Vampire: Alternate Degeneration

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Yes, I’m still on a V:tM kick. This week: an alternate system for managing “Humanity.” It, like the influence system, is heavily inspired by the Mind’s Eye Theater rules.

For this hack, I’ve collapsed the Virtues into the Attributes to create something more similar to the nWoD power/finesse/resistance breakdown. That is:

  • Physical attributes remain the same, though Stamina gets involved in degeneration as seen below.
  • Social attributes compress Manipulation and Appearance into “Poise,” the social finesse stat. Charisma remains and becomes the power stat. The Self-Control virtue becomes “Composure” and represents social combat resistance as well as ability to hold out against anger.
  • Mental attributes drop Wits (its effects are spread between the other attributes). Intelligence is the power stat and Perception is the finesse stat. The Courage virtue becomes the mental resistance stat.

I’ve also simplified the Attack>Dodge>Damage>Soak mechanic universally such that Dodge is pre-subtracted from attack dice before rolling and Soak is pre-subtracted from damage dice before rolling. This should work about about the same statistically and speed up the oWoD combat round a bit.

If you prefer to use the rest of V:tM as written, you can sub in the Virtues for defensive uses below and slightly change the combat order to allow for rolling defenses rather than pre-subtracting them.

Beast Traits

A character’s humanity is measured in control over the Beast. As you commit monstrous acts, your Beast grows stronger and your Humanity fades… eventually it becomes easier to relent before the urgings of the Beast than to risk Frenzy and total loss of control. Each character begins with a single Beast Trait in one of three categories; the number of traits in a category is a bonus to the Beast’s attempts to drive the character to Frenzy in those situations. The more Beast Traits you have, the later you wake up after sunset (generally a quarter of an hour for each trait).

  • Rage: Invoked when hurt or otherwise provoked; resisted with Composure
  • Hunger: Invoked when spurred by hunger or greed; resisted with Stamina
  • Fear: Invoked when afraid or faced with fire or sunlight: resisted with Courage

Gaining Beast Traits

Beast Traits represent the strength of the beast within a Cainite. Even the most noble and ethical heart means little against a failure to reign in the Beast, while a near sociopath can still lead a blameless unlife if her violent urgings are kept in check. Thus, there is no real concept of a morality or hierarchy of sins, merely actions that cause the Beast to grow and gain more power over its host. You can be as moral or immoral as you like, as long as you maintain a leash on your inner monster.

The easiest way to gain Beast Traits is killing. While there is no hierarchy of sins, there is one of murder:

  1. True accidental deaths, killing in self defense (no quarter offered or given), killing an antagonistic supernatural
  2. Careless deaths (could have been prevented with some foresight but it was an accident), killing out of expediency (dangerous, untrustworthy, but inactive opponent)
  3. Killing a non-innocent during a Frenzy, killing a violent opponent (who was only threatening injury, not death), killing out of a sense of justice (the target wasn’t deadly but was mounting up small horrors over the long term)
  4. Killing an innocent during a Frenzy, killing a non-innocent in the heat of the moment out of anger, hunger, or fear
  5. Killing an innocent in the heat of the moment, premeditated murder on a non-innocent
  6. Premeditated murder of an innocent, cruel/unusual/torturous death, mass murder or serial killing

When your character kills, determine whether the motivation is out of rage, hunger, or fear (if it’s not obvious, as in a frenzy, the player chooses what makes the most sense). Find the type of kill on the chart and reduce the number by the number of current Beast Traits you have in that category (even the Beast gets jaded after a while). If the number is 0, you don’t gain an additional Beast Trait this time (though repeatedly performing the action may bump it up). If it is 1 or more, you gain another Beast Trait in that category.

While the Beast is less interested in actions that don’t involve death, a history of cruelty or otherwise unnecessary harm short of killing someone may eventually catch its attention. In these cases, the player will be warned after such an action that the Beast is waking and her character can feel that it will grow if the actions continue to be repeated.

