Given the recent announcement that the next VEKN set will focus on certain bloodlines, I’ve been thinking a little about them. Having only recently acquired enough bloodline cards to really build decks, I’m not at all qualified to talk about what each clan does or does not need (for a great article about this written just prior to the release of Heirs to the Blood, check out this post on IcLee’s blog). But a series of posts on VEKN.net got me thinking about the purpose behind the outferior effects on bloodline cards, and how much the current cards meet those goals.
Although I don’t know the stated reason for the introduction of outferior effects, but one obvious benefit is that they allow bloodlines to be mixed more easily with other clans. Sure, only some of your crypt can use the strange and wonderful effects offered by the new bloodline discipline, but the rest of your crypt can at least use the card, allowing you to cycle it. This prevents the card from ever being “dead” in your hand. I see this as being particularly critical for the Scarce clans who were clearly designed to be used sparingly. If this was the major reason behind the outferior effects, then it stands to reason that the disciplines chosen for outferior effects would fit a clan which shares other disciplines with the bloodline. For example, if you were designing a card for the Salubri, you might notice that they share two disciplines with the Ventrue Antitribu (Asupex and Fortitude) and conclude that a great outferior discipline for an Obeah card would be Dominate. Such a card could be played by your Salubri for a more potent effect, but would still be useful for any Ventrue Antitibru in your deck.
To my mind, this consideration – allowing bloodlines to get additional crypt support from other clans – is the most important. It’s clear that some outferior disciplines were selected for flavor reason. The outferior abilities often relate in some way to the effect offered by the bloodline discipline, and there seems to have been some attempt made to select a discipline in which that effect would make sense. For example, the majority of reaction cards (especially those that offer intercept) present in bloodline disciplines use Auspex (the king of reaction cards) as their outferior discipline. And while this makes some degree of sense, I think that it serves no particular purpose in the game. It forces the card to either only be played for the bloodline discipline effect, or it gets included in decks that can’t use the bloodline effect just for the outferior effect.
But the selection of discipline is only one part of the equation. The other is the power of the effect. If the outferior effect is strictly inferior to what the outferior discipline can already accomplish, then there is no reason to play with this new card. Consider Aura Absorption – it’s outferior discipline is Auspex, and it’s power is to allow you to burn 1 blood for +1 intercept. Any random Auspex card is vastly superior to this! Is the flexibility of the outferior discipline really worth a whole blood? Or would this card be functionally identical if it didn’t include any outferior effect? I suggest the later – that the card would be played exactly like it is today if it simply didn’t include the outferior effect. Having powers that are so weak as to become meaningless is a failure of the purpose of the outferior system.
In summary, my ideal scenario is that the outferior discipline be one that is possessed by an “ally” clan (meaning a clan that shares 2-ish disciplines with the bloodline), and that the effect of the outferior ability be at the same power level as basic effects already offered by that discipline. So how did White Wolf do with the existing bloodlines cards? I’ll start off with the clans that will be focused on in the upcoming VEKN set, and in a future article I’ll cover the other clans. For each, I’ll give a letter grade for both discipline choice, and the power level of the outferior effects. Let’s get started, shall we?
It’s interesting that my first example is actually a clan that doesn’t really want to play with other clans. The Blood Brothers are all about solidarity and this is reflected in their Sanguinus cards. It’s actually somewhat shocking to note that this bloodline discipline has exactly zero outferior effects. Perhaps the VEKN designers should consider if there would be any merit to giving Sanguinus cards outferior effects.
Well, Fortitude, Potence, and Visceratika (+Flight) don’t give you many allied clans. The clan that comes closest is the Blood Brothers, who don’t play well with others. Group 2 Gargoyles have two vampires with Auspex, potentially indicating that they could work well with the Osebo (assuming that there were more than 2 Osebo in group 3). Group 4 has two vampires with obfuscate, potentially indicating that they could work with the Nosferatu / Nosferatu Antitribu (some of whom also have Fortitude). Of course, all of this presupposes that the Gargoyles are independent, rather than slaves. The slave mechanic literally chains the clan to the Tremere / Tremere Antitribu. While this partnership is extremely thematic, it’s hard to picture a viable 6 discipline deck (7 if you count Flight!). GreyB on a recent VEKN post reminded people that it took a card as powerful as Tupdog to allow the master-slave relationship to work. I agree with that statement, and think it speaks volumes about the efficacy of the master-slave archetype. So while most people would like to see the VEKN design team focus on independent Gargoyles, I’d like them to focus on slaves. Make the original concept (now 15 years old) actually functional!
