Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The City Accelerator, part one: Introduction

This is the first instalment of a series that considers a new tool: the City Accelerator.

At some point there may be a game that uses this tool directly. But for now, the intention is to have a tool that can be applied to any and every game. Well, any game I care to run anyway.

The executive summary:

The City Accelerator frees the GM of distractions when designing a city or other cluster of locations. The tool enables her to maximise impact of her locations in terms of plot, and enables the players to properly visualise the locations they visit. Where applicable the tool also assists in exposing locations to the players at the correct time–such as when they have achieved certain goals or attained sufficient power.

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p>Who needs this tool? No one. We’ve been getting along fine for decades with our maps, topological diagrams, or bullet points scribbled on the backs of envelopes.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though. The Dreadful Secrets game contains so many locations and people that both GM and players can be overwhelmed. If I were to run it again, what process would I use to make the setting presentable? After some thought, the answer is the workflow I’m going to discuss shortly.

This approach is designed to work for both new content, and existing modules. For generating new content the idea is to free the GM of distractions such as mapping or irrelevant locations. For parsing existing material (i.e. a commercial product) it should help the GM lay out the arena so it’s presentable to both them and to the players. In both cases the operative word is accelerate: the tool should make preparation faster and easier, as well as boost play.

City Accellerator card single 1

As I’ve written before, I’m keen on cognitive maps and visualisation tools, and how they can be applied to the hobby. For this tool I’ve chosen index cards as a medium to work from–they’re cheap, flexible, and tactile. Post-its and scraps of paper will also work.

That’s it for now. When the series is complete I may bind it up into a pdf, or something. The next instalment will focus on what makes a viable location.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ye Olde Zeppo

The Zeppo is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. (It doesn’t seem to feature in many top tens, but competition is stiff out of the 144 eps in all 7 seasons.)

The Zeppo pushes many underdog wish-fulfilment buttons. It’s a tightly written story that both pastiches the mainstream Buffy and remains true to its weekly saving-the-world format. The fact that it’s not the first choice amongst its stable mates–it is the Xander Harris of Buffy eps–makes it even more resonant.

My next one-off will be about a fantasy village of heroes called off to a war in a foreign land. Except, the players won’t be playing those heroes. They’ll be playing the people left behind. Children, the elderly or infirm, the village idiot, the coward who hid from the army recruiter… all of them strongly disadvantaged in some way that precludes a heroic role or any recognition for it.

Physical Infirmity

This is probably the easiest part to make happen. Children are short and weak, and the elderly are slow and often in pain. Simply shave off the hit points, strength and dexterity. More drastically shave off entire body parts from that farm machinery accident.

Mental Incapacity

I’m not sure I want to play this one. Mainly it’s because characters with severe mental impairments–to the point they can’t articulate ideas–will never be fun to play and worse, risk degenerating into caricature.

There are milder mental problems, of course. Making a character unable to communicate verbally is something I’ve done in the past, with success–all I needed was to give them an ally in the form of another PC.

Unisystem does have a whole list of “mental problems” which are designed to be playable and yet provide variety. Cowardice and Cruelty will probably work well, as will Paranoia.

Social Exclusion

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p>This is probably the most important side. The characters have started up as socially excluded already, albeit mostly patronised rather than disadvantaged.

I’ve played games where children and adults mixed, and whilst the game was fantastic (based on Garth NixSabriel) the issues came when the plucky children, who should have been going off on adventures despite the long-suffering captain’s orders to stay together and wait for the army, were sidelined in their activities by that authority figure (who was much more interested in building camp defences than investigating the weird-fu nearby).

The experience here is that if I’m going to mix and match all ages then somehow I have to avoid division within the party on the basis of age. Some of the advice in Frax’s Group Generation article applies. However I expect to go through this exercise as GM rather than facilitating the player discussion (since this game is a one-off, there probably won’t be time).

