Rebuilding Vampire: Joy & Sorrow

As I have already mentioned, at the crux of the tragic story of the vampire is the fact that they are on a downward spiral towards damnation, destined to destroy all that they held dear. If you read through the comments on the previous two posts in this series you will find that over and over we keep going back to the simple, and very important, idea of why should one care about the vampire’s journey on the road of dwindling Humanity. Or put another way, why should I (the player of the vampire character) care about the loss of Humanity? Why stall it? Why not give in to the beast?

There are traits in the two Vampire games that sort of deal with this. In VtM we have the traits of Nature and Demeanor, which basically sum up what your behavioral essence is on the inside and how you project yourself to the world. These are good to help shape how you want to play your character, but they really don’t say much about who your character is, which ultimately is what we’re driving at when looking for the reasons to cling to Humanity. VtR uses Virtue and Vice to replace Nature/Demeanor. I like the contrast of these two traits because, while they can help you shape how you play the character, they now say something about who this character is, if maybe a bit indirectly. The Virtue/Vice split also hearkens back to classical philosophical thought, something I can totally dig. Both of these sets of traits, however, have the same drawback for me: they are too vague. This is great for the games in which they are used, as a limited number of combinations can be used to represent virtually endless characterizations across a number of games sharing the same basic system, but for what I’m seeking to do, I want something that’s a hell of a lot more focused.

For my rebuild, I want to take the idea that these stats presented in each game, and have something that serves a similar function but that speaks more – nay, speaks directly, at who the character is. I don’t want traits that merely suggest how to play the character, but something that when you read it you immediately know in some way what this character is all about.

Mick Bradley brought up a very powerful quote that I think sums up the theme of a vampire game:

“When the fall is all there is, it matters.”

(- Prince Richard; The Lion In Winter, 1968)

That right there is the driving theme for what I’m trying to accomplish, and when it comes to vampires struggling with their Humanity, how it matters is thanks to two important traits: their Joy and their Sorrow.

If I have defined the ebb and flow of Humanity as the character’s struggle to maintain the virtues that define us as human, it is these two traits that provide the basic reason why even engage in this struggle.

A character’s Joy is the one thing that they truly and honestly love in the world, be it a person, item, location or idea. This is the one thing they would save from a burning building, so to speak, the one thing that is the embodiment of love, of something good, for them; the one thing that makes their undead heart beat. It is also the thing that is most at risk of being destroyed by their own hand as they descend into the maw of the beast.

A character’s Sorrow is the one thing they regret in the world from having become a vampire. This is the one thing that truly causes them a sense of loss and despair, and which their new nature as a vampire pretty much means they will never have or achieve. This is the wound where the beast pours salt and iodine then sticks its talon for good measure.

These traits are flags for the GM that say “this is what’s important to my character, and this is where I want you to hurt me as we play this tragedy.” For the player, these traits help define the character be more than just a bloodsucking monster with some cool powers, bringing into sharp focus why they should struggle to maintain their dwindling Humanity.

I’m still toying with the various mechanics of the game, but I know that I want these two traits to work in ways similar to Aspects in FATE-powered games. That is, these traits can be called upon to provide some sort of short-term bonus to the character when the situation directly addresses one of them, and they can be used by the GM as conflict fodder tailored to the specifics of each character. I would like these traits to also help shape the reward/experience system in ways similar to how Keys work in The Shadow of Yesterday, but I still need to give that some more thought.

The other thing I want these traits to do is shape certain kinds of scenes that a player can call for, simply called Joy Scenes and Sorrow Scenes. In these types of scenes, the spotlight shines directly on that one character and how he/she deals with a (short) situation tied specifically to the trait in question. These are meant to be character-development scenes in which we glimpse a little bit behind the curtain and get to know more about what Humanity is in concrete terms for this character. In addition, why this is important is what I want to have a dwindling resource that only/mainly gets to be refreshed via one of these scenes. I still need to deal with dice mechanics before I get to the point where I can decide what the dwindling resource will be, but I know I want this dynamic between the resource that is spent and refreshing via an exploration/exposition of the inner self.

In the endless night of a vampire’s existence, Joy and Sorrow should act as the compass that helps them maintain a due course along the Humanity line lest they go astray and be lost in the murky, Stygian waters of the beast.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I think between Humanity/Beast and Joy/Sorrow you are covering the core of the vampire’s existance. Are you still thinking Joy/Sorrow being open-ended descriptors rather than a numeric value?

    I like the idea of a resouce being refreshed by a Joy/Sorrow Scene, but I’m going to throw out something that may or may not work as a possible alternative to a refresh for one of those traits. I’ve been kicking around using a trait as a ‘bank’. Player calls for a scene and then says they’re going to ‘bank’, or reserve, X resource points. Later, at a particularly poignant story climax the player can call on those banked points as part of a flashback. Let me explain with a cinamatic example: Speed Racer the movie.

