Rebuilding Vampire: Vampiric Powers

Auspex, Celerity, Obfuscate, Animalism, Obteneration, Melpomine, Chimerstry, Protean, Dominate, Cachexy. Those are just 10 vampiric powers (Disciplines) from VtM/VtR that came immediately to mind, without pulling out either book, out of what must be a couple dozen total, spread over the entire oeuvre of these two games. The point is simple: vampires have awesome powers, and White Wolf has made a huge point of statting up the classical ones from lore as well as creating a host of new supernatural abilities for the blood drinkers. People like the powers of a vampire; besides immortality (and really, that’s just power #1), it is all these nifty tricks that folks attracted to roleplaying creatures of the night find appealing. It’s what makes the trade-off of subsisting on blood acceptable: you gain in return a number of powers that truly set you above the mundane humans!

I won’t deny it, when I played Vampire, it was the powers that I found most appealing. I played a Ravnos vampire just because their Discipline of Chimerstry, the ability to create illusions. My players spent about 90% of their Experience Points on improving Disciplines, on becoming stronger, more powerful, in those dark gifts bestowed them by the Beast. Vampiric powers are an essential part of the vampire myth, and as such, something I need to include in my rebuild of the game.

But how?


Here’s the very simple, very blunt statement I have to make about making up a vampiric powers subsystem for this game:

I won’t. I don’t care about having one. You have powers, now let’s move along.

Ok, so that needs elaboration.

I am going to include vampiric powers in my game, yes. Thing is, there is no way that I could set out to emulate all the powers that vampires have in lore, let alone in fiction and games. If we were to put all the White Wolf-created Disciplines in one book by themselves, I assure you we’d be looking at a tome of around 100-150 pages, quite possibly more; add in all the fan-made Disciplines floating about the net, and you’d have a mighty encyclopedic tome capable of stopping bullets. I’ve absolutely no desire to engage in that game, not even in a fraction of it. So how do I include powers in my game?

It’s fairly simple, almost lazy of me: you come up with them. As a vampire character, you begin with one basic power: you are a vampire, which means you are immortal (subject to conditions) and you have superhuman physical attributes. In those last three words, I have summed up three VtM/VtR Disciplines: Celerity, Fortitude/Resilience and Potence/Vigor. Written on the character sheet, these would be expressed as something like Superhuman Prowess. I can explain it in the book, what I mean by that, but really, I have no problem with each group deciding what exactly that means for them; they can use my description or create their own, and either way it is perfectly fine.

Each power is tied to a Beast die in the Humanity/Beast scale. That very first Beast die, the one that you acquire when born as a vampire, is what grants you the basic power. You want more powers? You gotta give in to the Beast a little more; it is only too eager to grant you more.

Starting characters may have up to 3 Beast dice (unless the group is playing older/more powerful vampires, but I think the default starting point will be 3), which means you still have two more powers to define on your character sheet. I will be sure to include a list of “common” vampiric powers from lore for players to choose from (and honestly, you are very welcomed to use the White Wolf books as your powers catalog, using those names as shorthand), but in the end you are free to come up with your vampire’s powers in conjunction with your fellow players and Game Master. Yes, this has the potential to opening things up to severe munchkinism and abuse, but that’s present in any game system, and I refuse to design for the lowest common denominator (the asshats who want to play power-trip fantasies).

Once you choose your power, you write it down on the character sheet assign to it a number of Beast dice. Each power must have at least one die attached to it. A character may have up to five powers (this, at the moment, is arbitrary and could change, so if you can come up with an argument for/against, let me know), and there is no maximum limit to the number of dice a power may have assigned to it. What the dice mean is an abstract representation of the strength of that power. A Superhuman Prowess of 1 may allow a vampire to overturn a car with little effort, a 5 may allow him to lift it, and a 10 may mean he can pick up an 18-wheeler and toss it across the highway. A Telepathy of 1 means the vampire can affect a couple of creatures within line-of-sight, 5 may allow communication with a small immediate crowd or with one creature across thousands of miles, while a 10 may allow limited mental communication with all minds in a hemisphere or even complete telepathic possession and transference of another creature/host. These are just quick examples.

I haven’t written about dice mechanics yet, but briefly, to explain the reason for those dice ratings for each power:
You have a dice pool equal to 10, with Humanity and Beast dice being of different colors. When you set out to do an action, you choose how many dice from your pool you will assign to your attempt. In actions in which one of your vampiric powers will be used, you must use as many Beast dice as the power has attached to it, supplementing those with either Humanity dice or more Beast dice. Basically, your power’s dice rating determines the minimum number of Beast dice you must roll when using that power. Beast dice are appealing to use because they score successes a little easier, though they are always dangerous as they can prompt a slip down the Humanity spiral.

I think this system will allow players the most flexibility in modeling the kinds of vampires they want to play (sparkling vampires are not out of the question with this approach) without overburdening the book, the players and the Game Master with laundry lists of “kewl powerz” and their accompanying stats. Attaching the Beast dice to the powers shows mechanically there is a price to pay for the abilities, and the way they are used when rolling makes sure the Beast always has a chance to collect on its investment.

13 comments

  1. Elegant, simple, wonderful. I like your approach here to put the power of character creation firmly in the hands of the players to imagine what they would like. However, I did get a little confused about max of 5 powers, but each Beast die represents a power (potential of more than 5 powers), and powers rated up to 10. I’m sure it will make more sense to me as you flesh it out. Kudos!