The system I’m leaning to is Unisystem, mainly because it works in one-off games–but also because it clearly identifies strengths and weaknesses of this type while retaining a strongly gamist orientation. Furthermore it deliberately provides tiers of competence (Buffy’s White hats and Champions, AFMBE’s Norms and Survivors).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tiny Pens

I hadn’t used a fountain pen seriously since I was twelve. I probably should have, because my handwriting lacks discipline and that’s exactly what you don’t get from a disposable biro that can write anywhere.

Just a couple of years ago I got the urge to get a nice fountain pen again. I walked into our local pen shop, tried several models and came out with a Sheaffer 300.

Sheaffer box

It’s a heavy pen, with a cigar-shaped metal body. I’m pretty sure the cap is heavier than the body, making it a bit unbalanced when posted, so I don’t write with it like that (it’s clearly designed to be posted, with a nice positive click when the cap engages).

Sheaffer parts

The pen takes cartridges (2 came free, still unused) but it also has a piston filler. Overall it’s a pretty good value pen if you like a really chunky writing instrument.

The Sheaffer got some service on and off for a while, but mostly sat next to all the other bits of stationary in the office. Then my grandmother passed away at a very respectable age. We spent months going through her possessions, which included items like my long-dead grandad’s Royal Engineers uniform, his rolex, and their furniture. I replaced the cheap MDF bookcases in the office with a nice wooden one, and their bureau.

One of the things I took away with the bureau was a Parker 51.

Parker box

Supposedly one of the “best pens ever made”. I didn’t think much of it at first. I dipped it in some ink and found the nib to drag a lot more than the Sheaffer when I wrote, so dismissed it to the back of the bureau.

Parker bits

But just recently I’ve been suffering screen fatigue, and I dug out both pens again. They hadn’t been written with in months, so needed a good flushing with water. Once they had been dried and refilled they were transformed.

The Parker is a “vacumatic” model. It’s a good deal lighter than the Sheaffer and has that “iconic” hooded nib. The photo makes it look bright blue, but it’s more of a teal colour. I think it looks fantastic. 

Like most modern offices mine is dominated by computers – but clearing the desk proved to be nicely therapeutic. Once I had a clear desk, I began practicing my handwriting.

It has been painful. Painful to hold (mainly in the fingertips rather than cramping; I don’t know if it’s because my fingernails have rotted away or because it needs a delicacy of touch that I lack) and painful to write smoothly and maintain a flow of ink. But I’m getting better. I learned to hold a smallsword*, I can do the same with a fountain pen.

And the stuff that pen geeks say about the pen becoming an extension of your hand is true.

The sensation of writing with a fountain pen is one where I match the speed of my thoughts to the speed of writing, which means mostly my thoughts slow down and I’m forced to order them as I put them down.

OK, it sounds like romantic rubbish. At home which in my relatively distraction-free office that’s mostly a matter of preference (but at least I can’t get the internet on a fountain pen). But in an office abounding with distracting elements it’s helped me focus.

How do they write? Well, I tried the Sheaffer before I bought it and it’s very nice and smooth. The Parker is equally good, just a bit different; lighter of course, but also with a lighter tone as it marks the paper. It’s just as smooth as the Sheaffer after some cleaning.

I have no idea if either of my grandparents ever used the Parker, but it will get regular use now. The Sheaffer is just as good for writing – which may say something about standards of manufacture today – but the Parker has so much more character. The Sheaffer will get plenty of use at work of course, and will probably do for banging in nails and subduing charging elephants too.

I will try to restrain myself with ink – but I have the urge to get a bottle of Noodler’s Rome Burning to try this out:


  • The stuff about holding a sword “like a bird” applies to pens too, it seems.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Moar Zombiz

Since I found the Unisystem and AFMBE, I’ve been after a paper copy of Dungeons and Zombies.

Unfortunately they’re rare as hen’s teeth. When I had to leave the Compleat Strategist empty-handed (they had every other supplement, just not that one) I more or less gave up on getting a hard copy. Ah well, at least the content is still available via DriveThruRPG. But thanks to a certain auction site…

AFMBE Haul

Hurrah!

