I’ve recently been thinking about melee weapons in VTES. These thoughts have been spurred on first by some conversations about the Salubri Antribu, and how they might be helped by the upcoming VEKN set. But I’ve also been thinking about them because of my demo decks. You see, I want each of my decks to have something interesting to do during combat. Even my Malkavian stealth bleed deck includes the ability to disguise out Saturday Night Specials for defensive purposes. Once I started trying to do things like use Cold Aura to go to long range so that I could use Thrown Sewer Lid, I realized it was time to start considering melee weapon combat. But which one should be picked?
Now, before I start reviewing individual melee weapons, I want to first address the inevitable comparison between melee weapons and guns so that I don’t have to keep doing it. Melee weapons make the faulty assumption that a blood on your vampire is worth a blood on the opposing vampire. What do I mean by this? Well, melee weapons typically do 1 additional damage when compared to a cost-matched gun (Bastard Sword usually does 2 damage for the cost of 1 pool, while Saturday Night Special does only 1 damage). However, because you are forced to be at close range when you strike with a melee weapon, you leave yourself vulnerable to being attacked back. At best, that will mean that the opposing minion hits you for 1. The result of this is that both combatants lose 1 additional blood over a similar combat with a Saturday Night Special. But no combat package should be measuring itself against a punch-for-one strategy. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that Immortal Grapple completely shuts down melee weapons, but it only stops guns if the Potence deck musters up enough maneuvers
At present, there are 30 melee weapons in the game. 7 of these feature a clan requirement, meaning that it is difficult to consider them for most decks. Of the remaining, 9 are unique, which leaves us with 14 non-unique weapons as candidates to build a deck around. Let’s take a look at these:
The Baseline: Bastard Sword and Meat Cleaver set the bar for all future melee weapons, and they set it low. Both strike for strength +1 damage and cost 1 pool. I’d throw Bang Nakh – Tiger’s Claws into this category as well. It’s really just the next step up: it does an additional damage (strength +2) but costs an additional pool (2). I don’t think that any of these are worth basing a deck around as it’s hard to see any worth in spending an action to equip them.
The Freebies: I assume that the weakness of melee weapons was apparent pretty early on because as soon as White Wolf started publishing the game, they started to look to find ways to print free versions of Bastard Sword with downsides. Of course I would suggest that the downsides were unnecessary, but no matter. Brass Knuckles were the first and likely most successful of these free weapons. It’s saves you a pool at the cost of being usable only once per combat, which is at least a downside that can be built around. Contrast this to Meat Hook which can be destroyed (with first strike no less) by any vampire with Potence, or Poker which is burned if all the damage it inflicts is prevented by cards that require Fortitude. Now it’s true that Meat Hook also provides an optional press (a useful thing), but these downsides leave you completely at the mercy of your opponent – a position that should be avoided at all costs. It’s hard to imagine anybody wanting to put themselves in a position where their weapon (which likely required an action to equip) could easily be destroyed. Brass Knuckles are the only standout here.
Close Range Variants: A number of weapons are simply variants or tweaks on the baseline weapons. Gas-Powered Chainsaw is the most basic – you gain 1 additional damage in exchange for losing the ability to benefit from increased strength and the limitation that it can only be used once each combat (I guess you run out of gas pretty quickly). Decent, but not all that good. Baseball Bat is another simple variant – at the cost of not replacing the card for a time, you get to untap at the end of the turn you equip it. It seems useful in a wall or intercept combat deck since it allows you to block the turn after you equip it. Bundi is far more interesting – its strikes count as hand strikes meaning that they can be used even when under the effect of Immortal Grapple. This also means that the damage can become aggravated when playing cards like Claws of the Dead or Chiropteran Marauder. It also allows you to prevent 1 damage from melee weapons strikes. All for the cost of 2 pool. If only it prevented 1 damage from hand strikes, I think it would be playable. That having been said, I think this card is actually one of the better melee weapons and could certainly find a home in Potence combat or aggro-poke decks. The last of these variant weapons is Nightstick which can be used offensively for strength +1 damage, or defensively to prevent 3 damage from the next hand or melee weapon strike. The defensive capabilities of the card seem to be a lot more interesting than the offensive capabilities. The clear standouts here are Baseball Bat for intercept combat decks, Gas-Powered Chainsaw for decks that don’t intend to get strength boosts, and maybe Bundi.
Long Ranged Variants: I’ve separated these two weapons from the others because they were both clearly designed to counteract the range problem with melee weapons. Both of these weapons work at close or long range (although they each lose 1 damage when used at long range). Although it can only be used by Laibon, Kerrie is the most straightforward: strength +1 at close range, strength at long range. Dagger is something of a variant of a variant. It is the same as Kerrie except that you can equip a second copy of the weapon when you equip the first, but the weapon is burned if any damage is prevented. In a world were any minion could prevent damage with Glancing Blow, that could potentially be a dramatic downside. It is interesting that the Dagger allows you to tutor up an additional copy and effectively equip 2 weapons with a single action. It’s also important to note (as I’ve only recently discovered) that the second Dagger is free, which really helps this weapon be even better than I originally thought!
