Thursday, November 5, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 9 -- Examples of Play

Let’s Compare the different editions of Vampire: The Masquerade
Examples of Play

Pretty much every role-playing game contains some section which serves as an "Example of Play." These short vignettes serve to show the rules and mechanics "in action," and can serve as a wonderful learning tool for the reader. For some, particularly those new to RPGs in general, these can help to give some idea of what, exactly, one is supposed to do with this bizarre book you find in front of you. For veterans, they help to show off what makes this particular game different or unique from the other games you might be familiar with.

Some use a simple example of a round or two of combat. Understandable, as combat is often the trickiest and most complicated part of any given RPG. But even at its most basic, some form of narrative inevitably is involved in these examples. After all, even a battle against orcs in a dungeon implies some sort "dungeon" and "adventurers" who feel the need to battle these particular "monsters." Of course, most games, particularly those that value "Storytelling" as Vampire does, require a bit more of a narrative to explain who is in conflict, what they're fighting over, and what each participant hopes to gain from the conflict.

And it's in this narrative that we can see a change in, for lack of a better term, the core theme of each of the editions of Vampire. I doubt the various authors gave these Examples terribly much thought. After all, they're core goal here is to show the rules in action, and aid the novice Storyteller in understanding how all these moving part intersect. But it's almost because the narrative takes a back seat in the writing that certain ideas and concepts become revealed. Whether intended or not, the various Examples of Play are revealing more than just the rules, but also examples of how the game "should" be played, and informing the reader that "these types of scenarios you can expect to see in your Chronicles."

I honestly don't know if the various Examples actually came from the authors own experience or their own games. Well, I know the 1st ed one did, as it's a scene from Ashes to Ashes. But, I have no idea of the origin of the Examples in 2nd or Revised. Unsurprisingly, V20 uses Revised's Example.

Our point of view character is Elucid a Nosferatu, though he will soon met up with the Brujah Travis and the Gangrel Malcolm. Elucid heads to a meeting the city's anarch community in an old abandoned brewery. The characters are present for a speech by Juggler, who seeks to unite the various anarchs under his leadership. The meeting is interrupted by Sheriff (not THE Sheriff, just Sheriff), who gives the group a stern talking to, with threat of immolation of the entire building if the dare oppose him. His thuggery bushes Elucid to the limit, and a fight erupts between Sheriff, his deputies, and the anarchs. The fight eventually makes it way to the roof, where Sheriff's cronies light the place on fire, as the battle spills over to the rough of a neighboring building. The battle eventually breaks the skylight, and attracts the attention of not only the customers, but a powerful Elder as well. Elucid is able to resist the Dominate attempt, and the three characters escape together into the sewers.

Our point of view character is Clarissa, a Toreador seeking her missing sire. She is joined by the Malkavian Ian, a friend along more for the company than anything else. They head into the Shadowlawn Memorial Cemetary, where they meet Dre, a Brujah who claims the cemetery as his turf. The three argue briefly, until Dre allows the other two the freedom to explore, though with him keeping an eye on them. Soon, they come upon Sheriff, Michael (also a Toreador), and a ghoul. Dre must hold his temper, as the two Elders desecrate his hommies grave site. Michael presents Sheriff the bloody ring of Clarissa's sire, which drives her into a frenzy. Battle is soon joined, and while the characters are able to gain a temporary upper hand, Sheriff is able to make a quick get away. They have all made powerful enemies this night, and are left with more questions than answers.

Our point of view character is Jillian, a Toreador seeking her missing sire. After languorously feeding from a member of her herd, she heads to a night club to meet DMZ, a Gangrel gangsta. They speak about recent happenings, until the Nosferatu MortyxX creeps up to them, with fresh information about strange shipments in the barrens, potentially from the Sabbat, and Jillian's sires scarf. They head to the barrens; while Jillian and DMZ bicker, MortyxX blatantly grabs a whore and drains her. They then attempt to sneak into the abandoned tenement building, attracting the attention of the ghoul protectors. Between the Gangrel's claws, the Toreador's Presence, and the Nosferatu's Obfuscate, the coterie makes short work of the ghouls.

So, what are the actual differences between these Examples and what, if anything, can they tell us about the editions they are part of? For me, the main difference is between how the characters relate to the factions within the Camarilla and who their enemies are. In 1st, the characters are clearly aligned with the Anarchs. They may not all agree with everything the Anarchs stand for, and they might even like the leadership of the Anarchs, but it is the only "home" they have. In 2nd the characters are still "Anarchs," but more so because of their own personal desires and goals set them inherently at odds with the Prince and the Elders. In both cases, their immediate foe is Sheriff, the "enforcer" for the Prince and the imposer of the Elders will.