That’s Dungeons And Zombies flanked by Enter the Zombie on the right, and All Tomorrow’s Zombies on the left. The cover is a nice pastiche of the PHB.

DnZ has a superb web enhancement by Jason Vey that turns the supplement into a Cinematic Unisystem game, which should make it nice for not-too-serious one shot games.

The format for the “genre mashup” AFMBE books is generally new characters, rules subsets, and new deadworlds. The consistent presentation is great. I’ll mostly read the deadworlds as closet drama, although there are some great ideas (the Death of the Round Table is lovely). For now I’ll concentrate on the extra rules:

DnZ’s main offerings are new racial qualities for fantasy races, some rules for fighting with shields, and magical invocations. The races I can take or leave, since I don’t care for Tolkein-esque fantasy. The magic is fairly bland but functional; I like the Summoning/Focus/Dismissal approach. Spells are purchased as skills so they work more like discrete powers than flexible spur-of-the-moment sorcery (something that can be addressed using the Cinematic web enhancement).

EtZ brings martial arts, “chi powers”, and rules for zombie PCs. The martial arts are good although they compete with all of the combat moves from the Cinematic lines. Chi Powers are also great; they’re arguably no different from spells, though they have more instantaneous effects and are geared towards the wire-fu genre–they make a very nice alternative to Feng Shui. Zombie PCs are just fun–they’re derived from the main Zombie “breed” of the deadworld, so they could be any type of undead you care to imagine, given the broader scope of Atlas of the Walking Dead.

ATZ has the broadest scope, and covers cyberware, bioware, and nanotech, as well as spaceships, psionics and future skills. There are some nods towards transhumanism, and definite synergies with Terra Primate are possible to achieve something like Eclipse Phase (if that system doesn’t grab you).

Overall AFMBE’s strength lies in distilling and re-stating the fundamentals of genres, enabling rapid assimilation of the rules by players and allowing the GM to mash up genres with ease. That’s a really, really great thing for one shots. I wonder if there are some limitations for campaign play–for example, that the sorcery presented in DnZ lacks depth (something I haven’t found in the Cinematic lines).

ORE part 3: Reign

A recap on my previous ORE experiences:

  1. I like Monsters and Other Childish Things for its premise, and I have to admit the stripped-down implementation of ORE is elegant; however it took a bit of selling to my group (and some of them are still complaining).
  2. I didn’t think much of Wild Talents. Personal preference aside I maintain that it’s poorly organised and needs better support for power development. Mostly though it’s too complex in play, once multiple hard and wiggle dice are employed. Maybe that just makes me too stupid to play certain games, but I think that games should meet my standards, not the other way around.
  3. I have read Nemesis, and it does have those delicious madness rules pinched from Unknown Armies, but I haven’t played it. It’s free!

Overall my response to ORE has been mixed. In play it’s OK, at best. It masquerades as an elegant mechanic, beneath which lies an unusual amount of crunch. It hasn’t set my world on fire yet, and it’s had mixed reaction from my players.

Let’s try again:

NewImage

Enchiridion is a “late latin term referring to a small manual or handbook”. The Reign Enchiridion is a utility book with just the rules, no setting. That suits me fine. Know what else suits me fine? The price. The print book cost me 7 quid and thanks to Arc Dream’s generous Free PDF Guarantee I can read the book on my iPad before the paper copy is delivered. The format is digest, by the way, which means it’s not stupidly small for reading on a tablet screen. Bravo!

So the Enchiridion was a bit of an impulse purchase. Aside from the price a couple of other things swayed me. Firstly it’s terrifically well supported with free stuff: sixteen supplements and bits of rules errata, now available in three bind ups all for free in pdf form. The concepts of Martial Paths, Esotetic Disciplines and the very simple approach to spell and monster construction were intriguing. In the supplements they’re untested, but they’ve actually been rolled into the Enchiridion

Second, it’s setting agnostic. Good, because I don’t want to run in someone else’s setting.

Third, it’s got a really nice character sheet. This was something I bitched about in Wild Talents. It may sound petty, but if attributes directly combine with a subset of skills then the attribute should appear at the top of the skill list, not elsewhere on the sheet. They got that right.