Frenzy

Rather than making a simple check to avoid Frenzy, it is a drawn out series of attacks against the character’s mental fortitude (represented by an additional mental damage track). It does not generally take place in rounds, but the Beast attacks when provoked, slowly wearing down the character.

The Beast attacks whenever the character faces a trigger event:

  • Rage: The character is provoked or threatened and Fight reflexes would kick in
  • Hunger: The character spends down to one or zero blood or is faced with an obvious chance to feed when low on blood
  • Fear: The character is faced with fire, sunlight, or something else that would trigger Flight reflexes

Actions

Characters can take an action to respond to attacks by the Beast. If a trigger comes in combat rounds, defending against the Beast uses an action similarly to Dodging (either the whole round’s action, or splitting dice pools between acting and defending).

When the Beast attacks, the sequence is as follows:

  1. The Beast declares a dice pool based on the significance of the trigger.
    1. A very minor stressor might only be 1 die, while a major event might be 4.
    2. The character’s Beast Traits for that stressor are added to the total.
  2. The character can decide to relent and do what the Beast wants (attack, feed, or flee). If this is chosen, the Beast deals no damage because it got what it wanted.
  3. The character decides whether to use an action to defend. If she does:
    1. Subtract Perception from the attacker’s dice pool. Willpower can be spent to reduce it further.
    2. If there are no dice left, the attack simply misses.
  4. If the attacker still has dice, roll them against difficulty 6. If there are any successes, the attack hit.
  5. Add the successes on the attack to the appropriate Beast Trait.
  6. The defender Soaks, subtracting Composure (Rage), Stamina (Hunger), or Courage (Fear).
  7. Roll the remaining dice against difficulty 6. The successes are the damage taken by the target.

Wounds

As with physical damage, most characters have seven boxes of Frenzy Levels. Most damage is normal, but a mental wound might be counted as “Aggravated” if the Beast is somehow being stressed by an external supernatural force. As with physical damage, the wounds carry penalties (to mental actions related to thinking clearly and social actions to act like a human with other mortals).

When a character is “killed” mentally, she enters Frenzy and takes actions related to the last trigger (attacking until the provocation is destroyed, feeding until sated, or fleeing and fighting anything in the way). At that point, all mental damage is healed as the beast is quiescent (but the player probably has a new Beast Trait). If not “killed,” the mental damage heals slowly (similar to the mortal healing rate). On rising for the evening, a player can choose to heal one normal mental health level instead of receiving a point of Willpower (Aggravated damage can only be healed with time).

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Online Pathways

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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.

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.

Bureaucracy

  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

Church

  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

Finance

  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

Health

  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

Industry

  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

Legal

  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

Media

  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

Occult

  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

Police

  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

Politics

  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

Street/Underworld

  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

Transportation

  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

University

  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

Making Friends and Influencing People, Part 1

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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.

Savage Worlds – Ravenloft Adventure

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I put together a short module set in Ravenloft but using the Savage Worlds rules (for the review that starts this week). It’s fairly straightforward, suitable for a demo scenario, and includes pregen characters and a rules summary. You can get it here.

The village of Steinberg has experienced a troublesome last few decades. A quiet farming community, it has become more and more insular. There is no inn, there is no government to speak of, there is just a small hamlet of people that work their fields by day and are careful to lock themselves in their houses by night. They never discuss the strange anemia that seems to afflict those with inferior locks or the events of fifty-three years ago that make them believe that their lot is only what they are owed…

Camarillaville, part 2

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Continued from last week…

Pathways Chart

The pathways chart for Camarillaville is here as a pdf.

The chart only goes to the Embrace (replacing the life changing event) and drops one step from the typical Smallville chart (as there’s less focus on the early teen years than in a TV show about teenagers). All increases should be similar to the Smallville values (with the notable addition of a couple more value increases to make up for using seven values instead of six).

