KublaCon 2014 Decks

May 27, 2014

For weal or ill, comments on my Shadowfist tournament decks in this separate post.

Name:  One of Eleven
Faction:  Syndicate
Size:  55

Syndicate Cards (38)
Characters (21)
1x Corporate Hacker
1x Echo and Silence
1x Hirake Kazuko
3x Mars Colonist
2x Nihilist
1x Rei Okamoto
1x Salaryman
2x Song, The Little Dragon
1x Street Doc
1x Street Racers
1x Street Sweepers
1x Tattooed Man
3x Triad Punks
2x Zero-G Sumo

Edges (1)
1x Corporate Warfare

Events (10)
1x Catching Bullets
2x Data Mining
1x Data Theft
1x Inconvenient Debt
1x Reprogramming
2x The Price of Progress
2x Underworld Contacts

Sites (1)
1x Cybermod Parlor

States (5)
3x Hyper Alloy Blade
2x Synchronic Beam Emitter

Generic Cards (17)
Events (7)
2x Salvage
4x Scrounging
1x The Algernon Effect

Feng Shui Sites (10)
1x Booby-Trapped Tomb
5x Dockyard
1x Forgotten Temple
1x Gambling House
1x Kowloon Gate
1x Temple of Celestial Mercy

This is very much a “Let me see what these various cards do” deck and not remotely the size I prefer in my Shadowfist decks (45 cards).

What’s funny is that Dockyard, the key to every deck, wasn’t remotely useful in the tournament as I always had the foundations I needed.  Cybermod Parlor is kind of bad when you play against people who seize your non-FS Sites all of the time.  Probably should go with more Salvages to just keep recycling Data Mining.  Reprogramming was played once and didn’t matter.  Underworld Contacts was very useful but still doesn’t seem like it’s that good.

Echo and Silence and Salaryman were not unexpectedly uninspiring.  I much preferred Synchronic Beam Emitter to Hyper Alloy Blade, but, then, I vastly prefer zero cost cards to cards that cost one.  I’d still like to see some of the sketchy characters in play just to make sure they are lame, but it would be easy to focus on Zero-G Sumo and Song.  Nihilist never did anything important, as well.

Name:  Demons & Dockyards
Faction:  Lotus
Size:  50

Lotus Cards (36)
Characters (23)
1x Abaddon the Destroyer
3x Abysmal Wyrm
4x Evil Twin
2x Exorcist
3x Feng Kan
3x Hungry Ghosts
5x Imp
1x Jake Rattlebones
1x Sewer Scum

Edges (2)
2x Insidious Plans

Events (11)
1x Bribery
1x Death of 1,000 Cuts
1x Feeding the Hungry
2x Spirit Wrack
5x Tortured Memories
1x Underworld Coronation

Generic Cards (14)
Events (5)
1x Discerning Fire
4x Pocket Demon

Feng Shui Sites (9)
1x Booby-Trapped Tomb
4x Dockyard
2x Forgotten Temple
1x Gambling House
1x Kowloon Gate

Green Snake and White Snake are my gals, but I figured I’d go a mostly boring good stuff Lotus deck for the tournament.  This is kind of a Jake Rattlebones deck, except I only owned one of him.  After seeing the annoyance that is Death of a 1,000 Cuts used in multiples, I need to consider running multiples.  I never drew an Evil Twin in the one game I played with this deck, which might have been a big deal considering how undercosted it is.

Name:  Terribly Transformed
Faction:  Ascended
Size:  45

Ascended Cards (31)
Characters (19)
4x Covert Strike Squad
2x Lynx on the Prowl
5x Mantis Fighter
1x Mr. X
2x Tail of the Lizard
1x Tears of the Crocodile
4x Wolf Clan Hunters

Edges (1)
1x Night Moves

Events (6)
2x Bull Market
4x Operation Killdeer

States (5)
1x Path of the Wily Mongoose
3x Shadowy Mentor
1x Walk on the Wild Side

Generic Cards (14)
Events (4)
4x Violet Meditation

Feng Shui Sites (10)
1x Booby-Trapped Tomb
2x City Park
1x Forgotten Temple
1x Humble Dojo
1x Medicinal Flower Garden
1x Mobius Gardens
1x Nightclub
1x Thousand Sword Mountain
1x Whirlpool of Blood

I so hate the Ascended … no, not really, they just bore me.  I hate Bull Market.  I (obviously) hate Bite of the Jellyfish (explaining why there isn’t one).  I think Shadowy Mentor isn’t a good card at four, but it also pales so much in comparison to Tortured Memories.  I like Covert Strike Squad and Tail of the Lizard, but that’s nearly it for Modern Ascended characters I have any interest in.

Name:  Cop Bruisers
Faction:  Dragon
Size:  45

Dragon Cards (30)
Characters (15)
4x Big Bruiser
2x Chinese Doctor
4x Cop on the Edge
5x Junkyard Boys

Events (14)
1x Back for Seconds
1x Fighting Spirit
2x Final Brawl
1x Fortune Favors the Bold
2x Golden Comeback
4x “Is That All You Got?”
1x Never Found the Body
1x Never Surrender
1x Stunt Driving

Sites (1)
1x Dragon Hideout

Generic Cards (15)
Events (5)
5x Scrounging

Feng Shui Sites (10)
3x Diamond Beach
5x Dockyard
1x Manufactured Island
1x Mobius Gardens

I did the Big Bruiser deck.  I did the Cop on the Edge deck.  I didn’t expect to play this, so I merged the two to have something to lend to people.  This lacks the style that the other two decks had, though I can see the Big Bruiser deck kind of being dull.  One can already see my love for event type cards in CCGs with this deck.  I need to find the best event-based deck archetypes.