So, what do you get? In a nutshell:

  • The basic ORE approach, using the tried-and-tested Stat+Skill=Dice Pool approach
  • Do it yourself “Martial Paths” and “Esoteric Disciplines” that are tied to skills, and are easy to power balance
  • “Company Rules” for developing factions and scaling up conflict
  • Passions, divided into Missions, Duties and Cravings to signpost behaviour
  • Master and Expert dice
  • Flexible and straightforward spell creation with some thoughtful advice on how to approach magic in your world
  • A “nice” chapter on how people can get hurt in a fantasy game
  • A chapter on topics for your game
  • DIY Monsters

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p>The Esoteric Disciplines are fantastic, and remind me of Ki Skills from Runequest Land of Ninja; semi-mystical “powers” attached to a particular skill. Each discipline has five ranks. There are a couple of examples of the Disciplines but the meat of that section is how to build your own disciplines, what kind of effects they would supply, and how to balance the powers at each level. I wish I’d had this tool years ago, instead of trying to adapt bits of Exalted into a similar system.

The Company Rules are also great. These remind me of the faction-building rules in Angel except they deal very clearly with what organisations do, how they fight, and how they get bigger. Obviously Reign has a strong political element. This is a game where your PCs represent an organisation as well as an individual, and the scaling between is quite elegant.

The parts on spell creation are very good too, although with the esoteric disciplines there’s less need for spells anyway.

The Passions section deserves mention. These are the ever-more-popular “negotiated bonus” skills. If your Mission, Duty or Craving applies then you get a bonus die to a given roll, and you get a penalty if you act contrary to that Passion.

Finally, a brief mention on Expert and Master (wiggle) dice. You only ever get one of these per dice pool, meaning that unlike WT where wiggle and hard dice dominate outcomes, these will only nudge the outcome in the right direction. As there’s only one, they won’t complicate the hunt-and-peck for matches too much.

This is the toolkit I was expecting Wild Talents to be, albeit with much more human power levels. A power-crafting system is an opportunity for the players to be creative; but the WT toolkit is so dense that it will put a lot of players off. In Reign the simple five-tier development of Esoteric Disciplines is easy to visualise, particularly as it is tied to a skill; the guidelines for power balancing are clear and comprehensive, making it pretty easy for player and GM to collaborate on discipline creation.

This is clearly a fantasy game; however it could be applied to urban fantasy, martial arts, or even future fantasy. The Company rules would require some interpretation but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Companies as Conspiracies in a contemporary setting. Stolze himself has published Out of the Violent Planet as an alternate setting for Reign.

The only bit I’m lukewarm about is ORE itself. Yes, I think Reign is a lot tidier than the other implementations, but the whole buckets of dice mechanic seems to be a gimmick to give players something to do with their d10 collection after they kicked the White Wolf habit. But perhaps that’s unfair, since I’ve yet to run the system.

I balked at using WT for VampORE. Where WT is not quite right, Reign could be spot on with its five-tier disciplines and its rules for power groups. Drop in the madness rules from Nemesis and it could be perfect. Now, what would you call that? Madness Reigns?

If you’re like me and enjoy running your own world and developing your own powers, Reign appears to give a very nice framework for balancing the power levels and tailoring powers to your players’ tastes. The Enchiridion is a great handbook at a bargain price.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Cable Review

The effect of cables on hifi is controversial. Some people insist that they can be used to influence sound, others dismiss such claims as snake oil. My collection of stereo interconnects is modest (and mostly secondhand from ebay) but from my experience changing analogue interconnects does make a small difference–most likely the more expensive cables aren’t degrading the signal. There’s some science involved to do with capacitance, inductance and the skin effect on different frequencies; this forms the basis for a market with fancy interconnects costing thousands of pounds.

So it’s believable that cables carrying analogue signals could have an influence on signal. But what about those other products? What about digital interconnects? What about mains cables? Since I received one of each recently, I thought I’d share my experiences.