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  2. Very interesting. What do you mean by:

    “Beast dice are appealing to use because they score successes a little easier, though they are always dangerous as they can prompt a slip down the Humanity spiral.”

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  3. @JJ
    Chalk that up to me working something out as I write it.
    Tentatively, I’m putting a cap of 5 powers, max. When you write in a power, you attach one of your Beast dice to it. If you are a vampire with 10 Beast (and I haven’t quite worked out yet if this could be a viable PC or an outright NPC), you could have one power at 10, or up to five powers at 2, or any combination that does not exceed five total powers and 10 Beast dice. Like, you could have a vamp that is just so friggin amazing in Superhuman Prowess, having it at 6 dice! Or one with Superhuman Prowess at 3 and Shadow Control at 3.

    Did that explain it better?

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  4. @David
    Without having explained dice mechanics yet, I can’t 100% tell you, but:

    Beast dice score successes easier than Humanity dice. If the Success Target Number is 7, Beast dice score a success on a 5. Or maybe they score two successes per Beast die, instead of the regular one per Humanity die. Point is, Beast die make it easier to succeed (I’ll get into the thematic reasons why later) and thus are tempting to use.

    But when you use Beast dice and score successes with them, if they are above your current Willpower score, they could trigger a loss of Humanity (how this is played out in the game I am still toying with).

    Better?

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  5. Very interesting! This is reminding me a little of the system for “Don’t Rest Your Head” – which is kind of appropriate considering that game also involves a downward spiral (in that case usually to either Madness or Exhaustion). I can see it working particularly well for a vampire game.

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  6. @Jim Ryan
    The inspiration is very much there; the basic concepts of how DRYH handles the temptation to use dice that could very well screw you up, and gleaning more than one piece of info from the same set of dice are all tricks I’m taking whole-cloth from that game. Hey, if there’s a perfectly functioning wheel, why make my own? Better to strap four of those babies to my own chassis instead. 😉

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  7. This sounds pretty cool. How do you handle humanity in a way that keeps it from being a not-fun-thing-to-ignore? Are there parallel actions that require a minimum number of human dice to activate? Things like human professions that you might need as a cover, planning and higher order thought (I.e. beyond bestial cunning), or just the power of human speach (takes one human die to activate)

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  8. @Ralph
    Hey, Ralph. Thanks for taking the time to port your comment over here.

    I’ve been thinking about this since last night and I’ve come up with two answers:
    1. Total dice pool is Humanity+Beast, but unless you are playing a very risk-taking and/or savage type of character, Humanity dice are what will make up the bulk of your pool when rolling. They are safer, grant successes as well, and don’t trigger any possible Humanity loss. The problem lies in that you can only succeed at the most basic tasks using only Humanity dice.

    [Because I have not written about dice mechanics yet this may not make much sense, but I ask your indulgence in following my example. I’ll write about dice mechanics next.]

    For example, a starting character with Humanity 7/Beast 3 can use those 7 Humanity dice to accomplish most basic tasks as the number of successes needed for an average complexity task is 4 or 5. The moment you want to do something moderately complex, and especially outright difficult actions, you have to bring in Beast dice to the mix. So Humanity dice in a way are the “vanilla” choice, but they are the default, safe choice.

    What I haven’t decided yet is if it is possible to use *only* Beast dice for a particular roll. I know that there are times when you have a minimum number of Beast dice that you have to use (i.e. powers, as described above), but could it be also that there are times when a player wants to roll *only* Beast dice? And what does that mean, if there are no Humanity dice rolled for an action? These are things I need to think about.

    2. The same way powers have Beast dice attached to them, I think Joy and Sorrow traits can have Humanity dice attached to them. When you go into a Joy or Sorrow scene, the dice rating is the minimum Humanity dice you get to roll for that scene, supplementing with more Humanity or Beast dice as available/desired. I like this because it puts a very tangible cost on that which anchors your Humanity, and as Humanity dwindles, so does your connection to your Joy and Sorrow until you just don’t care any more and the Beast takes over.

    Does this answer your question?

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  9. I think so (not knowing what joy or sorrow traits are). I would definitely look to parallel the minimum cost system with both humanity and beast dice as fully as possible. That way the effect is tranformative rather than a death / lose my character spiral. I’d also make it possible to shift back (difficult perhaps but not impossibly so ala Forever Knight) in order to keep the transformation from being a preprogrammed slide.

    Not knowing what you envision rolling for or what scale the mechanics operate at the inspiration that comes to me for using humanity includes:

    Human professions…this is the minimum humanity you need to function (and maintain your cover) in a mortal role (ala Knight as a police detective)

    Maintaining self control…this is the minimum humanity cost you need to meet in a stressful situation to avoid giving the GM (or whatever) free reign to describe collateral damage.

    Human Speech…this is the minimum humanity cost you must meet to beable to communicate as something other than beast (with a higher cost for intellectual philosophizing and a cost of 1 being base gutteral “cave manish”)

    Human Relationships…a sliding scale of cost in order to maintain an actual relationship (professional, friendship, romance) like a human as opposed to the blood powered parody of relationships and domination practiced by the Beast.

    So select you powerz from either track gaining or losing access to higher order versions as your dice pools shift.

    That’s where my thoughts immediataly went on reading this anyway.

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  10. I love watching this develop. Do you already have the dice mechanics worked out, or is it evolving as the you hammer out the other details?

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  11. @Mad Brew
    A bit of both. I had a basic idea of the dice mechanics already, so I could start building some of the other mechanics, but these have grown and changed as I’ve developed the parts. I hope to write the first draft of the dice mechanics by next week the latest.

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