Post Danse Macabre Metagaming

November 30, 2013

Keep thinking of things that are ideas for something to write about but which may not have a lot of depth.  Done right, this should have some meat.

By the way, post #300 of this blog.

Many speak of what you can do with the new Danse Macabre cards for V:TES.  Why bother rehashing those thoughts?  Let’s go on to how I might metagame for an environment in which people are going to be trying new cards.

Starting with the crypt cards, what crypt cards might get me to think about building decks differently?

Mimir

Can’t be Archoned.  But, does that matter to how I build decks?  Sure, I run Archon a lot in tournament play because people bleed so uncontrollably in tournament play.  But, a Mimir deck is likely to be Mimir doing the work, which means one action to care about a turn.  Bounce or reduction makes that not hurt much.  That leaves decks that can do neither.  He can easily get by blocks with Form of Mist and whatever.  But, again, I’m not terribly scared by proactive superstar decks.  It’s the superstar wall decks that are incredibly annoying and, as I rarely play Pentex Subversion, his unPentexability is not terribly relevant to me.

But, what of a Mimir wall deck?  He can Eternal Vigilance.  He can’t be Kissed.  He can Magic out a Sniper Rifle or Kevlar Vest or whatever.  I’m just having a hard time seeing someone bother.  It’s still not that hard to get by Animalism intercept.  He’s not going to have a Bowl, though, sure, he could Sport Bike and Mr. Winthrop up.  Other than immunity to Pentex, Misdirection, and miscellaneous annoyance master plays, why block?

Carolina Vález

Do I expect to see Abyssal Hunters everywhere?  Not so much.  More likely that her ability will discourage allies to some extent.  Who am I kidding?  Probably not at all, since it’s just one of your dudes who has her ability – just go murder the rest … since Lasombra block is not much of a thing.

Xipe Totec

Speaking of ally hate, getting to the point where there’s enough built in ally steal that I’m wondering when it hits the point that it’s a true deterrent.  Entrancement can be DIed, but not Goulet, Xeper, Xipe.  I’m not so much of a fan of the good allies since I hate popular things, so maybe it’s not all that relevant to have a Courier stolen or whatever.  Plus, it’s not like other people find Goulet as fun to play as I do, etc.

Crypts – General

New !Brujah won’t really change that all sorts of folks will be trying new Pot/Pre cards.  Just as new !Gangrel midcaps shouldn’t change how much !Gangrel see play.  The new Lasombra I would expect to see encourage Lasombra decks.  One is superefficient (though POT is of questionable importance), the other has all sorts of miscellaneous goodness to make up for being afflicted with 9-capness.  But, does it matter?  Stealth bleed, stealth vote – not exactly anything different to worry about.  More Baltimore Purge chances is kind of “eh” as neither is terribly oriented to Purging.

The efficient !Trem midcaps encourage something, but what?  One is Black Hand oriented, which isn’t likely to be as important as Recruitment Exercise for seeing BH, though Seraphity does mean more builds for Seraph oriented decks.  The other’s voting prowess strikes me as more of a side effect than a deck driver.  And, again, does this mean any sort of metagaming change?  Not likely.  Whereas, the new Tzimisce might.  Group 4 Tzimisce were just so bad and group 2/3 was old.  Filling in with some disciplined voters helps get closer to the amazing group 2/3 crypt.  Could see Tzimisce vote, but that hardly matters – I’m already terribly concerned by voting.  It’s the increased possibilities of wallish Tzimisce that would be a concern.


Now, each of the library cards (there aren’t that many).

Spoils of War

!Brujah seem to be everywhere.  Of this and the Pot/Pre cards, I’d rate this the best, but is the bloating power of this card sufficient to change anything about deck choice or deck design?  Does blocking become more important?  Seems unlikely since the point of the new cards is to bruise blockers.  I’ve already been in a situation where this card wins a war of attrition.  It’s almost like everyone should play good stealth bleed, if they aren’t playing vote, as it’s still easy to rip through a !Brujah deck when you have the offense.

Marked Territory

How thrilling.  Just encourages stealth overkill.  But, anyway, so I get blocked by a !Gangrel – do I care?  It’s less scary than being blocked by a Toreador or a Second Traditioning Brujah.  Encourage block deny?  Well, as I’m not terribly into Giovanni, HoS, or Nagaraja these days, does it mean some slight increase in Elder Impersonations, like, from zero?  Maybe.

Inside Dirt

Blood denial is just such a pain to have do anything, especially when The Coven sees play in every game.  So, even with Public Vilification around to support it, I don’t see worrying about random blood burn.  Bleed bounce is not disincentivized to any meaningful degree just because of new age Enticement decks.  Is it worth running more bleed reduction to gum up Inside Dirt decks?  Eh.  It’s not like I expect a lot of Inside Dirt, like I expect a lot of !Brujah.  Moving on.

Public Vilification

Younger.  So, Lutz and other Fear of Mekhet targets aren’t likely to get nailed by this.  That’s unfortunate, though trading one vote deck for another hardly fixes how annoying voting is in the game.  Unfortunately, if this sees play, and I’m not thinking it will see that much, it becomes Dmitra-like in how it’s a hassle to keep someone down, though Voter Captivation does a bang up job of making for full vampires all of the time, so whatever.  Keep going.

Under Siege

Go in decks weak in intercept or strong in intercept?  That makes a big difference.  If the former, then it’s just feeding your stealth predator.  If the latter, does that change expectations any?  It’s more of a tactical (play) change than a strategic (metagaming) change to make.

Show of Force

Encourages bruise bleed.  Doesn’t actually solve the problems of bruise bleed, which are:  weak defenses; poor control elements.  Just likely helps produce easy to oust decks.  So, the question becomes how much you adapt to there being a bunch of forward looking, still pretty much helpless decks at tables.  Do you try to save them by running more Eagle Sights, DIs, and Con Boons?  Or, do you stealth bleed them out of existence when they cooperatively sit as your prey?

