Serial Numbers Filed Off: The Dregs

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Pendragon: Thrice X’d

Lord Kay, we’ve lost another of the scouts sent to gather intelligence on Mordred’s activities.

Damnit, I told Wart that his men would never even get close. Those turncoats can smell when someone lacks their own stench of dishonor. All we’re doing is wasting good knights and householders.

That may be so, m’lord.

Let’s try something new. I want you to find me the roughest bunch of outcasts you can: forsworn knights, mercenary captains, picts, woodsmen, pagans, and wizards if you can find any. But here’s the thing: they have to be loyal, or at least have something they want desperately that only Arthur can give them, not Mordred.

I must caution against trusting such…

We’re not going to trust them. As much as it pains me, they’re expendable. Their goal is to get in, blend with the other riffraff that the would-be-prince surrounds himself with, and gather intelligence. If they get back with something useful, then there are lands, wives, pardons, or whatever else their grimy little hearts desire. If they don’t… well, at least it won’t have been another loyal knight caught scouting.

Spying, you mean, m’lord?

If the King asks about it, it’s “scouting.” We’re walking a delicate line, here. My foster brother would never allow something like this to proceed if he knew all the particulars, but he also underestimates what a threat his bastard is. We keep this quiet, we keep this deniable, and we get the information that’s going to let us win the inevitable war. Understood?

Yes, m’lord.

Then get to work.

Online Pathways


As regular readers may have noticed, I really like the Smallville Pathways method of group character generation. It’s the best system I’ve seen for simultaneously getting player buy-in, starting the PCs as relevant, and crowdsourcing setting ideas for the GM.

But, being as it’s all about the players and GM sitting around a table and drawing on a big sheet of paper, it doesn’t translate directly when playing online and/or playing with a bigger-than-normal group of players. Since I’m currently thinking about running a play-by-post game where I’m expecting at least a dozen participants, both elements need to be solved. Below is my attempt. Notes:

  • It’s obviously tuned to a Camarilla Vampire: the Masquerade game where the players are new vampires. You should be able to toggle pretty easily to lots of other things. The focus on NPCs is because I plan to ultimately spin them out into Technoir-style contacts/plot sources, so the players need to have a feel for them and their motivations early.
  • Distinctions are bolted on and I intend them to work very similarly to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying/Leverage. You can easily replace them with Aspects or similar mechanics. Care should be taken to have them not directly replicate attributes if you’re using them.
  • You may want to do this live via chat to make sure everyone’s thinking about it and responding quickly. If you coordinate via post or email, be sure to give the players reasonable deadlines but enforce them to keep the process moving.
  • The GM should turn all of the feedback into a graphical web as the process goes on, both for player visual interest and to keep the amount of information manageable.

Step 1: Clan

Choose a Clan for your character and name a Theme.

  • Available Clans: Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere, Ventrue
  • Themes: This is a one-word idea noun (e.g., Power, Loyalty, Fear, Loss, Immortality, etc.)

Step 2: Identity

The GM will consolidate Themes into 14 (or 7 if there are less than 20 players). Final themes may combine multiple ideas. The GM will send you a list of other players in your Clan and a list of the final Themes.

  • Communicate with the other players in your clan. Decide which of you will share a Sire. There should be no more than three players to a Sire. Coordinate with your siblings to name your Sire.
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a High-Concept Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Concept should be something you see motivating you constantly and coming up often.
    • The Distinction is written as a short phrase or quote. It does not have to include the Theme precisely, but should be obviously derived from it.
    • “Power” might be “Occult Aspirant,” “Political Mastermind,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Playing a long game,” “No Death means No Fear,” etc.
  • Name your character.

Step 3: Difficulties

The GM will send out a list of all Sires listed with their Childer (PC name and player name).

  • Assign a Theme to one Sire (it doesn’t have to be your own).
  • Invent a Location (a large building or small contained area of a few blocks within the city) and assign it to one Sire (it doesn’t have to be your own).
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a Trouble Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Trouble should be something that is your biggest flaw, and which usually works against you; suffering for this failing and yet succeeding anyway will be a major source of Willpower.
    • It is written in a similar fashion to the Concept Distinction.
    • “Power” might be “Too easily tempted,” “Intimidated by others,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Afraid to lose eternity,” “Already becoming anachronistic,” etc.
  • Write five adjectives or short adjective phrases that someone who just met your character might use to describe her appearance.

