Home > Gaming, Writing > Rebuilding Vampire: It Is By Will Alone…

Rebuilding Vampire: It Is By Will Alone…

If (as always, in my experience) Vampire had another underutilized game mechanic in addition to Humanity, this was Willpower. Yes, we used it to boost up rolls and such, but it just never had the oomph that it seems that it should have. I take some of that responsibility myself as the Storyteller; I rarely, if ever, pushed my characters to the brink of having to use their Willpower, nor did I force the scenes that I should have in order for them to recover spent points. It just sort of existed there.

In rereading the section on Willpower in VtM, I realize that it was mostly me; the advice is there on how to use it, I just didn’t quite heed it. Willpower is even better explained in VtR, I have to say, though I still feels like it doesn’t delve deep enough into what Willpower can truly mean for a vampire story (this, when it comes to VtR, seems to be a side-effect of the main book + monster setting book approach; the former has to keep it fairly generic, the latter can’t change it so much as to invalidate the core book).

Willpower, to me, is a driving force, and a very limited force at that. It’s what gives you the inner gumption to push back the darkness, but there’s only so much of it to go around, so much you can take before that reserve is depleted. That’s what the beast wants. That’s what I, as game designer, want as well.

For my rebuild of Vampire, as much as I’ve been vacillating back and forth away from the keyboard pretty much since I started this whole project, I will be using Willpower as the short-supply, dwindling resource that characters need to keep an eye on lest they lose control of their character to the beast. It is Willpower that helps a character fight off the loss of Humanity; what allows them to make their presence known in the world (a fancy way of saying it grants players temporary authorship of the story); what allows them to triumph against all odds (your good ole dice bonus). It is also the true measure of damage for a vampire, that which gets eroded along with Humanity as the beast takes over, that which must be protected from extinction at all costs.

Characters start with 5 points of Willpower; as you use Willpower points, you may replenish back to this original number unless you have lost permanent Willpower (older, more experienced vampires can be created by a combination of higher Beast dice and lower Willpower points, but I won’t get into that now). Willpower points may be used during the game to affect the story and the mechanics in various ways, but as they are used, they are gone until replenished. It is a delicate balance between achieving goals at critical times and having enough Willpower left in case one needs to stave off the loss of Humanity. Some will hoard, some will spend like crazy – that’s just fine. When something happens that a point of Humanity is at risk of being lost, the Beast rolls dice and must get more successes than there are Willpower points at that moment; if these are achieved, Humanity is lost.

Willpower also serves as a sort of “hit point” for vampire characters. When these take damage, whether physical, mental or spiritual, it is from Willpower that they pay the price. If damage dealt is more than the current amount of Willpower, the character loses one point *permanently.* To avoid getting to this, characters take consequences, as I discussed in my last post. Willpower also limits the amount of consequences a character can take, as you may only take as many consequences as you have permanent Willpower points.

You replenish Willpower by having Joy and Sorrow Scenes in which you actively address the emotional issues of your character. I on the fence about allowing the Game Master to also grant a free replenish after a significant amount of free and relaxed time (not a full night/day of rest, as in VtM/VtR), but I haven’t decided yet.

I think I’m getting to a point where I’ve addressed the major thematic points I want the mechanics to support and will have to put together a mock-up character sheet just to see how it all looks like together. I know I still need to talk about vampiric powers, which I’ll do next.

Willpower seems to be that one mechanic that brings in a few of the other ones I’ve written about already, which means it’s the one that scares me could break the entire tower I’ve built. What do you think of Willpower as described here?

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  1. May 3, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    Dang, taking damage on willpower really does just *feel* like it’s right. It feels like when a vampire takes injury, it doesn’t feel hurt, it just thinks:

    “I really don’t have to take any more of this. I can slay all these puny mortals with a flick of my wrist. They don’t know how much I’m fighting the urge.”

    That is a nice, nice fictional tension.

  2. May 3, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    @Daniel Solis
    Daniel, I hadn’t quite verbalized why it felt right, and you just did. Thanks a ton for that. πŸ˜€

  3. May 3, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    I’ve never played a vampire game, but if that’s what the game is about, it sounds really cool.