The Oddballs: The last two non-unique weapons are a departure from the rest. Garrote is perhaps the most bizarre as it allows you to sacrifice it to burn a vampire going to torpor. Of course in order to accomplish this, you have to be able to send a vampire to torpor using only your strength, meaning that this weapon will at best be useful for high strength Potence combat, or cards that allow you to deal aggravated damage with a melee weapon (like Sword of the Righteous). Wooden Stake is another example of a weapon that does nothing by itself. It needs to be paired with minions who have strength bonuses or strike cards that deal extra damage with melee weapons. It’s also frustrating, through thematic, that the weapons transfers to the opposing minion, meaning that you will have to keep taking actions to equip the weapon if you want to strike with it reliably. To be fair, it does combo hilariously with Muddled Vampire Hunter, but it’s hard to imagine using this weapon casually. Neither weapon stands out except in trick decks.
This analysis narrows our search down to Baseball Bat, Brass Knuckles, Gas-Powered Chainsaw, and Kerrie/Dagger as possibly decent weapon choices. While each of these has some benefit, they all have substantial downsides which make them non-ideal, especially as the center piece to a deck. With that in mind, let’s explore the unique weapons to see if we can find anything better:
- Argent Baton: Unless you are fighting werewolves, this is nothing more than a free Bastard Sword. Descent, but not really stunning.
- Banshee Ironwail: An interesting weapon based on the Bang Nakh (strength +2 damage for 2 pool). In addition the bearer suffers -1 stealth (ouch), but minions blocked by the bearer must burn one blood or life before combat. Certainly an interesting ability for an intercept combat deck, particularly one that expect to be able to block multiple actions with a single minion.
- Black Gloves: Strength +1 aggravated damage for 3 pool. Sounds decent enough, except that the wielder also takes 1 damage during each combat that they use this weapon, which is not so ideal. If you are paying 3 pool for something, you’d expect it to come without drawbacks.
- Blade of Enoch: This card glues together Bastard Sword and Sire’s Index Finger, but comes with a capacity restriction (6 or above). Not too impressive. It does do aggravated damage to Brujah and Brujah Antitribu, which I suppose is nice. But the real question is why do you want to be immune to Frenzy cards. Let’s look at the Frenzy cards you’re likely to encounter: Dam the Heart’s River, Deep Song, Drawing out the Beast, Rotschrek, and Terror Frenzy. Ok, not horrible, but rather situational.
- Crimson Sentinel: Each time this weapon deals damage, it gets a counter and it deals extra damage for every counter that it has. Pair this card with additional strikes, and it will become a monster rather quickly. This is a weapon worth having!
- Crusader Sword: Considering that this card can only be wielded by a minion with True Faith, or an imbued, I think we can safely ignore it.
- Joumlon’s Axe: Now we’re talking! This is a free Bastard Sword which can cancel one grapple card per combat. This weapon (like Bundi) is clearly trying to address the fact that Immortal Grapple shuts down melee weapons. It belongs in all melee weapon decks.
- Rowan Ring: This is an interesting variant on Wooden Stake – rather than doing damage which could be prevented, this card simply sends the opposing minion to Torpor. It does cost a pool, but it has a much better chance of actually hitting the intended target. That having been said, I think that it is best in trick decks built around the card.
- Sengir Dagger: If you’re looking to deal aggravated damage, this is your weapon. That having been said, how valuable is 1 aggravated damage? This weapon really needs to be paired with Potence or minions who have strength bonuses.
Ok, so there are a couple of non-unique weapons that might be interesting, and a bunch of impressive unique weapons. The next question is how to make use of them. By which I don’t mean how many Brute Force or Sword of the Righteous should your deck contain. No, I’m thinking about more fundamental problems faced by all decks that rely on equipment: finding the equipment in a timely manner and successfully equipping it (preferably without using an action). So how can we solve these problems?
Finding the Weapon:
The first problem, finding your weapons in a timely fashion, is perhaps the easiest to solve due to the fact that VTES imposes no card limits on deck construction. If you want to see a specific card, all you need to do is include more copies of it in your deck. But how many copies should be included? Should your deck be 20% weapons? 15%? 10%? A lot of this depends on how essential the weapon is to your overall strategy. A rush deck that relies on hitting vampires with Sword of the Righteous might want to get a weapon on their first turn, while other decks might be able to function just fine without weapons for a while. But lets say that you want to get a weapon out quickly, so you pack your deck with plenty of them. Now you face the problem that you might end up with a hand full of useless weapons. What other options are out there?
Well, a number of cards exist that allow you to search for a specific card as an action. While taking an action to find a card that itself requires an action to equip may not be ideal, it might prove to be useful if you have a deck that includes a lot of different unique weapons. The Swiss-army approach to weapon selection. Anyway, the simplest option is to have some weenie use Gramle to find your weapon of choice, but this means that the weapon effectively costs an extra action and an extra pool. Sibyl’s Tongue would save you that extra pool, but it would require that your weapon-finding weenie be a Malkavian Antitribu. There are also three minions with a built-in ability to take an action to find a weapon: Arms Dealer (Brujah Ally), Thomas Steed, The Angry (Salubri Antribu), and Cristos Mantigo (Toreador Antribu who can find any equipment).