Step 4: Dangers

The GM will define each Sire’s Concept Distinction out of the assigned Themes, define each Sire’s relationship to the assigned locations, and assign the Sires roles within the city power structure and add new NPC names to fill vacancies. Once you have received this information:

  • Assign a Theme to any of the NPCs (Sires or new ones).
  • Write a short phrase that explains what you think of/how you feel about your Sire.
  • Write a short phrase that explains what you think of/how you feel about one other PC (you may want to coordinate with the player of that PC).
  • Connect yourself to one of the Locations and explain why it’s important to you.
  • Name an Antagonist or Macguffin:
    • An Antagonist is an individual or group that is hostile to most of the Kindred of the city.
    • A Macguffin is something mysterious or otherwise important to the supernaturals of the city, that they might hunt for and fight over. It could be a person, place, thing, or idea.
    • At this point, just try to give the thing a descriptive name that inspires the creativity of others. What it actually is will be further defined later.
  • Describe (in three sentences or less) what your character’s life and career was like before the Embrace.

Step 5: Ambitions

The GM will turn the assigned Themes into the NPC’s Trouble or High Concept Distinction (depending on whether it already had one) and send out all updated information.

  • Connect a Theme, Location, or NPC to an Antagonist or Macguffin (it doesn’t have to be the one you named) and define the connection.
  • Write a short phrase that explains how one NPC feels about another NPC.
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a Nature Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Nature should be some additional facet of your character that is your biggest strength or weakness outside of your Concept and Trouble. It might be specifically tailored to help with something you expect to be your core competency.
    • It is written in a similar fashion to the Concept Distinction.
    • “Power” might be “Comfortable among the powerful,” “Discipline Prodigy,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Eternally youthful beauty,” “Endlessly patient,” etc.
  • In one sentence, describe a goal your character wants to accomplish in the short term.

Step 6: Realities

The GM will send out updated information.

  • Connect a Theme, Location, or NPC to an Antagonist, Macguffin, or NPC (that do not already have a connection) and define the connection.
  • Connect your PC to a Location, NPC, Antagonist, or Macguffin (to which you do not already have a connection) and define the connection.
  • In one sentence, describe how you think your character fits into the local Camarilla society.

Step 7: Conclusion

The GM will:

  • Determine the Generation (from 7th to 12th) of each NPC based on number of connections (more interesting NPCs get lower generation). This will define the generations of each PC based on Sire.
  • Establish a final city hierarchy and titles (for both NPCs and PCs), possibly adding additional NPCs not tied directly into the hierarchy to round out the city numbers.
  • Choose the top four most-connected Themes and use them to write two city-wide Distinctions. These will effectively be truths about the city that anyone can use when appropriate, and serve as broad direction for the setting.
  • Assign two Themes (or one if there were only seven) to each Clan based on how many members of the Clan linked to that Theme, and then write a Clan Distinction based on those Themes. This Distinction will be available to all members of that Clan when appropriate, and will explain the high-level goal of that Clan within the city.
  • Use all that information to finish plotting the Chronicle.

The players will finish character creation normally based on the information decided in these steps.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Penned In

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D&D or Dogs in the Vineyard: Cleric

They say that this world was once full of civilization, cities from sea to sea. But that was before the vampires infected the gods just as surely as they’ve infected the land. The scholars say that it started slow, too quietly for even the gods to notice, so that when the war of the heavens began they were evenly matched. At the end, there was one true god left, the Sun, and an unknown number of vampire gods hiding in the shadows, waiting for Him to let His guard down. As above, so below: we live in warded cities, retreating inside the walls at night, because the wilds are full of the ravenous dead.

It’s hard living in the cities. There’s never enough to go around, and the Sun’s chosen do their best to maintain order. A lot of the time it seems too harsh. So some folks take their chances in the wilderness. They set up small stakes, ward their houses and villages as best they can, and try to live free. It’s a dangerous life, but easier on the spirit.

Inevitably, though, something happens. Vampires move in nearby and start picking off the strays. Something far older and worse than vampires wakes up. Someone in town throws morality to the winds and starts jeopardizing the sanctity of the wards. That’s why we have the Clerics.

Men and women blessed by the Sun and given the power to stand against the darkness, they ride forth from the dawn cities to police the boundaries. Each of them wields power to burn and drive back a mob of the dead, and as a group they’re often unstoppable…

At least until the vampires organize behind a clever leader, or one of their own members starts to doubt.

