[V:tM] V5 Pre-Alpha: Readthrough Review

Brother Ben and I have given the fifth edition Vampire: the Masquerade pre-alpha rules a coat of looking at. Here are some key thoughts from our diatribe.

Brother Ben and I have given the fifth edition Vampire: the Masquerade pre-alpha rules a coat of looking at. Here are some key thoughts from our diatribe.

Of Target Numbers and How To Reach Them

Ben: At first glance, sixes to succeed plus Willpower offering a whole reroll plus the option to Succeed At A Cost (and choose not to if you don’t like the cost) seems very forgiving to the player.

Von: I think it’s a bit less forgiving than a guaranteed no-cost bare-bones success for the low low price of one Willpower point, and at first I wasn’t quite sure how necessary it was to have both.

Ben: That’s a very powerful mechanic right there. “Hmm, Ranulf needs to really really survive this fight with Urbicus, but I don’t think I rolled enough successes on that melee to break out of his grapple/bite. I will spend a point of willpower, keep all the successes from the previous roll and re-roll all the failures.”

Ben: I like Succeed At A Cost too. Not sure the player should know the price of failure and have the chance to opt out… but not sure they SHOULDN’T have that choice either. But with both in the game I wonder – could critical dice rolls bog down into market style haggling?

Von: Yeah. That’s what I thought: always, always look for ways to eliminate stages from resolution.

Ben: Agreed there. Streamline play. I like the GM mechanic for Take Half – it streamlines stuff.

Von: I don’t think you need a reroll mechanic and a GM-taxing-potential-to-haggle-analysis-paralysis mechanic. It seems to me that “succeed at a cost” is one of those rules which is dependent on a given GM’s ability to invent and balance consequences on the fly, i.e. the sort of rule which is very dependent on the Trust Tree, i.e. the opposite direction from most modern RPGs, which are all about insulating players and GMs from having to make that kind of unreliable call.

Ben: TRUST??? TRUST? THAT HAS NO PLACE HERE! WE WILL INSTEAD SURROUND OURSELVES WITH BLOAT AND CRUFT SO THAT I NO ONE EVER HAS TO EXPLAIN THEMSELVES, BUT CAN INSTEAD HIDE BEHIND AN AUTHORITARIAN “IT’S IN THE BOOK!”

Von: Yes, quite. Now stop working for Paizo.

Von: Oh, hang on, I’ve just caught something about Succeed at a Cost – it only triggers if you’re ONE success short.

Ben: That makes a difference.

Von: Yeh. I guess it’s there to create drama around a near miss?

Ben: This gains support from me.

Von: “You don’t hang on to the ledge yourself but you DO grab Nico’s hand, now you can have a contrived moment of friendship and heroism while dramatic music plays.”

Von: I don’t like losing the botch/10-again rule though. I like that some possible outcomes on a d10 have more significance. At the moment it doeesn’t need to be d10s – it could be done with coin flips. The probability events being used don’t need ten different outputs, so it’s pointless having ten different outputs.

Ben: All you have done there is stated something in its favour – WE CAN PLAY EVEN IF NO-ONE BRINGS DICE.

Von: We could… although I find coins physically harder to manipulate and read than dice. *flips coin, it flies off, lands in someone’s drink/on the floor/in the soup etc.*

Ben: Was thinking along those lines myself.

Von: It’s more that – OK, if WW want us to use the d10 artifact, for nostalgia’s sake/because IT’S GAMING SO POLYHEDRA, they need some gradation in the outputs to justify that artifact. Some of the backlash I’ve seen indicates that people instinctively understand that.

Of Character Stats

Ben: Character attributes have been folded riiiiiight down by the look of it? The 9 attributes vs. 3 attributes + specializations? At the moment I am not quite sure I see why they made this change. They say it’s to allow for characters to customize and personalize their characters, but it seems to actually REMOVE some flexibility to me.

