Fisticuffs and Fangs 20150423 and 20150426

April 26, 2015

Thursday, we played a six player Shadowfist game because there wasn’t interest in two, three-player games.

It lasted four hours.

I enjoyed it.  But, you see, I’m a V:TES player.  I’m used to very little happening in a two hour game.  I don’t know that people who are Shadowfist players appreciate non-activity like I do.

We adapted Cardiff five player rules for six players.  You had to win by teaming up with either the person two doors down or across the table.  This was to create asymmetric situations a la the five-player rules.  Teams of three in a triangle pattern would have been too symmetric.

Joren (Lotus/Monarchs Fire Ants) -> Justin (Cops) -> Don (Fire Monarchs) -> Ray (Hand) -> Earl (Purists) -> Ian (Sea Dragons)

There’s no way for me to capture the highlights of a four hour game with six players.  Ray didn’t do much but won with Justin.  Earl put out Purist hitters.  Joren’s Fire Ants smoked very few characters.  Justin smoked two FSSs and took the third for the win.  Don’s Summer Fire Palace changed hands, while his Flambards nuked some sites to prevent them from being burned.

Me?  I had an opening hand of Smiling Heaven Lake and five foundation characters.  I, then, drew Dockyard.  What was most notable for my game is that about three times during the game I had nothing in play.  No characters, no sites – no permanents.  One of those times, I had just Avenging Thundered … a character I can’t find on Chimpshack – it’s a three cost unique character that gains fighting from magic and loses it for tech.

Yet, I did stuff.  Not much, but …  I played two Sea Dragons in one turn, the first took down a site, the second caused a Discerning Fire.  I played Thermobaric Explosion to do 16 damage to everything, dropped a Fire Warriors (who were 5-F), and came up one short of taking the winning site as I had no power, though I did have a Jellyfish Lake in case my target played something that didn’t hurt too much.  I would have failed, anyway, as someone had an event to stop my bid for victory.  But, it was amusing.

I find the longer games have lots of interesting things happen but also drag.  I don’t think it’s so much the time between turns as it’s a mental drag having to deal with so many others’ abilities to stop you from winning.  Team play is certainly far better than five player free for all.

We played three games of V:TES today.

Eric (Ani/Dom/Tha) -> David (Ravnos) -> Andy (Toreador extras) -> Ian (For/Obf Force of Will) -> Brandon (Tzimisce Ani)

I ousted Brandon as he had only 8 pool, DIed my Robert Carter, got two Forces of Will and a Leverage.  My further bleeds only got bounced into David, setting him up for death.  Andy ousted me when I had one pool and zero blood on my three vampires.  Eric conceded the endgame.

What was most interesting was probably Andy and Brandon fighting crosstable.  Andy bounced a bleed over to Brandon and Brandon Pentexed Masika.  For everyone else, I don’t think a lot interesting happened.

Eric (Aus/Cel/Pre guns) -> Brandon (Form of Mist) -> David (Trem without Dom) -> Ian (Illusory Rapist Clowns) -> Andy (Malks w/ Pro)

Brandon didn’t get all that fast a start and got Vampiric Diseased right away so fiddled with clearing that.  David got out small dudes, which I largely ignored.  I wasn’t offended by Golconda on my Diego Giovanni.  I was offended by Charnas on my Saul Meira when there was a horde behind my predator, so I Decapitated Javier Montoya.  Andy put out some Homunculi.  I kept trying to Mind Rape his vampires, trying to ignore my predator, and my lack of stealth or Illusions of the Kindred meant getting blocked with nothing much happening.  Until Victoria blocked one of my vampires, and I did seven agg to her with an illusory Servius and Greger went to torpor from guns where I Graverobbed him.

David went to one pool and got ousted.  Brandon stealthed by me as I had virtually nothing for pool.  Brandon and Andy conceded to Eric’s guns.

