Classic Art

January 24, 2013

There are times with CCGs when I feel a desire to go back to basics.  Build the sort of decks I built when everything was new, and there were the simplest things to discover.

That’s not very easy.  But, by putting severe limitations on acceptable cards, there’s some ability to do that.  Now, having played with a group that didn’t have most of the new cards, I did some Jyhad-only, pre-Sabbat-only, and through-Sabbat-only decks.  That’s not my current kick.

My current kick is Keepers of Tradition.  Just Keepers of Tradition.  I’m not much of a fan of the Camarilla clans as I see them as being way overplayed, but that’s because I once played them a bunch.  Wouldn’t really say they are overplayed, for me, nowadays.  I want to get some play in with (relatively) new crypt options, mainly.

Not just KoT, but simple decks.  Try to do the monoclan decks that a newb is likely to do.  Or, at least, do mixed crypt decks that aren’t all that esoteric/specialized.  I’ve already written up two such decks, only one of which is a clan deck.

For today, I thought I’d go through the process of making one of these new decks.

Choose A Building Block

I’m going to choose Toreador.  Rather than look too hard at vampires first, though, of course, I’ve looked at them, I want to study the clan requiring cards a bit.

Secret Library is saying no Society Hunting Ground.  No real loss in normal constructed play, will find out later whether it matters for this deck.  Though, it does seem kind of weird that the other clans would all get their HGs and not the Toreador, so maybe this is just a database error.  If I get motivated, I’ll go through some KoT piles of cards lying around and see if a SHG can be found.

Aching Beauty, Art Museum, and Toreador Grand Ball are the important clan cards.  The second is just good stuff and an auto-include – just a question of one copy or two.  Aching Beauty and Toreador Grand Ball are not synergistic with each other, but both can be dropped into a deck, even if both want some support.  One synergy they do have is that AB can be paid for with unblockable Parity Shifts … which isn’t relevant to this exercise since Parity Shift isn’t in KoT.

If I was truly new to playing Toreador, I might dwell on these things trying to think up all of the annoying things I could do with them, like Change of Target and Majesty with AB and whatever unblockable stuff with TGB.  If I was truly new, I might also have to worry about how many copies of these cards I owned since not everyone opened ~case of KoT, like I did.  I mean, sure, I probably don’t have that many of them from this set, but I’m just going to assume that I do.

Since I’m not new to playing with these cards, even if I haven’t played with them nearly as much as others because they don’t interest me all that much, I’m going to turn to the vampires and whatnot for additional guidance.

Crypt

Superior Auspex is parsecs better than inferior Auspex, even taking into account Quicken … nevermind.  Have a 4 cap with AUS, which is okay, but then, have to go all the way to 7 cap for more bleed bouncers.

Well, that is if I don’t use Dominate, which is fairly common …  By Dominate, I mean, of course, Murmur of the False Will, which is first available on an 8 cap.  Wow, the vampires that didn’t get AUS in this set got kind of shafted.

Two Princes, Justicar, Inner Circle Member, a whopping four Primogen, Kateline Nadasdy, and a dude who can kind of fake being titled when it doesn’t come to having actual votes.  I’m normally anti-Primogen since anarchy > 1 vote, but Primogen with PRE in a deck that’s going to use other titled dudes is actually a value-add title.

Seems hard to avoid voting with all of that relative firepower.  Also, no Aire of Elation.  Now, admittedly, back in my Jyhad days, I still bled with Toreador.  I could also go with Conditioning and drop some Dominate masters to expand upon the Toreador with Dominate already available.  Eh, possible but improbable.

Actually, I kind of feel like I have too many options for my goal.  That’s an unusually nice problem to have with this game.  If I just pick titled dudes and good stuff dudes, here’s what I get:

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 15, Max: 38, Avg: 6.75)
———————————————-
1  Allanyan Serata                    ani AUS CEL OBT PRE9  Toreador
1  Andre LeRoux                       aus            3  Toreador
1  Bethany Ray                        aus PRE        4  Toreador
1  Epikasta Rigatos                   cel AUS DOM PRE8  Toreador
1  Eugene                             AUS CEL FOR PRE8  Toreador
1  Kateline Nadasdy                   AUS CEL PRE    7  Toreador
1  Montecalme                         obt AUS CEL DOM PRE10 Toreador
1  Philippe de Marseilles             dem pre AUS CEL7  Toreador
1  Rafael de Corazon                  AUS CEL DOM OBF PRE11 Toreador
1  Thomas De Lutrius                  aus cel pre    4  Toreador
1  Tyler McGill                       AUS pre        4  Toreador
1  Vasily                             aus pre ser CEL6  Toreador

In the Jyhad days, I would be happy if I could find six worthy crypt options and do two of each.  That there’s so much to work with here is … interesting.

PRE is still going to be useful for Majesty but obviously not for the nonexistent Voter Captivation.

Winning

Not going to do combat.  No .44 Magnum.  Torrent + Aching Beauty is too obvious.  Not to say it couldn’t be done between Concealed Weapon, Desert Eagle, Ivory Bow, Sniper Rifle, intercept, Pursuit, Psyche!, Torrent (for when you don’t have Concealed Weapon).

Just trying to keep it simple.  Simply want to be able to remove pool and not have pool removed.

Public Trust is good bleed, but it’s just so much more a hassle to block votes supported by Resist Earth’s Grasp and Monastery of Shadows, plus might as well get more use out of Perfect Paragon, so voting it is.  Lack of Voter Cap is rather sad and pathetic.  Parity Shift’s absence I care less about.

Kine Resources Contested is the staple, so 6-8 of those.  Neonate Breach is not a terrible backup and there’s a dearth of other pool depleting options.  Reins of Power can blow up a table, Rumors of Gehenna doesn’t hurt (though it would want Voter Cap love), PS: whatever (Houston, I guess), and Toreador Justicar round things out.

Outside of Andre and Rafael, I’m not natively bleedy, which is a marked difference from group 1/2 Toreador, say.  Only eight KRCs and two Neonate Breaches is kind of offense shy.  But, that’s fine.  That’s the kind of guy I am.

Antilosing

Cuz, if you don’t lose, you might just win.  Seven Telepathic Misdirection, six On the Qui Vive, six Eyes of Argus is a starting point.  Throw in an Eagle’s Sight cuz it might get a couple VPs, while usually just being a random extra intercept.  This crypt can’t support Second Tradition well enough, which is a valid argument for changing the crypt, but whatever.

Bowl of Convergence is not that thrilling in this deck, but sure, maybe even consider the contestment possibility.

Villein and Vessel are the two obvious options for pool gain, so in other words, Villein.

Successfully Winning

Have a variety of unreliable ways to get actions through with how I’m building the deck out:  Aching Beauty (only two copies), Change of Target (not that many since it isn’t an AB deck), Crocodile’s Tongue (one copy since the card sucks), Monastery of Shadows, Resist Earth’s Grasp, Torrent.  Should be “interactive” but not a complete lost cause on delivering the payload.

