Building L5R Characters – Advantages

February 25, 2015

Disadvantages?  Next time.

Ancestors are the most character defining element I can think of to differentiate one character from another, though only those that actually do something interesting.

Next up are advantages and disadvantages.

This series isn’t about thematics, it’s really about the idea of building a character from the first 40xp on.  So, we gots to rate them thar extras.  One reason why advantages and disadvantages, heretofore to be called collectively vants to reduce my typing, matter so much at initial character creation is because of the weird idea that they should cost more to get or to get rid of after character creation.

Why weird?  Not how the rest of the game works.  Sure, WoD games and a bunch of other games work this way, and I think it’s awful.  It causes players to build weird characters that are extremely invested in things that would be prohibitively expensive later and miss basic stuff because it’s cheap to buy later, though, see my future post on skills for how some of that shows up with L5R characters outside of vants.

For example, my Shadowrun character has a Strength of 1 and Charisma and Quickness of 6.  That’s because it’s wasteful to go from 5 to 6 compared to going from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3.

Anyway, rating system:  Luck is “awesome” and TotS: Yomi is worse than “nope”.  “Okay” is okay and “good” is good.  I decided I couldn’t use stars as people would argue too much with how many zero star advantages I’d list.  Metagames differ, but I’ve played with a number of groups, so, hopefully, my biases are less biased.  Also, I can’t predict what extra goodness some GM might give to Chosen by the Oracles or whatever, so it’s what’s in the corebook.  And, yes, for now, just the corebook.

Absolute Direction (okay) – It’s cheap.  You might be less than one day into the Shadowlands.  Otherwise, I never see this do anything.  (It does happen to be the only advantage my IR-5 character started out with … it’s cheap.)

Allies (n/a) – Okay, I guess I need another rating.  I have never seen Allies work in L5R play.  Sure, I’ve crossed off Allies in HoR2 to deal with some mod thing.  That didn’t mean they “worked”, just that they weren’t completely irrelevant.  In my home play, Allies just don’t exist.  Oh, I paid a bunch of points for one, one time, but it never helped me, just acted as a prerequisite for a path, a horrible path that Different School would have been as relevant for.  In HoR play, this advantage is meaningless to character building, anyway, as you will gain a bunch during the campaign, so why spend points on them?

Balance (nope) – It’s not cheap, compare with Irreproachable for Imperials.  It will never come up since PCs don’t get Intimidated or Tempted.  It’s benefit is laughable, as anyone who should Intimidate or Tempt a PC should not be concerned with +1k0.  If your campaign sees these skills get used on you, well, whatever.  I played a City of Lies campaign with a character with Lechery and nobody every tried to Tempt him.  There’s what?  One mod in HoR3 where one of these skills gets used on you?  Two?

Blackmail (good) – I’m mostly guessing here.  I’ve seen Blackmail come up.  It had a big impact.  It’s less relevant when the party moves around.  It’s rather fuzzy.

Bland (nope) – Keep in mind that I’m rating based on PCs.  As the typical PC has Glory 10 at IR-3, this is meaningless.  And, when do PCs care whether a NPC knows how Honorable they are?  At 1xp, this might rate something.  It’s a whole lot better in a different setting, like LBS, where you have much sketchier characters who want to keep low profiles.

Blissful Betrothal (awesome) – This is just free XP for when you purchase the other advantages.  I don’t think it’s realistic for most starting characters, but I saved tons of points on a courtier character in a court campaign.

Blood of Osano-Wo (good) – So cool.  Comes up.  Just doesn’t come up that often or it would rate higher.  Can have a huge impact, in my experience.

Chosen by the Oracles (okay) – There are much better choices of which Oracle to be chosen by.  Earth is an obvious choice for those who hate Taint.  Void is interesting.  Air is for the Tempest of Air shugenja.  Actually, this is really much more of a shugenja advantage than anything else – hunt for every instance of “Roll X Ring” in spell descriptions, though note that DR = Ring doesn’t mean you are making a Ring Roll in my neck of the woods.  Might be a monk advantage, but that would require that there be such things as monk PCs.  This is just brutally expensive.

Clear Thinker (nope) – Way too expensive for the number of situations where this would apply, which is usually zero situations.  Maybe somewhere, NPCs try to use skills against PCs, but that’s something I might see twice in a campaign.  At 1xp, I’d rate this, as it might come up once.

Crab Hands (nope) – Key to my “showoff” characters.  Atrocious in play.  Like once in a campaign you may get some “you have to prove yourself as a warrior with two esoteric weapons” action.  I keep trying to engineer the “oh no, other PC, you have fallen, I will pick up your dai tsuchi and murder the enemy” situation.  Has yet to occur.

Crafty (good) – The PCs who take this will likely pay less for it.  At 3xp, it’s rather expensive, especially when you consider how good a skill Stealth is and how one rank in it isn’t that good.

Dangerous Beauty (nope) – Okay, this is one of the most commonly bought advantages in the game.  *Players* like thinking their characters are hot.  Exactly how often do you roll Temptation against others and how often is +1k0 going to matter?  It also has negative connotations that cause module writers to give your character more grief for having an advantage.

Daredevil (okay/good) – Athletics rolls are not rolls you want to fail at.  It’s not as insane as 3e’s Daredevil was, and it’s only relevant when spending one of your few VPs.  For a Mantis, it’s more gooder.

Dark Paragon: Control (good) – Honor is a resource.  One social roll per session is pretty hot, especially when you aren’t likely playing a character with a good Honor Roll.  Note that these advantages are once per session, I’ve seen someone reabuse it.

Dark Paragon: Determination (good)

Dark Paragon: Insight (good) – Huh?  So weird that this is so similar to Control.

Dark Paragon: Knowledge (okay) – Intelligence rolls are not as good as Social/Awareness rolls.

Dark Paragon: Perfection (good) – 6.11 versus 5.

Dark Paragon: Strength (good)

Dark Paragon: Will (good) – Will likely stop a lot of damage over the course of a campaign, not many ways in the game to defend when out of VPs or when a VP has already been spent in a round.

Darling of the Court (nope) – PCs travel too much.  Also, Status doesn’t really matter (see other posts on this, if you care).  That it’s 1xp for a courtier sounds about right, making one wonder why every NPC who hangs in one place doesn’t have this.

Different School (okay) – Should only cost 4xp, like it did in 3e, as it’s awesome for messing with people to have a school from another clan.  But, from a strict XP standpoint, this is a loser, less so if you double stack Traits, of course, where it’s virtually the same as someone inclan not double stacking.  Definitely a go to advantage for me but not as much as it used to be as I find other ways to screw with people’s ideas of PC builds.

Elemental Blessing (okay) – The new go to advantage for me, as I’m all about PCs who ramp to Ring 5 as quickly as possible, these days.  Not worth it if you only gain 1xp out of it and are starting with 40xp, as it’s too much of an upfront cost.

Enlightened (nope) – So, a Dragon (because monk PCs don’t exist) nets 1xp after buying Void up three times?  Oh, yeah.  That’s minimum Void 5 and Void 6 for a Tattooed Monk (because these PCs are ubiquitous).

Fame (nope) – Ha.  Ha ha.  Nope.

Forbidden Knowledge (nope) – Even when this is relevant, and I’ve rarely seen it be relevant, even then having to guess which forbidden area to know something about, this is incredibly expensive.  I’ve actually allowed someone to play a maho-tsukai – there’s really no reason to do so.

Friendly Kami (okay) – I would choose an element for a Ring I don’t plan on increasing, just so I’m not rolling 5k2 or whatever to Commune.

Friend of the Brotherhood (n/a) – I have never seen a PC use a kiho.  I know lots of other people have PCs running around with kiho, but I just can’t relate.

Friend of the Elements (okay/good) – Much better for shugenja, which sounds silly when you are talking about 1xp, but it’s actually really hard to squeeze points into a starting character, and I don’t just mean 40xp starting characters.  Earth is obvious for Fear.  Water is sexy for contested Strength rolls.  Yet another advantage I don’t see played correctly, as people seem to get Chosen by the Oracles and this conflated and start doing all sorts of weird things.

Gaijin Gear (either nope or good) – I’ve seen GMs let PCs get away with a lot with spyglasses.  Very expensive if you don’t get some good ability out of it.

Gentry (n/a) – I haven’t played every kind of campaign – see how I think monk mechanics are a waste of space.  One type I haven’t is the Gentry campaign.

Great Destiny (awesome) – If you could take this, why wouldn’t you?

Great Potential (good) – Very, very limited options for making this useful, but those options include the best skill in the game outside of Investigation – your primary weapon skill (or Jiujutsu).  I so keep thinking of taking this with Medicine.  Oh well, some day … or 5e will be out.

Hands of Stone (nope or necessary) – You either have to have this or it’s a crazy waste of 6xp.  I suppose there are those who would use this only some of the time, but that’s a sketchy plan.

Heart of Vengeance (okay) – Your duelist advantage.  Occasionally want to mess with Scorpion Courtier techniques.

Hero of the People (nope) – I have seen mods write in that this has additional effect because … it doesn’t do anything.

Higher Purpose (n/a) – Never seen this allowed.

Imperial Spouse (nope) – People take this a lot, though it’s sometimes a reward after character creation, so that doesn’t count.  First, Status doesn’t matter.  Then, +1k1 on social rolls with Imperials is not worth 5xp, 2xp maybe.

Inari’s Blessing (nope) – Should be 1xp, then I’d consider it, as it’s cool.  Just ludicrous at 3xp.

Inheritance (good) – I hate this advantage as I hate any sort of abilities that come from stuff rather than the character.  However, people abuse this all of the time.

Inner Gift (n/a) – I say n/a even though I allowed a player to have Inner Gift – Maho.  Spirit Touch is huge.  But, this is hideously expensive and supervague, not something I’d expect GMs to want to see.

Irreproachable (nope) – Not even an Imp should waste 1xp on this.

Ishiken-do (broken) – Whatever.  It makes a lot more sense in home play, where only one character has it rather than HoR, where it’s rather common.

Kharmic Tie (good) – The benefit is way higher than 3e, but it lacks the sense danger ability.  It can be pretty nuts, as I have a character with this who suddenly is making 10k8 attack rolls.  It’s cheap.  Powergamers will take it with someone they are around all of the time, unlike my PC, who has only used it three times.  Once per session is interesting, as it means you can waste it on a less important fight, like I did during one session.

Languages (good) – Just got to pick the right one.  Cheap for human languages.

