Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Flames Lit Up The Night

the ghosts were howling in the late afternoon
we were singing along to the same old tune

Alongside Mage: the Ascension, the other White Wolf game I keep revisiting my purely hypothetical plans for is Vampire: the Requiem.

Unlike the my dissatisfaction with the Ascension to Awakening transition, I think Vampire really benefits from the local, ground-level focus Requiem brought. The limits on cosmological buy-in and supernatural history don't just give you greater mechanical freedom in building your own little corner of vampiredom, it ends up foregrounding your world-building decisions on the street level. The first questions you ask aren't how the local Sabbat relates to Montreal or Mexico City, or whether the Tzimisce elder has a pew reserved in the Cathedral of Flesh, but whether your city even has a prince or not… or even other vampires. It's a different kind of game when biggest monsters on the block are your player characters.

As much as I like it, though, that doesn't stop me from wanting to mess with it even more:

• No Clans: Vampires are vampires. There is no global culture of vampirism which gives names to different lineages, and no recognition of a broader vampiric genealogy beyond the immediate sire-to-spawn relationship… if that's even there.

Bloodlines exist as very specific permutations of vampirism, whatever vampirism is.

Mechanically speaking, this means that new characters may purchase Disciplines from the following list as 'in-clan' Disciplines: Celerity, Resilience and Vigor.

The rest of the regular Disciplines may only be taken, at the cost of an out-of-clan Discipline, if they're 'unlocked' by choosing one of three clan weaknesses some time before Blood Potency 3. This represents a 'transitional period' between vampires who are just physically more powerful than humans and becoming weirder, more alien creatures of the night.

When the weakness is chosen, one of the previous Disciplines at a rating of one or zero dots may be un-selected as an 'in-clan' discipline, and an 'unlocked' Discipline selected as 'in-clan' in its place.

Mekhet weakness: Auspex, Obfuscate, Majesty
Nosferatu weakness: Animalism, Nightmare, Obfuscate
Ventrue weakness: Animalism, Dominate, Majesty

• Don't Scare The Rubes:
You will note the lack of Protean on the above list of Disciplines. Aside from the Nosferatu weakness, and the potential for blood magic, there's no really outré Vampire powers on the table for young vampires.

• No Covenants… Well, Except For These Guys: The Ordo Dracul works well as a multinational, long-term conspiracy because it has a job to do and the indoctrination framework to perpetuate itself. Likewise, the idea of a secret vampire religion, passed down through the ages as an addendum to the faith they professed as a mortal makes sense due to mirroring the parasitic nature of the vampire itself. As the vampire is a tick on the hide of human culture, so is its vampirism-warped culture.

So the Order exists in a more-or-less similar form, and the Lancea Sanctum and the Circle of the Crone are there as amorphous themes for local iterations, some of which might even use covenant terminology. The Invictus and the Carthians, however, are absent.

That doesn't mean that Invictus and Carthian behaviour isn't there, though. Thematically, the two poles provide the Gothic (as in, feudal) and Punk (as in, anarchist) halves of the vampire equations. Practically, any region which has a vampire population large enough to have a Prince, Alpha or Boss also has enough vampires to look for alternative ways of divvying the blood up.

Mechanically, this all means that Covenant affiliation and the mechanical benefits of such are only available to vampires in large cities, unless a smaller city or town has a secret cult of vampires dedicated to perpetuating the secrets of vampire-specific knowledge (like Cruac, Theban Sorcery, the Coils, or a particular weird discipline/rite).

• Vampirism is Weird:
This is where bloodlines come in. Vampires, as they get older, get weirder, so there's bloodlines running around doing weird bloodline things. The rules aren't any different, except that the prerequisite clan is changed to dots in the clan's primary discipline (except for Protean, which is replaced with Animalism, making Gangrel bloodlines a little more broadly available). Anything that has Protean-like transformations are out, though.

Also, many of the extreme versions of clan powers and weaknesses available in the clan books are present, especially Nosferatu blossoming flaws and Necropoli, the Malkavia virus, Hollow embraces and Mekhet shadow cults.

• Stuff is Weird: Vampires share the world with psychics and mortal sorcerors, as well as monsters from Predators and Antagonists, like funky Azlu/Beshilu/vampire hybrids, zombies, imbued, the Thief, the Hunger, and whatever crazy weirdness I think is cool. I'm not sure if I want supernatural societies out there, as opposed to just things, but I'm not totally opposed to a small conspiracy or two if it seems fun.

