Saturday, 24 December 2016

Creating a Vampire character

This is a post I started a while ago, and never got round to posting. Might as well slap it up here. The Vampire game in question did start, and I did run this character, but sadly we folded a few sessions in due to player availability and stuff.

As I've mentioned before, I'm in a couple of VOIP games these days, which are currently my only viable roleplaying option. We've been doing sizeable campaigns, but we talked a bit about the difficulties of running VOIP games, and what might work better. More on that another time...

Spinning off from that, we've been talking about pitching games for future sessions, and one idea that came up was doing a very straight-down-the-line White Wolf game.

As you might have noticed, I am weirdly invested in the idea of White Wolf but so far disappointed by the reality. I had a sneaking, wavering suspicion that this might be partly because of our approach.  

See, we're all rather inclined to get a bit meta, and a bit parodic, and not to take games very seriously. The fact that those friends have played a lot of RPGs, and a lot of White Wolf games, is a factor in this; they've done the basics before. But I have to ask myself whether it's reasonable to expect a game to be satisfying if you don't allow yourself to actually buy into it, or invest the effort to try and play the game sincerely.

I don't think there's anything wrong with playing games offhandedly and not very seriously, you can play however you want. I generally do. I just think you won't necessarily see what people get out of a game if you don't try to roll with it.

My previous stabs at playing White Wolf games have involved:

Vampire is the oldest, most refined of the games. The system is built specifically to run Vampire. Vampires are the best-established of the supernatural creatures here, and the closest to actually being remotely like their folklorific source material, which means I have some chance of understanding what I'm supposed to do with them. Let's try this.

I am, therefore, going to try reading through the book and making a character, following strictly the instructions in the rulebook and trying to neither abandon them in a fit of pique, nor insist on over-literal interpretation that makes them look more broken than they might be. The objective here is to make a character that I might (but may not) actually play in a serious game.

Wish me luck.


The very rough premise that was mentioned for the hypothetical campaign is a long-term, straight-down-the-line historical Vampire game starting in sometime the early modern period.

It Begins: A Chapter Title With No Relation To Its Contents

Oh for crying out loud White Wolf, will you just give your chapters useful freaking names already.

I'm using a PDF here. Everything is called "The Pontification of the Bones" or "Exfoliation of Mortality" or something, and nothing is called "Chapter X: Making a character". At least there aren't six chapters of game fiction...

Step One: Character Concept

At this first stage, come up with a rough idea of who you want to play. Who was she in life? What kind of vampire is she?

For some reason, the idea of playing a musician came to me, so I'm going to jump on that as a concept. A talented musician who attracts the notice of a vampire, enters their patronage, and the patron is reluctant enough to let them die that they eventually Embrace them (see, I picked up some terminology already) while they're still at the height of their talent.

The campaign (sorry, "Chronicle") is probably going to be historical, so I need a suitable instrument that a normal person might have access to. Let's say violin. Fiddlers are always a good bet, plus you've got a very wide range of musical styles available. They'd recently been invented as this game behind. Let's go with... work-hard, play-hard fiddler.

I tried, but I just can't think of any Aspirations right now. I don't really know how I could without knowing more about the campaign, and indeed the game as a whole.

Okay, I'm also supposed to pick a vampire type. I'm pleased to see that they do all sound reasonably interesting.

 The Daeva (charisma-vampires) seem like the most obvious patrons to choose a musician. Ventrue could also work. Actually I suspect they could all work... ah, I'm actually going to go with Mekhet and stop worrying about it, it's getting late. They have that obsession thing going, it sounds good, and I always like sneaky characters. Plus the whole occult investigation this is probably the single most approachable angle on RPGs for me.

Step Two: Select Attributes

Now, we step into the most basic traits that define the character’s capability.

As always, we're expected to do this before we look at any powers. Sigh.

I'm actually using my two-part chargen system to approach this character. I make the mortal Mental, Physical and Social, assuming that I need a fair bit of dexterity for fiddling and a decent chunk of sense to make a living, while social graces are less important.

Step Three: Select Skills

Next, you’ll select your character’s Skills... When choosing Skills, think about your character’s background.