Making Friends and Influencing People, Part 2

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Part 1

Using Influence

While watching numbers on the character sheet go up and quantifying friendships with NPCs is probably a lot of fun for your players, eventually they’re going to want to actually use their Influence to accomplish something.

When the character wants to call in a favor, the player makes an Influence roll. This is a number of dice equal to dots in the appropriate Influence rating that can’t be modified by external factors (but might be modified by difficulty, see below).

The difficulty of the roll is based on how many people will notice and oppose the action:

  • The favor is completely under the radar and nobody cares about it. (oWoD Difficulty 6, nWoD +3 dice)
  • The favor would annoy a few important people if they found out. (oWoD Difficulty 7, nWoD +1 die)
  • It will be obvious to some important people if the favor is granted. (oWoD Difficulty 8, nWoD +0 dice)
  • Important people are actively involved and will try to stop the favor. (oWoD Difficulty 9, nWoD -1 die)
  • It will be very obvious and dangerous to grant the favor. (oWoD Difficulty 10, nWoD -3 dice)

A number of successes are required equal to the magnitude of the favor (see examples below).

If insufficient successes were gained to obtain the favor, the player can choose to Burn relationships to push it through. For each additional necessary success, add a — next to a number of relationships that have total effective control equal to the oWoD difficulty. This can immediately reduce the relationship (and possibly total Influence) if there was already a — next to it.

For example:

  • A PC with Police Influence 3 is trying to close an unsolved murder (4 successes). The murder is mostly under the radar but it’s known enough in the department that questions might eventually be asked (difficulty 7/+1 die).
  • The player rolls and gets 2 successes, which is 2 short of the required 4.
  • The player must put a — next to 14 points worth of relationships. She picks a 5 point Thrall, a 3 effective-point Friend, a 3 effective-point Contact, and a 3 point Thrall. If she doesn’t spend Favor points to repair those relationships (or needs to Burn more influence soon), they could be reduced.

Apply a 1 die penalty to an Influence for each time it is used (successfully or unsuccessfully) during a session. This penalty is removed at the beginning of the next session (unless the GM feels that not enough time has passed).

Suggested success thresholds for different favors are below. As noted originally, most of these are based on the Mind’s Eye LARP rules.


  1. Trace utility bills, fake a minor license or certificate
  2. Disconnect utilities to a location, fake a major license or certificate, close a road or park for a few hours
  3. Shut down a business on a violation or close a public building/operation for a day, alter someone’s records within the organization
  4. Fake a deed, initiate a departmental investigation, alter a city-wide program or policy
  5. Rezone an area, obliterate records of a person within the organization, start an audit of a person or business


  1. Get identification as a member of the clergy, look through church records/identify church members
  2. Track or suspend congregation members, open or close a church
  3. Identify and track a church-associated hunter, access private records
  4. Track or suspend higher-level members, organize a protest
  5. Access ancient lore, borrow sacred items


  1. Get a report on major transactions, economic trends, or financial events; get a small loan (under $4k)
  2. Get a car or other loan (under $12k), manipulate minor bank policies
  3. Get a small business loan (under $50k), foreclose on a target, shut off certain bank services (e.g., ATMs) for a day
  4. Get a business or home loan (under $200k), ruin a business’ finances
  5. Get a huge loan (up to $1 million), change major bank policies


  1. Get a report on public health records, access a patient’s private medical history
  2. Get private reports (e.g., coroner’s report), get a bag of blood, get minor lab work done (e.g., blood typing)
  3. Corrupt a particular test’s results, get major lab work done (e.g., DNA)
  4. Acquire a cadaver, rewrite someone’s medical records, get a large supply of blood
  5. Set up a quarantine, shut down a business for health code violations, have someone institutionalized

High Society

  1. Get a report on current trends, get early news about events, get tickets to a popular event
  2. Track celebrities or luminaries, establish a minor new trend, get a rich friend to buy something for you (under $5k)
  3. Crush or advance a local celebrity’s career, get an invitation to an elite event
  4. Create a local celebrity (yourself or someone else), get a rich friend to buy a huge present for you (under $50k)
  5. Crush or advance a local event venue or festival’s status, blacklist a target from all society gatherings and careers


