Even non-nerdy types will understand the idea that games can have odd phases, trends and "higher-level games" than the actual rules. The term nerds tend to use for this is "The Metagame". If you play Magic: The Gathering and note that Green Big-Creature decks are the msot common deck right now, then that's the state of the metagame; if you read books abotu chess moves which prioritise how good and bad certain moves are, you're reading a bout the metagame. When people say that Scottish football teams play a more physical game and European teams.... you get the idea.
All games have this, but nerd games have more pronounced metagames partly because many of them are young and still "in flux". Although chess variants and new spins of Poker come out, the basic games are very old and the rules long standardised and analysed to the point where they are more or less universal the world over, with the stragtegies for specific games and versions thereof well documented. Even then, the individual players can be a factor - a particular high-quality player may choose to focus on a particular strategem, leading to it becoming popular or requiring top tier players to prepare counter-measures for it. Football is a great example of this where natural gifts and practiced skills combined- Manchester United the team is slightly different in capability every year and the best strategy to beat them changes year on year.
It's far more pronounced with games where the rules change periodically, though. Every year three or four new Magic: The Gathering sets are released, and three or four old sets rorate out of use in the standard tournaments. Warhammer 40,000 army lists are replaced periodically and new versions of the core rules produced every five years or so. These sorts of changes change how the game plays not in one big move but in lots and lots of little strokes. With every new Magic set released it isn't just 121 new cards: it's 121 new cards which can interact with the thousands of cards already released, with potential for new decks to arise in which two cards produced almost two decades apart might interact in a game-winning way. With a new Warhammer 40,000 Codex it isn't just that the army covered has new rules - it's that other armies must consider the powers and options of that army and build around it, accounting for the new Space Marine tank or Ork Helicopter they may encounter the next time they fight it on the battlefield. (And if the new edition of rules makes tanks weaker but flyers stronger, they may need to replace their anti-tank unit with an anti-flyer one.)
Metagames are very situational, though. The international metagame can be different from the national metagame and even the local metagame. Maybe "everyone" knows that Grey Knights are the best Warhammer army (either mathetmatically or because, on average, they win more tournaments) but if the best guy who plays in your Glasgow club has a killer Necron force, then the metagame at your club will revolve around dealing with the Necrons. As long as no-one buys into Grey Knights or plays them very well, the fact is mostly irrelevant. If no-one likes my Blue/White Statis deck then they may design decks specifically to defeat mine which do very well - but in a strange rock/paper/scissors, the next best deck will be the one that beats those, and so on as the metagame cycles through. If no-one ever plays a Blue/White Stasis deck this cycle never commences.
The biggest difference might be between casual and tournament play. In Magic in particular, back when I played more frequently the tournament game was NOTHING like the pick-up games we had in Jims Bar - a tournament game would be over in five turns max, whereas casual games could go on much longer, and cards which were difficult to play and set up in short times did not appear in tournament deck. These games often have a storytelling aspect - whether Noise Marines are good or not in the different editions of 40K hasn't really mattered, I've played them because I like the fluff. I mean, hell, I made a Magic deck based around Mr T! That it did OK in casual play was irrelevant, as was the fact a tournament deck would gub it - it was designed for fun. (And I kinda have the urge now to play it again.)
There is nothing more frustrating in all God's green earth than a casual gamer stuck playing someone so indoctrinated into the metagame and the tournament scene that they can't fathom people playing any other way. Not only are "tactic" reccomendations and lectures from the serious player often unwanted, neither side ends up habving fun because they ar elooking for vastly different things. The serious player will feel bored because he isn't being challenged; the casual player will feel like he's wasting his time in an unwinnable fight. The tournament rules and metagame are so different that, in a way, both people are playing different games - I still struggle to imagine how Rob plays Smash Bros without items on or with about half the stages removed for "balance" reasons, whereas he finds the game I play so random as to be an exercise in dice-throwing who wins. Curiously, this sometimes has the effect of penalising the tournament player - played at casual level, the setup is so different from a standard tournament that "serious" players get gubbed because everything they know is irrelevant.
