Medley

November 21, 2012

Ideas for posts come and go.  I had a couple of ideas in mind and, then, got distracted with other stuff.  So, I think I’ll just throw out some miscellaneous observations.

V:TES

We played V:TES Sunday.  We are still having issues with attendance, which leads to some unusual features of the environment.  As I don’t want to metagame for an environment I hope isn’t the norm, I don’t think there’s much point to analyzing it.

A few amusing things happened.  In one game, my Pieter Bum’s Rushed Hektor with Uncontrollable Rage to stop the Hektor Amaranthing menace.  Hektor tried to run away like a wuss, but Pieter was doubly Swallowed by the Night to make sure they both went to torpor.  Hesha finally ate Hektor, which later allowed Wren to hunt with Vulture’s Buffet.  Hesha Ruhadze, the 9 cap !Gangrel with PRO, Rumbled Miguel Santo Domingo later with Uncontrollable Rage to make the fight-poor !Brujah have no game left.

Which is better – Haqim’s Law: Leadership or Art Scam?  Apparently, weenie Presence vote is better in a fast game, as it beat both.

Still on the subject of V:TES or, at least, CCGs, Brad commented on my last post with how planning is work, which got me thinking about how much work CCGs are for me.  Playtesting was work.  Demoing was work.  Organizing events was work, though running a tournament wasn’t, boring as hell if I wasn’t playing in the tournament but rather trivial in terms of effort required.  Art requests were work.  But, normal play stuff?  The closest would be pulling cards, which I see more as a chore than work.  What’s the point?  The point is that I don’t see things like building decks or driving to get together with others or any of the normal stuff that goes into playing a CCG to be work.  So, when people complain about how hard deckbuilding is or whatever, I just can’t empathize or sympathize – deckbuilding is what players should want to be doing.

Some are already aware that there is a marketing survey for V:TES up at vekn.net.  I found it interesting how oriented questions were towards the idea that all cards would be purchasable at a flat cost.  A subject I’ve begun to speak to in another thread on the forums but one which there should be more to write about.

RPGs

I had a number of thoughts from the discussion Brad and I had in the comments of Panama!, but my mental clarity on that has dissipated.  Possible ideas to flesh out include:  randomness in resolution systems; random encounters, good or bad or something else?; what structure matters?; the organization of campaigns; the organization of parties; dissonance with expectations; how rewards should work for various groups.

For instance, last night we discussed what RPG stuff to do on Tuesday nights through the end of the year and what to do when HoR3 mods ran out next year.  Having been in many, many discussions about what to play, it’s always so interesting how different folks have different priorities.  While some folks were focused on game system and others the genre, I was far more concerned with the nature of the sort of adventures that would be had within the genre/subgenre.  We eventually decided to play Star Wars.  There was some concern over which edition of the RPG.  Eventually decided the new, FFG one.

The curious thing is that the mini-campaign we have worked out has little to do with Star Wars.  The system doesn’t have rules to cover Jedi, so you only can have Jedi wannabes and, even then, it’s not feasible with starting character creation points.  Okay, there are many genres that have problems because what they are based on and what makes for a plausible game aren’t the same thing, whether it’s Melniboneans in Stormbringer/Elric, immortals in Highlander, Time Lords in Dr. Who, Jedi in Star Wars, or whatever where some characters are more special than others.  But, the new game’s thrust is playing on the fringe of the galaxy, playing traders or smugglers or bounty hunters or other businessfolk much more like Firefly in that respect but also much more like Firefly in that it so very much isn’t space opera in tone.  Star Wars is very clearly about black and white morality and the like.  Doesn’t make much difference to me, but calling something a rose doesn’t make it a rose.

Boardgames

I have some boardgames to “master” as it’s what I’ll be running at the convention in February.  I’ll probably generate some ideas on what makes for better or worse (or more fun or less fun for me, at any rate) boardgame mechanics.  And, do the thematics matter?  I find some funny, like the idea that the path to having a nice quiet palace is through breweries (guess the game?).


Panama!

November 16, 2012

Was talking to one of my GMs when the topic of PC planning came up.  As I’ve been on a kick recently of trying to understand what it is RPG players really want versus what they may appear to want, following up on this seemed important.

If I were to make a list of the things players, collectively, are worst at in my RPG play, coming up with plans and executing them would be near or at the top.  To me, this has been understandable for one reason – playing games is often a release or an escape from the drudgery of real life.  No matter how good someone may be at planning when it comes to work or finances or whatever, that person may just want to put that skill aside.  Then, planning means making decisions and may mean taking responsibility for decisions – I can easily see why someone would rather have an experience that is more entertainment than it is responsibility.  Players often just want to be entertained, so having things happen to them rather than being proactive is just fine and, possibly, preferred.

