L5R Campaigns

November 25, 2014

Simple enough title for something I got to thinking about:  what campaigns of 4e I’ve played and what I think would make sense to play.  Obviously, I don’t control having a GM to run something I’d want to play in or players for something I’d be willing to run.  But, I’m curious as to what running through campaigns will dig up in terms of what has been missing.

Heroes of Rokugan 2

While waiting for HoR3 to start, I was running HoR2 mods, with some modifications.  I feel like HoR2 was heavy on investigation adventures.  Maybe, it feels more that way to me because of which mods I missed and the order I played mods in.  Combat didn’t feel like that common a thing, with some combats being incredibly easy.  On the other hand, I also took over 70 wounds in back to back mods playing my first alt back when I played these mods using 3e/3r rules.  Social stuff was weak.  There was some coherency on NPCs and mod series.  When running this, I tried to pick out mods I thought the group would like after a while, as some things the group just wasn’t into.

Heroes of Rokugan 3

I’ve run close to 30 times, but my perspective is more so of the player.  Combat is way more common.  My tables should not have gotten through as unscathed as they did in a number of cases.  Where I think HoR3 made the greatest advancement in tech was making court mods far more interesting.  Even when mechanics were hard to figure out, I tended to far more enjoy court mods or mods with much more of a court component.  Investigation has been reduced, of course, to make room for more of the other.  Series don’t feel like series.  Recurring NPCs are not well done.

The nature of a living campaign means it’s harder to form deeper relationships with NPCs or to impact the world (especially when you just play mods).  Battle Interactives give mass combat opportunities.  I think my greatest problem with the BIs is that they just don’t give out enough diversity of rewards.  If you don’t work with staff, you get Glory.  Glory is meaningless.  I don’t understand how you don’t get Status for fighting under direct command of your clan champion without having to talk to staff or other perks.  Sure, it’s more XP, but I was way more interested in the HoR2 BIs due to more engaging set ups, though Doom of the Crab really annoyed me in one aspect – the same problem of the lack of character modification other than XP and Glory; why in the world did those of us not Crab not get a Crab Ally or a Crab Favor out of that?  Anyway, getting back to HoR3, some sort of nebulous pat on the back that someone could make a note of on their sheet, even if they never try to use it to gain a position, for various events would have made sense.  A few pips of Status is pretty meaningless in a lot of cases, yet makes perfect sense when fighting for your clan.

I think HoR3 has had a lot of interesting ideas that really need more playtesting and editing.  It also needs a clearer focus on what the campaign is about.  We get peasant uprisings.  And, so?  We get Okucheo that drags on forever without any progress.  We have spiritual stuff that isn’t remotely clear how it matters to the bulk of the PCs.  Maybe someone playing a returned spirit cares, but few of the people I play with are returned spirits and I don’t know if it has mattered to “just anybody” playing a returned spirit.  Miya Shikan was far more interesting than Okucheo.  Do I really care about the Kolat?  No.  Maybe I just knew more about HoR2 because of player discussion (woefully lacking in HoR3), but I’m just not feeling like any of the themes mean anything to my characters.

Anyway, HoR is a living campaign and they will have certain features.

The Princess Police

This is my nickname for our Saturday campaign that is closing on 80 sessions.  Thirty-three of those were at one Winter Court, so we have had a substantial court component to the campaign.  Actually, it was a weird adjustment when we went back to doing the sorts of stuff we were doing early in the campaign – mostly following leads across the countryside smashing bandits and conspiracy cells.

Unlike HoR, I’ve had an opportunity to establish deeper relationships with NPCs.  While my PCs may not have much effect upon the world, they have had a bunch of off stage activities for me to bug the GM about.  Maybe half a dozen emails about crafting a bow from me.  Where my PCs in HoR can say that they have hobbies, I don’t worry too much about them because they don’t feel like they matter, whereas they may not really change anything in this campaign, but they feel like they matter.  Also, I’m only playing one PC at a time in this campaign, and, while we’ve missed a bunch of weeks at times, we still have played far more sessions than HoR3.

Combat may not occur more often than, say, HoR3, but it takes longer, so it ends up being more of our campaign time.  The party was only really built to do combat, especially the initial crew.  The party was atrocious at social stuff until I just kept working on social prowess and ignoring getting significantly better at other things.  With characters averaging IR-4, easier rolls can be pretty easy just because of people’s trait levels.  Still, the party is woefully unprepared for various rolls by virtue of not taking obvious skills – Lore: Heraldry, Sincerity, etc. have often been missing completely and nobody has Sage for reasons that are unclear.

Since the party is a single party and not a “I’ve played with your character with my alt” situation like HoR, the PCs have largely found their niches.  For a while, my current character was the perceiver, but we have two of those at comparable levels.  I’m clearly playing the social character.  Josh is playing the primary beatstick.  John is playing a ninja.  Jackie a Void shugenja, Michele a fighty shugenja.  Mike hasn’t played much but is beatsticky.  Chris hasn’t played recently but is duelly.  Investigations of the Awareness sort are more me and John.  Of the Perception sort, me and Josh.  Of the brain sort, Michele.

What’s missing?  Alternate mechanics.  I don’t mean paths and such, as my current character is IR-4 with two paths.  And, yes, all of us have the Blessing of Amaterasu as a special ability to help deal with the recurring Shadowspawn and not rare oni.  What I mean more is less mechanics for characters and more mechanics for resolution or more abstract mechanics for characters.

Such as?  HoR has a Favor system and uses Ally a lot, though neither really matters to my characters.  HoR also has some mods that do things to figure out influence with NPCs.  Some of the other campaigns I’ll get to shortly [sic] have campaign mechanics that show up every session.

Glory and Status are still hard to point to as meaning anything specific, but I think what they mean lives in the GM’s head.

Due to not everyone being available on a weekly basis (I’ve missed close to 10 sessions myself), we often have side sessions.  Early on, I thought the side sessions worked better.  They were more focused.  Too often, early on, we were wandering the Empire or sitting in one city for an extended period of time not really clear on what we were trying to accomplish.  I think that’s unlikely to come up at this point as the campaign is moving towards completion and we know what we need to do and roughly where to go to do it.

Tuesday Nights

HoR3 locally has been a Tuesday night game, but the group just got tired of it and we’ve tried various other campaigns.  Mirror, Mirror wasn’t a campaign, but it got played (my second time through, so I limited my engagement).  Here are the various campaigns.

Gaki Mura

My campaign.  Based on an idea I had for an AD&D game of an isolated town cut off and forced to deal with an undead siege.  I added town building to this campaign.  The PCs formed a town council for a town that was being built as a place to house spirit realms experts working on closing a permanent portal to Gaki-do.  Every session, each PC could make rolls to build something for the town, whether a physical building or something else, like develop the storyteller population.

Each session was a month, both to be realistic about building up a town and to have a different sense of scale.  Sometimes this campaign worked, but it frustrated me because it felt like I needed to keep having things happen to the town and there was little coordination between players as to what to try to accomplish.  Season one ended well with the portal getting closed, but the interest in continuing to build the town was lost and what the campaign was about was lost when the local portal was closed, even though the town got repurposed as a research center for other portals across the Empire.

I tried to avoid significant investigation because the local group tends to be bad at it and dislike it.  I wanted to avoid a combat of the week situation, even though gaki constantly running loose was a thing.  I’m actually quite the fan of making up mechanics for scenes or sessions, so I had some other mechanical things I did, including having the party group build one of the NPC town council members (leading to the obvious Dark Fate).