Alas, a stagnant metagame can kill a game, turning from Rock/Paper/Scissors into Rock/Shit. Magic has different tournament types with different banned/restricted lists for different audiences becuasea totally freeform set of deck-building would be a disaster area - sealed deck/draft seemingly being quite popular at GUGS these days in a way it never was when I were a lad, perhaps because it appeals more to the people playing these days. On the flip side, Charles has expressed no real urge to keep playing 40K because his Ork army has been made even more low-tier with the release of 6th ed to the point where he really struggles to get anything done on the tabletop as the game stands right now - the release of new army lists and rules editions since his army book came out five years ago.
In the past year and a half I've been playing Warhammer 40,000 again. I say "again" because I've owned Warhammer 40,000 in one edition or another since 1995 - and by then I already owned Man O' War and Warhammer Fantasy - but I had hardly ever played the damn things until I started gaming with 40K Dave, Stuart, Charles and the rest. I've finally got a substantial amount of figures painted up and though I've plenty, plenty, PLENTY more unpainted in my collection it's awesome to finally be able to play a game with an army I assembled & painted myself.
When I first met Dave to play 40K I brought the latest core rules edition I had: 3rd Edition. At the time 5th edition was the game and that was what I learned and played with them. Last year 6th edition came out and we very quickly all transferred over, with me finally acquiring a copy of the new core rules at Christmas time. However, the process was comparatively minor because the editions are all based on the same core engine. Indeed, 3rd Edition codices (army lists) were still being used in 5th edition when they hadn't been updated yet, and the same for 4th ed codices now in 6th edition. Though they do require some FAQing and errataing, the key rules of the codices are basically transferable between editions - though older ones tend to be weaker.
This got me thinking about new editions of projects: be they role-playing games, war games, card games or the like. There's a big balance to be struck between starting from scratch and being just a longer errata, and some people prefer one over the other. (That's before you factor in any fluff changes - I'm going to purely discuss rules here.) Edition shifts can be hugely divisive - anyone with experience in these fields won't have to think long to think of things like D&D 3rd vs 4th Edition where it gets really ugly. When people have heavily invested in a product both in time and money they get very emotional when changes get involved and anyone who disagrees with them is obviously STUPID. To make matters worse there's a huge economic problem at the heart of it: a new core rules is by far the best selling product in the line (since by definition anyone who plays should own it, unlike your many supplements) but if a new edition is a disaster then your whole line is buggered for years. The best way to get more cash in is to release a new edition, but to do so is to walk into a minefield.
01:36 pm: White Wolf & Me
I wrote the following back on the 3rd of December, in the middle of my internetless wasteland. It's sat waiting for me to upload it. Now I do just that. :-)
For some reason I’ve been on a bit of a White Wolf reading bent of late. This is always taken as something to be wary of by some of my regular RPGers, who even if they have little RPG experience outside me have still developed a healthy distrust of World of Darkness games. Our current crop of players do include more people with happy memories of White Wolf: Charles owns a fair few of their games and Matthew played Vampire back in the day. That said, I think even they understood what Ailsa meant when she said “I’d be all for playing White Wolf games… if I didn’t have to play them with White Wolf people”.
My relationship has always been a bit spotty with the games. When I first got into RPGs it was the full-on, metaplot-and-crossover drenched World of Darkness I would have encountered: one which didn’t seem even remotely beginner friendly. Arguably all RPGs can be intimidating to newcomers: large hardbacks with hundreds of pages of texts, a host of tables, unique game jargon and references to other product you may not have heard of. Despite that, there is something I find particularly opaque about White Wolf games. I have picked up and read a few, and even ran a one-off of one game and played in a campaign.
