World of Darkness

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 11: Review

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Vampire: the Masquerade’s 5th edition knows exactly what it wants to be, but has only a hazy, drug-addled recollection of how it got there.

Given that it’s a product of a new (and different) White Wolf, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. They marketed V5 as a triumphant return, a reinvention of an old favorite to a new generation of fans.

What we got was a powerful remix. Sacred cows are gone (and I’d be lying if I didn’t miss the other Clans that they removed from the game) and new systems are introduced to zero in on the core thesis of the game: Vampires are Monsters, and you’re playing one.

The morally bankrupt nature of the Vampiric condition is the highlight of this edition, and the Character Creation and Hunger / Blood Resonance mechanics tie into this beautifully. You can’t help but feel pity for these wretches that eke away an existence in the night, decking themselves out with superficial symbols of power and prestige in some bizarre mockery of life when in the end all of them are less than human.

But where the game stumbles is in making the reader feel for the setting. Beyond the Vampire’s personal struggles, the whole community angle of Clans and conspiracies has been effectively swept away. Old players find that the staples of Kindred society are reduced to ashes, while new players are left to play out smaller scale games in hopes of scrabbling for influence and territorial rights in the local community of Kindred.

In terms of presentation, while the layout is elegant, I’m not entirely sold on the use of photos for the art. It’s not a major nitpick, but I’m just not a fan of that approach.

With regards to the shocking and questionable content in the book, I feel that V5 wouldn’t have made it’s case that Vampires are monsters without them. That said, the entire premise of the World of Darkness is that it’s a game and that people shouldn’t go about emulating the behavior of the depraved monsters that the Vampire are presented as. Adding both the Mature Content Advisory and the advice in the Appendix for playing responsibly goes a long way to establishing that fact.

Overall, I’m finding V5 to be something of a mixed bag. The Personal Horror angle is definitely something they achieved, but they abandoned much of what made the eternal struggle angle interesting. If this is the start of the World of Darkness, then it’s not exactly the best gunstart I’ve seen.

If you like the promise of personal horror and you’re not too invested in the past, then V5 is still a good game to get into. If you’re an old hand appalled at the changes to the setting, then the mechanical elegance won’t save you, and you’re better off sticking to your old editions.

You can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 10: Chronicles, Tools & Appendices

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So you’ve got your player characters, and the city upon which to unleash them.

Now what?

Chronicles

The Chronicles chapter addresses that issue by inspiring Storytellers by providing a host of Chronicle Ideas, as well as a guided tour of how to dredge up drama and interesting stories by looking at the conflicts inherent to the setting.

There’s a good range of scales provided in this chapter, and advice ranges from street level games where issues of turf and gang-wars are the norm, to more political games.

The chapter also goes into detail on how to run a campaign, from handling the spotlight to managing the villains, whether they be other vampires, the Second Inquisition or worse.

Tools

The Tools chapter is where the Storyteller goes for their Antagonists, Equipment and Loresheets. There’s not much to say here, except that there’s definitely going to be Werewolves, Mages, Changelings and Wraith in the future… with Hunters likely being there as well.

Given the whole Second Inquisition thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hunters were a big part of it.

Appendices

The book concludes with three Appendices: Standard Feats, Projects and Advice for Considerate Play. Standard Feats talks about the usual rolls that you might encounter in a game and how to manage them in play. Projects introduces a subsystem that allows Vampires to undertake long-term projects, like establishing a drug empire in a city.

But perhaps the most important of all is the last one. Advice for Considerate Play is an essay about how to run Vampire responsibly, going over all the best practices in making Vampire a safer experience for everyone. There’s solid advice here on handling delicate issues such as identity, fascism, and sexual violence in a manner that is safer.

Add to that is advice on what Safety Tools can be used in game to make sure that people can tap out before things go wrong. I’m glad to see these because awareness for the need of these safety tools and the tools themselves isn’t exactly common knowledge, having them here helps a lot.

Overall the Chronicles and Tools Chapters are pretty utilitarian. They cover all the bases and are valuable to Storytellers looking for inspiration for running a new game of Vampire with the new edition.

After being exposed to the horrible things that Vampires do in the World of Darkness, it’s a good thing to end with that last appendix. It’s a much-needed section that I’m glad was there, and I would mandate the presence of these in play if the Storyteller intends to run Vampire as-is, without diluting it from how it was presented in the book.

Finally we’ll have a Review of V5 as a whole in our next and final entry in this Let’s Study series.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 9: Cities

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More than in any of the other games in the World of Darkness, Vampire concerns itself greatly with territory. As such, being able to define the city in which a Vampire chronicle takes place is a big deal.

