Dungeons and Masquerades

Yeah, I actually spent time on my day off thinking about hacking D&D 5E to run Vampire the Masquerade. This is the kind of thing I do for fun, though, so there it is. You know me by now.

Vampire

A vampire was once human, until given the Embrace. A vampire drains them of all of their blood and then feeds them vampire blood. There is no guarantee, but often, this results in a new vampire. The transformation takes hours, or possibly even nights, as the person’s organs wither and die and their body chemistry changes so that it runs entirely on blood.

Deathless Hunger

Vampires, more commonly known as kindred, will live forever as long as they avoid fire and sunlight and continue to consume blood. For the blood to provide sustenance, it must come from a living humanoid.

Fear of Fire and Sunlight

Vampires all fear two things – fire and sunlight. During the day, a vampire struggles to remain conscious, and must make a Constitution save in order to remain awake. If they do remain awake during the day, when night falls again they suffer a level of exhaustion.

Vampire Traits

Ability Score Increase. You gain a bonus of 1 point to two ability scores of your choice.

Age. Vampires do not visibly age from the moment they are Embraced and made into one of the undead.

Alignment. Though there are vampires of every alignment, needing to prey on human beings for sustenance means that over time vampires will tend toward evil alignments.

Blood drinking. If a vampire bites a victim and latches on, she can immediately drain 2d4 hit points from her victim

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack, reach 5 ft., one willing creature, or a creature that is grappled by the vampire, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken, and the vampire regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Hardened flesh. You are resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources.

Hunger. Vampires hunger for blood. Following each day a vampire goes without feeding, her maximum hit points are reduced by five. If her maximum hit points fall to zero, she enters torpor.

Stake to the Heart. If a piercing weapon made of wood is driven into the vampire’s heart, the vampire is paralyzed until the stake is removed. To pierce a resisting vampire’s heart, the attacker must succeed on an attack roll with disadvantage and deal more than 10 points of damage (remembering that the vampire is resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources).

Undead. A vampire is immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, and they do not require air, food, or water.

Vulnerable to fire. Vampires are vulnerable to fire damage.

Vulnerable to sunlight. When any part of their body is in full sunlight, vampires take 10 radiant damage per turn.

Size. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base speed is 30 feet.

Languages. You can speak, read and write one language based on your ethnicity or cultural background, as well as English if that language is not English.

Advancement

Level 1 vampire: you get the ability to…how should healing work? Maybe you just have slow regeneration – every minute you are not in direct sunlight you regain one hit point, up to your current maximum.

Level 2 vampire: There should be some way to use blood to boost your physical abilities. Once per long rest, you can call upon the blood to boost a physical ability score.

 

Other Dungeon the Masquerade Thoughts: after choosing vampire as your race, you choose clan which serves as your class. Then, at level 3, you choose a specialization that is based around Discipline powers. Those Discipline powers are socketed into the various Clan lines.

Run Vampire as D&D with Fangs

So, alas, one of the hosts of Saving the Game recently ended his Vampire chronicle because it was just too hard to figure out what the vampires were supposed to be doing from night to night. They didn’t want to scheme and backstab against each other, and he felt like there wasn’t a lot that was clearly left to do.

It made me wonder how much of the fun I had playing Vampire has to do with the way I learned to play, and the way that I then taught others to play. PCs backstabbing other PCs was actually pretty rare, though we certainly had plenty of conflict and disagreement. But I think that the pattern for ‘adventures’ may not be as clear, RAW, in Vampire as it is in D&D. D&D also has a lot more cultural baggage as a game that is played a certain way, which helps.

I know this has been said before, but if you too are stuck as to how to run a Vampire chronicle, you can run Vampire as if it was D&D, but with fangs. Make sure you change the flavor and dressing of the game to be Gothy and dark and urban, but a Vampire chronicle can essentially be a re-skin of a D&D campaign.

Coterie = Adventuring Party

A coterie in VtM is a group of Vampires who work together. This is one of the most obvious, and one of the clearest nods to traditional games like D&D that Vampire the Masquerade makes. All of the flavor is about how vampires never work together, but RPGs are played by groups of people working together, so coteries exist in the World of Darkness. Solitary, paranoid predators gather together in diverse groups to accomplish tasks, sometimes against their will and often against their best interests.

