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. Edited: I updated this to 0.7 over the last few weeks 🙂 (VSI) represents the change to Violence, Insight and Subtlety being your three main attributes, instead of Physical, Social and Mental.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.