  At some point, having more strong skill themes means that it’s just skills in general that matter a lot.  Of course, to compensate, combat matters less for us than it seems for other groups.

One of the really terrible things 2e did was create K: Rumours, taking away a lot of what K: Local covered.  K: Local never made any sense.  Was it knowledge of your home area or knowledge you picked up about wherever you happened to be?  The former is largely useless to PCs while the latter seems to be something you would gain from Gather Information.  That K: Geography often ends up being important, that K: Nature which isn’t even listed but is a required skill for the Nature sorcery style and is also quite important, that random stuff like K: Architecture, K: The Planes, K: Warfare come up often enough gets kind of annoying.  Now, I do like that our PCs have different specialties in many cases.  Sure, a scholar may be better than my character at K: Religion, but I blow away the non-scholars which has proved extremely useful.  I have K: Warfare, which no one else has.  Another PC is kind of a jack of all trades but is one of our few K: The Planes knowers.  So, there is some benefit to the diversity.  There are also very few skill ranks to go around and being strong in K: Religion has come at a price.  My borderer is not really an outdoorsy borderer, being more of a social, infidel sort of borderer.  Having tons of hit points does help with the many falls from failed Climb checks.

I don’t know that there’s anything to do.  Knowledge: X is just the same as Lore: X or whatever games have for their knowledge skills where the things people know are distinct from each other.  I can see some house rule about rolling a similar skill at a penalty.  HoR mods frequently mention different die rolls to know something, often with different TNs.


One thing that would help with Craft skills is having a clearer idea what sort of craft skills make sense and which might actually be useful to a PC.  My archer has Craft: Bowyer, but it’s so hard to get good enough at something like this to be reliable that I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t get a number of ranks/modifiers from fictions I wrote.

Concentration has no reason to exist.  It’s a screwjob on scholars since it’s intended only for them casting/maintaining spells.  Concentration is incredibly easy to replace with an attribute roll, which should probably be Wisdom, not Constitution.

Because of how useless so many of the relevant skills are, I can see there being a “thief” skill.  It would include Disguise, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Forgery, and Open Lock.  While I love the thief for its many skill ranks per level, those ranks need to go into physical skills, knowledge skills, and social skills.  Disguise and Escape Artist were both skills I thought would get used more often.  Escape Artist is awful, being frequently the worst way to get out of a grapple and a generally inferior way to escape things since a high Strength is so awesome in the game that so many characters have a high enough Strength to break out.  In actual play, it’s just pointless.  Disguise has the problem that we are either in situations where it’s impossible to feasibly disguise or it’s unnecessary because nobody will know who we are.  Forgery has problems in a world where many are illiterate.  Open Lock and Disable Device are often replaced by “Hulk smash” and “how many hit points of damage?”/”what’s the save?”.  They are great to have in the party, but it becomes a burden that only one PC is likely to carry.

More than anything else, Hide and Move Silently need to be consolidated into “stealth”.  Both skills are full of problems separately and become a ridiculous burden together as multiple purchases.  Virtually none of the many NPCs that I make or my PCs are good at these skills because it’s just too expensive to be reliably stealthy when there are so many essential things to take.

I haven’t come up with a lot of ideas for consolidation, but it’s just because I don’t happen to be in a ruthless enough mood.  I’m sure with enough remembering of how painful it is to assign skill ranks that I would cut at least 25% off of this list.  That still leaves 30+ skills, something that doesn’t sound great.

By the way, most irritating thing about Conan skills?  How awful Perform and Profession (and most Crafts) are.  Perform: Ritual might get some use, but, then, it’s not really a Perform skill so much as a “do nebulous, non-explained magic” skill.  It makes sense that adventurers aren’t great at professions since they are … adventurers, but it’s prohibitively expensive to Profession up a NPC unless you expect that the difficulty numbers for Profession checks will be generally low.  Why do I even care?  Couldn’t I just ignore them?  Goes back to flavor.  I like flavorful skills.  With this system, the flavor skills are too rarely used and there are so many necessary skills that it’s crazy to invest in them.


Interlude: Miskolc

September 25, 2011

At least, I think it’s Miskolc.

So, I would have been happy to finish my “series” on skill lists.  Actually, it occurred to me that taking a look at Solomon Kane wouldn’t be horrible since that’s a system I do actually make house rules for.  But, today was straightening up the computer room so that people can get around to fix some damage.

While not so late I couldn’t do something more involved, in cleaning up, I came across a page of notes from a Gen Con of yesteryear.  The notes for the RPG sessions are atrocious, though it appears I played some sort of Doctor Who game that year, quite the challenge to get into those, though it sounds like we were just part of UNIT.

Anyway, the important part of this discovery is that it has my notes about Miskolc (I have it written down as Mishkos, after some online research, I’m pretty sure they are one and the same).  That would be Miskolc, Hungary.  Why do I have notes about it?  It wasn’t because of a RPG session.  It was from something far funnier.

That year, I went with a friend who lives in the area.  We did mostly different things at the con.  When the con was over, we were exhausted.  So, we rested in the hotel room, turning the TV on after we talked about our various gaming experiences.  Somehow, we ended up on a travel channel or foreign channel or something that had a travel episode on Miskolc.

We were dying laughing.  From my notes:

Imaginary Tailor – I remember distinctly when the narrator started in on the town being known for its imaginary tailor.  Was that misheard?  Maybe.  But, the existence of the Little Tailor of Prague (close enough!) meant I couldn’t not connect the two.

200,000 … several times – Miskolc (according to the narrator, Wiki entry suggests otherwise) got to a population of 200,000 … several times.  We started thinking about scenarios for this.

Castle Ditch – There was something about how bread or food was served in the castle ditch.  I can still picture them panning a camera across what looked like the castle’s (empty) moat; I think there was a table with a woman and others dressed in archaic dress serving food, but this may just be the influence on my imagination from the Tailor.

Department Store – I don’t remember this at all.  Maybe, it was something about how the city had a department store.

Stone Theater – If you read the Wiki entry I did, Miskolc is credited with the first stone theater.  My notes, besides saying “stone theater”, also say “first” and “destroyed/rebuilt”.

Bank – Why is having a bank funny?  This sounded like a modern travel guide with comments about the city’s history.  My notes are “over 7 years” – I distinctly recall the narrator mentioning that the city had a bank for over seven years.  (That’s one more than six!)

Did you have to be there (and kind of high from exhaustion)?  Probably.  That I still remember lying on a bed, laughing hysterically while the narrator droned on about the amazing features of this singular city, from a gaming convention in 2006(?), suggests being there was a good place to be.

Lore: Doors

September 24, 2011

How many skills should a RPG have?