Then, if I’m inclined to play blocky decks, do I invest in more maneuvers, more damage prevent, and/or more other things to ignore combat?

I think I pretty much ignore this card’s existence.  I don’t see that I’d change what I’d play or how I’d build decks just because it’s more likely to see some sketchy strategy.

Instantaneous Transformation

Effect on random !Gangrel of seeing more multiacting !Gangrel decks doesn’t mean anything to me – not really any different than expecting Freak Drive out of Gangrel decks.  This is all about superstars.  In particular, in this area, I’d imagine The unnamed sees that much more play.  Enkidu is not really that popular either up the coast nor down the coast.  Mitru, Adana, … of course it’s all about Stanislava.  Reasonably popular up here, tiresomely popular with Wedge down the coast.  Even though she can already play Freak and Forced, it’s just one more reason to give her a go.

What’s interesting about the redundancy is that DI becomes less of a sure thing at stopping a multiturn.  DI IT and FM or FD can DS (do shi-).  Etc.

But, again, does it matter?  Don’t think so.  Fatties are already ubiquitous.  Wrecking the life of 11-caps is a noble and righteous goal that all should embrace, regardless as to their religions.  Maybe go from two Fear of Mekhets in every deck to three in a world with marginally more Adanas and Stanislavas.

Shadow Boxing

Whether a card is good or not doesn’t necessarily affect whether I metagame against it.  Maybe I feel vindicated by losing to bad cards rather than good in CCG play since that means I win the metagame subgame, but, mostly, I don’t like losing to strategies I find annoying.  And, getting punked in V:TES is annoying.  So, does that mean damage prevent?  Maybe.  I already went through my Flesh of Marble in every deck phase to counteract the flying animal menace.  Maybe, it’s time to embrace Fortitude, except Fortitude damage prevent, with its zero impact on good strategies, just means someone else wins.  Obedience is another way to go, but that means playing Dominate.  Mental Maze, though I’m just contributing to a fattie world.

Not blocking at all means the superior is unregardable.  So, a world of a bunch of forward moving, let the fattie vote decks and BBB decks win, decks is totally a possibility.  Actually, even though it would further besmirch my tournament results, it is tempting to play Samedi, and they can slough combat like nobody’s business while also being awful at blocking.  I’m sure I have some other ideas that would be similarly unconcerned by someone trying to inflict their Horseshoe deck upon me.

Dark Steel

Lasombra combat.  Ha ha, er, ha.  When someone else plays this sort of deck, it will be a first.

Shakar: the Hunt

And, whether a card is good or not also doesn’t necessarily affect whether one will see it played.  Given how bad BH decks are at fighting, maybe some superstar play – nah.  Unregardable to the metagame.

Recruitment Exercise

So, will people finally start putting Gehenna-killing cards in their decks?  Unlikely.  I often can’t be bothered, even when I think of it.  It’s not like event killers are any good at killing events.  The Uncoiling can easily miss without just one event to nail.  I’ve yet to be able to play Fourth Cycle.

Oh?  Not everyone is going to play Watchtower: The Wolves Feed decks?  Right.  That’s too European for this state.  Do typical BH decks need any particular metagaming against?  Equipment kill/steal to prevent multibleed from Guarded Rubrics is something, I guess.  Is that worth jumping through any sort of hoops rather than just bouncing and hoping for a DI on GR?

Hmmm, seems like DI keeps coming to mind.  One wonders …

Esprit de Corps

First, not likely to influence how often people play Dementation, Dominate, or Presence.  Nor do I care really about it being used for a bruise bleed or block strategy.  The question for me is how much it will lead to swarm rush.  Not expecting much of such decks as too many arrows point to bruise bleed builds until people tire of them.

Does make one wonder about .44s, even in a world with many more “maneuver to close” plays, especially with a permamaneuver to go with it.  There really aren’t that many vampires who get a free maneuver.  Nehsi is someone I can see playing, though 10 for him and 2 for a .44 seems counterproductive.  Anton de Concepcion may see more play these days but probably not by me.  Tammy Walenski is really interesting but expensive.  Ysador the Foul – too expensive.  Lazarus (adv) is hilarious – I need to build that deck.  If only there were a cheaper vampire, like a 7 cap, with AUS and that already showed up in one of my more fun decks of recent times.  If only.

Of course, many of these Pot-y decks could just as easily be playing hyperspeed Gates or Gates to the Vitals, so it’s kind of POinTless to get excited by “shoot for 2 with two maneuvers”.

Bottom Line

So, in the end, I’m not really feeling doing any substantial metagaming different from what I’d already do.  Maybe figure Animalism will be somewhat less prevalent in a world inclined to hyperspeed Gates and getting Slammed.  Winnie Auspex seems less exciting unless it’s full of bounce to not have to block the Potencers as much.  Questionably reducing the odds of seeing either of those, not that I see them that often, anyway, might free things up a bit to where some “this dies to Crows” deck or “important not to get blocked every action” deck might get the “I choose you” treatment.

Mostly, I just see a lot of new decks get eaten by any sort of solid stealth bleed deck, though that’s kind of something that should happen all of the time and only doesn’t because of regional biases against simple stealth bleed.  So, whatever.

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Stop, Drop, And Roll Initiative

November 28, 2013

First of all, it would be tacky not to express thanks for something.

The last time we played V:TES, I mentioned how pulling cards with the right sleeves, even though all of my sleeves are clear sleeves and virtually all of them were bought by the 10,000 when I did one of my various “buy 10,000 more sleeves” buys, was the greatest difficulty in putting decks together.  Andy made the retort “first world problems” and I liked that.