Large (okay) – +1k0 on damage is a lot better than +1k0 on some skill roll.  But, it’s expensive if you aren’t Crab and kind of forces going down a particular build path that I find boring.  I’ve also heard about or seen situations where it’s disadvantageous, which makes no sense, since it’s an expensive *advantage*.

Leadership (nope) – If you need this as a prereq, sure, take it.  It’s just insanely expensive for what impact it will have.  Initiative is too random for this to be consistently useful.

Luck (awesome) – The only reason it isn’t required is that it isn’t actually required.  I build lots of PCs without Luck because I hate being successful.

Magic Resistance (…) – This is a disadvantage.  If it worked on Maho, I could see it.  Since it doesn’t, it just makes your character worse.

Multiple Schools (n/a) – Another advantage I’ve never seen a PC have.

Paragon: Compassion (okay) – Expensive but Compassion does something.

Paragon: Courage (nope) – Too expensive for what it does.

Paragon: Courtesy (nope) – Doesn’t come up.

Paragon: Duty (okay) – Wound Penalties are really annoying, especially for shugenja.

Paragon: Honesty (nope) – Minor benefit, major cost.

Paragon: Honor (nope) – Ha.  Ha ha.

Paragon: Sincerity (nope) – Um, just the same as Honesty.

Perceived Honor (nope) – When do NPCs care what your Honor is?  I do think the correct use of this is to take someone of middling to high Honor and make everyone think the character is a paragon of Honor.  Only problem with that is it costs XP.

Precise Memory (nope) – Take notes when you play.

Prodigy (okay) – Surprisingly not awful.  I mean, sure, you have to have some sort of long game in mind, but I got a lot of use out of this with a PC.  Still overcosted, so it’s borderline “nope”, but it does do something.

Quick (nope) – Too expensive.  This may be exciting to all of those people who seem to think L5R is a series of one on one fights, but parties generally have someone high on Initiative and folks can be spending VPs to manipulate Initiative order.

Quick Healer (nope) – Healing is just really stupid in L5R.  Medicine should be way better, like it was in 3e.  Magic healing is the norm.  If you are sitting around in wounds at night on a normal basis, your life sucks.

Read Lips (nope) – I just don’t see it come up often enough to justify the cost.  However, if I was forced to take this advantage, I’d probably try to make use of it often.

Sacred Weapon (good) – Choose wisely.  See Inheritance for how I hate this advantage.

Sacrosanct (nope) – I could see this being broken.  I also see no GM actually allowing a starting PC to have it.

Sage (good or awesome) – INT 3+ and you have to take this as much as you have to take Luck.  Otherwise, if you are a moron, it’s only good.

Sensation (nope) – Expensive.  Having played a decent amount with this, though, I could find uses for it.  But, I only got it after character creation.  Only the “I don’t actually have skills” builds really need this.

Servant (nope) – Too expensive, insanely dumb rules for making your servant better.  The exception is an Eta, which is not going to do all that well on L: Anatomy rolls but deals with a lot of social nonsense.  At the point where you need to buy an Eta, though, there’s something flawed about the campaign.

SFB: Benten’s Blessing (awesome) – One of the core advantages in the game.  How often should it be applicable?  Lot of judgment calls.  But, big impact for an okay cost.  Much better way to express hotness than Dangerous Beauty, though taking both is rather common.

SFB: Bishamon’s Blessing (nope) – Actually, the +1k0 to STR rolls is why you want this.  Just too expensive for that.

SFB: Daikoku’s Blessing (nope/okay) – +1k1 on a roll really depends upon the roll.  For spellcasting, that’s worth like 12xp or something.  For Commerce?  Like 2xp.  Mantis comes in a bit over, which is tolerable.  Could see a Yasuki take it.

SFB: Ebisu’s Blessing (nope) – Better than Hero of the People.  Far too infrequent.

SFB: Fukurokujin’s Blessing (nope) – Less useful than Daikoku’s.  I could maybe see an exception in a Shadowlands campaign or something similarly focused on one Lore skill.

SFB: Hotei’s Blessing (nope) – The rule of cool says you have to consider this … for when you have way too many starting XP.

SFB: Jurojin’s Blessing (nope) – Another thing that doesn’t happen – getting poisoned.

Silent (nope) – Just buy up Stealth.

Social Position (n/a) – Generally meaningless as Status doesn’t matter, but certain campaigns seem to require it to unlock … whatever.

Soul of Artistry (good) – I get a lot of use out of this.  Not worth taking both versions.  Craft probably comes up less but may have more impact.

Strength of the Earth (good) – As annoying as WPs are, just try to avoid acquiring them.  I see this being more of a shugenja thing, as +3 healing from Path to Inner Peace is a lot more important than most things.  Cheap enough for bushi that it’s tempting as just good stuff that will come up outside of combat.  My PCs don’t tend to bother, though, as I don’t obsess over combat prowess.

Tactician (okay) – Narrow.  Expensive.  Kind of weird what effect it has when you get to use it.  But, I see it being a justifiable thing.

TotSR: Chikushudo (nope) – Just not a skill important enough.  Also, all of these are really more shugenja advantages.

TotSR: Gaki-do (awesome) – Cheese.  Well, unless you manage to have a party where you rarely get the kills.

TotSR: Jigoku (n/a) – Never expect a PC to ever have this.

TotSR: Maigo no Musha (nope) – Ha.  Ha ha.

TotSR: Meido (nope) – Okay effect, too expensive.

TotSR: Sakkaku (nope) – Close to being the right break point for the skill involved.

TotSR: Tengoku (nope) – As with many things in 4e, the benefit should be more like +2k2 to justify the rarity of the occurrence and the cost of the ability.  I played in a Shadowlands campaign – I took this advantage.  It didn’t matter.

TotSR: Toshigoku (nope) – Situational movement is not so important I’m going to give up buying other stuff.  There’s no justification for this being more expensive than the others, worth maybe 2xp.

TotSR: Yomi (joke) – This is the most offensively overcosted ability in the game.  If you don’t see why, please do the math on how much it costs to increase skills.

TotSR: Yume-do (okay) – An interesting ability.  Yet again, I fail to see why shugenja get a cost break when shugenja don’t need any help.  I like this a lot, but I can rarely justify it.

Virtuous (okay) – It’s reasonably costed for those schools that have techs that use Honor.

Voice (okay) – This will rarely come up, unless the character is like an Omoidasu or something.  It’s pretty annoying how nonsynergistic it can be with other bonuses as it only affects low tier skills.

Wary (nope) – Out of the book, ambushes aren’t particularly important.  And, they are rare.  If this cost 1xp, it would be worth considering.

Way of the Land (nope) – What does this do?  It’s so vague.

Wealthy (awesome) – The fun you can have with Wealthy is fun.  Embrace the idea that a moneyless society (samurai society) totally gets into situations where cash is awesome.

Seriously?

“Monks don’t exist?”  “Status doesn’t matter?”  “Movement doesn’t matter?”  “Cash is awesome?”

My play is what it is.  Your play is what it is.  I’ve played a good amount of HoR and I’ve played a lot with two home play groups.  Wealthy should be worthless, but it’s actually extremely useful in some of that play.  Etc.

People want advice.  First thing they should do is talk to their GMs and the other players and find out what matters and what doesn’t in the campaign.  If they don’t get the guidance, well, here’s my advice.


Better. Stronger. Faster.

February 22, 2015

To an extent, this is my Fisticuffs and Fangs post for the last few days.  But, I got into a discussion where I was beating the dead horse with my mantra that to be the more successful player with V:TES (equally applicable to other multiplayer CCGs) involves being a better player not a better deckbuilder.

But, what does it mean to be a better player (of multiplayer CCGs and V:TES specifically)?

I have a few posts from the long, long ago … the Summer of ’14 … that address aspects of better play.  I’m too lazy to look back to see if I listed various things in a previous post, though it feels like I have.

Whether I’ve gone to this well before or not, here are areas where improvement in the area should improve results, everything else being equal.  Obviously, if you go from playing with poor players to playing with good players, results may get worse even if skill gets higher.

1 – Know the cards

There are those who do really well without knowing what most of the cards in the game do.  If that’s you, why do you care about this blog post?

I don’t memorize all of the cards.  I, in fact, barely have a sense of the recent VEKN sets because I have no intention of putting the slips of paper in my decks.  I do have a general sense of what every card does and know what most cards do specifically.  Wherever someone is on the spectrum, knowing what more cards do matters.

What I find kind of odd is that this isn’t something that everyone wants to pursue.  If people are getting excited by new sets, it’s because of new cards, which don’t do the same things as existing cards – in other words, learning about more cards is always something going on when you keep up with a CCG, so why not learn even more about the card pool?  Now, the caveat in there is “when you keep up” as I find that many players don’t keep fully engaged in CCGs.  Seems weird to me, but, again, I don’t rate as a typical cardflopper.  Certainly, where a lot of the vocal playerbase was complaining about how quickly WW was putting out expansions for V:TES, I was finding the rate of expansion to be really slow.

2 – Know the decks

Why know what cards do?  Besides the tactical play in CCGs, there’s the strategic play of understanding how decks win and lose.

I’m sure I used this example in this blog before, but reiteration is iteration with two! more!! letters!!!  Last major Wheel of Time tournament I recall and one I wrote an article for for Scrye Magazine involved the winner playing a “kill your starting character” deck (for the Shadow side, I don’t recall what he played on the Light side … Maidens?).  He destroyed opponents.  They weren’t prepared for Genocides, Genocide recursion, et al.  I wasn’t playing in the event, so I didn’t really care who won, but I was somewhat frustrated by how easily he won those games where he played this deck because our playtest team had playtested such decks a lot and they sucked … if you understood how they won (in detail and not just that they murdered your “lose the game” character(s) when they won).

Now, there’s a lot to know about knowing decks.  Malk94, to me and maybe only to people of my ilk, is different from other Malk stealth bleed decks that rely on Dominate and Obfuscate.  A Mask of a 1000 Faces, Command of the Beast deck and other builds that are much more DOM/OBF are not the same as the Aus/Dom/Obf builds that might actually block something or Dom/OBF builds that go out of clan or tricked up decks with a clear Madness Network plan or whatever.  And, obviously, Kindred Spirits decks produce different states from Govern the Unaligned decks.  The former will gain pool as it takes actions and can get out of control poolwise, while consuming little blood as none of KS, Eyes of Chaos, nor Confusion use blood, where the latter can easily burn two blood on Govern/Conditioning and rather than gain pool with actions, preserves it with superior Governs.  Both styles of stealth bleed can easily gain 6 pool in a shot, but their vulnerable points poolwise differ.