Putting aside the thief (and weirder stuff), oD&D/AD&D had none.  My sense is that this is a reason why some like to go old school and play those games.  You don’t worry about being able to climb a cliff or talk to a NPC (maybe throw a Charisma check in) or know anything about anything, not even doors.  Nope.  Just figure out the optimal way to kill monsters or use spells to solve all mundane problems.  Spider Climb or Breathe Water replace athletic skills, Charm Person solves diplomacy, Identify/Detect X/divination spells replace trivia.

I find this kind of bizarre.  It’s so gamey.  There are reasons to avoid getting bogged down in detail or mundane activities – I’m actually lacking in interest in either.  But, it just seems so primitive.  I think it was someone I came across in person who was saying how great D&D 4e was because it fixed the skill rank system of 3e by forcing skills to be binary rather than tailored.  *cringe*  The skill rank system is the only thing I like about d20.

Yup, I like skills.  It may seem strange when I (relative to the norm) vastly prefer high fantasy and other cinematic genres, but I see skills providing the reality to contrast with the fantasy of magic/psychic powers/mecha/etc.

Before getting into greater detail, I wonder if my declining enchantment with the Hero system had anything to do with how boring and tacked on skills came across.

One thing I’ve thought about on and off again for ages, at least beginning with when we got into our Conan play, is how many skills a RPG should have.  The usual problem is too many.  Probably not a chicken and egg situation, but it’s fairly common for too many skills to result in skills not being that important.  In one system, it might be because skills were never supposed to be a primary mechanic even if there are a bunch of them, like D&D 3e where there are plenty of skills but many classes only get 2+INT per level, such a paltry level that it’s clear that they weren’t essential to solving problems.

In another system, the needed skill set is one of breadth rather than depth to where you can’t feasibly specialize.  Systems with harsh unskilled penalties but relatively easy difficulty targets are like this.  Generally, stronger attributes determine effectiveness … but I’m getting off topic.

More than many, many other things, what I want out of a RPG is that every PC be unique.  If everyone has the same abilities, then, sure, play first edition AD&D or whatever where you are pretty much described by level and class.  Skills can be problematic in this regard when going to either extreme in volume or when certain skills are far more important than others.  Let’s say a system has three skills.  How likely is it that characters will differ if the three skills are important to effectiveness or, not that unlikely, two skills are important to effectiveness and the third is just for flavor?  Or, let’s say you have an appropriate number of skills, whatever that might be, and have one be a primary combat skill and everything else not be all that relevant to combat – it’s not hard to imagine what players will do.

Besides being the two systems I’ve played the most in the last five years, Conan d20 and L5R (3e or 4e) are two systems where I think they aren’t far off the mark on the right number of skills.  It’s because I believe they miss just a bit high that I wanted to go into depth on each.

Legend of the Five Rings (Fourth Edition)

High Skills
Artisan (macro)
Games (macro)
Lore (macro)
Perform (macro)
Tea Ceremony

Bugei Skills
Weapons (macro)

Merchant Skills
Animal Handling
Craft (macro)

Low Skills
Sleight of Hand

Did I say miss the mark by a little bit?  Written out, this is just scary long.  In my mind, I envision around 12-15 skills, including macros.  Macros?  That would be skills where you have to be more specific in what the skill is for.  With both L5R and Conan, there’s no general knowledge of a macro skill – if you know Games: Go, you know nothing about Games: Shogi – no partial credit, as is the case with some games where you can roll either a similar skill at a penalty or the general skill at a penalty or whatever.

Not only are there a bunch of macros, with some being incredibly important, e.g. Weapons, but L5R also has Emphases – ways to specialize in a skill that may even end up opening up an ability not available otherwise.

Getting back to diversity of characters, a list should be varied enough as well.  As long as this list is, which one of my players thinks is absurdly long, I actually find that it works decently for being able to do what you want to do while being able to do what you need to do.

Let’s go section by section, I’ve added tiers (ratings of usefulness from 1 best to 5 worst):

High Skills
Acting  [4-5]
Artisan (macro)  [3 with fast diminishing returns on additionals]
Calligraphy  [3]
Courtier  [1]
Divination  [3 … if used]
Etiquette  [1]
Games (macro)  [4-5]
Investigation  [1]
Lore (macro)  [2-5]
Medicine  [2]
Meditation  [1]
Perform (macro)  [3-5]
Sincerity  [1, not as common but hugely important]
Spellcraft  [1 shugenja, 5 other]
Tea Ceremony  [2]

A lot of these skills are particular to L5R’s world.  The world is highly socially rooted.  Some of these skills will rarely be used (unless the player forces them), but there are entire schools (aka classes) built around Acting, for instance.

Should Acting exist?  No.  Perform is a macro skill that clearly covers this thematically.  As long as we retain macro skills, and I don’t see a good reason not to, it should be rare to extract out skills as rare as this.  Calligraphy?  While Calligraphy has a strong individual identity, what does it hurt if it’s an Artisan skill?  “But, if you condense many of these skills into macro skills, anything that pumps all of a macro skill will pump a ton of skills.”  That seems good.  I find Calligraphy to be about a third tier skill … out of about five tiers.  A third tier skill is something that gets rolled maybe 10-20% of the adventures.  That’s something that needs help.

Courtier, Etiquette, and Sincerity (and Temptation) form the core of the courtier’s skill base.  Rather than having a generic social skill that covers them all, which is a bit odd even though that’s exactly what a weapon skill is for combat, I’m good with having distinct social skills.  Temptation is not one of them.  Temptation is clearly just an Emphasis of Courtier.  Sincerity used to be an Emphasis of Etiquette and I can see an argument for going back to that.  It’s funny how 4e really screwed skills by taking away most Insight bonuses and the Free Raise at rank 5, and, then, on top of that, forced social characters to take a third social skill.

Divination is strange.  It could probably be a Lore skill, but it has its own unique mechanics.  It could be an Emphasis of Theology, except in 4e, Theology is a Lore skill (in name) rather than a separate skill, like in 3e.  I don’t really mind it being separate due to having specific mechanics.  Similarly, Medicine has specific mechanics to where some skills really do need to be separated.

Speaking of Lore skills and macro skills in general, in 3e, the most obnoxious thing to me about skills was how someone good at go knew nothing about shogi and vice versa.  Games should just not work like other macro skills as individual Games skills are tier four to tier five, the ~5-10% to ~0-5% of adventures rolls.  I would have Games be a skill with individual games as Emphases.  Because Games would still be a distinct skill and not rolled into something like Perform, it could have skill specific mechanics to where an Emphasis gave an unusually significant bonus.  This, theoretically, solves the problem of the go master being a shogi master, Fortunes & Winds master, Sadane master, Letters master, etc. at the same time; though, it wouldn’t bother me that much if skill in one meant skill in another – we are talking about a tier four skill.

