Thursday, 4 August 2016

Vampire: The Masquerade V20 - A Wargamer's View

I've already discussed how the World of Darkness seems ripe for skirmish wargaming, and I thought I'd have a specific look at Vampire the Masquerade as it's currently $5 for the 20th anniversary edition at Wargame Vault.    Note - I'm a wargamer with 0 interest and experience in pen-and-paper RPGs. So if you are looking for a review on how good an RPG it is, I recommend you go elsewhere.  I'm merely interested in how it can be adapted to/used as wargaming inspiration.

The Shiny
It's a pdf so there's a limit on how nice it is.  The art is mostly good, albeit inconsistent (though it veers between stylish and childish), though the white background is a bit glare-y on a laptop screen. It's 530 pages - so printing it out will fell a small sized forest.  The index at the end is pretty thorough and consistently got me what I was looking for.

Why Vampires?
Whilst vampire minis are usually fantasy-centric (there's surprisingly few dedicated "modern" vampire minis) it is simple enough to convert normal human minis to vampires merely with a careful paintjob or maybe a head swap (I am eyeing some of my Mantic ghoul spare heads). 

In V:tM there is a reason for combat (sects, covens or clans battling each other over centuries, even millennia) and it occurs at skirmish wargaming scale as it is covert in nature (vampires hiding their existence from humans).  So lots of covert-ops skirmish material.  There are fleshed out backgrounds for the 13 different clans, from the Followers of Set (who protect secret places and hunt hidden knowledge) to bestial Gangrel, to the Giovanni (who control banking).  Vampires are territorial about their domains.  Thus there are plenty of motive and background for battles.

The vampires range from fledglings not much stronger or more capable than humans, to vampire elders with immense and terrifying powers.   There is crossover potential with other WoD staples - werewolves (which in combat tend to outclass younger vampires handily) and human mages (who are fragile mortals but wield potent magic).


The vampires from Underworld and Blade owe a lot to the World of Darkness.
Character Creation
The more relevant physical stats (strength-dexterity-stamina-health) would work fine for wargames, although social skills (charisma, appearance, manipulation) and mental skills (perception, intelligence, wits) would certainly be culled or amalgamated for a wargame.  Injury stages (hurt/injured/wounded/mauled/crippled) with negative modifiers make sense, as a vampire would be a multi-wound model in most wargames.  Both willpower and a "blood pool" provides resource management systems.
There are ~30 core special rules (talents, skills and knowledge). Vampires can start out at different power levels which fits with Necromunda-style campaign games (juves, gangers, leaders).

This is vampire "magic" - the special powers that make them unique.  New vampires may have three or so powers.  Some disciplines are innate, some require willpower or blood.  These include:
*Animism (controlling animals)
*Auspex (out of body/perception/psychic assault/predictive reactions)
*Celerity (speed/reflexes/wall run)
*Chimersty (illusions)
*Demenation (fear/madness)
*Dominate (paralyse/possess/control others)
*Fortitude (toughness)
*Necromancy (control undead - quite a list of powers, many require rituals to cast)
*Potence (strength, super jump)
*Presence (awe, fear, paralysing gaze)
*Protean (night vision, claws, mist form, shapeshifting)
*Quietus (poison blood, explode target's brain, etc)
*Serpentis (snake powers)
*Visscitude (blood, bat form)

This is blood magic or vampire sorcery.  Powers include:
Boiling victim's blood, animate objects or plants, summon elementals, decay/distintegrate, telekinesis, weather control, boosting combat and even projecting consciousness over the net. There are rituals which take longer to prepare or require specific resources but are longer lasting or more powerful, such as warding circles etc.  Whilst vampire sorcerers are fine, to be honest, I thought a lot of these seemed un-vampire-y (I mean, a vampire using water magic?  undead = masters of water? Really?)  You could probably skip this as there are more than enough powers and paranormal abilities in the disciplines section.