Again, my interest in CCGs over and above other competitive games has a lot to do with discovery.  Besides playing lots of stuff, I also look online for information on decks.  I’m not going to play everything, and my regional metagame may bias things.  While finding other people’s decklists decreases the total number of decks I could build, as I see no reason to “build” someone else’s deck (even if I’m willing to build someone else’s deck to test *their* deck out), I’ve gotten tons of ideas for my own decks based off of other people’s decks.

You don’t have to put the effort in – everyone has different priorities, but the effort to learn more about how other people play the game translates into avoiding the “OMG!!  XYZ is unbeatable!” thinking that occurs when people are exposed to something they have no familiarity with.

One more aspect of this is know your own deck.  How many copies of cards does it run?  How many cards are left?  Probability calculations on what someone is going to draw (or, for Wheel of Time, what the dice will generate) are ubiquitous.

3 – Know the rules

I don’t know all of the rules.  I’ve certainly become less interested in the esoteric and the obscure when it comes to V:TES and my knowledge of Shadowfist timing is “I don’t really understand Shadowfist timing but it sounds like old Magic timing and here’s what I think happens”.  Knowing how Psyche! actually works or how Mask of a 1000 Faces actually works or whatever is one level.

Another level is knowing such things as that you can use a Blood Doll the same turn you play it, something a number of newbs I’ve played with didn’t realize.  Having down the “During X, do Y” rule comes up a lot.  There are people who still don’t know precisely how the No Repeat Action (NRA) rules works, probably because it’s not remotely intuitive and was bolted on to the game to make the game less broken.  For instance, that hunting, leaving torpor, rescuing from torpor are all things that can be done repeatedly can be rather important to know.

As with all of these categories, it’s a spectrum.  When you know what it means that “wakes” are “magic” and the precise order of events during diablerie and the like, that much further along.

Actually, one more example because I need to up my Glory Rank with some Perform: Storytelling (Bragging).  Our playtest group created the timing rules in Wheel of Time.  As Magic players, we came at things with a Magic mindset.  Now, others may have looked at things similarly and/or were inclined to adopt what we had adopted in our play, but, basically, I told Precedence what we did in the absence of the game having actual timing rules and that’s what I saw got used.  Consider how many people didn’t know the rules … because, uh, there weren’t any until after the initial set was already published!

4 – Be psychic

This is a V:TES in joke that I’ve mentioned before, from the newsgroup days and David Cherryholmes complaining about people who think they will know what will happen in a game.

While players aren’t psychic, they should try to be.  But, obviously, not rigidly.  In other words, anticipate, predict, extrapolate, but realize that you don’t know for sure and that the very act of anticipating something changes what will happen, while card play is kind of intended to change game states.

Let me try some more specific examples.

When does a combat deck have no combat cards in hand?  Because this will happen … a lot.  Sure, some decks have like 60+ combat cards and it doesn’t happen, but whatever, let’s live in the world of useful and not extreme cases that have little impact to winning more often.  You extrapolate.  That someone rushed someone and didn’t full on nuke the minion may or may not be relevant.  That a wall blocked and punched for one rather than Crows, Chiropteran, Breath may or may not be relevant.  Can read the player, can read how recent actions have gone, can inspect the ash heap, or whatever, but thinking about how decks don’t magically give the players every card they want outside of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s world is essential.

When will someone get ousted?  This can be really hard to judge.  Maybe someone gets tapped out with no wakes and their 20 bounce cards are worthless.  Maybe someone cycles into the first of eight straight Second Traditions.  What if DI gets played?  Golconda?  Fame?  Still, V:TES is a game where ousts occasionally happen before time and they have some sort of impact on who wins tournaments.  Predicting when someone will get ousted, which becomes a lot easier when people have 1 pool than when they have 30, can have a substantial effect on decisions.  I’ve often gotten screwed by someone either getting ousted sooner or lasting one turn longer than I expected.  In a lot of cases, I just didn’t do the math right or didn’t talk to the players to get a better sense of where things were at.  Of course, in some cases, you just don’t know because random card draw is one of the features of CCGs.

What will the rush deck do?  The bleed deck?  The vote deck?  What will your new predator do when your first predator was ousted?  What will you face when you oust your prey?  Paying attention to both current game state and potential game states is huge, potentially large.

I find playing stealth bleed to be fun … when my prey can actually defend … as I have said before.  What makes it fun?  Predicting what sort of defensive plays my prey will make and trying to figure out how to defeat them.  If I lead with a Tasha Morgan bleed with two vamps with DOM untapped, will my prey try to block?  How big of a bleed do I need to make to get my prey to play the only bounce card in hand?  How likely will my prey draw into more defense?

On the other side, trying to minimize damage interests me.  Do I take the Govern bleed from the OBF minion to avoid Faceless Night?  Do I think Elder Impersonation will defeat my copious amounts of intercept (I tend to forget about Elder Impersonation when defending)?  What do I bounce?  Do I try to block first?  How likely am I to draw into more defense?

I was in a tournament when I tapped The Barrens while being bled at too much stealth for my !Gangrel rush deck to deal with.  I played the Archon Investigation I drew.  I actually expected a good chance of that happening.  Now, I was playing a rush deck and I don’t know how to play rush correctly and took too much pool damage from my first stealth bleed predator to survive my second, so it didn’t really matter to my position, but there is psychicness and that psychicness needs to be cultivated to be more accurate.

5 – Communicate

The reality is is that results change when perspectives change.  Games are not played on autopilot.  As soon as someone breaks out the “clear leader! clear leader!”, the players change how they play.

Common situation.  I want to bleed on my next turn and have just finished my turn.  My prey runs bounce.  I might consider talking to my grandprey about keeping someone extra up so that I’m not helping my prey exploit a vulnerable turn.

There can definitely be too much table talk.  I prefer more of my table talk to be joking about how absurd the game has been, like the Jake Washington ousts multiple prey because of Life Boon game.  But, players are often myopic or otherwise missing something.  I completely pooched winning a tournament because I forgot I was supposed to rescue someone after playing Dramatic Upheaval, while Dragonbound was in play.  I had arranged the plan to rescue before seat-switching, which was good, then got blinders on when finishing out my turn.

Two-player CCGs don’t have this component.  Multiplayer CCGs are often determined by this component.  While some love to make deals or whatever, which is certainly one form of communication, there are many ways to let people know something to help you not lose.  Today, I DIed an Ivory Bow from my predator when my grandpredator was playing a deck with Gremlins.  I should have talked to my GP before making any decision, even though it was probably correct to play the DI.

6 – Know your opponents

Does some loon play Jyhad, 4cl decks in tournaments?  Does Roger McRushie always play rush decks that destroy a few minions and then get ousted (I’ve played against a couple people like this)?  Does Sandy Salmon always destroy her predator and say to her prey at the beginning of the game “don’t mess with me and I’ll spend the whole game going backwards” (I played with someone who had this style and said something basically like that to me at the beginning of a game)?

Does Ted Oscar Anthony Dreyfus never play enough wakes, so that Ted is tapped out and dead?

Does the group despise vote decks and seek to crosstable them to death immediately (I played with this group, too, which included that “I only care about killing my predator” player)?

Is someone better than everyone else?  This is a concept I have had that came up as a discussion item on a trip down to LA one time.  Because I see the same people win all of the time, for a while it was me – there’s a reason I was an original hall of famer based on constructed play (while being a much better limited player based on, you know, winning like five straight tournaments and being ranked second in the world for a year), I got to wondering why players don’t think “if we just eliminate the clearly best player, then all of us less good players are more likely to win”.  Now, this is a feature of local play that may not be relevant for other groups.  We’ve often had a highly uneven distribution of results, so picking out the “oh, that guy wins all of the time” player has been easy at various times.

Some might consider it an out of game consideration to identify a superior player and work to see their end, but I don’t know how that can be argued.  The whole point of posts like this one is that play skill is more important than deck construction for multiplayer CCGs, which means, by definition (well, by logic) that a game consists of not just a deck but a player of that deck, which means that adjusting to the player is as valid as adjusting to the deck the player plays.

I think it’s mostly a matter of not considering that some sacrifices in short term goals can be better for the long term goal of taking the table.  I probably didn’t go into this enough in the Communicate section.  V:TES, probably more than Shadowfist, certainly more than Babylon 5, is a game of keeping the big picture in mind.  If I win every game by having my prey get the first VP, oh no, the horror.  If time is running out and I’m not in the finals yet or not winning the finals, my “I will always win … after 4 hours” deck needs to get off its ass and reduce my prey’s pool.

7 – Be mindful

Pay attention!  V:TES, for whatever reason, seems to have players pay far less attention than other games.  I get that Babylon 5 is a race game, so everything going on affects whether you may lose.  I get that Shadowfist might see someone attack anyone and effects can be huge, e.g. Neutron Bomb.  I don’t quite get why it’s so hard to actually follow what other people are doing during V:TES games.  The most similar I can recall is how players will check out during RPGs when their characters aren’t involved in the current situation.

But, also pay attention to your own game.  A ton of errors get made when time is running out and players who haven’t bled in the first 1.5 hours suddenly start doing forward actions.  Forgetting things that happen during untap, master phase, putting counters on Temptations and taking minions, using Heidelberg, saccing Wider View – we all do these things.  Technical play matters.  Not always.  I subscribe to the theory that a lot of mistakes don’t actually hurt in the end because people adjust to your inferior plays.  But, they also will decide games, especially early and late.

In one of today’s games, I was playing an Aus/Dom/PRO/THA deck with a weenie Ass combat predator.  I got Priority Contracted right away and Famed pretty quickly and never went down because I had a lot of Fleshes of Marble.  But, I stupidly wasted one in a fight where Evan Rogers got a Weighted Walking Stick and I was planning on playing Blood Rage!

Games

And, now, for something completely different.  Game reports.

Shadowfist

Thursday, we played two, four-player Shadowfist games.  They lasted similar lengths.

Joren (borrowed Architects good stuff) -> Justin (Ascended/Lotus assassins) -> Ray (Ascended) -> Ian (Monarchs/Syndicate!!)

Yup, Monarchs/Syndicate.  I am looking to build more multifaction decks and decided to roll randomly to determine the factions.  Street Sweepers and Fire Engineers – synergy.  Queen of the Ice Pagoda and Hirake Kazuko – yikes.  I played Jessica Ng as a “ramp” character(!!) to get four Syndicate resources for Kazuko.

If I would have won, I would have retired the deck.  I didn’t win, so, maybe, everyone will figure out why I’m playing the characters I’m playing.  I actually enjoyed the deck even though it’s full of self-inflicted wounds.

