Saturday, 11 July 2015

Visitant: Ansad Gift trees

The four playable splats for Visitant have now been introduced, so laying out their powers seems the next logical step.

I've taken a broadly traditional WoDdy approach, so these are more like Vampire powers than Demon: the Descent.

There are some differences between the way "powers" (Gifts, in Visitant) work here and in some White Wolf games. The main thing to note is that in the vast majority of cases, it is absolutely 100% impossible for a member of one splat to obtain a Gift belonging to another splat. This is not just a mechanical block, it's a narrative one. Visitants' abilities are primarily derived from their biology, not from magical or supernatural talent, so it's not like this is something you can learn. Are you a gestalt mind composed of several million insectoid drones, or aren't you?

The exceptions are what I will call Technological Gift trees. These abilities are based on equipment, primarily implants and the like, and can be obtained by anyone who takes appropriate in-game steps to do so, or has them in their backstory. In some cases, the TGs may be used wholesale in other BDS games where similar technology is available.

The Gift trees in Visitant are non-hierarchical. You can select any Gift from a pool available to you, in any order you choose.

This is probably the trickiest part of the game (well, except for maybe one). Writing power sets requires you to come up with a set of powers that are of equivalent usefulness, if not necessarily equal: utility is partly in the eye of the beholder, after all, and you can't mathematically balance "do more damage in combat" against "teleport". Perniciously, they also want to be roughly equivalently interesting, so that no one set seems just cooler than everything else. They may work in different ways, because of things like natural duration, or because using X once per scene is really powerful whereas you can basically use Y whenever you want without throwing any balance out of whack. Some are unilateral, others require contests against other characters. And some tropes make it much easier to come up with five relevant powers than others, quite frankly.

Overall, I'd say that it's considerably more difficult to write scientific powers than supernatural ones. If your theme is, say, Fire Magic, the rules are essentially whatever you decide they are. A scientific power set is much more limited because you're trying to hang on the laws of reality to some extent. This is particularly true of the inherent species Gifts, which rely on biology - it's easier to assign handwavy science to technology than to biology. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of handwaving going on here, but... ah, it's hard to explain. Look, by magic I can summon a demon, or conjure up a ladder made of water, or transmute stone into cheese. It's possible to come up with scientific arguments for those, but not biological ones. Biology rarely acts at a distance, for one thing.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I'm not 100% satisfied with the Gifts, but they're what I've got for now. Feedback would be appreciated, especially on things like the actual mechanics - having very limited experience with the WoD systems* it's hard to tell whether things like activation costs are fair. I'm probably making some things far more expensive than their utility justifies. Some powers may not really be useful in practice, or far too useful.

* specifically, with one game that's flat-out broken and one game that's using a different approach to the ruleset.

I've tried to make Gift pools use only a small number of Attributes and Skills, to avoid the situation where you can't actually be competent at the things your race specialises in. At the same time, I don't want there to be just a couple of things you need to excel at everything.

Anyway, without further ado: the Ansad Gifts, Guise and Protoplasm.


The Guise pool represents a visitant honing its ability to take on human form, learning to discern the details that mark humanity and to imitate these.

Some Guise gifts have limited durations, after which the visitant reverts to their typical human form. The visitant is conscious of this duration, and never taken unawares by the change. In-character, they can gauge the stability of their current form, and feel increasing strain as the duration approaches its end.


The character can take on the appearance of a specific individual they have seen within the past 24 hours. The quality of the imitation is based on their observation, and is sufficient to fool an equivalent observation: if they have seen CCTV footage of a target, the imitation will be convincing on CCTV. The target must be within 1 Size of the character’s normal Size.

  • Photograph – physical appearance only.
  • Video recording – physical appearance, and any speech, bearing or mannerisms shown in the recording.
  • Distant personal observation – physical appearance, plus bearing and any mannerisms observed.
  • Close personal observation –physical appearance, voice, bearing and basic mannerisms.

The ability is always limited by the imposter’s knowledge of the target; even with long-term observation they cannot imitate a birthmark they don't know about. They can't reproduce detailed biometric measures, such as fingerprints or iris patterns, let alone blood analysis or DNA testing. Unless the visitant has superhuman senses, they can't replicate the target’s scent.

They can mimic the target’s voice if they have heard it. If the target speaks with a strong accent or dialect that doesn’t match the character’s, they must make a Wits + Subterfuge roll to convincingly recall and mimic it. They can't imitate a language they don't speak.

There are other ways to spot imposters, including gaps in knowledge or out-of-character behaviour. As the quality of the imitation improves, it becomes increasingly unlikely that anyone will suspect an imposter; they will tend towards more obvious explanations such as health problems, stress, distraction or intoxication. Of course, these suspicions cause problems of their own.