It was not easy giving every project a PC completed some sort of special ability.  The burden was too much on me to define what projects meant.  The players didn’t really work with or against each other, which was my fault.  I had a town council, but I didn’t incentivize enough how politics could be a thing to do with the council.  I also didn’t make the project rolls such that PCs had more incentive to trade making rolls on other people’s projects.

Mostly, I don’t handle lots of PCs well, we had seven players at certain points, as I like to personalize things but simply can’t have the burden of doing so on me when there’s so many players to worry about.  Running this game led to a number of my posts in recent years about respecting combat more as a way for everyone to be engaged in what was going on.

This campaign also started with advanced characters, and PCs were getting within earshot of IR-6 even with a limited number of sessions.  The game is so broken when PCs are running around with 40 Reduction.  I either wipe anyone who doesn’t have 20 Reduction in one round or do nothing.  I like PCs having a range of abilities and advancing, I just don’t like what happens with L5R when it gets to IR-3.

Social stuff was quite limited, though some of that was because players didn’t make much of an effort to pursue coherent social strategies.  They might have been trying, but I find that what I do as a player and what my players do with NPCs is completely different.

City of Lies

Used the City of Lies boxed set.  I found this really frustrating because it seemed impossible to accomplish anything.  The only way anything got done was by acting roguish, which might be in the nature of the setting but which led to lots of spinning our wheels.  I felt like I would have accomplished just as much by not playing.  This is unfortunate because there were interesting possibilities and I liked the tracking mechanic for how people thought of you.  But, I’m also not into anything Scorpion or intrigue, so it wasn’t really a good setting for me, anyway.

Second City

We played the Second City campaign, though “played” is used a bit loosely.  We rushed through things and everyone died at the end, with very little happening before we got to the end.  The only notable thing for me was playing a Daigotsu Bushi who was more honorable in deed than the rest of the party, who had Iaijutsu 5 and never dueled, and who got eaten by a snake.

The GM found the book lacked detail and things for people to do and the path to the end was too dependent upon certain things.  I can see all that.  But, I think the intent was to give the GM enough for the GM to flesh out a much longer campaign, where we had much more to do.

Pretty much everything seemed missing in this campaign:  combat, investigation, social, other.  Not sure what other might be, maybe building stuff (not just towns) or modifying the world non-socially (close a portal, open a portal, etc.), exploration, etc.

20 Goblin Winter

Lot of random encounters in the Shadowlands got people tired of this pretty quick.  We did make Crabhood, and there were some interesting mechanics around learning how to be a Crab, but it wasn’t clear what we were trying to do with the game.  The premise was playing True Ronin, which went away when we gave up on wanting to just keep doing repetitive missions into the Shadowlands.  Becoming Crab didn’t mean a whole lot, and we lacked direction once we were Crab.

I don’t know if a campaign around 20 Goblin Winter is worth it.  I mean, it’s not a Shadowlands campaign in that you need to be doing very specific things to make progress on your goal.  Also, as much as I like punking Shadowlands monsters, I don’t like the Taint.  There was way too much metagaming of our ronin characters to be remotely functional – too many characters were way too similar.  Sounds interesting but doesn’t play interesting.  I also had something like two characters die, one during a TPK, so there was very little investment in our characters.

Mostly just combat until we became Crab, then it was pretty much just contests to be the best new Crab.  The NPCs weren’t the sort I cared to engage with.  There wasn’t any sort of exploration to do.

Marriage Campaign

Our current campaign is a pure court campaign to marry off NPC candidates for our clans.  While not a great fit for our group and while it has a lot of limitations in things going on, such as that there are barely any NPCs outside of each faction’s candidates and our candidates are pretty two-dimensional, I am thinking this is one of the best if not the best of our Tuesday night campaigns.

While thinking about this post, I realized there’s a lot of similarities to certain HoR mods.  The campaign is very, very contest oriented.  It means we always have things to do every session as there’s a candidate contest and a PC contest each session.  There is also a set of mechanics for off stage activities to improve out matchmaking that our candidates and PCs do.  But, there’s not a lot going on outside of the contests and the off stage mechanics.  The burden to have other things going on is on the players.  Fortunately, some Scorpion mudslinging and Lion investigating into it for the Unicorn opened up some interesting player interaction, which was lacking at first.

I have some wheeling and dealing going on for matches.  The question becomes how interesting things are after I marry off all of my candidates.

Because there’s zero combat, I am playing a character I could never play in HoR or many of these other campaigns.  I like that.  My PC is also interesting enough to me that I’d like to see him see play in something else, as he doesn’t really get to do a lot other than roll dice in this campaign.  NPC interaction is heavily restricted.  Some of his advantages are meaningless (balanced by how his disadvantage has been meaningless).  Advancing the character could be interesting because he’s only IR-1 and can’t get past that in this campaign.

The contests are very interesting, though some of them should really have more for people who don’t win.


So, what makes sense?

Court/social play?  I’ve done a lot of this.  I actually enjoy it more than I expected since I’m not into intrigue and I get tired of being beaten over the head with customs.  My favorite social stuff, besides NPC interactions of course, has been trying to help NPCs I don’t know very well but have some incentive to help either because of clan affiliation, friend of a friend, or because some other PC wants me to help them.  I like the idea of more often cooperating with other players but sometimes working at cross purposes.

Combat focus?  Combat is so common, let’s try … battle focus?  Big battle game with mass combat rules often used – interesting?  I don’t know.  Each PC is a general?  That doesn’t sound all that interesting.  I can see more a campaign where a small number of PCs are part of the same force and have to deal with logistics and morale and crap.  But, what’s the goal?  Invasion campaign at the army level?  Sure, why not?  See how it goes.

Exploration?  So, one idea I have for our next Tuesday night campaign is to run Legend of the Burning Sands.  I asked one of our players what he would want to do in such a campaign and he said explore because he doesn’t know the setting.  The question I need to ask myself is what exploration means to me in terms of creating adventures.  With Conan d20, exploration seems easy, as moving from nation to nation makes plenty of sense for PCs, whether murderhobos or nobles.  But, do I ever paint an interesting enough picture to make someone feel that the character is in place B instead of place A?  With LBS, just slowly parsing out the factions would provide exploration with the plots being the usual 47 plots that all stories are.  How about a high seas game of all Mantis and Tortoise (Kasuga Smuggler is something I’ve wanted to play for years) that explores outside of Rokugan?

World building/creation?  I can see playing in this rather than running, as Gaki Mura has made me shy about trying this again.  Though, a creation campaign could be less about construction and be more like an arts campaign or something.

Intrigue?  Not my thing.

Spinoff from one of our campaigns?  I proposed the idea of our children from The Princess Police doing stuff, but that group has another campaign planned already, and how fair is it to make the same person GM another full blown campaign?

Second City?  Sure.  I have no sense of Second City.  I read through sections of the box set.  I still have no real sense of where to start and where to go.

Space?  No.  I’d much rather take the L5R system and play a genre I like better than L5R.

What ideas from Imperial Histories really grab me?  Really, none of them.  I already have an idea for a sequel to HoR2, as I really like the setting of HoR2 with the Toturis having survived for centuries.  Sure, I’d be into a more mystical L5R experience, but I don’t know who would run that – I’m the person who would logically run that, and that’s what Gaki Mura was like.

