Monday, June 19, 2017

5th Edition Alpha Rules Released!

On June 15th, White Wolf released the "pre-alpha" rules set for the upcoming 5th Edition (download the rules and read the official blog post here). I've been quite interested to see which direction they intend to take the game, but aside from a few dribbles here and there, information has been hard to come by. I download the rules immediately, but have tried to stay out of the wider discussion until I've had a chance to get my own thoughts in order. Here then are those thoughts, with particular attention being paid to the changes from previous editions, what my initial thoughts are on them, and my reservations (if any) for how to implement this new rules. Of course, this is a Pre-Alpha rules set, which means a lot can change between now and Beta, and even more before the actual release. They are trying a few different things, which is exciting, but there no reason to get too excited or melancholic about these rules. It's possible that any or even all of these mechanics have already changed.

Still, though, I think it's worth going through. Consider this an unofficial addendum to my Let's Compare Editions! As the rules are free, though, and only about 48 pages, I encourage anyone interested to download them and check them out for yourself.

Basic Actions
Looks like they're keep the classic dice pool in it's basic form--Attribute + Skill, rolled against a base target of 6. Their are a few changes note, however.

1) They've changed the meaning of difficulty. No longer is it the number you need to roll on each die, but instead it's the number of successes you need to acquire. So, before a ST would say "roll Strength+Athletics, difficulty 6. You'll need 3 Successes." Now it looks like the nomenclature would be "roll Physical + Athletics, difficulty of 3."

This seems fine. I like that they kept the 50/50 odds, which I prefer over the CoD default of 8. I'm less happy about the setting everything to 6 always. One of the reasons I love Storyteller is how flexible it is in resolving issues, and part of that is the ability of the Storyteller to switch up the numbers based on the needs of situation at hand. Sometimes you want a Difficulty of 10, but only need 1 success.  Other times, you want a difficulty of 4, but need 3 successes. It's the flexibility I adore, and I bristle at anything that takes away that flexibility. But, as a basic system, it's fine. If a bit odd in the terminology.

2) They're dropped the individual attributes, and instead you have a broad rating. So instead of Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina, now one merely has a Physical Attribute. You are able to get a "specialty" in each attribute, which works out to +1 in one of the classic attributes--i.e., one could specialize in Strength, or Dexterity, or Stamina.

This seems...fine, all things considered. I never thought having 9 attributes was excessive, but this way might help negate the debates about which attribute should be used for what. Charisma and Manipulation were always the two that caused the most arguments in games I played in, and Appearance often ended up feeling like a waste for some players. Still, having just three seems somewhat boring. At least the specialization tool will allow some degree of variety.

3) Willpower is no longer spent prior to a roll for an automatic success, but instead spent after to re-roll as many as desired.

I actually like this. It's been on my "house rules for next Chronicle" for a while. I didn't "pull the trigger" as I thought this might be too powerful. But, one other change they made helps balance this--now, instead of Willpower being a 1-10 scale, it's a 1-5. Oh, and if you ever need to roll it, you roll current value. So, I'm a fan of this change.

4) Succeed at a Cost. So long as you roll at least SOME success, and are only one success short of the difficulty, you may succeed but something else happens to make things worse. The entire troupe is involved in this discussion, and it only works if everyone, including the Storyteller, is happy with the cost.

I'm torn on this change. On one hand, I like the vibe it puts off, and anything to increase the "chaos" of a game session is a good thing. On the other hand...I'm leery. I dislike any rule that has players directly involved in the "mechanical" part of the game. This isn't some "sacred Storyteller power" thing or the like. Instead, I'm happiest when my players forget about the rules and the mechanics and tropes of the game, and instead focus on playing. I want the Storyteller to worry about the mechanics, and the players to be able to play. There is one thing that makes this a tentative bonus, which is that everyone is involved in the discussion. In other games I've played with similar rules, the burden of being creative fell on the "active" player, and the result wasn't always great. Some could min/max there way out of any problem, others would be paralyzed by indecision, and others just annoyed to be taken out of the moment. These issues should be mitigated with the entire troupe involvement.

5) Take Half. For opposed rolls, the ST is encouraged to "take half." Assume the NPC rolls exactly "average" and move on. So, if they have an eight die pool, assume they get four success. This makes the game faster. and focused on the players action.

This is a subjective thing. I do it sometimes when running these days, but I wouldn't recommend it all the time. The chance and chaos of succeeding against the odds can be great for a game. But, for routine actions, it seems fine. For example, for a guard doing his rounds with no idea there's someone about? Sure, Take Half. For a guard carefully exploring the supply closet after hearing an odd noise, and in which the PC is hiding? Yeah, roll that out. Hell, roll that out in the open and let the dice fall where they may.

6) Other. On top of all that, certain things have been removed. 1's no longer cancel successes, and you can't Botch a roll (though the new Hunger mechanics have their own roll to play, see below). Also, nothing allows you to reroll 10's.