But, another reason may be at work, consciously or unconsciously.  What reward does a player feel when a brilliant plan is enacted?  What I’m getting at is that the better one plans in real life, the less challenging life is supposed to be, but games aren’t terribly rewarding without challenges.  One could say that the challenge is in the planning phase rather than the execution phase, but I don’t think the two phases have equivalent value to players.

Take a look at stories, whether books, movies, TV, whatever.  Don’t things go wrong in the protagonists’ plans?  Isn’t that what makes the scenes exciting?  Cut a hole in the roof of the museum, drop down on a line to get past pressure plate sensors, grab priceless jewel, … escape with none the wiser until the next morning?!?  Hardly.  Have to drop something and set off the alarms and then run across the rooftops being chased by dudes with guns.

It may be interesting to have a RPG session’s primary challenge be coming up with a plan that bypasses physical challenges – guards, traps, etc.  But, satisfying?  I find that the people I play with, myself included, like to roll dice (or the like*).  They want to feel like an adventure is happening, not an exercise.  I’ve posted before about what I value out of RPG play.  Doing things that don’t happen in real life should be at the top of everyone’s lists, otherwise, could just play the game of real life.

*  A topic for another time on how systems that try to get away from random resolution can be unsatisfying, perhaps.

But, one might say, some people love to scheme.  Isn’t scheming planning?  First of all, I find that schemers are relatively rare.  Second, when I scheme, I know I find it utterly unsatisfying when there’s no challenge to it.  Who cares if you manipulate everyone if manipulating everyone is easy?

But, wait.  I need to modify that.  I brought this up previously – I think players enjoy challenges that they think are challenging but that really aren’t nearly as challenging as they appear.  Being behind the GM screen often for HoR play in the last couple of years, I’ve found that challenges that seem fair and balanced as a GM are brutal to parties.  Just think about the numbers.  If a combat is a 60% chance of a win for the party, what’s the other 40%?  TPK (total party kill)?  One third of the party dead?  One PC dead?

As a player, I like feeling in danger.  Actually, another of my GMs has said as much – that a lack of feeling of danger makes for a poor experience.  Though, “danger” to me can mean a variety of things beyond just danger of dying.  The ideal combat, it is easier to see these things with combat, is one where the party feels like they were one die roll or resource expenditure away from being wiped … yet where nobody dies, gets maimed, or really loses much in the way of permanent resources at all.

That’s tricky to achieve.  Unless.  Unless, as a GM, you are good at fooling players.  Now, I don’t know that being good at fooling players is all that difficult.  In hindsight, I have realized that I’ve been fooled on many occasions, that a lot of experiences that were fun because they seemed challenging really weren’t as challenging as they felt at the time.  The “laziness” that players embrace that causes them to avoid planning may be the same “laziness” that affects perceiving the truth about the difficulty in a game.  That last sentence was awkward and confusing.  What I’m trying to say is the refrain that being entertained is often what a player wants rather than being challenged and this manifests in not looking too closely behind the curtain when it comes to challenges their characters face.

So, back to planning.  There are plenty of asymmetries in RPGs.  A common one, for example, is how certain classes (or equivalent) are only suitable for NPCs.  With plans, a bad plan may give the GM an opportunity to make the PCs’ lives a bit more difficult, but a good plan should not make the PCs’ lives any easier.  Well, to a degree.  A player and a PC are not the same thing.  Within the story being told, a better player plan can make better things happen to a PC, yet whether a player comes up with a good plan, an okay plan, or a bad plan should still lead to the same level of feeling of challenge, the same level of feeling of excitement.

For instance, let’s say that bad guy has kidnapped hottie and taken hottie to fortress of doom.  PCs are supposed to plan the penetration of the fortress to succor the hottie.  Suppose the plan is brilliant.  Get in, get hottie out, … zzz … boring.  To make the session interesting, at least for groups I’m used to, need to at least have the whole fortress pursue the party home.  Or, maybe there’s a complication during the rescue that forces the party to do something more difficult, like free additional prisoners or go to another locale after the rescue where monsters abound or liberate the hottie *and* turn around and challenge the bad guy to a duel once outside because the bad guy needs punishing.

Another way in which dungeon crawl RPGs, which nowadays I often term videogame role-playing due to how well videogames reflect how games like D&D have often been played, have worked well at being satisfying is that they can naturally balance challenges.  You have a dungeon.  Because there’s hardly any role-playing in the roll-playing in this example, the party pretty much just cares about becoming wealthier and more powerful.  That the dungeon may be infested with evil is just hand waving for why the party is good rather than entirely mercenary.  The party goes as long as it thinks that it can profit from another encounter.  If the first orc sentries kill half the party, it’s time to go back home and maybe resurrect some PCs (more likely, roll up new ones if the encounter was “only” orcs).  If the orc sentries all get taken out by one Sleep spell, then orc barracks.  Fight, fight, fight … orcs dead, “Got any healing potions left?  Two.”  Orc shaman and his bodyguards.  Nuke them?  Ogre master.  Nuke him, still have a couple of Fireballs left?  Trolls out back that have bunch of treasure from adventurers they’ve taken out.