Von: I think they’ve gone a bit too far there. There WERE some obvious dump stats on the old sheet, but I thought Requiem did a decent job of fixing those and making the 3×3 something sensible and useful, like a look up table for what Attribute you should use. BUT: Physical, Social, Mental, with specialities, is all I’ve ever bothered with for my NPCs, and it seems to work.

Ben: Hmm. The higher your physical stats, the more damage you can take in a simple ‘you have more boxes to fill’ system. And from what I saw of combat in ‘how you roll to hit’ above, I gather there are no Soak rolls now. You make an opposed roll to hit, and the loser of that roll takes the difference between winner and loser as damage. COMBAT MIGHT BE FAST. 

Von: Yeah, they’ve stripped that sixteen stage “getting punched in the face” process down a bit.

Ben: I also like that the character whose turn it is can LOSE to their target and have the tables turned on them.

Ben: I see the damage track no longer has stunning/bashing/bullshitting/burning/whatevering all being counted separately. It’s just ‘this could worry a mortal’ and ‘this could worry a vampire’.

Von: Like Second Edition. The Sensible Edition.

Ben: It states that all superficial damage taken is halved before being applied to the damage tracker. Is that for vampires only, or mortals too? Or is the difference simply that a vampire considers far FAR more types of attack to be superficial?

Von: I think you’re right – vampires can walk off a lot more. I see several layers of granularity here: types of damage that can be halved, but those convert when you fill the track and loop around again, damaging an impaired target.

Ben: That sort of makes sense to me – and we’re already doing it after a fashion. “Ranulf jumped that badly burned (aggravated) Tremere in the sewers. His tackle would only have been superficial damage, but that guy was so badly chewed up already that the damage looped round and converted – meaning Ranulf’s tackle broke some bones and knocked the Tremere into torpor.”

Von: Exactly. It’s mostly about eliminating the bash/lethal split and the damage/soak rolls. Speeding fights up – which we kind of half do anyway by using attack rolls to modify damage rolls.

Ben: I have to admit, so far I like this system. I mean, I need to actually PLAY it, but so far I like it.

Von: There are a few places where I think it could stand to streamline more (any time I have to roll some dice, find a difference, convert one of those to a different significance, then do some halving, I’m sensing too much granularity) but it’s… close?

Of Hunger

Ben: Hmm… we no-longer have blood pools? Interesting. Brings in the idea that Vampires can… ‘fast’ for want of a better term.

Ben: Is the new Hunger system LESS book keeping than the old Blood Pools? We’re not tracking each point of Blood anymore, but we are now having to track how many times we do something that SHOULD be a Blood Point. Functionally identical? And then on TOP of that, we have to make another set of bookkeeping rolls at the end the scene to see how much our hunger changes…

Von: There’s a huge difference between Blood and Hunger that I think you’ve missed. It comes down to what WW want the core of the vampire game experience to be.

Von: IF it’s ‘how much blood you have on you’, the actual act of getting the blood is decentred. Blood points lead to that mindset where you have blood packs in your pockets as “magic potions” like in the PC games, or magical bullshit blood gems like the Tremere use.

Von: So let’s re-engineer. Vampire. Creature that preys on the living. Ergo, preying on the living should be a core, fundamental, unavoidable, unelidable part of a game about being a vampire.

Von: Here’s Hunger. It’s a drawback that doesn’t go away until you feed. It gets worse the more stuff you do. NOW: I think the end-of-scene book-keeping may have its drawbacks, if it’s executed coldly right on the heels of something highly dramatic, BUT I think I prefer it to tracking and fretting during every action where blood may come into play. Want to do a thing? Do a thing. Give yourself a hunger tick. It may come back to bite you afterwards, but that’s cool. Stride out of a confrontation, full of rage and thirst, go hunt to slake it. It… feels vampiric.

Ben: Agreed. I’m liking the clan-specific reactions to Hunger too…

Von: Same. ‘specially the Gangrel ones.

Ben: Actually I thought the Gangrel get off a bit more lightly than everyone else. Their most basic Tell is the same as a far FAR lower level one from the generic chart.

Von: They tickle and amuse me is all I mean. The Toreador ones are… asking for trouble though.

