Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's in a Path?

Paths offer some great roleplaying opportunities but, like Malkavians, are easy to fall short on if the player doesn't fully realize and embrace what they're signing up for. Whether you're on Humanity or a Path, your character's morality and conscience (or conviction) guide your actions. The decision to follow a path shouldn't be to get out of the obligations of Humanity, but because you're interested in the challenge a specific path offers.
  • Morality is what your character has been raised to believe in. What's good and bad.
    • Everyone starts on Humanity but that doesn't mean they're nice people, it just means that there are some key things they know are wrong: property damage, stealing, accidental killing, premeditated murder, etc.
    • An older vampire sometimes finds it's difficult to be "humane" over hundreds of years or as they fully embrace the monster they've become. In these cases, they may strip their humanity away and learn to follow a Path instead. (More on that later.)
  • Conscience / Conviction dictate how bad you feel about the decisions you make that contradict your morals and how well you deal with them.
    • If you break a tenant of your beliefs, but pass the test, (Which is easier with a higher Conscience / Conviction) your Morality doesn't drop. You know what you did was wrong, but you're able to justify your actions to yourself.
    • If you fail the test, your Morality drops. Whether Humane or on a Path, as your morality drops, you become more monstrous. Why? Because there are fewer things you feel bad about doing. When you run out of morality, the beast within takes over and you become an NPC.
Real world examples of Humanity

Everything you've learned about right and wrong since you were a kid defines your view of humanity. This may differ from one culture to another, but in game terms Humanity offers a "good" outline of how most characters should act.

Real world examples of high Conscience / Conviction

Witch trials, wars, kings and judges are all situations where people know the difference between right and wrong but take actions because they strongly believe in what they're doing.

  • A priest might feel bad about sending a witch to her death, but believes what he's doing is for the good of the community.
  • Soldiers may not agree with murder, but will fight on a battlefield for king and country.
  • Kings and generals make decisions all the time that send 1000's of people to their deaths, because to them, the end justifies the means.
  • Judges will sentence criminals to death because they are following the law.

Real world examples of loss and gain of Humanity

Witch hunters that have to burn a loved one, soldiers ordered to kill women and children, leaders that hate sending soldiers to their death or judges who don't believe in the death penalty but must uphold the law will slowly be eroded by their actions. In these situations, their morality is tested and without a strong conscience or conviction, it slowly deteriorates. As they're faced with these hardships, they have the opportunity to change their ways and grow. (As characters can buy up their mortality.)

What's the difference between Humanity and a Path?

Following a path means your character has a COMPLETELY alien way of thinking. If the tenants of a path define what your character was raised to think is right and wrong, compare humanity to the other paths. The WORST thing you can do if you're humane (level 1 sin) is "Casual killing" or "acts of great evil." If you follow the Path of Night, they consider "accepting another's authority" as just as horrible as you and I would think of someone going on a random killing spree. How about those Setites? Nowhere on the Path of Typhon does it even mention killing, but don't you dare "fail to take advantage of another." Imagine that - if you see an opportunity to use another character and you don't take it, your character feels so much remorse it's as someone humane burned down an orphanage for fun.

Now, following Paths doesn't necessarily your character is a sociopath. (Though it doesn't not mean that.) Keeping on the Typhon example, just because it doesn't specify murder is wrong, doesn't mean your character is on a constant killing spree. It just means your character doesn't have a problem if sometimes people have to die. Extra thirsty? Drain that blood bag. Don't want to draw extra attention? Let it live. Need a distraction? Burn down an orphanage.

The process of actually adopting a path should be a long and arduous one. You need to strip away everything that makes your character human while learning the teachings of a path, the whole time keeping the beast at bay. Most characters would start on a path in game-terms, otherwise you'd need a lot of time and another player or mentor to help you along. Just reading a book probably wouldn't be enough.

Real world examples of following a Path

If you want a better idea of what it means to follow a path, there are a number of examples we can take from real life. One that springs to mind is racism like Nazis or slave owners. Essentially, these people are following a version of Humanity twisted to suggest that other races are no more than animals and feel little to no remorse for harm done to them. I'm sure you can think of other situations in todays world where children are swayed by charismatic leaders.