This chapter covers a good amount of detail as to what your considerations should be in putting together the details of the city, as the way that things are divided among the Kindred is a reflection of the policies of the Prince or the Council in power.

The city as a character is explored in detail here, with attention to how a well-designed setting can spawn story hooks simply by existing. There’s a strong sense of an ecosystem (or at least a food chain) at work here, and even the most green of neonates find that nothing they do is without consequences.

Basic things like feeding rights and territories add up to a lot, and the chapter goes into depths as to just how far-reaching the consequences are in meddling with the status quo. Regardless of where you are, whatever happen in the city affects you.

While perhaps not as sexy as the other chapters, the City Chapter is one that I appreciated for it’s near clinical take on the way that the city acts as an ecosystem and how the Kindred’s actions are influenced by the city and vice versa.

Next, we’ll be taking a look at the Storytelling Chapter, the second to the last installment of this series!

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 8: Advanced Rules

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My earlier observation on the Rules chapter was that V5 was a very simple rules system, approaching a more narrative style of play than what it used to be. This isn’t really a problem given the nature of horror games needing less mechanics getting in the way of the story and the fear.

But for those who are looking for it, V5 also provides a grab bag of optional rules that add or subtract layers to the base system. Some of these options make the game even more freeform than it already is, while others (like the combat rules) move the game closer to more traditional rules of Vampire.

I won’t go into full detail for these systems right now, but covered are:

  • Rules for handling Scenes and Modes
  • Extended Tests
  • One-Roll Combat
  • Additional Combat Options (specific maneuvers)
  • Movement in Combat
  • Initiative systems
  • Hunting systems
  • Kindred Intimacy
  • Memoriam (a flashback system to allow for some level of dramatic editing)
  • Prestation (a favor trading system among the Kindred)

On Kindred Intimacy

I’ve seen some very disturbing things so far in V5, and at this point I’ve come to the conclusion that playing a Vampire means accepting that your characters will be monsters. The section on Kindred Intimacy in particular is bound to squick a LOT of people, as it presents “sex” as it were between Vampires to be a high-risk affair as one could easily end up blood bound to the other.

The fact that the game itself has explicit rules for how a player character can manipulate a vampiric partner to succumb to temptation and their limits to bind them to the player character is a major red flag. It’s got shades of all sorts of power disparity, sexual assault and rape in big red letters.

And yet, if you stop to think about it. That kind of atrocity is what Vampires do.

Yes, it’s ugly, and uncomfortable, and I hope to god you never resort to having to employ the rules in any of your games, but the fact that it’s there is a strong statement to further cement the thesis: Vampires are not nice people. They’re monsters.

Moving on, we’ll be looking at the rules for Cities, the hunting grounds of the Kindred.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 7: Disciplines

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One of the first things experienced players in Vampire will check out will be the Disciplines. As supernatural powers that the Vampires possess, this is probably the chapter of fun toys that players have to work with.

We won’t be going over each of the Disciplines in this entry as I’d end up spoiling the specifics, but we will be taking a look at the mechanics behind them

Learning Disciplines

In addition to the dots in Disciplines earned during character creation, vampires may spend experience points to learn new ones. That said, there’s an extra requirement: To spend experience, the vampire has to feed on a matching Resonance to do so. Furthermore to learn Disciplines outside of your clan, you’ll need to taste the blood of a Vampire who knows the Discipline.

Selecting Powers

Each dot in a Discipline has a small selection of powers to choose from. Upon learning a dot, a vampire chooses one power from the dot level they’ve unlocked, or a level below. The vampire only knows a number of powers equal to the dots they have.

Timing

Disciplines require little to no time to activate, but the vampire is restricted to activating one Discipline per turn. However, a Kindred may stack multiple ongoing Disciplines without penalty.

The Disciplines

Given that we’re only restricted to 7 clans now, the Discipline list is much shorter, but covers the classics:

  • Animalism – Control over animals and bestial features
  • Auspex – Supernatural perceptions
  • Celerity – Blood-born super speed
  • Dominate – The ability to override the thoughts of sentient creatures
  • Fortitude – Unnatural resilience
  • Obfuscate – Predatory stealth
  • Potence – Uncanny might
  • Presence – Vampiric charm
  • Protean – Shapeshifting
  • Blood Sorcery – Magic born of the blood
  • Thin-Blood Alchemy – A new form of magic hacked together by the Thin-Bloods

Of all of these Thin-Blood Alchemy is probably of the most interest. The dominance of the Thin-Bloods in this new era means that you’ve got weaker vampires with access to more flexibility than the usual Disciplines we’re familiar with.

