Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Vampire Primer

Vampire is a role-playing game in which the players take on the role of vampires in the modern world (Masquerade) or the medieval one (Dark Ages).  Various supernatural entities exist, and their struggles take place in the shadows. Vampires, in particular, take care to not be noticed by humans, as they are vulnerable during the day. In the Dark Ages, this is a crude and brutal “Silence.” In the modern days, this requires a more delicate and subtle “Masquerade.”

There are six main versions of Vampire. Four for Masquerade (1st, 2nd, Revised, and 20th Anniversary) and three for Dark Ages (Vampire:Dark Ages, Dark Ages: Vampire, and Dark Ages 20th Anniversary), with an official 5th on its way. There’s not a huge difference between the editions (though I talk about some of them here), and I tend to mix them all together. All in all, any such differences are slight, and more a matter of preference.

Kindred: another term for vampire
Kine: the vampires term for humans/mortals.
Clan: vampires are divided into a number of clans, which share certain characteristics. Similar to a “class” in other RPG’s.
Vitae: fancy name for blood, the key to a vampires survival.
Storyteller: Vampire’s name for “Game Master.”
Coterie: Vampire’s name for “party.”
Frenzy: sometimes a vampire can’t control themselves, and they go into pure Flight or Fight mode. They suffer no penalties for being damaged, but have no say in what they kill or where they run to.
Generation: all vampires trace their lineage to a mythical founder (dubbed “Caine” in the Modern Nights), and Generation is how far from that founder they are. “Lower” Generation is better than “higher” generation—a 5th Generation vampire is closer to Caine than a 10th, after all. It also dictates how potentially powerful the characters—those of lower Generation can support more blood, spend it faster, and have the potential to exceed the mechanical limits of the system.
Humanity: In addition to a moral code (see below) the general sense of control and humanness the character possesses. It is intrinsically opposed to the Beast.
Beast: the primal, preternatural killer that lurks inside each vampire, driving them to hunt, feed, kill, and sleep. Nothing but bare necessities matters to the Beast, and balancing its needs and hungers with a characters own desires is a key part of the game, lest they descend into a mindless monstrosity.

Basic Rules
Characters are broadly defined by their Attributes and their Abilities (what other games would simply call “skills”).  There are nine attributes divided into three broad categories: Physical (Strength, Dexterity, Stamina), Social (Charisma, Manipulation, Appearance), and Mental (Perception, Intelligence, Wits).  There are a number of Abilities, but these are still pretty board categories. “Brawl,” for example, covers all sorts of hand to hand combat fighting. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Kung Fu master, a champion boxer, or an Olympic wrestler, Brawl is the key Ability.
All values are rated on a value of 0 to 5, but this is an exponential curve. Someone with a 1 Strength is barely able to move under their power, and most likely needs assistance. Someone with a 5 Strength regularly competes and wins in “world’s strongest man” contests. A 1 in Science is a smart High Schooler. A 5 is a Nobel Laureate.

Attributes and Abilities work together to resolve the vast majority of all challenges in the game. The character declares what they hope to do, and the Storyteller decides which Attribute and which Ability to roll. You add those values together to create a dice pool. You then roll that number of D10’s. The Storyteller decides on the difficulty (the default is 6, but varies based on circumstance). Each result that equals or exceeds that number is treated as a success.  A “1” removes a success. If you roll even a single 1 and no other successes, you botch. If you roll no successes, it’s a failure. 1-2 successes is a “bare minimum,” 3-4 is a “full success,” and 5+ is treated as a “complete success” or a “critical” in other systems.

Certain combinations make sense (such as Dexterity + Stealth for creeping into a building at night), but Abilities and Attributes aren’t linked together. For example, you might roll Charisma + Stealth to blend into a party or Dexterity + Investigation to gather finger prints.

Some rolls are simple—the character rolls against the difficulty and hopes to get at least one success (though sometimes more are required). Example: climbing a wall requires a Dexterity + Athletics roll, and each success indicated 10’ are climbed. Others are opposed, in which two characters roll their dice in opposition to each other. For example, Character A is lying to Character B. Character A would roll Manipulation + Subterfuge opposed by Character B’s roll of Wits + Subterfuge. Whoever gets the most successes wins the contest.

