Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sometimes, the rules make all the difference.

Now that the Vampire Dark Ages kickstarter is over, I'm getting back to thinking of my own not-yet-implemented vampire game and vampire stuff in general. I'm struck by the differences in the different editions. I must really be a rules lawyer, because sometimes the differences in the system make me not want to play a certain character concept.

First off, I've always been intrigued by some of the minor bloodlines, particularly the Baali and Salubri. Call me a special snowflake, but I see nothing wrong with being something uncommon in my fantasy games. How the rules implement these guys, however, makes a huge difference.

I'm going to pick on the new larp rules for vampire as an example here, but that shouldn't be to say that they're bad or have the same goals as tabletop rules. But let's say I wanted to play a Baali or Salubri in a local vampire larp and the ST allowed it. I would be quickly discovered and killed, because the medicine skill allows you to determine a vampire's clan. What tyrannical prince wouldn't test the veracity of someone's claims to clan given the ability? I was super impressed that the Auspex telepathy power didn't let you just rip this info from someone's mind, or that even the Tremere blood magic didn't quite just give this info away, but then I found it in the medicine skill?!? Ugh.

Yeah, you can house-rule that, but it basically says that impersonating a vampire of another clan is unfeasible given the larp rules, so you just couldn't do those characters in a Camarilla setting (Sabbat would be awkward, Anarch might be fine). But already I'm adjusting the character I want to play to the particular game, or choosing a character mostly based on the rules since its just too easy to be found out. In the same vein, the Baali are explicitly demonic in the rules. Daimoinon explicitly requires a demonic pact. Not only does that go against some of the story the Baali have, but it makes them much harder to play.

Now, the larp rules are obviously trying to keep rare things rare and overpowered things to a minimum since a game with 30-60+ PCs is very different than a game with 3-6 PCs.  But their system of merits is really odd too. Even if I purchase a Salubri character (a 6-pt merit for the healer type in most settings), I can't also purchase the Golconda Seeker merit (a 5-pt merit) because of the merit limit. No exceptions. It seems like a little oversight there, because you can never have more than 7 points of merits.  And merits are what allow everyone to be a special snowflake in the larp rules. I guess Salubri is so special you can't also go the golconda route.

I'm picking on the MET rules, but I think there are similar issues with how a particular discipline or clan weakness is instantiated by the rules. Also, merit/flaws. I always want to play a Malkavian oracle, but the oracle merit and auspex/dementation don't often seem to add up to a real prophet (note: the MET oracle merit is actually good, while the V20  and new Dark Ages stuff is wishy-washy and lame). In a table-top game the ST can really make or break the Oracular Ability merit though you could almost just as easily play an oracle character without buying that merit by making a deal with the ST.

Anyway, in my brainpan, this sort of stuff fits in the broader discussion of what rules are good and what aren't. Ideally what I'd like to see for some of these things is a discussion in the books about how to interpret powers and abilities. If you allow telepathy to rip anything from a character's mind and the power is common (either repeatable regularly by the PCs or a broader slate of NPCs) then keeping secrets will be impossible. If the Medicine ability let you recognize if two individuals were of the same clan (require two samples) instead of just identifying the clan, that's a world of difference. Should caitiff register as 'no clan' or 'caitiff' or 'unknown clan'? Could you choose one clan (or two?) per dot of medicine that you can identify easily and then have to do the comparison for the others? It makes for a different game if you can't tell the difference between Tremere and Salubri than if they're easily distinguishable with a ritual, path of thaumaturgy, or medicine skill use.

Ultimately it makes me yearn a little for the Gumshoe rules, or perhaps gumshoe-inspired rules where magic (along with other special abilities) has some limits. But the problem is broader: one rule impacts another until there's a whole system. I think a few more games should follow ones like 13th Age or Reign -- which explicitly call out some of their assumptions and intentions. Knowing why the designers of the MET rules decided Medicine should let you determine clan would help me decide how to implement or change that rule.

Or, I'll just not play my Salubri or Baali character in a larp. Not that I'll get much of a chance to play one anyway in the near future.

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