Tag Archives: roles

In Defense of Vanillagers

Plain vanilla Villagers.  A staple of any good Werewolf game.  In fact, no matter how much many people love special roles, it’s difficult to impossible to play Werewolf without them. Rather than being the “boring” part of a game, I would suggest that they’re what make the game the most interesting.

Ted Alspach wrote an interesting article about how, not only do you need plain villagers, but the cards need to be all the same:

After all, I thought, why should everyone have the same picture of a villager on their card? It turns out, because giving each player a different picture of a villager breaks the game! It only took a single play of the game… to figure this out: one person said “my villager is a girl with a green apron” and suddenly everyone was describing the unique villager on their card. Except the werewolves, who were pretty much screwed.

In other words, having plain Villagers gives the Werewolves a place to hide.  I’ve moderated a game or two where somebody begged me to do an “all Specials” setup, and I did it.  In every such case, that person immediately started the game by insisting that everyone should “out” themselves by identifying who they are.  Lynch anyone who refuses, or any people claiming a duplicate role.  Werewolf goes from a subtle and rather sophisticated game about reading people, and becomes a rather simplistic logic puzzle.

The other disadvantage, to me, is that if you use too many special roles, it distracts from the “social” aspect of the social deduction. Rather than interacting with people and trying to get a feel for their reactions — the subtle heart of the game — people start to rely too much on their “powers”.  If you ever make it out to Gen Con, you’ll find large numbers of people playing Werewolf all through the night, and they play almost exclusively bare-bones games with Villagers, Werewolves, and a Seer.  While I do like a few Specials in games I run, I can definitely see the appeal of playing a “pure” game — especially if you have good players.  Even when I do run specials in games, I tend to use mostly “low magic” roles, such as the Hunter, rather than a lot of the spellcaster-type roles.

At some point in the course of running Werewolf at small conventions (which I do often), the phrase “plain vanilla Villagers” comes up a lot.  After a while I adopted the term “Vanillagers” — a coinage of my own that has spread to some extent to the local Werewolf scene through players who have played in my game.  Beyond the touch of humor, I like it because it lends a small bit of personality to the “boring” part of the game.  I’ll consider it a victory when I hear the term coming from somebody who has not played in my game — when it has made its way out into the world, travelled a bit, and made it back to me from another direction.

So here’s to Vanillagers.  Not only a core part of the game, but a vital part of its foundation.  We couldn’t play without them.  So the next time you draw that “boring” card, remember that you make the game work.

A conversation with Ted Alspach

I went to Gen Con last week, and while I was there I had one or two conversations with Ted Alspach — the man behind Ultimate Werewolf. I’ve seen most of the various published versions of the Werewolf game, and his Ultimate set really sets the standard for versatility and usability.

We discussed a few things, and I got a few interesting bits of information from him that I thought worth sharing. The biggest to me was that I asked him about the Dracula character and how he uses it. I’ve never really used it, but I played in a game where it was used, and it was one of the most remarkable games I’ve ever played. Everyone was incredibly paranoid about Dracula’s brides — so much so that toward the end of the game the one remaining werewolf actually outed himself so that he could work openly with the Villagers to get Dracula!

Ted actually cleared up something I’d misunderstood about using Dracula, and that is that the brides know they are brides. Ted was surprised at my story of the cooperative werewolf, but he said that having the brides know who they are — but not how many others there are — means that they will sometimes declare themselves brides and nominate themselves for lynching in order to prevent a Dracula win. They really don’t want to die, but at the same time they don’t want the village to lose, so sometimes a player will sacrifice himself. It creates an unusual dynamic at any rate, and I definitely think I’ll start using this character more often.

Another topic was the Ghost. I’ve tried this character a few times, and quickly decided that it was far too powerful — so powerful that it was a game-breaker. Seems Ted and I came up with very different but effective solutions. What I did was create a new character called the Medium. So now the Ghost doesn’t communicate with the entire village, he simply communicates with the Medium. This makes the Medium more on par with the Seer — a Villager who knows things, but like the Seer usually can’t come right out and declare it.

Ted’s approach was different. At the end of the first night the ghost writes down a word for the moderator, and then the moderator reveals the word one letter at a time each morning. The difference is that originally the Ghost got to choose a letter each morning, and as Ted explained, that can lead to massive meta-gaming as the players give the Ghost detailed instructions as to what letter to say — basically creating an ad hoc code for the Ghost to use that will reveal far more than the character was intended for. By having the Ghost supply a word to be revealed over several nights, it limits the Villagers’ ability to use the Ghost this way.

I like my solution a bit more, actually, as it allows the Ghost character a bit more interaction and decision making over time; but Ted certainly solved the problem. But I definitely have to try his way of playing Dracula.

This was the second time I’ve met Ted, and I recommend talking to him if you’re at an event he’s attending. He’s especially happy to see you if you present a Kickstarter box for him to sign. 😉