Written for Continue Play, recreated with permission.
There’s an old phrase that gets tossed around from time to time in the military: “Hurry up and wait.”
The prevailing sentiment is to make certain to be everywhere on time, prepped, and waiting. Not necessarily because something is going to happen at the exact time of arrival, but to be prepared for eventualities where something does happen, to be gathered and well-prepared before the chaos and uncertainty of combat all come together in a cataclysm of noise, thunder, and death. Admittedly, not all military exercises will lead directly to combat, nor are all combat situations going to devolve in a destructively chaotic fashion. The need for squadrons to be prepared in case it does, though, is often the first step in a long chain of trained behaviors to make as many situations as possible go smoothly from the start. For preparedness’ sake, hurrying up to wait is a very necessary part of combat planning and doctrine.
The second added benefit is for the formation of nerves. There’s something utterly unnerving and discomforting about the quiet, the promise of something worse hidden in the deep unknown is a fear that can be too-readily realized in a single explosive instant. The need to hurriedly fall into place, only to sit around and wait for something bad to happen, is taxing on the nerves. The sense of impending doom is one that lingers endlessly in the uncertain, so getting used to the quiet tension during the truly quiet moments is another form of future planning. Becoming prepared to face the shaking nerves and erratic chaos is as much a part of success as being well-equipped.
Thus prepared, the only thing left is to wait.
In Nosgoth, this is the quiet moment between vampire strikes. The human hunters must muster themselves, their nerves, and their forces together in order to be able to face the stronger forces of the vampires. As Oliver Zimmerman said in his preview of Nosgoth, the vampires individually can conquer most any human class comfortably. Their power, their speed, and their ability to stun opponents puts them in a very strong tactical position in any given skirmish. However, their need to close into their opponents puts them at risk when engaging in groups or trying to close long distances. Strong as they can be at times, there is little progress in attacking a well-organized group of players because the sheer damage that can come from four concurrent attackers’ weapons is enough to outright squash anyone foolish enough to attack except in waves.
When the heat of combat reaches a fever pitch, it becomes terrifying for the humans. There’s a surge of panic, a need to maneuver into better positions to avoid enemy attacks and stay out of harm’s immediate way. As the attacks start flowing in faster when the vampires close the distance, the ability to stay organized and clustered is where the challenge sets in for the humans. Running away, skipping out of immediate danger, or positioning to line up attack comes with the risk of getting too far away from support, and puts the hunter away from their support network. And if a hunter gets isolated for any reason, survival is more a distant hope than a plausible proposition. There just isn’t enough in their arsenal to survive a dedicated attacker, much less a group of them.
So the panic becomes the moment, the little perfection that characterizes the entire experience. Humans must hurry up and form up, and then face the quiet. Stare into the void of possibility, alert for any possible danger, hopefully aware of the coming vampire assault before its on top of them, screaming havoc and rending flesh from bone. Firm violence is a nearly guaranteed outcome of any vampire attack, so the only survival comes less from being the human hunter, but preventing oneself from becoming the human hunted.
Once the chaos of combat has began in earnest, the organization begins to become strained by the ebbs and flows of combat, the quiet preparedness becomes doubly important. The nerves that accompany being a lone human in a map occupied by vampires everywhere is one that tests the nerves and rakes at the senses. The furious desire to do anything other than to quietly hide, wait, and sneak from cover to cover is overwhelming. Every potential second passed is another second to get swept away by the sudden cataclysmic might of a superior force. The idea of having just a little power is a poisonous one. The treachery of having enough power to fight, but not enough to win, can make the idea of doing anything defensive rather than nothing, and quietly keeping to the semi-safe hiding and fleeing is one that has to test the nerves. At least until regroup begins to feel close, and the threat begins to become manageable.
At least until it happens again, the group is routed, and the vampires are once again on the offensive.
For the human hunters, each hunt is eternal risk. Organization in a battlefield isn’t easy, and doing so with a group of strangers is even less so. As a result, the feeling of nebulous control at the hands of a more mobile, more active, more violent, and more capable vampire is the a strong one. Nebulous control, uncertain quiet, chaotic skirmishes, and desperate stealth, repeated in cycles. Even the best hunters might find themselves drawing the short straw, losing their team’s support, and finding themselves alone and afraid in an arena full of death. With nothing around them but terrifying, roaring silence, the sheer weight of nerves is amazingly difficult to handle, and one of the best parts of playing Nosgoth.
Granted, having the power and control as a vampire is mechanically delightful experience. The vampires have the ability to dive through the air, charge through human foes, take flight into the air, set shroud the hunters in darkness, and numerous other terrible fates. The ability to trounce the opposition when a good opportunity arises is a compelling one, and it can be hard to turn down the opportunity to take another try and exerting that kind of power over the battlefield, but for how much it is a delightful experience to control, it feels slightly expected. When the human team is staunchly organized, the power goes away, and the game becomes a slog. When they are disorganized, the vampires can gleeful kill and kill and kill until the round has ended. The expectation that the vampires define the pace feels built-in. The humans, however, are where the magic happens.
The mental game of Nosgoth happens when staring down the barrel of the unknown. Not knowing when the attacks are going to come, not knowing what form they’re going to take, or what tools are going to work best, or anything other than impending attack is where Nosgoth really shines. The quiet unknown is where the game takes its highest point and shines, when having to co-ordinate with a group of strangers, having to be attentive to every sound, and having to face the impending reality of death lurking just around one of the many corners. The mentality of knowing that having one another’s back is where the game builds on its biggest strengths, and when players will find the most bombastic moments will come from scraping by impossible odds, or a bombastic victory that saves the team or saves their skin to barely escape with their life.
Hiding, running, fighting, fleeing, and spiraling into chaos is the best part of Nosgoth. So grab your gun, and hurry up and wait.