For Modern play, there are just so many Lotus things to do.  There are no Ascended things to do (I tried thinking of something that would interest me).  Dragon – I’m still drawn more to Cop on the Edge for style but drawn to how much better Big Bruiser is for mechanics.  I kind of want to do something else, but I have no interest in vehicle decks.

For Classic play, I need to refine to get a more stylish Syndicate deck, though I really did enjoy playing the one above.  I will keep secret my other faction plans, but it shouldn’t be a shock what I’ll get drawn to in the CCG no matter how much my interests may differ in the RPG.


KublaCon 2014

May 26, 2014

As I write this KublaCon is wrapping up.  Interesting thing about travel is, while it prevents me from doing some things, it gives me opportunities for some other things.  So, before I get to KublaCon, just comment on V:TES Tuesday night.

I have been traveling to Virginia for work, so I got together with the DC players for V:TES Tuesday.  We played a couple of games, five and four.  Pete was my prey both games.  Robert my predator.  Joe my grandpredator and Eric my grandprey in game one.

Robert (!Nos combat) -> Ian (Obf/Ser/Tha anarch) -> Pete (borrowed Ravnos) -> Eric (Nos titled combat) -> Joe (Kiasyd)

I got a quick Heart of the City, so it seemed like a real stealth bleed deck.  Never got beaten up in combat even though Robert was playing Ani/Pot combat.  I Golconda-ed Robert’s Calebos, which was enough to keep him in the game even with Dominate stealth bleed behind him.  Robert did beat down Eric a lot after Joe got ousted and we called the game after Pete was ousted and Eric had no game left.

Pete (!Toreador Palla Grande) -> Joe (Dolphin Black & friends) -> Robert (as above) -> Ian (Descent into Destruction)

I got a lot of combat cards early and put out Channel 10 to be able to block some stuff.  Dolphin and Rodolfo bled until they got beaten down.  Pete bled with Presence and kept reducing my one bleeds from all of my DOM dudes with Greta.  Eventually Pete ousted.  I Foreshadowing Destructioned three times to oust him.  I did not get beaten up in the endgame, with my prey being extremely low on pool due to being bled earlier.

So, I flew back late Friday, meaning both missing Friday of the con and not exactly moving quick Saturday morning.  I still got to the con in plenty of time before my noon Shadowfist tournament, as I had planned, as I intended to hit my favorite Chinese place in Millbrae.  It actually opened an hour later than it said on their menu, but everything worked timingwise.

Shadowfist Classic

Seven players for the tournament, so two rounds of 3/4 and a final.

Miguel (Moonlight Knights) -> Jason (Hand) -> Jeremy (borrowed Senoritas) -> Ian (Syndicate)

Let me first say that pretty much all of my games over the weekend were typical Shadowfist games.  Tons of bids for victories, tons of stoppage.

Miguel is the player I play against the most, so I knew both his deck and Jeremy’s, though Jeremy’s seemed better tuned than when I played against it previously.  Miguel’s deck was all about Butterfly Knights gaining two power from Moonlight Raid, with other support stuff.  I never got much sense of what Jason’s deck was trying to do.  Jeremy got out his Senoritas with Tommy Guns but hadn’t quite figured out all of the synergies.

I had an extremely smooth start.  I got out Song, The Little Dragon at some point, which was great against being shot by guns (course, with his special, when is he not great?).  Everyone except Jason were threats.  One thing about Shadowfist is that it’s much harder for me to remember all of the details, a lot of that is probably because I know V:TES so much better so events resonate more, but I think it also has to do with how many more crazy moments can happen in the much swingier game that is Shadowfist.

Senoritas got dealt with.  Miguel’s combos didn’t go off particularly well.  The Hand helped with stoppage with Blade Palm and especially Wing of the Crane.  As the third threat, I had just enough to push through a victory.

We also had to check with Earl on how Influence works in the game, which I should have known better as that’s the Syndicate’s thing, even if it is bad.

So, this was my first tournament ever.  I had no idea how scoring was done.  I found out burning for victory was worth more than just having played sites and that FS Sites were worth points, so I got into a mindset of burning for victory even though all of my decks plan to burn for power for much of the game.

Steve (Architect sacrifice) -> Ian -> Jeremy

I may not be remembering who went first correctly.  It’s so much less important in Shadowfist than in V:TES.

Steve just had too much removal that went my way.  Imprison and Nerve Gas are harsh, and I think he played both Neutron Bombs.  I kept expecting him to wreck Jeremy as guns are kind of bad when the character with them gets taken out, but a lot of removal went my way.  We all did stuff and Steve eventually won.  I did get out two Zero-G Sumo in this game and other cards I didn’t get out in the first game, so I was amused.

Earl won both of his games, I believe, so we three winners played the finals.