I’m thankful I can have such first world problems of choosing what games I want to play, agonizing over not having posted to my blog often enough, and trying to find an Ivory Bow that isn’t Jyhad version or Third Edition version, that’s not in a fattie sleeve or beveled sleeve.

Options.

RPG play should involve options.  Sure, some things are illusionary and GMs often expect parties to make certain choices, but having no meaningful options takes away much of the idea of playing a character.  After all, if the PC is always going to choose XYZ, then why do you need a player?

Combat and options.  Not combat options.  The option to not enter combat versus the option to enter combat.  This is something I struggle with.  As a player, I don’t tend to feel it.  Diplomacy, stealth, frontal assault – these come to mind as the top paths for resolving an issue.  Can throw in magic weirdness, but that can vary quite a bit more, depending upon the system, than those three.

Typically, I have a sense when diplomacy makes sense, and my parties (ignoring RuneQuest play, where I don’t get why diplomacy with chaos creatures makes any sense) will try diplomacy.  In Conan, it was amusing that we were playing Conan yet our main party diplomacized virtually all humans and some near humans.  My borderer was far, far better at Diplomacy than fighting.

For obvious reasons, I don’t find stealth to be enthusiastically embraced in L5R play.  Sure, some HoR mods assume stealth to the point where there’s not really any other option.  But, what I realized recently was just how meaningless diplomacy was as an option in L5R play.  Yes, there are instances when I’ve seen bandits work a deal with you or where you get a shot at convincing crazy/possessed/whatever person to stand down, but, I just don’t feel like diplomacy is an ordinary alternative.

Much of that has to do with the nature of the enemy.  Just as many of our Conan fights were with monsters and we didn’t consider chatting them up, there’s no reason to smoothtalk monsters, maho-tsukai, and the like in L5R.  But, the two worlds have a significant difference when it comes to dealing with people.  L5R is much harsher than Conan.  In Conan, there’s no uberauthority that the PCs are typically representing.  You can let others get away with murder, after all, you have probably been committing as many crimes as they have.  In L5R, it’s either “seppuku for you” or “off with their heads” or the rope.  Cutting a deal to fry bigger fish is a thing, but it’s not a common thing.

And, where in Conan, there’s an incentive to save your own skin, L5R gives samurai plenty of incentives to kick back in Meido for a bit.  It should probably be played up more the reasons why samurai won’t just impale themselves upon their enemies, as the main reason I see for having PCs live is to not have to go through the process of making another character, which is heavily disincentivized in HoR play mechanically if your intention is to be able to play the more challenging mods/events and/or to keep up with your usual group, when you have a usual group.

So, when I go to GM probable combat situations, the probable is omitted, and combat just starts, with the PCs having no real option.  I don’t like that.  Well, I don’t have a problem with rolling Initiative to see what order people act in to resolve both combat and noncombat actions, but I don’t like forcing combats on the party.  Since certain things, e.g. goblins charging but not so many that the party can’t take them, make combat inevitable to anything remotely resembling reasonable samurai, there needs to be more setup of what happens before you encounter things that you would always fight when they are coming right for you.

I can already see how I could have done things differently last session.  Instead of “gaki are right on top of you”, it should have been “you see oily gaki congregating in a particular area, make Lore: Gaki rolls to know that this type of gaki shouldn’t be forming up into a pack, oh, and you feel an intense weirdness not normal to Gaki-do behind them”.  That would give options.  Could divert them.  Could set up a flanking attack.  Could smash and grab, since it’s kind of pointless to mow down gaki, as they will just reform after a while.

My running FSTH has similar issues.  Combats just start.  No preamble.  No strategic planning for the party of how to deal with the enemy.  Just, start rolling dice.

Yet another area of GMing I need to work on.  One thing about giving the party the option of fighting or the option of how they will fight is that it allows the players to talk to each other, which makes the party more of a party and less a collection of individuals rolling dice.  Another benefit is, obviously, that there is greater variety in what can happen and combats aren’t just dicerollingfests, which is something I’ve thought askance at, in the past.

It’s just the nature of how I view stories that I focus on the scene and the action and not on the decisions that got the players there.  I push the situation that has the heroic opportunities, without giving the opportunity to be less heroic or the opportunity to be more clever in their heroics.


Doctoring Things Up

November 26, 2013

Sometimes, I can’t let commenting upon other things go.

Spoilers, sweetie.

Bartender

Bartender

So, 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.  Amazing difference in how the show is doing now and how it was doing from, say, mid 80’s to the 2005 reboot.  List some of the more notable Pros and Cons.

Cons

1.  Christopher Eccleston

His absence as a real participant was glaring.  I can see not being thrilled with your time on a show, and Tom Baker bailed on the Five Doctors (nice to see some make up for that), but when you signed on for the role, for a show with an immense history and a known fanbase, one would think you would recognize being part of something beyond yourself.

When I first watched the episode, I just kept thinking “Why am I only seeing two of the reboot Doctors, when there are only three?”  This wasn’t The Two Doctors, wasn’t even The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.  This was the 50th anniversary of a TV show going on the air.  I know those happen all of the time, but …

2.  No More

No more with the “No More”.  I realize it’s a device and gets used all the way through.  It was just cheesy … without being gratuitously blasted in English!?!  While there’s an element of suspension of disbelief to where you can pretend everything was being translated from Gallifreyan or you could even say the message was in English so that both the Daleks and Time Lords, who know English, could read it, it was so, so cheesy.  It took me out of the immersion.