The most obnoxious thing to me in 4e about skills has to do with Lore skills.  Whereas, I can live with someone being good in all games simultaneously – it’s not super implausible in real life … or in Yu-Gi-Oh! (the TV series), I can’t deal with someone being a generic knowledge master.  Which, by the way, is why Sage is so dumb.  I’ve actually had a player roll Lore: Doors because his character had Sage.  It’s not just that Sage makes buying Lore skills lame, it’s that buying Lore skills is already lame with the changes from 3e to 4e.  At least, with 3e, you got extra Insight from taking these tier four skills.  Not all Lore skills are tier four, though.  Lore: Shadowlands is tier two based on its usefulness bumping it up from its commonality of use.  Lore: Theology is tier three along with History and Heraldry.  Still, there should be better rewards for both the better tier Lore skills and the obscure stuff.  In terms of consolidation, there’s nothing really to do, already separate 3e skills of Lore: Shadowlands and Theology were consolidated.

Investigation is hands down the most used skill in the game.  Okay, I’m sure there are campaigns where Defense (passive bonuses) and Weapon skills are far more important.  Campaigns I’m involved in, it’s Investigation.  What’s funny about Investigation is that’s kind of like a macro skill where you get every individual skill under it.  In d20 terms, it’s Spot, Search, Listen, Gather Information, Sense Motive, and sometimes a tracking skill all in one.  For HoR play, always, always take at least two ranks in this.  I’m okay with this.  It’s not ideal, but it’s further down on my list of things to fix.

Perform, as is the case in any game that has these sorts of tier five skills – tier five being the “Whoa, really, I have to roll a Dance skill?  Come on, this is so unfair!” level of skills, should function like I described how Games should function.  I’m okay with skill in one being skill in all, even if that produces some odd scenarios, and that might be fixable by having there be special Emphasis rules.

Spellcraft is, amazingly, okay.  It was arguably too good in 3e, but that didn’t overly bother me, either.  As long as it doesn’t define how good a shugenja is at casting spells, I can see it existing on its own, even if it is kind of a Lore skill.

Meditation and Tea Ceremony are fine as is, being necessary skills for the genre and having special mechanics.

Bugei Skills
Athletics  [1]
Battle  [3]
Defense  [1]
Horsemanship  [4 even for Unicorn]
Hunting  [2]
Iaijutsu  [hard to rate]
Jiujutsu  [in 3e, 4, in 4e, 1]
Weapons (macro)  [1]

I like that there’s only one non-weapon martial arts skill.  Can anything really be removed here?  Hunting could be cut with Lore: Hunting and Investigation taking over its uses, though that only makes Investigation that much better.  In 4e, they specifically wanted to split Weapons: Spears from Weapons: Polearms, but I think they were crazy, as I don’t recall seeing either rolled by any 4e PC.  While half the Weapon skills are useless or nearly so and the mastery abilities are way out of line with each other, I’m perfectly fine genrewise with there being some imbalances in the Weapon skills.  If only more weapons were viable …

Merchant Skills
Animal Handling  [5]
Commerce  [3]
Craft (macro)  [n/a]
Engineering  [5]
Sailing  [4-5]

Some oddities, here.  Thematically, it’s important that Commerce not be a high skill, that Animal Handling be distinct from social people skills.  I’m not sure why Engineering needs to be a separate skill, not really sure why it’s a merchant skill.  While Craft is a mess in Conan, it’s okay here.  Sailing is odd, really odd when you consider that in 4e it’s a two trait skill, which does make sense.  I guess I can live with all of these the way they are.  They are pretty obscure skills, being on average tier five, with Commerce being maybe tier three, but they have distinct identities as, well, merchant skills.

Low Skills
Forgery  [5]
Intimidation  [4]
Sleight of Hand  [5]
Stealth  [3]
Temptation  [4 for PCs]

Forgery, okay – it’s scuzzy and more than just a Lore or Perform.  Temptation, I already talked about – should just be a Low Emphasis of Courtier.  The others have similar problems.  Stealth is frequently not a Low skill.  By far the most common use of Stealth I find in my play is sneaking up or away from bad guys, not guys we don’t like, but Shadowlands monsters and bandits and other scum.  It’s not dishonorable in such situations.

Sleight of Hand?  I’m sorry, but by far the most common use of this I see is entertainers entertaining children and stuff.  The idea that hiding something is insincere is so absurdly out of line with how lying besides to bolster one’s reputation is not in any way dishonorable.  Check the tables.  It’s inglorious to get caught lying.  The only time I really see a PC use Sleight of Hand, it’s against enemies of the Empire, palming jade against Tainted dudes or the like.  It’s also a good choice for making a Perform skill, with there being two reasons it likely isn’t – one, the false belief that hiding objects is dishonorable and, two, that it has distinct mechanics.  Which, since it’s like a tier five skill, it doesn’t need to have distinct mechanics.

Intimidation is another social skill that shouldn’t exist by itself.  It’s also another case of being a skill that is not honorable but not dishonorable in virtually any sort of normal situation.  Sorry, again, but by far the most common uses of it in play are by samurai telling peasants what to do and magistrates telling criminals what to do.  The idea of browbeating a courtier with it or whatever, well, that may be dishonorable, but that’s because it’s a dishonorable thing to do in the situation, where being courteous to half-people and scum is honorable, not not dishonorable.

At most, I’m looking at cutting six skills.  Yikes!  That leaves 27(?) without even taking into account macro skills being large groups of skills and Emphases being kind of like different skills.  And, yet, … and, yet, I don’t know.  I don’t feel that it’s that painful.  Maybe, it’s because I typically get 4xp per session and one rank in a skill is 1xp.  I tend to be bothered far more by how it isn’t worth buying up skills than by how many skills I should buy, by how tiresome it gets to raise traits or, in 4e, the Void Ring, or how kata, memorizing spells, and other random stuff take away from planned trait/ring/skill improvements.  There still seems to be something wrong, like how maybe Meditation and Tea Ceremony are awfully similar in role, if not in flavor or mechanics.

There definitely are too many tier four and five skills, which is frustrating.  On the other hand, a way to use a skill more often is to … use it more often.  Force its use.  Play shogi with every NPC.  Cook like you’ve never Artisan: Cooking-ed before.  There are ways, more so in home play but even in HoR, to leverage bad tier skills.

So, this ended up being far, far longer than I expected.  I thought I’d run through L5R and Conan in under two grand words.  Guess this is part one of a two parter.  Stay tuned for the next episode of “roll what?!?”