Scheming Elders = Quest Givers

If you are wondering how to assemble a new coterie, it can be simple – all of them are summoned by a powerful elder. The powerful elder demands that they accomplish some task for her, and they have to do so because they are new and of lower status than the elder – none of them can afford to refuse. It needs even less justification than a D&D quest – there is no reason to necessarily expect they’ll be paid or rewarded. The pay, the reward, is their continued existence.

Status and Territory = Treasure

Make it clear from the start that none of the PCs will get anywhere, or gain anything, unless someone else in vampire society loses. There is no available territory of value. There are no open positions in Elysium. Everything is taken, and has been taken for a hundred years. There are no franchises; there are no resources that a vampire would value that don’t already have vampires there with their fangs dug in.

Money doesn’t mean much to a vampire – it is easy to come by cash, and with Disciplines relatively easy to steal what you need from night to night. Status and territory, however, are things that one cannot gain unless they are given by, or taken from, other vampires higher up in the hierarchy (assuming a default Camarilla game). So in the same way that D&D characters go on dangerous adventures to gain gold and treasure they couldn’t get otherwise, Vampire characters take on dangerous tasks in the hope of earning status and territory that they couldn’t gain otherwise. It’s easy to create this pressure – shit rolls downhill, so status is desirable, and territory makes hunting each night easier. Of course, once you are given territory, you are responsible for maintaining it and solving problems within it – look, more adventures.

Night Clubs and Post-Industrial Ruins = Dungeons

Just as is the case with dungeons in D&D, you don’t have to draw out every detail of every adventure location, but it can be fun to do so. You can simply find a floor plan of a modern building, and then populate it with mysteries and traps and monsters the way you might populate a dungeon. Only in this case, the traps might be motion-activated cameras and the monsters can be hunters or Sabbat members inhabiting the building.

For more mysterious locations like tunnels dug out beneath crypts or abandoned subway stations, your design can be much more like a dungeon, with the PCs never seeing beyond the reach of their flashlights (or Discipline-enhanced eyes). For example: word is that there is some kind of warren dug out beneath an abandoned subway station. An elder sends the PCs into investigate. Is it a hidden brood of illegitimate Nosferatu? A Sabbat hideout? An Anarch gathering-place? Or is some other monster of the World of Darkness down there? Voila – dungeon-crawl.

Sabbat, Anarchs, Hunters and Werewolves = Monsters

When in doubt, have someone kick in the door and start a fight. This is true in many stories, and most games, and true for Vampire chronicles as well. Vampires are hunters, but they are also hunted. Camarilla members are hunted by Sabbat. Anarchs are hunted by Camarilla and Sabbat. All vampires are hunted by werewolves. Vampires and werewolves are both hunted by mortal monster-hunters. And so on. There are worse things out there in the night that go bump harder than the PCs do. Elders may be willing to kill the characters with boredom, or frustration, or betrayal, but there are plenty of things that want to kill them with fire. In large groups, regular people can be terrifying to Vampires. What if there is a Masquerade breach? Then the National Guard is called in. Now martial law is declared. Now religious fanatics descend on the city to hold fiery revivals. Things can get bad quickly, and hunters can easily become hunted.

Maintaining the Masquerade = Saving the World

The grand plotline behind a lot of D&D campaigns is saving the world, and a lot of the campaign is about growing in power through leveling and magic items to the point where the characters are up to that monumental task. Vampires are generally not concerned with saving the world, but most of them are very much concerned with saving their own skins. That means that the Masquerade must be maintained. (Even Sabbat and Anarchs have to tacitly acknowledge this necessity, or else they get wiped out by werewolves, hunters, and ultimately a panicked populace).

I like making the Masquerade into a doomsday clock that is visible to the characters and has an impact on their un-lives. The more the Masquerade is eroded, the worse things get, moving from suspicion to hunters arriving to riots to martial law. It should be clear that this is not just an arbitrary rule imposed on them from above (as so many rules are), but a matter of their survival as well. And as the most vulnerable and exposed of vampires, the PCs will be the ones hit first and hardest by any consequences.