Peasant game?  No.

Monk game?  Can’t see it.

Ronin game?  Eh, just doesn’t sound all that to me.

Book of … settings?  Maybe.  Our marriage campaign is in the Book of Air setting.  Book of Earth, absolutely not.  Fire?  Sounds boring, actually.  Other two sound fine.  Naishou Province?  Sure, whatever.

Mostly, I’d rather play than GM.  I don’t want to spend too much time investigating as I get plenty of that from HoR.  I’d like HoR4 to be more interesting to me than HoR3, though some of what made HoR2 more interesting to me than HoR3 was due to who I was playing with.  I’m okay with playing in a heavy combat game, I might even build a good combat character for such.  But, I’m much more into NPC interaction, and I like non-antagonistic play, like contests and trying to make the world a better place by creating things.

Lo, The Fun

November 22, 2014

I got to thinking, after my last post, about fun decks from my V:TES history.  In particular, I was going to mine my ELDB and FELDB built decks for those that were both fun to build and fun to play.  Kind of hard.  I have a lot of decks that either never got played or were only worth playing once.  My deck names are often obscure to where I have to open a file up to see what the deck is even about.

I should note that I was looking for decks that either didn’t see tournament play or didn’t win a tournament or were played in special events.  After all, all of my tournament decks that qualified for the TWDA are up on Secret Library, in addition to the TWDA.  The more I tried to search for decks, the more irritating it got.  Now, there are memorable deck names, e.g. Transmission Overload.  Some of these were even fun to play, e.g. Election Weather.  How fun they were to build I’m not so sure.  Let’s see if I can pull some decks out without looking through hundreds of decks.

Deck Name:   Hesha Does It All
Created By:  Hesha

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 24, Max: 36, Avg: 7.50)
6  Hesha Ruhadze  ani obf pre SER      6,  Followers of Set
3  Saqqaf         cel for OBF PRE SER  9,  Followers of Set
3  Suhailah       FOR OBF pot ser      9,  Ventrue, Prince

Library: (90 cards)
Master (18 cards)
1  Barrens, The
5  Blood Doll
1  Dreams of the Sphinx
5  Fortitude
1  Heidelberg Castle, Germany
2  Opium Den
1  Storage Annex
2  Sudden Reversal

Action (26 cards)
1  Ablative Skin
1  Army of Rats
1  Arson
1  Edge Vitiation
4  Enticement
2  Form of Corruption
1  Frozen Object
1  Heart of Darkness
1  Kiss of Lachesis
1  Lure of the Serpent
1  Masochism
6  Night Moves
1  Sanguine Instruction
4  Temptation

Action Modifier (29 cards)
4  Cloak the Gathering
4  Forgotten Labyrinth
15 Freak Drive
4  Lost in Crowds
2  Mask of a Thousand Faces

Political Action (2 cards)
2  Free States Rant

Combat (8 cards)
2  Majesty
2  Quick Exit
2  Skin of Steel
2  Superior Mettle

Equipment (7 cards)
1  Aaron’s Feeding Razor
1  Assault Rifle
1  Blood Tears of Kephran
1  IR Goggles
1  Ivory Bow
1  Leather Jacket
1  Signet of King Saul, The

The original version.  The first time I played this, I found it quite amusing.  Every attempt to do something similar afterwards was less so.  Yes, I have actually built superstar decks.  I even have Una focused decks, just not the overrated and overdone sort that other people complain about.

Hesha is almost always fun, even without playing Freak Drive.  I often think about using the Hesha bloat module in various decks but rarely implement it.

Deck Name:   Sunbane Two
Created By:  Qetu
Description: Bane Mummy deck

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 20, Max: 38, Avg: 7.17)
2  Sutekh               cel NEC OBF pot PRE SER  11, Followers of Set, 2 votes
2  Intisar              cel OBF pot PRE SER      8,  Followers of Set
2  Sarrasine            aus nec OBF PRE ser      7,  Followers of Set
2  Qufur am-Heru        cel OBF PRE SER tha      7,  Followers of Set
2  Sir Marriot D’Urban  aus obf PRE ser          5,  Followers of Set
2  Count Ormonde        dom OBF pre ser          5,  Followers of Set

Library: (75 cards)
Master (19 cards)
2  Blood Doll
2  Charisma
2  Direct Intervention
1  Giant’s Blood
1  Golconda: Inner Peace
2  Information Highway
1  KRCG News Radio
6  Minion Tap
2  Opium Den

Action (22 cards)
5  Enchant Kindred
2  Entrancement
2  Lure of the Serpent
1  Sacrificial Lamb
2  Summon Soul
2  Summon the Serpent
8  Summoning, The

Action Modifier (15 cards)
3  Aire of Elation
8  Cloak the Gathering
2  Forgotten Labyrinth
2  Mask of a Thousand Faces

Reaction (1 cards)
1  Wake with Evening’s Freshness

Combat (7 cards)
2  Lucky Blow
5  Staredown

Ally (6 cards)
1  Amam the Devourer (Bane Mummy)
1  Kherebutu (Bane Mummy)
1  Qetu the Evil Doer (Bane Mummy)
2  Repo Man
1  Tutu the Doubly Evil One (Bane Mummy)

Equipment (5 cards)
2  Leather Jacket
3  Sport Bike

I’m not sure if this is the decklist for when I played Sunbane in a Los Angeles tournament and had a memorable experience at what was a pretty bad convention a decade or so ago.  I do know that I had a lot of casual play success with Bane Mummies and felt compelled to take a deck with no real defense and minimal offense into tournament play.

This was both fun to play and fun to build.  Summon Soul suckas, Summon Soul.

Deck Name:   Vial
Created By:  Reg Driscoll
Description: Needs more Regs

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 12, Max: 33, Avg: 5.91)
2  George Frederick                   FOR nec obf THN6  Samedi
2  Jorge De La Muerte                 cel for nec OBF THN7  Samedi
2  Lithrac                            for OBF thn    5  Samedi
1  March Halcyon                      for            1  Pander
3  Reg Driscoll                       aus for OBF pre THN8  Samedi
1  Smudge the Ignored                 none           1  Caitiff
1  Baron                              dom FOR NEC OBF THN9  Samedi

Library: (80 cards)
Master (14 cards)
3  Blood Doll
2  Dirty Contract
6  Haven Uncovered
3  Minion Tap

Action (10 cards)
4  Bum`s Rush
6  Embrace, The

Action Modifier (20 cards)
10 Cloak the Gathering
4  Freak Drive
6  Hag`s Wrinkles

Combat (26 cards)
4  Boxed In
6  Fake Out
6  Taste of Vitae
10 Withering

Equipment (10 cards)
10 Vial of Garou Blood

YTITF (Yes, This Is The F-).  Why is this deck not named “Vile” for being an affront to all that is reasonable in V:TES deck construction?  Because this deck was awesomey.  It was hilarious to build.  It was hilarious to play.  And, it totally beat up one or two vampires.  My vague recollection is that the game timed out before my inevitable victory, but I have no real idea besides my “going off” one round and sending a vampire to torpor or maybe emptying it or something.

I’ve built a lot of decks that are jokes.  Why aren’t I calling an espada an espada?  Because this deck was built for the Prophecies League.  As awful as some of the rules were, they produced a lot of the weirdest “this isn’t actually as stupid as it looks” ideas I’ve ever had.