Review – The Great Clans

September 17, 2011

One might believe that reviewing RPG products would be something I’d be inclined to do.  One might even believe it would be a natural fit.  Yet.

There are a couple of obvious reasons I don’t do more RPG book reviews:  I actually have bought very few RPG products in the last 10+ years as I realized at some point that I actually make very little use of RPG books; when I do acquire them, it’s typically long after they were published.

But, there’s another reason.  I have a hard time reading them in one sitting.  This is the complete opposite of how I typically read novels in one or two sittings.  RPG books are things I keep looking for things that interest me greatly, keep failing to find them, and then coming back when I’m being less picky.

Not … The Great Clans

Fourth edition L5R has the mainbook, Enemies of the Empire, Emerald Empire (4e), and The Great Clans.  I have some problems with the mainbook in terms of lacking fluff and 4e mechanics just being inferior in my mind to 3e mechanics, but it’s still a very nice book and is a far better balanced game.  Enemies of the Empire seemed like it would be questionable with how it was so much fluff to go with monsters, but the fluff is awesome.  I’m a huge fan of how it’s put together.  Emerald Empire (3e) constantly annoys me.  It annoys me because I hardly ever am able to find information that it should have in it.  It doesn’t help that people constantly rave about it and its scarcity makes it the most valued 3e book as the raving just reminds me of how useless I find it.  The 4e version is very similar, however I think it’s a much better book.  Information is presented in a more reader friendly way, and the mechanics are more interesting.  This version of EE is far more what 3e’s version should have been like.

Finally … The Great Clans


The aesthetics of 4e L5R books are fantastic.  The covers might be kind of dull in the images, but the colors are excellent.  The interior art always includes old art pieces, but that’s okay when there’s enough newer art, and a decent amount of the art is gorgeous.  The Great Clans doesn’t fail in keeping up the quality of the look of 4e books.


The structure is to have a chapter on each of the great clans (shocking!) with three appendices.  Within each clan section, we get fiction, clan history, additional family information, “heroes” with stats, import holdings, sections specific to features of the clans, and new mechanics.


I’m still reading the chapter opening fictions, but so far, I’m just not that excited.  My recollections are that my favorite fictions are from the “Way of …” books and that the “Masters of …” were better.  While not a major feature, L5R sells itself on coolness, or, at least, I sell it on coolness and it’s the only way I can imagine the CCG being so popular given how much I hate the CCG mechanics.

So, fiction should get someone pumped to play a character of the clan or, at least, get pumped about the setting.  Overall in L5R books, I do think the fiction gets me more interested in the setting than reading about what some clan’s role is in the Empire or what happened to what’s-his-name in year whatever.  Maybe, I’ll change my mind after reading some of the others, but the layout of the book actually doesn’t help the fictions stand out like the layouts of other books from various editions.

Clan History

The clan histories are limited, but there’s not much you can do when you have to cover a timespan across the entire official timeline.  It’s particularly interesting to read on what’s happening more recently in the official timeline since I knew next to nothing about the Iweko Dynasty and reading more on what the early centuries were like since there has always been so much focus on the Clan Wars and the 12th century.  Reasonable might be the best word I’m looking for to rate the information presented.


More family information is often welcome.  Sometimes, it gets hard to draw out why you would prefer playing one family than another thematically.  I often choose families based on mechanics and, then, fill in the flavor after the fact.

Harping on my belief that all PCs should be unique, PCs should never be stereotypes, yet if you don’t know much about a family, you may strike the wrong note in achieving non-stereotypeness.  Also, some families are more obscure.  Unicorn have a lot of families in the mainbook, I’ve been considering having my third HoR3 character be a Horiuchi, a family I don’t really know a whole lot about.  While bringing up certain key points in history for clans helps, knowing more about how the families fit in the clans is going to be more important to playing a character.


For someone like me, who has been getting up to speed on many aspects of the background, the heroes sections are the greatest value add.  There are a lot of names in L5R and a lot of references, but often, it’s all about one thing that someone did and not the full story.  Sure, plenty of supplements have posted notable individuals, but what sets this book apart is that it posts a large number of big names, not just major players, but the biggest players.

Ikoma.  Not some Ikoma who was very important or clan champion at some point or something, but Ikoma!  While providing statblocks for legends may have problems – “what, I have Iaijutsu 10, I could totally take this dude in a duel” – I quite like the statblocks for the big names just to get a rough sense of how the designers picture them in relation to each other.

Also, every character write-up also helps with understanding the history of Rokugan.  Fortunately, statblocks don’t have to take up a lot of space or be dense for this game, so there’s plenty of room for the character’s story.  It also seems to me that more was written about the characters after they achieved their major events than I’ve ever seen elsewhere.


I must admit I haven’t studied the “lands of the clans” sections much to this point.  I think it has something to do with being very heavily interested in particular provinces/locales because of the daimyo system in HoR3 and for fictions I write for HoR, so I focus on those regions of Rokugan most relevant to me.

Mentioning locales I’m not already familiar with and giving them far more detail than what may come out of an edition’s mainbook is welcome, even if I’m not that interested in some of the descriptions.  Eventually, a lot more of these locales will become relevant to me as I continue to tell stories in the L5R world.  It’s always nice to throw out some landmark in passing to remind people that there’s a lot of depth to the world.

Clan Idiosyncrasies

My favorites of these sections are “Courtly Romance: How to Have an Affair in Rokugan” and “Strangers in a Strange Land”.  But, whatever someone’s personal interests, these slice of life articles, which are the sort of thing you expect in Emerald Empire, are a major bonus since it’s so hard to grok Rokugan and its society.

Mantis = pirates.  But, what does that really mean?  Pacifistic Phoenix – how does that actually work in a warrior’s society?  I see these things often get mentioned, but having a great deal more depth makes them more relevant.  I don’t really see pacifistic Phoenix.  I see fire shugenja who nuke things and Shiba yojimbo who itch to duel.  I hear Mantis get called pirates, but most adventures aren’t near the sea, so it’s just an empty remark.  I don’t really care about siege weapons, but damn, those things can hurt.


To my understanding, it’s a truism in the industry that you need mechanics to sell books.  It’s interesting how few mechanics L5R books can get away with.  It’s also so much more pleasant to have books chock full of flavor with some mechanics rather than the painful D&D, d20, etc. supplements where it’s just endless numbers.

Still I care about mechanics, too.  I want to find the next weird path to take or advanced school to try to turbo into or obscure kata/advantage/whatever.  I’m not that excited by the new mechanics here.  There are enough of them, but I just don’t care about most of them.