Mark Grant

First up, I have a 0.5m Mark Grant G1000HD digital coaxial interconnect. This replaced my 1.8m Belkin “blue series” cable which was way too long and needed elsewhere. I own some of Mark Grant’s entry level interconnects which like the G1000HD use crimped Canare phono RCA connectors. They make a nice secure fit to equipment and have lasted well.

If an analogue cable is faulty, some of the frequencies will be off. But if a digital cable is faulty some of the information is lost. Usually the binary information is mangled so the serifs drop off the ones.

Timing is also essential to a good digital system. If the zeroes and ones don’t arrive in the right order the music will sound disorganised and less “musical”. If the timing is really bad, the whole drum section might appear several hours in advance of the rest of the band. The audiophile then has to remember to play the track later so as not to rend the space-time continuum through paradox. If you ever see someone with post-its all over their hifi rack, you know why.

Thankfully I haven’t had any of these problems with the new cable (I confirmed the integrity of the digital typeface using a font oscillator). Physically its nicely made and chunky. It doesn’t look quite as nice as the Wireworld Ultraviolet 5 but I’m glad I bought a British cable (most of my hi-fi is UK made). Besides, What HiFi thinks the Wireworld cable’s presentation is ill-defined and ill disciplined. Phew, I think I dodged a bullet there.

The only niggle with the G1000HD is that it’s directional. When I installed it the wrong way round some verses or even whole tracks played in the wrong order. Playing Suede’s Animal Nitrate Bernard Butler sounded like he was standing in front of Brett Anderson throughout, and Brett sounded really stressed and pissed off. I did enjoy listening to Revolver with the cable that way round but on the whole things were much better when I put it back in the right direction.

Fusion

The other cable is a 1m IEC Black Rhodium Fusion mains cable. This was more of an impulse purchase, and I didn’t have high expectations. After all, our electricity travels over hundreds of miles on standard mains cabling, so it’s unlikely that the last metre before the amp is going to make a difference, right?

However, when I started reading up on mains cabling, I came accross an alternative point of view on a certain audiophile forum: don’t think of the power lead as the last metre, think of it as the first metre. Immediately the scales fell from my eyes; with this in mind I was fully equipped to enjoy my upgraded kettle lead.

You’ve no doubt heard that cables can colour the sound. Using this new mains lead Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand took on certain warm orange tones, the soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s Blue aquired an inoffensive green tint, and Pink Floyd turned a sort of brown colour (but I sort of expected that to happen with The Division Bell).

I found I was most able to enjoy the cable whilst browsing the leaflet that came in the box.

So there you have it. Hi Fi is a subjective hobby, and your tastes may be different to mine. But the great thing is there are hundreds of different interconnects to choose from, and every single one has the potential to tune your system to exactly the way you want it.

I’ve been invited to listen to some digital cables next month at my local dealer; I’m particularly looking forward to hearing about the importance of a decent USB cable for computer audio and hearing the difference it can make. I’ve spent years listening through an old printer cable which is probably why I’m getting these “toner low” messages in iTunes.

Masquerade Mashup

“There isn’t anything personal or horrifying in V:tM as a *system*, except what you bring from how hardcore you bought into all the delicious fiction-y bits”

That quotation is from Lenny Balsera, commenting on Ryan Macklin’s post.

Vampire‘s premise as a “personal horror” game is still as fresh as it was in 1991 (even in our post Dresden Files/True Blood/Blade mainstream vampire malaise). At the risk of patronising my readers (all three of you) I’ll quickly list what I think are the most important parts of Vampire:

  • They are hungry for a forbidden food
  • They can frenzy and lose all control if they don’t get it or if they’re they’re threatened
  • They find it harder and harder to relate to humanity as they get older, sometimes becoming deranged
  • They need to keep the Masquerade, or they get whacked by the mob a blood hunt called on them
  • They’re immortal, but mortally afraid of the few things that can kill them

Vampire handles the Humanity vs Beast inner conflict this mechanically through Humanity, Willpower, and Virtues. You know the weird thing? When the power-creep set in and stats began being inflated above 5 dots, Virtues did not improve. Imagine your 19th level Fighter/Mage/Patissier never improving on his first-level saving throws. And they’re odd little stats anyway; they’re on a scale of 1-5 when everything else is on a scale of 1-10. They’re tucked away in the bottom-right of the character sheet like an obscure second cousin screwing up the seating plan at a wedding; no wonder all we ever did with them was make small-talk.