While I’m increasingly coming to respect dice resolution and combat, I’m still mostly about there being a satisfying story.  If the story is “We worked out how to abuse some spells to get the Treasure Sword from the Evilmen.”, it’s no more satisfying then “We came across The Ender of Life and Bork the Barbarian crit nuked it on the first round.”  The mechanics party will want to continue on when challenges aren’t challenging because the game is about profit.  The story party will want to continue on because challenging challenges make for better stories.  As much as wish fulfillment might be part of playing RPGs, the journey of a thousand harems should have a few exciting steps.

I think I rambled there.  The point being that a good plan is actually unproductive.  The GM can reward the players in some way, I personally think more XP or the like is a terrible way while story rewards of having more groupies or the like is vastly better, but the level of challenge should not decrease just because the party was smarter.

Similarly, a bad plan should not suddenly make it likely for PCs to die, as tempting as it is to punish stupidity.  Again, in my experience, people play RPGs to escape, so there’s no desire to be smart; the desire is to have exciting adventures.  That’s one.  Two, if it’s reasonable to adapt to party brilliance by coming up with new challenges, then it’s also reasonable to adapt to party stupidity (which, btw, is the norm) by not having additional challenges or, even, bail** the party out when it gets in over its head.

**  This is trickier because it’s incredibly unsatisfying to be bailed out, even in cases where the situation isn’t fair to the PCs.  There are cases when TPK is actually preferable because any sense of punishment for failure is gone.

Now, because failure should be punished as, otherwise, there’s not really a reward for success, there should be some consequence to plans going awry.  An interesting question is whether the punishment should be based only on the execution of the plan or on the planning.  That is, it’s not unusual for poor planning to end up with success due to favorable die rolls or for a better plan to have poorer results than an inferior plan because of random factors.

As a GM, should I care about the planning or the execution of the plan?  Especially given that a good plan was going to be compensated for, anyway, by having additional challenges crop up, what is the system for adjudicating the results of the execution of a plan?

Actually, as a GM, knowing how it feels to be a player, I’m in favor of taking planning out of the hands of the players.  Planning just tends to bog things down for little gain due to the above.  On the other hand, don’t want the feeling that players are railroaded into always taking the same actions, either, even though I think most players are perfectly fine with being railroaded – valuing the resolution of scenes more than having the freedom to make consequential decisions.

Of course, there’s also the belief that plans are of little import.  What really matters is having contingencies.  If I find planning to be poor, I find contingency planning to be scarce.


L5R Combat Guide

November 12, 2012

May not be the final product, but I don’t like holding on to material when the main concern is polish.

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition
Combat Strategy & Tactics Guide

Threat Assessment
“… 1500 Lost, 100 Ogres, two dozen oni …”

Any combat plan should take into account the relative threat values of each opponent.  For instance, a common enough situation is for there to be one enemy spellcaster – maho-tsukai, Soultwister, whatever – and a number of lesser* threats.  Kill the Soultwister (spellcaster) first.

*  Lesser may still be serious threats, like oni or Tsuno Ravagers, but they still don’t compare to “I cast a spell that you can’t defend against that takes you out of combat.”

One element of threat assessment is paying attention to the Initiative Order.  If all of the enemies are the same and one goes much earlier than the others, it can be worth moving up in Initiative to remove the faster threat before it can impact slower party members.

Void Points
“… I Void off 10.  Uh, the second attack kills me. …”

What is the worst use of a Void Point in combat?  Typically, to increase an attack roll by 1k1.

What is the most common use of a Void Point in combat?  Reducing damage by 10.

What is the second worst use of a Void Point in combat?  Typically, reducing damage by 10.

Couple alternatives that are often superior for winning combats:

Fourth Edition is an edition of the game where one is not guaranteed to hit with melee attacks.  While it may seem wasteful to spend a VP at the beginning of a round to increase one’s ATN by 10, the math is often better for it than for reducing damage.  As with all things, it’s situation dependent.  If there is only one enemy, say an ogre, that the party is ganging up on, the chances of it attacking a specific PC may be low.  On the other hand, when the antagonists outnumber the protagonists, it’s common to have multiple attacks come in.  Also, a high ATN PC may question the value of going even higher, or a low ATN PC may just assume being hit anyway with the difference in ATN not mattering as the enemy will not call Raises or have any ability that triggers off of how much the enemy hits by.

