The Secret to RPGs and proposed Game Aspects for V:TM
I’ve slowly been acclimating my wife to Fate/FAE by discussing the system when I find an interesting post about it or achieve a new insight regarding the system. She hasn’t played an RPG in some time and has never been terribly inclined toward the mechanics of such, preferring to carry through with her instinctive command of story.
On one occasion where I was talking about aspects, she asked how vampires can be modeled in Fate. I recall what prompted the question, but I do remember choosing that time to tell her The Secret regarding all RPGs.
Once upon a time, I ran a Wheel of Time RPG play-by-e-mail. I’m a big fan of the series and I was happy to have a chance to run it. I had three experience role-players and one rookie. The rookie was my mother, who had never role-played before but was also a big fan of the books. Two of my experienced players knew nothing about them and the third was only a little familiar.
Despite her unfamiliarity with this form of gaming, my mom was the MVP of the game. She playied the spell-caster-equivalent, which is usually not recommended for a complete novice. However, her command of the setting made her invaluable for setting the tone of the game and she casually imparted important information regarding the setting to the other players as the occasions demanded.
Even so, my reluctance to deviate from cannon drove me to write a few wordy articles on such things as who the Children of Light were and explaining the unease with which channelers (magic-users) were always met. These asides were much less effective than my mother leading by example in character.
This is when I had my first glimpse of the secret to running role-playing games, though I didn’t learn it completely for some time.
The secret, I told my wife, is that setting (story) trumps mechanics (rules). Every system does it or allows it to a greater or lesser extent. So long as the players hold a thing to be true, than it is true within the game. So it follows that as long as everyone understands what a Vampire: The Masquerade vampire is, then we don’t have to spend too much effort describing it mechanically.
Vampire characters will have an aspect that defines them as such and it would be up to the players (perhaps guided by a storyteller) to understand when and how it would be appropriate to invoke that aspect. The players that are familiar with the setting would guide those that aren’t by leading through example and role-play. Fortunately, most of our prospective players are familiar with setting.
At it’s heart, the secret is really nothing more than setting expectations beforehand, which is good all-round advice. In this case, it’s just a matter of remembering that some things really do go without saying because we have this shared understanding of what it means to play a Vampire: The Masquerade game.
Even our understanding what a Vampire game is can use a little help, if only to help maintain focus. I decided to start by taking a stab at writing a few games aspects, which are always present in every scene. Invoking or compelling a game aspect is metagaming and might be considered overkill, but I wanted to pin a reminder of what the core conflicts in a V:TM game should be about.
Succumbing to Rotschrek or the gradual loss of one’s Humanity. These are constant threats to a vampire’s stability and ability to coexist with the world around them.
- Invoking Personal Horror. Invoking this aspect generally represents a willingness to push ones self beyond a moral limit, irrecovably crossing a line that they have not crossed before.
- Compelling Personal Horror. This aspect may be compelled to complicate actions where a character’s humanity or morals might be compromised.
When Personal Horror invoked or compelled, the character suffers a consequence. The player may suggest the consequence, but a Storyteller will have the last word. Depending upon the circumstances, invoking Personal Horror may lead to permanently altering a character aspect after the session.
The basis for modern Vampire Society—according to the Camarilla. The Prince decides how the Traditions are interpreted in his or her city and ruthlessly enforces them.
- Invoking The Traditions. Most commonly, the Traditions may be invoked when they give one vampire authority over another. It is possible that both sides of a conflict can invoke The Traditions if they can both make a case for its relevance. The Storyteller may disallow use of this aspect if they feel it is inappropriate.
- Compelling The Traditions. Following the guideline for Invoking this aspect, one may offer to compel The Traditions to exert their dominance over another rather than risk losing a conflict. Otherwise, compelling this aspect is appropriate whenever The Traditions would complicate a contest.
Wherever vampires congregate, the Jyhad follows as the kindred unfailingly vie for position and power. The line between player and pawn blurs as even the visibly powerful turn out to be servants of older vampires who may not have been seen in decades (or longer).
Invoking The Jyhad. The Jyhad may be invoked when the situation plays directly toward ones changing position with vampire society or politics. While the Jyhad can be subtle, seizing the reigns of power is often a violent affair.
- Compelling The Jyhad. (I’ll be honest, I got nothing just now.)
The goal is for each pre-generated character’s trouble (or related plot element) to bump up against one of these aspects at some point during the night. I won’t sweat it too much if I don’t hit that goal. So long as I’m thinking about it, I’ll be including these elements in in the game. Getting it written out helps!
The next task is to run through the clans and disciplines. There won’t me much ink spilled over what is a Toreador or a Brujah. Instead, I want to get a few notes on stunts representing the disciplines. No doubt, not everything will fit into a stunt, but you have to start somewhere!
Concurrently, we have to flesh out our cast a little bit more so I know what disciplines I actually need to keep the workload down.