Earl (Monkeys with Hand) -> Steve -> Ian

Around and around we went.  Only one Neutron Bomb.  Song strong but not so strong when he gets Imprisoned.  I tried to play around removal.  I used Data Mining and Salvage a bunch to keep having enough power.  I almost pushed through with a Street Doc for the win, but he got redirected, which I defeated with Hyper Alloy Blade only to forget I was attacking a Waterfall Sanctuary.  Synchronic Beam Emitter would have been great for my last bid for victory, except Earl Confucian Stabilityed it away.

Steve ran out of characters, with his last being Char who got smoked in my last bid for victory.  Earl mopped up when Steve decked as I had no power to deal with a bunch of Gorilla Fighters.  I came in second, which was amusing.  It would have, of course, been more amusing to win in my first tournament playing a format I don’t really have the cards for with a deck I had never played, but the best player won, a good sign.

I debated between a t-shirt and a Revelations deck.  While I could really use the latter for my collection, there’s no reason I can’t get those at any time, so I went with the t-shirt.

I really enjoyed my first tournament experience.  I enjoyed my deck.  I was always a threat to win and only was really out of a game in the finals when Steve was eliminated and after maybe three bids for victory.

Next up was my V:TES event.  We got five players for two games.  Tom and Kat, who missed the previous year, made it this year.

Michael (Night Moves Deflection) -> Jeff (borrowed Descent into Destruction) -> Tom (Tremere vote) -> Ian (Ravnos block fight with Edged Illusion) -> Kat (Lasombra vote/bleed)

Kat and Michael allowed Tom’s Muaziz to become a prince.  Tom helped Kat do vote damage to Michael and me for a while.  Jeff never seemed to have the right cards at the right time, though he had a turn where maybe he could have ousted Tom and he might have survived longer if he bounced backwards one of Kat’s bleeds that made its way around to him.  I got out a bunch of dork Ravnos but didn’t really have much to do.  I Draba-ed and Ignis Fatuused some to slow people down, but all I could do forward was contain Kat.  Michael ousted Jeff.  Tom ousted me when I lacked one more wake to survive at 1 pool.  Time ran out.

Ian (Toreador) -> Michael (Salubri/!Trem/Tupdog) -> Tom (1/2 Brujah) -> Kat (as above) -> Geoff (borrowed Obf/Ser/Tha)

I had a lot of bleed, which comes from playing a modified precon rather than my usual decks.  I pushed through Michael eventually.  Kat came out hard on Geoff but got ousted fast by Tom’s Dominate and Presence bleeds.  Geoff hung on.

I gave Geoff four pool when he played Extremis Boon, but he couldn’t stabilize, losing combats to the Brujah.  I got slowed down, but my Rafael, Epikasta, and Thomas De Lutrius never went down, and The Rack gave me recovery.  I Sniper Rifled Tom’s guys away for the 3/2 win.

Based on tournament points, Tom had the best night, so he won the event.

I drove home.


Took two naps in the morning to try to deal with sleep deprivation and/or jet lag.  I got into the con around 2PM.  Earl and I talked a bit while he sorted his Modern cards, then we played a couple of games of Star Realms, the space combat deckbuilding game.  I like it far more than Dominion and other card games of that ilk.  While I didn’t feel like my strategies were all that subtle, there were more interesting things going on than in most Dominion games – actually, it was probably because the game felt interactive unlike most Dominion play.  There was very much a “if I don’t take you out this turn, you take me out on your turn” feature to it, which reminded me of why Ultimate Combat! tends to be so fun.

Modern tournament happened, with only four players.

Steve (Jammers) -> Jason (Lotus) -> Ian (Lotus) -> Earl (Lotus)

Yeah.  Many bids for victory.  Many Lotus character steal/kill to stop them.  Two Underworld Coronations got played, with mine tossed as I forgot what one-shot meant.  I believe a monkey token was one of the recipients of Underworld Coronation.  Ba-BOOM! also helped nuke the table.  I made a terrible decision to attack with only an Abysmal Wyrm in play and blow Insidious Plans for cards only to draw a bunch of sites and crap like Imps to try to finish a site off.  My next memorable mistake was burning for victory when burning for power would have set me up much better for victory the next turn.  Jason stole a Simian Sanctuary to generate some monkeys.

Everyone had lots to do.  Steve eventually won when everyone was finally spent in terms of character removal/steal.  I really enjoy Lotus, at least in Modern where they get lots of character control, but I’m not as thrilled when being on the receiving end of character control.  No one really messed with me all game, which should have been a huge advantage, but it was really just a matter of who could push through at the right time.

Earl (slight changes) -> Ian (Ascended horde) -> Jason -> Steve

I changed decks to make things less monotonous.  An early Bull Market on my part accelerated Jason and me to where we were early threats to win.  Steve and Earl had to fend stuff off for ages.  Steve never got going.  Earl got enough power that my awful horde of crap like Wolf Clan Hunters was contained.  Lots of stoppage.  Earl plays Reggie Mortis and uses him to get back Xin Ji Yang.  I Shadowy Mentor some stuff that doesn’t really gain me a whole lot, though I make some bids for victory.

Actually, my deck wasn’t a real deck.  I was using it for playtesting, so it had a bunch of weird card choices, and I really dislike spending four for Shadowy Mentor.  Maybe it’s a Modern thing, but I don’t expect to keep my stolen dude for very long, if at all.

Jason -> Steve -> Ian (Cop Bruisers) -> Earl

I changed yet again.  I had plenty of power early on and got out a quick Big Bruiser and Cop on the Edge.  Steve also did really well early.