Once we get to Revised, the situation changes. The characters have no explicit position in the "War of Ages." Only one character, DMZ, seems to take the Anarch movement seriously. In fact, Jillian's internal monologue states this explicitly. When MortyxX reveals his true face and straight up murders a mortal, she thinks about how such an act is far more rebellious than all of DMZ's "talk." The Anarch/Elder struggle is no longer of much importance,  Instead, their foes now are ghouled minions of the Sabbat. This is part of the general change in the core conflict of the game over time, as it morphed from one of age, with the neonates raging against the Elders, to one of faction. 

There's also a relatively humorous element in these, as the authors try to handle "street" culture. I always appreciated how inclusive Vampire has always tried to be, encouraging inclusiveness in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and socio-economic background.  But it can also seem tone deaf in some of these situations as well, as individuals who are clearly not from a given group attempts to play a member of that group. Most blatantly when it's a white male suburbanite trying to play a black gang member. But, they're trying, and trying to do it in as honest a way as possible. I'm certainly in no real position to judge, and what works or doesn't work for any given troupe is one thing, but it sure sounds odd when written up in these Examples.

Also, what's the deal with the names in Revised? To an extent, I get it. I mean, the '90's were weird, and the internet was just taking off, but who could ever take DMZ and MortyxX seriously? Among fellow players, their names would quickly morph to "Dee" (for those who are trying to be nice) or "Dims" (for those who aren't). And MortyxX? Yeah, he'd be "Morty" five minutes into the first session. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- ACT XII

Transylvania Chronicles IV
The Dragon Ascendant
Act XII: Revelations

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: It's the year 2000. One of the characters receives a phone call from Lucita. She needs the coterie to meet with her and Anatole, as he has had another of his prophetic visions. If the players no longer possess the ivory tablets from Dark Tides Rising, then she has managed to acquire them, and informs the characters that the language appears to be proto-Chinese. After delivering his final message, Anatole and Lucita leave. Soon after, a torrential storm erupts and the players receive another message, this one from Celestyn, former Chief Librarian for the Tremere at Ceoris. He offers the coterie great knowledge in exchange for their aid in stopping the rise of Kupala. The characters travel to Romania to meet with him, only to be ambushed by a cult of Nosferatu acting on behalf of their Antediluvian master. During their victory over the Nosferatu (or their escape, if captured), the characters are able to rescue Celestyn, who then guides them to meet Ying Lei, a Kuei-Jin geomancer who has been sent to aid in the unraveling of the mystical network forged by Zelios. With information from Celestyn, Ying Lei, and interrogation of the Nosferatu prisoners, the coterie learns that Nosferatu seeks to utilize Romania's secret nuclear weapon system, empowered by the ley line web, to destroy New York. A massive earthquake strikes Romania, as the delicate mystical web begins to shatter. Ying Lei can translate the tablets, revealing Saulot's plans to both save the world, and elevate himself to the status of God. The characters must hide as best they can in the wreckage and destruction, and the next day make their way to the Cernavoda nuclear power plant, where they must work to save the plant from going critical, while fighting attacks from more Nosferatu cultists. Successful, the players see the hidden missiles launch, and then blink out of existence, hidden by the Antediluvian's power. They then must gain access to the control bunker, defeat the stationed soldiers, and attempt to Abort the missiles. Having done so, they are approached by the mocking figure of Kupala itself. Informing them that the web that has bound it for so long compels it to keep the missiles flying. The coterie is presented with an offer--free Kupala, or allow New York and Bejing (it's complicated) to burn. Assuming they free the demon, the bargain is upheld and it departs.

Key Factors: Have the ivory tablets translated, stop the nuclear holocaust.

And they never bother to bring in
actual Kupala worship.
Initial Thoughts: Um...huh. So...that's how it all ends. I'm really not sure what to make of this Act. I know that I'm disappointed, as it certainly was nothing like I was expecting. I still have no idea what Kupala is or what the hell this creature wants. I'm fine with some ambiguity, but this truly did not feel like any sort of ending at all.

In fact, it's not. There's additional information about hunting down the resting place of various Antediluvians (a piece of information Celestyn provides for the characters aid), Kupala remains free to wreck havoc (I guess?), and the only thing that marks it as an 'ending' is the final dissolution of the ley line nexus the players helped forge hundreds of years ago. Oh, and all the Signs of Gehenna have come to pass.