By the way, those three decks are from 2003.

Deck Name:   04June2 Burning Skulls
Created By:  Unre

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 28, Max: 36, Avg: 8.08)
1  Ignazio Giovanni      obf DOM FOR NEC POT      9,  Giovanni:3
1  Anisa Marianna Lopez  aus FOR NEC QUI          8,  Harbingers of Skulls:2
1  Egothha               AUS FOR NEC obf          7,  Harbingers of Skulls:2
1  Gisela Harden         aus dem FOR NEC          7,  Harbingers of Skulls:2, Priscus
2  Unre                  AUS dom FOR NEC ser thn  9,  Harbingers of Skulls:2, Bishop
1  Matthias              AUS FOR nec OBE          7,  Salubri:2
1  Baron                 dom FOR NEC OBF THN      9,  Samedi:2, 2 votes
1  Blackhorse Tanner     AUS DOM FOR              7,  Ventrue antitribu:3
1  Jesse Menks           ani AUS DOM FOR          8,  Ventrue antitribu:3, Archbishop
1  Owain Evans           cel pre AUS DOM FOR      8,  Ventrue antitribu:3
1  Quentin               AUS cel DOM FOR obt      9,  Ventrue antitribu:2, Bishop

Library: (90 cards)
Master (14 cards)
1  Barrens, The
2  Blood Doll
1  Dreams of the Sphinx
2  Effective Management
1  Hungry Coyote, The
1  Information Highway
5  Minion Tap
1  Specialization

Action (14 cards)
7  Force of Will
4  Possession
1  Rapid Healing
2  Scrounging

Action Modifier (28 cards)
3  Bonding
4  Call of the Hungry Dead
6  Conditioning
7  Daring the Dawn
8  Freak Drive

Reaction (22 cards)
5  Deflection
1  Delaying Tactics
3  Obedience
5  Telepathic Misdirection
8  Wake with Evening’s Freshness

Combat (5 cards)
5  Spiritual Intervention

Equipment (1 cards)
1  Sargon Fragment, The

Combo (6 cards)
6  Spectral Divination

Why was it so easy for me to build a Blessed Resilience deck that could oust people with no minions in play?  Because this was my original good Harbingers deck.  It had to be good, right?  After all, I won every game I ever played with it.  Not that it qualifies as a HoS deck using my criteria for what constitutes a deck of a clan, but I could have changed that if I ever played the deck more than once.  Actually, maybe I did play another version and it didn’t have a perfect victory record, but whatever.  Actually 2, I don’t think this is the original decklist.  I recall a different vampire being in play when I played the deck.  Oh well, whatever deck I did play, it was reasonably enjoyable, and building this sort of deck appeals to me.

Given how much I enjoy Force of Will, one would think I’d play it more often.  But, no.  Maybe it’s good that I rarely play it, since it’s so much more interesting when people don’t see it coming.

Deck Name:   04June10 Cycle Path
Created By:  Pug Jackson

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 18, Max: 26, Avg: 5.67)
1  Henry Taylor        cel pre pro POT    6,  Brujah antitribu:3
1  Jeremiah Noble      obt pre CEL POT    6,  Brujah Antitribu:3
1  Sela                cel obt POT PRE    6,  Brujah Antitribu:2, Bishop
1  Wah Chun-Yuen       cel dom pre POT    5,  Brujah antitribu:3
1  Marlena             cel POT pre        5,  Brujah:3
1  Pug Jackson         CEL for POT pre    6,  Brujah:3, Primogen
1  Sir Ralph Hamilton  cel POT PRE ser    6,  Brujah:3
1  Theo Bell           cel dom POT pre    7,  Brujah:2
1  Gaspare Giovanni    cel nec POT        6,  Giovanni:2
1  Beast               ani cel OBF POT    7,  Nosferatu Antitribu:2
2  Jimmy Dunn          CEL for POT        4,  Pander:2

Library: (90 cards)
Master (14 cards)
1  Archon Investigation
1  Barrens, The
5  Blood Doll
2  Celerity
2  Fame
1  Gang Territory
2  Haven Uncovered

Action (15 cards)
3  Ambush
3  Bum’s Rush
3  Harass
6  Legal Manipulations

Action Modifier (11 cards)
9  Bribes
1  Iron Glare
1  Voter Captivation

Political Action (12 cards)
1  Brujah Justicar
11 Finding the Path

Combat (37 cards)
4  Decapitate
6  Flash
6  Pursuit
6  Side Strike
15 Stunt Cycle

Sticking with 2004, we get this beauty.  While fun the one time I can remember playing it, this deck taught me that Finding the Path is not all that I hoped it would be.  Far too often, I just ended up bloating other people, leading to no ability to oust whatsoever.

Deck Name:   Imposing Phantasm dot dec
Created By:  Gabrin

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 12, Max: 28, Avg: 5.17)
1  Sasha Miklos         chi              2,  Ravnos:2
1  Spleen               ani chi          2,  Ravnos:2
2  Salbatore Bokkengro  CHI for pro      4,  Ravnos:2
2  Khalil Ravana        ani CHI for pre  5,  Ravnos:2
2  Joaquina Amaya       ANI CHI FOR      6,  Ravnos:2
2  Vaclav Petalengro    ANI CHI for pot  6,  Ravnos:2
2  Gabrin               ANI CHI dom for  8,  Ravnos:2

Library: (90 cards)
Master (17 cards)
1  Barrens, The
6  Blood Doll
1  Fortune Teller Shop
3  Haven Uncovered
1  Park Hunting Ground
4  Path of Paradox, The
1  Week of Nightmares

Action Modifier (4 cards)
4  Fata Morgana

Reaction (17 cards)
3  Cats’ Guidance
8  Forced Awakening
2  Ignis Fatuus
3  Rat’s Warning
1  Wake with Evening’s Freshness

Combat (43 cards)
12 Apparition
4  Carrion Crows
10 Imposing Phantasm
4  Song of Serenity
3  Taste of Vitae
10 Trap

Equipment (3 cards)
2  Sport Bike
1  Treasured Samadji

Combo (6 cards)
6  Draba

Finish up this post with this deck.  Fun to build?  I guess.  Building around a card nobody plays is often fun.  Fun to play?  Spleen beat the crap out of Lambach when I played this.  Perhaps so …

Note that Imposing Phantasm is one of the more efficient ways to gain blood without hurting your opponent (maybe should have more than three Tastes of Vitae in this deck, though the deck actually was trying to hurt minions, so finishing someone off was kind of more important).  And, yes, this was a 2004 deck, as well, at least based on when the file was saved.

Why did this post matter?  I need to be constantly building V:TES decks.  There are still a nigh infinite possibilities, though, in terms of archetypes rather than specific lists, I guess that’s not really true.  Still, there are various specific cards I’ve never tried to build around that I should get around to.  It’s not always boring to revisit a concept.  Yet, I am feeling the lack of freshiosity that others have felt not long after Heirs to the Blood had been out for a while.  I’ve forgotten so much of what it’s like to build Babylon 5 or Wheel of Time decks that it might be enjoyable to relearn what I used to do for those games, to the extent that I ever expect to build decks for either ever again.  The question becomes one of how much I can get in the discovery mode with V:TES while not actually playing with any of the new cards.