  1. Get a report on industrial activities and projects, redirect/borrow minor industrial resources (e.g., one crew or a machine) for a day
  2. Have a minor construction project performed, embezzle petty cash (up to $2k)
  3. Organize a strike, borrow major machinery or a large crew for a week
  4. Have a major construction project performed, change corporate policies
  5. Close or revitalize a plant, cut off production of a locally produced resource


  1. Get “free” representation from a good lawyer, get minor charges dropped
  2. Access confidential legal records, get misdemeanor charges dropped
  3. Get “free” representation from one of the city’s best lawyers, get felony charges dropped
  4. Issue a subpoena, bog down a court case, cancel or arrange parole
  5. Have someone deported, close down a police investigation


  1. Get early notification about breaking stories, get a small article or story run
  2. Suppress a story (moved to later in the paper or the news broadcast and given less length) or the opposite
  3. Get details on confidential sources, kill a story being run by only one news outlet, get a large article or story run
  4. Direct a thorough investigation at a topic or stop an ongoing investigation
  5. Kill a story being run by multiple news outlets


  1. Make contact with local occult groups, learn about local occult figures
  2. Purchase rare components, get an idea of other supernatural players in the area
  3. Learn basic rituals, identify the territory of a specific supernatural player
  4. Learn intermediate rituals, purchase minor magic items
  5. Learn advanced rituals, purchase extremely rare items


  1. Hear police rumors, get a license checked, clear a minor ticket (speeding or parking)
  2. Get inside information/reports about a case, stop a minor investigation (misdemeanor or less)
  3. Get confiscated weapons or contraband, start an investigation, stop a major investigation (felony)
  4. Get evidence planted on a target, stop a murder investigation
  5. Have an officer fired, arrange a setup, start or stop a task force, stop an interdepartmental investigation


  1. Hear rumors from a politician or campaign’s staff, get a meeting with a small politician
  2. Learn about in-process laws and regulations, get access to a slush fund (up to $5k)
  3. Alter a political project (parks, renovations, etc.), minor law, or regulation
  4. Crush or advance a candidate with the establishment, alter a significant law, block a bill
  5. Create a new law, declare a state of emergency, call out the National Guard


  1. Hear rumors from the street, learn about a gang and its territory, protect a small area (haven) from most local criminals, hire a bodyguard
  2. Purchase clean weapons or other illegal goods, direct a gang to perform small crimes against a person or business within its territory
  3. Purchase rare illegal goods, declare a person or large building off limits to local criminals
  4. Direct a gang to attempt to kill or otherwise destroy a person or business within or near its territory/hire an assassin or arsonist
  5. Start a gang war, get gangs to mobilize fully to protect or harass a target in the face of serious opposition for a night


  1. Travel across town quickly and for free, track an unwary target’s use of public transportation
  2. Arrange secret/safe travel (e.g., get a vampire moved safely during the day), cancel a target’s transit card
  3. Shut down a bus or train line for up to a day, alter a bus route for a day
  4. Establish a regular smuggling route, shut down a road for up to a day
  5. Keep all public transportation and cabs from entering/leaving an area


  1. Get and/or alter school records for a target, get access to labs or other facilities
  2. Fabricate school records for a target, cancel a class, change a target’s grades
  3. Get a student expelled, organize a protest or rally, steal lab supplies
  4. Get a professor/teacher fired, fabricate a degree for a target, cancel classes for the day
  5. Alter a curriculum/major, direct research toward a particular topic, close a school permanently

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Uncertain Agendas


Pendragon: Secure Fortress

“Sir Matthew of West Nohaut, I bring news!”

“Please, just Sir Matthew, speak not to me of Nohaut. I pray to claim lands closer to Camelot soon, and, eventually, win a seat at the Table.”

“But your lands are central to that of which I speak. Last night, that vicious blackguard Lord Frost was captured making for Newcastle.”

“Lord Frost the dishonored knight? He that abandoned his seat at the Table to work as a common mercenary across the sea?”

“The very same. He seems to have learned something of dire military import and is trying to smuggle it north of the Wall. We need somewhere loyal to the King to secure him while he is interrogated.”

“I am ever Arthur’s loyal knight, but I will not turn my hand to torture.”

“Worry not, Sir Knight, the wardens that caught him will bear any shame. They merely need a secure place to work…”

“Lord Frost! A score of knights, crests hidden, just besieged my home! The wardens are falling. As my prisoner, it is my duty to protect you.”