The addition of the requirements of feeding to learn new dots in Disciplines is a nice touch to me, tying your powers to that of the blood that sustains you. Also, it ensures that your character, an unstable predatory creature with a habit of snapping into a feral state when pressed is constantly motivated to move within the herd.

It’s an interesting way for a single rule to add depth of flavor to the setting, and works well to keep everyone in the mindset that Vampires are very unlikely to really get along with the herd when all they see is food.

Next up we’ll be taking a look at the “Advanced Rules” that provide options for more detail than the basic rules we’ve discussed prior.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 6: Hunger, Blood and Humanity

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Now that we’ve had a chance to go over Character Creation, we’ll be taking a look at a few other mechanics that aren’t covered in the basic rules, but are vital to being a Vampire.

Hunger

If nothing else, hunger is the constant companion of the Vampire. It might be silenced for a while, but it will always come back. Mechanically, this is represented by the Hunger Dice rules.

Vampires replace a number of normal dice in their rolls with a number of Hunger Dice equal to their Hunger rating. The hungrier the vampire is, the more dice are swapped out. These dice (denoted as being a different color) behave differently to regular dice. Their outcomes are:

  • 1 – Failure, Bestial Failure if the test fails
  • 2-5 – Failure
  • 6-9 – Success
  • 10 – Success, Messy Critical if part of a Critical Win (a pair of 0’s)

Essentially, the Hunger dice throw a wrench into the calm, and calculated lives of the Kindred. Plans go awry as the Beast manifests prematurely in Bestial Failure, resulting in the Kindred acting out a Compulsion, or the Beast overreacts in a Messy Critical, achieving the objective in a manner that is bestial and quite possibly a breach of the Masquerade.

Compulsions

Vampires are driven by the beast and when hungry, find it difficult to act in moderation. Bestial Failure results in them behaving in a way that runs counter to their objective as they succumb to the flaws of personality that they have. While Clans have a particular Compulsion linked to them, individual vampires exhibit different compulsions as the situation warrants.

Blood Resonance and Dyscrasia

One of the more interesting mechanics in V5 is the way that blood affects Vampiric Disciplines. When feeding from humans who are in a particularly strong emotional state, Vampires find that their Disciplines are energized, adding 1 die for dice pools involving related powers. For those who are in very intense states, the effects are even more powerful, giving bonus damage or rerolls as necessary.

Needless to say this opens up the game to a very disturbing possibility of actually cultivating these emotional states. It’s not far fetched when we’re talking about the monsters that the Kindred are. Hopefully no groups will be comfortable about the idea of keeping a stable of mortals who are either drugged up to hell, or kept in a constant state of terror with torture to refine their blood to the appropriate flavor.

Humanity

This is the measure of how close a Vampire is to their human life and the people that remind them about who they once were. For some, this is a depressing sort of measure as it shows you the slow descent to a monster that vampires are quite familiar with.

As a vampire’s Humanity changes, their bodies change as well. At the highest states of grace, Vampires are near-human, able to eat or appear to be a pale mortal in good health. As you descend into sub-humanity your ability to relate to or interact with humans are penalized, and you lose the ability to fake living bodily functions such as sexual intercourse or consuming food.

As typical with most “morality meters” in WoD games, Humanity moves up and down based on behavior of the kindred. As the kindred does things that harm their Humanity, they incur Stains. At the end of a session where a character has Stains on their Humanity, they make a remorse roll as they struggle with their conscience. A failed Remose roll results in the Kindred losing humanity.

Every supernatural creature in the World of Darkness has their own special set of mechanics that simulate their condition. V5 goes all in with these, and always goes back to the central thesis that Vampires are utter monsters.

I like that the Hunger Dice are there to screw with the Vampire’s best laid plans. The Beast is fickle and hard to deal with, and its presence is felt more keenly when you lose control now and then whenever you’re hungry.

Blood Resonance is thematically beautiful but implies such a disturbing line of thinking among the predators that I’m left thoroughly disturbed.

Finally Humanity is an indicator, a measure of your fall from grace. While there can be tales of vampires struggling for the light, more often than not, those are stories that are destined to end up in tragedy.

I feel like Vampire is finally hitting its stride here. There’s clearly a ton of thought put into the state of being a vampire in the Character Creation and the mechanics that simulate the nature of the Beast, Hunger and the Blood that I have to say that I’m impressed.

