Friday, October 13, 2017

Scarlet Vampire

Inspired by some recent games I've been playing, I'm going to start up a new Actual Play for Vampire: The Masquerade. As I've already posted a few of these, I want to do something slightly different for this play-through. Well, two things. The first, is a something I like to call "Scarlet Vampire," which I detail below. The second is a "random vampire generator," which will require its own post (here).

Scarlet Vampire, is, essentially a variation on the Solo Urban Adventures rules from +Kevin Crawford's excellent OSR game Scarlet Heroes. If you don't have this already, get it. It's a fantastic game on its own, and a wonderful resource for anyone interested in either Solo or OSR style gaming. Pretty much everything Crawford puts out is top notch, and he's one of the best indie developers working right now.

What I really enjoy about the rules he created is their ability to allow for failure. Failure is an underappreciated element of gaming. Unlike other storytelling mediums, RPG's can accommodate failure and keep the story going. While a book or movie or play might give the illusion of failure, or at least the risk of it, the actual results remain firmly tied to the storytellers whims. The hero will save the hostage or not based on the "needs" of the story, while an RPG can make that risk real. And without the chance of failure, the game becomes, to me, somewhat hollow. Reward is only meaningful if the risk was meaningful, after all.

So, how does this system work, exactly? Well, I don't want to reprint the entirety of Crawford's work. The current rules I'm using are only a slight variation, after all, and can generously be described as an "Alpha" version. As such, I encourage you to pick up Scarlet Heroes if you have any interest. But, I will be providing a brief overview.

There are two key parts of this system for Solo games. The first, is that there is an Opponent character. Like the PC, the Opponent is trying to accomplish something. Something the PC would rather they didn't. As such, the two are in competition--the Opponent seeks to fullfil their desires, while the PC seeks to thrwat them. This competition is rated by Victory Points. Each is seeking to gain 10 Victory Points first. If the Opponent does, then their plan succeeds, despite the PC's best efforts. If the PC does, then they are given an opportunity to confront and hopefully defeat the Opponent.

To begin with, I will be rolling to determine the Theme of the game. This is the general mood and tone, and determine what emotions and thematic challenges the PC will be facing. Will this be a personal story, focusing on Humanity? A threat to the Masquerade, either the PC's or others? Will it be a Paranoia game, where no one can be trusted?

The Beast

Secondly, I need to determine the Threat of the Story. The Threat fills multiple roles, but the two key ones are for determining the potential Experience Reward for the PC and how challenging the Story will be. Threat is divided up into three different categories, representing broad areas of potential conflict--Physical, Social, and Mental. High Physical Threat means the story will feature well equipped and trained opponents, making direct physical actions risky. High Social means that the PC will be challenged by liars and con-men, and those not easily manipulated. High Mental will represent mysteries, challenging crimes, and long-lost lore. To determine threat,  I will roll 1d10 and divide it half, giving me a result of 1-5. This value is then applied to a base of 5, giving a potential result of 6-10. These values will be used for either the average difficulty of a particular challenge in the Story, or the average dice pool of any opponents that the PC comes into conflict with. All three added together equals the potential Experience the PC could receive for succeeding in the story, for a range of 3-15. If the PC fails, they will only get half of this value. So, yes, it is possible for the PC to benefit more for failing a truly challenging tale than for succeeding on a fairly easy one.

Next, I will roll or otherwise determine the basic plot. This will determine the Opponent (if known), what is at stake, and some idea of what needs to be accomplished. Both the PC's and the Opponent begin with a Victory Point total of 0.

Then, I need to determine why the PC is involved. Perhaps it's a personal matter, directly affected themselves or someone they care about. It could just as easily be a job or some strange quirk of fate that drew them into it.

After that, the game begins, broken down by Scenes. Each is rolled or somehow determined randomly, with their own unique challenge. This could be a combat scene, or just as easily an investigation, social challenge, or pure roleplaying. If successful, the PC gains a Victory Point. If they fail, the Opponent gains 1 instead. There are four basic types of scenes:

  • Investigative Scenes, in which the PC tries to figure out what's going on. In addition to a Victory Point, this also grant a Clue if successful.
  • Conflict Scenes, in which the PC comes into conflict with social or physical enemies. If the PC is successful, the Opponents Victory Points are reduced by 1.
  • Action Scenes in which the PC acts vigorously on their own behalf, but requires a clue. Success grants 2, rather than 1, Victory Point
  • Rest Scenes, in which the PC recovers from their excretions. The PC regains all lost Blood and heals all non-aggravated damage, but the Opponent automatically gains 1 Victory Point, as their scheme continues regardless of any breaks the PC might take.
After each Investigation or Action scene, roll a d10. If the number is equal to or less than the current number of Investigation and Action scenes, the Opponent gains an additional Victory Point.

The Story continues until either the PC or the Opponent accumulate 10 Victory Points. If the Opponent wins, the PC has failed and whatever dire thing they were up to comes to pass. If the PC gains 10 first, however, the Story moves to an immediate Action Scene, with no Clue required. If the PC succeeds at this challenge, they have overcome the odds and bested their foe.

One final element is the Masquerade Rating (MR). The MR begins at 0, but increases based on the PC's actions. If they commit violence on a non-socially accepted actor or if they make any kind of public display of their Disciplines or other vampiric abilities, they gain a point.  At 4, the "authorities" among the undead notice, and begin pressuring the PC. At 6, mortal hunters have become aware that something is up. At 8, even the most corrupted mortal institutions must respond. And at 10, the PC's life is in immediate danger.  A Blood Hunt, in which every vampire in the city is out for their live, would be the least of their concerns. Reducing these risks to the Masquerade will most likely require a Story of their own. 

So, those are the basic elements I'll be using for the upcoming game. Hopefully they'll be fun, and if not I'll tweak them as I play around with them a bit more. 

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