Rebuilding Vampire: Anchors of Humanity

BondsI always had the vague notion that what I had termed Joys and Sorrows was where the core of this game I’ve been working on lied; in a game about the loss of Humanity, the loss of the Self, Joys and Sorrows represented that which defined what was being lost. But for some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint I wasn’t entirely happy with the mechanic (and I call it that only as a technicality, as it never really became part of a moving system but remained only a cog off to one side).

A few weeks ago while at work, I had a small Eureka moment in regards Joys and Sorrows and the central place I wanted them to have but hadn’t quite achieved. The game, in essence, is about the loss of that which makes you Human, and the stories that emerge from that downward spiral. I was on to the right idea with Joys and Sorrows in that these are player-created statements that describe that which is important and connect the character to their Humanity, as well as defining where the sources of interest and conflict will lie as the story develops. But it was still clunky. I hadn’t found a way to express mechanically, on the physical game level, the loss of these bonds.

And then it hit me.

There’s a fantastic word in Spanish for what I wanted to achieve with Joys and Sorrows: vínculo. It translates as tie or bond, but in Spanish it has this wonderful weight to it that the English translation doesn’t achieve; it denotes a deep connection, almost an essential connection. Tie or Bond are correct translations for the literal meaning, but they don’t have the weight, the gravitas, that is inherent in the Spanish version. So in searching for a term that could translate the idea and still carry the weight of connection I perceive in the Spanish word, I decided to use Anchor, which actually works greatly in terms of the game as this is the term that is to be used to describe that which connects the character to their Humanity.

Anchors of Humanity

Anchors are the links that keep a character tethered to their Humanity while giving them the will and weapons to fight off the encroachment of the Beast. As the Beast wins ground, the links in the chain that are the Anchors are eroded, broken. They can sometimes be replaced, but ultimately they will all be gone. Then there is only the Beast, and the Fall is complete.

Anchors are represented by short statements that describe a person, object, place or emotion. These constitute that which the vampire holds most dear, the only memories that keep her attached to her human side.

Characters get 20 words to describe their Anchors. These must be between 3 to 5 words each, giving a starting character between 4 to 6 Anchors. Every word counts when writing an Anchor.[ref]This is obviously the first place where the playtest flag comes up: Should all words count? Should articles be given as freebies? Or maybe only some specific terms like “the”?[/ref]

Each word is a link in the Anchor to Humanity. As the vampire enters conflicts and loses to the Beast, Anchors weaken little by little: as damage is taken, it is tracked by crossing out words on the Anchors at the rate of one word per point of damage. As the Anchors lose words, their significance changes; as they disappear, the vampire’s hold on Humanity fades away and the Beast grows stronger. It is up to the player and Game Master to define the new situation that arises out of the changed Anchor and see how the Beast has now taken hold of that one small part of the vampire’s Humanity. In this way, damage taken fuels further developments in the story of the vampire’s Fall.


Example: I’m playing Allan, and write the Anchors: “My Beloved Victoria,” “I Hate David,” “Hanna’s Innocent Smile” and “That Last Night In Paris.” These are the things that Anchor Allan to his Humanity, the only things keeping him from the Fall.

I enter a conflict and lose, taking 1 point of damage. This means I must cross out one word from any of my Anchors. I decide to do as follows:

“My Beloved Victoria”

By crossing out Beloved, I am changing the situation surrounding this Anchor to Victoria. Is the not Allan’s beloved anymore? Why? How does this encroachment of the Beast removes the “beloved” from Victoria?

Had I cross out “My,” what would that mean, then? That Victoria isn’t mine anymore? And what does it mean that she’s “mine” in the first place? Or if I cross out “Victoria,” does that mean that she is dead or simply gone?

All that is certain is that, in some way, the Beast has gained another foothold and eroded another small part of Allan’s Anchors to his fading Humanity.

Under some circumstances, a vampire may be able to restore words crossed out. Restored words are never the same as that which was lost originally; that aspect of that Anchor has been irrevocably changed by the Beast. A new word that occupies the same grammatical function[ref]Too technical?[/ref] must be used instead (i.e. a noun for a noun, an adjective for an adjective, etc.). Restored words are written near the crossed-out word they are restoring. A crossed-out word may not be erased from the page. An Anchor may only have 1 word restored, ever.[ref]This is another place where the playtest flag comes up: Only one? Ever?[/ref]

Example: In a later conflict, I beat the Beast by a significant margin, giving me the ability to restore a word lost to any of my Anchors. As you can see in the photo above, Allan has taken some amount of damage already and his Anchors have suffered.

I decide to restore the cross-out word Paris in the Anchor “That Last Night In Paris” with the new word “Miami.” In effect, the new Anchor now reads, “That Night In Miami.” I now wonder, what night in particular? What happened/will happen in Miami?

That’s the basic idea behind Anchors. What I really like about this simple mechanic is that it shows in very obvious ways what the character is losing as the Fall happens: by crossing out words you physically can see the loss of Humanity. There’s violence and violation in the act of crossing out a word that mimics in some small way the violence and violation of the Beast upon the vampire character. I like that. I also like seeing at a glance the damage done to the Anchors of Humanity; it shows how far along the Fall a vampire is even if you know nothing of the game.

The most glaring omission here is that there is no dice mechanic attached to the game yet, and therefore how is a conflict resolved, what constitutes a loss or a significant margin of victory are all undefined.

I am looking at existing dice mechanics to see which one I crib for this game. I am simply not good designing dice mechanics from scratch and I don’t have an eg0-driven desire to reinvent the wheel when others have already done great work I can use for my game. I need a dice system where a single dice pool represents two forces in opposition, and I already have a couple of examples from Daniel Solis, Greg Stolze and Fred Hicks to look at.