Even just reading the books can be more a chore for me than other RPG books – Demon: The Fallen and its expansive prose opener springs to mind, which I find much slower to read and harder to pick out key details from than a more factual textbook style. The big problem I have is that I often find it difficult to work out What The Hell You Do after reading a White Wolf book. For me, a good role playing book is one where after reading it I immediately have an idea for a session or a campaign – one where I want my current game to end soon so I can try out this new one, one where you read a description of something and go “That’s it! That’s what I want to do in my game!”. However, I really struggle with White Wolf’s games to get the ideas out of the book and into a shape that forms into a tabletop game. Part of this may be the focus of most World of Darkness games on the politics of a group of supernatural creatures and their local environment, which is more fiddly for a GM to assemble than something like scribbling a new dungeon on graph paper. It’s made more complex sometimes by supplements: Demon vaguely mentions big scary demons called Earthbound in the core book but it’s only in a supplement they get promoted to Major Villain status.
Despite all these misgivings and issues, I have read the core rules to both Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem lately. I’ve also been going over Requiem For Rome, a supplement covering playing Vampire in ancient Rome in the twilight of the Western Empire. Even though some or all of the above problems apply to these various books, I still find myself oddly drawn to give these games a shot. If nothing else, I think most people will accept that campaigns and one-offs are very much coloured by the GMs who run them – I find myself curious what a George Quail’s Vampire would be like.
08:11 pm: Hatboy
The following was a wee story I wrote during my internetless time. Ailsa commented that her boss wanted to buy a red fedora, and she said that the only positive thing of this was "Red Ones Go Faster". This lead to this strange little 40K ficlet.
Me name is Rotbrek Terruck and I be an Ork hatboy. This izznt like being one of them pansy haburdishwasher, oh no, this be a job for real boyz wot make da best hatz! Just last week the boss came in and hit me over the head and said, Rotbrek, how comes that Bad Moon lad has a better hat than me wot is well bling and has a squig cage built into it to bite any lad wot tries to nick it? The lads ain’t going to listen to me if that other boy has a bitey hat and I’ve just got some pointy thing which don’t poke anyone by itself..
Then he scooped up me teef wot he’d just knocked out and said I could ‘av’ ‘em back if I made him a better hat. So I went back to the drawing board and I came up with a hat what would be supported by wheels and could carry a bigger squig, coz that way no-one will trump him on the bitey stakes. When the first grot test-wore it, though, it crushed his back which was pretty funny coz he waddled about for a bit before dying. Then I went back back to the drawing board and put stronger legs on it. When the second grot test-wore it his back didn’t crush which wozn’t as funny but woz more what I woz looking for even if he did break the wall walking through the door. Then he tried to walk down the hill, the wheels whizzed him away and he crashed into the grot-tents and the squig got out and started having a right good go at the grots, which was so funny the Weirdboy exploded.
I went back back back to the drawing board and decided a bitey thing wozn’t thinking smart enough. So I made ‘im the shootiest hat wot an Ork has ever worn coz everyone knows shooty beats bitey. The boss was well chuffed when I gave it to ‘im ‘cauze now he doesn’t need to hold his big shoota in his hands coz its in his head so he can punch two boys and still dakka some stupid hummie. If he’s on one of them stupid snow planets his head is also dead warm, which is good coz you can’t think if your noggin is all cold. Ders a bit of recoil but the Dok is well chuffed cause he says the new bionic neck is well ‘ard and the boss thinks having a metal neck is good cause if some Grot tries to strangle you in yer sleep he gets electrocuted without ‘aving to stop nap. Plus the boss thinks his headbutts are better now cause there’s a gun on his head plus I painted the hat red and red wunz go fasta ,
But now I’m thinkin’ maybe it ain’t finished, coz a bionic neck means more metal bits I could plug into, and I reckon me and the Dok could get a wee stand on the back for a Snotty and he could be trained to point the gun…….
Explosive gas and deadly electricity was fitted with a few days notice but its taken months to get a bloody phone line in. Our line is with TalkTalk but the flat required a physical visit from BTOpenreach, appointments for whom have a month lead time. On their first visit the engineer was unable to complete the task due to vandalism of the exchange. This fault, outside of my control, required them to go away and come back.... so they booked another appointment with their normal lead time, i.e. more than a month as it was over Christmas.
