[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

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 4: The Rules

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The World of Darkness has always had a very simple ruleset. It was one of the appeals of the system, and why it was not as intimidating to new players. Fill out a couple of dots, then roll a number of dice equal to the dots in Attributes and Skill as determined by the Storyteller.

V5 brings with it a new system that adheres to some of the sacred cows of the old games, but introduces a few spins of it’s own.

Basic Mechanic: the Roll

The basic roll of V5 is similar in the sense that you still put together a pool of 10-sided dice equal to an Attribute and Skill, and roll against a Difficulty rating.

However, unlike in previous games, V5’s mechanics differ in that rolling a 6-10 on a 10-sided die counts as a Success. 10’s are special in that they count as a success but every pair of 10’s counts as four successes. Therefore:

  • 0, 0 is four successes
  • 0, 0, 0 is five successes (four for the pair, and one other for the leftover 0)
  • 0, 0, 0, 0 is eight successes

It takes a little bit of getting used to, but it seems straightforward enough.

Winning at Cost

If a roll includes any successes, the Storyteller may offer you a chance to win at cost. This means that the character achieves their goal but suffers a complication along the way.

Willpower

Characters may also spend 1 Willpower to reroll up to 3 regular dice. This applies to most rolls but is disallowed from rolls involving Hunger and a Tracker roll like Willpower or Humanity.

Checks

A totally separate mechanic to rolls, checks use a single die and achieve a target of 6 or higher. This is usually used for Hunger gain checks, Hunger, feeding and Rouse checks. Willpower cannot be used to re-roll checks.

Conflicts

Combat and opposed Social encounters are resolved by Conflict Rules. To go over them quickly:

  • Players declare their intent for the turn
  • Storyteller makes the same decisions for all NPCs and determines dice pools for players
  • Both attacker and defender rolls their pools simultaneously, the winner subtracts the losers successes from their total and applies the excess as damage to either Willpower or Health (depending on the Conflict)
    • If the conflict is one-sided where the defender is just trying to avoid getting hit, then they don’t deal damage on this contested roll
    • If the defending character is also trying to harm the attacker then they are able to cause damage if they roll higher
    • Ties result in both parties harming the other with a win margin of one
  • Apply damage to the appropriate Tracker, adding damage from a weapon in combat, or the audience in social conflicts.

Initiative

Unlike more traditional systems, there isn’t an initiative roll. Instead the basic conflict rules, assumes the following sequence:

  1. Close Combat
  2. Ranged Combat
  3. Newly engaged physical combat
  4. Everything else

Ties are broken by comparing Dexterity + Wits.

Three Turns and Out

While not a hard rule, the book recommends that conflicts end after three turns to avoid things getting too drawn out and boring. Instead, they recommend the following to happen:

  • Allow players to break off the conflict with a roll
  • Have the Storytellers have the NPCs break off if they’ve taken more damage
  • Simply award the victory to the side that won the most contests
  • Change the situation present new options, such as by changing the location or circumstances of the fight

It’s important to note here that the systems discussed so far are the “Basic” rules of conflict and that V5 also has a host of “Advanced” optional rules later on in the book.

That said, the system so far is extremely light. Combat is quick, and I can certainly see that there’s a swing towards making the rules facilitate Conflicts as quickly as possible as it doesn’t seem to be the point of the game. If anything this is a positive thing in my mind as the last thing we need is to go back to the times when Vampire games devolved into superheroes with fangs.

Next up: Character Creation!

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 3: The Clans

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The Clans are perhaps one of the most attractive concepts in Vampire: the Masquerade, and it was the Clan writeups that first got me into the World of Darkness from a quickstart product that came bundled with an issue of Inquest Magazine so many, many years ago.

Imagine my disappointment then to discover in the first page of The Clans chapter that there aren’t 13 of them anymore. Six of them: Lasombra, Tzimisce, Assamites, Giovanni, Ravnos and the Followers of Set aren’t in the corebook. While I’m okay with not having the Sabbat Clans covered, I feel that this was a missed opportunity to give new life to the remaining clans as these were representative of other cultures and a new edition is a great means of stripping them of stereotypes and reintroducing them in a new light.

Instead, we are left with simply seven of them in the corebook. The Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere and Ventrue. There’s also a section devoted to the Caitiff and the Thin-Blooded.