Typical Shadowfist – I played “Is That All You Got?” to get back Junkyard Boys only to see one of my two Junkyard Boys get Briberyed away to smoke the other.  I think there was a Death of a 1,000 Cuts at some point on a Junkyard Boys as well.  Big Bruiser kept getting Briberyed.  Came back a couple of times.  My two Cops on the Edge eventually bit it but not to Discerning Fire, which is what I expected.

FS Sites were scary to play as, I believe, Jason burned for victory three times and Steve was a constant threat for something like play and take.  I was a constant threat until we got to the end and I couldn’t draw a Golden Comeback to have meaningful fighting in play.  Steve didn’t have much fighting in the end and Jason “we need your removal” got decked, leaving Earl to clean up with the usual Reggie stuff.

Steve got second in the tournament.  I got third and ended with the Revelations deck I most coveted.

We had all of the usual craziness of needing to kill 1 Fighting dudes and sometimes double digit bids for victory getting stopped.

I do think the game can be a tad frustrating with just how often bids for victory get stopped, but is the alternative better?

While V:TES was being played with one of my decks, we continued to play Shadowfist.

We had one game, the last, where Earl had the Queen of the Ice Pagoda, I had Beaumains, Jason had Cyborg Mermaid, Steve had Primus and Chaos Spirit, and none of had Feng Shui Sites in play.  Twice in the endgame (which lasted forever) we collectively had zero sites in play.  At one point, Earl had 10 power and no cards in play … I had 13 power (6 from Avenging Thunder on Queen of the Ice Pagoda, Earl’s only resource providing character) and like Beaumains in play.  Jason thought it was funny when I had no cards in play and said, “It’s go time!”  I had finally drawn a Fire Dancer to get the one magic resource I needed to drop double Fire Horse.  Steve finally won the game with Cognitive Spirit and two Chaos Spirits in play and the Queen of the Ice Pagoda unable to block.  My remaining Fire Horse got Shattering Fired for five to not Mobility stop them.

We had another game where Jason just ripped through us with Reentry Squads and I ended the game with 8+ power and never giving Jade Fox (who is terrible) a sword.

1:40AM or so and I drove home.

This con was amusing in that all I did was play cards the whole time I was at the con.  Two CCGs and one, the other sort of deckbuilding card game (we need a good name for these to differentiate from CCGs – I’ll have to see if there is one).

Thanks to Earl for running the Shadowfist events.  It was, after all, my main reason for deciding on KublaCon instead of a LA con.  Great to see people I knew and game with some of them.  I didn’t do a lot, but I did enough and got some rest to counteract the lack of sleep.

Kill The Wizard

May 10, 2014

A thought for individual games has solidified some, recently, into a general philosophy that I may increasingly embrace.

PCs shouldn’t do “magic”.

There’s a reason, of course, for those quotes.  What is “magic”?  “Magic” encompasses those abilities that are disproportionately versatile, world-altering, or otherwise too efficient at challenge-solving.  These sort of superior PC abilities put an extra burden on the GM when it comes to fashioning challenges.  Furthermore, there tends to be a massive discrepancy in usefulness of PCs with regards to each other, which can affect player enjoyment.  I’ll start with giving some examples of “magic” and come back to the issues with it later.

Let’s start with supers.  Superstrength is quite versatile in superhero worlds and in a number of superhero RPGs (to their credits).  But, it’s not “magic”.  Variable Power Pool in Champions is obviously “magic”.  Green Lantern does “magic”.  As does Magneto.  But, so does Professor X and numerous other psychs.  This could be why I hate the idea of psy based supers.  When you can read minds, game over, you win.  When you can control minds, game over, you win.  Techlords, aka gadgeteers, also do “magic”.  Reed Richards can make anything.  Tony Stark can come up with any modification to the armor.  Bat sharkfood.  Whatever.

If it’s boring that Superman can pretty much do anything with his angel/god powers, it’s also incredibly boring that somebody can just kitbash victory.  If.  I don’t find Superman all that interesting as a character, but there are adventures of his that I find interesting.  It’s a staple of fiction that the genius puts together some ad hoc world-saving device that may very well never be seen again (or, much more rarely, find an old one in the closet to deal with a repetitive problem).  I don’t have a problem with the Doctor throwing something together, etc.

However, I lost focus, there.  “Magic” is something characters in fiction do all of the time, and it works because fiction and RPGs are two different things.  PCs should not be about the “wait around a few hours, then roll Science to make the Winning Tool”.

Talked a bit about superworlds, very lightly on how science can fix every problem with the power of science!!  Obviously, magic lends itself highly to “magic”.

For various reasons, Elric is a terrible RPG character.  One of those reasons is that the way he solves problems is “Now, what was that summoning spell to bring some god or army of supernatural monsters to save me?”  Thomas Covenant *is* magic/”magic”.  Etc.  But, I think it’s time to stop on the fiction side of things and get into the game side of things.

D&D.  Are magic-users and clerics, et al, doing “magic”?  In some cases, yes.  In some cases, no.  The pattern with many D&D versions is that the magic-user starts off weak and becomes dominant later.  Cleric may never start off weak and may not have quite the upside a magic-user does, but there’s still a very different power* progression to the magicless.  The “Do I cast Sleep or Magic Missile today?” magic-user is not doing “magic”.  On the other hand, it’s not just higher level spells, it’s just effects that can be overly effective with the right GM, like Invisibility, that get into doing “magic”.

