"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
THE YEAR WAS NINETEEN-NINETY-ONE and the world was coming to an end. Millennialism hadn't reached a fever pitch yet, but it was there in the air, like the smell of ozone before the storm. Computer geeks were on about something called Y2K, and it was going to throw us all back into the Dark Ages. The fundamentalists--who were seeing vast Satanic conspiracies and blood-thirsty cults pulling global strings behind every scene--were talking more and more about Rapture and writing books like Left Behind. The Red Scare was over, but fear of the New World Order was replacing it. Ruby Ridge and Waco encouraged armed militia groups to multiply. And AIDS? AIDS was still making sex as scary as hell, and blood-borne disease was in everyone's mind. So we knew the world was ending. Prince knew the world was ending. Even the vampires knew the world was ending.
Hell, maybe all of these things plague you.
Showing no mercy I'd do it again
Let's start at the beginning.
The Antediluvians responded with the Beckoning, a powerful summons that drew the Elders of their bloodlines to them. Higher generation vampires, rulers of Kindred communities, answered the call and left the younger vampires holding the reigns.
Thus the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, the so-called "War on Terror," conceals a more terrifying truth; Enoch and its masters have awoken.
As the Sabbat and the Elders wage this vicious conflict, the Camarilla--deprived of its senior leadership--has been unable to hold back the Anarchs, the rebellious young vampires now rising up in revolution. The only thing that keeps these two factions from open war is a a greater threat.
The Masquerade has been broken.
While the public doesn't yet know about the existence of vampires, many western intelligence agencies do. The War on Terror has exposed the Kindred at last. The FBI, Homeland Security, and the CIA; MI5 and MI6; France's DGSI and Germany's BND, are all among those now coordinating with the Vatican in a sort of "Second Inquisition." Thousands of vampires around the globe have been exterminated in the hunt.
Aside from reshaping the world the vampires live in, V5 has reshaped the systems governing the vampires as well.
The core mechanics remain the same. To attempt an action, players build dice pools of ten-siders. This is usually a characters core Trait (something like Charisma, Dexterity, or Strength) plus a Skill (perhaps Athletics, Etiquette, or Persuasion). Such attributes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, so your dice pool is generally one to ten dice.
In V5, however, the object is to score a 6 or higher on each die. Those count as successes. If you roll a natural 10, it counts as two successes. You are rolling against a difficulty assigned by the Storyteller (GM). A routine action requires one success, a challenging action requires four. A nearly impossible action will need seven. If you score the number of successes you need, you succeed. Otherwise you fail. Any additional successes make your success even sweeter.
This is all considerably more streamlined than previous editions of Masquerade, but where V5 really demonstrates innovation is in the new Hunger mechanics.
Vampires drink blood; this is the core of the concept. Traditionally Masquerade tracked this with the concept of a "Blood Pool." Like a tank of gas, feeding "filled you up." Rising each evening, or calling upon your blood to fuel vampiric powers, burned points from your Blood Pool up. As the Pool got lower you got hungrier, and needed to fill up again. The system worked fine, but it focused more on the Blood as a resource than on the actual Hunger which drives vampiric existence.
V5 tosses the idea of Blood Pools and replaces it with Hunger, which like all attributes is on a scale of 0 to 5. At zero you are sated. At five, the lust for blood is overpowering. Rising each night, or using your vampiric powers, triggers a "Rouse" check. This is the roll of a single die; succeed, and your Hunger remains at present levels. Fail, and your Hunger increases by one. More powerful vampiric abilities might require multiple Rouse checks. The lower your vampire's Generation (the closer he is to Caine), the greater your chance of being able to re-roll Rouse checks (compensating for the fact that in previous editions these characters had larger Blood Pools).
Now, to show the overpowering force of the Hunger on vampires, every dice pool you build (with the exception of things like Willpower or Humanity checks) must contain Hunger dice. These are dice of a different color. If, for example, you are making a Charisma + Persuasion roll and have a dice pool of six, and your Hunger is currently three, then half of your dice will be Hunger dice. Hunger dice work normally...unless they come up 1s or 10s.