Ancestors are a problem because they don’t apply to HoR, and I don’t like how they work, anyway.  Yes, some of the ancestors are quite cool to where I’d like to have them, but I find there to be a fundamental problem with how ancestors work in that they don’t seem all that special if ancestors are common and they don’t seem remotely special when someone else has the same ancestor.  I can see two characters in a party having ancestors and it still being cool.  Also, they are so weirdly costed that I’m sure there are balance problems, even ignoring the idea of losing one.

Having clan kata is a good idea as I find the mainbook kata just mindnumbing in terms of how dry they come across.  I’m not bothered by the “Strength of …” blandness, I just wish there were more clan kata.  Sure, it got dumb in 3e and kata tend to be either useless or broken, but it’s possible to have cool kata that aren’t either.

There is a path that is relevant to one of my HoR3 characters.  It’s hysterical because it would make my character strictly worse.  Not worse.  Strictly worse.  And, it’s not the book’s fault that my other character belongs to a minor clan school.  Actually, if this book had been out a lot earlier, he would have probably used one of the schools in this book.  But, there are just so few paths and schools that make me want to build particular characters.

Matsu Beastmaster, sure, but then, I think about how it won’t fit that well in a campaign with a lot of social stuff.  Lion stuff in general tends to interest me.  But, like, how come there are no new tattoos for Tattooed Monks?  That would have been way more useful to me, in theory, than Togashi Defender.

Why are the shugenja schools so odd?  It’s actually not that easy to be able to pick the element of magic you want to specialize in.  Maybe, that was true of earlier editions as well, and my aversion to shugenja caused me to miss it, but I feel like so many schools in 4e are weird, like how Tamori don’t interest me at all in 4e when they did a lot in 3e, that it feels incredibly constraining on playing the shugenja I might want to play.  Get more odd schools in this book rather than “different element focus” schools.  Now, of course, you can always be better at elements outside of your school’s specialty.


None of the appendices are of that much interest to me.  I hate the concept of the Spider Clan, and it’s never going to be relevant to me as a player.  Vassal families – I like having a list so that I know who they are since they will show up and it is something I could play, but this section is so much more “listy” than what I’m used to that it feels undeveloped.

Heritage tables are not something I play with, but I can see them being of interest to others who have home games where they want some randomness in character creation.  The main problem I have with them is not that they aren’t balanced – people complain about the Spider being so much better – but that they aren’t so varied as to appear to give uniqueness.  Random stuff that comes up often is just not distinctive.

Bottom Line

I think all of the 4e books are must haves.  It’s not a product line that has so many products that you can’t keep up or should have to worry about budget.  I certainly don’t feel nearly as inundated with supplements as I did with 3e, which might have just been not buying products when they were newer.

Great Clans is solid.  I don’t think it’s Enemies of the Empire in description (ironic for a “monster manual”).  I think it could use some additional mechanics.  But, I give credit to it for covering all of the major clans, something that was covered in earlier editions in single clan supplements and in three-clans-in-one supplements.  There’s nothing really wrong with anything it provides (since it’s required to include the absurd Spider Clan).  The heroes sections are a major plus.

I don’t know what system to use for RPG ratings, either.  Let’s say:

x Don’t bother if free.
* Don’t pay for.
** Look for if you must or buy at deep discount.
*** Worth buying.
**** Should have in collection if you play the game/genre.
***** Should have in collection if you don’t play the game/genre.

While kind of a strange way to measure things, since it will lump this book in with books I think are better, it rates ****.

The Most Boring Deck Possible

September 15, 2011

I’ve been thinking, on and off, for some time about how I’ve abandoned staple plays in V:TES.  Card cycling masters being the biggest offense, with squeezing blood management increasingly out being another that often comes to mind.

I crave variety, which is why CCGs suit me so well.  Sometimes, playing something I haven’t in quite some time is not “been there, done that” but “oh yeah, forgot about this”.

So, to get back to the old timey plays, it’s time to think boring, bland, mundane, and banal.

Step 1

Card cycling masters.  The Barrens, Dreams, Fragment of the Book of Nod.  Actually, the last is not something I’ve ever played heavily, so that might be too novel a move.  Have to consider.

Step 2

Blood management masters.  I got into the habit of running five Blood Dolls in 80 card decks.  Got to make sure I can hunt + Blood Doll every turn for maximum tedium.  So, six Blood Dolls.

This leaves around 7-9 master slots.  Information Highway is fine, but I still play this card all of the time, so it’s kind of not that retro.  On the other hand, it’s definitely boring.  I envision a hunting ground for classicness.  I guess I need to know what the rest of the deck does before figuring out the rest of the masters.  I might take slots on clan cards.

Step 3

Bleed bounce.  Once upon a time, it was six of this and six wakes minimum.  I moved to eight of each minimum in theory but not necessarily in practice.  Let’s go with seven of each and adjust later.  There are only two choices – Deflection and Telepathic Misdirection.  Deflection means the most overseen discipline in the game, which sounds more boring.

If the goal was to go retro, it would be seven Wakes.  But, the goal is to be as boring as possible, instead, and On the Qui Vive is just a better card.  Fourteen slots on wake + bounce.  Assuming 16 masters, that leaves 50 slots for other cards.

Step 4

Dominate.  I actually play Govern rarely and Conditioning much more rarely than I used to.  So, both of these should show up.  Six of each sounds like a reasonable starting point.  Bonding is something I mostly left behind, so maybe four of those, too.  Down to 34 non-master slots (or I could change the deck size).

Dominate Kine Dominance is not a terribly boring card(s).  What other boring Dominate plays are there?

Step 5

Stealth?  Dominate + stealth is boring.  Dominate + Obfuscate is particularly boring.  But, the point is to remember cards I’ve abandoned and I play Obfuscate all of the time.  Fortitude is not a serious contender either as the point is to remember good cards I played all of the time that I’ve forgotten.

If anything, of old school cards, Majesty would be most forgotten, even if I still play it.  Since combat is so new age, seems like avoiding it rather than trying to fit it in makes sense.  Ten Majestys?  Seems like a lot.  But, I remember when I used to play a bunch of these, though they were free back in the day.

Seems like I’m in Ventrueland.  If I’m in Ventrueland, what can I do with my last 24 slots?

Step 6

Voting and bleeding?  In the same deck?  How varied.  How complicated.  I need to have boring things to do and voting is just too varied.  Since I’m covered on bleed defense and I don’t care about defense against anything else, I need blood gain so that I can Blood Doll off and pay for my Majestys and Conditionings.

Hunting is something I need to get back to.  I’ve made my living off of hunting.  Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch, oh, and I hunt.  Aaron’s Feeding Razor is a way to go but not what I think of as a good card, more a specialized card.  If I were Sabbat, The Hungry Coyote would help.  But, some of the value in hunting is when you don’t leverage it and it’s just a time wasting action, so maybe not helping hunting is the proper boring way to go.