*  Power isn’t the clearest term to use, as power can mean magnitude of effect to some, where I often factor in versatility/effectiveness when I speak of power (including when I talk about it in CCGs).

D&D is heavily predicated upon PC magic, either in terms of permanents – the ubiquitous magic items – or in terms of spells.  What about Conan d20, a far more swords and sorcery game?

Magical ability very easily becomes a situation of “magic”.  Yes, the system is far more subtle, but that just means that the player needs to be cleverer to really exploit it.  There were many situations where some spell, possibly one that wasn’t spectacular, could deal with challenges in a way that the rest of the party had no ability to use.

Vampire.  V:TM or V:TR, though my experience is much greater with the former.  A key feature of the game is that PCs have superhuman abilities, many of which are essentially magic.  Without those abilities, not vampires anymore.  The more openended disciplines, such as Animalism, Dominate, and Presence, are “magic”.  Clever use can just blow apart challenges.  Thaumaturgy in V:TM is, of course, the worst offender unless the GM clamps down on what PCs can learn to do.

Hopefully little point to dragging out more examples of magic=”magic” or where XYZ=”magic”, but, of course, can’t skip over expending words on noting the brokenness of shugenja in L5R.

There’s a vaguely amusing thread on the AEG forums at the moment where someone asked about how much buying additional spells with XP should cost.  The shugenja player isn’t happy, where the monk (admittedly, kiho never see play in my campaigns, so I don’t bother learning much about them) and four bushi are all satisfied.  My amusement at someone being frustrated by not having a higher level of godlike power is tempered by the idea that it’s probably just someone who doesn’t understand the system well enough to understand just how much shugenja are better than everyone else.  On the other hand, the GM might be reining in spell effectiveness to a much greater degree than most do.

Why are shugenja gods?

Commune.  Commune is the single most broken effect in L5R.  As much as GMs may anticipate how Commune destroys investigation challenges and come up with cheesy “the kami were all banished” or makes kami a pain in the ass to get info out of even though it’s pathetically easy to call max Raises on a Commune spell for clarity every single time, then just recast it over and over until you ask the right questions, those who can’t speak to the kami can’t just ask the world to supply the investigation destroying information that kami can provide.

Path to Inner Peace.  Sure, there are some other abilities that enable real healing, i.e. non-Medicine healing since Medicine is garbage healing.  Pritnear no PCs have them.  While it should be obvious at all times, our 20 Goblin Winter campaign, which didn’t allow shugenja, clearly showed that the lack of real healing completely changes party action.  We would have to head back to Shinsei’s Last Hope and mope about for a while to not have someone sit in wound penalties … while hunting for Shadowlands monsters.  I would say that the real problem with Path isn’t that Path is “magic”, but that all RPGs should pretty much have daily instaheal, which is a whole separate blog post that can get into my thoughts on a thread I was reading not long ago.

Jade Strike.  Invulnerable?  Okay, everyone guard the shugenja.

Fires of Purity.  Forget that it’s something like 4k4+ damage every round in real combat situations.  As mentioned in at least one previous blog post, it makes kidnapping impossible.  It destroys cavalry.  It turns grapple from murder into turbomurder.  It prevents party members from being attacked, at times.

The all shugenja party is the optimized party.  Can go on about how great your murder prowess is with simple attacks and no-dachi 7 or testsubo 7, but the all shugenja party will murder just fine and have a host of abilities that the magicless won’t have.  As for courtier/artisan/monk abilities, outside of Henshin, I never see them do anything you can’t do by improving Awareness or whatever, which has a lot to do with how poorly the game explains how these abilities are supposed to be useful, but it is what it is.  I really don’t expect Sword and Fan to change my play experiences significantly.  Of course, YMMV.

So, great, plenty of examples of “magic”.  Whining isn’t that useful.

There are other reasons I think hunter (with a lowercase “h”) campaigns make far more sense than monster campaigns in the World of Darkness, but a major reason would be the difference in the nature of challenges.  If the PC vampire can run around Dominating kine left and right, going to be a lot different than “shotgun to the head” sort of challenges that hunters will face.  Clearly, there’s a difference between Garou and mages, though Garou ability to interdimensionally travel is rather a huge “magic” problem.

Quite a few players of supers are probably going to be fine with character concepts around punching buildings apart, blasting buildings apart, flying charges into buildings until they fall apart, and the like where “magic” isn’t so much of an issue.  I’m vastly more familiar with Champions than other supers games, so I think in terms of every single ability being built and bought, which greatly limits versatility.  Again, just don’t allow the Variable Power Pools or Multipowers with 15 slots or any of the sort of stuff you might see in Mystic Masters.

The most problematic situation from a marketing/sales perspective is taking “magic” out of fantasy by limiting/restricting/removing PC magic.  Yet, fiction is full of (and used to be mostly about) protagonists who killed the foul sorcerers with no magic or extremely limited magic.  That was kind of the point of Elric – being the supreme sorcerer was a twist compared to the Conans of the genre.

I think it can be done.