No Blessings Of Lilith

Without Voter Cap, don’t have tasty cheese to refill dudes.  Variety of options in the set for blood gain.  Obviously going with Giant’s Blood.  Papillon is a better substitute for a “HG hunting ground”, though the crypt isn’t oriented well towards it.  Perfectionist is just too many masters.  Taste of Vitae is in the set, so if I wanted to do a Toreador intercept combat deck, that would slot.

Deck

Pretty much done.  Since all decks must, by all of the laws of creation, be 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, or 90 cards, and 90 card decks are typically sloppy deckbuilding, I’ve hit my sloppy 80 limit.

Deck Name:   KoT – Toreador Reboot
Created By:  Whoever

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 17, Max: 39, Avg: 7.16)
———————————————-
1  Andre LeRoux                       aus            3  Toreador
1  Bethany Ray                        aus PRE        4  Toreador
2  Epikasta Rigatos                   cel AUS DOM PRE8  Toreador
1  Eugene                             AUS CEL FOR PRE8  Toreador
1  Kateline Nadasdy                   AUS CEL PRE    7  Toreador
2  Montecalme                         obt AUS CEL DOM PRE10 Toreador
1  Philippe de Marseilles             dem pre AUS CEL7  Toreador
1  Rafael de Corazon                  AUS CEL DOM OBF PRE11 Toreador
1  Tyler McGill                       AUS pre        4  Toreador
1  Vasily                             aus pre ser CEL6  Toreador

Library: (80 cards)
——————-
Master (17 cards)
2  Aching Beauty
2  Art Museum
1  Giant`s Blood
1  Golconda: Inner Peace
1  Monastery of Shadows
1  Papillon
3  Toreador Grand Ball
6  Villein

Action (3 cards)
1  Charming Lobby
2  Entrancement

Action Modifier (7 cards)
3  Change of Target
1  Crocodile`s Tongue
3  Perfect Paragon

Political Action (14 cards)
8  Kine Resources Contested
2  Neonate Breach
1  Praxis Seizure: Houston
1  Reins of Power
1  Rumors of Gehenna
1  Toreador Justicar

Reaction (20 cards)
1  Eagle`s Sight
6  Eyes of Argus
6  On the Qui Vive
7  Telepathic Misdirection

Combat (12 cards)
1  Charismatic Aura
7  Majesty
4  Torrent

Equipment (1 cards)
1  Bowl of Convergence

Combo (6 cards)
1  Force of Personality
5  Resist Earth`s Grasp

Did a bit of double ups because, really, 9 cap Primogen with a non-relevant special is terrible, and, in general, I’m not going to get a ton of dudes in play.  On the other hand, didn’t make it more redundant because it adds life to a deck when you don’t know what you are going to draw.

Of course, this isn’t remotely what one might expect from a newb doing KoT only, not because it’s sophisticated or any of them thar high-falutin’ n’nsense.  It’s full of rares, and probably more challenging, full of KoT uncommons of the Villein persuasion.  Would need to crack around 7-8 boxes of boosters to Villeinify this deck.

Anyway, a defensive (no Voter Cap for bloat defense) vote deck that may be totally off.  The crypt is still undisciplined.  The offense is light.  The defense doesn’t do much against other vote decks.  But, then again, the goal isn’t to build the best deck possible but something nostalgic for a simpler time that is functional and not a bore.

Real weakness of the deck is lack of card cyclers.  No Dreams of the Sphinx.  No The Barrens.  Would be valid to run Fragment of the Book of Nod out of desperation for this crucial element.  Oh well, just got to overcome this with superior skillz.

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Review – Book of Earth

January 22, 2013

Before getting to the Book of Earth, I have had the Second City Boxed Set for months and wanted to make some comments.

I can’t do a full review of Second City because I plan on playing in a campaign of it, which means there are things I can’t look at.  I have, in fact, nothing really to say about its value for a campaign besides the obvious – if you want your L5R in Rokugan, a campaign that is mostly outside of Rokugan isn’t likely to be your thing.

So, what is there to comment upon?  Second City retails at $80.  That provided a bit of sticker shock when I first heard it.  Would I consider this product if all it gave me was a campaign set in the current timeline that means nothing to me?  Homey don’t play that.

But, it doesn’t just have materials for a setting/campaign.  It has bonus goodies.  It has a solid GM screen, CCG sized cards for school techniques and stances, dice and dicebag, packets of character sheets, and premium character log booklets.  I’ll take these separately.

  1. GM Screen – Fine.  I used to not care a whole lot about GM screens, but I’ve found the importance of hiding things to be high, so a solid one is better than not.  I don’t tend to look up info on them, so I don’t know how useful L5R’s (flimsy or solid) is.
  2. Cards – I really like this concept.  Where I find with CCGs, that there’s a lot of room for promotional product that are cards that represent game elements, like Magic’s token creature cards or V:TES’s Anarch/Corruption cards, RPGs could theoretically take advantage of similar promotional representations.  There are plastic pieces sold to represent things like Stunned, Poisoned, etc.  Why not leverage your CCG production abilities to create cards to represent things in the RPG?  Unfortunately, I don’t find them that useful.  First, with school techniques, that info should be on your character sheet; carrying around cards for redundant information isn’t helpful.  And, I’m ignoring the misprints with the cards, where there is at least one technique missing.  The better concept was stance cards.  For reasons unclear to many of us, it’s not defined the timing of stance declaration – not when it happens during the combat but how it resolves between combatants.  Simultaneous stance declaration is a headache that could be solved by choosing a card and revealing the cards simultaneously.  In practice, everyone needs to use the system for this to work, which my F2F group didn’t seem all that keen on, mostly because it’s not that important.  And, that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so – these cards just aren’t important.
  3. Dice & Bag – Also not important.  I have to admit that some dice matter to me:  Immortal RPG d10’s with the dreaded Null; foreign language dice; astrological dice.  But, really, more dice isn’t a thing any RPGer already playing a game should care about.  Also, the dice are really lightweight, which is weird when holding them.  Bags are similarly useless.  There are those who talk about graduating from Ziploc bags, but I find using a Ziploc bag is vastly superior to opaque bags with drawstrings or bulky things, like boxes.
  4. Character Sheets – I don’t use standard RPG character sheets for my characters, given a choice.  I find them to be hard to read and hard to find information with.  I create my own computer files and print out my character sheets.  That being said, when you need something right away and don’t have a printer available, there is a use for extra sheets.  Much use?  Eh.  Any use if you have one sheet and a photocopier handy?  No.  While I can see the benefit of including these, the vast quantity of them doesn’t make them rise to a level where I’d put much value on their presence.
  5. Premium Character Logs – Again, I create my own files that are easy to read.  I include information that is relevant.  I’m not interested in flipping through a book to find information nor using up something fancy when character history/info changes constantly, which is handled far better electronically.  I can see someone using one of these just out of laziness.

So, in the end, I was quite disappointed with the bonus materials.  If I figure that no RPG product is worth more than $60 retail, then the bonus stuff was the other $20.  I have next to no use for character sheets, no use for Logs, no use for more dice or a dice bag, and found that the cards weren’t as functional as they sounded.  I already had a flimsy L5R GM Screen, which was adequate, so a solid one is hardly worth $15 or so to me.  The bonus goodies seem more like collectibles than things that actually matter.

