Friday, October 6, 2017

Ravenous House Rules: Downtime

As part of my new Ravenous game, I'm implementing a few House Rules. Some are ideas I've been mulling over for Vampire for a while (the Downtime system) while others are more custom for this particular Chronicle (Experience and Out of Clan Disciplines). 

The first is the Downtime rules. Two things have always bothered me a bit with Vampire. The first is the tendency of the game to fall into a "night by night" kind of situation, where each session flows into the next and adventure piles on adventure and after a year of unlife, the characters have the stats of Elders and the whole city is a smoking ruin behind them. The second (related) is the speed in which characters develop--they start off barely able to load a gun (Firearms 1) and after a few months of play, they're the greatest shooters in the world (Firearms 5). 

Which is absurd...each dot represents an exponential increase in ability. Science of 1 is a High School student--and a particularly nerdy one at that. Science Club, Science Fair, AP classes, etc. Science 2 is someone with a BS in Physics, someone who has spent years studying the subject. 3? That's a Masters Degree. 4? Doctorate, and a recognized expert in the field (NOTE: Someone who went to some fourth-tier school or barely understood what was going on (but Daddy's money talks louder than grades) might have a lower actual Ability, regardless of Degree) And 5? Man, that's "has defining Theories named after you"/Nobel Prize Contender level. 

Obviously, Vampire is a game, and as such is designed to reflect more "movie reality" than "real reality"--a Physicist with Science 4 can still dissect a corpse and whip up a batch of meth if needed. But, still.

The solution for this is to impose a system of Downtime. After each Story reaches its natural conclusion, there will be a break. It won't be enforced too strictly, since each Story ends more or less when the troupe agree it does. This is not a "module" game, after all, though a successful "hunt" is a reasonable point to end a particular story. In any case, the break will still happen, and this is when the players get to spend their characters Experience Points. They obviously still acquire Experience in the game, but can only actually spend these points and so improve their characters during Downtime.

How long is Downtime? It varies. It could be a week or two, or a few months, or whatever. Longer periods of time will link together multiple Downtimes. During Downtime, characters generally go about their lives as they see fit. Healing any wounds they might have accrued, feeding as they wish, screwing around and just doing whatever it is that they do in their eternal nights. But, one can do more, if you're willing to push yourself. It's hard--there's blood out there to be had, Netflix just released a new show you really want to binge, and there's an awesome new Podcast you've been meaning to catch up on. The world is full of idle distraction, but one can try to pull themselves away from the mere basics of living (or unliving) and strive for something more. But to do that, they need to spend ACTIONS.

Every character has a number of Actions they can take during Downtime, equal to their permanent Willpower score. These represent the effort it takes to go "above and beyond." Sure, we'd all like to think we'd dutifully go to the gym every day and work though the routines in the correct and balanced manner, using Rosetta Stone to finally learn a new language, and practicing our Chess moves--but all that takes effort and focus. Hence the Actions limiting how much you can reasonably do. Each thing a character wants to do during Downtime, above and beyond the most basic, requires ACTIONS. How many depends on what they are trying to accomplish.

1) Improving your character (Attributes, Abilities, Disciplines): Improving a character requires a number of Actions equal to the DESIRED level. So, if the character has a melee of 2 and wants to get a 3, it costs 3 Actions. They still need to spend the necessary XP, of course. This represents the time and focus spent in hitting the gym, reading the necessary books, talking with mortals and trying to get them to believe your increasingly absurd stories, etc. Any given element (Attribute, Ability, Discipline, Virtue, etc) can only be increased by one per Downtime.

In the Pack Creation rules, I included "Knowledge" as a Pack Trait. That Trait is tied to this. These rules assume that the characters have the basic resources needed to improve themselves. If they don't (such as having the desired trait at a particularly high rating, or they've been deliberately cutting themselves off from the world), then it costs double the normal amount of Actions. 