Note that, since the chart only goes to the Embrace, you may wind up with few vampire connections and a lot of mundane connections, resulting in a game where the player characters became vampires but keep haunting their old life. This is a perfectly valid way to play, but, if you’d like to have a more Kindred-focused gameplay experience, you should encourage your players to add extras and locations that, in hindsight, turn out to have been part of the undead society that would eventually draw them in (e.g., “Mr. Stein, my father’s boss” turns out to be “Eckhardt Stein, Ventrue Elder”).

If you want to run chargen past the embrace, feel free to use the second page of the chart in Smallville verbatim or as a basis for expanded events that make sense for your game (i.e., there’s sufficient variation in Vampire chronicles post-Embrace that I couldn’t come up with a one-size-fits-all chart).

Pathway Descriptions

Note: Just like in normal Smallville, player characters should typically step directly down to the next level or to either side (wrapping at the edges), unless the GM agrees that your backstory makes sense to jump. For example, a Poor childhood may lead to a Bully’s youth and an Executive adulthood before finally receiving a Toreador embrace. Conversely, a Rich child is unlikely to become a Creative youth, a Creative youth likely won’t become a White Collar adult, and a White Collar adult isn’t often the kind to receive a Brujah’s embrace.

Childhood

Childhood represents the character’s origin and early years, ending at some point in school that marks a transition in the character’s personality.

  • Rich:
    • Your character was born comfortably upper class (possibly even very wealthy and connected) and you wanted for nothing. You might not have had the most attentive parents or enduring friendships, however.
    • Suggested Distinction: Connected, Cosmopolitan, Family Reputation, Manipulative, Wealthy
  • Cherished:
    • Your family was reasonably well off, and possibly wealthy, and doted on you. Likely you were attractive, showed an early skill at athletics, or were simply an only child. You never felt unloved… but were perhaps a good bit spoiled.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Attractive, Cosmopolitan, Likeable, Manipulative
  • Gifted:
    • You showed an early talent for the arts that defined your childhood. Your family was likely middle class, but gave you the resources necessary to try to improve your gift (whether or not you were as excited as your parents…).
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Attractive, Clever, Connected, Daring, Military Brat, Observant
  • Bright:
    • You were always very intelligent, and/or had a family that encouraged your intellectual growth from an early age. You were very likely branded a nerd soon after starting school.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Clever, Genius, Mastermind, Military Brat, Not Born Yesterday, Occult Knowledge (replaces Extraterrestrial Knowledge)
  • Orphan:
    • You lost or were abandoned by your parents at an early age, and either entered the system or were pawned off on relatives that couldn’t bring themselves to care for you as real parents.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Fast Talker, Guilty, Impulsive, Observant, Savage, Sneaky, Willful
  • Poor:
    • Your family was decidedly working class and often had trouble making ends meet or getting you the best education.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Big-Hearted, Daring, Fixer, Military Brat, On a Mission, Savage, Sneaky
  • Abused:
    • Your parents or guardians were jerks who physically and/or emotionally abused you. Perhaps they were trying to force you to fulfill their own dreams, or maybe they just were bad people unprepared to have a child.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Athletic, Attractive, Family Reputation, Guilty, Military Brat, Observant, Savage, Sneaky, Vicious

Youth

Youth represents much of the character’s school age, outlining the process of becoming defined more by one’s peers than one’s background.