What would matter?  Sixty dice might matter where 10 don’t, since 60 would cover a group better.  I’m not sure what cards would actually see use since this isn’t a crunchy game where you need to track a lot of conditions, but I can wish that cards would have some use just because I favor the concept.  Actually, you know what?  I’ve been thinking about ways to physically track Honor changes during sessions.  Cards for each of the tenets of Bushido with number values, both plus and minus, would be a way to go.  I was thinking different color poker chips.  The reason why this is important is because Honor changes are hard judgment calls, and it becomes very easy to forget at the end of sessions.  Having a physical representation helps regulate being fair about changes, e.g. “That’s a crazy stack of orange chips I just took from you, Chuda-san.  Maybe went a bit overboard.”

Book of Earth

Finally, the Rock has come back to … topic!

For those who put up with 900 words or whatever about a product I wasn’t really reviewing, I don’t want to get hopes up too high.  While I will try to give a similar treatment to BoE as I did Book of Air, I found BoE a much harder read.  And, of course, I haven’t digested every single thing in the book, even though I’ve had it for a month or more.

Size

The page count of BoE is slightly more than BoA.  One of the complaints of BoA was that it was significantly smaller than previous products.

Art

The cover of BoE is nowhere near as poptastic as the hot Crane chick with two eye colors on the BoA.  In truth, I don’t really like the image of the Tattooed Monk from behind, at all.  I would much rather see some nature scene of mountains, forests, and other earthy stuff.  Nor did the interior art grab me like it has for some products.

But, I’m also not a visuals guy, so this isn’t that big a deal to me.

Layout

Like BoA, BoE puts all of the mechanics in one section in the back.  This has been popular with folks.  Certainly, the way Emerald Empire did mechanics at the end of each chapter and without saying what the mechanics were in the table of contents has been a continuous irritant to me.

We get an introduction, a chapter on Earth equipment and fighting, chapter on Earth magic, chapter on Earth court stuff, monastic Earth, Earth nature/activities/creatures/magic items(?!?)/mechanics comments(?!?), an Earthy locale, and then the mechanics.

Why are magic items not in the magic chapter?  Or, why are they not in the chapter that talks about heavy weapons and armor?  I had the same problem with BoA in terms of magic items not being thematically in the right place.

As for comments on mechanics – talking about spell themes and such, why wouldn’t you put those in the mechanics section?  Or, if that breaks up the mechanics too much, why not in the relevant thematic section?  The book has uses of Earth spells in one section and Earth spell themes in a different chapter.

Introduction

After explaining the upcoming chapters, we get into using skills in an Earthy way.  This was disappointing.  I’m quite in favor of taking existing skills that see little use and broadening their applications.  Here, I just felt too much like using an Earth Trait with a skill that normally uses a different Trait is part of L5R GMing 101.  For instance, Stamina/Athletics should be a relatively common Athletics roll.  Athletics might be associated with Strength in the corebook, but I consider Athletics a “various” skill because it’s so often mixed with any physical Trait.  The focus here is too much on giving examples of how skills can be used with other Traits, which is obvious, than on making little used skills more interesting/useful.  Perform skills are some of the worst buys in the game, yet all we get is that you might force someone to roll Stamina rather than Awareness or Agility because the performance is long … z … z … z …

Then, we go to listing advantages and disadvantages that are Earthy.  And, that’s pretty much it.  I don’t need to know that Bland is Earthy.  If you are going to bother with this section at all, I want new spins on advantages and disadvantages.  I want the poorly defined Bad Fortune disad to have some Earthy variants.  I hate disads in L5R for various reasons, so how about suggestions for properly point balancing ones that are obviously broken – Permanent Wound is “rip up the character sheet and start over” for anyone who gets into combat.  Yet, we just get what a PW looks like.  Huge wasted opportunity for helping GMs with the mechanics of disadvantages as well as providing new mechanics.

Brief mention of Earth style play and how it differs from Air style.  In my BoA review, I wondered whether this would be mentioned.  Given that it didn’t really provide help to a group, I didn’t care that it did.

Stone And Blood

In BoA, I found it interesting that Iaijutsu was made popular by the barbarian known as Kakita.  In BoE, I can hardly get through this section.  It’s just so much of stating things that are obvious or meaningless.

It’s particularly bad when it goes into the differences between the heavy weapons when there are no mechanics for those differences.  There is a current discussion of this on the AEG Forums.  I don’t care for differences in weapons mechanically because I don’t like people being defined by their stuff, but then, why bother having fluff for differences?

In general, I have found that the “Book of …” series spends far too much time just stating the obvious.  The value they should be supplying is building upon what everyone can already perceive and taking things into intriguing directions.  While that happens with “new, new” mechanics.  I’d like to see a lot more with “new, old” mechanics where you take an existing mechanic and find variant ways to use it.  Conan d20 did a better job of this in supplements, things like new uses for junky skills.  That’s kind of scary given how much effort is put into L5R.

The armor section is better because it’s not just “a big axe might not be the weapon of choice for some dude” or “Daidoji Heavy Infantry uses heavy weapons”.  And, there are new mechanics, which the design team said was reasonable for the underdeveloped mechanics of armor.  Also, an occasional situation is the need to put on armor quickly for a fight, so it’s nice to get some guidance.

I don’t really understand the quartermaster section.  Okay, there are quartermasters and all the clans have them.  So what?

The fortress section probably isn’t long enough.  There’s a castles RPG book that I’ve seen reviews for recently that people raved about.  It’s not genre specific, so it has like one Asian style castle from what I understand.  Going into excruciating detail on Rokugani and Colonies castles would have made perfect sense as I find one of the more difficult things for me to do is visualize the different architecture of the Rokugani.

Sieges?  Okay.  Sumai?  Okay, but this goes on rather long for how little impact it will likely make.

Stone and Power

Fluff isn’t really fluff in L5R.  The setting is huge, potentially large, to most folks.  So, it’s really more thematics vs. mechanics.  I’m cool with trying to distinguish different shugenja traditions from each other because that sort of thematics is not a bad thing.

What I’m offended by, on the other hand, is just listing corebook spells and what they do.  I already got that from reading the spells in the first place.  I didn’t read every sentence to find out, but I have yet to read a single instance of using these spells in unusual ways.  This section should have been about how to combo spells, how to (ab)use spells in unconventional ways, etc.  BoA at least tried to bring up unconventional or non-obvious uses for spells.  I don’t even see the effort here.  And, someone really should get on how to combo spells to create synergistic effects.

Same sort of comments that BoA had about elemental imbalances in people and things.  Still a strange topic because it’s not clear how knowing more about it helps a group.  As I said in reviewing BoA, far, far, far more useful would be doing sample Earth character builds.  RPGs seem allergic to providing examples for reasons that are unclear.

Kami?  Okay.