Mechanics, Actions and Combat
I'm not going to discuss the game mechanics in depth as they have little wargaming application.  In a nutshell: you generally roll a pool of d10 (the amount of dice varies according to skill) against a target number between 3 and 9 - which varies according to difficulty - a 6 is standard difficulty, a easy or trivial task might be a 3 or 4, and very tricky tasks might be a 8 or 9.  Only one success is needed to pass, but 3 or more successes are a complete success.  Any roll of '0' is an auto success, and any '1' cancels out a success. Whilst you could wargame with them, it would take significant effort and dice chugging.  However, they could be easily adapted to something like Savage Worlds which is very wargame-friendly.  You could adapt V:tM into most generic skirmish games by simply modifying stats or adding in a few distinctive special rules. 

While a key tenet of roleplaying (retaining humanity, struggling against the beast within), the degeneration of morality is of limited use to a wargamer.  The "paths" and ethics a vampire can follow are of interest from a background point of view I suppose but I kinda skipped through this to be honest.

The Others
This gives a background on peripheral groups - witch hunters, the Inquisition, the CIA/NSA, paranormal researchers, crime bosses, cultists and magi of various types, the fae, ghosts, demons (Fallen) well as their traditional werewolf enemies, and a modest bestiary of conventional creatures. 

There are also additonal vampire bloodlines - expansions on the 13 clans - which I presume are gathered from various sourcebooks for the 20th anniversary edition.  Some come with their own disciplines and magics. 

....400 or so pages in, "RPG fatigue" has set in. Every time I think wargames rules are chaotic, bloated and disorganised...   ...I come across a RPG book.  I swear, RPG writers are 99% vivid imagination and 1% practicality and common sense.  Probably because RPGs are the opposite of competitive, and "making it up as you go along" is encouraged, RPG books tend to be chaotic experiences. Protracted reading of RPGs and supplements always gives me a slight tic....

These are humans fed vampire blood, who gain some portion of supernatural power.  They usually are about twice as strong as normal humans, and usually possess low level powers in one vampire discipline possessed by their donor.  In a wargame, these would work well as secondary characters. Like vampires, they can heal and regenerate (using a small blood pool.)   Whilst ghouls tend to be attached to particular vampires, some are independent and others belong to revenant families (in which ghouldom is hereditary). 

The World of Darkness vampires have pretty much set the benchmark for the modern vampires of Blade and Underworld (the latter bearing so many similarities it was sued by White Wolf).
Accordingly, V:tM is a very handy source of vampire background and material. 

Whilst not suited to wargaming with "off the shelf", the list of spells and powers is useful - the 'disciplines' list could be easily adapted to generic Savage Worlds spells, for example. The background gives good inspiration for battles and the small-scale covert-ops battles between rival covens, werewolves, mages, government forces and secret societies seems tailor made for skirmish war gaming.  All in all, V:tM is a very useful vampire "sourcebook" to direct and inspire paranormal wargames.

Recommended: For $5, absolutely.  I've pdfs of Werewolf:The Forsaken, Vampire: The Requiem and Mage: The Awakening.  Of the three, the Vampire books seem to lend themselves most easily to wargaming purposes (the magic system in Mage was a bit too open ended - and you might as well just use any existing wargaming magic system; the Werewolves book was a bit too mystical  - more like shamanistic ghostbusters than actual, you know, werewolves. Vampire is a bit more "tight" - if it's possible to apply that term to a RPG - and has inbuilt reasons to fight battles)


  1. Werewolf can work on both levels, I find: There's a lot of mystical mumbojumbo, but you can get the whole thing running in the "real world" too. Street battles with monsters, mutants and Pentex goons, that sort of thing.

    1. Maybe. I guess werewolves have basic powers/skills with compared to vamps, so they gave them 1001 spells. I found it jarring, and for wargaming purposes, over complication.

      When I think werewolves, I don't think Indian shamans exorcising unquiet ghosts, but slavering beast monsters either fighting their vampire overlords, or perhaps as she-wolves assisting the Nazis, or maybe merely hunting co-eds....