Of Disciplines

Von: Why is Aura Perception still there? It’s a pain in the ass, always has been.

Ben: Because it’s fairly central to Auspex? What would you have instead?

Von: I would streamline almost all Disciplines along the lines of VTM Bloodlines. “It basically does one thing, maybe picking up another dimension along the way, but essentially it modifies dice pools for particular things.”

Ben: I see some like Celerity are no longer just more dots = more of the same. I like the changes they’ve made to the ‘more, but better’ powers.

Von: I’m not sure I do, BUT I think if you’re going to do the “each dot represents a new power” thing, then extending that to the physical disciplines is only fair.

Ben: Indeed. All powers should progress the same. Not… “Brujah: one new dot? oh, you’re a little bit stronger. Tremere: one new dot? Here’s a whole raft of new bullshit auto-magical things you can do…”

Von: Yeah. I would personally prefer “Everyone: one new dot? OK, you get a bit better at that thing you do, and maybe a new element to that thing you do”, but you’re right.

Ben: Just read Potence – THAT’S changed a lot an- HOLY SHIT – USING THIS SYSTEM RANULF COULD PUNCH STRAIGHT THROUGH PLATE??? and it’s only a 1 dot ability use to gain his FULL Potence rating on damage rolls? 

Ben: I can’t see anything saying it works this way, but: Ranulf with his Potence 3 could put his fist straight through a knight’s breastplate…. would activating Potence 3 ALSO activate the lower levels of it? Specifically, would he still gain the enhanced damage of Potence 1 IN ADDITION to negating armour? Can’t see anything that says this is the case, but I have been sort of skimming.

Von: I think it’s one Rouse, one power. You want to do three Rouses for all your Potence effects, you be my guest fam.

Von: Think about Presence; would you want to trigger Awe, Dread Gaze and Entrancement all at once? (I can think of case where you might, actually, or at least to trigger them in that order…)

Ben: Given that I’ve seen at least one example where it explicitly stated that you also received the benefits of lower levels, this is what I expected.

Ben: I’m wondering if Disciplines don’t go beyond 3 dots or is that simply not written yet.

Von: My guess is what’s here is “enough to test the waters around the major, sensitive, bedrock-level changes like Hunger and Rousing and not needing four rolls to give someone a clip round the earhole.”

Ben: I assumed the same – ‘heres enough of the rules to test the core stuff. the rest either isn’t relevant or we haven’t included it in order to avoid muddying the test waters’. although to be honest… theres a LOT to be said for slimming down disciplines to Less Than Ten dots. can we remove needless complexity?

Ben: Using Potence as an example: the very first tier allows for near open ended actual ability. The more levels of Potence you have, the more auto-damage you actually DO. Not sure other powers have the same sort of flexibility though – in depth reading required. Some powers would lend them selves to a simple ‘you have more than three dots? then gain extra dice on your dice pool’ style stuff. But others, I suspect, definitely DON’T.

Von: Depends how you’re going to do the generation/elder mechanics, I suppose? I mean – YES, those eight or nine dot powers were seldom used, BUT those eight or nine dot powers quantify an element of the lore and atmosphere, namely “Methuselahs are running the world in their sleep”. IF that aspect is being toned down THEN the high-end powers can go.

Actual Play Review to follow. More on this as details emerge.

 

[Meta Gaming] Whither White Wolf?

Thoughts on the new White Wolf, the latest round of Zak-related controversy, the political Gothic and Scandiwegian LARP.

I’ve had this one in the can for a while, waiting for a moment in the content schedule to let it out. One of the downsides of trying to be more pro and organised is thinking “I could post this today but it’s not on the schedule and it’ll crowd out the regular content and argh.” This one has rather blown up – every couple of days something arrives to make it more convoluted – and now I imagine the teal deers are already bounding through the woods. Better to let it loose than wait for breathing room that never comes.

Anyway. White Wolf.

The newer, more Swedish White Wolf

Some years ago I took them to task for repeated botches of their Intelligence + Sound Business Practice rolls, and then I rather lost track of who owned what in the wonderful World of Darkness. I had my Revised books and lucked into a stash of 2e, I could still play my game, the world could go hang.