So what would I expect the outferior disciplines would be? Thaumaturgy is the obvious candidate if we are trying to support Master-Slave decks, but it provides really no benefit to independent Gargoyles. I suppose you could include a bit of Celerity to strengthen their connections to the Osebo and Brujah, and a bit of Animalism to help bring them together with the Nosferatu. So what disciplines did White Wolf actually select for the outferior effects on Visceratika cards?
- Thaumaturgy (13)
Huh, guess we’re starting off with the boring clans (curse you alphabetical order!). The decision to give Thaumaturgy 100% of the outferior effects is a clear indication that the clan was designed only to be played as slaves. It’s hard to fault this choice, especially since it’s so hard to think of what other clan you might pair independent Gargoyles with. It certainly highlights than the clan is really divided into two (slaves and independents). I’d have to give the choice of outferior disciplines on Visceratika cards an A (albeit for slaves only).
So what about the power of the outferior effects? By my estimation, 4 effects are strictly inferior to what Thaumaturgy already has, 6 are on par with existing basic effects, and 3 are new. But the on par category is entirely made up of combat cards, most of which provide maneuvers and/or presses. Considering that the basic idea of the slave is that it will fight instead of it’s master, it’s extremely puzzling to see so many outferior effects try to provide combat effects. Maybe it’s for those times that you get a bad crypt draw and your Thaumaturgists actually have the fight? 2 of the 3 “new effects” offered are conditional or expensive intercept – not all that exciting to a clan with Auspex. I really don’t see how the majority of these effects facilitate a master-slave deck, which means that the cards fail to do what they were evidently designed to do. And of course, all this Thaumaturgy is completely useless to independent Gargoyles. For outferior power level, I give Visceratika a D.
Harbingers of Skulls:
The Harbingers are such an odd bloodline, and one of only two that don’t have a unique discipline (the other being the Nagaraja). As such, there are no outferior effects to consider. On a side note, it would be nice to see Necromancy get a boost in the upcoming VEKN set, but I doubt it will happen because of the frightening prospect of making the Giovanni any better. It’s another interesting example of how the power of Dominate limits design space. But back to outferior disciplines and effects!
Alright, finally a clan where I can really put my ideas to the test! Their disciplines of Auspex, Fortitude, and Valeren give them a multitude of potential allies including the Harbingers of Skulls, Salubri, and the Ventrue Antitribu. The Salubri Antitribu even have 2 vampires with Dominate to help tie them to the Ventrue Antitribu! Given these allies, I’d expect to see a fair amount of outferior Dominate and Necromancy. Maybe even an Obeah card if the designers felt like stretching the mold. They could even throw in a Presence card since so many Ventrue Antitribu have Presence to allow them to pair better with their Camarilla brethern. So let’s look to see what disciplines White Wolf decided to give to Valeren cards:
- Animalism (5)
- Auspex (2)
- Celerity (2)
- Dominate (1)
- Fortitude (1)
- Potence (1)
- Presence (2)
- Thaumaturgy (1)
Well, some of the selected disciplines make sense – Auspex and Fortitude seem obvious on retrospect since these are the disciplines which would actually be shared with ally clans. Dominate is present (although shocking to see it appear on only 1 card), as is Presence (which was a tenuous connection at best), but Necromancy is completely missing. The other disciplines make very little sense. Animalism, Celerity, Potence, and Thaumaturgy would at best help the Salubri Antitribu ally with a clan that has only a single discipline in common (the Gangrel, Toreador, Gurhri, and Tremere respectively). I see all of these as wasted card slots. And I find Thaumaturgy to be particularly puzzling given the fact that the Salubri Antitribu are the sworn enemies of the Tremere! So only 6/15 cards have outferior effects in discipline that help their natural ally clans, and Necromancy is completely missing. I have to give the discipline selection for Valeren outferior effects a F. I’d suggest that the VEKN design team consider giving new outferior effects to Dominate and Necromancy.