I’m either going to get blocked or I’m not.  Without stealth, it’s just a match up game.  If I don’t, I hunt or bleed for six or whatever.  What did I used to do about getting blocked?  Majesty is there, but what else?  Threatening combat only works when you have a combat discipline (faking a combat discipline is not nearly boring enough).  Vicissitude was good for this back in the day when people ignored that Vicissitude is really a stealth bleed discipline.  The beauty of Vicissitude now (and for many years) is that it synergizes so well with Majesty – Inner Essence + Majesty is free combat ends, maybe blood gain, maybe untap.

Fortitude would give Restoration, which I’ve come to believe an underrated card and which doesn’t require doing weird things with getting Vicissitude.  Prima Facie, Restoration, probably with some Freak Drives, seems more boring, but Restoration isn’t a forgotten card to me so much as one I’m only starting to embrace.  It also works against hunting.  On the other hand, Inner Essence isn’t so much forgotten, either.

If anything, cards like Cooler are forgotten.  Nothing intrinsically wrong with Cooler, just not a card I was ever that excited by.  Another card that works against hunting, but at least, I can Cooler and, then, hunt later.

Step 7

Other equipment.  There are so many pieces of equipment that I forget.  In fact, I can’t think of them all off the top of my head because there are so many.  Tend to forget Changeling Skin Mask (even if I play it way more than others), etc.  I still play .44s frequently, so they aren’t forgotten, even if they are boring.  Leather Jacket is a more forgettable card that is also fairly boring.

However, between Governs, Coolers, and hunting, I’m running into action overload.  So, maybe I can’t justify more equipment.  If I go with four Coolers, I have 20 slots left.  I’m good on bleed action modifiers but lacking elsewhere.  I’m low on reactions.  I’m lacking allies and retainers, though they take more actions.

Mr. Winthrop is a card I’ve begun to forget about.  Add in some Sport Bikes and Repo Man (which is not a forgettable card at all to me but seems like a card that most other people never think about for some reason) and I have casual intercept, which is a nice boring, tend to forget about thing to do.  Repo Man theoretically saves some equip actions on the Bikes.  If I double on Repo Man, that’s like seven slots.  Could even The Summoning him into play for tech and for remembering the underused The Summoning.  This leads to wanting to have another ally target.  Carlton is another card I’ve gotten away from because it has been boring to just throw him into every deck.  Two The Summonings and a Carlton puts me at 10 slots left.

Now, I really am choking on actions, so six Freak Drives.  The Kiss of Ra is something I sometimes forget about that can be annoying.  Change of Target I forget about for weird decks where I think it’s worth playing.  This isn’t a weird deck.

Step 8

What am I forgetting about?  Direct Intervention is something I have moved away from playing, so it’s a natural inclusion in my master section that hasn’t been filled out yet.  Sudden/Wash aren’t nearly as boring, so screw them.  Maybe The Coven, which I’ve played recently, but which I tend to forget about given Lilith’s Blessing, Life in the City, et al.

There’s just something I know I’m missing from old school sets.  Something important.

Anyway, Ventrue Headquarters is strong, but I’m not voting, so I don’t really care one way or the other.  I don’t know what my crypt looks like, so I might already have a bunch of votes, anyway.  Maybe, I need more Majestys to make sure I am protected in combat and to untap reliably.  Still, somehow, I feel like I’m going to end up five cards short.

Step 9

75 or 80?  Do I build to 75, knowing that decking is likely not going to happen or do I seek out more forgotten plays to fill out to 80?

When I have a chance, I’ll rummage through FELDB and try to figure it out.  In the meantime, one might wonder what the value of this post was.

“Sure, it’s one of the best cards in the game, but it’s so boring …”

How Many Wonders?

September 14, 2011

I didn’t realize until after the weekend that my weekend (don’t normally include Fridays but an exception here) went:  Friday, RPG; Saturday, CCG; Sunday, boardgames.

We only played two different boardgames Sunday – Scepter of Zavandor, 7 Wonders.

Scepter was a waste for me as I got Kobold and played my default strategy of maximizing early income with Opal #3 and Sapphires.  I got such a jump on the other players that my endgame production was over 100 and I won by around 17 VPs; I even had so much money to burn that I picked up the Spellbook in the late game and upgraded all my Opals to Emeralds.  Kobold suits this style of play just too easily.  While I’m not obsessed with getting the correct Druid strategy, I still want to try strategy variations.  I don’t know how many are left outside of Druid, though.  I finally played dust dude in a previous session and it was easy to do what I wanted even if it felt different.

The far more interesting thing was playing games of 7 Wonders.  I had played once, at DunDraCon for those who didn’t know.  It was seven players and I won, so I was prepared to retire my 7 Wonders career as supreme victor, having no strong feeling toward the game to where I felt a compulsion to ever play it again.  After Sunday, however, it’s going to be a staple.

I still don’t feel that strongly about it.  I actually find the cards rather lacking in variety.  But, there’s nothing wrong with it, and there’s tons of analysis that can be done.  I read through a number of strategy threads, though too many of the games people play are three-player.

A side note:  At one point, someone compared it to Race for the Galaxy.  The primary reason for doing so was that one of my friends hates Race and likes 7 Wonders.  He tried to argue that they weren’t at all alike, but after various people pointed out analogous mechanics, the rest of us pretty much agreed that they are very similar.  Now, Race is one of my favorite “boardgames” because I like the variety of cards even if my strategies tend to be repetitive.  The reason why he hates it is that he feels like he gets screwed by random opening hands all of the time, whereas I never feel screwed in the game, just playing what I can.  Though, the people I play with explore way too much which allows me to get cards to get out of bad hands.

Anyway, back to 7 Wonders.  I’m not really into these games to the level where I’d memorize what Wonder produces what to go with what cards require what.  We aren’t talking about CCGs here where there’s enough ability to bring one’s own personality into the game that thinking hard about a game has a payoff.  I do realize that there’s a huge jump in play skill by memorizing all of the possibilities and that the game is very different when played by players who know how to play the game optimally.  Just as Scepter is a different game when players play optimally, or anything else.  It’s just that there’s little value to achieving expertise in a boardgame when your opponents aren’t interested in doing so.

So, I lost in my second game.  And, lost badly in another game.  Finally, around game four or five, I started doing better.  I think it’s because of the shift in military.  In the early games, the players on either side of me went hard on military, so I abandoned it.  When they started getting bored with that, I picked up military.  The most “we don’t really know what we are doing yet” game was when I had 56 VPs and 50 were from Science.  That game had a three-way tie (all of the games were four-player).