Tell: Inhuman if observed, Blatant if detected but not observed.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Composure + Subterfuge

Success: The character takes on the appearance of the target, and other traits as appropriate to the degree of observation. They can add successes rolled to the result of any rolls to impersonate the target. The effect lasts until the end of the scene unless dismissed earlier.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character can’t get the disguise right; their features ripple and flow for a moment before returning to normal.

Dramatic Failure: The character becomes a warped version of the intended target, subtly wrong in many important respects. They suffer a -5 penalty on any impersonation attempts. The character isn’t aware of this unless they check in a mirror or are informed of it.

Devil in the Details

Mutability can take place at the small scale, as well as the large. Technology presents many risk to those living secret lives, from criminals to aliens in disguise. Some visitants train themselves to overcome these obstacles by refining and altering the minute details of their appearance.

A visitant with this ability can alter surface biometric details, including fingerprints and iris patterns. The visitant can always choose to simply shift their biometrics to avoid identification under their normal guise. This does not require a roll. Trying to reproduce the same biometrics at a later date requires an Intelligence + Investigation roll to recall the details, in addition to the use of this ability.

A visitant can attempt to duplicate a specific set of biometrics they have studied, in order to pose as a specific individual. They must have access to one of the following:

  • the (willing or helpless) individual in question, using physical contact to mirror the biometrics accurately
  • high-resolution photographs of the biometrics they are trying to replicate, which they can study and imitate
  • biometric data on that individual of equal or higher resolution to the device they wish to fool, in order to practice matching the key details.

Preparing to use this ability typically requires one hour of study to make a roll. Alternatively, the visitant can attempt the roll under more trying circumstances, increasing difficulty by 1 for each of the following factors:

  • less than one hour to prepare
  • less than ten minutes to prepare
  • less than one minute to prepare (minimum 10 seconds)
  • using biometric data of lower resolution than the target device (up to +3 depending on quality)
  • using poorer-quality photographs (up to +3 depending on quality)

The biometric data method will fool technology that only matches key points. However, humans may spot discrepancies if they make visual comparisons between the visitant and the original, or images of the two.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Intelligence + Subterfuge

Success: The character accurately reproduces the biometrics in question.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character is unable to manifest the details required, and returns to their normal form.

Dramatic Failure: The character believes they have duplicated the biometrics, but has made crucial mistakes. They will be detected by the sensors in question.

Living Mirror

Mirror neurons trigger when observing the actions of others, helping creatures learn by imitation. Cultivation and training to consciously use this system provides a great advantage to those with the capacity, enabling them to accurately mimic and even predict the behaviour of others. A visitant must be able to see the target to use this ability.

Tell: Subtle.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Wits + Empathy + Focus

Success: The character establishes a mirroring pattern with the target, reading their motions and intentions with unbelievable speed. If they wish, the character can mirror the target’s behaviour as long as they are physically capable of doing so and can see the target. Onlookers suffer a -5 penalty on any attempt to discern who is imitating whom. Speech can also be imitated providing the visitant speaks the language, although attempts to mimic the target’s voice still require a roll. This effect lasts until the end of the scene.

The mirroring effect grants the character a slight advantage in predicting the target’s actions, providing a +2 bonus on attempts to resist or intercept an action, such as maintaining composure or preventing them from pressing a button. This can also be useful in social situations, allowing the ansad to anticipate and intercepting social cues to control the target's behaviour. It's easier to keep someone from leaving a social event, obtain a signature or hector someone into coming inside for coffee. They don't, however, know what the target is thinking or what they will say.

If in combat, the character gains a +2 bonus to Defence against the target and uses their full Defence value even if they’ve been attacked already this round. When calculating Defence and Dodge against other attacks, disregard attacks made by the target.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character is unable to establish mirroring.

Dramatic Failure: The character attempts to mimic the target, but simply appears strange. Their behaviour is sufficient to trigger a Compromise roll. In addition, the target gains the Repelled condition.

Chameleon Blood

The most important part of long-term undercover work is fitting in, making the dozens of tiny adjustments and behavioural shifts that make you part of the pack. For a visitant with shapeshifting capabilities, these changes are far more achievable; minute tweaks to neural networks and anatomy help them talk, walk and even think like their chosen model.

To use this ability, the character must be in a position to make social contact with the intended group, on friendly or neutral terms. Contact with a single person is not sufficient; they must be able to spend time with several members of the group and observe their interactions. The difficulty of the roll depends on the target group:

  • an extremely close group (a family, Scientologists) requires 20 successes
  • a tight-knit and exclusive group (a gang, the SAS, the social elite) typically requires 15 successes
  • a group linked by background, knowledge, profession or skill (high society, truckers, police, high-stakes poker players) typically requires 10 successes
  • a public group (the Masons, Manchester United supporters) typically requires 5 successes

A group targeted with this ability must form an identifiable subculture with its own habits, practices and sense of belonging. “Butchers” is not a group, and nor is “office workers”, but “truckers”, “bikers” should be, and "teachers", "Catholic priests" or "cheerleaders" might be.