David (Cel/Dom Assault Rifles) -> Andy (Malk SB) -> Ian (Aus/Pre/Vic) -> Brandon (Giovanni Talbot’s)

I had an early decision as to whether to Entrancement away Ambrosius.  I decided not to, in the hope that someone would murder Malks.  In the short term, though, David and Brandon had too much fighting to do to care about my rapidly decreasing pool.  I did steal Tye Cooper because I’m a genius – after Brandon ousted David, Brandon got Andy down to 2 pool with one minion left with bleed.  Andy stole Ambrosius.  Before the lack of Talbot’s suckers could hurt Brandon, Andy got bounced to Brandon and pumped the bleed to finish him off.  Andy drew up to 11 cards off of two Dreams but came up one pool short of ousting me, so he conceded with no wakes in hand to my Tye Cooper, The Rose, Matteus board.

I can’t remember failing to win a game playing my deck.  I managed to get into combat with Bloody Mary and double Starvation of Marena her into “not bleed me for 2+” land.  The deck is pretty poor at ousting and pretty poor at defending, but, maybe because casual games are more fighty, it somehow does what it needs to do.  It’s also probably because the deck suits me in terms of how it plays.  It’s kind of fighty to be a toolboxed stealth bleed deck, though that was what prior versions of this sort of build likely were.  It’s almost a toolbox bruise bleed deck the way it’s built.

Certainly, fighting the deck is often unproductive as it either Inner Essence Majestys or flings Marenas at you in a not remotely predictable way.

Commonality between the two events?

I keep thinking I need more aggro decks … not illusory rapist clowns style aggro … decks that push towards winning faster.  Where much of my Shadowfist style has come from either my V:TES style or fighting my V:TES style, I think a desire for resolution that I didn’t used to have with V:TES is coming from my Shadowfist play.  In other words, I want people to die, even if it’s me.  Having five players go around and around with lots of stoppage is just not as appealing as it was.

It’s almost like I should play Dominate, again.  (I don’t have banned lists in the same way for casual play as I do tournament play.)  Rain down some Conditioning action just because “Conditioning kills people”.

Meanwhile, I’m not quite sure with Shadowfist how to push my decks more towards someone winning.  I already run low stoppage, which should make it easier for other people to win.  Dust Storms and stuff, I guess, are events that push towards winning without stopping others from winning, but I haven’t played Lotus in quite a while because everything just seems too powerful.

I’m feeling lazy, so I’ll get around to posting the Sea Dragons deck (bad) and the Inner Essence deck (perfect?) some other time.  Meanwhile, I do plan to get back to L5R character building, at least talk about skills even though skills are pretty simple.

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Same Phat Channel, Same Phat Time …

April 20, 2015

Episodic RPG play.  It’s not my strength.

So, it was my turn to run something, and I floated Legend of the Burning Sands.  I mentioned to the players that I was going to try to make it more episodic, both to make it easier for people to drop in or drop out for sessions but also to try to be more like Heroes of Rokugan.  Why?  Because I think self-contained sessions have certain advantages.

So, I run my first session.  It could have left off there, but I wanted to introduce an additional NPC.  So, session two was just a second part to session one.  Pretty much at no point have I had a session that didn’t tie into a previous session, usually the one just prior.

I just don’t think in terms of TV episodes.  I think in terms of a continuous narrative that builds upon prior events.  Developing storylines is what waters my camel.

Let’s take NPCs.  My NPCs are often trying to accomplish something because it has been hammered home to me that NPCs without their own thing going on aren’t as deep.  The campaign set up of trying to take out the Caliph and her Khadi obviously requires that the Caliph and Khadi be doing something that impacts the party.  But, the various allies the party has all have their own things going on.  Because that interests me.

I can run a tactical wargame.  I’m a big fan of the HeroQuest boardgame, and I’ve made it somewhat RPGish.  What I struggle with is the idea of running a RPG campaign that uses a RPG system like how D&D and the like are played – videogame RPing.

Because there are so many stories to tell.  I have had so many ideas for characters or scenes for short stories or longer efforts that I’ve never even bothered writing down.  Maybe, I can push myself to write a novel during my lifetime, but it’s so so much easier to write stories while playing or running RPGs because it’s so much more focused than when I’m left to my own devices.