  4. May 3, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    @David
    Could I ask your indulgence in requesting you elaborate on this? Specifically “if that’s what the game is about.” What is the “that” you are referring to?

    I promise I’m not being facetious. πŸ˜‰

  5. May 3, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    I’m referring to the tension described by Daniel. With that explanation of your proposal, I get the idea that this is a game where the characters must deal with temptation at the cost of their humanity. In a sense, this turns the typical game goal of avoiding failure and death on its head. Instead, the characters are fighting the temptation of power which comes with the complete transition to a state of immortality. And at the same time that they’re trying to maintain composure to deal fairly with mortals, humans are hunting them as monsters.

    Or maybe I’m reading too much in to it.

  6. May 3, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    @David
    Nope. I may not have expressed it in those precise terms, but you have tuned into the gist of what I’m going for with this particular expression of a game in which you are the vampire protagonist.

    Thanks.

  7. May 3, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    By the way, this is an excellent way to model a game about the X-Men or even Superman.

  8. May 3, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    @Daniel Solis
    Now, there you got my curiosity piqued. Tell me more.

  9. May 3, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    Daniel Solis replied on Twitter and it’s too good a reply to not re-post here:

    Got me thinking about an X-Men or Superman game. Perhaps a quasi-messianic RPG. “Last Temptation of Christ: the Role-Playing Game”

  10. JJ
    May 4, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    When I think of Willpower, I think of it as the force that keeps the Beast at bay and therefore is closely tied to the Vampire’s Humanity. It is interesting for me to think about the Vampire’s body (hit points) as an extension of its Will.

    As I see it, you have three main stats now that mechanically affect how a PC interacts with the fiction: Beast, Humanity and Willpower (Joy & Sorrow being a release valve of sorts to support refresh of Willpower). At first I thought of this as a three way struggle for balance/dominance, but that didn’t really make sense that the Will would want to dominate.

    I think you’ve firmly established the struggle between Beast and Humanity, this is the central theme/conflict of the game. So I’m trying to wrap my brain around where Willpower fits into this at a higher, thematic level. Having Willpower be a source of ‘hit points’, for lack of a better description, seems to be doing it a disservice.

    I guess I see Willpower as fueled by Humanity. It seems, to me, an expression of a character’s Humanity; it is Humanity’s ‘armor’ against the Beast. Armor can fail and wound the body beneath, so too can Willpower fail and Humanity is lost in the struggle.

    I don’t know that I’m advocating for any changes here. Your design may support this paradigm as it stands. Maybe it is the concept of Willpower as hit points that rubs me the wrong way. If there is anything I see as hit points it is Humanity. I see the Beast as more like Madness dice from DRYH: they’re ‘sticky’ in that you continue to gain them. Willpower will fluctuate depending on the given circumstances of the story and Humanity is the downward spiral, the character’s personal timeline (bloodline?) of the game.

    I think I’m responding to what is posted here without going back to the beginning and re-reading the previous posts. I guess that is the real drawback to working on something intermittently.

    I’m all in favor of the damage/consequence dynamic you’ve presented, being familiar with it from PDQ’s Truth & Justice. I think that it is good to go into designing this mechanic knowing that it could slow play, but addressing that with text/comments/suggestions to players and GM.

  11. JJ
    May 4, 2010 at 8:38 AM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    I think it is cool that your Vampire rebuild paradigm can support multiple ‘skins’. As an addition I would point to Chris Perrin’s Game Chef entry from a few years ago called Messiah. While not at all what Daniel Solis is speaking to as the Last Temptation RPG, it is an interesting counterpoint. http://astralbeacon.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/welcome-to-messiah/

  12. May 4, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    @JJ
    If Willpower (or Will, for short) were to be only hit points, I’d agree with you 100% and simply remove the stat from the game. I’m trying, however, to mesh Willpower with the bank-n-forth of Humanity/Beast.

    You mention you see Will as an armor for Humanity. That right there is why Will acts as the “hit points” mechanic; Will is what helps keep the Beast at bay. If Will is down, the Beast will be able to overpower it and “eat” a point of Humanity. In that sense, Humanity *is* the true source of hit points in the game. It’s just you’re normally just dealing with armor (Will).

    I agree there is a small disconnect, but that might also be because you are viewing Humanity and Beast as two distinct stats, when in reality they are one and the same, just the two sides of the coin.