The ansad doesn't need to pretend to be a member of the group, but major differences may make the roll more difficult or impossible. Most teenagers can spend some time around cheerleaders, but a middle-aged attorney needs to make a convincing case. Criminals will be suspicious of outsiders, while no amount of dice will help infiltrate a white supremacist group unless the ansad looks white.

Tell: None.

Action: Extended

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Manipulation + Empathy (target number of successes as above; one roll/day)

Success: The character begins to blend into their target group, unconsciously accepted. They gain the Connected condition with relation to the group. The condition persists for a number of days equal to the character’s Focus.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character is unable to worm their way into the social group, but may try again with a cumulative -1 penalty on any additional attempts within one month.

Dramatic Failure: The character’s attempts to infiltrate the group are noticed and unwelcome. They must roll for Compromise, and deal with any fallout appropriate to the target group.

Schrödinger’s Friend

Most people find it easiest to deal with others like themselves. Humans shift their gesture and speech subtly to reach rapport, establishing a sense of shared ideas and attitude as they do so. Those who can’t find social interaction and bargaining more difficult. Adaptable ansaid can take this process a step further, learning to read subconscious signals, and adjusting not only their mannerisms, but even the details of their face and form. These changes are too slight for most humans to notice, but can greatly affect the course of an interaction. The target not only likes their style, but feels a kind of kinship, imagining the visitant also shares their outlook and philosophy.

This ability is used during social interaction or an equivalent close encounter – even a combat. It can’t be used until a few lines of dialogue have been exchanged, or a few rounds of interaction have occurred. Each roll requires one ‘exchange’, an interaction that gives the visitant an opportunity to obtain feedback and adjust. This is typically a few minutes of conversation, but might also be working together on a task for a few minutes, or dancing. The Storyteller might even judge that silent observation is enough, allowing characters to set up a rapport while they lock eyes across a meeting table, sit together in class, or stand quietly in a lift. In these cases, however, much longer periods of time may be required – the classroom setting might call for one roll per day, allowing for an occasional word in passing, or even one per week. A roll can only be made on the visitant’s own turn.

A visitant can attempt to force the process, allowing them to establish a rapid rapport, but this is risky. Misjudgement can easily alienate the target, making the visitant seem manipulative or insincere. When forcing, an exchange might consist of just a few words, or even a round of combat. A forced attempt suffers a -3 penalty on all rolls, and automatically results in a Dramatic Failure if the final result is a failure.

Tell: None.

Action: Extended (target number = target’s Intelligence + Manipulation + Inhuman Attribute; one roll/exchange)

Cost: None

Dice Pool: Manipulation + Empathy

Success: The character reads their target’s reactions and adapts accordingly, becoming just the sort of person their target wants them to be – at least superficially. The target gains the Esteem condition with respect to the character.

Exceptional Success: As above, and you can immediately claim a small favour from the target, or obtain a piece of information.

Failure: The character tries to please, but doesn’t seem to make any particular impression.

Dramatic Failure: The character’s attempts to please their target make them seem manipulative and disturbingly creepy. The target gains the Repelled condition with respect to the character.


The Protoplasm pool represents an ansad's ability to manipulate their physiology and anatomy at the molecular level, altering basic physical properties like density, flexibility and conductivity. Protoplasm abilities turn the Ansad from an alien-in-disguise into a creature capable of adapting itself to cope with virtually any situation.

Alter Density

Shapechangers have to struggle with the problem of matter conservation, which limits the flexibility of their gift. Some ansaid learn to alter the density of their tissue, allowing them to take the form of much smaller or larger creatures.

Tell: Inhuman (transformation, any abnormal appearance). At the Storyteller’s discretion, some combinations of Size and appearance may be Blatant Tells instead.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Stamina + Science + Focus

Success: The character can alter their Size by 1 for each success rolled, and combine this with their Mimicry ability to ape a wide variety of forms. Although their Size changes, their mass does not; density changes accordingly. A very small form will appear extremely heavy, while a very large form will appear light. The effect lasts until the end of the scene, unless dismissed earlier.

The normal physical laws of density apply. High-density forms will tend to sink, low-density forms tend to float.

While an ansad of normal size cannot fly regardless of form, a larger form with low tissue density (such as a large pterodactyl) may be able to glide or even fly. Flight is unfamiliar to ansaid, and requires regular Strength + Athletics rolls to remain aloft or perform manoeuvres; on a failure the ansad descents harmlessly. As no large flying creatures are native to modern Earth, such activities are usually a Blatant Tell.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character is unable to change their size. No Compromise roll is needed.