In game terms, a storyteller could allow a player to use a twisted version of Humanity, based on a background where the character was raised from birth believing a certain rhetoric. (Not just someone swept up in a mob mentality.) A storyteller should think hard about whether they want to introduce this kind of theme to their game. Perhaps a 2-5 point Social Merit or Flaw (Depending on the setting and what the player is asking for.) named something like "Twisted Morality." (Not that these kinds of actions are "meritable" but because they're getting leniency on what they can get away with.)

A desperate loss of Humanity (example)

Lets look at an example of a homeless person living on the street in game terms, starting out with max Humanity. (5 in LARP terms.)
  • At this level, they can't even have a selfish thought. Even considering stealing some food could lower their humanity.
    • Few people have a conscience this high so it's good odds they'll fail the morality test and drop to level 4 pretty quick. Thinking about doing bad things to survive becomes ok as long as they don't act on those urges.
  • Eventually the hunger gets to them and they steal some food.
    • For a time, their conscience tells them it's ok even though they feel bad about it every time. They need the food to survive.
    • source
    • Few characters will even have a conscience of 4, so stealing to survive will probably cause a character to drop to Humanity 3 rather speedily. Now, stealing and even causing some injury is ok. They need it more than others.
  • At Humanity 3, they'll want to avoid accidentally killing or intentionally causing property damage. Maybe a mugging goes bad or they break into a house for some stuff to pawn.
    • If their conscience lines up at this level, their morality might not drop the first few times it happens. They feel bad about it, but they justify their actions. With a lower conscience or if they're faced with these situations enough, they'll fall to 2 Humanity eventually.
  • Someone with 1-2 Humanity isn't a very nice person at all. They'd feel bad about premeditated or casual killing and acts of great evil. Everything else is pretty much on the table though. We're now looking at someone who will do almost anything to survive.
    • All is not lost however. In the game, you can spend XP to buy your morality and conscience up. Perhaps remorse after a particularly evil act on their part or a surprisingly kind gesture from someone else causes them to improve their morality. Maybe they improve their conscience because times were just so tough they develop thicker skin making it harder to lose Humanity in the future.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sabbat vs Helicopter

While digging up old docs to put together my current game, I came across this text I wrote up years ago. This is an account of a scene from a local Sabbat game that actually happened many years ago, from the perspective of a metamorphosis Tzimisce newly arisen in the new age.
  We climbed the stoney flight of stairs to the top of my castle. This was where a lick had prepared for a helicopter to pick us up. OK, sure, whatever that was, quite an odd name, though it was the chosen form of transportation. We were to get into this thing, fly around, and find a Vohzd that wasn't properly created by a youngster of my clan. Well, that was the plan.

  I was in the rear, the younger Sabbat hurried up the stairs as if they were still mortal. When I came to the roof, there was this great metal.. thing. It had a rounded front, moonlight glistening off the window. The metal front became larger as it reached the middle, then tapered out into a tail with a spinning blade on the end. On Top of it was another spinning blade turning at a slow speed. It looked like a dragonfly.

  One of the Sabbat (Tremere Antitribu I believe) was making a beeline for the front, where a man sat inside - who looked VERY frightened. Suddenly, the Cainite punched a hole through the glass, reaching for the man. Pulling back on some stick, the man attempted to get away from the attack by commanding this.. contraption to take off. It didn't get very far. A 2nd cainite, pointing a small object at the man, made his head explode - his body slumping forward on the stick. As the metal beast moved around, trying to take off, a second cainite had come up (one of my clan) in his Zulu form and began tearing sheets of metal away from the side of this thing. Why, I'm not sure, but it just made the thing move around more. Meanwhile, I stood and watched from the roof entrance.

