Camarillaville, part 1


  1. The pathways map you generate as part of character creation in the Smallville RPG looks remarkably like the old politics maps in Vampire: the Masquerade city books. Coincidence… or opportunity?
  2. Heroic values don’t map very well to a vampire game… but the original seven Camarilla clans map pretty well to the seven deadly sins…


For those that didn’t read the review linked above or my own, the Smallville RPG is one of two TV-licensed games released by Margaret Weis Productions last year (the other is Leverage). While it’s based on the show Smallville, and uses that for its examples, it’s really a game engine designed around the idea of making interpersonal (and interparty) drama the focus of the rules. Physical conflict is just one of several methods of hurting people in a numerical manner, player characters are intended to have conflicting goals (and sometimes be directly antagonistic), and the GM is mostly there to stir in threats and opportunities to give the PCs fodder for drama. Most importantly, success is less about how skilled you are and more about whether the conflict is something you care about (because it includes relationships and values that you feel strongly about). Obviously, that’s a good list of concepts for running a game that feels like a TV drama with an ensemble cast of several top-billed actors. But, with a few minor tweaks, it may also be ideal for hitting a lot of the game elements of V:tM…

Major Changes

Values (Sins)

The biggest change to the system is that the Smallville values (Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power, Truth) are replaced with the seven deadly sins. Player characters can be expected to have much more laudable interpretations of these values, but, in the end, you’re a parasite feeding on the neck of humanity, perpetually hiding and manipulating to preserve an existence reliant on the blood of others. No matter how you dress it up, your baser urges have a pretty dramatic say in what you’re doing.

  • Roll Envy when your motivation in the conflict is to live up to the ideals of someone you feel is better then you… or to spite someone who has something you don’t have. If no other value seems appropriate, Envy can also be used for stealth-related challenges (because Nosferatu are sneaky).
  • Roll Gluttony when your motivation in the conflict is to sate your physical needs: generally this is an urge to feed, but it also covers anything that makes you feel good physically (including getting into a fight not because you’re angry, but just because you enjoy the thrill). If no other value seems appropriate, Gluttony can also be used for athletics-related challenges (because Gangrel keep active).
  • Roll Greed when your motivation in the conflict is to gain something for yourself (typically of permanent value): this is generally something that you feel will be useful to your in the long term (if it’s just useful in the short term, it’s probably Gluttony or Lust… or Envy if you’re just taking it so someone else can’t have it). If no other value seems appropriate, Greed can also be used for academics-related challenges (because Tremere are educated).
  • Roll Lust when your motivation in the conflict is to sate your psychological needs: generally this is an urge to be loved or otherwise appreciated, but it may involve going after something that will make you feel good emotionally in the short term. If no other value seems appropriate, Lust can also be used for seduction- and impression-related challenges (because Toreador are alluring).
  • Roll Pride when your motivation in the conflict is to prove your superiority over someone else and prove that you’re the better person (or monster); since this could theoretically apply to almost anything for prideful characters, any other appropriate value should be considered as motivation first before pure pride is the dominant value. If no other value seems appropriate, Pride can also be used for diplomacy- and leadership-related challenges (because Ventrue are manipulative).
  • Roll Sloth when your motivation in the conflict is to not be involved in the conflict: you have no other agenda beyond not submitting to the opponent’s agenda or not being bothered in the first place. If no other value seems appropriate, Sloth can also be used for perception-related challenges (because Malkavians are aware).
  • Roll Wrath when your motivation in the conflict is anger: you are pissed off in general and that’s driving your behavior or you specifically hate the opponent. If no other value seems appropriate, Wrath can also be used for violence-related challenges (because Brujah are dangerous).

New Stress (Hunger)

All Vampire player characters have a new stress track: Hunger.

  • Hunger cannot drop below d4.
  • Step up Hunger each night when the character rises.
  • Step up Hunger every time the player uses Regeneration (as described below).
  • Step up Hunger if a discipline Ability was used in a contest and the die with the highest result is higher than current Hunger (e.g., if a discipline was used and the highest roll was 6 on a d8, you would step up Hunger d4 or d6 but not d8, d10, or d12).
  • Hunger cannot generally be increased by other characters.