There’s a reason I’ve built (in computer files) far more decks than I’ve actually played – many ideas aren’t interesting and may not even be new.  It does occur to me when I get into these moods where I feel like I need to try something different that I could just try something different and build webdecks.  That I make an effort not to build someone else’s decks means that someone elses’ decks are actually decks I haven’t played.  And, I don’t build decks in a vacuum.  Some of my best or most notable deck ideas for various CCGs have come from thinking I could do a different spin on someone else’s deck.

Fisticuffs [20141120]

November 21, 2014

I had an idea for a post about deckbuilding styles, and this post could relate to that, but I think I’ll address something else first.

I played Shadowfist for the first time since my trip last night.  By playing, I mean one game.  One, three-hour game.

It was a good game.  I think it helped that I was playing a gigantic, bloated deck to give variety over the course of the game.  Sixty cards of pure excess, baby.

Anyway.  There was a takeaway from this game.  Deckbuilding for me is incredibly different between Shadowfist and V:TES.  Wait, I’ve said that before?  Well, yeah.  Is it because I know the cards in V:TES and don’t know how cards in Shadowfist play?  Sure.  That has something to do with it.  I mean, it’s not just my decks that I don’t really understand in Shadowfist, it’s everyone else’s.

V:TES just feels so repetitive at the moment, not in terms of play but in terms of putting together decks.  There’s such a strong “Do I play with commonly played cards or do I jump through hoops to avoid playing commonly played cards because they are trite?” element to building decks for the game.

Shadowfist does have a certain element of repetitiveness in that stuff gets nuked and bids for victory get turned away, repeatedly.  Well, at least, in the fun games these things happen.  The games where the first bid for victory succeeds are often pretty terrible.

This game was kind of amusing because of how little removal, how little event play at all there was.  Sure, two of my Golden Comebacks were for Horus who mostly nuked sites when he came into play.  I didn’t actually read his specials that carefully or consider how good just blowing up any card in play is … when further added to a 12 Fighting character.

As is usually the case, it’s incredibly hard to explain all of the things that happen in a game.  Ray’s Bush Pilot survived for most of the three hours.  My Horse Thief (or Thieves) kept getting shot by Moon Bases while trying to infiltrate Trade Centers.  At one point or another, every player had a Trade Center in their structure.  One of my four Golden Comebacks was for Horse Thief just to jump in front of somebody.  Ting Ting and The Golden Gunman kept getting Golden Comebacked by Ray, while my fourth Comeback was for Dunwa Saleem … because I could afford a searched out Reascended.

On my penultimate turn, I had two Black Helicopter Squads, Horse Thief (three damage), Arachne, Serket, Kauhuhu, Horus.  On the last turn of the game, I started attacking a face down LaGrange Four with Horus, Arachne, two BHSs, Junkyard Boys, with a Whelps in hand and Kauhuhu (with seven damage) hanging out to be all Independent.  Between three Demon Whiskey taking down a Haunted Horus, CHAR dropping a BHS, Destroyer Drone dropping Arachne or some such, I got exactly four damage through with a BHS and the all powerful Junkyard Boys (that I had played that turn expecting them to be key to victory).  I had Anubis, Jormungandr, and Ursus in my hand, though not enough to play any of them.

Conversion Drone, earlier, was the tech needed to slow down Demon Whiskey/Bloody Hordes.  Besides Trade Centers, Fortress Omega made a couple of appearances, The Library of Souls got seized, then returned.  Lots of late game shielding, to where I had to punch through a Trade Center just to expose a soft underbelly of Hartwell Iron Works that kind of pointlessly dinged CHAR.

Name:  Reascended Comeback
Faction:  Ascended and Dragon
Size:  60

Ascended Cards (29)
Characters (21)
1x Anubis
1x Arachne
5x Black Helicopter Squad
1x Dunwa Saleem
4x Horse Thief
1x Horus
1x Jormungandr
1x Kauhuhu
1x Serket
1x Ursus
4x Whelps

Edges (3)
1x Everything Falls Apart
1x Fistful of Dollars
1x Gunboat Diplomacy

Events (5)
4x Advance Notice
1x Blood is Thicker than Water

Dragon Cards (12)
Characters (8)
3x Junkyard Boys
5x Techie Apprentices

Events (4)
4x Golden Comeback

Generic Cards (19)
Events (6)
2x IKTV Special Report
4x Scrounging

Feng Shui Sites (13)
2x Booby-Trapped Tomb
4x Dockyard
1x Kowloon Gate
2x Manufactured Island
2x Mobius Gardens
1x The Dragon’s Teeth
1x The Iron Palace

My first non-dumb multifaction deck.  It was quite funtastic.  Advance Notice is a lot better than I thought it would be at first, even my goldfishing this deck was showing how often I was happy to ship cards to the bottom.

I see Dragon being a natural for Reascended precisely because Golden Comeback works so well, plus Techie Apprentices is just so stupidly not useless late in games, even if I didn’t run a bunch of other Tech requiring plays.

Getting back to the differences between V:TES and Shadowfist for me, this deck is symptomatic of how deckbuilding is really different at the moment.  I can just throw together cards that sound interesting, add in staples (4-5 Dockyards, 4-5 Scrounging), and have a Shadowfist deck.  With V:TES, I just keep thinking “How does this deck not get ousted?”, “How does this deck oust anyone?”, “If I put Conditioning in, I can’t play this in a tournament.”, “I’ve built seven decks just like this.”, and so on, which is rather discouraging.

Would new V:TES cards help?  Well, we have new cards, I just don’t have the interest in playing with them.  Yes, playing with cards I’m not familiar with would help.  Instead of fixating on what I can’t play … because I’ve played it already, because it uses cards I won’t play with in tournaments, because it’s like someone else’s deck, or whatever … I can focus on what the efficient and synergistic ways are to play the cards.  Or, the silly ways.

Does this mean Shadowfist is preferable to play?  I wouldn’t go that far.  I enjoy the play of V:TES quite a bit because so many funny things happen, even if the number of crazy things that happen is so much less than a Shadowfist game.  I just find that trying to put together a decklist I’m interested in for V:TES is challenging, where I just keep trying new cards and new combinations with Shadowfist.

[Classic] Definition of a broken card [8/19/2001]

November 19, 2014

Sent to the Babylon 5 CCG Rangers group, i.e. the volunteers group (not to be confused with the player’s group, the old volunteer’s group, the playtest group, or any of the other groups that got setup up near the turn of the century).

*  *  *

While we are on the subject of errata, I thought that it might be helpful to
share my definition of a broken card with you all.  Here it is:

Any card or card combo that can win consistently in 9 or less turns unless
someone puts a card in their opening hand to stop it.

The main qualm I have with this definition is that there’s nothing wrong with consistently winning within 9 turns if every deck is that fast.  8-10 turn games where everyone has a chance of winning sound real good compared to the current length of many games.  I’m not sure there is a good comprehensive definition.  Some others that I’ve heard include:

Where X is some specific strategy, card, or group of cards, if you must play X or anti-X, X is broken.  This works better in some situations.  Unless you get quite broad in how you use this, I don’t know that it ever applied real well to B5.  For instance, in the first Worlds, OAA would have made a good X, but anti-X wasn’t nearly as clear.

If a strategy still produces excessive wins even when players prepare for it, it’s broken.  This, OTOH, has applied often to B5.  For example, I’ve often seen a searched out Master of Darkness fail to stop GiC.  On a more extreme level, Sheridan mark still could win after It Will Be His Undoing (put in opening hand) got played.