Social Encounters = Combat Encounters

As much as possible, social encounters in Vampire should be about initiative, and attacking and defending, and high stakes. Ideally, PCs should do all they can to avoid elders in Elysium, and even avoid any notice being taken of them at all. There should be a sense of “roll initiative” before any significant social encounter with other vampires. You are surrounded by monsters, after all, and for much of a Vampire chronicle, all of the monsters you see around  you from night to night are significantly more dangerous than you are. And they all want something from you, even if it is just your fear and deference.

Sabbat = Murder Hobos

All of the above has assumed a default Camarilla game, which is what Vampire the Masquerade assumes for the most part. Some will want to run a Sabbat game, however, and if anything that is even easier than the above. Basically, you can run a Sabbat game like D&D with Fangs, only all of the PCs are assumed to be murder hobos. Often these chronicals make their way own a death-spiral as consequences pile up behind the PCs, but murder hobo D&D games often go the same way.

This Is A Shallow Dive…

Is there FAR more to the World of Darkness, and far more potential in a Vampire chronicle than what I describe above? Of course! But this is an easy starting point for people experiencing some version of the blank-page response when trying to start up a Vampire game, and most of the Vampire chronicles I have run could be easily described as D&D campaigns with some serial numbers filed off. Really, the way I run Vampire has influenced how I run D&D (with plenty of sandbox time and social interaction), and the way I run D&D has influenced how I run Vampire, and I think that’s a good thing. If nothing else, running Vampire the Masquerade as D&D with fangs is a good start.

Thoughts on Vampire the Masquerade’s V5 Preview

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I just downloaded and read the V5 preview that White Wolf made available today. It’s 27 pages, and contains sections from the final, published book (though I hope they gave it one more read-through, as I found one typo without looking very carefully).

Dossier of the Damned

These are interesting snippets of information intended to set the scene – notes from vampires and from those who are researching vampires. The Masquerade simply can’t be maintained in 2018, but the question is, who knows about vampires, and what do they know? This introduces the new terms they’re using for vampires among those who study them – blackbodies, or blankbodies, drawn from the Pre-Alpha scenario and referring to how vampires show up in IR scans.

Concepts

This is really more like “themes”, concepts that guide you in understanding the World of Darkness and creating a chronicle together. One theme has always been that vampires are not the good guys, and White Wolf hits this theme here as well. You are playing a predator who feeds on human beings. Maybe you cling to humanity and maybe you don’t, but you are not a Good Person.

Fashion

Basically a few examples of imagery, and the repeated reminder that you can’t dress like a vampire in public. Sort of the “This ain’t the 90s Goth scene” section.

Clans

We get write-ups of the Brujah and the Toreador, and both are very much in line with the past of those clans. I like that they list more than one nickname for each clan, and I like the artwork of sample Brujah looks in that section. Well, I like that it’s there, and I like the concept of multiple views. Unfortunately, the four female examples are all models with hooker shoes, and the four male examples are all models wearing fashionably ripped street clothes. I would have much preferred a variety of body types here, as well as some indication that one can be a vampire and not necessarily be fashion-forward. They’re also all posed as if they are at a fashion show instead of caught in the action, so the art fails the test of “Show me what my character can do in the game.” Unless V5 is about standing around and looking cool.

We don’t get the same images for the Toreador, ironically, since that’s the only clan I could imagine composed mostly of people who stand around posing in over-priced distressed clothing. But, again, in both cases, these are recognizably Brujah and Toreador as far as the text goes. Clan flaws are now Banes.

Speaking of which, the Toreador’s Bane got a lot worse in this version. Not only do they lose themselves in beauty, but when surrounded by ugliness (according to their particular aesthetic), Toreador lose dice from all uses of Disciplines equal to the Bane score. So…ouch. Also, flavorful. Why do they surround themselves with beauty? In part, because they have to. Overall, though, this feels like giving them two Banes instead of one (albeit weaksauce) flaw.