3.  Gratuitous Special Effects

I’m not a special effects person, which, as an old Doctor Who fan, makes sense.  The giant space battle and planetary assault really didn’t impact me in any way, feeling more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica or some such.  The 3d painting stuff may have looked cool on a big screen or in, um, 3d, but, on my TV, it just looked okay.  Not to say I have any problem with the last, just a note.

No, the episode started off with one of the more annoying bits when it had the “special”, if maybe not so special, effect of showing images of London.  “Look at what an important TV show we are!  We can fly around the real London!”  I understand doing these sorts of things, and maybe not being British meant it meant less to me, but all I could think is “This is taking precious time away from stuff I want to see with kind of stale physical comedy.”  If it happened in the middle or end of the show, might have felt something.  Happening in the beginning, it just screamed gratuitous and was also moronic that UNIT would just assume the TARDIS was lying around, nevermind that UNIT didn’t even need the TARDIS to get the Doctor to show up.

Then, in line with some other commentators, Gallifreyans just aren’t that impressive technologically, are they?  Yes, not everyone on Gallifrey is a Time Lord.  But, apparently the race that manages time and is among the most advanced in the universe just runs around in costumes and gets laser/blaster shot at.  Sure, showing advanced technology is a pain.  There are budget constraints.  But, also, you want the audience to relate to what’s going on.  And, yes, Gallifrey has always had silly looking people and silly looking technology, maybe one of the reasons it’s not used more often.  But, I’m kind of tired of the lack of majesty in the setting.  The End of Time didn’t help, either, and I saw that again recently.

4.  Elizabeth

I thought it wasn’t all bad, but it sure was distracting and not in the way that it could have been (finding some gorgeous actress where you wished you could be in 1562).  I didn’t hate the Elizabeth stuff.  It was also wrapped around some of the more enjoyable parts.  I’m sure the casting was intentional, to go for greater comedic effect.

5.  Few Cameos

I watched the minisodes of The Last Day and the Five(ish) Doctors.  Seems like more cameos could have been done.  I probably missed somebody in the background, but where’s the best companion of them all?  Where’s (a functioning) K-9?

6.  UNIT

UNIT may have been frequently inept – watch the Pertwee stuff for how often the Brigadier looked like a goof, but it generated some cool back in the day because it actually got to do things.  Every time UNIT shows up these days, it never seems to do anything that matters.

Pros

1.  John Hurt

The show is so different now.  It became romantic, it became companion focused, I have a hard time remembering meaningful aliens on an alien planet during the reboot run.  To be all about flirty-wirty, had to cast younger actors as Doctors.  While you could see Pertwee or T. Baker make moves on certain companions and Davison was the original “let’s try someone the companions might dig”, I miss the idea of a Doctor who isn’t constantly having companions fall in love with him.

Hurt’s performance wasn’t perfect.  “For God’s sake” was another instance of taking me out of immersion, and the head slap thing was so undignified, but the voice and look helped so much with reminding that the Doctor is more than just some physical comedy frat boy.  I didn’t watch much of Hartnell’s stuff, but the contrasts when you had The Three Doctors was great.  And, so was War Doctor ripping on the boys.

The weaponization of the sonic screwdriver just has gotten so ridiculous.  Doctor Who has always been hypocritical, where the hippie Doctor preaches peace and love and then has the enemy blow themselves up or have the companions/single-serial-expendables blow the enemy up.  … I loved Sylvester McCoy’s comment in the Explaining Doctor Who thing about “or have the companion blow them up.”  But, the screwdriver has become a gun.  Also, way overused.

Also ripping on the way they talk, with their “catchphrase” styles and babytalk, was appreciated.

2.  Multiple Doctors

While sad that every Doctor from 4 on is still alive and we get so few in this special, it’s always fun putting Doctors together as they get to do their schticks and rip on each other’s schticks.  But, beyond that, you realize there’s a gravitas to the idea of someone who lives multiple lives and can draw upon knowledge from past and future to solve problems as well as physically team up to do things no one else can do.  Gee, it’s just like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion and how they sometimes pop up to help each other.  I just love the concept, apparently.

3.  Tom

Tom got a chance to come back and make up some for the Five Doctors.  I didn’t nerdgasm like a lot of others did – I didn’t even recognize the voice immediately, even though Tom is my Doctor.  If any old show Doctor, though, having Tom get play was the best possibility.

4.  Billie Piper

I neither love Billie nor hate Billie.  I was not that much of a fan of Rose.  I liked the character more when she was no longer a regular.  I just thought her character and her acting worked well.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed it.  It wasn’t great.  It wasn’t drivel.  It was somewhere in between with some nice moments and some missed opportunities.

So, how can I make this about gaming?

Gaming

Obviously, I could speak to trying to run a Doctor Who campaign and how I have a hard time seeing how to do that.  I’m not even clear on how to do a one-shot well as there will be too many players and someone playing the Doctor has a rough role to play.

No, my first thought after seeing the episode when it came to gaming was “missed opportunities”.  This sort of special should be all about giving the fans what they have always wanted, about doing the things you can’t do in a normal episode.

How often do RPGs give the players what they want?

Seemingly, not that often.  At least, in my experience, not that often in campaign play.  I find that convention one-shots far more often fit the genre, the conventions of the genre, the style, the core elements of whatever game you signed up for.  Now, sure, I’ve also played in a Supernatural game where I was a voodoo priest sucking on an angel, but many campaigns are based on something that the players have expectations for.  Star Wars should be space opera with big dramatic scenes.  Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time should not be “You are walking down the road and fight stuff on the road.  The End.”  I know my experience with the latter was that, my recollection of my time playing Middle Earth was pretty close.

Mostly, these days, I’m playing L5R.  The thing about L5R is that it isn’t just one thing, though I’m very much to the HoR style of play.  So, you can have mismatched expectations.  Or, you can have unclear expectations.