  Obviously defeated, the beast began to tip over. The blades on top of it were still spinning as the Sabbat ran away from the thing. The Tzimisce in Zulu form had his leg chopped off, he fell right over, wreckage over him. The lick who arranged this thing to be here tried dragging him away, but was cut clean in two - right at the waist. As the blades hit the roof of my castle, they shattered and debris flew all over. Many of the assembled Sabbat were sliced up quite badly. The Tremere Antitribu now punched a hole through my roof. Right through the stone! The hole allowed other Sabbat to flee to shelter, but few escaped without injury.

  By the time this was over, I had a hole in the ceiling of my castle, a Tzimisce was out a leg, a lick was sliced in half, almost every Sabbat member in the entire city was brutally injured from flying shards of metal, nobody got around to checking for the Vozhd and my impression of the Sabbat in general was getting very low.

Out of Character
 Yes, this is as bad as it sounds. The whole point was to scout out the location of a Vozhd that had been prepared wrong, then was possessed by a fomori.

 The guy playing the Cainite cut in half rented a helicopter and pilot to pick us up from my character's castle.

 The Tremere (with Advanced Potence) was on the Path of Caine and hence didn't want to associate with mortals. He figured one of us Cainites should be able to pilot the helicopter and that we didn't need a 'weak' mortal.

 The guy who shot the pilot in the head and the player of the Tzimisce in Zulu didn't know why the Tremere was attacking the pilot, it was just the typical "Ooh, look, violence, lets join in." This is what did the main damage.

 All the damage to the helicopter made it tip over. The blade on top either chopped up Sabbat left, right & center, or sliced them up when it shattered on the stone roof.

 The Tremere punched a hole in the roof to allow those on the roof not near cover, to get away.

 But in the end, in the battle of Helicopter vs Sabbat, I believe the Helicopter won. Though it ended up a mangled wreckage... it defeated the Sabbat hands down.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blood Alcohol and other Vampiric Treats

It's always assumed that if a vampire feeds of a drunk person, they'll get a buzz. Well, apparently someone has now done the math and debunked that.
Conclusion: If a vampire drained someone who drank so much they had a 50% chance of dying from alcohol poisoning anyways... the equivalent amount of alcohol the vampire gets would be equal to 1 pint or 2 cans of beer.

BUT, vampires get all ragey when they feed off Werewolves, though that can be passed off as a supernatural effect. There are situations in the rules, Flaws I believe, that reference vampires getting diseases from plagued humans. I think this sets a precedent for other situations like alcohol and drugs affecting a vampire who feeds off a drunk or a junkie.

Skilled Blood Preparation

Some of the following ideas are a great way to add some "wow" factor in to your games. Just remember, the curse of vampirism shouldn't be too easy to circumvent. Skills like these should be rare, expensive, not provide much of a benefit and not be readily available to players. Anyone who's managed to find loop holes in living as a vampire should be expected to have put in a significant amount of time (or magic) to do so. Don't tell players "no" if they want their character to achieve these goals, for it can be a great thing to work towards - but it should be harder than dumping a bunch of blood into a slushie machine.

Imbuing Blood with Flavour

Now, not sure if it's written in stone anywhere, but we sometimes had vampiric or ghoul chefs in our games. This was the art of affecting the flavour of blood by knowing how to select types of humans, (virgin, age, region, etc) then feed them combinations of food and spices or bleed them during different emotional states.

Imbuing Food with Blood

In my current game, I've created an NPC who has found a way to add human blood to berries. It's not enough to provide a trait of blood for sustenance, but it is enough to let a vampire eat something flavourful. He's a Nosferatu, the idea coming from the spawning pools his clan might use to create their sewer beasts.

Preparing Blood in Special Ways

I've been watching True Blood recently and was interested in how some of the fancier vampires would have multiple course meals - all blood, but prepared in different methods. A hot blood soup to start that's eaten with a spoon, "sparkling" blood to drink and finished with a frozen blood slush.