The Writeups

Each of the Clans has a 4 page writeup with a condensed explanation of the Clan’s philosophy and nature. They then transition to a quick look at possible character archetypes, and the Disciplines that each of the Clans have. Finally the Bane of each clan is described, showing how the bloodline manifests in terms of powerful flaws of Kindred of that family.

Taken individually, the Clan writeups are utilitarian. They talk about what they are, but there’s little in the way of inspiration for some reason. Normally these writeup are your best pitch at getting people hyped to play a Clan, and the success metric would be to have people talking about how they can’t decide which to play first.

Unfortunately I didn’t get that impression. Most of the information is old hat, and perhaps because of the nature of Vampires, the Clans are so set in their ways that there’s no clever way to remix them for the new edition.

Moving on, we’ll be looking at the Rules in our next installment.

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 2: Kindred Society

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Vampire has always been a “Social” game. As covert predators that lurk among their prey, it makes sense that Vampires would be positioned as capable (and specialized) to blend in seamlessly with humans.

But it’s an entirely different situation when you have predators interacting with one another.

The Kindred Society chapter opens up with a quick note of how Vampires used to rule in the early days as kings and emperors, until the first Inquisition when they were forced into more covert methods they use today. While vampires have difficulty coping with the new technologies that make their covert lives so much harder in the modern nights, they find ways.

The Jyhad

There’s a quick mention of the Jyhad, the never-ending war among the Kindred. It’s long history is mentioned with some important touchpoints (like the concepts of High and Low Clans, and mention of the Convention of Thorns) but it’s really a pretty surface-level treatment that might leave new players a bit lost.

Still the basics are there, the immortal vampires nurse ancient grudges and have plans within plans to undermine their enemies. And while the players change, the conflicts seem eternal.

The Camarilla

The chapter moves on to talk about the Camarilla an it’s purpose and current state in the modern nights. This section is a little more extensive and segues nicely to The Six Traditions the framework by which the Kindred govern themselves.

The Anarch Movement

As a counterpoint to the Camarilla, the Anarch Movement is a group that is opposed to the order and government of the Camarilla. These are Kindred who dislike the old order and are more than happy to punch the Princes of the Camarilla in the mouth.

Autarkis

Straddling a middle line are the Autarkis, small societies of Vampires who are self-ruling, and have no need of the Camarilla. Unlike the Anarchs, they’re not entirely hostile but prefer to be left to govern themselves.

The New Normal

With the War on Terror, the Kindred have been outed to government agencies and the Vatican secret service, leading to the Second Inquisition. In reaction, mortals storm vampiric strongholds, driving the Kindred into hiding once more.

In reaction the Camarilla tried to wipe the databases that they could, and sent an edict that any Kindred caught contacting another online will be removed from the Camarilla and declared disloyal.

It wasn’t a perfect solution but it did stop the bleeding. The Kindred now find themselves in the grip of a second masquerade.

Do you know that weird disconnected feeling you get when you flip onto a good movie on TV but you’re somewhere in the tail end of the second act and you’re groping for context?

That’s kind of how I feel here. I know I’ve not been keeping up with Vampire lore, but I’d like to think that I and those like me who are generally “new” should be the target market for this chapter.

Sadly while I’m able to catch a bit of context from the summaries presented, I’m left without an appreciation for the Camarilla or the Anarch cause. Instead, I’m hoping that somehow if I do end up playing in a game of Vampire, someone will fill me in, or I can restrict my attentions simply to the concepts that come up.

Next up, we’ll be taking a peek at the Clans.

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 1: Introduction

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Vampire: the Masquerade is something of an oddity in my gaming career. I’ve read bits of the Revised edition, owned a copy of the Dark Ages corebook and loved the Bloodlines PC game to bits. The lore of the Clans was something that drew me in, and the macabre allure of playing a bloodsucking immortal creature that preyed on humanity (and often agonized over having to do so) was all good stuff.

But I never really got around to running it.

Fast forward to here and now. White Wolf is back, and the people who run it are hell bent to bring the bloody, disturbing and alluring nature of Vampire kicking and screaming out of the 90’s and into the modern nights.

The question now is, will they succeed?

This Let’s Study series will take a look at the various sections of the book, breaking down the setting and themes, the mechanics that power the game and will conclude with a review. Along the way I’ll give my impressions on subsystems, calling out any particularly neat or problematic ones.

Mature Content Warning

The very first page past the cover of the book is a strongly worded and clear warning of the nature of Vampire as a roleplaying game that uses dark themes and elements that could disturb people.