Taint fighting?  The Taint section also annoys me.  I didn’t see anything I didn’t already know.  I find fighting the evil of the Shadowlands to be the most pleasing activity in L5R outside of tournaments and festival games.  I’d like to hear something more profound than “… outside of the Crab few samurai are eager to risk their souls and honor to face the creatures of Jigoku.”  Crab are paranoid?  Really?  Never would have guessed based upon how people usually play Crab characters.

So, what did I want?  After all, there is something on identifying infiltrators.  How about a discussion of combat tactics against typical Tainted foes?  How about breaking oni down into common, uncommon, rare for how often they are seen (within the context that they aren’t all that commonly seen in the first place)?  What’s different about ogre-bashing and troll-bashing?  How about going into what the Shadowlands is like to a greater degree than other books?

While I’m hoping for a spirit realms book (or section of a book), this was still an opportunity to try to give an idea of the geography of the Shadowlands.  Sure, it changes, but a GM would love to know a sample configuration for where landmarks would be.

Stone and Peace

I really don’t get how the Otomo – an obvious Air faction – is so Earthy.  There may not be a lot Earthy about Kitsuki, but the Dragon Clan is a very Earthy clan.

This was a perfect opportunity to not only have more than token remarks about the Monkey but to give different ideas for how the Monkey fit in different campaigns.  The minor clans and imperials, Otomo Earthiness an exception, largely get shafted in these books.  Considering how many pages I think are a waste of stating the obvious, getting into Monkey politics could have been fascinating.

Stone Within

Monk stuff doesn’t matter much to me.  While I’m perfectly fine with developing non-samurai thematics to understand better how PCs interact with the world, developing non-samurai (and ronin) from a player’s perspective doesn’t float my boat.

So, I can let this section pass with little comment.  Really, the only thing I have to comment upon is that it looks to me like kiho get the same, state the obvious treatment spells, ads/disads, skills got.

The Word of Earth

When describing locales, I think detail has value.  I have found as a GM that one of my greatest difficulties is providing a picture of what the players see, hear, smell, feel for a given location.  Same sort of thing when I write fictions as a player.  I want to know the specific trees and plants and how wide the paths are and how cold/hot it is and how often you come across a stream and on and on.

I do like discussion of farming and mining, just as I liked BoA covering sailing and kite flying.  I have skipped over some of the sections here just because it does get tiring reading about mundane stuff.

Earthy creatures?  Okay.  Magic items?  Kind of lot of them, but that’s fine since different GMs will use different ones, but I still don’t get why they are in this chapter.

Earth mechanics themes?  More stating the obvious from what I see.  This book could have used a content editor who asked “Of what use is this section?” for many, many sections.  I hate that it just seems like lots of filler.  There are ideas that could have gone somewhere useful but ended up more like someone doing a school paper copying out of the textbook – no value add thinking.

The Lair

I’ve skimmed through and quickly came to the conclusion that I dislike the setup.  Sure, a GM can make use of what is useful and change the rest, but I see these setting chapters being something that you want to be easy to modify.  The premise for this one is just so specific.  And, while it’s nice to give some minor clan love, how about giving the Monkey serious love in this book?  The Monkey Clan is far more important than most minor clans if you have a game set after their creation because their school is awesome, because Monkey are awesome.  And, if you don’t agree about the last, then I’d still argue that they are a minor clan better suited for PCs and more plausibly found throughout the Empire.

New Mechanics

Of varying interest.  As I despise the grapple rules in L5R, I would rather just dispense with them than add further complexity to the game.  I don’t like how kata are given to specific schools since many schools don’t get represented (Toku Bushi, anybody?, just to harp on the lack of Monkey love), which makes the kata impossible to qualify for.  I just don’t have time to get to a Ring of 4 in most situations and will never get to a Ring of 5 for a character.

Finally, the book has a picture of a Tattooed Monk on the cover (one assumes), yet we get a whopping one new tattoo?!?  Amazing lack of logic.  Then, I see it as being useless.  Stamina is pretty much a worthless Trait, only having value because it feeds the Earth Ring, which is obviously highly important for wounds.  Increasing Willpower does something because of various spells, Fear, whatever.  But, Stamina?  Sorry, don’t get poisoned that often, as in … never.  Strength is still not a good Trait, even if it’s vastly better in 4e than 3e due to grappling, knockdown rolls.  Higher Strength doesn’t sound bad until you realize that Tattooed Monks are very squishy in combat.  There’s no way I’d use this over Bamboo in combat – very important that people remember that only one tattoo can be active at a time.  Outside of combat, STR just doesn’t do a whole lot.  It’s nice to have a bodybuilder for those rare times you need to move a rock, lift a tree, climb.  But, that’s what the party water shugenja or Matsu Berserker is for.

TMs rely heavily on their tattoos, in my experience, to be useful.  Bushi get armor, making them better at fighting, and eventually get Simple Attacks.  Shugenja are broken.  Courtiers are goofy in how narrow they are so should generally be avoided, unless the campaign caters to it, the player wants a challenge, the player is much more experienced than the rest of the group, or the player just loves social stuff.  For a TM to be useful, need either to rise to the level of normal schools, like Crane Tattoo for social efforts or Ki-Rin for general abuse, or have a niche.  Plus STR is not a niche.

Conclusion

I rate this **, using either of the systems I mention in my review of Imperial Histories.  It’s obvious I don’t think much of it.  I’m now worried about the value of future books in the series.

I’m really just annoyed by how much the book states the obvious.  It makes reading every section a chore.  I’m inclined to believe that the rest of the series will just continue on in the same vein.  I dread having more lists of spells with no concepts of using them in a way I wouldn’t already use them.  Etc.

Sure, personal tastes affect interest.  For all that I’m a hater of the Air Ring in L5R, Airy stuff was much more to my tastes than the Earthy stuff covered here.  But, because I’m actually an Earth Ring lover, I’m that much more disappointed by the lack of cool, Earth things to do.  Stamina isn’t even a Trait – it’s just one half of your Earth Ring.  Give Stamina stuff to do.  Willpower is basically a saving throw – make it more general.  Have useful sections on fighting Jigoku.

As a player of characters who tend toward medium or high Earth, what would I use out of this book?

Pretty much just the kata.

I’m not talking about just mechanics.  The thematics just aren’t relevant to my characters like the BoA ones were.

That’s horrid value.

As a GM, I will make more use of locales, descriptions of things, creatures.  I’m still not going to use the new spells because I want to only look up spell details in one book.  I’m not going to use kiho since monks are really not important to normal L5R.  I’m going to avoid schools and paths that a player might find interesting because those sorts of mechanics just aren’t that important to GMs.

One might say that the value of any sort of supplemental mechanics is reduced for me since Heroes of Rokugan doesn’t use a lot of supplement mechanics.  To an extent, true, as I know one local HoR player who wasn’t interested in the book because of this.  On the other hand, I do play in a home L5R campaign and still wouldn’t use virtually any of the mechanics in here.

One might also say that spells are useful to people who play gods, I mean, shugenja.  And, so forth.  One might say that the BoA had virtually no mechanics relevant to my characters, either.

I would say that these books should be doing a better job of selling us on their material.  Get us to want to use the material by giving us better mechanics, more “new, old” mechanics, more interesting content in topics that can be interesting.