A better option is to look at those cards that allow you to find a weapon without an action. Ivan Krenyenko (Ravnos) just tutors up a weapon for you on your untap phase, although if you are including a 10 capacity vampire in your deck just to find weapons for you, your deck has larger problems. Drop Point Network is likely the preferable option – it finds any library card at the cost of a Master Phase action and a pool, assuming that you are playing with Black Hand vampires. The last and best option is Al’s Army Apparatus which is a free Brujah Master card which can be tapped to search for a weapon.
The final option is perhaps the strongest – there are a few tutor cards that combine the act of searching for a weapon with the act of equipping the weapon. The most basic example of this is Vast Wealth, a Master card which allows a minion to take a +1 stealth action to equip the top piece of equipment from your library. This limits the flexibility of having multiple different unique weapons in your deck, but as long as they are all wonderful, it doesn’t really matter which you find. Of course, this is a Master Phase action and a minion’s action to get a single weapon. An better option is Alastor, which allows you to search your library for any equipment card and equip it at half cost. It also gives you a built-in rush ability which could well be handy. Of course the limitation here is that it’s a political action that can only be called by a Justicar or Inner Circle member, so you need one of those and enough votes on the table to actually pass the referendum. These restrictions rather limit which decks can actually make sure of this card.
And the granddaddy of them all (although Al’s Army Apparatus gives it a run for it’s money) is Magic of the Smith. This card finds and equips any piece of equipment in your library and equips it for the cost of 1 blood. If you have superior Thaumaturgy, it also gives you a total of +3 stealth, making it pretty difficult to block.
Successfully Equipping the Weapon:
So once you’ve found your weapon, you need to actually equip it, and do so successfully. In an ideal world, you would be able to equip it without spending an action. This can be accomplished quite simply for all of the non-unique melee weapons through the use of Concealed Weapon, which effectively saves you an action at the cost of a card. If you want to play with the far better unique weapons, you’ll have to upgrade to Disguised Weapon, which requires Obfuscate. The major drawback to these is that they now require you to have two cards in hand simultaneously – the weapon and the method of equipping it. Some of the cards mentioned above (likeSibyl’s Tongue) can be used to find either piece of this combo, but at best you are spending an action to save an action. It should be noted that there are two vampires who may equip a weapon during combat without the use of a special card: Fatima al-Faqadi (Assamite) and White Lily (Malkavian Antitribu).
Another way to avoid spending an action is to find a way to untap after equipping the weapon so that you can take another action. There are a number of cards like Freak Drive that allow you to untap, but I think Gift of Bellona deserves special mention since it can either provide an untap after equipping with a weapon, or it equips the weapon during combat if you are blocked. Assuming that you mostly want to save actions so that you can remained untapped for blocking, you could try to rely on Baseball Bats which untap you at the end of the turn that you equipped them. A similar effect can be found on Yusuf, Scribe of Alamut (Assamite).
There are two other vampires, both Samedi, who merit a mention as they have very strange abilities that help save you actions. When you influence out Jack Dawson, he automatically equips with a weapon from your hand. And Reg Driscoll can place the equipment that he equips onto any other minion you control, which is another way to spend an action in order to save an action (which might be useful). Of course, a similar situation can be accomplished through cards that allow you to move equipment around like Heidelberg Castle, Nod, and Communal Haven: Cathedral.
If saving an action isn’t possible, then you will want to do everything you can to ensure that the action is successful, which usually means having enough stealth to ensure that the action isn’t blocked. The most basic way to accomplish this is to either have access to a stealth discipline like Obfuscate, Obtenebration, or Protean, or use vampires like Joaquina Amaya who get additional stealth when taking equip actions. If all else fails, there is always Jack of Both Sides and Anonymous Freight, but these are poor choices – they suffer all the same downsides as Concealed Weapon (you need two cards in hand simultaneously for it to be useful), but enjoy none of the upsides (it doesn’t save you an action). Again, the king of these cards is Magic of the Smith (assuming you have access to Thaumaturgy).
Well, well, so what’s the bottom line? Honestly, I’m not sure I have an answer on how to best use melee weapons. Certainly the most popular option is the infamous Weighted Walking Stick which in many ways is both a Bastard Sword and a Concealed Weapon all in one. Oh, and it doesn’t cost pool, so there is no reason to not use that card. But there are options above and beyond this staple. After writing this, I’ll certainly be looking for opportunities to use a variety of different unique weapons along with Magic of the Smith to search for the one that best fits the current situation. I’ll also be looking to make some decks based around Dagger. The Salubri Antitribu could even pair it with Death Seeker to cancel the damage prevention card if you needed to. I’ll let you know how it goes. But in the meantime, have you experimented with melee weapons? What’s worked well, what have you tried that failed? Post your comments and insights below!
Until next time, may your equip actions never be blocked, and your opponent never play Potence combat,