Our smartphones have allowed us some limited internet access but it's really not been ideal: I've basically ignored LJ, for example, and could only really skim Facebook and my emails. Arranging some things have proven a real chore - dealing with Facebook events on the Android app isn't ideal, and something as mundane as going to the cinema is a lot harder when you're used to instant information on your phone.
Do I have anything important to advise? Bookface has covered many of the basics: My job has been made permanent at Benchmark Hillington; Ailsa's birthday, Christmas and my birthday were enjoyable; I've been painting 40K figures again and planning on getting a gaming table for our spare room; Pendragon continues on and reaches it's last session of this block tomorrow.
Any important questions to ask me of the past couple of months?
Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition: If you have every spoken to me about RPGs you will know that I am a fan of all manner of game systems and have read, played & ran all manner of games, from the origins of the genre through to the present day. Despite this, the major gameline (and occasional industry #2) of the World of Darkness is one I have little experience in and in particular the old, 90s World of Darkness is one I have very negative thoughts about. The mechanics are, in my mind, terrible and the metaplot-and-crossover-heavy background a sign of all that was wrong in 90s RPGs. I appreciate the aesthetic would appeal to some people but from a design point of view, I think it's pretty poorly constructed.
However, talk online drew my attention to the very first edition of Vampire the Masquerade which I have been reading over the past few days. Some people on RPG.net spoke of preferring the original version, which had a very different focus to later products.
I find the background much more palletable here, mainly because the book feels more toolkit and the world more open - ironically, more like the new World of Darkness than the later editions of Masquerade. The clans of the Camarilla are mentioned as is the supposed existence of 13 clans total, but the others are left un-named and the specifics of the Sabbat's construction is much more at a GM's discretion. The material on other inhabitants of the World of Darkness is much more appealing to me when it's a page or two rather than when it's a reference to a whole separate gameline - I'm fine with including werewolves but don't want to have to include Werewolves, if you know what I mean. I feel that using this book I can run George Quail's World of Darkness in the same way I can run George Quail's D&D or George Quail's Mutants & Masterminds.
The lack of metaplot or indeed any reference to the potential existence of metaplot is a big bonus for me. I've written a timeor two ( or three) about metaplot and why I dislike it - and World of Darkness was a big part of the metaplot craze of the 90s. Here, though, while there's occasional reference to mechanics being expanded on in future supplements there's no assumption of metaplot events to come. Yes, there's implied existence of mega-ancient bastard vampires but they're no different to a D&D game assuming the existence to demon princes - they're tools for the GM, not the mandated cast in an NPC theater.
Without world-shaking metaplot even the focus of the game feels different. There seems to be a stronger focus here not on the other supernaturals, or ancient mega-monster vampires, or even Camarilla vs Sabbat vampire warfare..... but on the internal politics of your vampire's city and in particular between elder and junior vampires. Your player characters will probably be a couple of hundred years old max, whereas the heads of the city and the vampires who made the PCs vampires will be much older. They will be more powerful both physically and politically, and seek to keep that power for themselves. All versions of the game play up that internal politics, of course, but here it seems that "the rebellious youth" is far more important here.
Mechanically.... well, it's still a White Wolf game and even their fans will probably be happy to acknowledge mechanics have never been their strong suit. I much prefer nWoD's mechanics to oWoD, finding the single difficulty number for dice far easier to deal with than the "different difficulty every time and ones subtract" thing... and as per a previous post, the oWoD system can produce some weird results.
Still, I find myself genuinely surprised that reading VtM first edition leaves me with the impression of a game I could use if I wanted to. Mechanically I'd still prefer to be using nWoD, or perhaps my own homebrewed Microlite Storyteller, but I'd still be up for it. Aesthetically it may not be a perfect match for my interests, but the earlier edition sings more to my soul than the later ones seem to.