I think removing shugenja from L5R as a PC option is entirely viable.  Sure, I would come up with healing house rules to make Medicine Raises give +1k1 instead of +1k0 to wound treatment, though that’s still probably not nearly enough healing to where I’d probably just say you heal Stamina xN after every scene or each day (x8 or something for the former and x15 or something or the simpler full heal for the latter).

Our Conan campaign didn’t always have the sorcerer PC(s) around.  Again, though, magic != “magic”.  With L5R, it would be incredibly hard to remove the “magic” abilities of someone who could do magic, though it would actually be far easier if the party wizard was a maho-tsukai, where your spell selection is much more tailorable by a GM.  But, with Conan, it shouldn’t really be that hard to limit spellcasting, especially with the far more esoteric Defensive Blasts of 2e, versus the nuclear option Defensive Blast of 1e.

RuneQuest’s battle magic, with the exception of healing, tends to be incredibly narrow and just a lot of buffs.  I don’t feel the “magic” in the game at all.  Rune Magic being one-shot also makes that awful and largely irrelevant.  I know my characters have never found Rune Magic remotely effective.

Shadowrun is a world I just don’t get, so there’s little point to my commenting on how to take the “magic” out of the game.  May be that the whole point of the game is that everyone has “magic” since it’s a world that combines the two things that are most prone to leading to “magic” – high technology and … magic.

“But, when are you going to elaborate on why ‘magic’ is a problem?”

From a GM perspective, consider this scenario:  You have a party with one or two “magic”-users and some inferior PCs.  You aren’t lazy and actually consider all of the different ways “magic” can overcome challenges too easily.  Then, game day/night happens and your “magic”-users don’t show up.  Okay, GMs who adjust on the fly better may be asking “And …?”  But, it’s just more work when I already find GMing to be choreful.

From a player perspective, it can get really old to be a spearchucker.  Not so much for me, as I embrace sidekickness to a far, far greater degree than others, but even I can get tired of “taking up space” in games.  Some RPG campaigns are also far less about mechanics than others, and I can get into my personal narratives to a greater degree to where mechanical spearchuckerness is not so bad.  L5R is like that for me where I’m far more into NPC relations and shopping than I am trying to find a purpose as a non-shugenja.  Lots of folks aren’t so keen on being mechanically disadvantaged by lacking that old time “magic”.

Then, why even bother having it be an issue in the first place?  Why not just have parties where the PCs are competing (because PCs do compete – if they didn’t, folks wouldn’t complain about how unbalanced different character builds are) on a relatively level playing field?  “Okay, you scurvy lot.  Who is the fighter?  Who is the talker?  Who is the rogue?  Got it.  Now, at all times there’s this ghost that hangs out with you that heals you to full twice a day …”

Reblog: Metagame Game

May 8, 2014

I was reading this post:  The Metagame Game.

I thought of a few thoughts.

First, this is exactly the sort of topic or direction discussion should go in that I believe makes sense while the game is not currently being published.  There are plenty of things to talk about with V:TES without getting into new cards, card ideas, what never got fixed, what shouldn’t be in the game, and so forth.

Second, there’s plenty of space for clever ideas, like this.

Okay, that out of the way, what do I think about my playing the game?

I think an aspect of this exercise is that you have different decks for different situations.  My local deck is going to metagame the metagame differently than a deck I’d put together for thinking through the NAC metagame, or whatever.  I’d even have different metagame decks for NorCal and SoCal.

Around here, there are plenty of decks in recent years that were a number of large vampires, including such things as ICMs, that vote and bled.  Voting is something I expect far less of in SoCal.  Meanwhile, I expect a lot more comboish decks.  Not combo decks.  But, decks that rely upon particular combos.  NorCal, not much of that.

In either part of the state, I wouldn’t expect to see much of decks focused on something that I specifically fear.  It’s not that winnie Animalism, winnie Auspex, or whatever wouldn’t see play in the state, it’s just that there’s far more “my 9-cap bleeds with Conditioning” or the like, that I can’t get that excited about, that I’d expect.

While my vision of how to win at the game is such that the question “Do you think you can win at this table?” isn’t as meaningful to me, I do see tremendous potential for preparing for final tables by going through the exercise of where the right place to sit is.  I would take player style into account, but I do find placement of decks a major factor in the game, unlike the idea of deck strength.  Nobody wants the winnie bleed or winnie vote decks as predator.  Etc.

Then, for random assignment, there’s always going through the exercise of considering how you will win the table.  Most of us who have played a decent number of tournaments probably just do this as a matter of experience, but it’s a great exercise for players who aren’t as experienced in table management.

Anyway, not a lot to add.  Just thought I’d market this some and throw in a few thoughts that came to mind.

Crunchless Crimes

May 5, 2014

Someday, I’ll get back to writing something about V:TES.  But, actually, since we haven’t been playing regularly, I’ve found Magic cards more interesting to think about than V:TES cards.  I considered writing something about what the analogy for “tribal” in V:TES would be, but the games are just so different in the ways of flavor, I couldn’t get inspired.

Meanwhile, more L5R RPG thoughts …

Not long ago, I posted about how it was fine to have 4e supplements be 90% thematics and 10% mechanics.  I didn’t lie.  But, I was wrong.  Even shortly after that, I noted how many of my problems with recent 4e supplements involved terrible mechanics and lack of mechanics.  I had simply deluded myself into thinking certain things were in the realm of thematics when they actually tied into mechanics.

