Eric T, community and unpredictability.

B: So to kick us off, whereabouts in the Philippines are you? What’s the gaming scene like there?

E: I’m from Quezon City, Metro Manila; that’s the main metropolis in the Philippines, as it encompasses the city of Manila, the capital. I teach English at a private all-boys’ junior high school.

The gaming scene in Manila is pretty active, with games like CardFight Vanguard, Magic: the Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons getting most of the attention. As for Vampire, it’s still a pretty small scene, although the arrival of the new precons this year has helped kick off a minor revival. In my case, I was able to influence and attract some of my co-teachers into the game, and, when time allows, we have games in the workroom.

Currently, there are three major areas where V:TES is played in the Philippines: my friend Haig’s house in Quezon City, the Tavern at the Crossroads in Cubao, and Critical Hit Game shop, which is located in Iloilo, way south of Metro Manila (on another island in the archipelago, to be precise).

I’d love to know more about the Filipino gaming scene. Are particular IPs more popular than others? I know that in Japan, as an example, Call of Cthulhu dominates the roleplaying market (rather than D&D, as in many other countries) – is there anything you feel could be unique about how different intellectual properties are viewed in the Philippines?

Definitely D&D and Magic:the Gathering appear to be the ruling games, although that might be more because I follow mainly those games, aside from V:TES. As it is, I came back to D&D with its 5th edition, after stopping more than two decades ago; I play it intermittently with my co-teachers and my daughters.

Sadly, there is a lot of copying of games done here; these are sold at flea markets at much lower prices than the originals. I remember there used to be a lot of bootlegs of Yugi-Oh and Pokemon, for example. At the same time, though, there are a lot of game cafes and shops sprouting up across the Philippines, and many of these carry original titles. 

I come from a land of kangaroos, beaches and crocodile-hunting… is there any mythbusting you’d like to do about how the Philippines or Filipino culture is portrayed by Anglo-American sources, particularly in gaming? I think Kindred of the East took your country of 100 million and boiled it down to jungles, penanggalan and maybe the odd Manananggal.

Heheheheh. Even the Kuei-jin are misrepresented as Kindred, when they’re very different from the actual vampire; any idea why they haven’t been included in V:TES?

As for Filipino mythology, it’s actually quite rich in the variety of supernatural creatures; I think the TV show Grimm had one episode dedicated to the aswang. You have to recall that the Philippines is an archipelago, composed of many diverse subcultures, hence the variety of beliefs, practices, and monsters. In the Philippine D&D FB group, there are those who are working on adapting Filipino mythology to the game.

The Manananggal, of course, is one of the more visually distinctive monsters, being the upper half of a woman with bat wings. There are, of course, many others, such as the tikbalang (half-man, half horse) and the tiyanak (demon posing as a baby). However, if you can find copies online, Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class and Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldesamo’s Trese series utilize Filipino mythological elements in comic book form.  

What was your introduction to V:TES like?

Like Jay Salvosa I discovered V:TES via Central Comics Headquarters (CCHQ), which was located just outside my school campus. Back then, I was more into collecting comics, although I saw the V:TES displays in the store, whenever I was at CCHQ. The store owners, Tin and Katya Cheng-Chua, were friendly and were happy to explain the details about the game. I had liked what I read about the Gangrel clan in the RPG, so eventually I was persuaded to pick up a Gangrel preconstructed deck from the Anarchs set and I was on my way.

Also, like Jay, I met the whole bevy of players active at the time, but Haig and Charlie were the ones who took me under their wing and taught me the nuances of the game. It’s probably also why I tended to default to combat decks, since Haig has always preferred combat to almost anything else (although he excels with other types of decks, as well).

Our group didn’t have some of the rules misreadings that others did. By the time I joined the game, there were a lot of veterans who knew the rules pretty well, so I can’t recall any spectacular mistakes.

I started playing Magic, but fell out of it, because I didn’t really join tournaments and paying for the rare cards was a bit of a pain. What I liked about V:TES was that there was no need-to-have expensive card/s, and one could build a deck composed of common and uncommon cards, and be able to have fun and be competitive.

Another thing I love about the game is the table dynamics. Unlike in Magic, wherein you’re focused on one enemy (although I hear multiplayer variants are more common now), you have to be aware of everyone on the table. Everyone brings something different to a game, and that always makes each V:TES game a unique experience.

I had heard of the World of Darkness prior to playing, but I only really delved into the lore and the setting once I started playing. That’s part of what hooked me: the sheer number of stories  and compelling characters. I love the fact that some of the cards I play with are based on characters with solid stories. For example, one of my main decks is centered around the Nosferatu Justicar Cock Robin, whose narrative can be found in the Children of the Night supplement.

Ah yes, I remember that book! Although from memory Cock Robin looked a little different, with a crescent moon-shaped face. I think I prefer the V:TES version 🙂  What are some of the memorable decks or plays that have come out of your local group?

  • Louie’s Brujah allies deck. As with Tatel’s pool wall, there was a time when Louie had a whole army of allies: Arms Dealers, Loyal Street Gangs, etc. That table timed out, since no one was putting any strong pressure on anyone.
  • One of the older players, Danz tried to bleed Charlie for a lot, and Charlie used My Enemy’s Enemy on him, sending the bleed to his predator. Danz turned to his predator (I forget who), and said, “We’re not fighting, yes? That was -her- fault.”
  • Tatel’s bloat deck. I don’t think I’ve seen so many pool counters on the table. There  weren’t any aggressive bleeders in that game, so he managed to stay alive and take us out
  • If you read my Flung Junk post then you know my love of the Well-Aimed Car. The best  use of it I remember was when I managed to use the Car on Sarrasine, who was promptly torpored.
  • I remember one instance where one of my minions got Tempted, and, when the player got control of my minion, he equipped it with Talbot’s Chainsaw (which damages your other minions), gave it back to me, and apologized (while grinning sheepishly).
  • This was before my time. I asked the older players if Madness of the Bard was ever played before it was banned, and I was treated to a story wherein two players started a rap battle that apparently ended with one of them stripping his pants off (he had shorts on underneath.)
  • I almost forgot. I’m not sure what the record is for a single bleed, but I once saw Paul pull off a 16 pool bleed using Lucian the Perfect.