There's two ways to look at Act XII, as a general standalone adventure, and as the final piece to an epic, centuries long campaign. As a standalone, I'd rate is as middling. It's exciting--you are, after all, racing to stop nuclear missiles from killing millions and wrecking the Earth. There's some very cool and tense scenes, and some fun and interesting fights. But, it's also extremely linear, with the players choices more or less reduced to specific tactics in any given scene. Also, the characters can't really fail. Well, I suppose they could, if one was willing to continue the campaign in either a World War III scenario or in the face of Nuclear Winter, which is something the authors strongly argue against. Personally, I'm of the opinion that a Storyteller should never put a bomb in a story unless they're willing for it to go off, so that also counts a strike against it for me.

Nukes and vampires! C'mon, it'd be awesome!
As the grand finale? It's even less satisfying. Assuming you ran the Chronicles "straight," you're still looking at roughly six months of game play, at a minimum. Easily more, if the Storyteller added their own personal content to the game. Despite the high stakes drama, I don't feel that it works. And the authors don't seem to have intended it to be the end, merely the final story that they were going to publish. I'm not sure if the fault is in this last Act itself, or in the Chronicles as a whole, but I'm left with a general feeling of disappointment in the whole mess.

Vampire is not a game like D&D, where you can generally easily guess or assume various characters motivations, which allows you to create long running epics. It's intended to be more personal, more focused on the individual characters. Should they have brought back in Dracula? For someone like me, well, no, the less that bastard is around the better. But, others might really like the Impaler; some even end up falling in love with him. Honestly, given all his build up, he probably should have featured somehow in this Act, but how would one make that work?

A number of readers have taken mild issue with some of my complaints in this series. Many have run or played the Chronicles multiple times, and had great experiences with it. My hat is off to them, though many do admit to telling their own stories by the time the modern day comes around, and skipping the "official" story. Which is probably for the best. When I read or run an adventure series like the Chronicles, I'm willing to tweak things here and there (which was the original intent of this series, after all), but I'm trading money and a certain degree of creative freedom in exchange for an expected amount of quality and narrative thrills. I'm not sure, in this case, that the trade was worthwhile.

Of course, it is possible that, like Shakespeare, the Chronicles "play" better than it reads. Since I started this series, I've deliberately shut myself off from the other takes on them. Perhaps now I will look up the various websites dedicated to the Chronicles and the various "actual play" threads on forums and the like to get a better sense of how others handled it. I would love to have my take challenged and my eyes opened to new, and better ways to play this iconic chronicle.

It's difficult to say. Assuming I was running the Chronicles "straight," I would do a few things different.
Poor bastard, never even got to say goodbye
  • The primary Nosferatu antagonist is Mihail. He's a fanatic, but also dominated into obedience by his Antediluvian master. I'd replace him with Zelios. Not only is he much, much older (and therefore a far more interesting threat), but the players know him. He's an ally, and a potential friend, who has been turned against them by the Ancient--battling him would hopefully have far more pathos than a brand new foe. Canonically, it appears Zelios "disappears" in the sewers of New York, which is a narrative waste for the Chronicles.
  • Replace Celestyn and Ying Lee. First off, I don't particularly like Kindred of the East in my Masquerade games (I actually think KotE is a cool game, I just think the two stand better on their own). Secondly, again, they don't know who these people are. Picking NPC's from previous stories, or, hell even Lucita and Anatole, would give a greater urgency and passion to the story.
  • The final race into the reactor and the bunker should be trippy. I did like the idea of "what once was magic is now science" element, but I want something different. I want more than just rain storms and earthquakes, I want the world to feel like it's coming apart at the seems. Make the entire trip bizarre, and alien. Have slaughtered sires and betrayed childer show up to the characters, to torment and confuse them. Have sudden nuclear explosions burn characters alive, only for them to come to and realize it was never real. Have them take the part of Nosferatu in his murder of the 2nd Generation, and then take the part of Arikel to reject him. Have players flash back to their mortal lives, and go through a "Last Temptation" before being returned to the horror of what they've become. That thing that really scared the players 6 Acts ago? Bring it back. That NPC that made them all laugh--he's there, either as comedic relief or as tragic counterpoint. Do something to make this at least the emotional climax of the entire Chronicle, even if it's not the narrative one.
That's all I can think of for now. Though having read the Chronicles, I'm not sure I'd ever honestly try running it "straight." I just don't feel I'm the target audience for a product like this. I don't care about nor particularly enjoy "canon," either as a Storyteller or a Player. I don't care about meeting someone from a supplement or a novel, and I don't want to be there to 'witness' major historical events. I've certainly used the canon, but as a jumping off point for my own Chronicles.