Dramatic Failure: The character does the opposite of what they intended, and becomes stuck. They can’t return to normal size until they use this ability successfully, or pass a Dexterity + Resolve roll to regain their composure and shake off the effect.

Fluid Form

Visitants with highly mutable bodies can learn to push the boundaries to breaking point, temporarily becoming a flowing mass of matter. Though it imposes tremendous physical strain, this enables them to move through impassable obstacles, squeezing through tiny cracks.

The visitant melts into a quicksilver-like mass of tissue. They can flow through any gap at least 5mm in diameter, which includes many keyholes and doorways. They can become a ball of matter, a puddle, a long ropelike tendril, and many other amorphous shapes. Movement rates while in fluid form depend on the size of gap. The visitant moves at half speed through a space 20cm or less in diameter, and one-quarter speed through a space 5cm or less.

Tell: Inhuman.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Dexterity + Athletics

Success: The visitant can maintain fluid form for 1 round per success.

A visitant can be trapped in fluid form, typically when confined in a space that does not allow them to resume a solid form. They begin to suffer severe discomfort when the duration expires, followed by severe pain. Each round of confinement imposes one level of bashing damage, though this does not escalate to lethal. Once all boxes are filled with bashing damage, the visitant suffers severe pain until released. When released, they are Stunned.

Exceptional Success: The visitant can maintain the form until the end of the scene without additional rolls, and feels only discomfort from the exertion.

Failure: The character is unable to distend their tissues enough to become fluid. No Compromise roll is needed.

Dramatic Failure: The character collapses in writhing agony from the strain. They gain the Stunned and Prone conditions and take one level of Bashing damage. Any Compromise roll needed is made at Blatant rather than Inhuman.

Tissue Transmutation

Changing shape is one thing, but muscle and bone can only do so much. There are many other substances with useful properties, and a gifted shapechanger can learn to mimic some of them, changing the composition of their tissue into whatever suits their purpose.

The visitant can temporarily transmute their tissue, or a part of it, into some useful material. They do not strictly become a specific substance, but something closely resembling it. This ability always changes the character’s appearance. Examples include:

  • The visitant becomes rubbery, able to stretch easily and absorb kinetic shock. They can roll to resist damage from blunt impacts and contortion. They can add their resistance dicepool whenever this trait would be beneficial.
  • The visitant alters their electrical conductivity, becoming as conductive as copper or as insulating as rubber. They can roll to resist electrical damage, or to conduct it to another target. If insulation is chosen, they can isolate electrical components with their body.
  • The visitant alters their thermal conductivity. They can roll to resist damage from heat or cold, or to conduct it to another target.
  • The visitant's tissue becomes tough and fibrous, like wood. They can roll to resist physical damage.

The visitant can also mimic the appearance of various substances, seeming metallic, crystalline, fibrous and so on, without changing their physical properties.

Tell: Inhuman.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Intelligence + Science

Success: Successes form a dicepool used to determine the effectiveness of transmutation. In the case of resistances, each success soaks one damage. The transmutation lasts for one hour per point of Focus, unless dismissed earlier.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The character is unable to transmute as desired.

Dramatic Failure: The character alters their composition, but not as they intended, leaving them sluggish and clumsy. They suffer a -2 penalty on all actions until the end of the scene.


The visitant is able to extrude and control a number of pseudopods while maintaining their human form.

This ability is an Inhuman Tell.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

The visitant can hold and manipulate items as though they had four additional arms. Alternatively, they can use the pseudopods to augment their efforts, adding +1 Strength for each pseudopod used. Until the end of the scene, they can manifest and retract the pseudopods freely.

Nightmare Fuel

Sentient shapechangers typically aim for subtlety, using their capabilities to adapt to changing circumstances, both physically and socially. When real danger arises, however, evolution and primal memory have given them the tools to survive. An ansad trained for dangerous missions learns to channel their gift into raw physical power, transforming into a biological horror of fangs, chitin and muscle.

Tell: Inhuman. Very, very inhuman.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1-10 Focus

Dice Pool: None

The ansad immediately gains +2 Armour and +1 to each physical dicepool. Their claws and teeth function as small weapons with a damage rating of 2L and can be used while in a grapple; they do not impose an Initiative modifier. For each additional point of Focus spent, the ansad may add an additional +1 to Armour or a physical dicepool (maximum +5 to any one), or raise the damage of their natural weaponry by 1L (maximum 5L).

These changes last until the end of the scene. This form is horrific to human eyes, and prone to complicate relationships with humans who knowingly see the ansad while this ability is in effect.

If I ever locate any WoD rules for morale, dammit, they should apply here.

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