Since then, Paradox Interactive – the computer game people who were going to make the World of Darkness MMO –    {ETA: I am now aware that it was CCP, not Paradox, who oversaw development of the WoD MMO – thanks to Julius and Charles for the correction} have overseen the rise of a newer, more Swedish White Wolf. These Scandiwegian types seem to be on the ball.

For one thing, they grasp that trying to make a living as publishers of tabletop RPG books is fucking idiotic. It’s a shallow well, and it leads to the promulgation of cruft and splatbooks and shit that’s coming out because you have to try and and sell something rather than because it’s good for the game.

They also recognise that previous White Wolf rulebooks have, for all their charm and impact, aged badly – they are overwrought, poorly laid out, clunky and represent a ponderous too-many-rules style of roleplaying that needs to fucking die.

Finally, they appear to have a sense of social responsibility – a game set in the here and now is obliged to answer the here and now on some level. Oh, and the new head guy who diablerised Achilli or whatever admits the new WoD is a better setting than the old, and he’s rolling with the old one purely because it has greater clout and he can do metaplot stuff without ruining it, because it’s always been metaplot driven. Martin Ericsson is not stupid. May he be blessed with whatever it is that Swedish people like. Now get a shift on and release the Dark Pack guidelines.

Scandi LARP

Ericsson and friends are LARPers. Specifically, they’re Scandiwegian LARPers, which means a particular approach and philosophy is coming with them. This might be a bit different from the “goth scene with combat rules” that this rank outsider has always suspected Vampire LARP to be. (I make no apologies for this: I do not make a convincing vampire in my own person, nor do I do well when confined to a single character for the whole evening. Also, if the DJ drops a Sisters song I reserve the right to job off and wave my limbs around, no matter who says they’re Prince.)

These high-profile mass LARP events are the future for Vampire et al, and despite my personal disinterest in the arena, I think they’re fundamentally a good thing. They create something which can be shown, rather than told about; they are content, and in my day job I have learned that content is king. They rest on a foundation of negotiation, trust and consent – care, rather than justice – which is ultimately quite healthy. If everyone’s in the trust tree, the game can be pushed to its full potential rather than having to circle at the lower tiers because someone doesn’t think it’s fair.

(I might have a ‘wrongheaded’ approach to these things. In my book, everyone involved in a given session of play needs to be more or less on the same level. That means adjusting the group to fit the desired level of play as much as adjusting the level of play to fit the desired group. Know your players, and their boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say “look mate, I don’t think my Thursday night game of elegantly restrained erotic politicism is really the right place for someone who has custom futanari art on all his accessories and a gun catalogue in his rucksack, but how about you come to the all-out Sabbat game on Tuesday and your Lasombra can tentacle-fuck all the goons he likes.” I believe in managing expectations and selecting players so that the X-card is seldom necessary, and if it is necessary, I’ve de facto fucked up somehow.)

Video Games

Instead of being fucking idiotic, the new White Wolf is essentially going to be a video game company. That’ll keep the lights on, and the tabletop stuff will be produced out of the setting bibles that the games will need anyway. Tabletop will be the soul rather than the heart of the beast. This is good business and I’m not just saying that because it means more WoD computer games.

They’ve already released two interactive-storytelling bits, with the third (for Wraith of all things, be still my spectral heart) on the way, and announced a proper computer game… for Werewolf. Well, it’s probably about time. I’ve never been that into Werewolf but I’m willing to be persuaded by a well-tuned, party-based, richly-characterised party-level RPG that illustrates why werewolves are worth giving a damn about.

Notably, Ericsson is picking a side in the kultur wars. This is sure to provoke some delightfully tiresome discourse, but here’s the thing. White Wolf has always been anti-authoritarian, punk rock as fuck, and only just right of Trotsky. If you weren’t expecting the new White Wolf to weigh in as a device for asking questions like “what is the price of achieving one’s political ends through violence” you were tone-deaf from the start. This is what they’ve always done.