For, you see, it’s not the stuff that other people ask for that I care about.  I don’t need more school, paths, weapon stats, and the other popular asks.  Sure, I’d like to see some paths that didn’t suck for characters I might actually play, but that’s more a matter of fixing the awfulness of what gets published rather than increasing the volume.

Kata, still, is an area that needs help.  I was thinking that I’d like to see more advantages and disadvantages I might actually take with my characters.

But, actually, what I want are different ways to use what we have.

Okay, sure, I want more creature write-ups, which is a whole different world from such things as:

  1. Various mook rules
  2. Examples of what Raises can do, a la the Kyujutsu ones in Book of Air
  3. Sample challenge sets (multiple rolls) for such things as man vs. nature, social challenges (one assumes Sword and Fan won’t fail here, though assuming makes an ass out of u and ming)
  4. How to integrate warfare into play (again, will Sword and Fan deliver?)
  5. What sort of challenges one would find in other spirit realms (Secrets was such a fail)
  6. How to make economics interesting
  7. How various combat mechanics actually work, like Entangling someone with a weapon
  8. Subtle ways to rein in brokenness – shugenja, etc.
  9. Managing different party compositions
  10. Clever uses of low yield skills
  11. Finding ways to make crappy advantages less crappy
  12. Combining different effects – spells, spells with kiho – to do interesting things
  13. How one ship build actually makes a difference compared to another ship build
  14. How better charcoal has a mechanical effect over inferior charcoal
  15. See also paper differences, and everything else

Sure, throwing out Free Raises or whatever is something GMs do to take into account the vast number of variables that may be involved.  I don’t really expect resolution systems for everything under the Amaterasu, nor do I enjoy charts and tables for playing RPGs (except funny ones that are rarely used).  What I’m looking for is guidance.  The “90%” fluff/thematics that we get is so lacking in structure that it’s just ideas and not anything to rely upon for crafting play experiences.

Again, knowing that wildfires occur is meaningless.  So, a wildfire is going on.  What does Extinguish do against it?  What does Strike of the Tsunami?  How hard is it to gain control of fleeing animals?  What is the economic impact on a farming community?  I call two Raises with Lore: Elements or Lore: Nature – what does that provide me in terms of knowing how to deal with it?

Where far too many RPG books provide mechanics without any sort of thematic context, I see L5R being too much about the thematics without any sort of mechanical context.  There’s really no advice on how to turn an idea into something.

To say it’s the GM’s job to make a bunch of ideas into something has validity up until the point that I really don’t need to be spending money hearing that “samurai like swords” or that “the Shadowlands is an unpleasant place” or whatever else that is either obvious or can be researched better with online searches.

How about more examples of poisons?  I don’t even care as much about the mechanics of the poisons as too much of that sort of thing leads to the kingdom of crunch.  I just want things like names, symptoms, and descriptions of countermeasures/antidotes.

The Art of the Duel might have had the most ridiculous mechanics in it and be a thematic fail, where every samurai and his idiot brother and their nonhuman friends created some sort of dueling school, but one thing it did do is give some structure around competitions.  Contests and competitions are a great thing to include in all RPGs but are especially important in L5R for fitting the setting and providing a challenge that doesn’t have damage dice explode until your character is a fine red mist.

I was trying to find examples of more exotic items one might find in marketplaces, such as gaijin goods.  Sure, there’s some info.  But, 3e Legend of the Burning Sands has an awful list of goods, being pretty much the same as the L5R list with mostly weapon differences.  I could find comments on major imports/exports of the different clans, but, rather than being told that the Mantis have a bunch of gemstones, how about actually naming which ones?

In other words, I guess I’m looking for things more like a true GM’s guide or true player’s guide (and not what games often do with such things and drop a ton of crunchy bits on folks).

I had another realization recently vis-a-vis L5R.  For quite a while, I would go out of my way to say how much I liked Roll & Keep and how I had mixed views on the setting.  But, then, I thought about how much more into the setting I’ve been then people I’ve been playing with, which didn’t fit the idea that the setting wasn’t that important to me.  In a recent discussion about what L5R offers that a lot of fantasy doesn’t (well, if you think of it as a fantasy setting, as it often isn’t), I hit on the fact that L5R has a fully developed world.

So much of generic fantasy leaves much of the mundane stuff in the world unknown, but L5R has a defined society that is omnipresent much of the time.  Some monsters are just weird stuff to mess with players, but even the monsters tend to have some coherency.  Precise location information can be a pain and lots of things aren’t described in excruciating detail, but there are hundreds or so locations referenced.  Okay, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, et al, may have that, too, but there’s verisimilitude to these locales that I haven’t gotten from other fantasy worlds.  Admittedly, I have never made an effort to keep up with Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, so a better comparison for something I know something about might be how so many BattleTech worlds in published products lack the details necessary to feel like you are actually in one place rather than another.  Or, why set a Qin campaign in one area instead of another?  Or, getting into other aspects of worlds, how can you have a realistic but not annoying legal system in a supers world?

Anyway, articulating the issue I have is problematic because I really like things like Book of Fire’s poetry section, to a lesser extent its charcoal section, the musical instruments section in Book of Air, and a few other things.  I may not care about sake-brewing, but I’m good with that sort of thing because I know it will matter to a few players.  What bores me silly are conceptually similar setting description sections that cross the boundary into truly having no impact on play.  At least, as presented.  A key way to present these topics better is to have them have some sort of mechanical impact.