Skills go into a hefty chunk of Performance, a range of awareness-type physical skills to represent general perceptivity and understanding the audience, and I have to spend a few on a smattering of knowledge skills that aren't really appropriate - it's okay, that'll be fine with the vampire overlaid.

Mekhet seem to be all shadows, spying and secret knowledge, so I'll go heavily into that, but I do want to make sure I preserve that precious Performance.

And then I suddenly realise - no thanks to White Wolf - that the skills in this game are completely different. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but there doesn't seem to be a character sheet at all in this PDF, so it was just easier to use an existing one, and I didn't come across a skills list until I actually went to check a definition and found it was completely different. Thanks.

With some effort, I dig up a character sheet someone else has put on the internet, and use that. I notice the Attributes have also changed. Sigh. At least I can use my existing calculations as a basis...

So I end up with lots of Expression (seems to be what governs playing music here), some general stealth-type stuff for being a Mekhet, and some studious skills for the same reason.

Step Four: Skill Specialties

Skill Specialties allow you to refine a few Skills, and show where your character truly shines. They reflect a narrow focus and expertise in a given Skill.

Obviously I pick Fiddle for my first specialty. I also go with Empathy: Read Audience (which seems like a vital skill for a performer, and also generally useful for social interactions) and Stealth: Downstaging, because blending in seems more like my style than being really sneaky.

Step Five: Add Kindred Template

We have the flesh and blood. Now, we add the fangs.

Having picked a Mekhet, I (will) get a free dot in either Intelligence or Wits; I'm going with Wits as that seems more like my style.

I'm not picking a Covenant because I'm assuming we'll probably do some kind of prologue and I'll pick one when I'm actually a vampire, based on how they approach us.

Masks and Dirges

Now Masks and Dirges. These are supposedly about what you try to seem like, and how you really are? I'd pick a Virtue and Vice for my mortal bit, but... can't be bothered, it's late. Courtesan looks like the right Mask for a musician, and maintaining that guise seems appropriate for trying to hang on to humanity. And...

Okay, I really don't get this. There's just one big list of things here. It seems like it would have been really super helpful if White Wolf have given us two lists: things they thought were suitable as the bearing Kindred present to the world. It’s the fa├žade, the pretty lie. It’s the excuse for why he can’t stay for breakfast in the morning. It’s the reason she gives the cab driver for dropping her off near an abandoned warehouse at odd hours of the night. It’s his excuse for barely touching his dinner. and things they thought, in almost total contrast, were suitable as the truth behind the lies. It’s the vampire’s secret self; it’s who he is when the lights are off and nobody is present to witness his dirtiest moments. It’s his dark indulgence. It’s the self-loathing she will never admit. It’s his desire for an end. It’s her need for companionship.

Looking at the rulebook, it seems I could perfectly reasonably select Monster as my Mask, and Jester as my Dirge. This would make me a person who overtly "exists to torment, frighten, and destroy" but secretly "never takes the world seriously... looks for the absurd in everything, and shows it to the world". I can just about see that in some kind of Shakespearean drama, but it doesn't seem like their intention.

Ah, hell with it. I'm going with Courtesan/Spy. It's a classic combination.

Touchstone

Your character’s Touchstone is a person, place, or thing that reminds her of her humanity, and helps keep her grounded.

Touchstone! That reminds me of that one character from that Shakespeare play I haven't seen, but it was on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. I need one. I'm going for a simple one: an old musician friend, perhaps my teacher, who still ekes out a meagre living entertaining.

Disciplines

Disciplines are extensions of the Blood. They are ways the Beast’s tendrils creep out into the world to manipulate, to pervert, and to destroy... Choose three dots in Disciplines. At least two must be from the vampire’s in-clan Disciplines. The third dot may be from any Discipline.

Finally! Some vampiric powers. As a Mekhet, I have access to Auspex, Celerity and Obfuscate (okay, I have access to some other stuff too, but those are the basics).

Auspex seems to be about scrying, basically. Celerity is being fast. Obfuscate is hiding stuff.

I don't hugely see super-speed as being appropriate, but then it might be an asset to a fiddler...