Combat is divided into two types—Close combat (using Melee and Brawl Abilities) and Ranged (using Firearms and Archery). Close combat is resolved with opposed rolls—both sides roll their attacks, and the winner is the one who has the chance to do damage. Ranged is simple roll for each, and the only defense is either being in cover (which increases the difficulty), or divvying for cover (Dexterity + Dodge, with the difficulty being based on how close cover is). Damage is based on the weapon (which includes ones Strength for close combat) and the number of successes one gets on the attack roll. These are combined to form a dice pool, which is rolled against a difficulty of 6. For example, a character successfully hits with a dagger. The dagger does the characters Strength + 1. So, if a character with a 2 Strength barely hit with a dagger, their damage dice pool would be 2 (Strength) + 1 (dagger) + 1 (successes on it) for a total of 4. Each success on damage roll indicate 1 Health Level of damage is inflicted. Most characters have 7 Health Levels. As a character takes more and more damage, they also suffer Wound Penalties which reduce their effective dice pools. These penalties can be ignored when in Frenzy or if a character spends a Willpower Point (see below).  
Vampires and other supernaturals can attempt to Soak the damage, by rolling their Stamina + Armor (and Fortitude, the supernatural Discipline of toughness, if they have it). Mortals can only use their armor. Each success on the soak roll reduces the damage inflicted by one.

Disciplines are the supernatural gifts of the undead, which vary based on ones Clan. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Animalism Communicate with and Control Animals
  • Auspex Supernatural Senses (including aura reading and, later, telepathy)
  • Celerity Supernatural Speed
  • Dominate Mind Control
  • Fortitude Supernatural Toughness
  • Obfuscate Invisibility
  • Potence Supernatural Strength 
  • Presence Supernatural Charisma (including emotion control)
  • Protean Shapechanging
  • Thaumaturgy Magic

Backgrounds are the general term for the rest of the characters life, not covered by the stats. Allies, Contacts, Resources (money) and the like are covered by Backgrounds.

Virtues Vampire is a game of morality and choice, and each character has three virtues which defines their limits—generally Conscience, Self-Control, and Courage. These define the characters limits, and how far are they willing to go, or how well they can hold themselves back. In the tabletop game, these are reactive—players roll them after a character acts. In the Solo game, I often use them proactively—they define what a care will do, or what they can’t bring themselves to do.

Humanity (also Road/Path). The general limit of the characters morality and ethics. Each of these is rated 1-10, each with a corresponding “sin” for each level. For example, Humanity 1 is “the most depraved and inhumane acts” and a 10 is “thinking selfish thoughts.” Humanity changes based on role-playing.  A character has no issues with actions whose sins are above their rating, but must roll Conscience for sins equal to or lower than their current rating.

Willpower is how strong willed a character is. It is generally used for three things. First, to resist certain supernatural abilities, like Dominate (the Discipline of mind control). Secondly, each point of Willpower can be spent to grant a character an automatic success on a roll. Finally, it can be used to ignore wound penalties for one round. Willpower so spent can only be regained by rest (one per day) or by accomplishing a significant and personal goal. Only one point of Willpower can be spent per round.

Bloodpool is, simply, how much blood a character is capable of carrying within themselves. This is generally 10, though those of lower Generation can have significantly larger pools. Each point in the bloodpool is called a blood point. Characters can spend these to wake up in the evening (one point per day spent automatically on waking up), to heal (one blood point heals one Health Level of Damage), to increase their Physical Attributes by one (limited by Generation), and to utilize certain Disciplines (Celerity, or supernatural speed, requires blood, whereas Dominate does not). Most vampires can only spend a single blood point per round, though those of significantly lower generation can spend more.

And that’s the basics. It’s actually a fairly simple and elegant system in play, but if there’s anything I failed to explain clearly, please let me know in the comments below!

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