And I've never cared about Gehenna. I mean, it works great as a looming threat, always in the background, always 'coming' but never arriving. Something to motivate dangerous and delusional actions, but not anything to ever actually come to pass. The signs and prophecies, when literal, just bore me and take me out of the game.

I might change my mind with more thought and reading on others games, but for now I just feel disappointed with the Chronicles, and feel that it was a wasted opportunity.

(Transylvania Chronicles IV: The Dragon Ascendant, written by Brian Campbell, Jackie Cassada, and Nicky Rea. Published by White Wolf Publishing, Inc. 2000. Available for purchase at drivethrurpg.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 8 -- Disciplines

Let’s Compare the different editions of Vampire: The Masquerade

Ah, Disciplines, the "fun" part of the game. Why bother playing Vampire if you don't get to play around with crazy and bizarre supernatural powers? Normally, I wax a bit philosophical before getting into the "meat" of any particular issue, but this time it's all about the mechanics and the fun.

One thing before we get started, though. In the earlier editions, the Disciplines weren't all published in the base book; most of them were scattered throughout various supplements. I've tried to stick with some of the more or less "core" disciplines, and only those of the the modern/non-Dark Ages Kindred. In addition to the various "core" books, here's the sources: Players Guide, 1st Edition, Players Guide, 2nd Edition, Hunter's Hunted, Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, Players Guide to the Sabbat, and Storyteller Handbook. Also, the various changes to Paths and Rituals are a bit outside this particular post.

Alright, let's go!

  • Different levels have different names between editions (Level 1 is "Song of the Beast" in 1st, "Sweet Whispers" in 2nd).
  • In 1st, level 1 has a chart of success. 1 success gives you knowledge of the creatures basic motives, while level 5 allows full trust and communication.
  • In 1st, level 3 allows you to compel a complex favor from an animal, whereas in 2nd it allows you to “steal” the Beast, and the creatures will to do anything.
  • There are no significant changes between 2nd, Revised, and V20.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.
  • In 1st, Celerity costs one blood point per dot to activate, but lasts the entire scene. Celerity also adds to a characters Dexterity rating as well as for determining how fast they can run.
  • In 2nd, Celerity only costs one blood point to activate, regardless of rating, but only lasts for a turn.. It does not add to a characters Dexterity or movement.
  • Revised follows 2nd, except the extra actions go into effect the following turn.
  • In V20, Celerity costs one blood point per dot to activate, and lasts only for a turn. It also adds to Dexterity, but only those dots not being utilized for extra actions.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions; though in 2nd and later, the fifth level power requires two Willpower points to activate.  
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions, other than a slight change in description for level 4.
  • Other than some slight difficulty changes (e.g. Going from Difficulty 10 to determine a strangers Nature to a Difficulty of 9), there are no significant changes between the various editions. Well, other than this not existing in 1st.
  • In 1st edition, level 1 (Command) required no roll. All later editions changed this to Manipulation + Intimidate.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.
  • Levels 1 and 2 remain the same throughout the editions
  • In 2nd, level 3 causes a trance in listeners, while in V20 they can cause any strong emotion, so long as it is appropriate
  • In 2nd level 4 requires a Manipulation + Empathy roll at a difficulty of the targets Willpower, while in V20 it requires a Manipulation + Performance, which is resisted by the targets Willpower against a difficulty of the singers Appearance+Performance.
  • In 2nd level 5 allows one to cause aggravated damage with a Manipulation+Intimidate roll; in V20, level 5 allows the character to have multiple targets for the lower levels of Melpominee.
  • In 1st and 2nd editions, Necromancy is a “standard” discipline. In Revised and V20 it becomes more of a “thaumaturgical” like discipline, with multiple paths and rituals.
  • No change between 1st and 2nd.
  • In V20, Level 1 has been changes from “healing” to “sense the damage” and know what ails the target. Level 3 is now the “healing” level, with the other levels increasing by one. The previous level 5 power of “Unburdening the Bestial Soul” is now a level 6 power.
  • Levels 2 and 4 of this disciple are swapped in 2nd edition and above. In 1st “Vanish” was level 2 and “Unseen Presence” was level 4.
  • The only significant change is Level 4. In 2nd, Level 4 allowed the vampire to create a number of murky images to obscure and confuse a target. In Revised and V20, level 4 allows the vampire to become a tentacled monstrosity of shadow.
  • No change between 1st and Revised. In V20, Potence now provides bonus dice to one’s Strength. One must expend a blood point in order to gain automatic successes.
  • The only significant changes occur between 1st and 2nd. There are no significant changes between 2nd and V20.
  • In 1st Level 1 “Awe” functions similarly to later editions Level 2 “Dread Gaze.”
  • Level 2 “Entrancement” functions the same as later editions Level 3.
  • Level 3 “Compulsion by Attraction” functions similarly to later editions Level 1.