• Maybe Martin: I'm drawn to giving every vampire who doesn't take the Nosferatu weakness the No Fangs flaw. That, more than anything else, should give the campaign a unique feel. It forces the players to make a very literal decision to embrace monstrosity or find a workaround that keeps them 'human.'

I turned to my brothers
to look them in the eyes
there was ash
ash falling from the sky

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Ascension Will Not Be Televised

Question: If Control's control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control needs time.

A conversation on G+ led me to a few days of thinking about how I'd actually approach a Mage: the Ascension campaign. I regret never getting the chance to have a real go at a campaign back in the day, and the regret of reading so much of it but playing nothing is a fishhook that tears in a little more every year.


• The Technocracy 'Won.' Characters would be a multi-disciplinary amalgam acting as 'Reality Cops,' tracking and neutralizing cognitive deviants and other threats to maintaining Consensus. The timeline of missions depends on the nature of the threat: a large-scale social movement requires a similarly long period of investigation to get to the root, while a folie a masses requires simply locating the centre of the delusion and eliminating it. Multiple missions would be ongoing at one time.

• Cosmology: Ghosts In, Blue Öyster Cult Out. While the Wyld-Weaver-Wyrm trinity makes a good allegory for the dynamism-stasis-entropy thing, having the rest of the regular Umbra in there and Werewolf's shamanism-centric spirit realm seems a bit much. The Dark Umbra is probably all that's necessary; abstract concepts, if someone wants to interact with them on a direct-metaphorical level, may be primordial ghosts shorn of any identity save their Passions for some platonic ideal. The Labyrinth and Yomi give you the possibility of Lynch-dungeons without making the Other World obviously a better place to hang out. Pocket dimensions or fragments of some previous, nicer Other World might still be floating out there in the Tempest—so a multi-dimensional home for Control isn't out of the picture.

All this means that the Void Engineers are going to be fairly different. They might be more focused on theoretical frontiers in quantum physics, or attempting to reach

• Tradition Structure: The Same, Except Where Different. In this version, 'Traditions' and 'Adepts of Hermes' are synonymous. The nine (ten?) Sphere organizational schema, and the associated seats at the Council, were filled by representatives from each House, arch-specialists in that particular Sphere. Most of the sub-traditions in each of the other Tradition's writeups (the Shi-Ren, the Li-hai, Vajrapani, Wu Lung, Children of Albi, Nashimites, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) exist or existed as independant, discrete groups, not recognizing any affinity with other groups with similar Sphere affinities. The Hermetic Tradition saw these as ignorant dabblers and dangerous cultists, and either sought to police them the way the Technocracy does now or re-indoctrinate them as a member of their appropriate House. Between the Hermetic Tradition and the Technocratic Union, these other cabals may have recognized other persecuted magical societies as co-belligerents, but they were too dispersed and different to actually cooperate long-term.

This means many of the metaplot-heavy factions (Ksirafai) might not be recognizable from the splatbook versions. And, the Technocracy may have developed from a splinter-conspiracy of Hermetic adepts or a Cabal of Pure Thought outside the Council mainstream. (Either way, it's not like it's going to put that in the briefing dossier, is it?)

Now, of course, the Hermetic Traditions lack either the physical Chantries they meet in, or the population density to make a structure necessary. The distinction between a small-d dreamspeaker and a House Whatever Spirit mage are now irrelevant, unless the Adepts still have some sort of communication network going.

• Weird Stuff Is Weird. There's plenty of demons, vampires, and all the stuff from the Book of the Wyrm that you can throw at the Technocracy. It's an open question whether the Ascension War was them most important front in the fight for Consensus.

• It's The End of The World.
Going in, it should be understood that the campaign is about the ultimate fate of humanity, and will eventually feature everything getting pretty crazy. Whether the ultimate fate of humanity includes the Tapestry in the equation will be part of the choices made.

Unfortunately, if you're reading this and getting all excited, I have way too many other things to do right now than give this the time it needs. Mr. Elkins has also been talking about a game that will probably resemble this campaign frame closely, at least in the beginning.  

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control? 
Answer: Yes

Friday, December 7, 2012

Night's Black Agents — dust settles on old bones

Here's an optional rule for Night's Black Agents to really bring out that old-boys'-network le Carré flavour.

In addition to the 55 General Ability points characters start with under the DUST rules, characters who start the game fifty or older gain bonus General Ability build points, depending on their age:

Starting Age
50-59 5
60-69 10
70-79 15
80+ 20

These bonus points may not be spent on Athletics, Health, or Hand-to-Hand. In games which also use the BURN rules, spending bonus points on Stability is also prohibited.

Bonus points spent on Network and Sense Trouble, however, are doubled.