Character Traits
1) Attributes. We covered this above, but one thing to add. In the Design Notes Section, they say the following:
We reduced the number of Attributes from 9 to 3 and created these specializations because this allows players to customize and personalize their characters. Some Brujah, for example, will have Dexterity as their Physical specialization; others will choose Stamina. Not every Brujah is the same!
Maybe I've been running different games than the developers, but I've never run into this particular problem. Sure, certain attributes, such as Dexterity, are more valued than others. But I'm not sure how reducing the number of them allows for more customization. For the "standard spread," it's the same. Now you have a Physical of 3 with a Dexterity Specialization, instead of Str: 3, Dex 4, Sta 3. It only disallows the "odd spread" of, say, Str: 4, Dex 5, Sta 1. Sure, the "odd spread" was always, well, odd, but it fit for certain character concepts.

2) Skills. V5 changes the description of these from "Abilities" to "Skills." They also add two new ones, Physique for pure physical strength actions, and Technology for using modern tech. I guess "Computer" was too specific for this crazy modern age.

The terminology is fine--hell, pretty much everyone already called Abilities "Skills" anyway, and it brings Vampire in line with most other games. The new Skills seem to be fine. Bureaucracy is still gone, which is a shame, since I've always found it to be an incredibly useful skill, and one not easily covered by anything else.

Backgrounds and Merits
Briefly discussed, but are apparently still in "deep development." As such, I can't really comment on anything here. None of the sample characters even have any. 

Willpower
 Discussed above in Basic Rules.

Virtue & Vice
They don't go too deeply into these mechanics, but each character has a Virtue and a Vice. The Vice is your weakness, and surrendering to it gets you back one spent Willpower point.  Following your Virtue gets you back all spent Willpower, but only if great personal risk is involved.

This could be cool. It was an element of Requiem, and it seems a fitting replacement of the old Nature and Demeanor. Honestly, I think I was the only the Storyteller I knew that even tried to bring these aspects into the game, and most players would forget them anyways. There is a risk of subjectivity here, though. As others have pointed out, the Twin Towers were built by Pride, and destroyed by Faith. Not all virtues are always virtuous, after all...

But, beyond the broadest description, there really isn't much in the play test about this.

Conflict
1) Initiative. Initiative is now Mental (Wits)+Highest Combat Skill. It's also a rating, not a roll, so if you have a 3 Mental and a 3 Melee, you're Initiative is always 6. 

At my core, I dislike fixed initiative. I prefer more chaos and uncertainty in my conflicts. And, while I understand the logic of tying it to your combat skill, I also like the idea of someone who isn't a "combat monster" being able to go first and try something before the "bad asses" get into the action. It does, however, speed up combat. This could be good, or irrelevant. I tend to have a big action scene ever two or three sessions. Hell, most of my "action" scenes are more likely to be ambushes and murders, rather than straight up fights. But, if you run with a lot of battles, this could really save a lot of time.

2) Attacking. Melee and Unarmed attacks are now opposed rolls. Ranged attacks may only be dodged. Multiple opponents have a -1 penalty, but it's in sequence. First attack is normal, -1 for the second, -2 for the third, etc. Damage is based on the number of successes attained in the opposed roll, plus bonus for the weapons.

I am REALLY happy with this. Ever since I got back into 1st Edition, I've been using rules similar to these, and I've been having a blast with it. I LOVE the opposed roll take on combat. Though, I suppose you no long split your die pools for multiple actions, though that might be a misreading of the situation on my part.

3) Health and Damage. Health is no longer set to "7" levels, but is instead equal to your Physical Attribute + 5. There are two types of damage, Superficial and Aggravated. What is superficial or not differs between mortals and vampires. Bullets are superficial to vampires, but Aggravated to mortals. Once the Health track is filled, you suffer -2. Further damage converts Superficial to Aggravated. Once your track is full of Aggravated, you either go into a coma (mortal) or torpor (vampire). There's also a random Critical Injury Table. Final death is only possible with decapitation or total body destruction. 

There's no more soaking, but since Physical is tied to your health track, that might be fine. Other than that though, I dig the new damage system. I despised the Revised/V20 setup of  "bashing/lethal/aggravated" damage, and so I'm happy with the V5 Superficial/Aggravated split. I also like how one must deliberately kill another vampire--just clawing them up isn't enough anymore.

Question, though. Does a "Stamina" specialty increase your Health?

Blood, Hunger, and Compulsions
Blood Points are gone, replaced with a 0-5 "Hunger" rating. 0 means you are completely satiated, while 5 means you are ravenous. At it's core, this changes Blood from a "resource management" game to a "risk management" game. The more you use the blood, the more likely you are to lose yourself in your hunger.  You almost always have at least a 1 Hunger. Not only do you wake up this value, but the only way to get to 0 is to kill a mortal. The vast majority of vampires are almost always at least a little hungry, with all the danger that entails.

1) Rousing the Blood. Instead of "spending a Blood Point," one now "Rouses the Blood." The effects are the same--you "Rouse" when you wake up in the evening, use a Discipline,  increase an attribute, etc. 