What do I think of the game?

I’d say the card pool is rather dull.  Yes, there are advantages to this, as it enables people to dissect the game to figure out optimal plays, but, then, I’m not really into that.  I’m a romantic chess player, not a mechanic.  On the other hand, there are 14 different possibilities of Wonder boards and a great deal more possibilities of interactions between them based on who plays what, who is next to you (or anywhere if you want to get superadvanced), and how many players there are.  So, there’s a lot of room for trying to understand different positions.

It’s fast.  It’s harmless – by which I mean that it doesn’t lend itself to griefing other players or being in positions of annoyance even when you know you are going to lose.  Drafting is interesting and I’m sure going to be a big mechanic in “boardgames” for a while.  There might be some paralysis by analysis, but it isn’t even as bad as say the endgame of Scepter where you are trying to optimize.

I don’t have a rating system for “boardgames”, so maybe I should come up with one.  The tricky part is that a game might be really good, but I might have no interest in playing it, like Puerto Rico, because of how limited boardgames are in comparison to CCGs.  So, do I rate how much I want to play a game or how good I think the game is or both?  Do I use a “most things are average” system of rating or a balanced system?

Let’s say I use a 1-5 system with 3 being average, 1 being suck, and 5 being beyond good.  From a quality perspective 7 Wonders is 4 or 5.  From a want to play perspective, 4.  I’d much rather play it than play a lot of other things.  I think I’d pretty quickly rather play it than play more Phoenicia or Stone Age or Glen More, which are all games I’d rather play at the moment, once I get a game or two more of these in.  Since it is so similar to Race, it’s not much of a surprise that it beats out a lot of other games (like Scepter).  On the other hand, it’s hard to rate anything a want to play 5, since I’d rather play RPGs or CCGs.


September 11, 2011

How does one prove deck quality in V:TES?

By winning?  But, say you play six tournaments and win once.  Is the deck that plays one tournament and wins better?

The problem is solved in CCGs where vast quantities of tournaments are played to where you (generally) overcome small sample size problems.  Not many CCGs have the volume.

Maybe in a six-month span, V:TES generates enough events that at least a few things can be determined.  Imbued were obviously broken – take a look at results here from March 2007 through the end of the year.  As a percentage of wins and in terms of quality of wins (based on tournament size), Imbued dominated.

Or, did they?  If I were to pinpoint the most overlooked factor in determining what is good and what isn’t in V:TES, it would be looking at what lost.  Unfortunately, we really have no idea what loses.  Where Magic can support a system where every matchup in a tournament is recorded, we don’t have a list of all of the table results for every tournament or, pretty much, even a single tournament in most cases.

Personal results should be meaningless.  Nevermind that those who play in 30, 40, 50, 75, 100 player tournaments have experiences I’ve had less than a handful of times.  My entire tournament career is a small sample size with huge biases in player skill and player interests.  Though, I will point out, as an arguing point, that I’ve lost every tournament I’ve ever played where I was running weenie Dominate to go with all of the “I’ve won every tournament I’ve ever played playing …[junk]…” statements.

Revisiting the issue of whether it’s possible to determine or credit deck quality in this game comes, unsurprisingly, right after we had a tournament.  It’s quite amusing.  We’ve had what I consider the most successful tournament season in the region ever in the past month or so.  Sure, storyline seasons saw more total participants, but from a competitive standpoint, we’ve had better than a qualifier weekend’s worth of events spread out to a degree that shows some stability.

Anyway, here is a deck I did not play:

Russian ECQ
Moscow, Russia
September 3, 2011
12 players
3R + F

Konstantin Prischepa’s Tournament Winning Deck

Crypt (12 cards; Capacity min=3 max=6 avg=4.5)
2x Angela Preston            5 for PRE MEL     Daughter of Cacophony:2
2x Céleste, The Voice of a Secret 3 pre mel         Daughter of Cacophony:2
2x Delilah Monroe            4 for pre MEL     Daughter of Cacophony:2
2x Gaël Pilet                6 chi pre FOR MEL     Daughter of Cacophony:2
2x Muse                3 ani for mel     Daughter of Cacophony:2
2x Yseult                6 FOR MEL PRE     Daughter of Cacophony:3

Library (78 cards)
Master (10)
1x Command Performance
1x Dreams of the Sphinx
1x Elder Library
1x Fear of Mekhet
4x Hanging Fermata
1x Paris Opera House
1x Protected Resources

Action (33)
18x Choir
4x Concert Tour
6x Enchant Kindred
5x Harmony

Ally (6)
6x Member of the Entourage

Action Modifier (18)
4x Freak Drive
8x Missing Voice, The
2x Phantom Speaker
4x Virtuosa

Combat (11)
4x Majesty
4x Skin of Steel
3x Soak

The relevance of this deck should become clearer by posting the deck I did play.  Ta da:

Deck Name:   110910  Harm-on-ye v2
Created By:  Angela Preston

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 4, Max: 23, Avg: 3.5)
4  Anarch Convert                     none           1  Caitiff
2  Angela Preston                     for MEL PRE    5  Daughters of Cacophony
1  Celeste                            mel pre        3  Daughters of Cacophony
1  Delilah Monroe                     for MEL pre    4  Daughters of Cacophony
1  Gael Pilet                         chi FOR MEL pre6  Daughters of Cacophony
1  Muse                               ani for mel    3  Daughters of Cacophony
2  Yseult                             FOR MEL PRE    6  Daughters of Cacophony

Library: (80 cards)
Master (14 cards)
1  Bastille Opera House
1  Command Performance
1  Conductor
1  Coven, The
1  Failsafe
1  Hanging Fermata
3  Life in the City
1  Paris Opera House
4  Wider View

Action (14 cards)
10 Choir
4  Harmony

Action Modifier (32 cards)
4  Bribes
4  Echo of Harmonies
10 Freak Drive
5  Missing Voice, The
4  Siren`s Lure
1  Virtuosa
4  Voter Captivation

Political Action (9 cards)
7  Consanguineous Boon
1  Free States Rant
1  Lily Prelude

Combat (7 cards)
2  Majesty
2  Soak
1  Toreador`s Bane
2  Zip Gun

Combo (4 cards)
4  Madrigal

Is one deck better than the other?  I have no frickin’ clue.  It’s easy to say that one deck won and my deck wasn’t that deck.  In fact, I gained .5 VPs over two rounds.  One could read the tournament report from the Russian event like I did (to the extent that I could have the page translated to English), but I’m still not at all clear how the first deck was so successful beside that it didn’t have either of the stealth bleed decks behind it in the finals.