Anyway, getting off topic.  What is good about episodic play besides the ease of handling players dropping in and out?

Less pressure.  Episodic play will tend towards resetting things.  Now, for RPGs, it’s different.  While the narrative might not progress, the PCs will.  D&D will see level increases, as you go from dungeon to dungeon.  HoR sees character improvement and probably rank increases as one plays mods.  But, success/failure/just general impact on the world is muted.  This can not only make the players’ lives easier as they can screw things up and only lose out in XP or goodies or whatever.  This can make the GM’s life much easier by not having to have PC actions change the world much.

Less engagement.  While I find that too much of my play sees players who don’t engage as much as I think they should, by setting the standard to “what you do this session stays in this session”, you don’t need as much engagement.

Less quagmiredom.  Continuing a narrative can mean continuing a story where the party is in some sort of highly problematic situation or some really boring situation.  Sure, a superior GM will figure out how to have fun things prepared no matter what.  I’m not a superior GM.  I don’t have fun options always prepared for every possible player decision.  As a player, I might meta hard to make sure that my PC is doing stuff, but I get players who seem tolerant with doing nothing because their characters wouldn’t do interesting things.  More specifically, when it comes to structure, if the players like having 20% combat, 20% investigation, 20% puzzling, 20% arguing about how every plan someone comes up with is dumb, and 20% joking about Star Wars, then you can consistently plan those breakdowns when coming up with sessions.

When you have a coherent narrative, some things may not make any sense to do, like murdering enemies.  For instance, I had a LBS session planned at a party.  It turned into two sessions (spread over three sessions because someone missed one of the sessions).  In part one, there was nothing to fight, except for sparring or other play fighting.  It was a party.  In session two, there was something going on that had various possibilities for combat, but it was pretty much up to the party to activate any combats.  After a certain point, things seemed to drag, as the players didn’t know what else to do.

Now, not knowing what to do is a separate axis.  But, it connects.  What do I mean?  When you have an episode, the plot of the episode, the results, the set pieces, etc. should all basically be in place.  I’ve only gotten stuck in a few HoR mods in terms of completing the adventures, but I’ve almost always known what I was supposed to do.  I thought it was interesting when a couple of my players thought of my Gaki Mura campaign as a sandbox.  I didn’t think of it that way, but I could be wrong.  While having a preplanned plot is against the idea of sandboxes, I do go light on forcing my players into the plot much of the time.  And.  I expect players to have their own interests in where to take things.  I don’t mean that I expect every player to have a non-party goal or to have an idea what the PC’s story arc should be.  I just expect players to engage with the world to the point that their characters have things they want to accomplish to where the players help shape the direction the campaign goes in.

Using LBS as an example, so the PCs want to get rid of the Caliph – what’s their plan for doing that?  I’ve yet to get any input on how they would accomplish that.  They could go intrigue/politics to remove them from power, go combat (sort of, kind of hard to fight things that cannot be destroyed, but you could just imprison them), explore (to find their hearts), “magic” (find a power great enough that it can take out indestructible “humans”), get them to fight each other (and take it out into the desert), or whatever.  If they don’t do something, then that aspect of the campaign remains status quo.  Now, I have things in mind that don’t relate to this core campaign element, but the players don’t seem to have any sense of those, either, partially because I’m too subtle, partially because of lack of curiosity.  Yes, a selling point of this campaign was to educate the players on the setting, so we can just have weekly stuff happen that doesn’t really blow up Medinaat al-Salaam.

Meanwhile, there are so many ways to take advantage of things to move their supposed agenda.  They have a relatively large number of allies that they don’t ever ask anything of.  They don’t make any effort to learn about their enemies.  They don’t make any effort to really change anything about the world.  What burned me out on running the Gaki Mura campaign was this precise lack of player input into the campaign, where every session felt like it was just me coming up with something happening to the PCs.  I very much try not to just dictate events to players as that’s supposedly a bad thing – taking agency away from players.