  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.

  • Levels 1, 2, 4, and 5 remain the same in each edition, other than some clarification on blood cost.
  • In 1st and 2nd, level 3 allows the vampire to reduce the physical attributes of the target. In Revised and V20, level 3 functions as a “delayed” attack allowing the vampire to damage his foe up to an hour after making contact.
  • Levels 1 and 2 remain the same in each edition.
  • Level 3 in 2nd allows one to affect an individual. V20 expands this to affect objects as well.
  • Level 4 in 2nd allows the vampire to “blink” and immediately move between two locations. In V20 this allows the vampire to “freeze” an object outside of time.
  • Level 5 in 2nd allows the vampire to “freeze” the object, similar to level 4 in V20. V20’s level 5 allows the vampire to function as if they had Celerity, but they may take any action, including the use of other Disciplines, during this time.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.
  • Levels 1, 2, 4, and 5 remain the same in each edition
  • In 1st and 2nd, level 3 allows the vampire to “Mummify” and assume a nigh-invulnerable state. In Revised and V20, level 3 allows the vampire to assume a tougher and more lethal combat form.
  • Levels 1-4 are the same in each edition.
  • In 2nd level 5 allows the vampire to “infect” aggravated wounds, allowing him to “feed” the target blood at range, without the target even being aware.
  • In V20, level 5 allows the vampire to damage the targets attributes.
  • In 1st, there are 4 major Paths—Blood, Fire, Telekinesis, and Weather Control. They vampire learns one level in each path for each dot of Thaumaturgy. Each path has their own separate dice pools. Whichever Path they choose at Level 5 (i.e. their first level 2 in a specific path), becomes the “Primary” path, with others rated as “Secondary,” “Tertiary,” and “Subordinate.” Additional ratings on each Path are at a reduced XP cost, based on if they are Primary, or the like.
  • In 2nd what was the Path of Blood is now the core part of the discipline. The remaining 3 Paths are now separated and must be learned during play.
  • The number of available Paths is greatly expanded in Revised and V20. The vampire may now learn any Path as their “Primary” path, with all others treated as “Secondary.”  The individual dice pools for each Path are now replaced with a Willpower roll.
  • There are no significant changes between the various editions.
  • Level 1. In 1st, this is “Whispers of the Chamber” and allows the vampire to detect others within a limited enclosed space. In V20, this is “Skin of the Chameleon,” allowing the vampire to blend with their surroundings.
  • Level 2. In 1st, this is “Skin of the Chameleon.” In V20, this is “Scry the Hearthstone,” allowing the vampire to detect others within a given pace.
  • Level 3. In 1st, this is “Voiced of the Castle,” extending the range of “Whispers in the Chamber” to a cover a far larger enclosure. In V20, this is “Bond with the Mountain,” allowing the vampire to meld with stone and concrete to conceal itself during the day.
  • Level 4. In 1st is effectively the same as “Bond with the Mountain.” In V20 it is “Armor of Terra” which greatly increases the vampire’s toughness.
  • Level 5. In 1st is effectively the same as “Armor of Terra.” In V20, the vampire can “Flow Within the Mountain” and move through a stone structure while “Bonded” with it. 
So, what, if anything, can be determined from all these changes? The first thing that strikes me is how relatively minor these alterations are. Sure, a few got overhauled over time--I'm looking at you, Necormancy--but most remained essentially the same. What changes there are I'd break up into three main categories: changes based on balance and play testing, changes based on making a Discipline (and their associated Clan) more playable, and changes based on being an annoyingly overpowered game breaker (i.e. Celerity).

Those changes based on balance and play testing would be Animalism, Dementation, Dominate, Obfuscate, Obtenebration, Presence, and Thaumaturgy. Most of these are "tweaks"--like having Dominate 1 actually require a roll, and giving Animalism something a bit more cool at level 3--not to mention giving Gangrel and Nosferatu some kind of "social power" which the rest of the Clans all have. Also, Obfuscate in 1st was just odd, and I can see why they changed it. Level 2 let you vanish, but gave no indication for how long or what it meant that you were "vanished." Swapping the Level 2 and 4 powers makes it more clear what you can and can't do.