A player may choose to Give In on any conflict to go feed, stepping down Hunger (and this will probably not have in story consequences unless the player is in an area where it’s difficult to find prey). If a scene involves an ability to feed on screen, the player may recover Hunger down to d4 at GM discretion (but this may have in story consequences, depending on who the victim was and who saw the feeding). If a character Stresses Out due to Hunger, this generally involves completely losing control and feeding in a way that will have severe in story consequences.

Note: Stressing Out in any way can often mean the character loses control to the beast within and does something really terrible.

Abilities (Disciplines)

All Vampire player characters gain the Regeneration ability at d4. As noted above, using it increases Hunger in addition to the plot point cost.

In addition, players may develop one or more of the following disciplines. It comes with a basic (always active) capability that generally does not require any kind of roll and an Ability. Some disciplines may allow you to purchase additional Abilities as well.

  • Animalism:
    • You do not cause animals nearby to freak out (most vampires get an unpleasant response from animals).
    • Gain Ability: Animal Control at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8 or better, you may purchase Insect Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Insect Control is at d8 or better, you may purchase Wall Walking as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Auspex:
    • You can read auras or otherwise get a general empathic sense of the emotions of others and whether they are supernatural.
    • Gain Ability: Super-Senses at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8 or better, you may purchase Telepathy as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Telepathy is at d8 or better, you may purchase Astral Projection as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Celerity: 
    • If the order of events in a scene is important, the character with the highest Celerity automatically goes first.
    • Gain Ability: Super-Speed at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d12, you may purchase Time Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Dominate:
    • If you defeat a target in a social conflict and deal stress, you may have them forget the conflict instead of dealing the stress.
    • Gain Ability: Paralysis at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d12, you may purchase Possession as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Fortitude:
    • You may endure sunlight for a few seconds (long enough to run from cover to cover) before you begin accumulating stress.
    • Gain Ability: Invulnerability at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Obfuscate:
    • Most mortals don’t notice or consciously remember your features: they won’t notice if you’re hideous (like a Nosferatu) or be able to describe you later, but will recognize you on subsequent meetings.
    • Gain Ability: Invisibility at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Potence:
    • You may perform feats of strength to the maximum of human capability (without increasing Hunger).
    • Gain Ability: Super Strength at a rating equal to this discipline.
  • Presence:
    • A character must have Wrath equal to or greater than your Presence or spend a Plot Point to initiate a physical conflict with you.
    • Gain Ability: Mind Control at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d10, you may purchase Dream Control as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Protean:
    • You can see in the dark and track by scent.
    • Gain Ability: Claws at a rating equal to this discipline.
    • Once this is at d8, you may purchase Shapeshifting (animals only) as an additional ability (starting at d4).
    • Once Shapeshifting is at d8 or better, you may purchase Body Transformation (gaseous form only) as an additional ability (starting at d4).
  • Thaumaturgy:
    • You can understand most magical writings. If you taste blood, you can get a general idea of the character or creature it came from.
    • Gain Ability: One *kinesis ability of your choice.
    • Once Thaumaturgy is at d8 or better, you may purchase an additional, different *kinesis ability of your choice (starting at d4).
    • Once Thaumaturgy is at d12, you may purchase another additional, different *kinesis ability of your choice (starting at d4).

Clan Flaws

Each clan has a flaw. This is generally a situation in which the GM can automatically generate complications without paying the player a Plot Point (or come up with a non-system story problem when it comes up outside of a dice roll).