But, I’m getting off track.  It’s not so much mismatched expectations on the overall campaign, as I’ve talked about that before.  What I’m trying to get at is mismatched expectations in the details.  To keep using L5R as an example, though I hope it’s clear that it’s an issue with all RPG play, someone who built a good duelist doesn’t want to have a dueling opportunity ripped away, something I was almost shocked by in a HoR3 mod.  Someone into the culture wants to linger on the poetry or the clothes or the whatever.  Some of us like romance (I know, weird, and icky) and don’t want relationship possibilities glossed over.

Often, I have a hard time seeing things from the players’ side when I GM, which is kind of weird, but my mind is just in a different space.  And, often, I’m not completely sure what to give the players more of, even though I should be able to figure it out.  I don’t want to miss the opportunities to have the players mark out.

But, do I have the will to do better?


Set-tling Matters

November 16, 2013

The recent release of the Danse Macabre e-set along with PCK‘s efforts of e-sets has gotten people to rate sets and cards.

Which got me to thinking.  First, I started thinking about Final Nights.  There were a lot of complaints about PCK’s Laibon set’s cards, but I’ve opened a lot of packs of V:TES under both the WotC regime and the WW regime, and there were so many bad cards.  Final Nights sticks out more in my mind because I not only opened a lot of packs of it but I opened a lot of packs after the set had been out for a while, so, instead of the focus being on distributions or ideas of how to use the new cards, I could just shake my head in wonder at the awfulness of the commons.

Which I’ll get to in a moment.

Before getting into details, the point of this post is that a good set isn’t necessarily one full of good cards and a bad set isn’t necessarily one full of bad cards.

Final Nights was a “Good set full of bad cards.”  Meanwhile, as that’s not the most interesting opinion, Keepers of Tradition was a “Bad set full of good cards.”

What are the goals of a set?

Obviously, making the game more fun, but that’s too general.  Final Nights had a goal of making the indie clans competitive.  It succeeded.  Now, it kind of shafted the Assamites by giving us a bunch of crap Quietus cards, but even the Assamites gained a lot from getting Badr al-Budur.

But, what of KoT?  Of course, it was another base set.  It was a Camarilla base set.  I would say it had a goal of making high cap vampires more playable, which it succeeded at.  I would say it was looking to give some love to Brujah, who had few competitive options prior to KoT, mostly EuroBrujah with some decks like Brujah Debate (still likely to play EuroBrujah) and Arms Dealers.  Brujah finally got political vampires that had Presence instead of Dominate and were still good enough to play!

Maybe I could find something to complain about with the crypt cards in KoT, probably start with the lack of identity of Gangrel, but whatever, it’s cool.  KoT seems a beloved set, however, not just because there are new Inner Circle vampires and whatever but because of the library goodies.

Which I’ll get to.

Final Nights – one stars:
Baleful Doll
Banner of Neutrality
Blackmail
Blood Clots
Canopic Jar
Clandestine Contract
Contingency Planning
Daemonic Possession
Dagon’s Call
Extortion
Exuding Blood
Final Nights, The
Garrote
Grasp the Ghostly
Guard Duty
Jones, The
King of the Mountain
Masquer (Wraith)
Meat Hook
Priestess of Sekhmet
Pseudo-Blindness
Rafastio Ghoul
Reality
Red Herring
Relentless Pursuit
Save Face
Scorpion’s Touch
Sensory Overload
Shilmulo Deception
Skin of the Adder
Starshell Grenade Launcher
Succulent Vitae
Thin Blood
Thrones Crumble
Tortured Confession
Vascular Explosion
Veil of Silence
Venenation
Venetian Conference

This is my list of “one star” Final Nights commons, i.e. cards so bad they couldn’t rise to the level of mediocre.  I like some of the cards a bit, Masquer for instance, so I tried to use the TWDA to validate some selections.  Anyway, since all of my opinions are opinions, let’s just say this list is an accurate assessment of awful Final Nights commons.

There were 54 Final Nights commons.  This list is 39 cards long.  This isn’t a list of “average” cards or “just for fun” cards or whatever but a list of awful cards – 72% of the commons in the set sucked!

And, still, as tedious as it was to crack packs and look at the same crap over and over again, as a set, FN was good.  Could have been way better.  Could have been more realistic about the failings of Assamites.  Could have made Abomination non-unique.  Etc.

So, now my list for KoT:

Keepers of Tradition – three plus stars:
Ashur Tablets
Dark Influences
Dark Mirror of the Mind
Deep Song
Eyes of Argus
Force of Personality
Heroic Might
Kevlar Vest
Neonate Breach
No Trace
Old Friends
Papillon
Perfect Paragon
Rego Motus
Villein

Okay, a list of 15 cards, so what?

These are the cards I’d put three or more stars to from the new commons and uncommons in KoT (using TWDA a lot to try to take out some personal biases).  Three stars being solid/good, four stars being excellent, five stars being best in game.  The list of new commons and uncommons in KoT is only 36 cards long.  That means 42% of the commons and uncommons in KoT were superior cards!

But, why is that bad?

Because it’s a massive power creep and not one justified at all.  V:TES has historically needed power jumps for clans, disciplines, sects, or whatever.  But, let’s single out some of these cards, cards that are extremely popular and many seem to like being in the game, to get into how they didn’t address improving the game, just improving what was already studly.

Ashur Tablets – Not going to spend much time on this card.  I’m firmly in the camp of thinking the card is absurdly broken, not just in terms of power but in terms of undermining the idea that the library is finite.  Do I like to come up with deck ideas using the card?  Sure.  Still wish it didn’t exist.

Dark Influences – At first, I gave this a much lower rating.  After checking the TWDA, I bumped my rating up considerably.  It’s not Direct Intervention, but it’s what DI should have been and is still full of magic.