“Where was such honor when those men sought to break me? No matter. Have you a wife? Children?”

“None as yet?”

“Good. We must flee. Those are Mordred’s men, and they will slay all in this home but me to hide their deed and seek to uncover my secrets for their own master. Our only hope is to escape. You should go your own way and try to find who sold you out!”

“No. I’ll see you returned to safe imprisonment by those loyal to the crown. To Camelot itself if I must! We will flee, but you remain unarmed and my prisoner.”

“We shall see…”

Making Friends and Influencing People, Part 1


Last week’s post on a more downtime-friendly skill-based system got me thinking about the other thing you’d want in a heavy downtime WoD game: a way to use your downtime to grow your influence in the city. This is obviously most appropriate to a Vampire game, but could be relevant to Mage or non-White Wolf games as well. Everyone likes a system for quantifying favors owed and controlling events in the game world.

This system is largely based on the LARP rules for Influence, but with a lot more granularity. It requires a lot of bookkeeping because it’s meant to be a major subsystem: you could theoretically use it to run a game where the PCs spend most of their time garnering Influence and using it to solve problems without ever getting directly involved.

Categories of Influence

It’s up to the GM how granular influence is in a particular game. You might use the standard LARP categories (media, bureaucracy, finance, industry, etc.) or require it to target an actual contiguous organization (Channel 6, the DMV, Stonegate Bank, Excelsior Holdings, etc.). The latter will make more sense in a simulation-heavy game (as it becomes more clear how the character can turn favors into a result) while the former gives a much broader base of power to the PCs. If you want to have a more granular influence while giving the players city-spanning power, you may want to increase the downtime Favor points discussed later (as the system as designed makes it hard to maintain more than a handful of reasonably-effective influences).

Regardless, the minimum number of members of an influence organization is around 100: any smaller and the player could just control it directly rather than having to use favors. If you could conceive of a character having a Status background/merit in the organization, it’s probably big enough to support Influence.

Suggested broad areas of influence include:

  • Bureaucracy
  • Church
  • Finance
  • Health
  • High Society
  • Industry
  • Legal
  • Media
  • Occult
  • Police
  • Politics
  • Street/Underworld
  • Transportation
  • University

Influence is People

A character’s Influence rating in an area is the sum of individual contacts, friends, and thralls within the organization. The more people the character can ask for favors, the higher the Influence rating.

  • Each named individual has a control rating within the organization from 1-10.
    • As a rule of thumb, a character’s control rating in an organization is equal to Status (1-5) plus an applicable skill (0-5) that would indicate ability to direct the organization (Politics is the most obvious, but others could be justified).
    • For example, a politically minded-rookie (Status 1, Politics 5) and a clueless commissioner (Status 5, Politics 1) would both be worth 6 control rating. The former has little power but is really adept at using it, while the latter theoretically has a lot of control but can’t use it off-the-books very easily for the influential character.
  • Each such individual also has a relationship multiplier to this rating (based on how much she likes the PC).
    • A Contact knows the character and is friendly, but is unlikely to stick her neck out. However, having several of them an an organization certainly increases the chance they’ll at least look the other way when a better friend pushes through a favor. The contact’s control rating is quartered and rounded up.
    • A Friend either genuinely likes the character or owes her some serious favors and is thus willing to take more of a risk. The friend’s control rating is halved and rounded up.
    • A Thrall is willing to risk an awful lot for the character, either due to major blackmail, supernatural compulsion, or a genuine love. The thrall’s control rating is used without modification.
  • This generates the Influence rating.
    • All of the character’s relationship-modified control ratings are added together.
    • For every ten points of this total, the character gets a dot of Influence in that organization.
    • The character’s dots cannot exceed the highest relationship-modified control rating of any individual in the organization (e.g., if the character’s highest relationship is an 8-point friend worth 4 points, the character cannot have Influence higher than 4 until she improves that relationship or finds a more influential friend).

If the character has Status or otherwise works legitimately within an organization, she can count herself as one of her Thralls. This relationship doesn’t need to be maintained but also can’t be Burned (both explained later).