Initiative is not the end all and be all of combat.  Initiative Order, however, is exceedingly important.  Whether it’s having a PC go before a major threat, having a PC spellcaster fire off an area of effect attack or a combat control spell, or having PCs manipulate Initiative Order to coordinate more devastating attacks, there can be crucial uses of a Void Point to either increase Initiative by 10 for the remainder of the skirmish or to have one of two PCs spend a Void Point to swap Initiative Scores (until end of skirmish).

Initiative
“… Anyone doing anything weird?  No?  Maho-tsukai casts a spell.  You all die. …”

“Initiative is not the end all and be all of combat.  Initiative Order, however, is exceedingly important.” – the words of a genius.

Some examples of manipulating Initiative Order to make combats less painful:

A Kakita Bushi PC and a Isawa Shugenja PC encounter a maho-tsukai that is out of melee range.  The bushi does not have a bow ready; the Isawa is an expert immolator of enemies.  The PCs know that this maho-tsukai or maho-tsukai in general can cast spells that will take PCs out of combat.  The Kakita gets the highest Initiative, the Isawa the lowest.  One of the two should spend a Void Point to swap Initiative to have the Isawa immolate the maho-tsukai, hoping to at least inflict wound penalties.

A fight between multiple PCs and multiple enemies has dragged on for several rounds and there are casualties on both sides.  One of the big hitters for the PCs goes after a hitter for the antagonists.  A Void Point spent to increase Initiative by 10 or to swap Initiative will allow the PC to strike first, hopefully putting an end to the threat before the threat can put an end to a PC.

Hida Knockydown and Suzume Slowbeyondwords are fighting Ronin Reallyhardtohit.  Hida goes first, followed by Ronin, followed by Suzume.  To give Slowbeyondwords a better chance to murder Reallyhardtohit, Knockydown delays until after the ronin goes, switches to the Full Attack Stance and endeavors to knock over Reallyhardtohit to give Slowbeyondwords an improved chance of hitting Reallyhardtohit due to the prone penalty of -10 to ATN against melee attacks.

Shosuro Stancedancer is a Bayushi Bushi facing off in arena style gladiatorial combat with a single other bushi.  Because Stancedancer’s opponent doesn’t use combat tactics, Stancedancer goes into the Full Defense Stance on the first round and wins Initiative.  Stancedancer delays until after his opponent goes and his opponent misses the massive ATN Stancedancer has in the Full Defense Stance.  On round two, Stancedancer delays again and is missed again.  When Stancedancer acts in round two, he shifts to the Full Attack Stance and begins murdering his opponent.  On round three, Stancedancer does not delay and finishes murdering his opponent before his opponent can act.

Threat Removal
“… I attack whoever just attacked me. …”

Unlike the previous edition, it is not easy to put enemies into wound penalties.  Some enemies don’t suffer from wound penalties until a lot of damage is dealt, some don’t suffer from them at all.  A strategy of spreading damage around is rarely desirable.  While less heroic, ganging up on enemies to finish them off is a better strategy for reducing PC casualties.

Besides ganging up on foes, there are some highly effective strategies for removing threats.

Grappling is an overpowered mechanic in Fourth Edition that is mostly upside, especially for those who lack Simple Action attacks.  Those involved in a grapple have ATNs of 5 plus armor benefits, which makes them easy to finish off with Raises for Feint, Increased Damage, or both.  Note that there’s usually little downside to using the Full Attack Stance to initiate a grapple as one’s ATN drops to nothing, anyway.  Fires of Purity on a grappler is a near guaranteed kill.

Knockdown is another way to make a foe easier for other PCs to hit while removing a minimum of one attack from the foe, unless the foe chooses to attack (at penalties) from the ground.  Even if the Contested Strength Roll fails, full damage was dealt.

What about the Increased Damage maneuver?  The math is poor for using this maneuver.  Feint often averages better damage.  In general, Increased Damage is only a good option by itself when the number of kept dice for the attack is high and/or the attacker can only call one Raise and still expect to hit.  Between having modest potential gain and the risk of missing an attack by calling Raises, the right move may be to call no Raises rather than Raises for damage.

Spellcasting
“… Jade Strike, two Raises for additional targets …”

Spells often have far greater influence on combat than individual melee attacks.  Due to the ease of casting low rank spells and how effective some of them are, shugenja are usually best off relying upon rank 1 and rank 2 spells for combat.

The most important spell, after Commune, in the game is Path to Inner Peace for its combat and post-combat uses.  While there are other tactics than just healing up PCs that can be more important, managing wounds is essential.  After all, if the party never took any significant wounds in the first place to where healing isn’t important, the fight was probably easy.

Having said that, there are plenty of offensive spells that wreck enemies.

Fires of Purity seems like a defensive spell or a two-way play.  In practice, it’s the best Fire spell and best murder spell in the game, easily killing enemies, even if the one enchanted doesn’t go the grapple route.  Think of it as 4k4 damage per round unless the enemies can profit from not attacking (or attacking from range) the one enchanted.  Note how someone with Fires of Purity can leverage the damage dealt to attackers by going into Full Attack Stance to make being hit that much easier.