  2. Take a game like Frostgrave and bolt on the Vamps instead of Wizards and you have a best seller! :)

    1. I think there is plenty of room for Mordheim/Necromunda style skirmish as the success of Frostgrave has proved.

      I'm personally interested in modern pulp/paranormal - a generic set of rules for this is good. There is Savage Worlds, but while it is a very useful toolbox (especially abilities and spells) its rules (while quite fine) don't scratch the itch the way I want.

      To be honest I haven't played Frostgrave since I tested it, as I find many mechanics kinda 70s RPG-y and clunky (me <---> hit points over here) but it perfectly tapped into the nostalgia (I mean, hunting through a ruined city for artefacts....) but I'm very glad it has done well as it may blaze a path for more nicely produced skirmish campaign games...

    2. It'd be fun to write, though you'd need tons of powers to build with and balancing that would be a right tit.

    3. Somewhere on the google group I explored "condensing special rules".
      Inspired by Savage Worlds's generic powers (they lump powers together by effects and ignore trappings i.e. an ice bolt and a fire bolt have the same special rule) I've been experimenting combining technology, innate powers and magic...

      ...i.e. a Romulan cloaking device works the same as invisibility spell which is the same as a chameleon's skin.. ....or night vision goggles work the same as cat eyes which are also the same rules for a dark vision spell....

      ...I think in experimenting I got the list down to ~60 (for ALL magic, tech and innate abilities, for pulp-scifi-fantasy), as long as you have a reasonable stat line (5-6 stats) and don't go all hipster 2-stats-like-SoBH.

    4. 5-6 stats is great for a <dozen figs game and gives the kind of character differentiation a skirmish game of this trope needs. A few of those are likely to be very similar in any case eg movement

    5. I'm not sure you'd effectively get mages in, they were impossible to gauge as a story teller in the RPG, let alone compared to other supernatural opposition. The issue is they can effectively do anything conceivable but are also humans, so if caught unaware beyond feeble in the WOD system but if prepared to fight, you could for example stop or rewind time, summon a miniature black whole, lock the scene in a dimensional window and transport yourself and your party to a safe location before starting the clock again. That's literally 3 spheres used maybe 4 total with level 3/4 max required in the spheres.

    6. Yes, WoD mages are too open-ended to ever be wargame-able. A traditional D&D-ish mage with a more limited skill set of 5-6 conventional spells (perhaps focussed in a particular class) would be a bit more balance-able in a modern paranormal game setting.

    7. Yeah, I was thinking the setting would be modern/dark city fantasy set in some gothamesque megalopolis full of gothic sewers, dark alleyways, and macabre cathedrals. Then each warband would be led by a vampire and his offspring. The followers would be a mix of thralls, humans, and creatures that go bump in the night.

      70% of the game would be advancing and managing your coven, while 30% would be playing relatively rules light missions that are strung together based on a scenario generator similar to Necromunda

      So essentially, Frostgrave with guns, monsters, and vamps. Someone notify Osprey and Northstar!

    8. It's surprising how few wargames focus on modern pulp/paranormal/mutant/superheroes - considering the wealth of contemporary literature/movies.

      Especially if it came with its own miniature line.

      For years we watched space wargames swing and miss, until FFG came along. I think there's similar opportunity for modern pulp.

      Compare the amount of steampunk/Victorian horror wargames to mainstream awareness; in comparison paranormal/modern horror is rather limited.

    9. I think the lack of decent miniatures is the biggest hindrance.

    10. Yeah, I did up a list of miniatures that would work for a Blade/Underworld game, and someone in comments posted up a list they had made in... 2008 or something, and it was pretty much the same....

    11. There were official World of Darkness figures back when... by Ral Partha maybe? They weren't amazing though and they're near-impossible to find.

  3. Have to post this, its only valid for 5 days after this post but it knocks the rpgdrivethru deal out the water.

    1. Nice find! $1 for the revised rules plus a handful of sourcebooks = win!
      Humble bundle works well for PC games - I forget it has a comics and books section as well....

  4. I did start messing about with a modern fantasy skirmish game a few years ago - think Necromunda meets Underworld/Blade/Dresden files - but I had trouble with the balance and dropped it in the end (though admittedly mostly because it was a solo project with no opponents)