For example:

  • A character has several points of influence within the police force:
    • Detective Smith (Status 2, Skill 3), a Friend worth 3 points.
    • Captain Graves (Status 4, Skill 3), a Contact worth 2 points.
    • Officer Carmichael (Status 1, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 3 points.
    • Officer Jones (Status 1, Skill 2), a Contact worth 1 point.
    • Detective O’Brian (Status 2, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 4 points.
  • The character has 13 effective points within the organization, so has Influence 1.
  • If the character added a lot more points of contact, her rating still couldn’t go above Influence 4 without upgrading at least one of the relationships to at least 5 points.

Gaining and Maintaining Influence

If a PC meets and befriends/controls a member of an organization during actual play, that character can immediately be added to the character’s appropriate Influence sheet. GMs are, however, encouraged to enforce the logical consequences of players trying to get too many “free” points of Influence this way: a Contact isn’t just someone that the PC met once and using powers to create a bunch of Thralls in a short period of time has its own repercussions. This is more for situations like a player asking, “Do you think ace reporter Rob Stetson counts as a friend now that we saved him from a pack of werewolves?” And, indeed, if all the PCs could jointly count the NPC a friend, she can be added to all their sheets (though some might spend more time maintaining the relationship than others).

Other than NPCs met in play, a character can make friends and maintain relationships by expending Favor points.

Each PC gains a certain number of favor points per week:

  • One point for each dot of each applicable Background/Merit that could be used to do favors for contacts. Resources is the obvious go-to, but Contacts, Fame, and other such traits might be convincingly argued to give the character an easy ability to improve the lives of her contacts (either through gifts/bribes or by throwing them leads or other career upgrades).
  • One point for each dot of each Influence. It’s rather easy to call in extremely minor favors to keep people happy.
  • One point for each dot in an applicable die pool if the PC spent most of her free time that week working on scraping up Favor. This could be virtually any die pool that the player can justify (social pools to wine and dine the contacts, investigation pools to turn up leads or blackmail, etc.).

No favor points are gained for the week if the PC was completely off the grid/out of town for most of the week. Making your rivals go on the lam is a good way to bleed them of control.

For example, a PC:

  • Has Resources 3, Contacts 2 (5 points)
  • Has Police 2, Media 2 (4 points)
  • Spends the week turning up leads on mundane crimes with Wits 3 + Investigation 3 (6 points)
  • Gains 15 Favor points for the week.

This will change infrequently, so the player can generally write a passive/active total of Favor points gained each week somewhere convenient on the sheet.

Making new friends uses these Favor points:

  • You can add a new Contact by paying her total control in Favor points. For example, a Status 2, Skill 3 individual costs 5 points to add as a Contact.
  • You cannot add a new Contact with Status higher than your Influence dots (as you’re effectively using your existing friends to get you into contact with their superiors). This does have a minimum of one: you can start out a new type of Influence by scraping up contacts from the bottom of the organization.

Each month, you can maintain and improve your relationships with Favor points:

  • You must pay an individual’s effective rating each month to Maintain that relationship (e.g., a control 6 Contact worth an effective 2 costs two Favor points to maintain).
    • If you do not pay to maintain that relationship for the month, put a — next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already had a —, reduce that relationship by one step (Thrall>Friend>Contact>No Value).
  • You can pay double an individual’s effective rating each month to Improve that relationship.
    • If you paid double for the month, put a + next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already  had a +, improve that relationship by one step.
  • A — cancels a + and vice versa. If you neglect a relationship, you’ll eventually have to pay double to remove the risk of it dropping.
  • If a relationship drops to No Value, you can always pay the initial Contact cost to regain that character, even if her Status is now higher than your Influence (but it would have typically been cheaper not to let the relationship drop).

Actions in-play can also adjust relationships at the GM’s discretion. Players might want to direct resources gained during a scenario to favorite contacts, work to get their Thralls higher Status or train them to higher political skill, or otherwise improve a source of influence. If a target was made a Thrall by supernatural means, a reduction to Friend status either means the character was not maintaining the compulsion or, if it was permanent, the contact did something to make peers suspicious and cannot currently give the character full access to resources.

On-screen contacts might also get killed, removing them entirely. And, if you identify an enemy’s contacts, you can kill or suborn them yourself.

Next week’s post explains how to actually use Influence.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Quest Unattainable

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D&D: Wraith Covenant

“A dozen courtiers saw you fleeing from the royal palace after it collapsed.”