Beliefs

Characters begin play with between one and three Convictions, which are up to the player at character creation; things like “Thou shalt not kill.” These are the moral lines that the character has set for themselves (surely to be stressed and pressed upon by the Storyteller). We read that incurring Stains in pursuit of your Conviction might mitigate Stains, which is confusing and, since this is a sample, unexplained. Violating a Conviction might also, at the ST’s discretion, incur a Stain.

I’d have to see the full text but we might have Capitalization Creep here.

Chronicle Tenets are kind of like themes combined with lines and veils from other systems. You are setting the genre conventions, key ideas, and also limits of your chronicle together, and I like the way this is handled. This is the kind of conversation that games increasingly call for, and it looks like these will have mechanical weight, as violating Tenets can apparently be a source of Stains. Basically, you’re postmodern vampires and you are creating a shared morality together that will be in effect over the course of your chronicle.

Touchstones sound similar to what is used in Chronicles of Darkness and Vampire the Masquerade 2nd Edition. They are specific things in the world that keep you grounded in your humanity (or threaten your humanity when they are threatened).

Ambitions are just what they sound like – the general things that drive your character from night to night, beyond the hunger for blood. Desires are specific, and must be connected to something that’s come up in the relationship map for your chronicle already (i.e. must be connected to an existing NPC or key aspect of the setting for the chronicle). I like this – knowing what a character’s Touchstones, Ambitions and Desires are is pretty much all an ST needs to know where to push a character from night to night, and are all of course “flags” that let the player say “This is what I want to see in this chronicle.”

Celerity

Explicitly recreated so as not to mess with the action economy, Celerity has variant powers for each level (and it isn’t clear if you choose both or have to pick one or the other). The powers also don’t build on each other like previous versions of Celerity, but rather give the character a specific ability or move they can use, often by making a Rouse roll. So you can dodge bullets, rush around the battlefield in a blur, and run across ledges without having to roll to keep your balance. Feels like Celerity to me, and I like it.

Loresheets

These are the most interesting thing in this whole preview, an idea that I love. There has always been a tremendous amount of metaplot layered over Vampire, since 2nd Edition at least. It has been something I have seen integrated into chronicles, and the problem has always been that those “in the know” nod sagely when something comes up that they read in a splatbook while the rest of the players are just in the dark, wondering why everyone thinks this weird name is so important.  And I say this as a ST who has included metaplot things in my chronicles to make the in-the-know players nod sagely.

Loresheets give actual connectivity between the mechanics and the backstory of the game in interesting ways. The three examples given are a loresheet for Theo Bell, a loresheet for Helena, and a loresheet for the Week of Nightmares. Each bit of lore is treated like a background, rated from one dot to five dots, with more dots giving you deeper connections to the backstory. For example, one dot of lore in the Week of Nightmares means you tell the story of that harrowing time in a way that vampires find fascinating. You are sometimes invited to retell it in Elysium, and get 3 extra dice to your performance roll. Five dots in Week of Nightmares means you have a vial of the Ravnos Antediluvian’s blood. What you do with the blood is up to you, and the effect it has is up to the ST. That’s…awesome.

Overall

V5 feels like it is trying a bit too hard to be fashionable, but then previous editions all felt like they were trying too hard to be Goth, which is just a subset of fashionable. I did feel like the artwork was more fashion and less horror, which was too bad, despite some of it being beautiful (and full-color).

There might be too many things to keep track of, though I’d have to see all of these mechanics in play of course. But Disciplines, Banes, Humanity, Stains, Convictions, Chronicle Tenets, Touchstones, Ambitions, Desires, Disciplines….and that’s just a taste of capitalized words from this 27-page preview. These are all cool ideas, but they make this already a significantly more complicated game than D&D 5E, for example, and it might just be too much for some players to want to keep track of. Again, though, how this all works in play remains to be seen.

And to be clear, I like this version of Vampire. I like the direction they’ve taken. I think this is an improvement on previous editions of the game in many ways – the way morality is seemingly handled, the way Celerity was reworked, and especially the Loresheets to name a few things I really like. I just need to find some players who want to play Vampire.

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