The problem with Humanity is not visibility, it’s gameplay effect. Certain dice pools are limited to the Humanity rating (1-10); these include Empathy rolls, Virtue rolls and all dice pools during daylight. That’s great! Except that it’s absolutely impossible to generate a PC with a Humanity score below 5 at character creation, and at the same time there aren’t too many dice pools above 5 that would be frequently affected. Vamps lose Humanity according to a “heirarchy of sins” which is not difficult to circumvent.

A player needs to do a perverse min-maxing exercise with Virtues and really behave badly to get their Humanity to drop below 5 and be threatened by any real penalty. If you’re playing that kind of sociopath, you probably want to be in a Sabbat game anyway.1

The other issue is hunger, which should be a prime motive for vamp behaviour. In VtM blood point consumption is fairly low for survival, but high for discipline use. So to avoid losing blood, don’t use disciplines that are powered by blood: no celerity, or blood buff, or healing. This means if parties practice an avoidance strategy the need not spend much blood at all; they can still use all of the other tasty mind-warping powers (plus Fortitude and Potence) for free. By avoiding combat they avoid hunger and avoid those annoying Humanity checks. Simples!

Build a Better Vamp

My ideal vampire system would

  1. Track how hungry the character is
  2. Have a mechanism to test for or resist frenzy
  3. Have a system for developing derangements
  4. Keep track of masquerade violations
  5. Not feel like StorytellerTM

There are commercial systems available that can achieve most of these aims with minimal tweaking. Here are some suggestions.

One: Don’t Bite The Neck

Dryh

Don’t Rest Your Head is almost a drop-in for this kind of game, as long as you don’t expect the characters or campaign to last too long. Substitute Hunger for Exhaustion and you’re mostly there; now it’s hunger rather than tiredness that both gives the vampire its power and threatens destruction.

Madness becomes The Beast; by giving into the Beast the vamp can access their supernatural powers. But if the Beast dominates, they may Frenzy; a Frenzy is basically a fight-or-flight response.

Both use of The Beast‘s powers and overall Hunger can lead to bad consequences. In the “vanilla” DRYHMadness leads to snapping and Exhaustion leads to crashing. In this case, substitute snapping for degeneration. When the vampire degenerates it gains a point of permanent Frenzy, which manefests as either a beast trait or a derangement, and roleplay appropriately. Either traits will severely limit social interaction. The GM may also spend a despair token to force the vampire’s derangement to surface.

For Hunger, once the number of Hunger dice exceeds six, the vampire comes under the GM’s control and will slake their thirst however they can. This will more than likely be a masquerade violation and could very well end the character. In regular DRYH it’s assumed that the mad city has caught up with the character, so in Vampire assume that the Camarilla intends to clean up. If you want to work in some politics you could implement a “three strikes” policy, maybe even get the PCs to work off a strike with political favours. But that’s outside the scope of the system, so I’ll leave it for further development.

Two: Vampires and other Childish Things

MAOCT

What does Monsters and Other Childish Things bring to Vampire? 

The monsters in MAOCT are extradimensional terrors which have somehow emotionally bonded with children. The system makes heavy use of Relationships, noting that Monsters eat Relationships. That sounds like a vampire to me.

Using this game for Vampire requires some reinterpretation. The monsters in MAOCT are supposedly visible to the children, but not to adults or anyone else except for a few shadowy monster-hunting antagonists. However the effects of their mayhem–such as devouring the substitute teacher–are very real. There’s the obvious suggestion that the children are monsters and have made up their imaginary friends to account for something worse.