“It wasn’t us, Your Grace, we were set up. We were warned that one of the crypts beneath the palace held some kind of undead threat that might be waking up. When we got there, the tomb was already empty… except for the skeletons undermining the whole structure. We barely made it out ourselves!”

“You’ve adventured in my kingdom for years, and I know you’ve grown accustomed to my support… but I can’t give it to you this time. My nearest neighbors think that I sent you to kill them. Four members of the royal family are dead, their palace is destroyed, and their family crypts are collapsed. They’re threatening to go to war…”


“…unless I disavow you and make an honest attempt to deliver you to them.”

“I see.”

“You’ve done more for this kingdom than anyone else in centuries, but we can’t survive a war with our neighbors. Any members of your guild that weren’t involved can turn themselves over to royal guard custody until this blows over. The rest of you will be branded a splinter group of political dissidents… and hunted.”

“But Your Grace, there’s still an undead threat out there that’s already a step ahead of us. It could threaten all of the kingdoms!”

“And I hope that you’ll be able to stop it. If you can prove the threat, you can clear your names. Your quest, should you choose to accept it, is to save the world despite itself.”

Skill Based: Scaling Exp into Scaling Time


As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of skill-based game systems that use a flat-cost system in character creation but a scaling-cost system for advancement. That is, something that costs 2 points per level in creation might cost current level x 2 with exp. It effectively penalizes players for not min-maxing at character creation, as it’s way cheaper in the long run if you start with several useful traits maxed out and neglect median ranks in traits.

What the scaling costs are meant to do is create a more simulationist curve to advancement: of course it’s harder to master a skill than to pick up the basics, so the first rank costs a small fraction of moving from the penultimate to ultimate rank. But even with that stated goal, in the latest White Wolf game I’ve been playing, we’ve started to notice flaws. We have a five-member party where everyone started out with a high degree of skill in at least a couple of areas that compliment one another, so we can usually field at least one person against any given challenge. Since there’s only the lowest pressure to shore up our weaker traits, it only makes sense to save up our exp until we can buy something really flashy (generally the next highest rank in our powers). The GM is stuck in a weird situation where our group can pretty easily roll over most of the opponents in his setting book, because even though those NPCs technically have tons more exp than us, they’ve diversified it across a bunch of traits. We’re magical idiot savants, fantastically skilled at a couple of meaningful areas and worthless at anything else. And the system makes that a great idea.

And, as a secondary concern (which is a problem with virtually every game that doesn’t require training time), we’ve gone from newly awakened nobodies to magical powerhouses in only a couple months of game time. There’s no reason for us to take a break longer than it takes us to heal up, recover mana, and refill willpower. So even though the GM would like us to spend some time in magical study, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to do so.

That’s a long intro to explain the background of the system below. It’s designed to:

  • Minimize the differences between buying something at chargen and during play
  • Encourage players to diversify spending rather than just buying the flashiest traits
  • Enforce a “realistic” time frame on learning skills

Fixed Costs

The following charts are tuned to new WoD (new level) and old WoD (current level), but should be applicable with minor modification to any game that uses a level multiplier for exp costs.

New WoD

New Level x 5 dots* 10 dots
1 3 6
2 5 11
3 8 17
4 10 22
5 13 28
6 15 33
7 18 39
8 20 44

* The fifth dot costs double as in character creation.

Old WoD

Current Level x* 5 dots 10 dots
1 2 5
2 5 9
3 7 14
4 9 19
5 12 23
6 14 28
7 16 33
8 18 37

* The costs are based on a fixed cost for the first dot equal to about 150% the cost of the second dot (e.g., skills cost 3 points for the first dot in oWoD and 2 for the second).


In oWoD, attributes cost current level x 4 for a five-dot progression. Looking at the chart above, they now costs 9 points per dot. Similarly, Willpower costs current level x 1 for a ten-dot progression. On the chart, that becomes 5 points per dot.

In nWoD, attributes cost new level x 5 for a five-dot progression, so they now cost 13 points per dot (and the fifth dot costs 26). Meanwhile, Willpower becomes a flat 8 points per dot, so that remains unchanged.

Enforced Time

Standard Method

Characters can spend one exp per week per trait. If they don’t have enough saved exp on hand at the end of the week for all the traits they want, they didn’t learn anything that week and don’t get to “buy the week back” when more exp is gained. But if they have lots of exp, they can be working on several traits at once. This is effectively paying for the trait on layaway: when the last point of exp goes into the trait, it is increased on the character sheet immediately.