Tempest of Air may do little damage, but it’s not the damage that’s important.  Knockdown usually means removing an attack from an enemy, whether the enemy can attack with Simple Actions or not.  Then, as an area of effect spell, multiple knockdowns are possible, which is far more than most bushi can accomplish in a round.  Raises should often be called for the knockdown effect rather than damage.  Calling Raises to expand the size of the cone depends upon how generous the GM is with number of targets affected.

Jade Strike murders Tainted foes.  But, it is still often used incorrectly.  When possible, Raises should be called to hit multiple targets.  A Raise for damage only increases damage by 1k0.  A Raise to target an additional target increases damage by 3k3.  As long as there are multiple targets, this is the most deadly spell in the game reasonably cast in combat.  Only when there is one target or one key target, such as a Lost leader of a band of goblins, does it make sense to concentrate damage on a single target.  Note that some fights can only be won off of the power of Jade Strike – invulnerable foes can make bushi ineffectual or reduce them to doing things like grappling or using the Knockdown maneuver.

Earth’s Stagnation may seem inferior to Grasp of Earth, but as a rank 1 spell that can easily hit multiple targets, it is a powerful combat control tool.  The reduction to Agility rolls (basically attack rolls) is helpful, but it’s the ability to prevent enemies from engaging or disengaging in combat that is often more useful.

Force of Will has a combination of offensive and defensive effects and is a possible way to prevent the death of a PC, assuming good timing and a means to heal the PC up in time.

How frequently range in combat matters varies immensely.  The number one benefit of Fury of Osano-Wo over other combat tactics is its tremendous range.

For Water, Reversal of Fortunes is always welcome.  Stand Against the Waves is a much more tactical spell than it may seem.  It’s essentially trading an action for an action.  Whether the shugenja’s action could be better spent elsewise is something to consider.  It does allow one bushi to hit a high Initiative foe once more before the foe can go.

Touch the Emptiness is brutal against targets who rely on melee attacks and is an annoyance to spellcasters and others who are threatening the party.  Where area of effect attacks, like Tempest of Air, shine against a mass of enemies, Touch can make a joke of a fight against a single enemy due to the Dazed condition preventing someone from being in the Attack or Full Attack Stances.  Note that “Touch” has a range of 30′.


Lead Balloons

November 5, 2012

Before I can “ramble bury” my theme for this post, the theme is the difference between good concepts and good decks.

As much as I champion the idea that deck quality is of little importance to success, I do recognize that there is a minimum threshold of viability that is needed to have a reasonable expectation that success will occur.  Today, I’m going to bring up some decks that don’t meet that threshold.

In every CCG, there are interesting ideas that make for bad decks.  Of course, not everyone agrees on what’s interesting, but still, in a typical CCG, more than half the cards aren’t tournament viable.  Among those cards, however, are cards people think about playing or even, *gasp*, put into decks.

We had a late cancellation for yesterday’s V:TES playday and then there are all of the other slackers who can’t be bothered to put aside their lives for a couple of days a month to play a dead CCG, so we played a bunch of three-player games of V:TES.  Threesomes are hardly the best way to learn, but it’s possible to pick up a thing or two.  Then, there were also some relevant (to this post) results from a previous playday.

As an aside, it is funny that we keep breaking tournament attendance records yet have a challenging time getting people to play casually on a regular basis, not that the South Bay group contributes the majority of tournament goers, more like a third to a fifth in recent years.

We played five games yesterday, I think.  Some went so quickly it felt like we would play more than that.  Two of those games I played a brand new Keystone Kine deck that was inspired by a deck Ira Fay played in a storyline event.  I played my other new deck, the Shell Break deck I mentioned in a previous post that I got around to pulling the cards for.  I played my Hukros deck.  And, I played one of my most successful decks ever, an oldie from 2002.

The KK deck never did anything.  It got ousted fast and took few actions getting there.  Which brings up something.  My sense is that speed is more important in smaller games.  Maybe that’s obvious, but sometimes the truth is strange.  Anyway, the development of that deck is slow like baseball game slow.  In a fivesome, it might have time to achieve the pinnacle of excellence known as being able to bleed three times in one turn with … three vampires.  The deck also proved to have far too few wakes for the number of actions it needed to take.  But, this deck is not the deck I want to talk about.

The Shell Break deck was amusing as a good episode of an animated humor show is amusing.  First turn, Jake Washington gets a Saturday Night Special.  No vamps around, turn two, Jake Washington gets another Saturday Night Special.  Nothing instills fear in one’s enemies like a Shell Break on Jake Washington.  Nothing gets ignored more than Cry Wolf without a Shell Break.  My 16 years of experience has conclusively shown that a player will win every single game of V:TES in which the only master the player plays is Jake Washington and the only other master in that player’s ash heap is a discarded Jake Washington.  So mote it be.  But, this deck is not the deck I want to talk about.