For individual cards, if the card goes into every** deck no matter what the deck’s strategy is, then it’s a candidate for being broken.  A definition that applies well to B5 at times and not so well at other times.  To modify it for B5, would probably have to add “and causes a significant increase in a player’s ability to win”.  Meditation, for instance, is rarely called broken.  Then, there’s a card like Trent.

**  “every” being somewhat open to interpretation.  Every Minbari deck still sounds like a possible problem.  Every Gather Rebels deck doesn’t.

For multiplayer games, if there is a standard of deck strength in terms of how much effort the other players must expend to stop it from winning and a deck significantly exceeds that standard, then the deck is likely broken.  For example, as this is rather abstract, if a standard tournament deck can normally be stopped by one player, assuming the player expends enough effort, and there exists a deck that can only be stopped by multiple players, then the deck is broken.  An extreme would be if all other players did everything possible to stop the deck throughout the game and it still won more often than not, then it is clearly broken.  Decks that come to mind that were above the standard historically would include early CoG, some military decks (depending upon time period).

Of course, if you have statistics, any deck that dominates tournament play is broken.  Broken decks play broken cards as a rule, so there should be some card in the deck that can be pulled out.

“I’m not very tough.  I cry a lot.  And, the tears won’t stop flowing.”

*  *  *

Other than including one of my more memorable sigs, why now brown cow for this post?  I was reading the only B5 CCG blog I know about (given that I haven’t searched for any others), babylon5ccg.blogspot.com

I pulled out my decks box to comment about opening hands.  Two problems with that.  First, most of the decks have slips of paper in them for playtesting one of the CCGs I was designing that never got close to being published.  Second, I had a lot of opening hands that would have undermined my argument, so I don’t know what my comment should be.

Anyway, I started searching my sent email to see if I ever sent my Band of Brothers decklist out.  This was for another blog post idea I had where I’d rehash an old topic – decks that fail to meet a minimum threshold of viability (aka nutpunchers).  I ran across this email.  This is relatively thoughtful compared to many of my emails to the various groups about things B5ish.  I also don’t really have an argument against anything I said 13 years ago.

I also haven’t posted any classics (things I write to places other than here that I copy here, especially anything I wrote prior to starting this blog) for a while.

By the way, something that isn’t broken (per se) is anything I don’t like playing against.  While The Unmasking is broken, it’s not because I hate playing against it, which I do.  It’s because it hits on something this classic doesn’t – certain effects that break basic mechanics of the game are broken.  This is an idiotic definition in that the whole point of CCGs is that cards break the basic mechanics of the game (“OMG, Glancing Blow prevents damage … that’s so broken.”), so you need more stuff in there like “Massive distortion of the game from common play.”, “On a global level and with no real ability to restore the game’s mechanics to the norm.”, or whatever.

Review – Sword and Fan

November 10, 2014

Sword and Fan came out months and months ago.  Whoever was likely to buy it has probably done so.  So, why review it now?

Besides hearing myself write?

That’s pretty much it.  I’m going to try real hard to say something I haven’t said ad nauseam when it comes to L5R 4e supplements.

Conceptually, Sword and Fan is interesting.  Two areas of L5R that have difficulties with being run are mass combat and court action, if for completely different reasons.  Well, there’s one shared reason – investigation, party level skirmishing, and whatnot are the meat of most campaigns.

Mass combat requires a shift in perspective, from the individual action level to the army level.  Some games do that.  Lot don’t.  I keep using mass combat when I could say war, but I think mass combat does a better job of putting the focus on this perspective shift.  After all, wars have small unit action.  I can’t remember who says it, maybe Talon Kardde, but in one of the Star Wars novels, someone says that the reason the Solos and Skywalkers of the world go do the important stuff is because small groups are better at getting things done than fleets (paraphrasing a lot).

Anyway.  There are seven chapters and the all important appendix where the mechanics reside.  Four of the chapters are about warfare.

One of the things that I am compelled to state, relevant to both S&F and Book of Void, is that so much of what is written doesn’t engage me.  I know, that’s what I keep saying with the Book of … series, but the compulsion is to analyze the product, and the product, let’s stick with S&F for the moment because there’s some chance I might force myself to review the Book of Void, is dull.

Why is it dull?  Alternatively, would it be dull to someone else?

Chapter One: Strategy

What is dull to me about the beginning of this chapter is that it states basic things about warfare.  Now, one could argue that other people haven’t read as much about warfare as I have, though I haven’t read that much.  Consider the audience.  Not to get too far afield, but it’s important to know your audience.

Who is the audience for the first half of this book?  Maybe people who are interested in mass combat?  Maybe those people have an inkling how battles are fought?

Legend of the Five Rings has more history than any other RPG world I know of.  Maybe I just haven’t paid attention with other RPG worlds, but see Imperial Histories and Imperial Histories 2 for products that are not the norm.  Even if Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms or whatever has the same number of history books, I somehow doubt they will be as historical.  Now, of course, Middle Earth has ludicrous amounts of history, but I’m rambling.

The history of certain battles in this chapter bores me.  Besides the difficulty of applying this knowledge to play in a substantial way, the descriptions of the wars are just too brief to find them enthralling.  I’m actually kind of interested in the Mantis versus the Ivory Kingdoms.  I’m not so much interested in half a page covering it.

What is the point of thematic material?

One could argue it’s the same as mechanical material – inspiration.  Where mechanics inspire PC builds and what challenges to throw at parties, thematics inspire character concepts, settings, the reason why the challenges are what they are.

My memory is limited.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of Enemies of the Empire inspiring me thematically.  Mechanically, Great Clans, of course.  Strongholds of the Empire, maybe, for both.

Based on what I read on forums, others find the various supplements far more interesting.  That’s them.  I should get on with me, myself, and I.

Something I put some value on in this chapter?  Generals.  It’s strange.  While I don’t really care about a lot of historical figures in L5R in terms of them being used or what precisely they did, I somehow care about their profiles in a general sense of adding history to the world in a different way than descriptions of events.  I’ve never been much of a biography reader, but, maybe, I’m the sort that actually finds biographies interesting.  Certainly affected which sports teams I’ve favored to read about certain athletes.

Chapter Two: Tactics

This comes across as a much more cogent chapter.  For one thing, the explanatory style that permeates so many recent products is better served when what is being explained is how the L5R world does things specifically.  Then, there are actual mechanics in this chapter for helping a side win for less fighty types.  Then, the advice for personalizing mass combat scenarios goes to the heart of one of the things I find so frustrating in the Book of … series – it explains how an aspect of the world can be made relevant to play unlike the “here’s what a wildfire is” sections.

Chapter Three: Cavalry Warfare

Really?  A long, boring description of how everyone looks at cavalry?  Yes, maneuverability is the squirrel’s acorns of battle.  But, how relevant is this?  It’s like giving more monk techniques.  It might be a thing in the world, but the value to play is trivial.  It’s less relevant than a similar section on infantry would be.  It’s far less relevant than the impact of shugenja on mass combat.

Chapter Four: Enemies

Good point for this section is that it covers some interesting things, like fighting gaijin.  Bad point for this section is that I’m a lot more interested in how the Imperial Legions function than some short thing on Imperial Legions vs. Great Clans.  Book of Fire had something about military service.  I barely remember what it had to say.