If they come up tens, they still act as double successes, but the Beast--the monstrous vampire nature all characters wrestle with--emerges and colors the result. A vampire trying to pick a lock might lose control and just rip it off its hinges. A vampire trying to intimidate a mortal might suddenly show his fangs and vampiric features. You still achieve your goal, roughly, but the Beast emerges and taints your victory.
If you scored any 1s on your Hunger dice, AND failed the roll as well, your character must act out a Compulsion. There are standard ones--Hunger, Dominance, Harm, and Paranoia--and there are clan specific ones. The bestial Gangrel are overcome by animalistic behaviors, the rebellious Brujah pick a fight with authority. Basically a Compulsion is the Beast taking over and driving the character awhile. The player is still in control, but must act out the character's darker impulses.
Obviously you want to keep your Hunger under control, and that means feeding. Completely killing and draining a victim will remove all your Hunger dice...but there are happy mediums like taking a pint or two (slaking 2 Hunger dice) or lunching on an animal (removing 1). The lower your generation, and the more potent your blood, the more difficult these half measures become. The stronger you are, the more likely you are to need to kill to keep your Hunger under control.
If you have played Masquerade before everything you remember is still here. You can still call upon your vampiric blood to fuel feats of physical strength and speed, heal damage, etc. You are still vulnerable to the Blood Bond (drinking too much blood from another vampire can form an emotional attachment that makes you essentially "fang whipped"). Sunlight is still the enemy, and Humanity is something you will struggle with.
In fact, "Humanity" is front and center again. Rated on a scale of 10 to 0, Humanity measures how strong the "human" half of you is, as opposed to the vampiric Beast. With Humanity 10 you feel relatively warm to the touch, have an essentially healthy human appearance, and can even eat and drink food (though not live on it). The lower you drop from this, the more corpse-like and cold you appear, the harder it is to pass as living. It becomes increasingly harder to interact with living mortals. At zero, your character is gone, completely consumed by the Beast within.
Humanity is lost by committing acts of brutality or cruelty. It is lost by giving in to the Beast. Thus the vampire in V5 is constantly struggling with Hunger and Humanity, trying to find the balance between the two.
Another interesting mechanic is "Memoriam." Vampires are ageless, and even the younger ones can have decades of life behind them. However, the mind cannot hold all that memory all of the time. It would drive you mad. Vampires tend to exist frozen in the moment then, but can dive into their past when necessary with Memoriam. This involves stopping the main story and entering a flashback, something that was a common trick back on TV shows like Forever Knight or Angel. Memoriam can give you bonuses to dice tests ("Wait, I remember, I have done this before..."), answers to problems ("There is an old secret tunnel dating back to Prohibition that will give us access to that building") or even resources ("As I recall I still have a safety deposit box in that bank from my early years, stealing jewels"). It can only be done once a story, but fleshes out the vampire's long unlife in a satisfying and relevant way.
Ah Vampire, how I missed you.
In the summer of 1991 was back from college, running a RuneQuest campaign. We were only about four sessions in when a trip to my local game store changed everything.
On the new arrivals shelf was a strange softcover book with a marbled green cover and a rose on it. The game was called Vampire: The Masquerade. I liked horror games; Call of Cthulhu was an old favorite, and I had been running the new Mayfair version of Chill at university. A game about hunting vampires was intriguing. Reaching out to flip through it, it took a few moments to realize the mistake in my casual assumption. With something akin to mild shock, I realized that in this game, you weren't hunting monsters. You were the monsters.
I bought it immediately.
Understand, there had never been anything like this. I'd been game mastering for over a decade, and games were all pretty much the same; you played heroes, and heroes fought the bad guys. These might be James Bond megalomaniacs or Lovecraftian horrors, they might be orcs, scorpion men, or Stormtroopers...but they were all the villains. Yet here was this weird game, and the damn thing was about being the villain. It was about exploring the nature of evil and essential humanity. I stayed up half the night reading it. It was like discovering role-playing all over again.