As an aside, I've never had any player actually attain Level 3 in Animalism is any game of Vampire I've ever been in. It's a damn shame, Next time I get to play (rather than run) vampire, I think I'm going to want to give it a shot.

Also, Thaumaturgy went through a lot of changes, and it's clear the designers were struggling with ways to make this work. For me, doing this overview has shaken a lot of preconceptions about the game. Last time someone played a Tremere in one of my games, I forced them to follow the 2nd edition rules for Thaumaturgy, but upon closely reading 1st I realize that this isn't the "original" way of doing things, and isn't even the "best" way. In fact, I now think 2nd's is probably the least effective method of handling this discipline.

The second set are those like Melpominee, Necromancy, Obeah, Obtenebration, Quitus, Temporsis, Serpentis, and Visceratika. Pretty much all of these were originally developed for "NPC" Clans--those that the players weren't necessarily supposed to play, but were instead meant as foes or enemies. As such, a lot of the tweaking is to make the Disciplines slightly more fun to play around with, and to let the player do a bit more with them. Like, Obtenebration--the original Level 4 is neat for a foe, as it allows them to mess with the players minds and perceptions, but isn't terribly interesting if you're the one using the power. Getting a "war form" (something Serpentis also gains) is a lot more fun.

Finally, you have Celerity. This Discipline, much like Thaumaturgy, went through the most changes. Unlike Thaumaturgy, it wasn't an attempt to more fully bring it to life, but instead obviously an attempt to balance it all out. V20 seems like the "final take" on this, combining the aspects of 1st and Revised. I know a lot of people, Storytellers as well as players, have issues with Celerity, as it does provide an amazing benefit in combat. Personally, I've never had a major issue with it. Most of the "open" conflicts in my games tend to be against mortals, and so it doesn't bother me if the character can storm a place and shoot everyone up.

This is a wholly original idea I just had.
Let's say the players need to get an item from a ruthless gang headquarters. The Toreador may go with dual guns and take everyone out, and that's fine. I mean, I'd let the Malkavian or a Nosferatu Obfuscate their way in and pick it up without killing anyone. The Gangrel could fly in as a bat and grab it. Or, hell, the damn Ventrue could walk in with Presence and Dominate, convince the gang leader to give him the item, explain where they got it, arrange a meeting with their boss for the Ventrue and his coterie to crash, hidden orders to call a special number weekly and explain all the latest news from the street and what the gang is up to, and after all that the gang leader would be CERTAIN he got the better end of the deal.

So, yeah, go ahead in with guns blazing; it's actually less of a pain in the ass for me.

But, if you do have a lot of vampire on vampire physical conflict, I can see how Celerity could be an issue. Like I said, I think V20 probably has the best take on it of any edition. I do wonder though, how much did 1st inspire their take on it in V20? I mean, the creative team has changed completely (and multiple times) since 1st, so I don't know if they have ever played or, hell, read 1st. Was this a house rule or other idea that developed independently? Did a few of the members have 1st and been using that rule for a while in a home game? Did they go through all the edition before making their final take on it?

Is it worth going through the various forum posts, blogs, and tweets about V20 to figure this out?

Nah, probably not. But, like the rest of these comparisons, is kind of fun to think about.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 7 -- Degeneration

Let’s Compare the different editions of Vampire: The Masquerade

Back when we were looking at Derangements, I went on a bit of a rant about how Vampire is fundamentally a different kind of Horror game. While it has the classic tropes of horror--vampires, werewolves, witches, oh my--it's really all that horrifying for a player.  There's something very different in being the victim of supernatural evil, and the perpetrator of it. When you start rooting for the undead killing machine, it stops being horror and becomes something else. If you want to keep the horror alive in the, it can't come from outside, from something targeting the characters. Classic horror is the result between the average man confronting the horrific, and struggling against it. Personal Horror comes from within, from committing the horrific. 

Probably the most famous and iconic horror role-playing game is Call of Cthulhu. One would be hard pressed to find a horror game out there doesn't owes its existence to Call of Cthulhu. Most are deeply indebted to its design, either through liberal copying and inspiration or rejection and replacement. At its core, it has one of the earliest "universal" systems, its most defining mechanic is the "Sanity" system.  As the characters are confronted with more inhuman and inhumane acts and creatures, their Sanity gradually slips away; forcing a race to see if it is death or madness that claims them first. Sanity can be slowly and painfully regained by overcoming the monsters that lurk in the shadows, and by turning to professionals for aid and comfort.

I bring this up, because the more I read through these books, the more I'm convinced that this is the Horror that, to one extent or another, inspired the mental states that define Personal Horror in Vampire. The Beast that resides within each character compels them to commit increasingly terrible acts, and it is the struggle against this, the striving for control and sanity, and the response to these acts that make Vampire.