Vampire is coming back into the world stage in a moment where there’s a lot of strongly held opinions on sensitive topics. Vampire acknowledges these, and makes it clear that they’re engaging these elements as part of a work of game, and not as a means of celebrating or encouraging these things in real life.

Introduction

Vampire starts off rather abruptly. Instead of opening with a short story, the setting’s mood and general concepts are presented in the form of a number of different documents compiled by a certain older vampire to educate a newly embraced member of the undead.

It’s messy, the documents take on various voices, formats and points of view, but to those familiar with the old lore will find the little ways that this new edition was able to move the metaplot forward without resorting to reading about the amazing adventures of these NPCs.

In some ways, I appreciate the approach. Waking up as a Vampire isn’t a gentle process, and the harsh, almost cruel means of dumping all of this information is a good glimpse into the nature of vampires. But that said, as a vehicle of getting information across, it’s a bit hit and miss. After a few pages I was suffering a bit of fatigue from sifting though so many different documents. Individually each of the entries were interesting, but having to slog through them to get a bit of information here, and another there made it a poor example of a reference.

Maybe that was the intent?

Concepts

The next section, thankfully brings us to a less storytelling, and more factual explanation of the game. They go through the basics, the fact that the World of Darkness is a horrible place, and that Vampires, the very player characters, aren’t heroes. This doesn’t make a vampire game one with a permission to be run as a “Chaotic Evil Party” but it does put things into perspective.

Larger concepts, such as the large cornerstones of vampire society such as the Camarilla are discussed, as well as the new status quo, brought about by a Second Inquisition that has resulted in the destruction of several high-profile vampires, which has brought chaos and opportunity to vampires of all generations.

This section ends with a quick look at a sample of play.

This edition of Vampire sure knows how to make an entrance. Like the setting it now reflects, it’s apparent that the book wants to make a strong impression. Old players will find that a lot has changed, while new players might find themselves struggling to keep up.

In some ways, this edition reminds me of the Revised-era Mage: the Ascension. Everything has gone wrong, the elders are dead, and now it’s up to you to make something of yourself, if you’re clever, or cruel enough to do so.

Next up we’ll be paying a visit to Kindred Society

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 Genesys] Part 7: Review

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I’ve always had a thing for generic RPGs. I dabbled in GURPS, fell in love with HERO, and checked out OVA for anime shenanigans.

And now Genesys shows up, the new hotness, with promises of Narrative gaming and excitement. With fancy colorful dice and symbols, and a resume that boasts of being the engine behind the popular new Star Wars RPG, it certainly makes a powerful first impression.

So how does it hold up?

Mechanics

The base mechanics behind Genesys might appear gimmicky, but looking past the fancy dice lies a solid rules system. Gameplay is fluid and the thrill of rolling dice pools is given new depth with the varied outcomes for each die.

There’s something visceral about rolling your own difficulty, a sense of ownership as your GM hands you the extra difficulty dice with a grin, knowing that your character’s chances are all in your hands.

Campaigns. Your Way.

As a Generic RPG, Genesys is judged not just by it’s rules, but by how well it can facilitate a GM’s vision. A third of the game is dedicated to being able to craft a setting of your own. Alternate rules are pre-built options that you can weld into the original framework to twist gameplay towards your desired odds, and the discussion on Tones and Settings help in giving it the feel you need.

Building a campaign in Genesys should be a game in itself, honestly. It feels like putting together a project car, with a standard build, that you then personalize with Customized Rules, tweak with Alternate Rules, then spray on a fresh paint job with the Tones.

And it does it all without the burden of points juggling and math.

Conclusion

Genesys is quick. There’s obviously a lot of design thought that went into it, and a lingering sense that all the designers wanted to do was to add just one more little bit into it. Sometimes that leaves us pining for what could have been, like a more extensive section on Superhero gaming, but that’s just us being greedy.

For those with a preference for rules-medium gaming, Genesys fits in perfectly well as a contender against Savage Worlds for fast, furious, fun. While it doesn’t have the intense library of GURPS or the near insane modularity of HERO, Genesys knows how to present a lean generic ruleset that can power almost any genre.

Overall, Genesys is a must have, not only because of its versatility, but also because it forms the bedrock of a lot of products in the future. Alternate rules are a sneak peek into the future, and I expect that with products like Realms of Terrinoth, we’ll be seeing even more ways to make the system sing.

If you’d like to read along, you can get a PDF of the Genesys corebook from DriveThruRPG for only $19.95!

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