11:22 am: The Fungeon
As of Monday we have moved out of Fulton Street, Anniesland and now dwell in Scotstoun. This isn't physically that far - ten minutes on the 66 bus from Anniesland Cross - but it's a little more remote. However, it's larger with a second bedroom we're going to be using as a study. I want to turn it into a principally nerdy room with space for a 40K table; Ailsa would no doubt turn it into a palace for all her sordid interests. :-) It was a shame to leave Fulton Street, but our landlady was very helpful in the moving process, let us nabs ome furniture she was going to throw out and we basically got our full deposit back.
Our new flat was unfurnished (except for white goods) and while we've nabbed some old furniture we've also had to order some from IKEA and have more coming from Ailsa's parents' castoffs. For now it's a bit anarchic as, without additional bookshelves, we can't start opening up the bulk of our boxes which contain books, graphic novels, DVDs etc - and we're still hitting little problems as we realise "Oh, yeah, we don't have X".
I am still working for the same temp agency at the same company: however, I'm now alternating between their two sites, one in Bishopbriggs and one at Hillington. It's still only confirmed week to week that I'll be wanted next week but it looks like I'll still be their general issue office gopher for the next wee while.
Pendragon has been on hold the past couple of weeks with moving but it's been going fine when it's been running. Charles has been able to get into the game and the group; and it's been nice having Dave back with us and all his terrible puns. I've had a more fanastical feel to the Anarchy Phase with more use of magicians and faeries, but still plenty of real issues - the diplomacy around the counties of Logres and the Saxon kingdoms has been a thing, and a mass battle is brewing for next session.
On Bookface, of course, I have more minutae about my life on a regular basis yet somehow now I come to do a monthly update I can't think of anything else to write about. :-)
08:57 pm: Early To Rise
Since I last posted I have started a temp job. This is a comparatively long-term temp job: I've been there a month now and all signs indicate I'll be there at least another month. It's in Bishopbriggs which is very awkward to get to by public transport: by car it'd be 20 minutes but by public transport I'm 90 minutes from door to door. This is a pest but not insurmountable and of course it's a job, with money and references and all that stuff. I started working 40 hours a week and am now down to 30, but that's still a much better deal than being on the dole.
However, the biggest issue has been the hours. The place of work is a delivery company and the standard hours are 0730 to 1600. Now I'm on 30 hours a week it's a 0930 start which is a bit better, but getting to work at first involved waking up 0530. I was having to head to bed at 2200 or so and even then I was in a pretty zombified state - there wasn't a week when I didn't spend at least one day after work entirely in bed, unable to do much of anything. I wasn't getting chores done, let alone much fun - and to make matters worse, the need to move flat means that my non-chore-doing was even more alarming. Flats need viewed; stuff needs boxed up or chucked; and after dinner I feel as though it's 3am.
Thankfully things are better with the new hours. Alas, there's still the issue of flat viewing. Ailsa and I have given up one one bedroom flats - modern flats of that description tend to be very clearly single-person things with no storage space, no dining table and basically no use for us. We viewed a lovely flat that we were going to take but, alas, the timing meant we had to check something with our current landlady and by the time we got back to the letting agent it had already gone. We're viewing another flat tomorrow that Ailsa has already seen and we'll likely take it.
I've not done much at all in the way of recreation lately so the 40K figures have sat most of a month with no new progress. I really want to get more Chaos Space Marine stuff done: especially now there's a new improved codex out - but I just haven't had the time. I have still had time for Pendragon, though, which seems to be going fine: Molly has joined us for that game, as has Charles from my 40K group. We'll see how that progresses.
I am selling off various bits and bobs on eBay as well as charity-shopping & chucking things out. It's surprising what is and isn't selling on eBay - my Game Boy player has proven surprisingly valuable. :-)
12:37 pm: Quick Status Update
Like Ailsa I have written much here in a while, so let's quickly touch on some key stuff:
I've had a few job interviews: two in the past week, in fact. Even though there's been a few "no thanks" so far I do feel good about getting interviews. I've been offered a few days of temp work next week, so that's something.