Justin murdered a lot of my characters, which made me impotent.  Ray won, off of Might of the Elephant, I think.  Justin and Ray did the most characters and fighting thing.  I was only relevant when Queen of the Ice Pagoda was in play before a Hand of Darkness took her out.

Ray (Kun Kan) -> Ian (Purists) -> Joren (borrowed Dragons blow up the world) -> Justin (7 Masters/Hand)

I played six 36-Legged Horrors, one from Martyr’s Tomb.  They all ended up in my smoked pile.  Joren’s Obsidian Eye never got taken out by my various Symphonic Disciples, though my third one took out Justin’s Shield of the Pure Soul.  Joren ran into the problem that the deck he borrowed just doesn’t have much in the way of relevant characters, so even after murdering lots of stuff with Carnival of Carnage and Final Brawl, he couldn’t take advantage.

Justin got Ghost Wind out and Black Belt Rebels but wasn’t doing a whole lot.  Ray put out Kun Kans that got blanked a lot but only nuked a couple of times.  Eventually, Justin won with Red Bat, when we could only stop Jade Willow’s reign of terror.  A Yellow Senshi Chamber got passed around a bit.

The Purist deck is too 4-fighting focused.  I need to put in hitters as even this deck was at like 14 power at one point during the game.

V:TES

Today, we had three games.

Brandon (Anarch Pre bleed) -> Eric (Aus/Cel guns) -> Sergio (Cybele Beast) -> Ian (Jyhad Pre bleed)

Brandon’s Anarch Troublemaker and Sergio not drawing a skill card earlier slowed down Beast action.  Eric couldn’t defend well, so he sucked lots of bleeds, including Public Trust bleeds on his way to oustage.  I brought out Uma Hatch, Courtland Leighton, Demetrius Slater, Black Cat, Jazz Wentworth, and Hostile Takeovered Brandon’s Amber(!) for minion dominance … before putting out Gideon Fontaine!

By the time that Sergio just gave up on having the full combo and brought out the Great Beast, I had a hand full of Majestys and didn’t need them to swarm him to death.

Brandon (Hektor) -> Ian (!Ventrue combat) -> Eric (Matthias and Unre) -> Sergio (as above)

Sergio got going and had the Great Beast with Cybele.  Unleash Hell’s Fury was helpful for slowing Hektor.  Hektor still ate Cybele, the Great Beast, and the next Cybele.  Eric and I played our own game over on the other side of the table in that I tooled up and Eric bled.

So, really, I played my own game of Neighbor John gets an Abbot, Freak, Improvised Flamethrower, Freak, Harvest Rites, Freak, Vial of Garou Blood.  Jephta gets Abbot, Ablative Skin, Guardian Angel, takes Vial of Garou Blood.  Randel, The Not Coward gets Vial of Garou Blood.  Ulrike gets Ivory Bow and Weighted Walking Stick.  Brandon laments the matchup.  When Hektor finally comes over to play with Jephta a bit, I don’t even bother using the four Rolling with the Punches and Resilience in my hand, I just prevent with Guardian Angel and Ablative Skin.

Eric ousts Sergio after allowing Sergio another Cybele to threaten Brandon.  Brandon is at 1 pool temporarily, gets up to more than one and gets ousted by evasion bleed.  I get bled some but Neighbor John getting Spirit Marionetted doesn’t hurt me that much and Eric concedes.

I did burn one Vial of Garou Blood, but Hektor maneuvered to long.

Ian (Aus/Dom/PRO/THA) -> Brandon (Brujah P/J 4/5) -> Andy (borrowed Aus/Cel/Pre guns) -> Eric (Kiasyd) -> Sergio (borrowed Horde of Ass Beating)

I mentioned something about this game above.  None of Eric Kressida, Frere Marc, or Frere Marc’s Dual Form went to torpor, but Sergio got out five minions and recovered fairly easily from my Walk of Flame and Wolf Claws.  Brandon’s Tara got emptied right away by Andy.  Andy intimidated Eric into not blocking, so the deck’s Zephyrs were not useful as Eric just took bleeds until he died.  Brandon recovered to oust Andy as Zephyrs were not wakes and Andy got tapped out too much.

I let Brandon call a Neonate Breach to oust Sergio, though playing to win would have been to deal with Sergio to not have that happen.  Brandon eventually conceded with his minions largely in torpor.

I love the crypt for my deck.  I enjoy playing Walk of Flame with presses from weird disciplines, like Protean or Thanatosis, but there is no ousting power in my deck, well, besides the Codex of Edenic Groundskeepers I added right before we played to have something that was plus bleed.  I have the same problem with various other combat decks and am not sure how I want to address or if I want to address.


DunDraCon 2015

February 18, 2015

When we found out that there wouldn’t be V:TES events down South, we audibled to DunDraCon.

I realized I’ve been to about 20 DDCs.  This one was unique.  I had never stayed at another hotel than the convention hotel.  Before I knew people, I’d just drive back and forth.  Once I knew people, staying with them was easy.  What was hilarious was that I could have stayed in at least two different rooms and ended up napping in a third room.

I saw sticking with the plan of staying with the Haases .6 miles away to be a learning experience.  What did I learn?

Never stay at an Extended Stay “Hotel”.  It looks like a hotel.  But, the false front for the secret alien base underneath the closed pool and the treasure trove of fresh towels and blankets on the fake third floor should not fool you, not even the door knocker artwork.

I might consider staying at the Courtyard Marriott, if for some reason I couldn’t stay at the con hotel, but I actually really don’t mind driving.  See, as poorly as I sleep in general, I sleep even less during cons because roommates are unusual and gaming is on the mind and whatever.  Sleeping at home provides a similar level of sleep, even if I have less time to do it.

Of course, I’m perfectly happy to stay with the regular crew, who kept offering over and over again … I guess I’m not truly a pariah … yet.

Friday

Get to con early enough to get dinner at Hopyard and make 6PM game.  Get into my first choice of Izakaya, a Japanese fantasy setting using the FATE system, a system I kind of despise but am perfectly happy to work with in one-shots.

Why do I kind of despise it?  Because I played FUDGE.  I ran FUDGE.  If you never have to deal with combat, FUDGE is superlight and reasonably intuitive.  FATE tries to do something to promote storytelling.  It goes way, way overboard in pushing role-playing through mechanics.  It’s also incredibly fiddly for a game that shouldn’t be remotely fiddly given its parent and what it seems to want to be.

Anyway.  We are in the town of Izakaya on the island of Hokkaido.  The evil Southerners coming up from Kyoto are looking to conquer are happy and virtuous island that has Japanese and Ainu.  Our party consists of a samuraiko, a 73 year-old priest, a giant woodsman, and a “ronin”, some peasant who looted a samurai’s daisho.  Then, there’s me, town mayor, the Honored One, all 74 years of leader.

Other than the priest, the others all converge on town during a snowstorm.  The ronin is warning people about the invasion.  The giant is bringing a new beam to the temple.  The samuraiko is coming to visit her father who is recuperating at the temple.  We have a pretty sweet temple, as hot springs are totally things in our neck of the valley and Monkey Valley nearby.

Speaking of Monkey Valley, the Monkey God is peeved about something, which spells disaster for us unless we fix the problem, so I gather up the priest and the younguns and we head East through a lava tube.  We note monkeys that are *not* hanging in their usual hot springs spot.  We pop out and find brigands populating the hot springs area.  Most have already been slain by the wrath of the Monkey God.  We help their leader out from under a tree and basically conscript them into not being evil for a while.

We head back to Izakaya and find the enemy army’s advanced forces scouting.  We set up various battle plans, including a planned withdrawal to flood the lower regions.  The enemy commander gets taken and I’m just about to face a not 74 year-old swordsman when I activate “Oh … The Old Wounds” and collapse into the temple’s springs, letting the brigand leader convince the guy to check for new orders.

Decent game.  I was already way too tired because old folks like me need to nap during the day to stay up past midnight.  It got me thinking about how the Sunday night game I preregged for started at 8PM.  Then, Brandon and I needed to get back to the hotel at 2AM and didn’t realize the Marriott shuttle would drop us off since I had never used the shuttle before, never having any reason to, so we Ubered (something else I’ve never done).  Yeah, with no clear transportation plan and with it unlikely I was going to get much sleep, I was already on the path of dropping Sunday night’s plan.

Saturday

Roommates head out.  I plan on using Marriott shuttle to go .6 miles since I have luggage full of boardgames.  Takes 45 minutes for shuttle to get to my hotel, including going to incorrect Extended Stay no matter how many times I mentioned “East” and “on Camino Ramon” when explaining where I am.  Still, I have plenty of time before my event, if not enough time for me to consider getting my usual pastrami sandwich breakfast at the Bagel Street Cafe.

I’m running Rio Grande games from 10 to 2.  I have Ranking and O Zoo Le Mio with me but don’t encourage them and just end up running Loch Ness, Cardcassonne, and Assyria.  People like stuff well enough.  We run an hour over, but that’s perfect as the table becomes open gaming and I can’t play in anything until V:TES at 7PM due to my event overlapping two sessions.

I get food at the Muscle Maker Grill that opened before 2014 DDC but which I had no knowledge of since I was in SoCal last year.  Only thing I have any interest in on the menu is the premium burger.  It was okay, kind of dry.

We play V:TES.  We have six, so one big game … times two.

Eric (Tzimisce + Ravnos precons) -> Brad (Flung Junk) -> Andy (Malk SB) -> Brandon (Hektor Eats the World) -> Kevin (borrowed !Toreador + random) -> Ian (Porphyrion Does It All)

One of Andy’s minions gets dunked.  Eric rescues.  Andy gets two VPs.  I have way too much pool and Sensory Deprivation Bloody Mary to not oust Eric and survive until time.  Brad rushes me somewhat.

Andy (Malk Vote) -> Brad (as above) -> Ian (Diamond Thunderbolt Vote) -> Kevin (borrowed 4/5 Brujah Royalty) -> Eric (borrowed !Ventrue combat) -> Brandon (Horde of Ass Beating)

Kevin tries to Parity Shift Eric.  It does not happen.  Andy Parity Shifts Brandon twice, for 12 pool.  Brandon also gets hit by Neonate Breach by Kevin for 4 pool.  Eric still doesn’t oust.  I’m not sure what’s wrong with the deck.  It’s not a grinder, as that would be mindnumbingly boring.  It does a touch of rush.  It certainly has no vote defense, not even when it has Demonstration in play, but that wasn’t the problem.  It can’t seem to push through.  But, then, Eric got no DOM minions in his crypt draw, which hurts.