Prior to last weekend, I had built a couple of decks that have proved to fail the threshold of viability.  The Hukros deck would hardly surprise anyone since the whole point of the deck is to play with a vampire considered among the worst of his capacity.

Let’s start with that deck:

Deck Name:   121012  Hukros Does Stuff
Created By:  Hukros

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 25, Max: 39, Avg: 8)
——————————————-
3  Hukros                             abo cel ANI OBF PRO VIC10 Gangrel Antitribu
3  Luke Fellows                       CEL OBF PRO    7  Gangrel Antitribu
3  Morrow the Sage                    cel vic OBF PRO6  Gangrel Antitribu
3  Mugur Sabau                        vic CEL NEC OBF PRO9  Gangrel Antitribu

Library: (90 cards)
——————-
Master (16 cards)
1  Gangrel Conspiracy
1  Lilith`s Blessing
4  Minion Tap
1  Path of the Feral Heart, The
1  Powerbase: Barranquilla
1  Regent
3  Vessel
2  Vicissitude
2  Wider View

Action (21 cards)
2  Abbot
5  Dual Form
6  Mantle of the Bestial Majesty
4  Sacrificial Lamb
4  Zillah`s Tears

Action Modifier (4 cards)
2  Changeling
1  Cloak the Gathering
1  Spying Mission

Political Action (1 cards)
1  Cardinal Benediction

Reaction (11 cards)
1  Confusion of the Eye
2  Eyes of the Beast
1  Forced Awakening
5  On the Qui Vive
2  Sonar

Combat (20 cards)
1  Amaranth
2  Body Flare
1  Bone Spur
1  Breath of the Dragon
1  Claws of the Dead
1  Earth Meld
6  Flesh of Marble
1  Glancing Blow
1  Inner Essence
1  Kraken`s Kiss
3  Target Head
1  Wolf Claws

Ally (2 cards)
1  Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)
1  Repo Man

Retainer (1 cards)
1  Mr. Winthrop

Equipment (4 cards)
2  Camera Phone
2  Sport Bike

Combo (10 cards)
2  Rapid Change
8  Swallowed by the Night

An obvious question is why this isn’t a rush deck.  The answer is mostly because I can’t win tournaments with rush decks and, as bad as this deck is, it was made with a good faith effort to achieve the minimum threshold of viability to win with.  If it weren’t, I would have just gone with boring old rush, which I do occasionally play.

One’s attention may be grabbed by the actions.  What’s funny about this deck is that it doesn’t remotely even come close to what it wants to do even when it’s playing as well as can be expected.  Dual Form is actually for multiacting, not cloning, yet the deck is far better off creating monstrous combaticons then it is untapping like an antitypist.  My judgment after a couple of plays is that the deck would be strictly superior removing Dual Form, Mantle of the Bestial Majesty, and Sacrificial Lamb since the approximate number of times that combo got pulled off in actual play was minus 273 degrees Celsius.

Why am I even bothering to play Vicissitude?  Because for all that I hate rush, for all that I hate lots of decks built around high caps, for all that I have a disinterest in most high caps anyway, I love this crypt.  Three out of four!  Three out of four!  Three out of four!  When I can get discipline crossover like this, I feel compelled to make use of it – see awesome Aus/Dem/Obf/Pot decks that suck harder than raisins in cookies.

Would I argue that this makes best use out of Hukros?  Nein!  不是!  Best use out of Hukros will have to wait for another day.  A couple of Presence skill cards and Voter Cap for all of the marbles!

But, what about the concept?  Assuming the concept is to have Hukros make use of Dual Form, Mantle of the Bestial Majesty, and Sacrificial Lamb, that’s a rather awful concept.  It’s too much “doing stuff that doesn’t matter”, while wasting the broken Dual Forms that would be better used by grafting Dominate on Hukros or just playing vampires with Dominate in the first place – a deck I’ve never lost with.

Moving on, we have one of a number of The Becoming concepts:

Deck Name:   120906  Becoming Tzimisce
Created By:  Corine Marcon

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 15, Max: 29, Avg: 5.41)
———————————————-
1  Ana Rita Montana                   aus dom obf VIC5  Tzimisce
1  Caliban                            ANI AUS VIC    6  Tzimisce
1  Corine Marcon                      ani AUS VIC    6  Tzimisce
1  Devin Bisley                       ANI AUS vic    5  Tzimisce
1  Elizabeth Westcott                 ani cel vic AUS5  Tzimisce
1  Horatio                            vic            2  Tzimisce
1  Kazimir Savostin                   ani pot AUS VIC7  Tzimisce
1  Lolita Houston                     aus VIC        4  Tzimisce
1  Meshenka                           ANI AUS VIC    8  Tzimisce
1  Rose                               aus PRE VIC    5  Tzimisce
1  Sascha Vykos                       ani dom AUS THA VIC8  Tzimisce
1  Terrence                           ani aus vic    4  Tzimisce