  • Wealthy:
    • With access to resources beyond those available to other children, you became known for dressing well and throwing parties. As time passed, you may have begun to wonder whether you had any friends that liked you for more than your money.
    • Suggested Distinction: Connected, Cosmopolitan, Family Reputation, Manipulative, Mastermind, Smartass, Wealthy
  • Popular:
    • Due to some combination of good looks, athletic skills, family background, and winning personality, you managed to float to the top of the school hierarchy. Even years later there may still be peers that remember you fondly.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Athletic, Attractive, Backhanded, Big-Hearted, Connected, Cosmopolitan, Likeable, Manipulative, Right Place/Right Time, Shameless Flirt, Wealthy, Vicious
  • Creative:
    • The life of an arty kid is one forever in the middle of the social hierarchy. You likely spent most of your school years hoping that your talent would be one of the ones considered cool this year.
    • Suggested Distinction: Agile, Attractive, Big Sister, Clever, Connected, Daring, Gearhead, Hacker, Martial Artist, Observant
  • Smart:
    • There are very few schools where being a nerd or a geek isn’t a social death sentence. You were one of the kids whose genius destined her for great things… after enduring years of peer rejection.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Big Sister, Clever, Genius, Hacker, Investigator, Mastermind, Not Born Yesterday, Observant, Occult Knowledge (replaces Extraterrestrial Knowledge), Smartass
  • Outcast:
    • You found your role in school to be highly indistinct: not wealthy or sociable enough to be popular and without the proclivities to fit into one of the other cliques. You spent a lot of time as a loner.
    • Suggested Distinction: Backhanded, Fast Talker, Guilty, Gearhead, Hacker, Impulsive, Investigator, Not Born Yesterday, Observant, Savage, Smartass, Sneaky, Willful
  • Tough:
    • You were one of the kids that was tough enough not to be messed with and possibly good at sports, but you missed popularity for some reason. You were a prime candidate for shop class or JROTC.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Daring, Fixer, Gearhead, Guilty, Impulsive, Marksman, Martial Artist, On a Mission, Smartass, Soldier
  • Bully:
    • You were one of the kids that maintained your own position by keeping others down. It’s a hard, socially Darwinistic road, but you wouldn’t have had it any other way.
    • Suggested Distinction: Athletic, Backhanded, Daring, Fixer, Guilty, Impulsive, Manipulative, Martial Artist, Right Place/Right Time, Savage, Sneaky, Vicious

Adulthood

Adulthood represents the time between school and the Embrace (and can, obviously, be a largely variable time depending on whether you were taken right out of college or late in your career). If you were quite young when Embraced, this might represent the career you had been planning for and now may never have.

  • Executive: Your career is one where you were on the fast track to money and connections: banking, finance, law, politics, upper management, etc.
  • Artist: You found yourself in a career where you actually make money doing something creative; either you’re actually making money as an independent artist or are a skilled collaborator at a bigger company.
  • Academic: You very likely never left college once you graduated, but simply started accumulating more degrees until finding yourself in a classroom. If you aren’t a professor, you do something closely related to research and education.
  • Scientist: The counterpart to the academic, you may actually be a research scientist or may, instead, be in a highly technical field such as medicine, engineering, or computer science.
  • White Collar: Your life is one of cubicles and office chairs: middle management, clerical, support, sales, or something else that requires a bit of an education and a deep desire for a steady paycheck and benefits.
  • Blue Collar: Your life is one of labor and service: to the line, to the site, or to your city or country. You might not have a leather chair or private office, but neither do you have the spreading rear end and stress levels to match.
  • Criminal: You’ve decided that the whole system is designed to keep you from your goals, and you’re working around it. Maybe you run with a gang, maybe you have a racket just you and a partner, or maybe you quietly skim money off of a white collar bank account.

Embrace

At some point a Camarilla vampire with permission to sire decided that you deserved immortality (or just that she wanted to own you forever…). Perhaps she was an old family friend that had been watching you for years. Perhaps she noticed your talent and couldn’t bear to see it fade with age. Or maybe you were just chanced into the right situation where she impulsively decided that you should live forever.

It’s assumed that the player characters will be embraced around the same time, but there may be some discrepancy if it’s necessary for certain backstories. Regardless, make sure that all relationships to other PCs are filled in at this stage, as all characters will quickly meet one another in the insular Kindred society. Whether they like one another enough to become a coterie is far less certain than in a traditional Vampire game…

Make sure to generate an interesting extra for your character’s Sire, and connect her back to other PCs or elements if at all possible: this relationship is likely to drive your early play in Camarillaville as you uncover the drives that convinced her to make you immortal and what that means for your role in the city as a whole.

Camarillaville, part 1

3 Comments

  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…

Overview

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.

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