And then we come to the power of these effects. I’d classify 4 as strictly inferior to what the discipline already provides, 4 as being on par (although usually boring), and 7 as new effects. However, the vast majority of these new effects are terrible. Armor of Caine’s Fury for instance provide Presence with the ability to prevent 1 damage at the cost of 1 blood. To be fair, this effect might not have been terrible when it was published, but Glancing Blow came out less than a year later and made it obsolete. Rayzeel’s Song allows Animalism to take a 0 stealth action to untap an ally for 1 blood. Yup, Animalism, the discipline with only 1 ally. This ability might have actually seen play if it was given to a discipline that cards about allies like Vicissitude or Necromancy. The only saving grace here is that most of the reasonable effects are in disciplines important for ally clans. These effects aren’t amazing, but they’re at least playable. I’d give the Valeren’s outferior effect power a D.
Since the Samedi have four clan disciplines (Fortitude, Necromancy, Obfuscate, and Thanatosis) rather than the usual three, you might think that this would increase the likelihood that they would find ally clans that share at least two of these. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The only natural ally clan would be the Harbingers of Skulls. However, there are a number of Nosferatu in group 1/2 and Nosferatu Antitrubu in group 4/5 with Fortitude, potentially making them good allies. The Samedi have 3 vampires with Celerity, making the City Gangrel a possible ally. There are also 4 Samedi with Auspex, which might allow them to play with the Malkavians, and makes them particularly good allies with the Harbingers of Skulls.
Given these potential ally clans, I’d expect to see many Thanatosis cards with Auspex outferiors to bring them closer to the Harbingers of Skulls (and possibly even Malkavians). I’d also expect to see a few cards for Celerity and Potence, and maybe a single card for Protean, Animalism, and Dementation. So let’s see what White Wolf decided to give Thanatosis:
- Animalism (1)
- Fortitude (2)
- Necromancy (1)
- Obfuscate (3)
- Potence (1)
- Presence (2)
The first thing to note is that Thanatosis that while many bloodlines disciplines have a few cards with no outferior, Thanatosis has 6 of them! Surprisingly, the disciplines selected here aren’t bad. Fortitude, Necromancy, and Obfuscate are obvious choices, and they dominate the selection of outferior disciplines (6/10). It’s not surprising to see Animalism and Potence on this list. Really the only standout is Presence – were they trying to tie the Samedi and Followers of Set together? The other strange thing is to see no Auspex. It’s like they forgot about the Harbingers when selecting disciplines! I’d give the selection of outferior disciplines on Thanatosis cards a B+. There’s only 1 odd discipline choice, but it’s disappointing that the most obvious discipline was left out. I’d strongly suggest that future Thanatosis cards have Auspex outferior effects.
From my own categorization, 3 of these outferior effects are strictly inferior to existing effects, 3 are on par, and 4 provide new effects. But of course it’s more complicated than that. Many of those new effects are extremely niche and are only useful under extremely narrow situations. Take Hag’s Wrinkles as an example – it gives Obfuscate +2 stealth, but only for Equip actions. Or Ashes to Ashes, which allows a vampire with Fortitude to be sent to torpor rather than being burned during combat. Other effects are just terribly bad. Transfusion gives Necromancy the ability to give 1 blood to a ready vampire, but the card costs a blood. It’s hard to see members of an ally clan getting much benefit out of a bunch of these cards. I’d give the power level a D+. Workable, but not particularly good.
What did you think of this analysis? Do you agree with my choice of ally clans and disciplines? What grades would you have given for each category? Comment below!
Join me next time when I investigate the other bloodlines. Until then, may your bleeds never be bounced, and you find a reason to build decks with bloodlines and ally clans.