I’m not sure if that makes me feel happy or sad that Madness of the Bard remains on the banned list! What’s the tournament scene like in the Philippines?

I’ve tried to participate in the tournaments held here in the Philippines, such as the various storyline games; I think I made it to one storyline final using a Gangrel toolbox deck.

When I started, there were a lot of players in the game so tournaments were pretty crowded back then. I got to see a variety of deck designs and playing styles. When I joined White Wolf was in the full swing of production, so the local scene was pretty active. There were other areas in the Philippines which had V:TES groups playing, such as Los Banos (pronounced Los Banyos), also south of Metro Manila. I never got to play there, though.

Here in Manila, combat is an integral part of the metagame. it’s either one finds a way to get around the combat, such as S:CE, or one packs fortitude for defense. Maneuvering is essential to building a deck; no one playing a non-combat deck wants to be caught in close range of an Immortal Grapple.

I’m told that players from the other Asian countries were initially shocked at the level of combat that we practice in Manila. I forget where I heard it, but (you can correct me on this) there are places wherein combat is apparently composed of “punch for one” or combat ends strikes. In Manila, combat is an integral part of play, whether it’s the Gangrel aggropoke, Potence midcap-weenie smashdown, or Tremere second round walks of flame. If one isn’t prepared for combat in Manila, he or she will wind up with a table of torpored minions.

There are, of course, deck concepts that will always attract table hate, such as the stealth-bleeder or the Smiling Jack. For those concepts, we will tend to ignore predator-prey considerations, and band together against a dangerous common enemy.

Nowadays, though, Manila players appear to be going through a creative phase, thinking of janky combos and creative uses for cards in order to spice up the game. There aren’t that many of us now – the game started slowing down after CCHQ closed in the late ‘00s – so creativity is the means to offset predictability. It makes for some colorful games.

In Iloilo, the metagame is a little different, since the main veteran there isn’t a big fan of combat. When I was there, players tended to focus on bleeding more. I haven’t played in Iloilo for years now, though, so I’m not familiar with the current metagame. 

Have you made it to the Asian Continental Championships (ACC)?

I’ve played in the ACC whenever the tournament rotates here to the Philippines; I don’t have the time or the resources to travel to venues outside of the country. So far, we’ve hosted the ACC three times: twice here in Manila (2011 and 2018), and once in Iloilo (2014). I managed to make it to the 2011 finals, but I had a stealth-bleeder as my predator, so I didn’t last long. I think the Philippines has the most number of active V:TES players, so it’s the one that’s most attended. Also, going to other countries can be a bit costly for many, so fewer of us go abroad to play.

The ACC rotates between Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines; this October, it’ll be in Taiwan. There are groups that have started in other parts of Asia, such as Malaysia and Hong Kong, so the ACC may include those in the rotation. I know a number of the newly Embraced, as well as those who’ve come out of torpor, are going, so we’ll see how Black Chantry’s revival of the game is going to affect participation. 

Is there a sense of a broader Asian scene, in the same way that European playgroups may intermingle?

The Asian scene is scattered across countries separated by seas; coming together is a little more difficult than in Europe. If one of us is on a trip, whether vacation or otherwise, we’ll probably send out a message that we’ll be in country, and ask if there are any games. When I was in Singapore several years back, I was invited to play, but I wasn’t able to make it. Generally, it’s during the ACC that the various Asian groups come together. What’s nice is  that, thanks to friendships made and social media, when we do come together, it’s always a reunion-type atmosphere.  

Let’s talk about your website, V:TES Thoughts – what was the inspiration behind it?

I started blogging in general back in 2004, and the V:TES blog started along with it, since it was the main interest I had at the time. As you’ve seen from the archive, it’s been on and off across the years, but, with the BC revival, I’ve found fresh inspiration to write about the game. There’s just so much to explore about V:TES, with the new cards coming out, and new strategies to test; I don’t think I’ll run out of topics to write about any time soon. All in all, it’s my love of the game which keeps me blogging about it.

What I like about blogging about V:TES is that I feel I’m contributing to the documentation of the game, like your Diary. By writing about the game, I like to think I’m leaving behind food for thought for others to reflect on, whether it be a janky combo, or a key star vampire.

The challenge is making time to write, since I do have a number of other interests, as well as family to take care of. Still, I’ve tried to come out with a post as regularly as I can.

Finally: what do you think is the magic ingredient that’s seen V:TES continue on over the years, where other games have come and gone?

For me, there’s a strong sense of community. Even after White Wolf stopped publishing in 2010, it was interesting to see that, around the world, players continued to keep the game going. Here in the Philippines, our playgroup continued, and continues to meet regularly, whether it’s at a Starbucks or at Haig’s House. On our group chat, we continue to dissect the game, clarify the rules, share deck or combo concepts, and joke around, quite a bit.

Adding to this is the fact that there’s a lot of unpredictability in the game: what deck a player brings, where one is seated on the table, and so on, so forth. It’s this aspect of the game that keeps us coming back for more. With the Black Chantry revival, it’s likely that V:TES will continue to be interesting and entertaining for all of us.  

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