VtM 5th Edition PbtA (Updated)

I caught the bug as I always do, and I rewrote Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition using PbtA. This is not a complete game by any means – it is mostly a huge collection of moves adapted from the mechanics of V5. There aren’t playbooks or anything like that, but the bones are there, and I thought I’d put it out there in case there is any interest or feedback on it.

It also just helps me to put out a version of what I’m working so that I feel more like I can work on something else for a while. Edit: I updated this to a 0.3 version, and will keep updating periodically as I get time to work on it. Let 0.3 represent how far I think this is from a finished draft 🙂 Edited: Updated to 0.4 with some changes and the addition of simple coterie moves based on the Vampire Companion’s Coterie Merits.

Anyway, here you go:

I Hacked V5…A Lot

Edit: I decided to do this differently. Lately I’ve been much more interested in writing full stand-alone documents than blog posts, so what I am going to do is finish a version of my rules reference document and just put out the PDF. This way I don’t have to write it twice.

Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition came with a lot of asterisks, at least form my point of view. A new team of people; a failed attempt at a MMO; rumblings of issues with the playtest documents, and then issues with the text itself. Further problems with the following Camarilla book that were so bad that it ended up in a complete staff change.

For all of these reasons, I avoided V5 for a while. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t low-key for Nazis (it isn’t). I wanted to see how the shake-ups with staff worked themselves out, and what changes they’d decided they needed to make. I also just didn’t like the aesthetic of the new book – I get what they’re going for, but a fashion-forward coffee-table book was not what I was after here. I liked the grittier art styles of previous editions, and I also thought that a lot of OSR designers were doing much better, more creative work with art and layout. So it wasn’t enough of an art book to get my attention, and it wasn’t enough of a game book to get my attention that way either.

There were things I liked about it, though, based on the playtest documents and reviews that were out there. The Hunger mechanic seemed just right as a replacement for blood pool. I also really like many of the updates to the metaplot, with the Second Inquisition replacing the Sabbat as the main antagonist, and the Beckoning stripping the Camarilla elders out of most cities. I thought, if you’re going to have Vampire the Masquerade in 2020, this is how you need to do it.

Onyx Path’s Chicago by Night sealed the deal. The layout and art are much better than the core rulebook, much more my preference anyway, and I like how they updated the Camarilla’s feature city for modern nights.

Turns out, I have some friends who love Vampire the Masquerade. Two of them are actually two of the first people I ever played VtM with back in the day (the day being 1998). We’re still friends, and we’re still gaming. The D&D campaign I was running was failing to launch, so we all got next-game-itis and I thought, hey, want to play Vampire? Yes. Does this mean I’ll need to buy, read, and almost certainly hack V5? Also yes.

Fortunately, it was also the lead-up to the US Presidential election, so I had plenty of anxiety to channel toward writing. Sometimes, that even works! Instead of sleeping or fostering grim imaginings of a civil war between QAnon and Antifa (for the record, team Antifa here), I hacked V5 apart and redesigned it. As is my habit, now, I hacked it so that players roll all the dice, and got rid of a number of rules that thought just complicated things (like specifics around blood resonance). I simplified how backgrounds work and combined some redundant skills and…well, you’ll see, because I’ll be posting these hacks on this blog over the next few weeks.

V5 Hack: Players Roll All the Dice

As I started this hack, the goal was not just to chop V5 up (which is fun to do with games on its own) but to change V5 so that we could more easily play online. Fewer dice rolls is an important element here. I like changing system so that players roll all the dice, so I did that to V5 as well.

Stamina, Composure, Resolve

Stamina, Composure and Resolve are resistance-based Attributes brought over from Vampire the Requiem, with Composure replacing Appearance (good call) and Resolve replacing Perception (which folds back into Intelligence and Wits). If the players are rolling all of the dice, however, there’s less need for all three of these, and with an eye toward simplifying, I got rid of them.

I decided that if a character needed to be touch and resilient to resist something, they could just roll Health, and if they needed to resist something socially or mentally, they could just roll Willpower. In that way, the lost Attributes are a bit redundant in the first place. So we have Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, Manipulation, Wits and Intelligence.