Andy doesn’t get ousted even with limited minions and a bunch of dudes behind him.  Brandon keeps Priority Contracting to gain pool, though that has nothing to do with ousting.  Brad plays Specialization which only has one possible result – he must crosstable rush Kevin, get into combat, play Zip Gun, which Kevin DIs.  Because … V:TES.  (Actually, because … CCGs – this is why CCGs rule).

I get ousted.  Eric gets ousted.  Brandon gets ousted.  Brad ousts Kevin and Andy.  All of this happens after 2 hours, so Andy is the event winner.

Sunday

We head over together.  We stop at Bagel Street Cafe where I get my usual sandwich and peach smoothie.  I sit with some other friends as I need to get my boardgames out of someone’s room for my duplicate event.

I get different players for my Sunday event, which is just a dupe of Saturdays and also runs an hour over.  I give away a copy of Ranking, never having played the game, as it was something my friend Cedric said was a prize.  Unlike Saturday, where I played in the games and generally crushed people, I realized I should not play to let newbs contend with each other.  I spent a lot of time going from table to table to chitchat with people I know.

All of the standing at an angle to show things was hard on my legs.  But, I survived.  I ate at Pasta Pomodoro which I hadn’t been to in ages and which had a really different layout inside.  My lasagna portion was tiny, which means I can never eat at this place ever again.  I ended up taking a nap in someone’s room.

We got up and headed to Baja Fresh, which used to have only one thing on the menu I would ever order, since I wasn’t hungry, I only ordered some stuff for people back at the con.  We gathered for some A Game of Thrones CCG four-player play.  I actually like this much more than the two-player play I have gotten pulled into in recent years as I finally had some sense of what was going on.

See, I have played A Game of Thrones a tiny amount … like 10 years ago.  The game was so derivative of Precedence games with its abilities and challenges and so forth, that it was notable.  But, I never really learned anything about the game from a card pool standpoint or tempo standpoint.  It also doesn’t help that I know virtually nothing about the books/show.

This game saw a ludicrous number of characters in play, meaning endless special abilities.  I had the Dothraki setup I wanted for a while, but I became irrelevant as others kept putting more stuff in play.  One of my dudes got stolen by Kevin (not to be confused with other Kevins) and he won after gaining crazy power that turn and not being beatable downable afterwards.

I still have no sense of strategic or tactical play.  But, then, in decade plus or whatever, I’ve played like 4-5 games.

We busted out V:TES decks for a late game (well, it felt like several hours later for me all of the time since I took my nap).  Brandon had some demo decks, using Jyhad crypts.  He bought a Gangs precon off of me.  Shuffle up and deal.

Jeff (Gangrel) -> Brandon (Gangs) -> Andy (Nos) -> Ian (Trem) -> Eric (Malk)

I have a crypt of Jing Wei, Dr. John Casey, Merrill, and Ignatius, so they all come out.  I decrypt and get Sarah Cobbler.  I’m not the only one to put out five minions.  Brandon’s deck doesn’t do anything, so Andy brings out five Nos, including Sheldon, and rushes and bleeds but has no ousting power.  Eric stealth bleeds but runs out of stealth.  Jeff puts out Angus, who grows +1 bleed, and Roman, who grows +1 intercept.  Jeff stealth bleeds Brandon out, doesn’t get ousted somehow, stealth bleeds Andy out.  I oust Eric with a swarm, down two minions who get eaten, but with Dollface Graverobbed to the side of justice.

Then, we endgame.  Oh, do we endgame.  With small decks, mine was 55 cards, we don’t have much left.  Jeff has Angus, Camille, and Gunther.  I have Jing, Merrill, Sarah, and sort of Dollface.  We play wakes.  We play intercept.  We plus bleed.  We fight slightly.  We play cards.  We have no libraries.  We have hands that shrink down to … 1.  And, Jeff ousts me.  Our final two cards?  I have Telepathic Misdirection.  Jeff has Sense the Savage Way.

Andy and Eric bitched and moaned about this game.  Eric because he ran out of stealth.  Andy because he could get five minions in play and still not oust.  But, before I get into something more profound, this is exactly why you don’t give someone a Nos deck when teaching them the game.  Nor do you give people Brujah.  You have to give them clans that have real discipline combinations so that they can actually do stuff and not die.  That Jeff didn’t die to Eric was amazing, but Jeff had intercept, plus bleed, and stealth, so he had a real deck.  I had intercept, bounce, bleed, and Bonding, so I almost had a real deck.

As for profundity, this game was actually a really good game.  It was how the game used to play.  It was strongly Jyhad like, but even throw in DS/AH/S, even SW, and that’s how the game played.  I bled constantly.  I never bleed constantly anymore.  People got hit with Walk of Flame and Blood Fury and Torn Signpost without Immortal Grapple.  Gangrels tool up with plus bleed and stealth bleed.  Malks just hammer people without bounce.  Forward motion was constant.  There weren’t all sorts of control plays.  There weren’t all sorts of cards with unknown or esoteric effects.  People just did their thing and people got ousted and, yet, decisions still mattered.  Well, maybe not for Brandon, as he was playing the unmodified Gangs deck.

Btw, V:TES precons are dumb.  The HttB ones are much, much better, but they still fail to have a coherent purpose.  The only thing remotely interesting (and it’s not that interesting) about them is figuring out how to adjust them to optimize them, so I never see the point in playing an unmodified precon.  It’s just going to be an inane deck.

Back to that game.  If V:TES played more like that game, it might be a game more appealing to those who don’t already play.  Seriously, the game could really use a reboot.  You can reprint a lot of basic cards so that people’s collections aren’t worthless, but no more bloodlines, no more anarchs, no more events, no more Laibon.  Return the game to its roots and focus on developing varied play out of a much tighter, more elegant, less confusing game.

Monday

We eat at Kathy’s Korner.  I get a bacon cheeseburger because that’s real breakfast food, not sleep inducing sugar.  It was much better than the Hopyard burger, the Muscle burger, and a lot of burgers you get at places that feature burgers.  See, coffee shops and by coffee shops I mean dinerlike places often make far superior burgers for reasons that are not remotely clear.  I grew up going to Lyon’s, eating at the Hyatt’s restaurant across the highway, and the like and those burgers are so much better than Five Guys, Smashburger, et al.  They are cooked better.  They are not overly dry or meaty or whatever.  While my salad could have been better without olives, this was a much nicer meal than the other sit down meals I had.

We hit the flea market.  We head out.  Andy’s and my peach smoothies are way too icy this day.  Sunday’s was way better.

If I would have been up for it, I would have tried to play Torchwood Sunday night.  But, I had played a Torchwood game run by Matt before, so, while I wanted to do that, I didn’t need to do that.  If I was around all day Monday, I would have tried to get into the Barbarians of Lemuria game as people keep mentioning it as a preferred swords and sorcery system, with Changeling as a backup.  I couldn’t do Feng Shui because of my events, though Andy played it and he thought it went off the rails of what was an interesting game to start out.  There were a few other things I had interest in I couldn’t sign up for.

The grade?  I don’t feel like I can grade the con.  I feel like incomplete is the word, but it’s really not.  I was a part-timer at the con.  I didn’t feel that engaged gamingwise.  On the other hand, part of why I care less about playing in things at the local cons is because I enjoy more the talking with people I know and rarely see otherwise.


Fisticuffs [20150212]

February 13, 2015

First of all, why software companies feel a need to make their products worse, I have no idea.  Yet again, I have to switch back to classic mode on WordPress to avoid pastel hell.  I’m not just talking about the aesthetics, which are atrocious and reminiscent of GoToMeeting’s changes, things Google likes to do, etc.  What is wrong with these people?  I’m talking about such things as being able to see all of my tags.  Just absurd.

Going to try to make this quick, as DunDraCon starts today.

We played two games last night.  Both five players.  One was over in about half an hour, the other in 2.5 hours.

Ian (7 Masters) -> Joren (Monarchs Faceoff) – Ray (Ascended Elephants) -> Don (Scrappy Lotus) -> Justin (Dragon Uniques)

I play a Wah-Shan Clan Warriors to get a 7 Masters resource.  Joren tries to Combat Courtship 1/1 against 1/1.  He has Armorer.  I have Pao Yeh Pao Lo Mi to not give him two power and not lose any of my own.  I bring out Gold Lion on turn four because I don’t have the resources to bring out a different character.  Gold Lion goes after Ray, burn for power his Nine Dragon Temple, he Bites to gain eight power.  Next turn, I go after Ray, burn for power.  Turn 6 or 7, I drop Mountain Hermit and Ho Chen and win, discarding the only Kunlun Clan Assault I draw to Ho Chen because I have zero power.

Terrible game?  Sure.  Hilarious?  Of course.

Ian (Accupressure Master Toughness) -> Joren (Lotus Vampirism) -> Ray (as above) -> Don (*The* Monarchs) -> Justin (as above)

While I Railroad Workers, FSS, Little Grasshopper on the first turn, I do very little else until the end of the game.  Joren doesn’t draw hitters, so his Hungry Ghosts have to get tooled up with Six Demon Bags, Vampirism, etc.  His Soul Reaver gets Amulet of the Turtle and nobody besides Justin ever tried to intercept it.

Justin got his Jenny Zhang, Golden Comeback stuff going, though he ended with an Alexandre Chen off of one Final Showdown.  He was threaty.  Meanwhile, Ray played out Triumvirate Dealmakers, Rat Fink, and Recruits before dropping three 13-Fighting Might of the Elephants.  That was not that threatening given that Don played Queen of the Darkness Pagoda, King of the Fire Pagoda, Once and Future Champion … and a couple serious hitters – Auramancers.  We took out the Auramancers.  Funny thing is that mine grow larger faster because, as an opponent, I don’t remove cards from my smoke pile that often.

A couple of my Fists of Shadow blew up The Hungry and some Monarch edge.  I put out an Accupressure Master and it got taken out by an Under the Knife Hungry Ghosts.  I put out two more Accupressure Masters and dropped Elephant Styles on them after getting White and Yellow Senshi Chambers in play.  I made a half-hearted bid for victory which Don should have let Joren stop, and Joren won because nobody had anything to defend with.

Lot of Fighting on the table, lot of people turning characters allowing others to burn for victory.  Lot of burned for victory.

It was entertaining, though less for me than others, as I didn’t bring anything out for a long time that mattered, then mostly sat on defense with my Accupressure Masters.

I still haven’t gotten around to decks with substantially more events, so I have suck for stoppage.  A lot of my older decks have lost interest for me, but, fortunately, I had two brand new decks to play and have a bunch of decks only played once.