Library: (90 cards)
——————-
Master (24 cards)
5  Auspex
5  Blood Doll
2  Hungry Coyote, The
1  Library Hunting Ground
2  Path of Lilith, The
2  Path of Metamorphosis, The
1  Tribute to the Master
1  Vessel
5  Vicissitude

Action (15 cards)
3  Abbot
3  Anima Gathering
5  Becoming, The
1  Nose of the Hound
1  Rumble
2  Zillah`s Tears

Action Modifier (5 cards)
5  Changeling

Reaction (17 cards)
2  Eagle`s Sight
2  Eyes of Argus
5  On the Qui Vive
7  Telepathic Misdirection
1  Wake with Evening`s Freshness

Combat (19 cards)
3  Bloodform
2  Breath of the Dragon
7  Chiropteran Marauder
1  Inner Essence
1  Liquefy the Mortal Coil
2  Meld with the Land
1  Skin Trap
2  Starvation of Marena

Ally (1 cards)
1  Asanbonsam Ghoul

Retainer (1 cards)
1  Corpse Balloon

Equipment (3 cards)
1  Bowl of Convergence
2  Living Manse

Combo (5 cards)
5  Plasmic Form

If you can tell how this deck will play just by looking at the list, you have pwned me.  I don’t have a problem with Toreador Grand Ball, but I really don’t like Anima Gathering.  To me, it’s too defensive, trading a dude for obnoxious levels of intercept and Laptopiness.  That may seem odd given my defensive style of play, but I need every action I can get to push across the Computer Hacking + Leverage bleed that ousts my prey.  I thought that The Becoming was a perfect way for me to not feel bad about playing Anima Gathering, plus there’s synergy with how my real dudes can be skill card upgraded.

In practice, this deck does nothing.  It just spins its wheels like a vehicle with wheels, waiting to drop The Becoming to clear the hand of masters to … profit.  At a certain point in V:TES’s history, I thought “toolbox” got a bad name.  People assigned toolbox to any deck that was unfocused, which included decks that sucked at everything.  I noticed that my better toolboxy decks were still cored on something, usually either stealth bleed or intercept “combat” with the toolboxy part being, often, respectively, intercept “combat” and stealth bleed.

The real core of this deck is The Becoming + skill cards.  Sure, it has intercept and combat and stealth and bleed.  It sucks at all of those.  I couldn’t believe just how painful this deck was to play, even with The Becoming in play, even with Anima Gathering in play.  I kept wondering how I ousted my prey.  When the core of a deck is just support plays to help the deck do something else it can do without the support plays and do it better, then the concept is … wait for it … as much of a failure as my attempt to learn French.

There are many other things I want to try with The Becoming because I like skill cards about as much as I hate rush.  So, obviously, I need to combine the two for balance as balanced as a Libra gymnast.

Can a good deck be made with Hukros?  No, but I think I could make a deck I could win a tournament with as long as the tournament has 10 players and the finals involves everyone wanting to oust my prey.

Can a good deck be made with the awesome crypt of Hukros and the other two with Vic?  Might end up better without Hukros.

Can a good deck be made with The Becoming?  I’m sure, though the main problem with The Becoming decks is that they probably work better without The Becoming.  I’ve done Dementation bleed with them because of Reiner, and I could have just played real dudes or play The Embrace.  As sexy as “Penny” is compared to “Kenny”, Kenny keeps proving that the Camarilla Edition downgrade just made him weaker, not weakful.

There are just so many bizarre things you can do with The Becoming, like the two five-discipline decks I built for reasons I don’t recall.


Clings & Arrows

November 1, 2012

I watch very few TV shows.  I’m not even sure I watch much in the way of TV anymore.  Growing up, it was 3PM to 9-9:30PM of constant TV after school.  Actually, what shows I watched back then and how they impacted my views on game-playing would make a good post, though it would require some research to remember all of the shows.

So, why watch Arrow?

I like superhero stuff.  I read comics in my twenties.  Smallville was one of the few dramas, possibly the only drama I watched in more recent years.  Well, if I think about it, there’s Dr. Who and Sherlock and there must have been something prior to Sherlock.  I think it’s easy to exclude anime from drama.  Nowadays watching original Trek, which I hadn’t watched in maybe 20 years.

Anyway, getting sidetracked.  Arrow and something else got me thinking about superheroes, in particular what superhero (or, I suppose, supervillain) someone might be.