So, maybe the campaign should be far more episodic.  Maybe it should just be “The Medinaat al-Salaam Files”, where the Caliph is always the sheriff/Nazis/Gargamel, where the Betty and Veronica of the campaign are always waiting for the PCs to take interest, etc.  Except, I suck at that, and it will bore me silly to not have some sort of progressing narrative.


Fisticuffs [20150416]

April 19, 2015

We got back to playing some Shadowfist due to a combination of not having played in a while and some enthusiasm for a particular variant format.

Shadowfist Tournament Variants

Only two players had built Array of Stunts decks, a format that sounded kind of sketchy but which was certainly a “big power” format that would make Morse Code Poets and a bunch of other cards more meaningful.

Because Ray didn’t make it and Earl showed up, we started off with the five-player Cardiff team variant, as that didn’t require anything weird from a deckbuilding standpoint.

Joren (borrowed tanks) -> Don (Dragon/Jammer guns) -> Justin (7 Masters/Hand) -> Ian (Daughters of Nu Gua) -> Earl (Monkey Hand/Jammer)

This was supposed to be reasonably quick.  It wasn’t.  It was close to two hours before a team finally won.  We had to figure out how some things worked, like who qualified as “second”.  We made up a rule, as, otherwise, Earl and someone would have won earlier.

I didn’t do much more than get a Hidden Dragon to 8-F and put out a Daughter.  I still had a chance to win, though one of my bids for victory was defeated by the fact that our team couldn’t win as my partner wasn’t in second place.

Earl put out lots of monkey power.  Joren did Panzer X stuff with mostly Tank Commanders but also others.  Don did Ex-Commando stuff that put him into the lead but got beaten back brutally.  Justin finally put Red Bat in play.  Justin and Joren ended up winning.

We liked this format.  Our five player games are, unsurprisingly, kind of skewed as it’s just too hard to care too much about what others are doing much of the time.  This team format makes it incredibly important to follow what other players are doing and is far more interactive.  Burning for victory is heavily incentivized as it makes it harder for you to not be in second.  I played a number of events to affect what other people did, including Iron and Silking Joren’s character that he wanted smoked to stop an attack that would have taken him out of second place for when my turn came around.  Lots of attacking right!

Don had to leave.  Earl wasn’t that enthused by the idea of borrowing a deck for Array of Stunts, so we did a three-player.

Justin bid 1 power and went first.

Justin (Hand) -> Joren (Monarchs) -> Ian (Reascended Comeback)

Joren had some foundation issues due to the limitation on Dockyards.  Justin came out mighty and was the only threat to win until time ran out.  I got to play lots of Reascended, far more than usual, but my deck wasn’t oriented to the format.  I was expecting someone building to the format to play board sweepers, as huge characters with annoying abilities were going to be easy to play.  No one did.  Justin just kept putting out monks and stuff.  Joren played the Monarchs royalty.  We kept having to beat Justin down to stop him from winning – he burned nine sites for victory over the course of the game.  I think we were getting to the point of removing his offensive ability, but, then, I would have to work on taking out a bunch of Joren’s royalty, with his Obsidian Eye in play as a defense against Horus recursion.

A mixed bag.  Yes, the format makes certain cards, like Buddhist Monks, really interesting (well, useful).  Yes, you will see crazy stuff happen that isn’t that common.  Joren Pocket Demoned for 14 power a couple of times.  I don’t mind that it’s a degenerative environment.  I mind that there are just a crazy level of abilities in play.  Shadowfist, to me, already has too many relevant abilities in play at any given time.  I’m much better about tracking these things, now that I’ve played a lot more, but it was discouraging when less experienced because you just don’t follow what’s going on to where your decisions are stupid when you don’t know the cards well enough.

Definitely do the Cardiff-5 again.  We talked about doing a variant sort of like Array of Stunts but not quite so expansive.


Easter VTES

April 9, 2015

What’s more appropriate than playing V:TES on Easter?

We start with a four player game.