Okay, enough off topic comments.  The four cards I find most offensive in this list are Deep Song, Eyes of Argus, Perfect Paragon, and Villein.  Villein has much controversy, so there’s little point in explaining my position on it.  I’m sure the other three are the ones people will disagree the most about.

All of these cards were unnecessary power jumps for things that didn’t need any power jump.  I’m amazed by how people seem to have forgotten the metagame prior to KoT and just how powerful winnie Animalism was before getting such a ridiculous card as Deep Song.  I was listening to Cause and Effect recently and amazed that anyone thought winnie Animalism didn’t rush prior to Deep Song.  It just rushes that much better – with +1 bleed – these days.

As for Eyes of Argus, more arms race between stealth and intercept, that punishes the middle ground.  I’m not saying you can’t get by with one intercept or one stealth anymore, but, as an example, I find a lot of decks give up on intercept because multiple stealth is so common because stealth needs to so often beat two intercept.  Prior to KoT, Second Tradition was the transient play that might shift a metagame to three stealth.  After KoT, even some inferior Auspex dork, just standing around untapped, can grief stealth attempts on D actions.  But, whatever.  Auspex worked just fine without the card.  Auspex has never been weak.  Boring, maybe, though this card hardly addresses that.  What is the point of giving a discipline more of what it already does better than everyone else?

As with Eyes of Argus, I play Perfect Paragon a lot.  Auspex is probably my most played discipline.  Presence is way overrepresented in my tournament decks.  But, speaking of punishing casual intercept, now we can have vote decks effortlessly get the equivalent of two stealth.  With so many modern vote decks that don’t run Obfuscate running Celerity, Resist Earth’s Grasp puts them at the equivalent of three stealth, all gained back from Voter Captivation.

Presence has never been weak.  Presence had not needed help in passing votes.  Presence plus stealth was an extremely successful strategy prior to KoT, and, in terms of PP only affecting younger vampires, Presence based decks have often been the fattiest due to Voter Cap.

Great cards but great for the game?

I see the game becoming less fun after KoT.  Animalism is off the rails.  Presence vote is a tad more common than it was before – being all over the place before.  Non-Obfuscate stealth seems increasingly pushed out by Obfuscate stealth to overcome the ease of blocks.

Final Nights could have had a lot of power Obfuscate cards, given how two of the indies are Obfuscators, but that wouldn’t have addressed those clans’ needs.  KoT put out some good cards – I think Horseshoes, as annoying as it can be, was an important step in making Potence less dull.  But, it just ramped already powerful strategies with no justification.  Celerity gets Torrent while Presence gets Perfect Paragon?  Not exactly fair.  Fortitude, which is really Freak Drive plus some other cards, got a crap card and a card I may like, Steadfastness, but that has only shown up in four tournament winning decks.

So, to recap, just because a set has good/great/awesome cards, that doesn’t mean it’s good for the game.  And, just because a set has a lot of bad/awful/sucky cards doesn’t mean it failed to deliver on making the game better.


My Samuraimichi

November 10, 2013

I posted a comment on the L5R forums recently that resonated.  I see the point to playing the Legend of the Five Rings RPG to be something that I don’t feel from how other people talk about the game.

To me, the point isn’t to play a character with a katana.  Highlander did a pretty good job of making katana not so cool to me.  Nor is the point to play ninja, which I used to think were cool, but L5R has done a pretty good job of making them seem way less cool.  (Naruto is kind of a mixed bag, here, though I guess it would fall on the side of more cool rather than less cool.  I haven’t seen ninja movies in a long time, ignoring all of the ninjalike characters of the spy or Batman sort, so maybe they seem less cool now because of the lack.)

And, I never really felt anything for samurai-bushi, so L5R was never a draw to me because of the opportunity to play such.  I do have a significant interest in Asian fantasy, which is why I gravitate to the more fantasyish parts of L5R and away from the politics and intrigue.  But, I’m taking a while to get to the point.

To me, the point of playing L5R is the set of Glory/Honor/Status.  These concepts can easily apply to other worlds, to the point where there was a time where I was getting tired of how overbearing Rokugan could be and was more interested in a Native American game with many of the L5R mechanics, as I thought they were a good fit.

A term I find reasonably amusing for what PCs are called in hack-and-slash roleplaying, videogame roleplaying, dungeoncrawl, or whatever one wishes to call the tactical wargame exercise that D&D so often has been is murderhobos.  L5R PCs should be the antitheses of murderhobos.

Glory

What are the goals of PCs in many a fantasy RPG?  Often, get more powerful.  Better attributes, better abilities (skills, powers, talents, etc.), better “dice”, more hit points, better equipment – these are routinely seen as goals.  Now, I’m hardly going to suggest that these aren’t goals for players of L5R.  I talk about buys all of the time.

But, at a mechanical level – I do want to make it clear that when I say I see the prism for L5R being the Glory/Honor/Status prism, I’m talking about mechanics as support for thematics – the in character (IC) goal of glory/fame/reputation should be reflected in a mechanic.  Conan d20 has Reputation.  Some games have Fame/Renown/whatever.  L5R has Glory.

Unfortunately, Glory sucks as a mechanic.  In 4e, Glory has no mechanical effect at all.  The only mechanics around Glory are that you may get recognized … which has no mechanics.  It’s up to the GM (or campaign staff for HoR) to make it mean something.  Yet, it so often doesn’t mean anything.

Why?

Because it’s hard to control Glory.  I’ve played a good number of mods in HoR3 with my alt character, yet my main is still at Glory 10.  Glory just keeps going up, hardly ever goes down.  Even a couple of pips every three mods is:  (.2) x (30)/(3) = 2.0 ranks every 30 mods, plus a rank every Insight Rank increase, plus a rank+ every battle interactive or some other bigger gain every once in a while.