So, there you go, Anchors. Have at it and tear it apart. Help me make it better as a result.


  1. I’ve been starting to look more at these sorts of social mechanics. Both Smallville and Apocolypse World have mechanics that do something similar. I like the simplicity of crossing out and restoring words for a relationship. Maybe some sort of point buy would take care of the issue of articles or not. Say adding zero point words so you can designate which ones are the ones that matter?


  2. I like this mechanic.

    Shouldn’t the chosen word be the most obvious link to the conflict that was lost or won? And if no remaining word relates to the conflict, why was there a conflict in the first place?

    Thoughts on dice…
    Do you see the Beast acquiring its own anchors as the vampire becomes more territorial, cruel or self-absorbed? These could be the source of the “Beast dice” you mentioned in an earlier draft.

    Alternatively, a gambling system where the player wagers words for dice. Anchor words might give you bonuses, but if you lose, they’re gone. Like FATE Aspects with much sharper teeth (pun intended).


  3. I wonder if these mechanics could be tweaked to simulate “falling” to the Dark Side in Star Wars? Maybe instead of taking damage, and losing words, players are able to sacrifice words in their Anchors to fuel their Jedi powers?


  4. What about doing die steps. Something like this…

    Beast d0 ……………………………………… Humanity d20,

    and as they lose humanity alter the die, like step one would be something like this…

    Beast d4………………………………………. Humanity d12,

    The higher the die type the more involved in that side of his nature he would be.


  5. I like what you are going for here.
    I worry about the potential book keeping aspect of rewriting, crossing out, rewriting, Etc.
    Are physical conflicts the only ones that can cause a psychological downfall?
    If physical conflict happens frequently the vampire would fall pretty quickly, restoring/replacing should be easier under those conditions.
    If a vampire were horribly emotionally scarred by an event, particularly one involving one of her anchors, would she lose a word tied to that anchor?
    If it would be possible to lose words to emotional damage, then the system needed would require some sort of sanity mechanic.
    Just some thoughts, hope I helped or at least didn’t hurt.


  6. Daniel,

    This is a pretty neat idea. The only think I’d like to see is a way to flag words of import with words that aren’t. I see “That Last Night in Paris” and the word “in” is merely there for grammatical effect. It isn’t an emotional connection. Such words shouldn’t count in this. So, I’d underline That, Last, Night, Paris, but not the in — those underlined words are at stake.

    I’d also allow for rearranging the statement with each cross-out, like how Smallvile does when you change a Value or Relationship. Furthermore, when a statement can’t make sense anymore, it’s dead. That means maybe you would normally have two “hits” left on one, but if you can’t distill it down to one, you don’t have the humanity enough to hold onto it.

    Let’s take that example above:

    One progression: “That Last Night in Paris” -> “That Last Night in Paris” -> “That Night in Paris” -> “That Night” -> “Night

    Another progression: “That Last Night in Paris” -> “That Last Night in Paris” -> “That Last Night” -> “Last Night”

    “Last Night” holds nothing for me, so I’m wondering if really, at that point, that attachment is dead. You killed Paris and That, the emotional context for “… Last Night …” so that’s dead to me.

    My point, that I’ve only arrived at myself now, is that: just because a word is written down doesn’t mean it is of equal import. Instead, I would say something like: write down X bonds/attachments/etc. Highlight the two or three most important words in each (with some guiding text for that). Highlight 12 (or however many) total. Those are what you can lose.

    – Ryan


  7. You definitely need to have fluff words. Otherwise it could get silly.

    As a player, my first thought would be to stack fluff words – My fluffy fuzzy friendly kitten. That glittery flashy exciting night. Etc. I don’t know if that’s an issue, though – as a ST, and as a player who’s not trying to be a jerk, you can work that too. Each loss of descriptor represents a blandness or a loss of sensation. A night that was previously glittering, flashy and exciting is now just a night. That’s a big loss there.

    To me, though, the words all represent a loss of connection and such – my fluffy kitten becomes my kitten – that means that you’ve lost the perception of your kitten as fluffy – it’s ceased to be anything but a thing. Previously, it was a soft happy thing.

    And rearranging sounds good too – allows your words to work better.

    For dice pools, there are a couple ways that strike me as interesting. An old Shadowrun type approach would be handy – dice pools and target numbers.

    The general thoughts: a single pool, where each roll over a number is a success for humanity, and each under is a success for the beast. Wagering words (I think you have to wager – that’s a good risk/reward mechanic) could reduce the TN, skewing things more toward your high numbers.

    It also seems like you should do something to play around with the number of anchors versus the length of the anchors. I have a vague notion of something like a total pool of 8 dice – you get to roll a number of dice equal to the number of anchors, and the beast rolls the rest. Then wagering a word gets you extra dice equal to the length of the anchor you’re wagering from. So if you have 6 anchors that are 3 words long, you have more dice to roll each time, but you can’t really boost when you really need it. If you have 4 anchors that are 5 words long, you have less dice, but wagering has a bigger impact. It’s possible that my statistics doesn’t cover this. 😉 Perhaps rolls that you wager, and get all successes, generate a replacement word.

    In that scenario the beast would also be able to score bonus dice in some way, but I dunno what.

    The other mechanic is a straight “single pool” but the single pool is made up of two different color dice – yours are blue, the beast’s are red, or whatever. Each red success cancels a blue success. Whoever has the most successes at the end succeeds.

    Just ramblings, but this is actually a pretty interesting way to do it.


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