Villain Lite

May 2, 2014

Sometimes, things just don’t penetrate.  I find this to be often the case when it comes to GM advice.  I’ve read a lot of it in a lot of different RPGs, in magazines, on forums.  But, do I implement it?  Course not.

I was thinking about the most important element to a RPG campaign – villains.

At some point, I started thinking more and more about setting.  I started mining books, often ones intended for different systems, for scenery descriptions.  My efforts to try to paint more of a picture, as flawed as they might have been when I focused on the wrong elements – elements players didn’t care about and not the ones they did, really didn’t seem to have any impact.

While I always have malign intelligence, yes, villains, in my campaigns, I make it difficult for the players to feel them.  I don’t know why.  When I’m playing, do I want some obscure enemy who may or may not be the enemy who is behind the curtains?  Not so much, no.

There’s nothing wrong with having evil masterminds who have to be discovered, but there should be the obvious villains to use all of those combat tactics on.

And, by villain, I mean villain.  I don’t mean monster, criminal, drunk, or whatever that produces a combat.  The villain needs to be actively interested in doing something that is bad for the PCs.  For instance.  Galactus is a hungry monster.  He’s a villain not because of scale, though scale has something to do with it (it means the Marvelites should be pretty annoyed, when the planet is consumed).  He’s a villain because he has malign intelligence, even if the comics try to position him as a cosmic force of nature.

Meanwhile, a pickpocket isn’t a villain.  It might suck to have your Amulet of Infinite Resurrections lifted, but the pickpocket isn’t engaging in an activity that specifically is oriented to making the PCs suffer.  If someone else came along with one of the numerous other Amulets of Infinite Resurrections, hey, pickpocket will go for that.  If you are pathetic and loserful and only have an Amulet of Nine Lives on you and your collection of Amulets of Infinite Resurrections is back at your low rent sky castle, you don’t really lose anything … failing the “suffer test”.

Look, I’m being lazy.  I’m sure that plenty of others have gone into agency (Wikipedia mentions agency under its villain heading) and a bunch of other better definitions for what makes a villain a villain.  I think people have an idea what the difference between a villain and a challenge are.

But, just to drag things out, a villain has potential persistence.  Sure, plenty of bad guys get taken out in one issue of your comic or whatever who are still villains.  Persistence isn’t important.  Potential persistence means that if you don’t fire the Wave Cannon this episode, the bad guy hangs around for more episodes to steal your cute anime girl harem.

More villains.  Recurring villains.  Whatever.  Just have a villain.  Pritnear all of the time – when the party finally eviscerates The Marquessa of Evil, her Sundress of Vileness is missing, which her daughter, Evil Girl, finds off stage.

I think this is something that makes taking Heroes of Rokugan more seriously difficult.  Sure, there are major villains.  They just don’t matter most of the time.  The campaigns build to the villains revealing themselves and not just doing things behind the scenes.  But, without the ability to impact them for most of the campaign, it doesn’t matter much whether you can even identify who they are.  The minor villains that pop up primarily just for the one mod aren’t easy to get concerned about, either.

It’s like the supervillain who shows up in issue 146 of your series and will never do so again.

Nothing makes players want to boil their enemies more than having a personal interest in taking someone down before throwing them into the pot.  Why can’t I remember this when I set up campaign?  Why don’t I mention this immediately when someone else is running a campaign?

Having a recurring villain doesn’t automatically make a good campaign.  But, it does automatically make a campaign better, unless the villain generates player hate without also generating character hate.  The ideal is to generate character hate and have the players go “While my character superhates Captain Clown, I got to respect his commitment to banana peels, pies, and squirt bottles.”

Our Saturday campaign has had a number of villains.  One even turned (we think).  But, so many campaigns I’m involved in fail to master villainy.  The Friday night group’s collection of campaigns tend to be of the sort where the PCs just do things they are supposed to be doing, without any particular impetus to do something specific.  Our new L5R campaign is one of the reasons I thought of this post – to this point, we are just doing what we are supposed to be doing and don’t have any particular Akutenshi to mess with.  My Gaki Mura campaign presented a major villain, but one that doesn’t inspire the group to do anything about him, which is part of the reason I haven’t been running the campaign.

Villains don’t have to be great.  They can, in fact, be decoys or set ups for greater payoff down the line.  Issue #1 – Nuclear Hero uses his gigaton blast on Bob, the gangleader, reducing him to quarks that coalesce in The Realm of Radiation Rajas, where he learns to master radiation.  In issue #13, Bob, now known as Z-Grade, deathtraps Nuclear Hero in his lead dirigible.  However, better to have some seriously dangerous villains early and often.

Also, in terms of what the villains can do, direct punchmastery tends to be better than “I made everyone hate you and stole your retirement fund” types, with their being quite the spectrum and a lot of ability to mix and match.  Kick King might have such great dancing moves that he makes the PC’s jumpoff jump ship.

Speaking of deathtraps.  It also tends to make far more sense and might be somewhat palatable to players to have a villain capture PCs rather than PCs being captured by someone random.  Sure, players tend to be violently opposed to being captured, but you never know.

Well, that was quite ramblerrific.  Point – villains (who do their job) make for better RPG experiences because they focus the party, they engage the party, and they hide how much of the world has been underdeveloped for the party.