    Your analogy of Will, Humanity/Beast in DRYH terms is actually correct. Humanity IS the downward spiral of the game; Will is just the way you have to ward that spiral off.

    I don’t think we’re talking about different things here, JJ. It might be a matter of the piecemeal approach of the posts, or my lack of proper explanation, but I feel we’re aiming for the same design/fiction space.

  13. JJ
    May 4, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    That helps. I think, as you say, we’re talking about the same thing.
    Thanks.

  14. May 4, 2010 at 5:07 PM

    Two things to consider, Daniel.

    1. Avoid the trap of VtM where Willpower was only 1 freebie point to raise. You could max it out for relatively little “opportunity cost”. VtM had a serious design issue in that freebie points were exploitable because they could be used in a certain way to circumvent design objectives of the game creators.

    2. I never really liked the “humanity” or path concepts. Maybe you should explore different moral dimensions. Isnt there room in Vampire thought for issues of human morality like Nationalism, Sexism, Racism, Pacifism (obviously excepting feeding), etc?

  15. May 5, 2010 at 7:00 AM

    @Greg Christopher
    Thanks for the comments, Greg. Replying to each point,
    1. There will be no freebie points here; I haven’t settled down on the process of character creation, but what I do know is that Humanity/Beast is a take one from this side/lose one from that side paradigm, and Willpower will be a set number. I had the same issues with freebie points in VtM and I’ve no desire to perpetuate that.

    2. *This* particular expression of the game is about Humanity; that’s the concept I want to explore as default. That said, once done, I don’t have a problem exploring what else the system could be used to explore. All the -isms you mention could be possible alternatives for sure (the trick would be finding their Mr. Hyde, so to speak, so that they stand on the tit-for-tat axis). Daniel, above, already suggested that this could be used for a Superman or X-Men hack, something I am very much intrigued by and will dedicate some mental space later on, so certainly there is plasticity to the design.

    But the default will be Humanity, yes.

  16. May 5, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    Cool. Good to hear on freebie points.

    I was a little brash in my first comment. I don’t have a problem with Humanity per se, I just have a problem with it as the “only” moral concern of the vampire. I find it ironic that by becoming a vampire, all sorts of other moral questions just magically disappear. There are no vampire patriots, in my experience. No vampire mercantilists either. Or vampire racists.

    From a mechanical sense, I see the need for a humanity mechanic that is tied to the system. I would just like to see more exploration of other moral dimensions is all.

    Re-reading my original comment, I was a little too harsh on humanity. I represents a massive leap forward from D&D alignment, so I feel a little guilty about ragging on it.

  17. May 5, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    @Greg Christopher
    I didn’t read it as brash, so don’t worry. I think vampires can indeed face other moral questions, but to me, the one that’s at the center is “do I keep that which made me human or do I say ‘fuck it’ and embrace the beast I want to be?” I think that one tends to move to the top of the priority list, though once settled (and is it ever?) other ones can be pondered, as you suggest. And maybe there’s room right there for a setting in which the Humanity/Beast paradigm is not an issue, where it is a settled thing and there’s space to explore other issues of morality. I think it depends on the kind of story one wants to play. Law/Chaos, Communism/Capitalism, Real/Imaginary – these are all dualities that can be explored with the same basic system, and that actually makes me giddy. πŸ™‚

  18. JJ
    May 5, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    @Daniel, for some reason the dicotomies you used as examples puts me in mind of the basic mechanic in Shock: Social Science Ficrion rpg.

  19. May 5, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    @JJ
    Another game that I haven’t played but want to.

  20. JJ
    May 5, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    I’m not trying to change the direction you’re going, but I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned it before. The either/or mechanic has to do with the way you choose to solve a situation. I like what you have so file this away for another time.

  21. May 5, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    @JJ
    Not entirely, but kinda yes. Read over the new post on Vampiric Powers and see the very quick mention I make of dice mechanics at the end. Based on what you are trying to do, you *could* use only Humanity dice, but you can always bring in Beast dice (and sometimes you *have* to) to help out, as Beast dice score successes more easily than Humanity dice.

  1. May 10, 2010 at 12:31 PM

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