Rank-L

January 10, 2013

I have touched on this topic before:

Panama!

And, rather recently, at that.  That post was about whether there was any value to plans, but the context of whether plans matter was the far larger topic of the nature of appropriate challenges in RPG play.

Various things I’ve read recently bring me back to thinking about this topic, that I struggle with.

As seen in Playgroup Cohesion, I’m “100% Storyteller”.  As a pure storyteller, I am inclined to challenges that make for good stories, which means that there’s no point in easy challenges or too difficult challenges.

However, the more I’ve read about simulationist play (vs. narrativist or gamist play), the more I intellectually get that trying to force drama has unintended consequences.

There’s little point to a GM coming up with obviously inappropriate challenges for a party.  If the party can’t fail at something, then it’s unsatisfying to everyone.  If the party can’t succeed, same.  However, the range of challenges for a party that fall between those two extremes should be broad.  Also, going back to the value of plans, there is an element of the challenge being fair but the consequences of succeeding or failing being unfair.

What does that mean?

The challenge can be to get into a fort (the same fort from Panama!?).  Walk up to the guards and smooth talk them … with a party full of Charismaless, socially-impaired PCs.  Challenge failed.  GM has 100 guards wipe party.  Players complain about fairness of fight against 100 guards.  The challenge isn’t the fight.

For the storyteller, getting massacred by 100 guards is not a terribly compelling story.  But, then, stupidly trying to talk one’s way past guards with people who smell funny and make lame jokes is not a compelling story, either.

Narrativistly, it might be epic to roll well and perform this smooth talking, but it’s unlikely to happen to where another option is more narrativist appropriate.  For the gamist, as players, you don’t send people to do something when it’s likely they will fail, if given a choice.  For the simulationist, it’s not realistic to take a course of action the characters would fail at; the characters would have a more realistic plan.

So, challenges.  One axis of a suitability chart for challenges can be what would make for challenges appropriate to the ability of the party.  The(?) other axis could be what would be appropriate to the situation as contextualized by the GM.  Within the chart, we are looking for data points that tend towards the middle.

If I’m some random merc looting a temple, then when a pissed off god shows up, I don’t think “if I roll well on initiative, I can take ’em”.  However, many situations aren’t that cut and dry when it comes to the context for the danger of the situation.  Fortunately, GMs often tip off when you are not reading the situation appropriately.  Should be noted that a situation too easy for the party is not a party concern, so from the player perspective, it’s more the challenges that seem too difficult or that are more difficult than they seem.

A common question for GMs or by GMs is how to handle ordinary people.  Suppose you play a d20 game, and at first level, the guards of the jewelry shop are first level.  When you break into the jewelry shop at 10th level, why would the guards not still be first level?  Because then there’s no challenge.

The obvious answer to that situation is that 10th level dudes don’t break into podunk village jewelry shops, they break into Fort Hard Knocks.  But, having challenges in the flow of play match up that well doesn’t always happen.

Let me use an actual play example.  In the fight in our last L5R home campaign session that I got smited and the rest of the party struggled, it was our party of one rank 2 shugenja, one rank 1 shugenja, one rank 2 courtier, two rank 1 bushi versus a rank 2 shugenja, a rank 4 courtier, a rank 2 bushi, and a rank 2 monk.

We had numbers – huge.  We had magical advantage (to a degree, it was actually closer than this appears) – generally busted.  We were at rank disadvantage – not always clear cut but significant in this case.

This is coin flippish.  Coin flips in L5R tend to have permanent results.  Did the danger level make sense?

We (essentially) charged in and initiated combat.  We created the combat challenge, in other words.  The challenge was actually to track these guys down, arrest them, and get info from them.  Direct combat was an obvious way to approach that for us as both a natural result from a chase and because our characters are built towards combat.  But, we could have continued to follow them to see where they would go and take them when we had a greater numbers advantage – they split up, we hit a town where we requisitioned additional forces.  And, as much as the PCs are built for combat, they aren’t built well for combat.

From a challenge level valuation, it was reasonable.  The high ranking courtier wasn’t far more capable in combat than we were.

From an appropriateness level, it was also reasonable.  We knew something about these guys before we engaged them.  We knew they had names, which meant they weren’t going to be mook level in ability (to the extent that L5R ever has mook level opposition for rank 1 characters).

So, it was a good challenge to fight them.  A dangerous challenge.  But, we accepted the danger.

As counterexamples, I’ve seen L5R fights with four PCs against eight bandits where the PCs really had no chance outside of good tactics (never expect good tactics, never).  Numbers are just too powerful in 4e L5R.  Just think about how many more attack rolls the larger side makes.  Even with reduced probability of hitting, which is no guarantee as many of my L5R builds aren’t hard to hit, still getting a good number of damage rolls in, which turns into multiple hits on PCs.  PCs generally can’t take multiple hits any better than any other humans.  Inflict enough damage on shugenja, and healing goes out the window, which is exactly what happened in the five on four above and which takes out a lot of advantage a party will have over foes.  Higher Insight Ranks, higher skill ranks, magic – a fight of appropriate bandit horde versus smaller, elite force of samurai is just a massacre in the making … if rolled out without fudging.

From the player side, many of my characters are far from optimal at combat.  Yet, that isn’t an expectation the party should have.  I play bushi mostly in L5R.  The party should not expect some courtier level fighting ability from these bushi.  But, what about the GM?

When the GM is considering challenge level, should the GM take into account poor builds?  Poor game knowledge by a player (which will result in poor tactics)?  Or, is it unrealistic that opposition will be weaker because players decided to embrace the min side of min/maxing.  I’ve just started a new campaign with a system that I understand better than the players, especially the players who have never played a Roll & Keep system.  How do I factor in that gap in character design knowledge and strategic and tactical combat ability?

I can get the chart values that take into account that extremes in challenges are pointless while putting enough stress on the situationally appropriateness of the challenge.  What I’m less sure about is whether my data point choices are the fun ones for the group.  There seems to be some sort of need to set expectations with the players, which a lot of groups do over time.  When the GM is consistent, I think this happens fairly quickly.  I just worry about being consistent, especially when we don’t play very often to where a track record can be more easily built.

Then, I need to work on my skill at statting out reasonable challenges as I seem to miss often.  One thing I hate is having to pull punches on parties when I made a challenge beyond their ability, when it wasn’t reasonable that the challenge would be that dangerous.

I think there’s some value to aiming low as a GM and ramping up as one gets a better idea.  On the other hand, it’s also rather sad when the opposition seems pathetic.  “Okay guys, you see two goblins, one looks like it has a bad leg and could be near-sighted.”  There’s an art to selling challenges as more awesome flavorwise than they really are mechanicswise I also need to work on.


Chunin Exams

January 6, 2013

If you are looking for something related to Naruto, this isn’t the place.

Not to say I couldn’t make some comments on Naruto, but this post is about character advancement in RPGs.  In particular, I wish to speak of the rewarding nature of advancement and some related items.

On a side note, I can see how MMORPGs appeal to people’s interests in advancement.  Lacking attraction to such, it’s hard for me to relate to any other draw of them.  But, enough about computerized gaming.