2) Improving Backgrounds: Personal Backgrounds can also be improved during Downtime, though these can also increase as a result of actions taken in game. First, it costs 1 Action to find the necessary Opening (the business opportunity, the bribable clerk, the desperate mortal, etc), and the character needs to make an appropriate roll--if successful, they have the Opening. If not, they can try again at a higher difficulty (which is "reset" in the next Downtime). If they find such an Opening in a Story, then this cost is, naturally, ignored. 
Once a successful Opening is discovered, they will then need to spend a number of Actions equal to the desired level (as above), and make an appropriate roll. Success, and they now possess that Background at the desired level. Failure, they will need to start over be searching for a new Opening. Like other elements, any given Background can only improve by a value of 1 per Downtime.

3) Improve Pack Backgrounds: If appropriate (ST's decision), players may attempt to work together to improve the Packs Backgrounds. In which case, they can pool their Actions and their efforts. Player 1 might spend an Action finding the Opening, while Player 2 spends an Action to get the desired Level. Meanwhile, Player 3 is making all the necessary rolls (he's just being brought in for the final meetings, the others are doing all the leg work). Again, this is limited to one "dot" per Downtime.

4) Defending Backgrounds. Mortals die, they forget their loyalties and flake off, or get arrested for stupid reasons. Businesses fail. Fame is forgotten. The universe tends to entropy. Each Background requires a single Action to Defend it per Downtime, to prevent it from falling. This represents hanging out with Allies, talking with various Contacts, tending to business and making sure ones pawns aren't screwing everything up, keeping  ghouls in line so they don't start eating cats and dogs and getting caught by cops, etc. It also lets a character know if a rival is trying to mess with their Backgrounds. Failure to spend this Action means there's a chance that the undefended Background might degenerate (ST rolls the background, and on a botch the Background is reduced by 1). Of course, the player will have no way of knowing if the sudden loss of a Background is the result of mere fate, or the nefarious schemes of others unless they keep a close eye on things.

Like personal Backgrounds, Pack ones need to be Defended as well. Such "bullshit" tasks are often relegated to the newest and lowest status members. 

Easy workaround: Retainers. A character can "tie" a Background to a particular Retainer. Maybe she's the "face" for all of the characters Contacts, or manages their business, or whatever. That way the character needs to only Defend the "Retainers" background, and then let the minions worry about keeping tab of everything else. Of course, if anything happens to those retainers...

Easier workaround: fuck Backgrounds, you're Sabbat. Why should you care in the first place? You just take/Dominate whatever you need.

5) Other Tasks. Sometimes a player wishes to have their character do something else during Downtime--research a clue they found in the last Story, establish a safe house, hang out with a different Pack and just get to know them better, or whatever. These generally cost a single Action, though more may be required for particularly complicated tasks.

That's a lot of Actions! I only have so much Willpower!
Yeah, it's a bit of a resource management mini-game. BUT, they don't need to spend it all at once! They can partial them out over various Downtimes, representing a longer and slower path to improvement. Let's look at an example character, we'll call him Steve. Steve has a Willpower of 6, and thus 6 Actions per Downtime. Steve really wants to increase his Melee to 2, so he spends 2 Actions on that--he's sparring with other Pack members, taking fencing classes at the local College, and doing a lot of self-directed study. He managed to get 6 Experience Points in the last Story, and so he will have a Melee of 3 at the beginning of the new Story. Steve now has 4 Actions left. He decides to spend 2 to help out the Pack. The 1st is spent working on getting the drug trade bringing in some damn money--the Pack took out the old leadership in the last Story, now they're all trying to figure out how to get it operation again. He's not making any rolls, just doing the leg work for others. He also spends another setting up a Safe House in Downtown, so they have a place to crash during the day in future adventures--the Packs main base is out in the suburbs, and traveling all those hours can be a significant liability. The ST decides this also doesn't require a roll.  After helping out his Pack, Steve still has 2 Actions left. He goes ahead and dedicates 1 to his Celerity and 1 to his Dexterity. He knows he wants to increase them sooner or later, but both will require a large number of Actions, and an even greater amount of Experience. He's banking the Actions in advance, so he can improve them as soon as he has the Experience available. 

This is in "beta"!
Like all House Rules, there's always a degree of "flux" with these rules. I haven't really play tested in anything resembling a long term Chronicle, so these are subject to change one confronted with reality. 

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