The GM may additionally want to give out bonus training that is effectively extra exp that can ignore the time restrictions. This will generally be something the PCs were focused on during the adventure and could justify learning faster due to on-the-job training. For example, in an adventure where everyone learned a ton about the occult, instead of 4 general exp the GM might give out 2 general exp and 2 exp that went straight into the Occult skill (and the players could spend another point of exp into Occult for their regular weekly increases).

Players will likely either want a character sheet with room next to every trait to track exp spent, or a scratch sheet to keep track of which traits are being worked on. The GM will likely want to pick a day of the game week that’s exp day, and remember to call it out at the table (“It’s Sunday morning, spend your exp!”).

Slightly More Bookkeeping Method

The above method does make more expensive traits take longer to learn, but doesn’t capture the geometric feel of the multiplicative exp. That is, under this system, the fourth dot takes just as long to learn as the second. If you’d like to retain some of that feel, you can make lower point values take less time to pick up than higher.

The simplest way to do that is to let the players put two points of exp into a skill per week if they’re trying to buy rank 1 or 2 and only half a point in per week (or one every other week) if they’re trying to buy rank 5.

In nWoD, that means a character completely untrained in a skill (and with ample exp to spend every week but no bonus exp) gains rank 1 in four weeks, rank 2 after 8 weeks total, rank 3 after 16 weeks total, rank 4 after 24 weeks total, and rank 5 after 56 weeks total. Meanwhile, a x6 power gains rank 1 in 8 weeks, rank 2 in 15 weeks total, rank 3 in 30 weeks total, rank 4 in 45 weeks total, and rank 5 after 105 weeks.

If you have enough downtime that a year still seems too fast to go from untrained to mastery in a skill, you can slow the progression down even more. Do keep in mind that doing so will make learning more expensive traits than skills (i.e., attributes and powers) take even more time. Make sure that your time progression leaves enough room for players to bother getting the last rank in a power if it takes over a year to go from 4 to 5.

And if, as a GM, you want to keep track of all the bookkeeping yourself, you can simply ask the players what they’re trying to learn and then tell them when they can level it up. Just one day you’ll be like, “all that time you spent learning X has paid off, you may increase it by one dot.” Your players might even be amazed at the way their characters grow along with their intentions but without their direct involvement.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Unexpected Delving

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D20 Modern/D&D: Dungeon in the Forest

The best kept secret of the modern world is that many of the old legends and fairy tales are true. Terrible creatures lurk in warrens below, their numbers unknown but overwhelming. Were they to attack the people of the surface, it would at the very least ruin the delicate balance of our civilizations and economies, and could result in a final world war that humanity cannot win.

So why don’t they attack us? Somehow these chthonic entities have an implicit code: they would much rather engage in symbolic than actual war with the surface. They want a small band of humans to descend into their tunnels and match might and wits against the warriors and traps of the deep.

Easy enough, right? The nations of the world have no lack of highly-trained soldiers happy to risk their lives for the safety of all. But the implicit code doesn’t allow that. For some reason, the monsters beneath the earth only want to fight those that are truly interested in the adventure, not in the fate of the world. They can somehow detect ringers right away and swarm them in overwhelming numbers. But if a small group finds its way beneath the earth and chooses to keep exploring out of the thrill of the fight and lust for treasure, it all works out. The creatures array themselves into challenging but not overwhelming clusters of foes, and the world is safe as long as this delve lasts.

We’ve even identified several archetypes that work the best: the Fighter, the Cleric, the Mage, and the Thief. Whenever we find a group of four friends who fit those roles, the dungeons are exceptionally peaceful for months after their delves, whether or not they eventually meet a grisly end. It’s especially useful if they start out with hardly any skill at combat whatsoever: the monsters seem to enjoy it when their opponents are clearly learning on the job.

So we started a project to find young men and women that fit these roles, subtly encourage them to vacation near entryways into the netherworld, and build up their confidence enough that they throw caution to the wind and, of their own free will, choose to become treasure seekers and monster slayers. Most of them die, and die quickly. Some of them eventually cut their losses and sell the ancient treasures they’ve unearthed for a leg up on modern life. The greatest find their way into becoming secret weapons of their nation’s elite armed forces. Once you’ve faced down a dragon and won, nothing about the surface world is likely to ever scare you again.