As a huge fan of the Gangrel, I believe I am legally obligated to say that Protean is my favorite Discipline. And to a certain extent, it is. It is certainly one of the most useful, what with shape changing, seeing in the dark, and of course the safest Haven you’re ever going to find...well, it’s hard to pick a Discipline that will do more to keep your undead neck alive. And that’s not even including the most vicious weapons in the game, the claws you get at level two.
Aww, you brought an automatic shotgun with dragons breath rounds, that’s cute. Snikt! Snikt! RUN! Run my little pile of XP!
The truth is, I’m not a huge partisan of any given Discipline. I’m rather “meh” on some of the “other clan” disciplines--Vicissitude, Quietus, and Serpentis never really wowed me, but other than that I kind of like all of them. I remember when I was first getting into Vampire, my friends and I would discuss which “Clan” we would be, only for the Disciplines. If you didn't have to be a vampire, and you didn't have to deal with their flaws, which would you be? I always tended towards Malkavian--Dominate, Obfuscate, and Auspex. I mean, you can keep your super strength and speed, I’m going with psychic powers, mind control, and invisibility!
But that was at the same time when discussions about various fictional characters fighting other fictional character was a regular occurrence in my life. I think they’re all interesting, even if many have as yet untapped potential for characters in the game. Animalism of course is the classic underutilized Discipline, but I’d love to see someone do something cool with Necromancy or a player to finally deign to get higher than Level 2 in Auspex.
Thinking about “favorite Disciplines” did get me thinking about how I tend to use them in games though. Now, I've always felt that the truly dangerous character in Vampire is not the specialist, but rather the generalist. I mean, sure it’s impressive to run around with your high melee and crazy amounts of Celerity, but there’s always someone out there who can take you out in a fair fight. Instead, the guy who is really dangerous and “unbalanced” is the guy who has the smarts to figure out your weakness and prey, charming enough to befriend you and gain your trust, and then subtle and manipulative enough to lure you into an ambush you never see coming. At that point, his combat prowess just needs to be “good enough.”
So, given that, I tend to run more “scenario” based Stories, where pretty much anything can be attempted, even if every action does not have an equal chance of success. As such, my players tend to “spread out” their Disciplines, generally getting their preferred Clan ones to around level 3, and then seeking to learn others. In the past, I feel I've been fairly lenient in this regard, but I’m starting to rethink that.
My default approach is to break the Disciplines into three tiers. Tier one are the physical Disciplines of Celerity, Fortitude, and Potence. I've always felt that these are natural extensions of a Kindreds ability to enhance their physical Attributes, and I've allowed these pretty easily. So long as a character has at least 3 in the related Attribute (Dexterity for Celerity, for example), they can buy it at the normal cost. Less than that, and they must first spend time improving that Attribute.
Tier two are the common Disciplines--Animalism, Auspex, Obfuscate, Dominate, & Presence. While still fairly natural to the Kindred, they are inherently weirder and more alien. If they have a teacher, it’s fine and they can learn it. If not, then they have to spend time improving the related Attribute and Skill. So, Wits and Stealth for Obfuscate, or Perception and Alertness for Auspex. Generally I base it off of whatever the Level 1 power requires to be rolled, or whatever “feels right” for that Discipline. Sometimes I’ll waive this requirement or use something else if a character is already particularly strong with these.
Tier three are the unique Disciplines--Protean, Vicissitude, Thaumaturgy, etc. These are so alien and “off” that they require a teacher to even begin learning them, and that teacher must be sufficiently advanced to instruct another. At least Level 3 in most cases. It is impossible for a player to learn these on their own.
I suppose there would be a fourth tier, which would consist of truly unique disciplines that the character creates on their own. However, this has never come in a game I've either player in or run, and so I’ve never really given such Disciplines much thought.
Anyway, this system has worked ok, for the most part. Most characters, after a while of game play, pick up about two or three out of clan Disciplines, generally one or two “physical” and one “common”. I wonder though if there’s not a flaw in my reasoning.
First off, the players never seek out an NPC to learn a new Discipline, cutting off what should be a major Story in the game, and the potential stories that such a Mentorship would open up. Also, this is the “official” way, and I might be missing even more by not following it. Secondly, I worry that I’m short-changing the Brujah. I mean, if it’s pretty easy for anyone to learn Potence and Celerity, then aren't they being kind of “nerfed” compared to the Gangrel and Tremere? If everyone needed a Mentor to learn Potence, then maybe they could reestablish themselves as the kings of direct confrontation. If they were, generally, the only ones with Potence and Celerity, they would definitely put some fear into the “Wareadors” and Gangrel, after all. Finally, as my games have progressed, most of the characters end up with only Level 3 in various Disciplines or less. Level 3 tends to be the “sweet” spot for most Disciplines--Presence lets you make anyone your best friend, Dominate allows to erase memories, Obfuscate lets you look like someone else, etc. Higher levels are more “refined” and only useful in specific cases.
Or maybe not. Maybe by allowing fairly easy purchase of out of Clan Disciplines, I’m encouraging my players to not get what could, with a little practice, be really cool and neat tricks for their characters to do. Also, if I’m nerfing Brujah, aren't I really screwing over Caitiff--after all, their main benefit is starting off with any three Disciplines. If it really isn't that hard to learn new ones, then why deal with the all the side effects of being a Caitiff?
Having thought about this, I've decided to be much more “stingy” as a Storyteller for my upcoming Dark Ages game. The players can not spend starting points (even Freebies) to learn Out of Clan Disciplines, they must learn them in game, either through a mentor of some sort, or by paying dearly for the privilege. This extends to NPC’s as well. In the past if I had an NPC Toreador with, say, 10 Disciplines, they’d probably have 2 Auspex, 3 Celerity, 2 Presence, 1 Potence and 2 Fortitude. This iteration, they’re going to have 3 Auspex, 4 Celerity, and 3 Presence (or whatever, I generally don’t stress about NPC’s stats all that much).
So, I guess I have a question--how do other people handle Disciplines in their games, particularly out of Clan ones? Am I far more liberal than most, or about normal? What’s it like being in a game where the Ventrue can’t easily get Potence or Celerity, but must truly rely on Fortitude to help them when combat starts?