It could easily be that Konstantin is a better player than I am.  Going off on a tangent, I’ve noticed that I come away from tournaments feeling like I haven’t played much, that I don’t have much to talk about.  I realized that a likely reason for this is that I used to be in finals frequently and there’s no guarantee that I’ll be playing pickup games when the finals of events are occurring these days.

My deck … before I attempt some analysis, I’d note that I took a deck I wrote up almost exactly a year ago – 9/12/10 – and modified it some after goldfishing it once and realizing a lot of vote action modifiers aren’t a good idea when you don’t draw any votes.  Plus, I cut it from 90 to 80.

My deck is not the sort of deck I like to play.  For me, it’s awfully high risk and inflexible.  For a whole lot of other people, this might seem hilarious as it’s way less high risk and way more flexible than most Choir decks.  I could play Konstantin’s deck, but I could never build Konstantin’s deck.

I’ve played maybe four or so different Choir builds.  The general problem of Daughters being unable to defend themselves against pool loss, only made worse when you are forced to fill your deck with awful cards like Choir, is one I’m constantly trying to address.  Based on yesterday’s results, I’m tired of using vote bloat.  People do not respect the fact that you must bloat in decks like this or you will be easily ousted.  It’s also rather boring to Con Boon over and over again.  What was interesting was that I lowballed Choirs so much in my final build that I wasn’t bored with Choir for the first time ever.  I actually hoped to draw Choirs and was entertained when I played them.

Besides dropping the vote angle and likely going with Forestal bounce, I would not run the Anarch Converts as Wider View makes them redundant and Wider View is filtering with pool gain while Convert is filtering with pool loss.  Sure, I dodge Anarch Revolts, but that’s not a major problem these days, and I don’t really have the combat defense to survive anarch removal attempts, anyway.

Removing the vote angle so changes the deck that it’s not that clear how it would look or what sort of vote defense plays I’d consider.  One thing I have to consider is how much evasion to run.  I keep ending up discarding Siren’s Lure and The Missing Voice even though they are tactically crucial.  As I say to people, getting actions through with Daughters is easy, but at what cost of jamming on evasion?  Of course, all problems are solved with Dreams and The Barrens, which may be another reason my game has fallen off, though …

Getting back to the problems of determining deck quality, player skill has a huge impact on results.  Even if you believe deck strength is more important than I do, I believe it’s an easier argument that player skill affects results than deck quality.  Which brings me to my skill.  As I said, I was in finals far more back in the day.  What can that be attributed to?  Smaller events might have something to do with that.  Only need about 2 VPs to get into the finals of a 10-12 player event.  But, recent discussion about how I don’t deal or don’t try to really talk at all to improve my positions in games leads me to believe that my skill has fallen off significantly because I no longer try (to a meaningful degree) to influence games in my favor with politics or table talk.

Sure, the less table politics influence play, the more deck strength will.  My argument on the irrelevancy of deck strength, assuming a minimum threshold of viability, is because any game can be talked to victory, overriding the power of card play.  It’s not because deck strength is meaningless in a vacuum.

Anyway, here’s how my day went:

Round 1:

Rodney (Dementation bleed) -> Ian (Harm-On-Ye) -> Steve (Imbued) -> Brandyn (Aching Beauty)

Steve’s V:TES goal seems to be to destroy vampires and put lots of cards in play.  Rodney was amazingly ineffectual, though his position wasn’t that bad, so at least I didn’t have a lot to worry about from that side.  On the other, though, I didn’t realize until too late that Steve never intended on trying to win and simply wanted to beat up vampires, starting with mine.

I quickly learned that my deck chokes on voting.  Not terribly bad in some respects because stealth bleed behind me can only be survived with my votes, but it meant I got off to a slow start.  Normally, that would be fine and I’d just wait to lunge, but Steve wanted my guys dead even when all I was doing was gaining pool and was perfectly willing to let Brandyn do whatever he wanted, so I was in the mindframe to play for 1 VP anyway.  By the way, 16 player tournament meant all four-player tables and a decent chance of needing a GW to make the finals.

I ended up with four vampires in torpor, but I didn’t feel like I was going to get ousted before time was called, leaving Rodney as the only one to fall.  I also thought I had a reasonable chance of ousting my prey if he “tapped out” (he had Vigilances) by taking the leave torpor action with Delilah with three blood, untapping with Command Performance, gaining blood with magic, Freak Driving for Choir and Harmony.  Might have taken two turns as I had two Life in the City in hand and earlier had played The Coven without using it, though it went when Rodney went.

Did the game bother me?  Not really.  A lot of things did make some sense.  Steve beating down my vampires made some sense.  Brandyn never rescuing made sense.  Rodney going forward made sense.  The game was fairly pointless, but I did stuff and had chances.  You can’t legislate against bad play and whose bad play was really at fault?  Could argue that I let things happen by not pointing out that Brandyn was free to do what he wanted until so late that the game was going to time out.

Round 2:

Joel (Clown Car) -> Sean (Lasombra bleed) -> Ian -> Gerentt (Newjah)

I never tried blocking the Lasombra bleeds.  Talley Govern.  Gratiano.  Guess I’ll just keep Con Booning and playing Bribes/Voter Cap.  I did call one for Abominations to make sure I could cycle a Cap.  I choked horribly on my bloat early, even discarding one of the three Con Boons in my opening hand.  That was okay, I ended up calling seven or eight with Echo of Harmonies help.

I thought it was hilarious that both my prey and my predator talked about my being able to just “Choir my prey out”.  One turn, I played a Choir that got blocked – it was the only one in hand – and ended up bleeding for as much damage as I could have done if I had gotten Choirs through.  Another turn, I Choired for a mighty 2 pool damage.  Late in the game I Harmonyed for 3.  I can take solace in the fear I generate when I’m being completely ineffectual.  Gerentt didn’t even bother bringing out a third vampire because I was such a threat.  Joel got Sean just in time to prevent my being ousted on Sean’s turn.  Didn’t really matter.  I misplayed by bringing out an Anarch Convert rather than blowing a Wider View because I forgot all of the Tumnimoses had superior Chimerstry and it was easy to stealth by this “key” blocker.  Eventually, Joel swept.


Rather than go into too much detail, I’ll simply say that Shattering the Gates is pretty easy when no one cares if you get counters.  I fell a Sense the Sin short of ousting my prey which would have meant two VPs and 12 precious pool, and, then, I died never bringing out anyone besides merged Nergal.  Failsafe getting Suddened by my predator may or may not have mattered, but it was funny how important it is to the South Bay group that I not be allowed to play Failsafes.

Good times, but I should probably either get more pickups in or try to get into the finals to have more to talk about after tournaments.