Disconnect.  This is the massive disconnect between what gets published and what I’m looking for.  I don’t care who the commander of each legion is, but I just don’t get how to use Imperial Legions in play, whether a campaign based around the party being part of one or having them be something relevant to the party.  The idea that anyone Rokugani would fight them seems ridiculous, except for ubiquitous bandits.  So, what do they do?  Why would they be good at fighting if they have so little reason to be in a fight?  Why don’t they help the Crab more?  (Why doesn’t everyone help the Crab and deal with the constant threat to the Empire?  Because.)

If it’s just ceremonial and political, then, sure, prestigious appointment to the United Nations Taskforce.  But, in theory, the Legions actually do something.  Where are they located?  How often do they move around?  How can they be made an interesting part of a campaign?

What makes the disconnect particularly problematic is that, because aspects of the world are superficially addressed in a book, there’s little hope that they get the in depth examination that would make them useful to play.

Chapter Five: Court and Civilization

I feel like Emerald Empire and The Great Clans covered enough of this sort of stuff.  The “language of flowers” and the geisha deep dive have play value, but I’m kind of bored with etiquette.  First of all, it has already been covered.  Second, it’s really not that interesting to dwell on in play.  It’s a good differentiator from murder hoboing in swords and sorcery worlds, but, after a while, it’s more fodder for fictions than for on stage activity.

The “language of flowers” is something that can be incorporated into play in a “show, don’t tell” way of displaying culture.  Geisha deep dive may not be any more important than heimin deep dive or eta deep dive or “what’s the typical samurai breakdown of a town, castle, other?” deep dive, but filling out geisha details can easily be relevant to play.

Chapter Six: Politics Through the Year

The title of this chapter just fills me with ennui.  Maybe it’s because I have read previous edition Winter Court supplements, but I just feel like this is covered ground.  I’m also not as interested in courtly NPCs, probably because intrigue doesn’t do much for me.  On the other hand, it’s funny how political machinations do water my orchids.  There’s stuff in here that can be incorporated into play.  I just find that too much of it is known.  Again, where other supplements might have rehashed previous edition material and still gave me happy feelings, I find that too much 4e material just rehashes without spice.

Chapter Seven: Outsiders in Rokugani Politics

I find this chapter strange not because I couldn’t give a Fabergé Egg about monks and ronin nor because of its length, which might be about right, but because there really should be something else to use a chapter on for court activity.  How about some mechanics a la the mechanics for affecting mass combat earlier in the book?  How about some examples of how a court may play out for a festival, a Winter, a visit by VIPs, or whatever?

To get off into my usual rant, there is a reason to state the obvious.  The obvious isn’t obvious if people don’t get told it often enough.  I just feel like there’s this very superficial way that content addresses things too much of the time.


Besides kata, what I’m most interested in from new mechanics are advantages and disadvantages.  I find the city ads/disads a neat idea to further differentiate characters, though so many of them aren’t going to be relevant because your character would never come from that city or, alternatively, are going to warp backgrounds just to pick up something undercosted.

Only two new advantages.  There are a good number of new paths, some of which might even get used by PCs.  As much as other things can be better than proliferating paths, I’d actually happily use paths that addressed ranks in schools I’d want to replace, like Kakita Bushi 3 and Mirumoto Bushi 2, to the extent I’d ever play either.  (Actually, the recent forum discussion on changing the Mirumoto Bushi has me thinking of how to play a funny one, funny in a different way from my 3r Mirumoto Bushi.)


It’s a book.  It has some stuff that could be applied to play.  But, it was a much better concept than execution, really seeming to shortchange doing more about court play.  We spent a year and 33 sessions playing a Winter Court in a campaign.  I’m currently playing a pure court campaign around matchmaking.  As much as I like my courtiers to have Awareness 2 and as tiresome as I can find being beaten over the head with culture can be, I’m fond of court play.  I could use useful material on court play.  I could use my GMs having useful material on court play.

Grade?  I don’t know, maybe a C.  I find that both this and Book of Void are hard to get into, even though I keep trying to be able to give a review.

The Cookbook

November 4, 2014

I mentioned that I spent some time on my recent trip thinking about ideas for anarch cards for V:TES.  I just care less than I used to about designing cards.  I realize that it’s often a futile process for “just some player” to throw out card ideas.  And, my interest is more in removing cards from the card pool than in creating new cards.  The game is incredibly bloated, as CCGs will get.

Looking through my notes, there are some general concepts behind my thinking.

What is important in decks?


Combo decks and whatever can break the guidelines on what makes decks work, but there are some things that are pritnear universally desirable.

Bounce.  If the game needs anything, it needs Deflection for everyone.  My anarch Deflection idea kind of steps on the toes of the idea of just print “Deflection 2:  Everyone Bounces”, but I thought it had an interesting feature.

Signal Scramble
C = 1b
Requires an anarch who possesses two or more disciplines.  Only usable when you are being bled, after blocks are declined.  Tap this reacting vampire.  Choose another Methuselah other than the controller of the acting minion.  The acting minion is now bleeding that Methuselah.  If this reacting anarch possesses four or more disciplines, do not tap this vampire.

The one sort of vampire I don’t want to have easy Deflection access to is the 1-2 cap.  This doesn’t prevent that, but it does make it less likely, then rewards fat anarchs.  So often, more than three disciplines on a vampire adds no value to a deck, just counting disciplines seems to me to be an interesting new mechanic.

Stealth.  Let’s ignore permanents outside of the vampires themselves for a moment.  With just vampires, you can bleed, hunt, punch, block as common things to do.  With stealth in this world, you can eventually win.  Without stealth, someone can hold you off forever.  Plenty of decks don’t use stealth cards.  Without stealth, though, the path to victory is so much more difficult.

Convenient Alley
Action Modifier
Requires an anarch.  Only usable on a D action.  The acting minion gains one blood from the blood bank.  Once this action, the acting minion may burn a blood to gain +1 stealth.

Thematically weird?  Perhaps.  There’s a bum in every “convenient” alley to fill you up.  Why you pay blood to gain stealth isn’t terribly clear.  The intent is really more of a stealth card that can give you blood instead but is worded as a gain blood card that can give you stealth instead so that it’s always cyclable.

Though anarchs have blood gain cards, I actually find that having enough blood is a problem for lots of decks.  That has something to do with how expensive certain anarch cards are.  Monkey Wrench just isn’t a good card, even though it seems like it should be an answer to one of the problems with playing anarchs without playing the normal good stuff in the game.

Speaking of overcosted cards, some of those require disciplines.

Steal the Secrets of the Ancients
Unique Master
C = 1p
Put this card in play.  Cards that require both being an anarch and one or more disciplines cost anarchs 1 less blood.  Any minion may burn this card as a D action; if that minion is a vampire, he or she takes 1 unpreventable damage when this card is burned.

The problem I see with cards like this is that they just make better stuff better.  Power of One is already a useful card.  Steely Tenacity becomes way better.  Interestingly, there really aren’t that many cards this would affect.

One thing I don’t like about effective anarch decks is that they tend to be focused on using only a narrow range of anarch requiring cards.  Could say the same thing about everything.  There is value in different decks playing different cards – opens up more deck builds.  But, at the same time, I get easily bored with repetitive decks.

Variety is the Very Spice of Undeath
Unique Master
C = 1p
Put this card in play.  Your ash heap is not a legal target for cards or effects.  Cards cannot be removed from your ash heap.  Each time one of your anarchs plays a minion card that requires an anarch that is not in your ash heap, put a blood counter on this card from the blood bank.  Tap this card to move any number of blood counters from this card to an anarch.  Any anarch may burn this card as a D action that costs 1 pool.