Next up, we’ll be taking a quick peek at the Disciplines in the game.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 5: Character Creation

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At last it’s time for us to look at Character Creation for V5.

The Relationship Map

For a game about undead drama, this is the perfect first step. V5 starts character creation, not with filling in dots or picking supernatural powers, but with a simple relationship map.

In this step, you define your relationships with two others in your coterie, your sire, and two other characters on the map. It’s a simple step, but one that automatically makes for a good starting point in how characters feel about each other, and that immediately colors their interactions right out of the gate.

Your Human Life

This step is where you define your mortal existence. We begin by distributing Attribute dots. Unlike the former WoD dot spreads, we use a different distribution:

  • 4 dots in your character’s best attribute
  • 1 dot in your character’s worst attribute
  • 3 dots each for three attributes of your choice
  • 2 dots each for the remaining four attributes

This results in a more organic distribution as opposed to the Priority method of the old WoD.

Then you derive your Traits from your Attributes:

  • Health = Stamina +3
  • Willpower = Resolve + Composure

Skills are the next step in the process. Like in Attributes, V5 takes on a more organic (and guided) approach to skill dot distribution. Instead you get to distribute points as directed by your characters:

  • Professions – Two skills at 3 dots and two skills at 2 dots. Choose a professional Specialty.
  • Life Events – Decide on two defining life events. One teaches a skill at 3 dots, while another event taught you a skill at 2 dots.
  • Leisure Activities – What do you do for kicks? Take three skills at 1 dot based on your hobbies.
  • Extra Skills – At this point you have options to take a specialist or generalist package which determines how you spend your remaining dots.

Getting the first dot in Academics, Science, Craft or Performance grants a Specialty in that skill.

Once you’ve distributed the skill dots, it’s time to set the character’s Beliefs. Vampires rely heavily on Convictions and Touchstones as these impact their Humanity, which in turns helps them fend off the Beast that resides in the heart of every one of the Kindred.

Convictions are a character’s core values, and are expressed in a short statements that often begin with “Never” or “Always.” These are powerful beliefs that concern things that are likely to come up in play.

Touchstones are people, mortals who define the best of humanity for your character and are examples of the Convictions you hold. These Touchstones are entered into the Relationship Map next to your character.

Ambition is your greatest human aspiration. While not entirely useful in your unlife, knowing what you regretted most before you died is important in getting into character.

At this point, you die, and rise again as a Vampire.

Vampiric Unlife

Steps taken in character creation from this point forward represent the Vampiric nature of your character.

First off determine who your character is now. Recently deceased characters can still run around in their old mortal identities for a while, but sooner or later they’ll have to choose a Mask name. This is the name they’ll use when pretending to be human. Some characters might even have a Kindred name used in the presence of other vampires.

Next, figure out what your character does, or at least an excuse to other mortal s on why you’re not out during the day. The book goes to provide a host of examples of nocturnal jobs or options to stop nosy mortals.

Blood Potency is determined at this point, with younger generations starting with none, and higher generations getting more Blood Potency. There doesn’t seem to be a restriction or cost on picking a higher Blood Potency yet, but we’ll see if it has drawbacks later on.

Humanity for the Kindred begins at 7.

Picking Disciplines for your character is the next step. The player picks two Disciplines associated with the Clan, and distribute 2 dots in one and 1 dot in the other.

At this point you select what Predator type your vampire is. The selected Predator type adds traits that modify your character’s traits or grant Disciplines, Advantages, Flaws or other changes.

The player then has 7 points of Advantages to flesh out their character. Take 2 points of Flaws.

The next step is to pick a loresheet,. Loresheets are a special form of advantage that describes a connection of your character to the metaplot of Vampire. In picking a loresheet, the character can spend Advantage dots on it and gain benefits from it.

Finally the players each get one dot in coterie, and work together to spend these dots and on building their coterie. Coterie dots are used to determine the hunting grounds.

At this point, the players may get extra experience depending on the age of the characters to be spent to buy Attributes, Skills, Disciplines or Advantages.

Finally I’ve hit something I really like about V5. Character creation is involved, engaging, and almost meditative. The steps described are a journey of “getting into character” and you layer on bit by bit until you have a person, who then becomes a Vampire.

The process becomes part of play, not in the same way of dot distribution optimization is in prior editions of Storyteller systems, but one of learning about the “who” of your character is, as opposed to simply what they can do.

Next up, we’ll be taking a look at some very important mechanics that govern the Vampiric condition: Hunger, Humanity and Blood.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

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