Mixing the above ideas together can lead to a rather accomplished vampiric chef... or an interesting character that supplies the said resources. Just keep in mind there's an inherent distrust between vampires when accepting blood from one another, especially if the one making the offer is a Tremere.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Causality and Effect

Players get up to so many shenanigans, sometimes it's tough work for a storyteller to stay on their toes. Occasionally they toss out some crazy idea and it defenestrates everything you had planned. A mark of a good storyteller is being able to react to these situations quickly without having to pause the game. The more of your "world" you have planned out ahead of time, the easier it will be when players go off the rails.

But what about reacting to your own actions? Playing with yourself.

As I brainstorm plot ideas, I don't usually think of the secondary effects... right away. Generally, I don't let these side effects get in the way of what I consider primary for something I'm planning in game. But they still happen. It's like having NPC's that even the storyteller isn't totally in control of because they're just reacting to the main decisions the storyteller is making.

Lets look at a practical example of what I'm talking about. In the Vampire game I'm putting together at the moment, a city is being rebuilt after a massive Sabbat attack that takes out the ruling powers from the Prince down. We're talking 15 key vampires and an untold number of less important ones. That's the causality.

(Don't worry guys and gals, no spoilers... I've got plenty else planned for you.)

The primary "written" or "planned" effect is that the city's ruling structure needs to be rebuilt.

Kind of a big reset button. Kindred from neighboring cities have the opportunity to move into an already prosperous city and make a name for themselves. Those willing to take the responsibility of becoming Primogen are granted progeny - and there enters the player characters, newly embraced.

Simple enough premise and a great way to introduce new players to the World of Darkness.

But what happens when this many vampires suddenly disappear from a city?

Secondary Effects

Ghouls need vampire blood to survive. They won't want to lose their powers and a really old ghoul (Who has seen A LOT.) could be facing their death. It's not unheard of for a ghoul to keep a vampire staked as a source of blood, but who knows how they'll use their freedom? Go in to work for themselves, try to survive in vampiric society, become a hunter, attempt to embrace themselves?

Blood bonds controlling mortals influenced by vampires break. There's probably people who were controlled to keep a secret and those secrets are now in the open... but how willing are people to talk? Reporters who dug too deep, police who've been keeping secrets, investigators who turned over the wrong rock, accountants cooking books or just plain old people who saw the wrong thing?

Blood bonds aren't just used to control mortals and ghouls. It's not a popular practice, but a blood bond can control other vampires too. Who knows what old creature may be suddenly released, subservient kindred who have their lives back, tortured souls who can finally fight their captors.

Borrowing PCs and NPCs from other cities is a great way to bring some character to a game. But what happens if their disappearance is felt in the city they left?

I think you get the point.

Tertiary Effects

If we glance down the rabbit hole further, we can analyze what some of the above scenarios could lead to...

The Masquerade is in danger. There are too many ways mortals who do / could know about vampire society are now in a position to destroy everything the Camarilla stands for.

Vampires are good at what they do, which can lead to overly successful / efficient businesses, gangs, organized crime, police / SWAT forces and so on. They could be run by a bunch of ghouls or just a group of mortals who've ignored their family and gotten used to pushing themselves beyond reason. Maybe a vamp wanted the best of the best of the best and paid for extra schooling for a bunch of key employees. This leads to two situations - The first is that the extremely organized group knows about vampires and not only continues operating at peak efficiency, but will be ready when the vampires return. The second, is the Masquerade wasn't breached and it's time for someone to step up when the "scary boss" isn't around anymore.

Say the Camarilla send in a "cleaner" to investigate and deal with the situation. They start with known businesses and associates, check prominent members of society, unusually successful businesses, people with an ear to the street, etc. They'll do their best, but they won't find them all.

Further down the rabbit hole

Cleaning up could mean another blood bond, some Dominate or disappearances. Just how many people have to be dealt with? Someone, somewhere among family, friends and co-workers is going to notice a change in personality. What if the investigator missed something or someone? Think what that person is going through - we're talking full-out invasion of the pod people scenario.

You're not in control

This can be great, especially in games you want to run more "sandbox". Each ripple is just something else you, as a storyteller, can react to. It's one less idea you have to invent. Players will also love if they're investigating something and it turns out to relate to something they did months ago. Storytelling gold.