Auspex is kind of cool, though it seems a bit limited - it seems to overlap a lot with effects I'd expect from a standard skill roll, and only one use per scene is free so that doesn't compensate.

Obfuscate is cool, this is the kind of thing I enjoy anyway.

I'm going to go for one two dots of Obfuscate, and one dot of Auspex. I would totally go for the out-of-Clan thing, except that none of them are particularly tempting me. I liked the sound of Awe, but the Majesty tree isn't particularly gripping me, and the effects are much more useful if you're going to put more dots in anyway. Plus, I have 5 dots in Expression that should allow me to impress people, thanks.

Blood Potency

I also take my dot of Blood Potency. Don't understand this yet, but don't care.

Step Six: Merits

Yay, I like this bit usually.

I'm sad that you can't have supernatural powers. It's not that I specifically want any, but I really, really don't see any good reason why someone with supernatural powers can't become a vampire and retain them. You already have supernatural powers for being a vampire. What's the big?

I struggle quite a bit with the Merits. Lots of them are clan-specific (and I think only one is for Mekhet?), while a large chunk of the others provide either status points or Covenant benefits. For the purposes of this chargen, which is only tentatively associated with an actual campaign and where I don't have much specific background yet, I'm assuming I'm not yet in a Covenant. It feels to me that, if you're playing a first game of Vampire, and from scratch, getting Embraced and being inducted into a Covenant are going to be significant things, and ought to be in-game things I go through. Presumably after a few games you kind of know how things go.

Anyway, I manage to find a set of human-type Merits, involving other musicians who owe me favours, Inspiring (I'm hoping I can tie this into my music, but may have to rethink later), Barfly because musician, and Sleight of Hand - this latter being a mixture of "on general principles, take larcenous abilities", not being sure what else to do, and it seeming like a reasonable choice for a musician who sort of scratches a living in the Elizabethan age (though when the campaign starts, I discover another Mekhet has taken this and I ditch to avoid too much overlap, since makes a lot of sense for his character). I really couldn't decide what to do with my last dot and left it.

I'm working on the assumption that the GM Storyteller will let me convert some of these Merits into more vampiric things relatively soon if that seems like a good idea. I just prefer to start with stuff my human character might actually have, partly out of verisimilitude, and partly because I don't really know how any of this vampire society stuff works.

Commentary

The thing that struck me first about the process - okay, second, just after the unhelpful chapter titles - was that this process is actually not hugely helpful for creating a vampire, at least not to me. See, what it doesn't do is lead you through the actual "becoming a vampire" thing. That's a pretty huge omission.

What I'd have liked to see is some time spend talking you through why, and how, mortals might end up becoming a vampire in the first place. And there doesn't seem to be. There's some specific thoughts in each, um, clan chapter, but I don't immediately see a "why are you a vampire anyway?" bit.

I also really struggle with the whole Aspirations bit, because that just seems very difficult for a new player to guess. What's going to be relevant in this campaign? What's a suitable Aspiration? It seems like you need to know a lot about the setting and the campaign before you can make informed decisions here.

Next, I'd like to point out that the header font is quite hard to read and that's deeply unhelpful.

As usual, there's also a difficulty in that information about clans is scattered. There's the overview sections to give flavour, but you don't know what you can actually game-mechanically do until you find the powers section, nor do you know what the disadvantages are until you research them. I'd have liked a better idea of what powers do within the clan section, because powers are arranged by discipline and it's annoying to cross-reference. I know they want to be all flavourful, but sometimes just telling you what you will be able to do is the right way.

Skills: Not having a character sheet with your game is unforgivably stupid, seriously. I assumed - perhaps rashly, but not unreasonably I think - that these would be interchangeable between White Wolf games, whereas actually the skill list is a different length and skills are categorised completely differently. Interestingly(?) it looks like Demon characters get screwed over, because they have the same number of points to allocate amongst about 50% more skills.

Disciplines: I'd just like to insert my usual rant about how telling players to select Skills and Attributes based on your character's (mortal) background is a lovely idea, but is genuinely inappropriate in a game where these will determine your ability to actually do any of the vampiric stuff that is the whole premise of the game.

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