MAOCT probably doesn’t suit an “adult” Vampire game, but a high-school game for the Twiglet or Teen Wolf genre would work. Relationships are the key. Children can loan their relationships to their monsters, but if the monsters lose a fight while using them, those relationships get shocked. That’s a nice mechanic for illustrating the teen vamp giving into the Beast, and the damage it does to their family relationships.

Normally relationship dice are used to boost the pool in the right situation; but for a Vampire-style MAOCT game they may have a very specific function–to shield the character from the authorities. Take it for granted that the character’s vampirism will be noticed by the various MIBs, argents and other vamps; but while the PC is protected by a relationship (teacher, family or friend) the hunters can’t touch them. Relationships are a finite resource, however, and could even be attacked (there are rules for doing this in MAOCT’s relative Wild Talents).

Since MAOCT is usually played for laughs, it’s assumed that the monster will get the character into trouble, so players can expect not to be in complete control of their monster. And there’s the rub: the loss of control aspect of Vampire should be something that the players avoid at all costs, but in MAOCT it’s accepted, expected, even encouraged. That doesn’t make the game particularly horrific when they PCs can lose control by consent.

Still, this system could be used to run a teen vampire game effectively. All the comments about the helplessness of children with monsters apply equally to children with supernatural powers that aren’t under their control. The power levels of the monsters probably should be given a bit of attention. Candlewick Manor’s creepy skills could be a good starting point.

Three: Vnisystem

afmbe

I picked one “traditional” option; this is mostly just a mechanical replacement for Storyteller based on my preference. I did consider VampORE, but that idea isn’t fully formed yet and in any case MAOCT does ORE simpler and better.

There are a lot of metaphysical power options to translate the magic and action mechanics from VtM to Unisystem, but you could do that with any game (although Enter the Zombie covers undead PCs and Witchcraft is arguably Eden’s version of the WoD, so it’s not a bad starting point). The question is how can Unisystem cope with the loss of control, the estrangement of friends and family, and the masquerade?

The Abomination Codex has useful rules on Taint, a kind of insanity trait. Unlike CoC’s implementation of Sanity where investigators lose points, Taint is gained; at certain thresholds (multiples of the Willpower trait) characters will gain mental problem disadvantages, and may also change physically. There are also Taint Powers, which include infecting other people with Taint. Taint is the antithesis of Essence (the creative metaphysical force in the Unisystem) and is used to power a twisted version of regular magic. It’s a nice expression for the vampiric blood curse–the players should be aware of the temptation to use their powers, the way their powers pervert their minds and bodies, and the fact that there is a benign, creative essence in the universe and they’re not part of it.

Taint is related to the Mad Gods in the vast Witchcraft metaplot. Witchcraft has its own brand of vampires (vampyres) as well as a lot of other secret society stuff; if you want to play all of that you’re probably better off playing Witchcraft straight as an alternative to VtM. I’d advocate lifting the Taint rules and inserting into a less conspiracy-charged system like AFMBE.

Like MAOCT, this approach probably suits a Vamps vs Hunters type of game; in this case the Hunters are Essence imbued and can “smell” Taint if it’s used. Taint therefore does two duties; a mark of the “curse” that could lead to loss of player control, and a masquerade breaker. Swap the word Taint for Wyrm and it drops into the Werewolf mythos nicely, too.

Honourable Mention

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p>Project Nemesis is a free supernatural conspiracy game published by Arc Dream and also using the one-roll engine. Although it’s based on mortals, its four-axis approach to insanity (lifted from Unknown Armies) is interesting and is very comprehensive in detailing response to different kinds of mental trauma, even if it doesn’t actually take control away from players the way a vampire’s Frenzy should. Worth a download.


  1. The Sabbat‘s use of Paths turns this mechanic on its head, almost to the point of religious dogma. Instead of Humanity proscribing what the vamp shouldn’t do (making loss fairly easy to avoid), the Paths tell the character what the vamp must do to preserve their Path rating. This is either a very interesting way to enforce behaviour on your character, or an excuse to behave badly. I don’t own Vampire: Dark Ages but I’m aware of its use of Roads.