2) Hunger Dice. To represent your urges, your Hunger rating translates to Hunger Dice. If your Hunger is at 2, your have 2 Hunger Dice. These are part of your dice pool for anything you attempt to do, but they replace normal dice, rather than add. So, if you have a Physical of 3 and Melee of 3 and a Hunger of two, you would roll your attack with 4 normal dice and 2 Hunger Dice, for the total of 6. The Hunger Dice function normally, unless you roll a 1. In that case, a Compulsion kicks in, ranging from whispers in your ear urging you to feed to immediately frenzying. 

If there is one element of V5 that fascinates me, it's the new Hunger mechanics. I like it...I really, really like it. I like it so much I fear that I'm misreading it, or that it will crash and burn in a play test. But for now, I think this is a wonderful improvement on the old system. And not just in the backhanded "hey, they're back to my beloved 1st Ed" of the Combat, but an honest improvement that I never even though to house rule.   

3) Composure.  Composure is a new Trait in V5, and seems to replace the old Virtues of Conscience, Self-Control, and Courage. You spend it like Willpower, and it's primary purposes seems to be resisting the compulsions brought on by your Hunger.

This is probably fine. I think I was the only person I knew who used the Virtues to really guide my roleplaying, and so combining them into one more immediately useful Trait probably makes sense.

4) Increasing Hunger. Just because you "Roused" the blood, doesn't necessarily mean your Hunger increases. Instead, keep track of how many times you "Roused." At the end of the Scene, roll a number of dice equal to that number, and the successes indicates how much your Hunger increases. 

This rule does solve the age old problem of blood expenditure and asking the Storyteller "wait, is this a new scene or the same scene." I do like the uncertainty of how Hungry you are versus how much you've Roused. Maybe you use your blood often, but it doesn't bother you tonight. Tomorrow, even a slight usage of the blood might make you desperate. The Beast isn't logical, and neither should the Hunger rules.

I hate the term "Rouse the Blood" though. Also, I might flip this. Since increasing your Hunger is a bad thing, shouldn't it be your failures increase your Hunger, with successes marking that you are in control? Or at least lucky?

edit: the above comment is incorrect. It's only dice that FAIL that increase your Hunger, not successes. So, the way I wanted it is the way that it is. 

5) Frenzy. They don't go into much for Frenzy, though it seems more or less like the older editions. You use Composure to resist, which makes spending it to resist your Hunger Compulsions a potential risk.

I like the use of Composure to both resist Frenzy and Hunger, but in different ways. Saving it to resist Frenzy means a greater risk of Hunger, and vice versa. 

Appendices.
Appendix 1 a list of potential Compulsions, which can be random. Also, there are sub-tables based on Clan--a hungry Brujah and a hungry Ventrue behave very differently.

I like this. I like how the clan flaws really kick in when you are desperate. And I love random tables. 

Appendix 2 Critical Injury chart.

I have nothing to say about this, except "YAY RANDOM CHART!" 

Appendix 3 Disciplines. Only a few disciplines are described in these rules. Most function the same as we are used to, more or less. With only a few notable changes. 

1) All disciplines and all levels of disciplines require you to Rouse the Blood. Even Dominate 1 or the like. No longer can the Ventrue casually Dominate their way through the night. 

2) The Physical Disciplines are, more or less, "nerfed." For Example, Celerity 1 allows you to double your Initiative and add your Celerity Rating to Physical (Dexterity) rolls. Celerity 2 allows you to Dodge against Ranged attacks with no cover without giving up your next action. It's only at Celerity 3 that you gain a single extra action. 

I actually rather like these changes. They seem to keep the spirit of the Discipline, without allowing them too much power. Though, I've never had a problem with the old rules getting in the way. Sure, the Brujah with a Potence of 3 and a Celerity of 3 can tear through a mortal gang. But, the Ventrue with Dominate 3 and Presence 3 can do so much worse to that gang...

Appendix 4 Skills. Brief overview of the various skills. Not much to add, as they aren't even given the classic "1: Student" through "5: Dated reference to a Celebrity we really dig, or have at least heard of." 

Appendix 5 Generation. A quick and dirty system for Generation. Long story short, your Generation translates into a "Blood Potency" rating. This rating is subtracted from your Rouses to test for Hunger increases (so those of lower Generation can use the blood more freely and get Hungry less often), is added to the Compulsion table (so when they DO get hungry, it's far more intense than a higher generation vampire), and subtracted from the amount of Hunger lost when feeding (so lower generation vampires need to feed more often and from "better" sources.)

I'm leery of this, if only because "the upside to a lower Generation is able to do more crazy things, and the downside is you do more crazy things" might appeal to exactly the wrong sort of player. Otherwise, it seems fine. 

So, those are my thoughts on the Pre-Alpha rules. There's a lot here I like, some I'm unsure about, and a few I dislike. Though, most of that is terminology, an easy house rule, or something I'm sure they'll change soon. I'm actually surprised how much I like the changes, at least as presented here. A lot will undoubtedly change between now and final release, but I still encourage everyone to download these rules and give them a whirl.

As for me, reading the rules are one thing, but playing is a different thing all together. I have my own play test coming up soon, and so there will be a follow up post coming shortly. Also, the Play Test Packet included an adventure, which I'll be running. That will also be discussed in a different post (edit: here!). 

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