Simplifying Combat in Vampire the Masquerade

My V20 game that I’m currently running seems to be coming to a head. Multiple Sabbat packs will be attacking an ancient vampire and his minions, and a second ancient might join the fray. In the past, this has been the point where we have a whole session where two hours or more are all one fight.

One big culprit here is Celerity. Probably the biggest. Each round of combat involves multiple turns for a number of the characters. Not only does Celerity make it less fun to be in a fight when you don’t have it, but there is more time spent as a player sitting on the sidelines messing with your smartphone or whatever while everyone else has multiple actions.

A second issue is that resolving a single attack requires at least four dice-rolls: the attack roll, a defense roll, damage roll and soak roll. One thing I really like about NWoD is that this is all simplified to one weighted roll per attack. I used to like the variability and flexibility of the OWoD system, but that was also back when I played with the same group every week, and we had tons of hours to devote to gaming minutiae.

Fix 1: Celerity
In the past I’ve adapted the LARP rules for Celerity, as I actually like them better than the V20 or previous rules, but in writing them up for this game, I realized they would just add another layer of complexity. We have two players who don’t give a damn about the system and would rather it not get in the way, one who is in his very first tabletop RPG, and a fourth who is up for whatever, so I decided to go with simplification.

What I decided was that Celerity would simply add to all Dexterity rolls. I had changed initiative to Dexterity + Wits (rather than Wits + Alertness), so Celerity would also add to initiative rolls. This would be the equivalent of the LARP preempt ability that Celerity grants, and it just makes sense that characters with Celerity would act first. This would also add to pretty much all attack rolls, move around rolls, and so on. I decided Celerity would cost no blood, since frankly this is quite a nerf. I have also not been allowing split actions, and so the extra Celerity dice would not be useful for that either.

So far, the players seem to be happy with it, though one player moved her Celerity 3 point to become a Fortitude 4 point (from out of clan to in-clan), which was fine by me. When I make a change like this (and I don’t seem to be able to resist) I always give players a chance to adjust accordingly.

Fix 2: Fortitude
I also wanted to nix the soak roll, and so I had to address Fortitude first. I decided that Stamina + FortitudeĀ + Armor would be the difficult of damage rolls, but this meant that Fortitude would be less useful overall. (You still roll it to avoid fire and sunlight). So I decided that for a blood point, a character could add their Fortitude to their normal Health levels temporarily. These would be health levels that you couldn’t heal, but would be a buffer between you and real damage.

Again, so far, so good.

Fix 3: Defense and Soak
As mentioned above, there is no longer a soak roll, but the difficulty of a damage roll is the target’s Stamina + Fortitude + Armor. I also decided that the maximum for this difficulty would be a 9. Beyond that point, the extra health levels help, and you have dice to roll against fire and sunlight, but I found that my players had a lot more fun if they could at least bruise powerful NPCs in a fight.

Similarly, I got rid of the defense roll by simply having the difficulty of an attack roll be the target’s Dexterity + Athletics + Celerity. Again, with a maximum of 9. This really short-changes my super-powerful Elders, but also makes dealing with those Elders a bit more fun in this game, at least so far. This could easily be adapted to another house rule (or is it a house rule?) that for difficulties over 9, you simply need more successes. So difficulty 12 = difficulty 9 with three successes required for the first success.

Problem: Stakes, and other attacks that are more difficult than normal. Not sure what to do with this, but it basically makes staking a bit more likely and common in the game, which frankly is not a problem so far.

Again, players are liking the rules change, I have to explain rules much less often during the game, and fights go a lot quicker overall.

Mass Combat
The next session of my game is going to be a big-ass combat, with more than 20 named NPCs. Obviously, this is nuts, but the players are feeling it and are excited about it, and it is kind of what has been set up to happen. They are attacking an ancient vampire and his minions, and have the assistance of a couple of NPCs in their pack as well as a Black Hand cell. Late in the fight, another ancient might jump in with her minions to try to diablerize the PCs target, her enemy for the last 3000 years.

So, cool stuff, if it goes quick enough to be at all interesting.

First thing, for the most part, I’m going to hand-wave NPC vs NPC parts of the combat. I have a very good idea of who would win in a given fight and how long it would take, leaving me to focus on the PCs. For the NPCs vs NPCs, I just note what the PCs would see (she tears him up with claws; he empties his clip into her, etc.) and move on. If they want to get detail, they have to go look. Otherwise, it’s a mess, as fights should be.

Second, I have to have a way to keep track of NPC dots and numbers without having a fat stack of character sheets. Even the 3×5 cards I usually use for NPCs are a bit too large, as I want to have them out on the table so I can move them around. I decided to cut the 3x5s in half, and to have some notes for the combat only. What I have on the lined side of each card:

Name, Type (ghoul, clan, generation, etc.), Nature/Demeanor if they might come up in a fight
Physical, Social and Mental dice (these are just average pools for rolls of each type)
List of powers and level
Primary attack
Secondary attack
Special effect (if any – for example, Majesty with the Courage roll difficulty, an aura, etc.)
Path (if any) and Willpower
Blood pool total/Blood spent per round
Any other little note

Then, on the un-lined side of the card

Initiative number (I rolled ahead of time)
Boxes for the health levels, assuming that everyone has activated Fortitude who has it

And that’s it. We’ll see how it works on Sunday night.

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