The world you create is a living breathing thing. Considering the actions of not only your players, but your own, will give you all sorts of juicy morsels to build in to side quests and entertain your players for a lot longer than you originally intended. Just don't lose track of the main story line as you don't want to derail your game with too much stuff going on on the side. (Or, maybe they'll have fun running all over the place.)

No, really, you are in control

In the end, it's your game and you're running it so the group of you have a good time.

If you have a cool idea that you think would make a fun plot, go for it. You get to make the call about how AND IF your world reacts to it. If you want to throw a werewolf at your party but don't want to spend days reading about their rules and how their society would react to a bunch of vampires killing their kind, and worrying how your players will deal with retaliation - then don't. Create an NPC that can turn into a wolf and give it a combination or Celerity, Fortitude, Potence, Animalism and Protean. Done.

Be loose with time frames on these little side adventures so you don't force your players to feel like the entire world is imploding around them. Keep these ideas on hand for a rainy day. If your story has too much action, is too depressing, too much political / social pandering, your players may give you signs they're getting bored. Throw one of these at your players to break the tension. It's like watching an angsty series like Angel, when all of a sudden - puppet episode.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Always play with their minds (Maps)

As a storyteller, you should always do what you can to get inside your players heads.

Right now I'm working on building a map of Windsor, the setting of the game I may or may not be putting together right now. I felt it important to show that the Sabbat have control over Detroit. But to me, it was important to have a nice large Sabbat symbol near the border.

It may not look impressive in the photo on the left, but I'm not going for impressive. I'm going for menacing. When you look at the map below, it covers a good portion of the city they'll be playing in. When they reference Windsor, that's what they'll see. Almost unavoidably, the imposing bottom of the Sabbat symbol looms above - no matter where they scroll.

An object as simple as a map is a great way to remind players of the perils that are around their characters. Think about old world maps that show beasts in the oceans. Even then, they knew there wasn't literally a monster right there - but they were warning sailors that travelling the ocean is fraught with danger. Sometimes, players need that visual cue that they are not safe.

Side note - is it just me or does that green island between Detroit and Windsor look like a veiny dick?

Annnnd for geek reference... "Always play with their minds..."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Obligatory Introduction Post

I've been writing some these days.. there's a World of Darkness in my head back from the days when I ran some LARPs in Waterloo, Ontario, but that was like.. 12 years ago or so? I'm getting pressure from my wife and some friends to start a tabletop game of Masquerade and the problem is once you jump start the gears in my head, I lose control. The jump start occurred because I don't live in Kitchener anymore and the friends I'd be gaming with live in Windsor - a location that until now wasn't fleshed out in my world. As I started imagining how the darkness' taint would have changed the city, I inadvertently started something I could not control.

LARP, like many things, was great when it was good and terrible when it was bad. Oh the drama. Before the days of Vampire LARP, I began by playing in some Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Before that, I was just a computer geek who cut his roleplaying teeth on games like ZZT, Might and Magic, Ultima, Fallout, The Realm and others.

You can find me on Twitter @InDavesLife. I've been blogging for a while now, my primary site being Wargaming Tradecraft, the home of the Hordeblood Project. Go there for all sorts of learning when it comes to the hobby side (Painting, modding, green stuffing, and so on.) of wargames like Warmachine / Hordes, Warhammer, etc. As a side project, like this site, I also have Tech(nological) Tradecraft. If you want to view some of my art and photography, look no further than Deviant Art.

Here I'll be writing on topics from Storytelling, Narrating, Dungeon Mastering, world building, playing, theorycraft and whatever else needs to flow from my fingers. Most of my interest lays in the World of Darkness... which is unfortunate since White Wolf killed it. (Sometimes wonder if anyone there brought up the concern, "Hey, do you suppose killing our game system will have a negative impact on our revenue stream?") But I'll probably end up talking about some D&D and concepts that apply to any game too. Maybe I'll even talk some of my friends in to writing to give some other perspectives.