When a character commits an inherently immoral act, either willfully or "despite their best intentions (e.g. Frenzy)," they run the risk of losing their Humanity. They most roll one of their virtues; though which one varies based on the situation. If in a Frenzy, they roll whichever virtue got them into this mess. The Storyteller may decide to allow the player to choose, as it gives them some control over the circumstances of their potential loss.

  • Conscience if the character has harmed another individual.
  • Self-Control if the character gave in and acted on his urges
  • Courage if the character demonstrated great cowardice.
Obviously, there is potential for overlap in the above categories, hence why it falls on the Storyteller, and the player, to decide which they feel makes the most sense based on the particular incident.

A failure on the degeneration check results in not only a loss of Humanity, but also a loss of the virtue rolled. A botch indicates the character gained a Derangement.

With 2nd, the only virtue rolled to resist degeneration is Conscience, at a difficulty of 6. Self-Control and Courage have no role to play. A failure causes a loss of both Humanity and  Conscience. A botch means the character receives a derangement as well.

In Revised, the difficulty for the Conscience roll to resist degeneration increases to 8. On a failure, the character loses only a point of Humanity. It is only on a botch that one can lose both Humanity and Conscience. There is no risk of gaining a derangement as a result of degeneration.

20th Anniversary
Follows the same rules as Revised.

As with many of the other variations, 1st has the most unique degeneration rules, at least compared to the relatively minor differences between 2nd and Revised. Which fits with the generally more "wild" take that 1st presents for Vampire in general.  I'm not sure how much of an effect the use of multiple virtues in rolling against degeneration, but its definitely an intriguing setup.  

The other significant change is the potential to acquire a derangement as a result of botching ones degeneration check. I think this again reflects the more "wild" and "gamey" take that earlier editions had with their approach to derangements, allowing for both more frequent accumulation of such disorders, as well as for methods to overcome and be "cured" of them. 

Humanity and degeneration are one of the most controversial elements of the game, with each player and Storyteller having radically different interpretations of what they mean. Sometimes these are a result of different philosophical viewpoints, sometimes "power gamers" wanting to get away with anything they can (I've seriously seen a player argue the ST that his Humanity 8 Kindred shouldn't have to roll for brutally torturing a mortal, and succeed), and some just being trolls. It's up to each Storyteller to have a solid grasp of how they want degeneration to work for each individual Chronicle, and to keep it as fair and neutral as possible. Personally, I'm charmed by the quirkiness of 1st; I feel that the more gamey take on it would actually make it more likely to be used as part of the games I've involved in and more fun for everyone, but this really is a case where there is no "correct" answer.

See? I'm not a complete
As a final aside, it wasn't until Requiem Second Edition that the basic setup for Humanity was really altered, and viewed from a different angle. Rather than being a system of morality, its far more of a spectrum between the Beast and the Human. One can be "evil" but still very human in this system, or "good" but ultimately inhuman. For this very cool and interesting take on this pillar of Vampire I recommend checking it out here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- ACT XI

Transylvania Chronicles IV
The Dragon Ascendant
Act XI: The Accounting

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: It’s 1998, and the characters each receive a letter from Etrius, leader of Clan Tremere, regardless of Sect or prior history. He requests their aid with a delicate and perilous task. Assuming the characters accept, they are provided the finest transport to, and luxurious accommodations while in, Vienna, where a terrible storm rages--one which follows them throughout their journey. They meet with Etrius, who outlines his plan to meet with a leader of the Sabbat, and needs their help as escorts and guards. He seems “off” and unwell, but genuine in his conversations. In the havens provided for them, they are approached by a maid who asks them to steal Etrius’ journal, supposedly at the behest of Tremere. If they do, they discover the horrifying secret that Salout is not dead, but hiding deep with Tremere himself. They then escort Etrius to Atlanta, where the haven provided for them by the Prince ends up being assaulted by a pack of Sabbat. Defeating the attackers, the characters and Etrius then meet with the Sabbat, led by Sacha (nee Myca) Vykos, a former friend and ally of the characters. They must negotiate on the Tremere’s behalf for safe passage to Mexico City and a private meeting with the antribu leader, Goratrix. So arranged, they travel to Mexico City. There, Etrius meets with Goratrix, and manages to transfer the essence of Tremere into the body of his disobedient lieutenant.  The characters are then compelled by the reborn Antedulivian to assist in a great ritual which ends with the destruction of the antribu.