    Throughout the movie Speed has these little vingettes with various characters within his familial circle. At the climax of the movie, after he has depleted all his reserves he still needs to pull out more. He flashes back to each of these scenes and pulls out an untapped reserve and bang, he wins the race. This is a form of foreshadowing that can set up some dramatic scenes through those flashback touchstones.

    Now that’s a very heroic example, and you’ve established that this is a tragedy. What if the idea is inverted. You can bank points, but you can only use them to complete a task (purposely vague here) IF SOMETHING SORROWFUL HAPPENS. Down the spiral we go. Depending on your intended approach this could also call for a humanity check.

    I’m very curious to see where you go from here. Obviously I really like where you are going so far. Great work.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 5: Magic =-.


  2. The two obvious resources are willpower for the human, and blood for the beast. These seem like they should go together; either one might stand for the other when the character comes under stress.


  3. @JJ
    Yes, Joy and Sorrow are to be open-ended traits, very much like Aspects (actually, they *are* Aspects in everything but name). I forgot to include some examples, but I will once I have this ironed out and ready for rulebooking.

    Your banking idea is very neat, and when you think of the traits as Aspects, you’ll see that this is already built into the concept via the mechanic of tags. Going through some Joy and Sorrow scenes (as well as going through Flashback Scenes – more on those when I talk about Immortality) not only refreshes a dwindling resource, but also can potentially create tags that you can later use as bonuses during a poignant moment in play. So, dude, we’re on the same wavelength here.


  4. @Tim Jensen
    Yeah, that was my thinking, at least as far as Willpower. I’m actively trying to stay away from Blood being a numerical stat that needs refueling because I want to avoid at all costs the gas station effect of a vampire draining people just to keep doing cool things. Nothing bothered me so much in VtM as the feeding issue, because it was either a really detailed scene as I tried to drive home the idea of the monster that feeds on the living, or done offstage/handwaved in order to be able to get on with other parts of the story. That speaks some to my (in)ability as a Storyteller, but it’s also a drawback inherent in the way that part of the system is set up.

    All that said, I do want the feeding to be a feature of the game, so I’m still struggling with that part.

    Will, I think, is the right name for this resource that lets you add bonuses (not bonus dice, I think I will cap it at 10 dice) and which would need to be renewed by connecting with that which you are losing, be it your Joy or Sorrow (i.e. your Humanity).


  5. @Daniel M. Perez
    If not Blood, what about Hunger. This can be a trait independent of the vampire’s ability to do cool things (Blood). The question then is, what triggers the hunger and how is it satiated? Or is Hunger an expression of Frenzy or loss of control?

    Sometimes I think you already have this all figured out and you doling out these tidbits to keep us hungry for more 😉
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 5: Magic =-.


  6. @JJ
    I have some stuff figured out, but not everything. You guys have actually helped me out figure things out a lot, truth be told, by the questions that come up. 🙂

    Hunger… that’s interesting.

    Frenzy is an expression of the beast trying to take over and not being able to (throwing a tantrum) OR of the beast taking over for a short period of time (well, ideally, though the tendency is that that time will increase as Humanity dwindles). Not feeding will certainly send the beast into panic (again, survival instinct) and quite probably trigger a Frenzy if the vampire doesn’t voluntarily go and feed.

    Hunger could be a timer-like stat that increases as time goes by and vampiric powers are used.

    I’m, overall, trying to keep stats on the sheet to a (needed) minimum to reduce distractions. But that’s an interesting idea. I’ll chew on it (no pun intended).


  7. @Daniel M. Perez
    Ooooo, I like that timer stat idea. Use of powers increases stat. Stat reaches X level and triggers…..Frenzy? Perhaps Hunger is tiered: events trigger at level 3, 6 and 9 (modifiers per level perhaps? 0, -1, -3 or some such appropriate thing) with automatic Frenzy at 10.

    I’ll need to dig the book out tonight and refresh myself with the way things were done to see if there isn’t something like that already.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 5: Magic =-.


  8. @JJ
    Hunger works, even if it is a bit less evocative than blood. So why not give Hunger and Will the same inverse relationship as Humanity and the Beast? Less of one = more of the other.

    And it serves the goal of keeping stats to a minimum.


  9. @Tim Jensen
    Yeah, I can totally dig the Will/Hunger dual relationship, good call. I’ll do some more thinking and reading on this concept then we’ll tackle it later on its own entry. That way Joy & Sorrow can have their time in the sun (so to speak).


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