Individual storytellers may have tuned that down in favour of scaring the bollocks off their players or seducing goth princesses round candelit tables, but the monsters White Wolf uses have always functioned as political metaphors. Vampires are about class and aristocracy and privilege. Werewolves are about civilisation and the primal imperative and the attempt to control ourselves. Mages are about control of their environment, the imposition of will on the world. Faeries are about the forgotten past and the refusal of beliefs to sit down and die. Wraiths are about loss, and conscience, and our relationship with ourselves – when all’s said and done, can you look yourself in the mirror every morning?

Yeah, they’re about other stuff as well, and they have to function as fun game experiences and all that, but you’re only turning the “Gothic genre as political” slider down – you’re not turning it off.

Preludes – Vampire and Mage

I’ve bought the Preludes and I’ll be giving them a review on the YouTube channel once I’ve had a chance to actually play them. Spending this weekend sorting out a collaboration with another small channel, though, so it’ll be during the week. Early reports suggest it’s atmospheric. It is alleged to make a statement about where White Wolf wants to be in ref. current events, the Discourse, and the great false binary that defines gamerkultur in this foul year called 2017. It may not be a very good computer game though. “Interactive novel” is apparently a better word for it. I suppose we’ll see.

{ETA: Either the PC version doesn’t work very well or I’m stupid. It took two attempts to get the thing running, and the first instruction betrays its ported-from-mobile origins and doesn’t implement well through mouse clicks. I’m not buying the Android version as well, dudes.}

I also gather that Zak Sabbath has been involved in some capacity. Oh dear. Why oh dear? Read on.

Zak S and the Death of the Author

Zak’s involvement makes sense. He’s an award-winning dark talent, a thought leader in the gaming discourse, in contact with the kind of talent and the kind of politics White Wolf wants to be associated with (edgy, confrontational, get-shit-done, Left-leaning art-as-politics – the likes of China Mieville and Molly Crabapple). Getting him on board has a certain “we’re back and we’re so damn good we got this big name D&D guy” flair to it. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see his name attached to the White Wolf revival, since in all respects other than not being D&D it’s very much his jam and I seem to recall he spoke well of Martin’s intentions for White Wolf when the revival began.

His involvement is also an inevitable maypole of controversy, because where he goes, his combative style of discourse goes, and his online persona goes. Said persona is what it is. Zak makes a living by creating content, and therefore his public persona should think itself and what it does are brilliant, and spend a lot of time protecting its reputation from allegations of BadWrong or crime, because that’s how the business has to work. I don’t get on well with Zak’s e-persona, I find him difficult at best to deal with, but I understand why the persona acts the way it does.

However, partly because of the serious allegations made and partly because of the way Zak’s persona operates when responding to allegations, the discussion has become about him and what he’s said and done and what people have said and done to/with/about him. He didn’t start this round, as far as I can tell – this is raking of old muck by people who don’t want to see an alleged/debunked/suspected harasser with a large and vocal ‘fandom’ and ‘hatedom’ given a platform by White Wolf. Nonetheless, muck was raked, and the fellow is professionally and personally obliged to enter the fray and address it, and here we go again.

As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a disparate thing taking place on multiple social mediaplatforms, with disparate persons and levels of bias arguing the same thing with different levels of information and input. As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a morass of sock puppets, deleted comments, impersonations and obliterations of the paper trail. If you’re half an hour late to the party it’s bloody difficult to establish who said or did what to whom and on what grounds, which also makes proving or disproving the charge of harassment into a right pain in the arse.

{ETA: Moderators on the VtM Facebook Page have deleted the thread to which I linked previously, and issued justification. Now, it’s their page and they can do what they like with it, but I would have welcomed notice so that the discussion – which to my mind was constructive, albeit tense, and nothing like my idea of a ‘flamewar’ – could have been archived for reference. Once a thing has been said it should remain said.}

I know what people are like. Screenshots can be faked, accounts can be created and uncreated with a flick of the wrist, cliques can be mobilised and the facts can be obscured. I hate it. It’s the worst fucking thing about the Internet, and I hate having to expect ill intent on everyone’s part (because presuming good intent has brought me into these shitstorms before, playing a significant role in that nervous breakdown I had recently).