This is a card text mess.  My favorite part is probably the ash heap “protection”.  I could see an event that stopped cards from being removed from ash heaps since that’s totally like the sort of mechanical effect a global effects card would have in other CCGs.  But, then, I want all events to go away.  Still, incentivizing diversity seems to me to be a thing to do in a world where 14 Governs or 13 Carrion Crows is routine.

Anyway, I don’t really care about designing new cards for CCGs I play, all two of them.  I just think that it’s better to bring up thoughts than not to spur more ideas and to have something to talk about.  There are an infinite number of possible cards that could be made, the trick is narrowing that down to what should be made.

Exploring Villainy

November 3, 2014

I’m still thinking superhero RPG stuff.  After I realized that I was too lazy to want to build a superhero world to run a supers campaign, I started thinking about why it’s so much effort.  The way the law works with costumed vigilantes can be glossed over, though it ruins my fun every time I think about how it might actually work.  But, one thing can’t be glossed over …


I then had an epiphany – I just don’t really care about villains.  Oh, I recognize they are necessary.  There are ones who serve their purpose in fiction or whatever by being hateable (English spellings … how about detestable?).  But, I realized that I just don’t care about their stories.  I see villains as just something to make protagonists lives interesting.  This is amusing as there is a line I have thought about starting off a novel with for a long time where this sort of mentality means I should never write that novel (contrary to blog post length, I can see myself writing short stories far more than writing novels, anyway, something I need to jump on at some point).

I tried to think of iconic villains, supervillains in comics I used to get, and whatnot where I gave a damn that the villain showed up.  A struggle.  Some examples:

Moriarty – Too little presence in the ACD stories for me to care about him, was okay in Sherlock but that’s it.

Lex Luthor – This is for iconicness not because I ever got much in the way of Superman comics.  Don’t care.  Rather something else, like an angel for Supes to wrestle.  Doctor Doom also doesn’t do diddly for me.

Daleks/Cybermen – Seems really played out.  I never cared that much to begin with.  The Master got tiresome.  Renegade Timelords in general were interesting, I suppose, for giving more info on Gallifrey, but I really was more interested in how Gallifrey worked and those who weren’t clearly villains.

Loki – In the comics?  While a fan of the Norse gods and other gods showing up in stuff, I didn’t really care about the guy who caused the Avengers to form.  In many ways, The Hulk is a better villain because superhero versus superhero battles are often among the best fights.

Sabretooth – The villain archetype of “I have the same powers you do and own you until you surpass me, kid.” is a great archetype, and I liked it when he didn’t just own Wolvsie, but I preferred Bloodscream (Bloodsport) and Roughouse (up until Rough got redeemed).

Sinestro – Another in the “I have the same powers” archetype.  Never cared, though most of my GL books weren’t the right timeframe for ring on ring action.

A lot of supervillains are silly, yet, somehow, I find comics entertaining.  I’m not sure why that is.  Apocalypse isn’t silly, interesting powers.  Mr. Sinister has a silly name.

Speaking of powers, I started trying to design my own supervillains.  If I’m not going to play in superhero campaigns, that means running them, which means I’m responsible for the antagonists.  It’s been a struggle.  Before I get more into that, however, I noticed that I think of superheroes initially in terms of powers but think in terms of supervillains in terms of motivation and campaign role.  Is that part of the problem?

I just don’t like so many of their motivations.  It’s not that I don’t understand them.  Abuse of power is so easy.  Believing you are right and others are wrong is the state of the world.  It’s just that it’s hard to get excited by stories of the superhero dealing with a supervillain because the supervillain is misguided rather than evil, reps for another nation, commits small crimes to save a loved one’s life, was cursed, and so on.  I actually find “Yup, I’m evil, I totally enjoy evil and I’m going to evil so hard unless you stop me” types more interesting than many villains.  Many mental problems may be too easy to empathize with, for another category I can’t get enthused about.

While superhero vs. superhero fights are a standard thing, I do find the “this really isn’t a bad guy” super”villain” to lessen my enthusiasm.  Actually, supposed villains who aren’t really villains interest me much more than actual villains.  Asmodean is easily the most interesting Forsaken in Wheel of Time to me because he has a mentoring/commentating role.  The Queen of Air and Darkness in LKH’s fey series is not really a villain and mildly interesting.  Arioch is mostly a mentor/pusher-forwarder for Elric and gives good dialogue.  And, so it goes.

So, I mentioned the lack of focus on powers.  That’s because supervillains exist to give superheroes something to do.  So, their powers should often be dependent upon the PC powers.  Besides the “I’m better than you” power sets, there are the “I do it all and I do it now” power sets which might be magic or “magic” (high tech, so much tech in comics is really just magic), the “anti what the hero does” power sets, some basic power sets, like superstrength or alien races with blasters.  But, there are also some interesting powers that arise.  Absorbing Man doesn’t seem to need to have his particular power to counteract Thor; he seems much more of a “let’s give a guy a wrecking ball, superhuman strength, and something else to make him cool and not just a straightforward brick” construct.

But, maybe, I’d be more interested if I didn’t care what the PCs’ powers are going to be and just went with interesting ideas for powers.  If I had to pick the best villains in Bleach, it would be the Soul Society Captains.  They have interesting powers.  They don’t look like complete chumps when fighting against … Soul Society Captains (I’m looking at you, Espada).  Aizen is a bore because he’s godlike.  The Espada do mostly the same things then get owned by the Captains.  Fullbringers just strange.  Bounts had a poor reason for existing.

The thing is is that with so many of the motivations of antagonists not being badlicious, why do you need to consider anybody a bad guy?  Can just have superheroes constantly fighting superheroes … when not dealing with natural disasters, accidents, things that don’t really have moral decisions like mutated animals.  “With great power comes great responsibility!”  “Shuttus uppus, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, loser!”  “Justice!  Like lightning!!”  “All it takes for evil to triumph is for hot chicks to keep us distracted.”

I can keep trying to come up with more villain examples that don’t feel like they are special – Blofeld was never as dangerous to Bond as hot chicks (or as desirable to have on screen).  Anime villains too often have too much of a power jump to take seriously as actual characters and not just excuses for lines like “You are 5 … 10 times more power than you have shown.  I’m a hundred times [or was it thousand?].”  Lord Foul, Sauron, The Dark One, et al, are just too abstract.  Sure, they have elite henchmen who are so evilly evil, but they are so often just taking up space to have the hero heroify.

It occurs to me that my favorite RPG play experiences aren’t about villains, either.  The reaction to villainous things or the prevention of villainy or whatever may be what salts my pistachios, but I don’t feel much for directly punking evil-doers.  My typical combat strategy is to ward the innocents (and yummy below the tummy less than innocents) while the rest of the PCs smite.  If there wasn’t a party, I suppose I’d be more into personal vengeance, but I too easily cede evilsmashing to others because they enjoy the smashing so much even when my character should be the most motivated to smash.

Back to villains.  I have ideas.  Ideas are easy.  Getting invested enough to do something with those ideas not as easy.  Again, it’s not like motivation is hard, it’s just hard to care about their motivations.  Maybe a breakthrough will occur at some point and I’ll be less hero focused, which would get me more motivated to run things as I’d have all of these villains I’d want to see in action.