Key factors: Nothing. Nothing that happens here matters. There is nothing for the players to do but escort various people to meetings. Interns have more freedom of action.
At least they final get to see this
git bite it.

Initial Thoughts: It was all going so well. The later adventures in Transylvania Chronicles  had so improved over earlier ones that I had great hopes for this one. And, I get it, this is one of the most significant events in the canon--the destruction of the Tremere antribu, the awakening of Tremere, and the revelation that Saulot is not only still alive, but has been playing a very, very long con. I’m sure for those who read the novels and followed the metaplot closely, this would be an awesome and jaw-dropping scenario.

Not for me, though. I don’t give a damn about the metaplot, or what powerful NPC's are doing to what other powerful NPC's. The characters are powerful elders in their own right by now, and it's high time the game was about them, not the machinations of others. Hell, let them be wrapped up in the machinations of elders, but make them the pawns, not the damn hired help.

There is plenty for the players to DO in this scenario--various places for them to explore, interesting NPC’s to interact with, and enough “what if’s” to keep the game flowing. For example, if the players completely screw up guarding Etrius in the Atlanta safe house, the scenario provides plenty of information to keep the game going and the players engaged, as it moves from an “escort” mission to a rescue one. The writing and scenario structure in fine; it’s the basic plot that is the problem. For the past thousand years (and 10 adventures), the players have been focused on Kupala, Dracula, and the lands of Eastern Europe--to suddenly switch though to a global bodyguard adventure is just off. There’s still so much the players (and myself) DON’T know about when it comes to the seeming “main plot,” that this digression just seems to be a waste of time.

Oh, also, the snarky comments regarding players who are Tremere antribu. Here’s the quote:
Allowing Tremere antitribu characters to escape the fate of their fellows without converting and becoming Camarilla Tremere is not recommended unless you relish the idea of storytelling the “last Tremere antitribu” — all two thousand or so of them played by every other antitribu fan....

Even this asshole might be more
interesting than their plot.
You know something, Brian, Jackie, and Nicky?  Fuck you. I mean, so far I’ve been enjoying your work on Parts III and IV, but are you seriously going to snark and give shit to players and Storytellers like this? Because a troupe wants to keep a long running character who might have survived parts 1-11 of this game (not to mention anything else the Storyteller might have cooked up) alive, and not dead because of YOUR precious bullshit metaplot? Because playing the “last of x” might be new and interesting to them, no matter how “derivative” or “cliche” it might be to YOU. So fucking what if two thousand people had run that game before? Maybe, for this troupe, or this players, or this Storyteller, they haven’t, and for THEM it’s a new and interesting idea. Maybe they just don’t want to put up with your BS. Maybe you shouldn’t tell your audience how lame and badwrongfun THEIR game is.
Sigh. At least it didn't involve Dracula.

Fixes: There is no way to fix this. You need to just ignore and create your own.

We're now almost at the end of the Chronicles and I really don't have any clearer idea of what's going on or what the end game is even supposed to be. Now, I haven't read ahead yet, so this is my idea.

It's the modern nights (er, modern when the book was published, at least)--Gehenna is right around the corner, Kupala is due to rise at any moment, the world is descending into chaos, and the Time of Thin Blood is NOW. In this Act, you destroy everything the characters have built up over the long centuries. Are they Camarilla? Dozens of Thin Bloods and Caitiff pollute their city, and are rising up against your rule, with the Sabbat ready to pounce down and conquer amidst the chaos. Sabbat? War parties abandon the city, pursuing vague rumors of sleeping Methuselah's as the Camarilla eliminates all the pillars of your control. Once loyal childer betray the characters, long running allies abandon them, their own Sect leaders seem to be targeting them, and everything is turning to ashes.

This the Book of Job: The RPG. Everything they care about burns to the ground, every connection is frayed and torn asunder. By the end, the players should be on the ropes, with only themselves and a handful or loyal friends (other PC's) still with them. Everything else is gone by the end.

Those that choose to stand and fight are approached either by another PC or, if not, then Anatole or Lucita or other ancient ally arrives and encourages them to "live,and fight another night." At the end, the see all their dreams and passions burn and know that things are only going to get worse. The End Times are here, and its time to decide where you actually stand.

(Transylvania Chronicles IV: The Dragon Ascendant, written by Brian Campbell, Jackie Cassada, and Nicky Rea. Published by White Wolf Publishing, Inc. 2000. Available for purchase at drivethrurpg.)

New Year, New Character Day 22: Pendragon

  New Year, New Character   Day 22    Pendragon  Pendragon is a game where players take on the roles of knights in Arthurian Britain. That&#...