White Wolf claim they’ve investigated and found no evidence of harassment. {ETA: One of the previous victims, David Hill, another White Wolf employee, casts doubt on this claim. Zak’s take on things seems most up to date here.} I have no way of proving a damn thing to my own satisfaction, or knowing who’s doing what and in whose name to who, so… I await to see how this shitstorm turns out. There is no such thing as bad publicity, but there are a lot of j’accuses in the air – not the best start for the new White Wolf.

{ETA: White Wolf issues statement of regret. Read it and make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, this is still mostly muck-raking. White Wolf claim they did the diligence and decided they had more to gain than lose by associating with Zak. From a cultural/political legitimacy point of view they’re right.}

Thank gawd for the Death of the Author, eh? At least it’s intellectually legitimate to talk about the work as detached from its creator, even if Camille Paglia would disapprove. I gather that more hyperactive channels already have their Let’s Plays coming out, but I have a consistent schedule to maintain. Maybe I’ll do Preludes on Thursdays, before the elegantly restrained political eroticism.

{ETA: Either I’m thick as shit or Preludes is badly ported to PC. Possibly both. Either way, clicking on the simulated mobile phone in the PC port (which strikes me as a lazy-ass way to do a PC port) doesn’t seem to do owt. Unimpressed.}

More on this as details emerge.

{ETA: The multiple edits this morning are attempts to fix the formatting of the post – the final paragraphs keep clustering together instead of carriage returning like a good wall of text.}

[V:tM] City Of Lost Clanbooks – an experiment in lassitude

Here’s something I did a couple of weeks ago and only just got around to copying the notes for. Since I have PDFs of all the Revised Edition Clanbooks, and since many of them provide sample broods of NPCs, I had a flick through to see if I could nail together a working city out of those (and thus with minimal effort on the part of me, the alleged ‘Storyteller’).

Everyone’s quite high generation (I think the eldest character here is eighth or ninth), but… I think it works, maybe for a city where the Prince has recently been eliminated and various powers are struggling to take control, with less emphasis on sect and more emphasis on clan. The Ravnos afford an interesting B-plot to the competing Lasombra and Ventrue leadership bids, while the responsibility for keeping the Masquerade and arranging Elysium has devolved to the Setites and Malkavians respectively. The other broods are out-of-towners who can show up as ‘adventures’ in their own right or descend on the city sensing opportunity.

20161129_102156
Clans with a * next to them don’t have a sample brood, and I’ve given some thought as to where they might be. My thoughts took a sort of post-Gehenna “some Antediluvians rose and others didn’t, some clans survived and some didn’t” turn. A more sensible alternative is covered in the fourth image.
20161129_0920591
What happened to all those Antediluvians? I dug up a copy of Gehenna to see.
20161129_092108
Here’s the thing. When Ravnos/Ravana/Zapathasura/whatever died, Clan Ravnos went mad and tore itself apart. Was this a) an effect of Chimerstry 10 (see V:tM Second Edition… I want to say Storyteller’s Handbook?) or b) something that happens with all Antediluvians? If b), does the clan still go mad if the Antediluvian is a) diablerised or b) genuinely dead? Then I lost my patience with this nerdism, remembered why I was actually doing the thought experiment, and got back on task.
20161129_092123
Here’s the one I’ve tried to keep clear. The way I see it, you have two options for what to do with the “missing” clans. Either all the PCs are members of one clan, and form a brood with a shared NPC sire (or maybe one of them sired another, or one of them’s a ghoul; can your group handle that?), OR the PCs are (as is traditional) members of different clans and you present them with that shortlist to choose from. Given that all the other clans are quite united in this city, I’d opt for the first one – a brood of three characters with an NPC elder to look out for them. Maybe a star-crossed lover or lone infiltrator from another clan, since the Ventrue brood has a rogue element who’s pretending to be a Toreador.