Biggest takeaway?  Superleap wins a lot of games.  Another?  I got to start putting character removal of some sort back into decks – can’t trust anyone else to run it.


Kayfabeulous

February 10, 2015

I will get to gaming eventually.  Need lots of arm drags first.

I don’t watch sports entertainment or those associations that still call themselves pro wrestling on a regular basis anymore, so I don’t feel like I can judge the specific product.  I did catch part of RAW last night and, when the storm hit the NE a few weeks back, ended up watching part of the Royal Rumble.  Did watch some TNA while living in China in 2007 because … the anime station kept repeating the same episodes, ESPN (Asia feed or whatever feed) provided so much snooker but it was really showing the same Red Sox/Yankees game three times in a week that caused me to only be a part time snooker watcher, and I couldn’t be bothered to watch other stations.

I also have tickets to Wrestlemania this year and need to figure out what to do with the second ticket.

Anyway, besides the fact that you can only watch so much of the same thing over and over again, there are some specific reasons I lost interest in keeping up with pro wrestling.  It just felt like the narratives grew insipid.  The matches just felt heatless.  The number of things to mark out to were minimal.  Sure, I used to predict 80’s NWA matches with 98% accuracy, including whether the match would end with a clean finish or not.  So, at some point, it did get more twisty.

Let’s start with kayfabe.  I understand the metaness and “whoa, this is a shoot” or “is this a shoot or is it a faux shoot?” of breaking kayfabe.  But, it wasn’t breaking, it was strangling it to death, burning its corpse, and urinating on the bones level of “heh heh heh, this isn’t real”.  Compare to soap operas, which pro wrestling often gets compared to.  Sure, not everyone is sleeping with their parents, grandparents, children, siblings for realsies, but you have to actually stop for a moment and think about the characters’ histories to realize just how closely blood related various couples are.  Thinking is not what we want to be doing when watching these sorts of shows.  We want to feel.

We want to feel animosity between stars.  We want to chant U-S-A whenever some guy ends up with a foreigner gimmick … and mean it.

Stars.  A huge problem is that everyone is a star.  Back in the day, jobbers were the puddle of grease to build stars.  Now, either you kill some star’s heat by having them job to someone else or it’s some new guy on some awful side show who jobs.  You need jobbers to get destroyed.  You need jobbers for those underdog moments when they dropkick and back body drop before getting destroyed.  You need jobbers to sell finishing moves (get to this in a moment).  What helps is when those jobbers are identifiable.  Sure, you can take tag team members and have them destroyed in singles bouts, which was done all of the time, but, if those are your only victims, well, there’s only so many of those guys (I should say something about tag team wrestling).

Finishing moves.  They don’t finish.  I watched Ziggler hit Wyatt with a finishing move and a follow up last night and he just kicked out.  Old timey pro wrestling gets credit for building better in ring stories.  You do your arm bar, arm drag, elbow to the arm for 4 minutes boring crap before you get into the suplexes before you get into the finishing move phase before someone gets disqualified or there’s a timeout because clean finishes between stars was reserved for pay per views where I just watched free TV.

I watched the I Quit match, for those that don’t know one of the more famous matches in history, recently for the first time.  I’ve kind of been checking out some Magnum TA matches because he was my fave to remind myself what his matches were actually like.  That match was awful from a move standpoint.  There were like three wrestling moves between Magnum and Tully for the whole match, along with lots of punches and kicks and head-pulling.  Another thing I noticed that didn’t register back in the ’80’s was that Magnum only punches with his right hand unless he does the both arms pumping punches with someone against the ropes.  Talk about redundant.  Sure, Flair does the same moves in every match, but they are more creative than right hand haymaker, right hand haymaker, right hand haymaker, especially the upside down into the turnbuckle thing with its two variations of either fall or run along the apron.

So, it’s not like old timey matches were brilliant showcases of athletic artistry.  Nevermind the rest holds.  But, when a finishing move is just something you do to hit the prescribed notes in a match and it doesn’t really mean anything to the result, then you lose a powerful storytelling tool.  In the olden days, a match was all about the finishing moves.  Building to them, threatening them, missing them, hitting them and having the ref distracted by the opponent’s manager/valet.  A lot of matches didn’t see the finishing move ever go off because … then, that guy would win.  Sure, superheroes would kick out of a finishing move in giant pay per view events.  Flair’s figure four was constantly escaped as were numerous submission moves.  On the other hand, Baron von Raschke actually Clawed his way to victory a lot.

Managers were all the rage for certain stars.  Partners or whatever also worked.  You needed lots of disqualifications and cheating to build long term stories.  The heel had to be heel-helped with cheats.  The heel had to retain titles for much of the time by disqualifications.

Titles.  Nothing has gotten worse, not even the “I hit you three times with my finishing move and still lose” nature of matches than how titles are treated.  Titles used to be a thing.  I used to know every wrestler who beat Flair for the NWA Heavyweight Title (I thought of it as the NWA title, the history of the NWA, WCW, Mid-Atlantic, et al, is horribly confusing).  You could hold on to a title for years.  Look at Hogan’s title reigns versus the “Dolph Ziggler is a two time world’s champion” announcing that we now suffer from.  Sure, Harley Race got that sort of announcing back in the day when he would job to younger wrestlers, but that was an exception.  Seriously, Cena “15-time” world’s champ?  Everyone under the Sun has been a champ of something and many have been some form of world’s champ.  The US Title means nothing.  The Intercontinental Title means nothing.

Back in the mid-80’s, you had the TV Title that changed hands frequently, though I associated it with Arn Anderson.  The US Title would change hands but rarely, with heels holding on to it for much longer stretches.  The World Championship rarely changed hands, with Flair almost always champ.  It mattered when someone won a title.  It mattered when they got stripped of a title.

Tag team wrestling was different, of course.  While the Rock and Roll Express were often champs, you had to give the Road Warriors the titles when they came visiting, and you needed to support a larger roster by having various wrestlers actually have success in tag team bouts when they would get destroyed against singles stars.  But, that’s the thing, you knew the teams.  Sure, superteams were always a thing.  Oh, look, Hogan teams with whoever.  But, there was continuity with teams.  I can’t follow tag teams at all, anymore.  They just seem to come and go and so many matches are singles matches or wrestlers who don’t want to team being forced to by authorities.

One of the big advantages of old timey wrestling was that you had stars move from association to association.  The Road Warriors were a great example.  They would appear and wreak havoc but eventually go away so that someone else had a chance to star.  So, you had your regular stable, but, then, you would have some star go somewhere else and people would go crazy when they’d appear in a different territory or when they’d return.  Ric Rude had an element of that, as a singles example, even though I think of him mostly as a WCCW star.  The Von Erichs, of course, would stay home because they owned that league.

Okay, let’s get into how all of this relates to gaming.  So, Bubba Ray Dudley was one of only about two things interesting about the time I spent watching the Royal Rumble.  Diamond Dallas Page was something else I recall.

Bubba had heat, unlike a lot of the match.  Why?  I didn’t care that they were in Philly and the ECW crowd went wild.  I cared about what he did in the ring.  He did signature moves.  I always appreciate the Dusty Rhodes elbow homages that certain wrestlers, like Dustin, do.  He talked during his time out there, where others just brawled.  He worked with another wrestler for a shout out to the Dudley Boyz that people outside of Philly can recognize.  There was energy to his story.  Then, he lost because he had to lose.

See, RPGs are about storytelling.  You can play them as tactical wargamey as you want or whatever other way, but there’s still a story, even if that story is “I got hit by acid and it melted my +2 Chainmail, but I killed the black dragon with my +2 longsword.”  The story doesn’t have to be coherent, though I like it to be.  What the story should have, though, is energy.

Bubba Ray and DDP gave that match some energy that many others didn’t.  The RPG adventure should consider how it’s going to get the players to mark out.  What events are going to create excitement?

While different people care about different things, some things are likely to cater to a variety of players.

Familiarity

It’s not a good thing when everything is new all of the time.  While I find certain jokes in movies or whatever to be unclever and a waste, like one of the Star Wars movies doing some joke on the ratlike robot running around as a callback to I believe A New Hope, a campaign should have the breadth to enable callouts to prior events.

I am a bit amazed at how much more I care about NPCs than people I play with or run for, to where I throw out a name and players have no idea who I’m talking about, though might have some inkling if I start describing aspects of the character.  But, in theory, this is why recurring NPCs are important.  They don’t just flesh out part of a world they anchor it.

Epicness

The I Quit match might have not been all that if it were just a “let’s throw two guys in a ring and have them bleed” match.  It was the culmination of a feud (not that Tully and Magnum didn’t continue to feud) storyline.  Actually, better example for me was the best of seven series with The Russian Nightmare, Nikita Koloff.  (Btw, look up what that totally not Russian guy did to stay in character – mad props for his investment.)  Now, I watched some of those matches, but I also remember Magnum’s feud with Nikita better than the numerous battles with Tully and the Four Horsemen.

One thing I find with campaign play is that so often there’s a lack of drama, of epicness, to events.  Maybe it’s because you know that there’s going to be another episode next week that adventures often don’t get structured with “time to save the world”.  A lot of TV episodes don’t have major climaxes.  But, you know what, it isn’t always about street brawls in Starling City or whatever.  An epic moment can be much more personal.  Find a long lost sibling.  Get married.  Master the Western Long Bite Technique.

I realize games and fiction are two different things, but there must be better ways to write into sessions the possibilities for someone to have a special achievement.  Whereas, instead, I find that players often speak of mechanical advancement achievements after sessions.  There’s nothing wrong with going up in levels, spending XP to improve your awesomeness, learning a new Discipline, or whatever.  It’s just that those shouldn’t be the only things going on and they shouldn’t be “oh, by the way, I just gained an extra attack” moments.

PC Impact

Another angle to focus on – the achievement needs to feel like an achievement.  Something I’m guilty of is structuring sessions towards inevitability.  HoR modules have this, as well, where you expect to be successful.  I certainly like feeling like I earned a result through decisions and character sheet ability, though probably more so the former.  I have the sense that others like to feel they earned something, though they may care more about character sheet ability than player decisions.

It’s not good enough to set up cut scenes.  Sure, pro wrestling is scripted, so you tend to know what is going to happen, where one hopes that the RPG experience doesn’t feel like you can predict results.  I’m also guilty of pushing things too much in a particular direction and not having enough flexibility to see things go in other directions.

Though, I would say that I have certain expectations because I see the point of games I run to be to do heroic things.  That does cut down dramatically on what are reasonable actions to take.