Well, not quite.  I’m quite fond of using the term videogame role-playing when referring to what I once would have likely termed hack and slash or dungeon crawl role-playing.  In my mind, it was natural that D&D and its ilk lent itself to a particular style of gaming that was easily computerized, which D&D 4e, in turn, drew from.  Not to say there aren’t other types of computerized RPGs or that D&D didn’t have variety.  Just an observation I continue to find cogent.

Anyway, I’m dancing around the topic.  Advancement.  Advancement is a big deal.  It’s a core element to campaign play and a major point of contrast with one-shot play.  Different player archetypes value advancement differently, of course, and some of what prompted this post is a recent situation that I’ll explain a (long) ways down.

Advancement can even rise to the level of being the primary reward of a campaign.  I see this being the case with the RuneQuest campaign I’m part of.  At times, I see this with Heroes of Rokugan (HoR).  When the story elements and interpersonal interactions are scant, what remains are goals of advancement.

And, that’s how I usually see advancement.  When there are compelling story elements or meaningful player interactions, advancement is pushed to the background.  But, it’s always there.  Always something to fall back upon and always something that covers the typically longer term paradigm of a campaign.

Duration

Because of the importance of character advancement, I would be reluctant to sell a brief campaign as a campaign.  By using the term “campaign”, I think too much thought goes into how to advance a character even when there isn’t a reasonable amount of time for a character to change all that much.

What is too short?  Hard to say.  I would tend to believe that something with less than eight sessions isn’t going to have much chance for character progression even with high rewards.  High rewards would be necessary until something like exceeding a dozen sessions.  Obviously, could do some serious accelerated growth, to where you have, as an example in D&D terms, someone go up a level every session.  Do people do this?  I have the sense that this may happen with situations like playing across multiple conventions, but I haven’t experienced this in home play.

Rate

Within the topic of advancement, rate is the primary issue.  The point of advancement is to reward players.  In certain sectors, a lot of money rides on how to reward players.  I’m not so concerned with those sectors, but it speaks to the importance of getting this right.  Penurious rewards frustrate players.  Abundant rewards change the nature of the campaign at an accelerated rate, which many a GM does not intend.  Abundant rewards can also reduce the satisfaction players have for their efforts.  The appearance of overcoming challenges is itself a reward that I have addressed previously and may well do so again that this post doesn’t have time to go into.

I like examples for not being too general and vague about these things.

Example #1:  Conan d20

My opinion on a benchmark for level progression in Conan, which would also be my starting point for other d20 campaigns as well as possibly any system that had level progression akin to the ~20 level model, is a level gain every three sessions.  In fact, once you move from oD&D’s differing experience point breakpoints for levels of different classes to a single experience point level equals character level for all classes, I would dispense with using experience points at all and simply have everyone level up roughly every three sessions.

This does break something with Conan – certain magics require losing XP to use.  But, that’s a poor system for balance, anyway.  Of more relevance is when it shouldn’t be every three sessions.  The clear exception, in my mind, is at the lowest levels.  One shouldn’t struggle at first level for that long, assuming the PCs start at first level.  As I’m kind of fond of the “early years”, I can see spending a whopping two sessions at first level rather than just moving up to second level right away.

But, it depends.  Not all sessions are equal.  The eight hour session with 3+ scenes and multiple plots is not the same as the “four hour but one hour is eating and adjusting character sheets” session with one or two scenes.  I wouldn’t want to jump from first to second level without having had some sense of accomplishment, even if that accomplishment was surviving a mass battle with Picts/nomads/whatever.

What of the later years?  I tend to believe, though I can probably be argued out of this, that it’s worth planning ahead as to how many total sessions a campaign will have.  Note that this isn’t the same as how long in real time a campaign will last.  A weekly campaign and a monthly campaign are more similar when considering how many sessions are played rather than how many years, though they are likely to have different feels, even if they last the same number of sessions.

If we take the level/3 sessions metric, we get 57 sessions for 20th level.  For a weekly campaign, that’s about a year.  That is rather fast.  On the other hand, for a monthly campaign, that’s more like five years, which seems reasonable.  Because of a lack of mechanical character progression when not leveling up, I wouldn’t be inclined to slow progression at higher levels so much as I’d be inclined to start a new campaign when PCs got too powerful for the sort of game desired.  This was a common topic for Brad and me, when the PCs just kept getting higher and higher in level.

Finally, Conan does have advancement outside of leveling up, but it’s not important.  There’s Reputation and whatever the buddy system is that we so ignored that I can’t recall what it’s called.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions, we tried a system where advancement would happen between the sessions that led to leveling up, and it had problems with players gaming the system for increased power contrary to its intent of fleshing out characters.

Example #2:  Legend of the Five Rings

HoR is sort of a monthly experience.  In truth, if played from the beginning, it is more bunched than that based on module release timing and the ability to coordinate one’s group.  It is also very consistent relative to my other experiences, where 4 XP is the standard, with the occasional 5 XP mod.  It’s so consistent that I tend to think of advancement in terms of number of mods rather than number of XP.  Well, I convert XP into mods.  So, raising a trait from 2 to 3 is three sessions.  Going from 5 to 7 in a skill is four sessions away barring exceptional circumstances, i.e. a mod worth 5 XP, and that’s just the minimum since I rarely focus on any one buy at a time.

On a larger scale, I can project how I want my character to look at certain ranks.  For home play, there may be little incentive to go up in Insight Rank slowly, but in HoR, there are reasons not to rank too quickly, especially to go from rank 2 to rank 3, as it cuts off some mods that the character can play.  So, once I put in my minimum levels of competence in traits, skills, Void Ring, and possibly other such as kata, I know how many XP I need for that rank and can convert that back into mods, which, in turn, can be converted into years of the campaign since HoR is a five year campaign.

There are some ways the math can be thrown off.  It’s possible not to get full XP, but the rare 3 XP from a mod can be accounted for with a bit of buffer.  The more common math thrower offers are interactives and special situations.  With HoR2, it was the norm to get less than 4 XP from interactives.  The charity mod in HoR3 gives less than 4 XP.  Playing “Welcome to the Second City” at Gen Con 2012 was worth 2 XP, while certain charity efforts have given 1 XP.  I don’t worry about these, even the battle interactives of Gen Con that I consistently play in, just figuring these are a bonus that may or may not get me closer to a goal.

Also, a PC can die.  For some, it’s even probable as they embrace the nature of being a samurai either in terms of tragedy or in terms of heroic sacrifice.  The more one expects to die, the more important short term advancement goals.

And, HoR isn’t just about XP in terms of advancement.  Status gains and non-status appointments are often the result of off stage efforts or interactive rewards.  Honor gains and losses can be important, as they were to my primary HoR2 character who had school abilities and kata key off of Honor.  Glory has always seemed irrelevant, but then, my HoR play isn’t as comprehensive as it is for those who attend all of the events and who make more of an effort to get what they want through fictions, et al.

