I know it’s strange for me to be silent so long on this page, only to show up and talk about someone else’s product, but I’ve been thinking about making a vampire-oriented RPG lately, and my brain started spinning on what I find wrong with Vampire.
So. I took a few hours out of my day to scribble some notes, edit a character sheet, and rant about my feelings.
I personally think vampire is one of the best games/settings out there (I’m not a goth, I just love the political machinations of the setting), and I could easily see doing this for both modern and dark ages simultaneously (two different teams work on respective lore). But this is just a dream project. It is not a judgment of how anyone plays vampire, or who has written on it before. This is how I play and how I would market a new edition. I’m king for a day, I get to write whatever I want.
Okay. There’s a little bit of judgment.
Also. Bear in mind I don’t play 5th edition, so I recognize that a lot of changes were made to the game, but I don’t know all of them. I do know I don’t like the new dice system. My dream project is based on what I would do to make a stronger game and not worry about “repairing” damaged areas. I want to build this anew.
Now. Before I say anything else, standardized target number MUST BE AT THE TOP OF THE LIST FOR DESIGNING A NEW EDITION. 7+ or 8+. I don’t care which it is, but it’s the same for everything in the game. I can’t believe a game that’s been around this long hasn’t fixed that.
Okay. Moving on.
A new edition of vampire starts by examining what information people require in order to play and what they don’t. A look at the character sheet shows a great deal of math for a game that is about social and political power. If the game is to remain math-heavy, then parts of the character creation system need to get smarter.
The game has been around for nearly 30 years now. No one wants to play neophyte vampires who’ve just woken up to the world. They know the world. They want to play characters with some establishment to the world. So at the very least things like a domain and herd should come as part of a starting character, or the point system for buying them should be more abundant. Why am I struggling at the end of character creation to find just one more point for a domain? Is being connected to Denver so powerful that I need to pay points for it?
But I’m already getting into the weeds here. We need to examine what goes into the (hideous) character sheet and what I really need to know when I’m playing. It seems to me that my powers are my greatest asset and the thing that make me a vampire. In fact, let’s put them at the top of my character sheet. Every single discipline needs the same formula for rolling dice Attribute + Skill + Discipline level. And only skills needed for disciplines should be in the game. I’ve already deleted a bunch that I feel do not belong in the setting and/or have no reason to ever been challenged.
“Who wants to make a Finance roll?”
Knowing my disciplines and powers is the heart of the game. It’s what makes me a monster. Why is so hard to reference? We need to make sure all of that information is easy for the players to find and the explanation of what powers do needs to be written like game mechanics, not flowery prose. There are about 50 disciplines I still don’t know what they do because the writers interchange words throughout, so one minute I’m reading about the underworld and then the shadowlands. And in vampire, those are not the same place.
Disciplines are the very core of the game. Make them easy to read, fun to use, and costly. And standardize the damn target numbers.
I’ll be getting back to disciplines later when I talk about bloodlines.
Next. There are nine attributes and twenty-seven skills. Ah. Nice round numbers. Now. I know why there are nine attributes. I don’t like it, but I get it. But 27 skills is just dumb. It’s 2021, why are we still making craft rolls? My sheet has reduced the number to 18, but I’m sure there’s a way to trim it down to 15. Maybe.
Conversely, the game can have 1000 skills if it wants, but each needs to be equally weighted. Why are firearms and technology the same cost? Are you shooting bad guys at the same rate at which you are setting up a new wifi router in your vampire crib? Come on, white wolf. Get it together.
(Sorry. Had to be said.)
The sheer number of skills and attributes is probably why most people treat vampire like a simulationist game and not a storytelling game. Dice are rolled when things matter.
(The stories I could tell about bad gamemasters. Ugh.)
I never liked all the extra courage/conviction/self-control noise. I know why it’s there, but if nature/demeanor is staying a lot of the logic of when a vampire loses control and when she doesn’t can be folded into that.
It’s nice to see this sheet has simplified all that. Hunger definitely needs to be a thing, I can easily devise a system for what happens when you don’t feed enough, but I would tie this to bloodline.
Merits and flaws suck, too. I’ll be dealing with that later.
Backgrounds are my favorite part of the game, but they are such a mess. Backgrounds and relationships define who these vampires are. Every vampire in the setting has to know how they are connected to the town they live in. The Prince might not know who you are, but he knows about you. And that’s enough to warrant an overhaul of the backgrounds. I’d fix all that allies/contacts/retainers mishegoss. It makes no sense. They are cost the same amount of points, but operate completely different from one another. This all needs a clearer write up and better tools for the GM to manage. Ugh.
Nature/demeanor either needs to stop being a thing, or it needs to stop having mechanical benefits tiied to willpower. We all know what the best ones are mechanically. Stop rewarding shitty play. If they remain, they need a long list of options tied to things like courage and self-control (as I said above).
v20 Dark Ages has HUGE lists, by the way, which I think is great.
Roads and humanity are great, but they are not clubs you join. Why is this written this way?
Who openly tells people, “Yeah. I’m a king.”
“You are? Me too! We should hang out.”
Okay. The biggest one is coming. No more clans. None. (Bye tremere). Just bloodlines. Dozens and dozens of bloodlines. All of them come with a list of five disciplines people from that bloodline can choose, as well as bloodline-specific weakness and strengths to choose from (all characters have one of each). This gets rid of merits and flaws and focuses the bloodlines even further, so things like ‘smells of death’ is part of your bloodline, but not necessarily who you are.
In fact, I think bloodline is so important, I think it needs to be the first thing a player chooses when making a character, followed by disciplines. Putting points into disciplines FIRST teaches the player which attributes and skills she’ll need to make an effective character.
While I’m at it about bloodlines and working together, I liked covenants from Requiem. It’s the perfect way to get the characters all on the same page. They MUST all be from the same covenant, but they can be from any bloodlines. Who cares if you like shapeshifting into a wolf, so long as we agree they other convenants are jerks, we’ll get along fine.
I don’t see the need to make them so limiting. There’s nothing wrong with a dozen or so major and minor covenants.
Getting rid of clans and using covenants refocuses the power systems around beliefs rather than a handful of powers that all people have duplicates for some reason.
We’re the ventrue. We apparently run everything, but we can’t fight anyone.
Finally, the game needs the term ‘chronicle’ to mean something. And here is what I propose. Each character starts with one chronicle (from a list of 50 or so — and they can make their own if they want). Buying additional chronicles is expensive, but it can be done. Chronicles are a weird combination of nature, demeanor, road, and story. Essentially, a character’s chronicle determines where she wants to go. Each time she ends a session having furthered her progress on her chronicle, she gains XP. All characters have their own chronicles, because all characters have unique goals. This FORCES players to set goals for themselves and play in a proactive manner, the main missing ingredient from a game that never should have had missions and yet every published adventure is a pull-you-by-the-nose mission.
The biggest changes I’m proposing are the ones that simplify and redirect the focus of play. Bloodlines, powers, backgrounds, and chronicles make a vampire much more interesting that Strength 4.
Have I said enough? Is this a good closing paragraph?