It’s hardly fair to place value on Glory when experienced characters, around early to mid rank 3, are all Glory 9 or 10.  Yet, if a mechanic doesn’t actually do anything, then it doesn’t shape player behavior, which means it doesn’t provide any value at all.  I spent quite a long time caring about Reputation when playing Conan d20 because I wanted to care about some goal besides leveling up.  Eventually, the lack of meaning to the data points finally caused me to stop caring.

In the home game I’m running, I’m trying to make actual use of Glory.  The 3e rule of Glory adding to social rolls makes a bit of sense but doesn’t work well with how Glory just tends to move towards 10.  I could try to limit Glory gains and inflict more Glory losses, but losses are kind of annoying to deal with and it doesn’t make sense that +.3 Glory is some massive gain, especially when the norm for gaining an Insight Rank is +1.0.  I suppose dropping the autogains for ranking up would help manage things a bit, but, actually, going from rank to rank is kind of a big deal.  I’ve yet to have a rank 5 character in campaign play.

Anyway, my method of attacking the problem of the mechanic of Glory is to turn Glory into a commodity.  It doesn’t make a lot of thematic sense, but, by making Glory something you can sell off to unlock achievements, like when I had the party spend two ranks of Glory (however they wanted to divide it up, though our home campaign has both personal Glory and “town” Glory) to get a competent matchmaker to work in Gaki Mura, Glory actually gets used for something *and* Glory levels aren’t always at preposterous levels.

Honor

Go ahead and claim it’s an oversimplification, but I view high Honor as good and low Honor as evil.  That the Crab tend to have low Honor doesn’t fit the model so well, but what’s the alternative?  So many people are into playing Scorpion in L5R, to make some point about how being scuzzy can be good or whatever, but I just don’t relate to that thinking.  If higher Honor isn’t more good than lower Honor, why does Honor matter at all?

Mechanically, higher Honor is relevant for the Honor Roll mechanic, which some groups don’t even use.  I don’t rate it being important for Fear, not meaningless, just not important.  And, it’s meaningless for Intimidation, Temptation, and the like because I virtually never see those skills used on PCs.  It’s highly relevant to certain techniques, of course.

But, rather than seeing it as a mechanic reserved largely for specific schools/paths, I see it as the defining goal in the game.  Where Glory provides a nice contrast – do I go for fame or for righteousness – Honor is far more distinctive in a RPG than Glory is.

Sure, again, there’s some payoff in the form of the Honor Roll mechanic.  I quite despise the way 4e does Honor Rolls, which I’ve mentioned previously, even though it’s the way 1e did them (with a different Honor scale) and even though I’m totally in favor of Honor Rolls.  From a mechanical standpoint, without one or more Honor Rolls, the only common reroll mechanic is Luck.  Anything that reduces the dependence of PCs on Luck is a good thing, though, if Luck were correctly costed at 7xp per rank or, even better, my system of 8/6/4 for 1/2/3 ranks, there wouldn’t be every incentive in the world to have a minimum of two ranks of Luck.

But, say you start with lower Honor, even 4.5, though 3.5 and less are common enough.  Why do you ever care what your Honor is?  And, if you don’t care, then what is the point of the world?  Cool swords are easy to find in other genres, as are cool abilities.  Yes, I know that many are attracted to the detailed history and other elements of the setting.  I find a huge disconnect, though, between reading L5R and playing it.  The L5R of fiction is one of fantasy and much more the triumph of good over evil, though an argument can be made that samurai society is evil, so it’s really the triumph of evil over misunderstood monsters/bandits/necromancers/destructive gods/other.

Where L5R fiction seems to hammer on Honor and the challenges of it, parties typically often freely mix “paladins” and “thieves” (assassins, etc.), with success often coming from “black ops” doing stuff behind the backs of the “paladins”.

While I realize there are plenty of folks who like playing the black ops types and appreciate that the game can be played a lot of different ways, outside of the focused parties of all ronin, all ninja, all monks, all whatever, I see the game getting too far afield from what it is supposedly offering, which is an opportunity to play with a system that cares about morality in a way the goofy gamist D&D alignment system never did (in my experience).

Maybe it’s because I still, even after many more years of playing in RPG campaigns, think in terms of fiction, where morality is so often fundamental to the protagonist(s) succeeding over the antagonists.  Maybe, also, it’s because I virtually never see high Honor antagonists in L5R play.  The antagonists are typically bandits, maho-tsukai, monsters, gaijin (the closest I’ve seen to high Honor with high Integrity or similar Honor comparables), and the like that are meat to the Jade Legionnaire technique.

What’s my answer?  One that many who play L5R wouldn’t like, but it’s basically a matter of eliminating the low Honor clans and the weird conceit that Rokugan needs internal villains (weird because it has plenty of external villains and scuzzy peasants, to boot).

Status

If Glory is not terribly unique to Rokugan and Honor gets into a lot of philosophical debate, Status takes the hobo out of murderhobo.  Authority is a big deal in a RPG world.  In the absence of authority, the party tends to lack connections to the world as realism flies out the window.  Repercussions often don’t exist for actions that would logically see … rough times for the party.

Not only does L5R have authority, it has a great deal of structure for hierarchy.

And, yet, I haven’t found it to work.  Status is a common enough HoR goal and arguably the primary IC goal for PCs.  But, the combination of arbitrariness of Status along with the lack of seeing how it meaningfully impacts resolving challenges leaves me so disinterested in it.  In HoR2, I wrote fictions to *lose* Status.  Sure, it was cool at times to be respected by NPCs.  But, I hate being in charge, and it was a burden of responsibility I wasn’t interested in much of the time.