  • Brujah are uncontrolled. They always generate complications when their Anger Stress is being used against them. They also generate free complications when in a situation where patience is a virtue.
  • Gangrel are animalistic. They always generate complications when rolling Wrath (generally revolving around doing something obviously bestial). Being Stressed Out from Anger leaves the character with a permanent bestial feature.
  • Malkavians are insane. They always generate complications when trying to persuade others (as their madness can be off putting and unpersuasive). Being Stressed Out generally results in a surge of the character’s particular madness.
  • Nosferatu are monstrous. They always generate complications when mortals are in the scene (Obfuscate protects against the worst of their hideousness, but something in the back of the mortal’s mind recognizes that the character is wrong).
  • Toreador are aware. They always generate complications when rolling Sloth or Greed (generally involving becoming fixated on something interesting).
  • Tremere are cloistered. They always generate complications in any Location not connected to them on the map (as they’re out of their comfort zone).
  • Ventrue are obvious. They always generate complications whenever their Hunger Stress is at d8 or higher (generally involving becoming distracted by hunger or fixated on a preferred type of prey).

Next week I’ll post the pathways chart and explanations of the steps.


System Review: Marvel Universe RPG, Conclusion


Take the Stones!

I suspect that most system nerds eventually look at their trail of extensively house-ruled games and get the thought into their heads that it’s time to make a system from whole cloth. After all, you never seem completely happy with the games others have invented, so why not work out something that will please you from the ground up? Unless you’re the truly gifted soul who makes a Forge darling out of the gate (and this is often accomplished by doing something very small and focused), you probably just invented a fantasy heartbreaker. You certainly can’t sell it, your friends probably don’t want to play it in favor of some other system, and, when you do finally playtest it, you find that there are core mechanics that looked great on paper but have unexpected flaws in practice. It turns out that even extensive house rules allowed you to build on a functional backbone, and that making a game that survives contact with the players is a dramatic undertaking. If you look deeply at any successful RPG, you’re likely to find either a steady iteration off of an established base or a gradual incorporation of tested mechanical concepts into a formerly chaotic melange. It’s a very rare RPG indeed that owes nothing to what has come before except knowledge of traps to avoid.

To be blunt, MURPG seems like an excited young aspiring designer’s early game system got released into the wild long before it was fully tested and refined*. There are really neat ideas in the system, the core of which is the aspiration of abandoning randomness completely while still retaining a relatively crunchy game. As noted, it was an early adopter of the habit of blending diverse traits into one big pool that is all the rage these days. The consistency of the use of stones throughout the system (and that three red = one white) is highly elegant. It’s not necessarily a bad system, but it needed a ton more playtesting and maybe a few admissions that dice-based systems do certain things for good reasons. Under the veneer of high-quality Marvel production values, it’s a rough draft.

This is pretty harsh to say, but seems to be supported by the actual arc of the game. Despite Marvel’s push to promote it and give it prominent place in comic/gaming stores, it still received two supplements and was cancelled. You could say this was simply a comics giant overestimating the potential return on an RPG that wasn’t d20-based, but the system was also only very briefly discussed in the places online that fixate on such things. It was discarded for Silver Age Sentinels, Mutants and Masterminds, Champions, and a whole host of smaller attempts at the elusive, perfect superhero RPG. Within a few years, it became a speedbump on the discussion: “Marvel RPG? You mean the one without dice?” “No, Marvel Superheroes, the one from the 80s.”

But there is one last bastion of support for the game. In all of the methods of play there is one that benefits hugely from the abandonment of randomness. It’s a format where rolling dice is cumbersome and potentially impossible: MURPG still has life in the sphere of play-by-email/post. A game system that’s a little awkward without a large tabletop and piles of glass beads in the physical world only requires a short text description showing the math in an online format where describing your dice roll is suspect at best. It may not be the greatest system in the world, but, of the “mainstream” ones, it’s pretty much the only game that isn’t very difficult to play without a trusted random number generator that’s visible to all players.

The MURPG needed a lot more work before it was done, but it did have a few bright ideas that could have been incorporated into later games. “Doesn’t require dice” is a design goal that gets used way less than you’d expect given the decently large group of forum gamers. They might not be able to play at scheduled times but can totally write forum posts and emails at work. There’s a market waiting to be served, and MURPG is still one of the few systems that can fill it. Something should be done!

Maybe I could go write another fantasy heartbreaker…


*Here’s my first one! It’s terrible!

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