Though I’ve been silent for some time now because of classes and then finals, I’ve kept the Vampire project (it remains untitled and I really need to find a way to refer to it) alive in my head all this time. Maybe not front burner, but certainly slow cooker-simmering to the side. I can’t help it, really, not even with the other stuff I have going, like Ierne: Celtic FATE or my new obsession with the Colonial Gothic RPG and American Colonial/Revolutionary history.
One of the things that I’ve most been giving though to in between study sessions of human physiology (or perhaps because of it?) is the concept of damage as it relates to a vampire character. Both Vampire games go for the very traditional “hit point” approach: a vampiric character, much like every other character in the World of Darkness, has health boxes to track damage received. As they get checked off, health decreases until it either sends the vampire into torpor or, if it’s aggravated damage, it kills the character. In the WoD, because of the mechanical distinction made between normal and aggravated damage, this work ok; vampires can shake off fairly easily most damage, as it is mundane in origin and no match for their healing abilities, but aggravated damage really puts the squeeze on them, making them face mortality a second time. Yeah, it works for Vampire, but the more I think about it, the more I know that this isn’t what I want for my game. Or rather, I should perhaps say, this isn’t what I want for my game entirely.
I do want a way to track damage received by the character, but I’m far less interested in knowing how many more hits can the character take than what effect the hits already taken have had. I want to know how the damage the character has taken is affecting her and her circumstance, if that explosion at the night club she just escaped from did more than just singe her skin: did it destroy her reputation with the Blood Conclave, or cost her best (mortal) friend’s life, or both? I want damage to be a catalyst for enhanced drama. I don’t want a record of wounds, I want a record of consequences.
My thoughts immediately fly to the FATE System, to a rule unofficially established for Spirit of the Century but firmly in place now for the Dresden Files RPG: the 2/4/6 Consequence rule. Basically, this rule allows you you as the player to exchange damage done to your character for a descriptor that places some sort of temporary drawback, with the “temporary” part being determined by how much damage you reduce (the 2/4/6 part). So for example, if my character gets hit for 6 points of physical damage and I only have 4 health boxes, I can take a -4 consequence, take no damage to my health boxes, but be afflicted for X amount of time by a descriptor of Broken Arm. Consequences, not damage.
When talking about vampires, this makes far more sense to me than tracking health points which can, and will, change quite often as super-healing is a basic vampire trait (I haven’t spoken yet about vampiric powers, haven’t I? *tease*). Consequence descriptors, Aspects if we are using the FATE System parlance (which I will most likely borrow for this game), in a way also track damage, but they can track it on a far more diverse way than merely health. With this mechanic in play, damage can be physical, mental, spiritual, social, circumstantial; you can just as easily have a Wound That Won’t Heal as you can Out Of Favor With The Prince or even My Lover’s Gone (with apologies to Dido). These consequence Aspects can then be used by the player and Game Master to add drama to the character’s story, to push the character’s buttons and drive toward more interesting conflicts.
The obvious question then remains, what is that gets tracked on the character sheet that one would reduce damage done to by means of a consequence? If I’m not going to health points, what is this resource that must be maintained at the cost of situational modifiers? The answer is Willpower, the one weapon a vampire has to fight off the beast within. But I’ll leave talking about Willpower for my next post.