Friday, June 23, 2017

Vampire 5th Edition, After Action Report

I was finally able to run a game with the 5th Edition play-test rules, using the provided scenario The Last Night.  I've posted previously my thoughts on the new rules based on a read through, but seeing them in action is a different thing all together.  This post will be divided into two sections--the first on the rules, and the second on the scenario.


In general, I like the new rules. Of course, the ones provided are very limited. There are significant aspects from the game missing, including some very basic ones. This is not a set or rules I'd hand to a new Gamemaster who wants to run their own game for the very first time. But, the audience is clearly for those who are already playing Vampire, so that's fine.

But, more or less, my initial impressions wore born out in the play 

The only real complaint is how many things one needs to keep track of with the new system. Willpower, Composure, Hunger, and Rouses all fluctuate throughout the game, and each needs to be tracked and altered on a near constant basis. Having tokens or the like might help with this, but we were playing over Roll20. Despite their design goal to simplify and speed up the majority of the mechanics, there seems to be a lot more book keeping associated with these rules. Each rule works well on it's own, but in total it can be distracting. I generally prefer the rules to play as little role as possible in the Story, and let the players focus on their characters and what they're trying to accomplish. Having to constantly track every little thing can snap you out of that.
The Last Night

I'm not terribly good at reading a module. It's one of the problems I have as a Gamemaster in general. And it's one of the reasons I spent so much time going through Transylvania Chronicles--because when I just read the adventure, I often miss some critical things that only end up haunting me later. And there were some issues that only became apparent in play.

But, first, the adventure is decent, particularly for a play-test. It showed off the rules, everyone seemed to have a good time, and it had enough tension and energy to last the entire session. Of course, I am judging it as a con/play test module, rather than a standard module like Alien Hunger, let alone an epic like Giovanni or Transylvania.  Which means I imagine the writing process went something like this: 1) come up with some cool scenes to show off the rules, 2) come up with something resembling a plot to tie these scenes together, and 3) create characters that will follow said plot. Fortunately in my play through, the character of Amelina was more or less sidelined for most of it, so that element of the game was downplayed. Though I did follow +Jennifer Fuss 's advise and age up her feeding to teenagers.

For as much as I liked it, I did run into a few problems. Some the result of the developers, some due to my players being clever assholes, and some just due to random fate. Let's tackle them in reverse order:

No Module Survives Contact With the Players

So, the characters begin the game hanging out in a casino, talking about what's been going down lately. For some reason, it's extremely late and they all should be finding new havens after the chaos, but that's just the way things are. Suddenly, there's a terrorist attack on a club they have every reason to believe a "friend" of theirs might be at and after some debate they all head over to it. So far, so good.

The module is well-written enough to provide multiple paths to get to the club. Sneaking around alleyways, jumping over roof tops, bluffing you way past the distracted police, using Disciplines, etc. My players thought "yes" to all these options, and split up, each approaching the club on their own. Which means even when they got into the club, they were still not "together," instead running around on their own, all trying to do their own thing. Which was fine, until they found the stairs into the cellar. The stairs are very delicate and about ready to collapse, which the first player down discovered. The second player was leery of them, and decided to just try to jump down it, to avoid them all together. I had him make a roll to pull it off without hurting himself, and he failed, but by one. I gave them an option to succeed at a cost, that he could land without getting hurt if something else bad happened. They all voted to have crash into the stairs. Well, there go the stairs, and half the coterie is now stuck on the ground level.

They got to spend the rest of the module dealing with the cops.

Clever Girl

So, one of the PC's is the main villain of the piece (um...spoilers? I guess. Whatever, this is an After Action Report!). And I deliberately gave that character to the most experience Vampire player in the group. He was smart, he was clever, he was a freaking monster, and he easily "won" the game. And he did it by playing Bruno as presented.  And Bruno is presented as bitter, petty, jealous and, above all else, Patient. As soon as they entered the club, he activated his Obfuscate and just watched what everyone was doing. Later, when challenged, he had a reasonable excuse for why he wasn't there. He took the minimal actions necessary to screw over the coterie, and watched with glee from the shadows as they ran themselves ragged thanks to his actions. Actions which led them into direct conflict with the Anarchs of Berlin, and their brutal beating and capture.

My Players Don't Need Any Help Turning On Each Other

My favorite module for Vampire remains Alien Hunger. It's just a wonderful setup for a one-shot/micro-Chronicle. The players begin as mortals who are friends, or at least friendly. They are then turned into vampires, have to experience the horror and blood lust of the change, and are forced to work together to face the challenges that come with their new existence. And each time, but the end of the Story, the coterie has torn itself apart. Either due to morality, ethics, tactics, or just personality--they group never survives in tact.

In The Last Night, they group is already at each others throats. Some are utter monsters, others want to kill other members. And one of them is actively and deliberately working to destroy the whole thing. I know the new developers of Vampire are heavily influenced by Nordic-Style LARPS, where heightened emotion and personal struggles are emphasized, while "traditional" challenges (solving mysteries,  for example) are down played or non-existent. But, by creating characters who are so obviously at odds with each other, it almost hindered the ability of the players to make the characters their own. Just having four characters who were basically only together because of Andre, and who had their own view of the world and their place in it would have resulted in a far more organic inter-coterie conflict. And one I think would have been a lot more enjoyable. 

In fact, the one significant critique of the session came from the player of Bruno, who felt he was playing an NPC to the game, with little freedom of action. He had his goals, he had the personality, skills, and contacts necessary to accomplish them, and he spend most of his time "off camera." I would have been happier if the dissolution of the coterie resulted from the choices of the players, rather than from those of the writers. 

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