I started speaking about HoR, but that was probably a mistake.  Probably better to speak of how L5R works with Insight Rank.  Given an expected duration of a campaign in sessions and an average number of XP per session, one can project what the limit of Insight Rank at the end of the campaign would be.  For HoR, IR 6 has been possible, but given my predilections for “wasting” XP, IR 5 is my more realistic limit … if I have only a single character.  Since I like having multiple characters (at times, more, at times, less), I did the calculations and determined that I could accomplish a rank 4 character and a rank 3 character barring PC death by playing the full slate of HoR3 mods.  I would have to make numerous buys only for Insight, rather than for power or wackiness.

Amusingly, my plans got derailed to where my backup character now has too much Insight, since I have no intention of ranking him past rank 1, anymore.  Too many “quality” buys would put him into rank 2, as would even some appropriately goofy buys.

I don’t worry about non-XP rewards for HoR since I can’t predict those.  Well, I can work on things like appointments to offices and the like, but I don’t really care to do so.

So, that’s HoR.  What about home play of L5R?

Our home campaign was intended to be weekly, got very confused as not everyone could do weekly, then has gotten back to a mostly weekly schedule.  The average number of XP rose from 2 to 2.5 to close to 3 now that 3 XP a session is common.

So, on the one hand, from a time perspective, advancement is vastly faster than HoR’s ~monthly play.  On the other, the average per session is lower.  I think lower makes sense as 4 XP a session for weekly play does lead to vast improvement in a year or so of play.  But, that might be fine with other campaigns.  One poster on the AEG forums asked whether it was normal to have PCs getting to rank 4 after a year of play, and I did the math that 50 sessions of 4 XP is 200 XP, which makes sense for rank 4.  I posited the idea that it’s only a concern if advancement isn’t matching expectations for power level of the campaign at certain story junctures.

I totally understand why people might want to play a weekly, one-year L5R campaign where people top out at rank 4 or 5.  Can always start a new campaign.  Can even connect the new campaign through children of the PCs, aftermath of what the PCs did “100 years ago”, or the like.

I can also see people playing a weekly campaign where PCs are only rank 3 after a year and a half.  However, something to consider is that the XP rewards could be the same for the two campaigns.  The GM could require suboptimal Insight buys that slow IR progression.  Power doesn’t even need to be contained (much) in doing this.  If power is the concern, can force players to buy Lore: White Tigers In The Dead Of Winter or something less silly like forcing everyone to buy up all school skills, most of which the min/maxer whether maxer in other people’s cases or minner in my case, aren’t likely to buy above rank 1.  If power is not as much of a concern as IR, can allow people to buy up traits to form unbalanced Rings or have everyone run around with rank 7 in primary weapon skill.

Study

In our campaign, we have played 22 sessions by my count, my character started with a lot of points in advantages and an ancestor (non-Insight gaining buys), and has been making buys to meet certain path requirements.  I’m essentially two more sessions (~6 XP) away from rank 2.  That doesn’t seem too crazy.  However, I will be an extremely weak rank 2.  A bushi with Earth 2 and Reflexes 2 is absurdly fragile …

… and I decided to make it worse.  Last session, I could have easily died.  My opponent didn’t have any particular reason to kill me, but he didn’t have any particular reason not to, either.  Because it didn’t feel right to have no repercussions for surviving, I thought about what might be an appropriate punishment.

I don’t like L5R disadvantages, as I have mentioned previously.  I think too many require that you build the character around the disadvantage in ways that isn’t fun.  I think others are cheese for additional XP, e.g. Doubt.  However, as a result of something that happens in play, I find a lot of them are evocative.

For being nearly cut down by my foe’s katana, I went through and wrote down these physical disadvantages that would be thematically appropriate:  Lame; Low Pain Threshold; Missing Limb; Permanent Wound; Weakness (choose a physical trait).  Other physical ones could have made sense, as well, like Blind.

Some people love the image of a one-armed swordsman or the like.  That just doesn’t appeal to me.  In fact, as I’ve said before, I understand any player who would rather a PC be dead than be disfigured or crippled.  Various disabilities just don’t lend themselves to a heroic ideal, at least not as much as a heroic death might.  And, it would be hard to explain why I decided my character would have lost a limb when, in the moment, no such thing happened (infection leading to amputation would have made sense).  So, I wasn’t sanguine about Missing Limb.

Low Pain Threshold didn’t really make sense.  Permanent Wound is a death sentence for anyone who fights in L5R’s 4e because of the horrific decision to invert the wound chart from 3e without changing how this disad works mechanically, so might as well have just died, though I suppose retirement would have been an option with Permanent Wound.  Retirement and death having two different story impacts at the moment.

I rolled a die just to see what would happen, and it came up Weakness, which is what I was thinking, anyway.  But, which Weakness?  Stamina?  Eh, okay.  Strength?  I just didn’t feel the thematic sense of Strength.  Reflexes?  Pretty much a death sentence as well, defeating the purpose of taking a disad in lieu of dying, though Weakness: Reflexes is all kinds of awesome if you can manage to survive combat.  I would have more seriously considered it for a high Earth character.  I kept coming back to Agility.  For one thing, an Agility penalty doesn’t hurt my effectiveness that much, which is an important consideration for being part of a party.  No PC is an island.  The more I penalize myself, the more I penalize the party by being less effective.  With a strong combat party, being significantly less effective in combat might be okay, but we are actually pretty sketchy in combat, an area I should be contributing significantly to.

What eventually decided it for me, as compared with either Stamina or Strength, which would not have crippled the character’s effectiveness either (as Weakness doesn’t affect Rings, lower Earth Ring from a real decrease in Stamina would have been a death sentence), was that Agility is the only physical trait I have above average and the only trait I’ve bought up since character creation.  It’s like that buy was undone, which has the right feel.

By the way, I can see many, many disads being inflicted upon L5R PCs based on events that happen.  Phobia is an obvious one.  But, there are a host of mental or social that could even apply to situations like being stabbed through the gut, with the specific environment helping to determine the best fit.

I spent some time on this retreat-ment because I didn’t want to just speak to the mechanics of character advancement, which I’m sure can be researched online.  I wanted to speak to the idea that characters evolve not just through getting better but through story appropriate results that may be to the character’s detriment when it comes to effectiveness.

Another example of such could be how my Conan character underwent disfigurement when the party abandoned him to some ogre-ish (I like to think of them as trollish in a mythological rather than D&D troll way) race.  That had more narrative impact and less mechanical impact.  It was really more of a disad to the party, as the freak made social endeavors challenging.

Well, there are other aspects of character advancement that I’m sure should be addressed, but I think this was good for today.


Deck Choice

January 2, 2013

Continuing to be in a V:TES state of mind and being inclined to answer my own questions, as a follow up to Sunday’s post about our recent qualifier (arguably should be called 2012-2013 Qualifier rather than 2012 Qualifier given what it’s a qualifier for), I think I’ll make some comments about choosing a deck for a tournament.

A note should be made.  I constantly argue for how little deck strength matters, so one might wonder why I would find it consequential what deck someone decides on playing.  There is strategy and there is tactics.  One’s deck is the strategy.  As much as I may not concern myself with the puissance of a particular endeavor at a sound strategy, which strategy chosen does provide a context for a game.  At the beginning of a game, one doesn’t have 20% or 25% chance of success.  As little a percentage I think is gained from deck quality, though I can see where a lot can be lost based on the lack of quality of a deck, the percentages can vary much more based upon which strategy is chosen and how the player plays that strategy.