To start, I decided that Health would be Strength +3, and then Willpower would be 10 – Health, so that for a starting character before they spend any experience points, their Health + Willpower would equal 10. I’m glad that I have one PC in my current chronicle with a Health of 8 and a Willpower of 2, I think that will be fun.

Disciplines

The way that dice-rolls work for Disciplines in V5 doesn’t make much sense. Sometimes you roll Attribute + Ability, sometimes you roll Attribute + Attribute, and sometimes you roll Attribute + Discipline. This would be fine if there was a consistent way of determining which is which, apart from just memorizing the rules for every Discipline. Reading through the Disciplines, I realized that I would have to change the rolls for many of them in order to make them consistent. I decided to hearken back to Vampire of yore and just make Discipline rolls Attribute + Ability. (Reading through V5’s core Discipline rules, I honestly got the impression of it being a ‘first try’ type system, similar to what Vampire 1st Edition had, and I wish they had taken more from past editions).

And yes, I get the profound irony of rewriting all of the Disciplines for V5 in the supposed spirit of simplifying the system and making my job as Storyteller easier. But doing this kind of thing is clearly a hobby I enjoy. It also helped me avoid thinking about the ongoing attempted coup in the United States, which was a big bonus.

NPCs

One benefit of players rolling all the dice, NPCs become much simpler to run. What they represent, mechanically, is a small list of difficulties, and then the special abilities that their Disciplines grant them. What I’ve done in the past is to just give NPCs a dice total for Physical, Social and Mental tasks, with a note on what they’d be good at. Turning these in to difficulties wasn’t difficult – just cut them in half. Round them up because NPCs won’t get to roll their own dice (or spend Willpower, etc.) and should pose a problem on average. Currently, my plan is to improvise what the players roll to resist abilities based on what the NPC is doing – I’m fine taking a “rulings over rules” OSR-esque approach, and I like the idea that vampire abilities aren’t perfectly predictable anyway. And I’m limited, because I still just have NPCs as a set of difficulties in the first place.

Speaking of Dice

Coin-toss dice mechanics are a pet peeve of mine, whether they show up in HEX or Mouse Guard (a favorite game) or anywhere else. If I can effectively replace your dice mechanic with flipping coins, the mechanic is a failure in my view. It’s like having a car that is no better than walking. The mechanic in V5 is just one of those coin-tossing mechanics, with the slight variation that 10s are special, if you roll two of them (one 10 is one success and two 10s are four successes which is…weird).

So I also changed the dice mechanic to be a set difficult of 7, with 10s counting as two successes. This will give a very similar success rate, but is more interesting. With Rouse checks being the Beast’s attempts to assert themselves, I left those as a difficulty 7 roll as well, which has the interesting consequence of Hunger increasing 40% of the time instead of 50% of the time. I want to see how that plays out over sessions, but I thought it would be a slight encouragement for the players to use their abilities more often.

The main downside, if any, is that we can’t use the cool-looking dice sets that they have out for V5. But dammit, if I’m going to hack a system, there’s no way I’m leaving a coin-toss dice mechanic intact.

Behold the Hoard of House Rules

I’m still working up to the point where I’m ready to write regularly here, but part of what I’ve been doing in the meantime is finishing the Hoard of House Rules. It’s…52 pages of stuff for D&D 5E ranging from new spells to new monsters, a psionic class with three subclasses, and a bunch of optional ways to handle treasure, combat, backgrounds and so on. OK sales pitch over.

Maybe A Pause

Written a week ago, but here in case it’s a lasting pause…

Hello. This post is just me.

It’s 4 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s almost exactly 11 hours and 30 minutes before our appointment to have our dog, Po, euthanized. He’s 16 and has obviously been a huge part of our lives.

It’s time, but such a hard decision. You always second-guess when you have to decide when a friend dies, I imagine. This friend can’t do the things he enjoyed any longer, is in pain every day, and his life is just diminished to the point where…well. We made the decision.

I’m devastated, and am going to be devastated for a while. I don’t know how long. Every time I think I’m about to be able to sleep I’m crying again.

I only mention this because currently there is only one blog post scheduled on Friday, and then I have to build up a back-log once again. But I don’t know how grief will go, and it might be a while before I write anything again.

So, probably not an end here (I do want to reach a thousand posts if nothing else) but very likely a pause, because a part of our lives is ending and it hurts.

Po rtrait

A young Po, 2005-ish