I went along to ICW again: it remains a great laugh. The first couple of matches didn't quite work for some reason - the atmosphere just wasn't there - but it picked up after that and the last two matches were truly awesome. Duncan came along and enjoyed it a lot, plus I gave Lorraine a laugh in my "SPANK ME LOLITA" T-Shirt.
We ran Time & Temp as a one-off and have now started Pendragon. Molly will be joining Dave, Raj and Ailsa in this game though I could probably still do with an extra player. Our first two sessions ahve been fun, getting back into the swing of things.
Ailsa and I cat-sitted last weekend. Lorraine and Michael (our wrestling chums) were away to Blackpool and asked us to look after their flat and their four cats - two of whom are 15 year old cat pensioners. Their flat is the centre of town so we basically just stayed there for a few days. I've always been fond of animals and it was nice to have them about: but Ailsa really enjoyed it.
I'm doing some more painting and modelling of Warhammer stuff. I now have a jet-pack unit and bike unit painted up, as well as a scratch-built troop transport - just with some cardboard, PVA glue and templates I put together a decent looking Rhino substitute. As a child I associated attempting to paint figures with negative memories but I'm really getting into my painting now, even though I remain merely "passable" at it.
I've also got back into playing, and have won the last two games I played: one was a two-vs-two game with 1500 points each, the other was a triple-threat 1750 point game. I definitely find I'm doing better now, partly because of higher point values and partly because of a better familiarity with my troops.
Our landlady has told us she's selling the flat and we'll need to get out by 13th November. Job-hunting and flat-hunting is a bit too much excitement but to give her credit she's given us more notice than the contract requires and she did call me up last night to tell me this was likely - she's moving down south which is where she's been working more and more recently.
03:48 pm: T.W.A.T. Presents; "Total Rammy"
On Wednesday we ran Piledrivers & Powerbombs, a Scottish-made indie game based around professional wrestling. Matthew, Dave, Ailsa and Raj all played in a very 80s WWF-themed game. Ailsa was "Barbie Girl" the amazonian blonde with a swarm of male model assistants called Ken; Dave was "Spaceman", the bubble-helmeted astronaut; Raj was the Headmaster, with his "six of the best" caning finisher; and Matthew was "Frank The Monster" in a glorious Frankenstein's Monster-style getup.
Our game was set in the "Total Wrestling Action League", a modern day American wrestling promotion. Players made their characters and also their arch-enemies, who turned up during their matches or backstage to cause problems with each other. We played three episodes then ended with "Total Rammy", a Royal Rumble-esque PPV with all the players, their enemies and a couple of NPCs competing for the championship belt. Ailsa actually made a belt using gold and silver card so Matthew got to pose for a victory photo as the new Heavyweight T.W.A.T. Champion.
The game is quite indie in that it has oddly fixed actions - you do pre and post-show scenes, one per player, then fight out the announced card for that night. With these scenes you can brew rivalries, form alliances and train up your wrestler to represent the backstage shots that WWE is rife with. These scenes played very well, and helped flesh out characters made on the night into much more rounded people.
However, the actual fights left the group a little cold. The system uses cards, with face cards counting as 10 and aces counting as 11: but matching cards add their values together - so two sixes becomes 12, four fours becomes 16. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw but matthew was on fire all night with few hands below 10, whereas Raj (and to a lesser extent me as GM) couldn't make anything stick. The use of Flair Points for extra cards might have helped but, ala Primetime Adventures, this is awarded to players by others players and they didn't hand out much so they were at the mercy of fate. Fights are, at the least, quite quick and can be finished in a few hands.
I enjoyed the game enough that I'd run it again but I think I'd tweak the format. The biggest problem was I tried to run it in People who are more into wrestling might help a bit with the odder match types - the game rules are very light but narration wise you might get interesting results form a group who knows what a Ladder Match, Infenro, Hell in A Cell etc are. Not sure what I'd do about fights - I suspect that was less a system problem and more a freak of the cards. If we ran more fights the numbers might balance out?
Next week: Time & Temp, the game of fixing history for minimum wage.