Before continuing to explain this, as it’s either subtle or I’m making it overly complicated, I like Arrow okay but don’t feel that strongly about it.  Unlike many commentators, I don’t have a problem with the voice-overs.  The acting is weak.  The action scenes are just blurs of “What is going on?” except for the scenes of Oliver jumping and climbing in broad daylight.  I don’t get all of the injokes.  I never particularly cared about Green Arrow, which is relevant to what I’ll eventually get around to talking about.  I like the mythology, which is why I like a lot of things, Dr. Who for instance.  The conversations between Dig and Oliver were charming, not sure if that will continue.  I like how he kills people and other more believable bits.

Okay.  I remember now what the other thing was.  I ended up finding a list online of someone’s top unpowered superheroes.  I’m not into supers without powers.  I read Cracked.com, which adores Batman even more than Tesla and Teddy Roosevelt.  I have no interest in Batman.  Or, any other gadgeteer style super.

On the flip side, while Superman is a great icon, he’s a terrible character.  Those who like to point out how much more awesome Batman is than Superman like to go into how Batman can win without having any powers.  I’d rather say that Superman has too many powers.  He also has another problem.  Other supers have too many powers.  There are a bunch of Superman clones in Ultra Boy, Mon-El, and whatnot, but Superman is the most boring of them all … because he’s Superman.  He’s not really a superhero so much as an ideal.  Yet, he still has multiple books and still gets many stories told, so there’s something to be said for a paragon.

A rough midpoint between the two would be the X-Men – superpowered but limited.  Oh, there are thousands of other supers that could be used as examples of one thing or another, but I really need to get to the topic at hand.

What superhero would I be?  Or, someone else I game with?

Not what superhero would I want to be.  Nor is it really who would I be, since I wouldn’t be any of them.  Nor is it whose powers would you want to have*.  It’s more, “Who is the best fit if you were a superhero in a superhero world?”

*  Too often, people express a desire to have the superpowers that can be most easily abused in a real world situation, such as teleportation, invisibility, or a suite of powers.  Actually, in a real world situation, I would want Cypher’s “know all languages” power, which was so lame in the comics that he didn’t survive long and got merged with an alien who had combat useful abilities.

Because I see little point in being a superhero who lacks superpowers, I wouldn’t fit well as one of those.  Cosmic powered heroes may be something I read about, but I just don’t see it.  Street level heroes aren’t necessarily bad choices, though.  Daredevil was never superappealing to me, but I like the character, finding both his powers and other features interesting.  Some may compare him to Batman, but because his powers are an essential part of the character, I really don’t, nevermind that Batman gets portrayed as one of the greatest supers of them all where Daredevil is portrayed as “He did what?” in the greater superhero community.

Spiderman is another superpopular superhero that just doesn’t do much for me.  His powers are fine.  I think he fails for me because his character became too much about the nerdiness (talking about movies rather than comics or TV series).  Also, maybe played out.  It’s unfortunate that less iconic supers like Green Lantern don’t do a better job of going mainstream, but really, Green Lantern’s powers are absurd.  Anyway, Spiderman brings up the importance of personality and presentation when it comes to a fit.

Because it’s so easy to get into personal biases, “Captain Ultraknight is soooooo cool.” and such, it may be better to have one’s supernerdy friends nominate.  Of course, this only works if:  one’s friends take this seriously; one’s friends know enough supers to find better fits; one intends on applying to this a productive venture, such as playing a superhero RPG campaign.

Ah ha, that’s how all of this ties into gaming!

I’ve played a reasonable number of superhero one-shots at conventions, but I’ve never been involved in a supers campaign.  I’m curious as to how it works.  I’m curious as to how prone they are to descending into silliness.  And, with regards to this exercise of determining a good fit, I wonder how well people’s characters fit the players.

Speaking of silliness, I’m fond of Champions, but I was never fond of the artistic style of the game.  Sure, it varied, but much of it was in a style to feed into not taking the genre seriously.  On the other hand, I have other supers RPGs with much more impressive art, like Authority (or even DC Heroes), and can’t get into the mechanics because of how dense the material is.  It’s pretty sad when someone thinks Hero System is the easy system to process.

If I were to play in a superhero RPG, what would I play?  What could I see others playing?

Sadly, I have a hard time envisioning what sort of character I could play in a genre suitable way.  While it may not be that hard to tell a story for a single super, a game about a group of supers just seems so easily prone to devolving into parody, satire, or slapstick, nevermind that I often fail my characters because I want games to work.  Even though, if one thinks about it, many games essentially have superheroes.  Vampire had people who played supers with fangs, which actually sounds better than angsty losers with fangs.  Exalted.  Many fantasy games get to the point with magic where you are effectively superheroes.  My Feng Shui campaign had the superhero feel with the soap opera aspects and whatnot, which is perhaps why it was the best campaign I ever played in.  Etc.

It’s all about perception and respect for the genre.