What the basis is for choosing decks for tournaments varies depending upon goals.  In theory, for some few folks who exist somewhere in the multiverse, the goal is to win the tournament.  For those crackpots, choosing the strongest deck would seem to make sense.  But, what is the strongest deck?

Before getting too dense in the philosophizing, let’s break this post up.

1.  Goal

Besides the utterly incomprehensible goal of winning, there are more plausible goals, such as Archon Investigating every vampire in play, including your own.

Ahem, anyway, everyone should be endeavoring to win.  Not playing to win produces anguish for all concerned.  However, there’s winning and nothing else and there’s winning with something else.  Many fall into the latter camp.

Rarely, I will trot out a rush deck for a tournament.  Given an abhorrence for such decks, one might wonder why.  I’ve been playing this game a long time.  To ignore an element of it seems inappropriate.  So, rather than build on a strength, e.g. playing stealth bleed (perhaps), work on a weakness.  That, and variety.

Many other examples of “win+” are readily available:  playing a clan not played before; playing a discipline not played before; playing a combo deck not played before; minionless deck; etc.

There are those who simply desire to win.  Their job is not necessarily any easier.  In the absence of restrictions on what sort of deck to play, value judgments need to be made on what deck is likely to be most successful.  Ignoring the next two subjects for a moment, that could be the deck with the most powerful strategy, the deck that plays the best cards, the deck that generates the least table hate or is otherwise the sneakiest deck, the hardest deck for others to defend against (e.g. a combo deck others haven’t seen), or whatever.

2.  Metagaming

Regardless as to how badly one wants to win or what recipe one wants to win with, metagaming for the expected tournament environment can suggest deck builds or deck choices.

Sure, if your heart is set on playing !Salubri Clan Impersonate to Camarilla clans to become Justicars so that you can Alastor Assault Rifles into play, deck choice is not going to be determined much by expected metagame.

While I typically find myself having multiple decks ready for multiple events and needing to determine which deck to play in which event on a given day, weekend, or Week, even for a single event, the metagame will influence the best deck choice.

I find that metagaming for V:TES events is quite hit or miss, mostly miss.  So, there is a question of the benefit one gains as one invests in metagaming.  Still, I now feel bad for not running Confusion of the Eye in my 2012 Qualifier deck.  Not that that was a deck choice but, instead, a card choice.  The deck choice would have been to have prepared an anti-vote deck, like I had in 2010’s qualifier, an entirely legitimate metagame decision given how much hate I feel for voting these years.

A more relevant example may be the 2009 Las Vegas Qualifier.  In one event, I played a 20 bounce deck.  In the other, a different deck.  I wondered at the time whether I would have been better with my deck choices switched as the bouncerrific deck appeared to play in the more voterrific of the two events.

Then, there’s timing.  When a new set becomes legal, not a problem we have at the moment of course, there will be those who use it.  Doesn’t have to be a new set, however.  It could be a rules change, a discovery of card interactions, or even just whether there has been tournaments recently or not in ages.

Not as germane, but storyline rules typically produce a distinct metagame to where metagaming is more predictable and comes with more benefits.

I would be remiss in not mentioning metagaming not for decks but for players.  Above, I mention the possibility of playing a deck the field doesn’t understand well.  How familiar players will be and how unfamiliar players will react to an esoteric deck is a metagame consideration.  As are, of course, what sort of play styles players have.  As someone who used to play smaller tournaments, I had a pretty good idea who would be at them and adjusted my deck decisions appropriately.  It would be interesting to see if one could group players in larger tournaments by style like one can group decks by style to metagame.  A European might have more to say on this as certain countries appear to have certain reputations; if that’s accurate, a multinational event is an opportunity to metagame based on national character.

3.  Comfort

This is where my playing a rush deck is a perfect example.  I lack any sort of comfort with the rush strategy.  I am not a preemptive sort.  I am a reactive sort.  There are cases when minion removal is justified – those are few.  In general, minion removal just leads to players waiting to die, which is far less enjoyable than being dead.

The strongest deck for any given player is not necessarily the best metagame deck or the objectively strongest deck, to the extent that someone could judge either of those.  For a given player, success, as measured first by winning the tournament, followed by such things as a seat at the finals, is more likely when the player plays the particular deck well.

More than one element goes into playing the deck well.  Knowledge of the deck’s strategy and how it interacts with opposing strategies is one facet.  Being in tune with the strategy is what I speak of when speaking of my own difficulties with the rush strategy.  But, also, there’s simply desiring to play the deck.

Also in that qualifier post, I commented upon how I would be bored playing the same decks over and over as others are wont to do.  There are decks I have interest in playing more than twice in my life – they are few.  As an example of a lack of desire, I could point to the second round of the fourth tournament over Labor Day Weekend in Los Angeles, where “Catatonic Dudes” was so excruciating to play that I hoped for a mercifully quick end.  Or, I could point to a Summer tournament in 2009 where my tournament report clearly shows a disgust with tournament play in general and a desire to play a deck that simply played quickly to get things over with.

What prompted this subject was how much more successful, in a horribly insufficient sample size way, I was playing decks never intended for tournament play in Los Angeles versus playing decks I built specifically to play in tournaments this past weekend.  Now, there are many factors, including randomness, at work that could just as easily explain the difference in results, and it wasn’t like I was completely inept on Saturday as I did come within a VP of the finalists in the second tournament, but I would posit that I was more comfortable with the decks I played in Los Angeles, which contributed in some way to heightened success.

Why?  Why would “just some” deck be better for tournament play than decks I specifically design for tournament play?

I believe I try too hard.  I have a streak of trying to be way too clever for my own good.  Now, it’s important to me to play decks from my limited collection experiments in tournaments to address goals of the experiments.  But, playing one deck in a day that had the potential for frustration (by not having cards I would normally run), even though it didn’t frustrate me in the least, was sufficient in the realm of doing something different.  The first tournament’s deck could have been even more frustrating if the second tournament had turned out differently.

Of course, another possibility is lack of pressure.  When I build a deck specifically for a tournament, I do so with the intention of achieving as best as possible with that deck.  When I play “just some” deck, I don’t feel burdened by the idea that I gain value from succeeding with such a deck.

Note how many times someone who wins a tournament speaks of throwing together a deck at the last minute.  Is that the deck with the best strategy or the best cards?  Is that the metagame breaker?  Maybe, it’s just the most comfortable deck since it comes with no expectations.

Why do deck choices matter?

That’s too broad a question for this post.  Why do I care enough to speak of making deck choices?

I suppose that I wish to argue myself out of trying too hard.  Meanwhile, I believe it’s worth publishing the idea that it’s both possible to underthink deck choice by not even trying to metagame – see lack of vote defense in Saturday’s qualifier leading to a vote deck crushing – and overthink deck choice by worrying too much about how good a deck should be or how clever a deck should be.