Nonepicness

Jobbers have a very important role.  They promote the stars.  Mooks are often considered to have this role in RPG play, but I just don’t feel it much of the time.  However, there needs to be those moments when the players feel like the PCs are special because someone else isn’t.  This is one of the reasons, I think, that rescue missions feel so good.  Some NPC, group, or locale gets trashed because they couldn’t protect themselves.  Well, we hero types are better than you are and will totally fix this for you.

What I want to avoid is the situation where PCs feel like they are just some dudes.  You should never feel like the jobbers.  When you get thrown out of the ring at the half hour mark, you should still have hit your finishing moves on a few guys and made people laugh with your schtick or your borrowed schtick – “wooooooo”.

Differentness

Where the section above was all about reminding players about the world and where they fit in it, the PCs can’t just be doing the same thing over and over.  They need to have a variety of achievements to differentiate.  One of the reasons I don’t have much enthusiasm for the idea of playing D&D or similar dungeon crawl style RPGs is that I think there’s more to life than just hitting the next dungeon and killing some monsters and finding some treasure.  The achievements don’t have a qualitative difference in feel.

Many of my PCs are not all that good at combat because I don’t really find combat that engrossing.  Even so, almost all of my campaigns have a significant combat aspect, so having them achieve at some point combatwise does have that specialness of achievement that we mark out for.  Hak might have been our Conan group’s combat god, but we all remember Ty’s “shot in the dark”.

The NPCs can’t be videogame NPCs who always have the same dialogue and always serve the same function, either.  The locations can’t always be “I go to Pete’s Funky Herbs Shoppe to see what he’s got on tap” every time the party hits town.

Story

The point of a story is that it moves.  Something needs to change.  If every wrestler came into the Royal Rumble and did the same stuff, what would be the point?  That’s the way I feel about so many matches – they lack any sort of narrative to where it is just the same guy coming into the ring and doing the same stuff and having the same catchphrases (waving “their” country’s flag, etc.) and there’s no progression from beginning to end.  Titles change hands willy-nilly to where they don’t feel like part of the story anymore.  So, sports entertainment, what is the story and why should I care?


Fisticuffs [20150205]

February 6, 2015

It really is the nature of Shadowfist that if I don’t post quickly about games, I’ll forget a lot of what happens.

Don (Sites) -> Ian (Sea Dragons) -> Joren (Faceoffs) -> Ray (Dragon ??) -> Justin (Architect Cops)

This was a really messed up game.  It took 2 hours or so, so it didn’t drag.  Don had all five Killing Grounds in play.  His Sniper Nest was taken by Justin.  His The Home Front was taken by me.  His Forty-Story Inferno was taken by Joren.  Ray was actually winning for a while even though he played virtually nothing in terms of characters because Don Potlatched to him.

I had problematic decisions on attacking left or right because Joren kept setting up a site structure that would give him five power if I didn’t go left, while Don kept tucking FSSs behind his NFSSs.  Joren played The Thunder Dome, Justin played Police Station.  The siteness of everything was off the hoof.

I Scrounginged Don for seven … for Non-Feng Shui Sites, of course.  Ray cleared Edges a couple of times with Thunder on Thunder.

My Sea Dragons would get taken out by cancel effects – Larcenous Mist once, Temple of the Monkey King another time (there were two TotMKs in play at the end).  That was kind of annoying since I’m trying to find things I want to do with Monarchs and the metagame really discourages X Fighting characters.

Joren kept getting Armorers out, but he played only one hitter.  Ray played no hitters.  Justin played a Buro Godhammer on someone to make them hitterish but really didn’t put out much over the course of the game, either.  Don had Ba-BOOM! out twice and Brass Monkey for some hitterishness.

Joren eventually won off of having characters, a heavily damaged site to go after, and the rest of us not, nor having event stoppage.  I could have taken a shot at winning right before his turn if I chose to use Mirrored Lake to reduce Ray’s front site a bit for a couple of my foundations to go after, but I didn’t and it sounded like Endless Corridor would have stopped me, anyway.

I quite like my deck that combines Monarchs and Jammers, the latter mainly for Thermobaric Explosions, which I’ve been wanting to play with.  I just think that I should be building lots of multifaction decks just to create unique decks.  I quite like the idea of playing lots of one-ofs to feed Sea Dragons, however more Razor’s Hotties and Brain Fires would be helpful for not seeing Sea Dragons messed with.  Alternatively, I could add Dragon foundations and run Golden Comeback, et al.

Don didn’t think he’d have time for another five-player.

Joren (??) -> Ian (Flower Glower) -> Ray (Dragon ??) -> Justin (7 Masters/Hand)

This was not a terribly compelling game.  I actually can’t even recall what foundations Joren put out, which was like the only thing he did.  Ray played small characters, who died.  I tried going after Ray’s Thousand Sword Mountain when everyone was at two FSSs.  I got stopped.  Ray didn’t play anything all that strong, so Justin came in with Black Belt Rebels.  That power gain went into Ghost Wind.  With nobody putting anything of significance in play, Jade Willow got added and nobody could do anything.

Justin (Hand Swords) -> Ray (Lotus) -> Joren (Jammer Edges) -> Ian (Hand Superleap)

This was not the most interesting game, either, though a lot more was going on than in the previous.  I actually had Kung Fu Master, The Iron Monkey, and two Temple Guards in play.  Three of those four got Discerning Fired away when Ray won.

Before Ray won, Joren played Anarchy in the HK and had power and dudes, but I murdered both with the first The Iron Monkey.  Justin really never got much going, having two Inner Gardens and some sword stuff but just not anything dangerous.  I probably should have done more to stop Ray going after a site when he dropped two The Hungry, but I kept trying to figure out whether I could take 2-3 sites in a turn.  Ray was concerned that I’d Confucian Stability his Discerning Fire, but …

I keep running very few events, especially stoppage events, because I’m concerned with games having too much stoppage.  This causes problems the other way, as my ability to stop others from winning is tied to what enables me to win – characters.  Since people keep wanting my characters off the table, I can’t do anything to stop bids for victory.

My plan is to run more events.  I’m not excited by removal events except weird ones like Thermobaric Explosion and Math Bomb, but I think character damage, Toughness giving, and other more subtle effects are the way to go.

I’m also getting less inspired by single faction decks, but I’m not sure what combinations of factions interest me more.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Just randomly pairing or triring factions will give me the limitations to spark creativity.

I’m also unsure what decks I should break down.  My two Hand decks are pretty different, but I’m starting to feel like they play out in similar ways.  Both are Modern, so I need a Classic Hand deck, anyway.  Some of my Modern decks are just because they are simple and straightforward.  Then, breakdown or just modify?  I took the Drop Bears out of my Unstoppable Jammers deck, but it seems pretty boring, now, even though Explosive Delivery Service is a really cool card (if a total thematic failure).


Building L5R Characters – Traits

February 4, 2015

And, Void, too.

On a side note … because who doesn’t start any sort of missive with side notes?  On a side note, I’m now running Legend of the Burning Sands.  Using mostly 3r L5R rules with some miscellaneous L5R 4e rules, like Guard from 4e.  Relearning the differences in how the numbers play out and how it affects actions.

Anyway, 4e L5R, building character, and …

Void

Let’s start with something interesting.  Void sucks in 4e.  Well, now that that’s out of the way … oh, I have to say more or people are just going to tune out everything else I say.

So, 4e makes Void hideously expensive but also goes back to the idea that Raises are capped by it.  There are some ways to deal with the latter.  My main way to deal with it is to just not plan on calling more than two Raises.  That obviously doesn’t work so well with shugenja and their bizarre desires to cast R-4+ spells in one round.

Other things this edition did with Void was to make Void Points less flexible.  Why there’s a rule that you can only spend one a round for enhancements I have no idea.  You are likely to have three or less to start combat out with (ignore Shiba Bushi as an exception to having a host of VPs, or Kharmic Intent and other Void Shugenja cheese).  If you could spend more than one in a round, you would be out in two rounds.  Oh no!  You killed my PC!

So, Void.  While I may have a PC who just went to IR-5 who still has Void 2, there are plenty of benefits to Void 3.  And, actually, if you are going to start out your campaign with the Topaz Championship, you should totally be Void 3 as a starting character … well, if your intention is to win.  Not only do you own most of the NPCs in the Iaijutsu event with your Void 3 + Iaijutsu 1, you are only going to meta so many of the skills to R-1 in the competition and need to pump up your jams with VPs for either exploding dice or hitting threshold TNs (depending upon the nature of the event’s scoring system and how badly you need points from it).

But, Void 4?  Akodo Bushi likes Void 4 for the “I call four Raises and use my FR to Extra Attack.”  Sometimes, you might want to Knockdown a four-legger.  Every once in a while you duel a Kenshinzen and want some 10k8+13 or whatever Focus roll.  Shugenja get that extra spell slot.  Meditation and Tea Ceremony are things, though they are just replenishing something you already have a relative abundance of, so there’s weird math on whether that’s important or not.

Feint and Knockdown in one attack?  Let’s not get crazy.

Void 2 is entirely viable.  I have my example above.  I don’t really see it for most characters, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Obviously, your supercheese Momoku + Touch of the Void character is not enthused by spending 18 XP on something minor.

Void 3 is the norm.  It’s so normrrific that a lot of characters will sit there for ages to the point where Void isn’t really all that interesting a topic, as can be plainly seen by how I spend only eight paragraphs on it.  Kiho, Voidsucking schools, et al, sure, do your Void 4 thing when it doesn’t seem crippling.  Duelists, you know who you are, just don’t get crazy with crippling yourself in other ways just to overkill duels.

Stamina and Willpower

Yes, Willpower does some things where Stamina doesn’t.  Still, it’s all about the Earth Ring.  I may make some NPCs with Willpower one higher than Stamina, but that’s just so they don’t get social-owned.

As much as I like Earth, it’s really hard to justify Earth 4 unless you like to do that old time magic thing or gain Reduction equal to your Earth Ring or whatever.  Earth 2 is just scary, though not as scary in 4e, where you can Air Ring your way to brokenness.

When does Earth 3 become necessary?  That is the question.  Figure when you are consistently ending up in Wound Penalties or you are a shugenja who sees the fight fairly often.  Obviously, if you have Reflexes Suck, you need a way to not explode into a fine red mist.  But, hey, this is 4e – just do what everyone else does and work on Reflexes 5.

Taint is tiresome and Fear has too much impact.  By 100 XP, figure would be at E-3.  If you don’t mind being a more limited character, can certainly go E-3 right off the bat and just leave the investigating, socializing, or showing off to other PCs.  For a fighty type, I’d expect to be at E-3 by 80 XP.  On the other hand, I create a lot of newb characters with E-4 … and they suck hard.