David-1 (Tariq wall) -> Brandon (Talbot’s Giovanni) -> Gary (borrowed Aus/Pre/Vic) -> Ian (Nadima wall)

Ah, Talbot’s Chainsaw decks.  Brandon brings out Ferryman.  Gary steals Ferryman.  Brandon’s ready region is a disaster.  David brings out Tariq, who gets skill cards, Atonement, sent to torpor, and Graverobbed.

That does save David from losing Tariq to my Form of Corruption.  I have Army of Rats, Anarch Revolt, Smiling Jack in play while Gary has a Famed vampire in torpor and I play a few Extortions to make things difficult for both David and Brandon.  Brandon does send my Nadima to torpor with Talbot’s as I manage my blocks badly.  She gets eaten.  Army, Revolt, Smiling, Fame all get cleared.  With infinite time, I would sweep as David had no ready region left to speak of and Brandon had been surviving on virtually no pool with almost no library.  Gary had less library than I did and I brought another Nadima out to go with Horrock with Raven Spy and Mirembe.

Maybe I should play more webdecks – this one was one I found that I cut down to 80 cards because I hadn’t played Gangrel with Serpentis in a while, though my intent was to play a more bleedy deck.

David-1 and Gary leave.

Ian (!Toreador w/ Obf) -> Brandon (Gangrel w/ Dom and votes and someThing) -> Andy (!Trem BH bleed) -> David-2 (Ravnos block)

Brandon plays first turn Information Highway and just runs over the table.  It’s sort of amusing, sort of sad that first turn Information Highway is still such a brutal play.  With no vote defense, Brandon just kept KRCing forward, and I didn’t have nearly enough intercept to block forward, plus David stole my first gun for some reason.

Andy (borrowed Baali of the Name 1.1) -> David (Trem) -> Brandon (!Brujah bleed) -> Ian (borrowed Claudio Severino adv.)

I play first turn Information Highway.  Turn two John Dee, turn three Claudio.  I can’t draw into any blood management, so I’m sitting around with two full 9-caps for much of the time.  I wonder if I can just play with them, as that would be funny.  When I do draw Villeins, Brandon Suddens them both.

I thought Andy would hate my TWD, as he often hates them.  This one is so dumb, though, that he thought it was hilarious, even using Angra Mainyu’s stealth ability to steal Powerbase: Montreal.  He overblocks forward, and I bleed him out, with David on the ropes.  I try to bleed David out and get Archoned and John Dee doesn’t have Obfuscate, so I get ousted.  Brandon finishes off David.

David (Nos Flamethrowers w/ Volker) -> Andy (borrowed Jyhad low cap Presence bleed) -> Brandon (Carlotta and friends Dom/Obf bleed) -> Ian (bring three guys out and get bled for 16 in two actions)

I bring three guys with FOR/Obf out and get bled for 16 in two Etrius actions.  David manages to hang on forever with his mighty Carlton and whatever, though Etrius spending lots of blood on stuff helped immensely.  Andy brings out lots of vampires but has inconsistent bleed.  He draws a lot of masters while I watch.  Eventually Andy ousts Brandon and wins the endgame.

What’s the takeaway?

Yet again, I neither write down rules questions we have nor do I write down deck ideas that come to me while I play.  The reality is is that there are many, many possibilities for decks.  Sure, most of them are going to be sucky decks or decks that are just worse than other decks, but, if all people wanted to do was win playing games, they should find some nice two-player games with a healthy competitive environment.  Even two-player CCGs aren’t really all about winning but about the massive variety that CCGs have that most other games don’t.

I also feel like I should play some stuff I’ve played before but haven’t played in a long time.  There’s a nostalgia factor.  There’s also building the same deck with newer cards.  Baali of the Name is a goofy deck that would never occur to people since the infernal rule got changed and since Path of Evil Revelations got printed.  But, I’ve already written up an updated version of Weapon Not Found that doesn’t run five Ashes to Ashes.  Etc.

As to why I haven’t posted in a while, starting a new job has something to do with that.  Have to adjust to a new schedule.  I have opinions on RPG experiences recently (I even played an HoR3 mod for the first time since Gen Con!), but I don’t feel strongly enough about them to get something down on e-paper.