Is that just me?  Well, maybe I want to eschew the responsibility that comes with higher Status, but I haven’t found that it makes for a different play experience to have a party with higher Status – just the internal party awkwardness that can arise of one PC being more important than another.  As much as there might be some path opened up to a party if someone has enough Status in a mod, I just don’t feel the thematics altering that much, not even in home games.

For one thing, it’s incredibly easy for a party to majorly diverge in Status.  A common enough party is an Emerald Magistrate with a bunch of yoriki, a setup for a home game I play in, though there are two EMs in this particular party, with one being a NPC.  If the EM is the only one who can do certain things, how interesting do those challenges where those things matter become for the rest of the players?  So, rather than seeing challenges that rely upon unequal importance, I tend to see a more equivalent weight to PCs.  For example, when gathering information from someone while the EM is present, the yoriki should only speak when the EM encourages them to do so, but it’s common for anyone of any Status to pipe up to move the plot along.  Thematically, Rokugan is all about Status, but, besides sitting in a different seat at dinners, I don’t see play reflect the massive differences that different ranks of Status could display.

Do I want to be beaten over the head with Status?  No.  I’m big on fairness and Status certainly isn’t fair within Rokugan, though a campaign could make it a more fair goal/reward.  So, I don’t know.  Maybe, it’s fine the way I see it played.  It’s just that Status is something that crosses genres really well and seems like it should be a driving goal of PCs, something that isn’t just looting one’s latest victims.

G/H/S

It just feels like the inspiration for L5R is so often missing in actual play.  Now, I find a lot of other things missing, like the idea that Rokugan is a fantasy setting – shugenja, Communing with kami, et al, don’t really make me feel the fantasy anymore (possibly ever) since they are so common.  But, it often amazes me how much people worry about their dueling stats or their attack and damage rolls or what to do at rank 6 or whatever and not how G/H/S define characters and define the campaign.  For the most part, L5R removes money as a driver, but how much does it replace that with the quest for Glory, Honor, and Status?


Quasi-Instant Classic – CCG Design

November 2, 2013

I was going to originally just post something here as I don’t get much sense that comments I make on forums are paid much attention to … which was one of the major impetuses for having a blog.  But, the level of obsession over rating card design now that e-sets of V:TES, official and unofficial, have been coming out provoked me to comment on the forums.  Taking the gist of my most recent comments on vekn.net, I get this:

But, there are a couple of things that come to mind about general card design from someone who has playtested half a dozen CCGs, has specific card design credits, has been on a card design team for a published CCG, and who has been added to the game credits for another CCG for activities including design, development, and playtesting.

1. Designing a single card isn’t hard.
2. Designing a set is very hard and takes more skills than designing a few cards.
3. Not every card is intended for every player, something Magic’s lead designer mentions frequently.
4. Most card ideas are bad. I’ve been tasked with going through a player submitted file of card ideas in preparation of designing a CCG set before. Tons of ideas, 90%+ sucked.
5. Many of the bad card ideas have some element that isn’t bad.
6. There are many ways to design the same card. And, whether doing top-down or bottom-up design, many, many times people will come up with the same idea, so there’s little point to the concept of “This is my brilliant idea, the rest of you don’t steal it.”
7. You don’t know how cards play until you actually play them, no matter how much of a genius I am.

On a side note, about the PCK “drama”, while there were personal elements to the drama I wasn’t privy to and while I have respect for the PCK group as individuals, I do go back to 6. above.  Designing for a game you love isn’t for credit, which is always going to be in question because other people can just as easily have the same ideas you do, it’s to make the game better.  If it happens that you do a better job than those who get published, well, that’s the nature of the world.  Vast numbers of CCG cards are suboptimally designed/developed.

Maybe this will be interesting:

I have two specific card credits for the Babylon 5 CCG.

The first is Gerontocracy.  I didn’t design the card.  I was just the one playtester willing to continuously point out how bad the card was in playtesting.  I developed the card to the point where the concept wasn’t different, but the mechanics were far stronger.  (If you’ve played with the card, that should give you an idea how awful it was in development.)  For making it arguably playable, I got associated by the publisher to the card.

The second is Megalopolis.  I was hanging with the B5 crowd at Gen Con (I think, could have been the one year I went to Origins in Columbus or even a Los Angeles con) one year and we were walking to get dinner or some such.  I was talking to Kevin Tewart, B5’s game manager at the time, as we walked about what new homeworlds should do, as I didn’t like the new homeworlds ideas I had seen (I think this was after they were in development, but it might have been earlier).  He asked me about ideas for mechanics and I threw out a couple, including having a “Level the Playing Field” effect.  I vaguely recall saying something about how that was a bad idea at the time, but it was an idea.  I never liked the card Level the Playing Field because it (frequently) led to goofy/negative interaction and the ability to make your decks more focused on specific abilities.  Now, for the most part, I didn’t have strong opinions against it as it also enabled good interaction for a game that had severe interaction problems early on – okay, there were times I found it annoying and I often considered it overrated.  But, as a permanent effect, it was a terrible idea.  Babylon 5 had gone from a game of largely mutual solitaire in its early days where there was nowhere near enough interaction to a tedious grind in its later days as winning was so often easily stopped.  This card idea was in the later days.  Level the Playing Field and, thus, Megalopolis weren’t cards to help you win but to prevent others from winning.  The original homeworlds were about helping you win.  I particularly hated how the new homeworlds were designed as hosers, having the ability to replace the originals, but that’s getting off on a tangent.

Bottom line – I designed Megalopolis and I thought the card was bad for the game.

So, maybe these experiences with design/development have given me a different perspective where I don’t think there’s anything terribly sacred about producing cards.  I didn’t even get into playtesting the original Wheel of Time CCG set and how suboptimal that was …