Strength and Perception

Strength still ends up being a dump stat for many a build.  Yes, it’s better now that grappling is busted, Knockdown is winning, and people care how many feet you move in a round.

I’m certainly finding movement distances to be a huge consideration in combat, so I’m getting much more Watery in my builds.  Moving at Water 5 is pretty funny cuz … horses, though steeds are still way more powerful for the ability to spend zero of your PC actions on moving, yet still wandering about the battlefield.

But, anyway, the main consideration is whether to ever go to Strength 3.  In a number of cases, don’t have a choice.  Matsu/Matsu need to leverage the four free XP they get by using their Strength 4.  Defender of the Wall, sadly, requires goofy expenditures.  Then, once at Strength 3, do you go Strength 4 to move faster?  I’ve gone there.

Grapplers want “I always win this roll” levels of Strength.  It does suck to have “I get free grapples with my tentacles” oni that just take your Str-2 character out of combat, but, hey, that’s why we have shugenja around – to fry them with Jade Strikes.

When are you going to talk about Perception?

In my experience, Perception is the bomb.  Investigation and Hunting are two of the most crucial skills in the game, and sometimes you just need to consistently hit 30 or need to hit 40.  One of the reasons to care more about Strength is simply because you care about Perception and moving faster comes along for the ride.  My Water 4 character started out with Str-2 and Per-4.

Having said that, there are a number of schools where Water is the only dump Ring you have.  Both of my HoR3 characters are forever and ever W-2 characters.  Which brings up something.

Figure out which Ring is your dump Ring when figuring out your characters mechanics.  For me, a dump Ring is a Ring that will always be two.  For my Hare, my two dump Rings were Fire and Void.  I couldn’t dump Earth as survival was a key aspect of the character.  I couldn’t dump Water as it’s fun to move faster than everyone else and because I had to be the party perceiver for a while.  I couldn’t dump Air because Usagi/Usagi start with Air 3, and I was doing a cheesetastic Airy build as part of my concept.

For most folks, I figure just the one dump Ring.  Then, there are the boring people who buy everything to three, then start buying everything to four.  Really, bah, I say, bah.  I’m all about figuring out which of my Rings will be four right away and will get to five when I have the XP and which Ring will never get to the greatest marginal benefit in the game – going from 2’s to 3’s in Traits.

Perception is always useful.  Now, a party does want at least one real perceiver (Per-4+, Inv and Hunting 3+), but every party is better with more Perception, so even the “I probably won’t increase above Per-3 this campaign” sorts are dandy and fine.

Agility and Intelligence

Both are easy to dump on in 4e.  I find it laughable … ha ha … when people proclaim Agility as an important bushi stat.  Just play an archer and you will revel in your disgustingness.

While dumpy, Agility still has some key uses.  Well, it definitely has one and may have another.  A lot of GMs like to have people roll Agility/Athletics even though Strength is supposed to be the primary Athletics Trait.  That can determine whether you fall off the tightrope over the chasm or not.  Then, Stealth.

Oh, Stealth.  You are so the thing.  You shouldn’t be, but you are.  See, it’s not just how common Stealth rolls are, which aren’t supercommon unless you like to go all rogue on the party.  It’s that failed Stealth rolls are so, so very depressing.

As mentioned in my Elemental Party post, Agility also has showoff uses.

Intelligence’s big problem is not that you won’t use it for rolls, it’s that you don’t know if the roll using Intelligence actually matters.  It’s just too unpredictable.  I’m sure there have been rolls where brainifying was crucial, but there have been plenty where it hasn’t mattered at all.  One of the more notable editing failures I find in HoR mods is when there’s an Intelligence roll for some skill to know something and the box text right after the roll gives you the information, anyway.

I’m a Fire lover, in addition to my Earth loving ways – lava for everyone!  So, I’m often the Fire-4 sort.  But, really, Fire 3 should be the upper limit of necessity for most builds and I don’t see much problem with Fire-2 as long as someone in the party isn’t an imbecile and someone can sneak around.  Splitting this Ring is probably hot.

Reflexes and Awareness

These are what the game is all about.  So, challenge yourself and choose this as your dump Ring (with Earth 4, of course, as you don’t want to create a new character who doesn’t dump the “One Ring”).

Anyway, combat is all about Reflexes, not because you have to go first, which is something people seem to obsess about for reasons that escape me given that when I play L5R I play as part of a party, but because you might not get hit if you have a high enough Reflexes and not getting hit is pleasing.  See, 3e/3r had lower TNs for getting hit in many cases and a lot better attack rolls in most cases and no Defense Stance.  With 4e, my IR-1 Hare was ATN 44 in Defense Stance.

Then, Kyujutsu.

It’s really, really hard to play with a mediocre Reflexes of only three.  You just suck attacks that can hit ATN 25 constantly.  The plan should always be Reflexes 5.  No, really, being serious.  Split this Ring if you must, even the shugenja, but work on not getting hit.  But, of course, XP don’t grow on flesh-eating trees, that’s a D&D mechanic.  Can’t just be all “combat is my thing, my very special thing” …

Have to also increase Awareness.  For, why not solve challenges through socializing?  Why not interrogate better than your Perceptive brethren?  Why not “defend well”?

Plus, all sorts of dumb stuff ends up getting rolled with some Air Trait or the Air Ring when it shouldn’t be.  Like that Sailing challenge in that adventure that irritated me as … both … Sailing … Traits … are … Fire … Traits.

Unlike Earth, Water, or Fire, you never have a mechanical reason not to keep boosting the Air Ring.  Plus, if you want to be marginally better at dueling than others who ignored Void and Iaijutsu, well, here you go.  It would be really funny to see my Air-5/Void-2/Iaijutsu-1 PC in a duel.

Stone Cold Stats

Blah, blah, blah … said the same things in the Elemental Party post.  Where’s the building advice?

You have a bushi.  People go on about Earth 3, Agility 3, Reflexes 3 ASAP.  That’s expensive.  It’s also boring.  Why would you want to play a cookiecutter character?  First, decide whether your bushi is the “I win because I Kyujutsu” sort (itself, pretty boring).  That means Agility is low relevance.  Assume that you aren’t just playing a Tsuruchi wannabe (really, you are playing a Tsuruchi? … oh … lost cause).  That means Agility 3 because 9k2 on your attack roll is very funny but also very flawed, where 10k3 is reasonable.

Either Earth or Reflexes has to be three.  However, for the XP starved, have to figure out which you can ignore for a while.  Because you aren’t just some combat sidekick to real PCs, you are going to have some mental Traits that aren’t two (or one mental Trait at four).  But, you might get Reflexes 4, Agility 3 with a second mental at 3.

Much more interesting, of course, is to pick your “4-Ring”.  Will it be Earth 4, where you suck at everything except absorbing damage?  (Again, ignoring shugenja, who play by different rules.)  Will it be Water 4, where everyone loves you for being able to chase down fleeing enemies and for noticing enemies in the first place?  Will it be the showoff?  Or, will it be the cheesemeister?  Or, yes, it’s been done, will it be the “I suck at everything except those few times Void matters” PC?  42 XP to start at Void 4, unless you are Tattooed, not samurai, are Taoist, are the Emperor, or whatever.  Even 24 XP to go from “hey, cool, I start with Void 3” to “yo, Void 4, oh yeah, I totally hope I can Meditate soon” is hideously expensive.

For HoR play, besides doing the Void 3 thing for any sort of Topaz opening, which can be rearranged after you no longer care about being good at Iaijutsu and a ton of skills you don’t have, Perception 3 is always going to have value.  Awareness 3 is always going to have value.  But, I’ve run a courtier with Awareness 2 to IR-4, so good choices aren’t always necessary choices.

Magic

“But, I’m playing a shugenja!  I need Rings.”

Yeah, to a certain extent, you do.  You can still dump on one or two Rings.  Void will need to get to three at some point because Raises are essential for certain spells.

Earth 2 doesn’t appeal to me not because you can’t find a way to not die [only four negatives in that sentence, you are slipping].  It doesn’t appeal because Earth spells rock the Casbah.  Jade Strike split four ways.  Be the Mountain.  Force of Will while in Wound Penalties.  The Kami’s Strength.  Stuff needs doing.

Water 2 has the problem of Path to Inner I-Like-Functioning.  Water also has great spells.  Plus, in your spare rounds, you drop the heavy end of a tetsubo or no-dachi on someone to speed up combat and like having a random +1k0 to damage.

Extinguish, Fires of Purity, Fury of Osano-Wo.  Then, what?  Dump Ring!  Make the bushi be the brains of the outfit, as Fukurokujin intended things to be.

Air?  Ha.  Ha ha.  Reflexes 5.  Might as well have Air 3 to Tempest with more Raises while you are at it.

Of course, since you are cooler than you look, you want to take the godlike power of the shugenja and add crackers to your cheese.  So, sure, 2 that Air.  (Can’t 2 that Water as your party members are all going to be like “Wtf?  Medicine is crap, I want wound boxes back.”)  Void 2 is fine until you get more broken.

What’s kind of funny (maybe) is that there’s actually little incentive to work on a Ring of five with a shugenja, with one exception.  After all, that 40 XP could have been 32 XP to get to Ring four somewhere else, maybe even 24 XP for Void 4.  The exception?  Void 5.  See, some shugenja get a lot out of a hefty Void Ring – you know, they refill their VPs or get back spell slots or can spend 5 VPs on a single roll.  The wackiness of this is that a shugenja is more likely to be able to Extra Attack than a bushi and will own in duels.

Please Pass The Perception

Stop building characters in vacuums.  You already did?  Well, good, then you listened to me or came up with the obvious realization yourself.

As an example of how the party context matters, let’s say everyone hates effectiveness and is running Reflexes 2.  Let’s say that you don’t want a TPK any time soon.  You might just have to suck up being the cheesemeister archer who can Initiative swap with your creeky shugenja who knows the “Kill the Soultwister” spell.

If everyone Hunts well, maybe you don’t need to be helpful and can be oblivious (Per-2, even better, Weakness Perception or Bad Eyesight or Blind).  Sometimes you got to be the shinobi and Agilityze for Stealth because nobody else can be bothered.

Sometimes, you can be silly.  I do silly.  I do it hard.  I talk with Awareness 2 and swing swords with Agility 2 and Lore: Naga with Intelligence 2.  These things are possible because others pick up the slack.  Consider whether they are cool with that or will get annoyed.