The Underlying Question...



  • Is there more to this than an exercise in sado-masochism?

    That’s always been a bit of an underlying question and concern of mine. And it comes on the heels of Stef very effectively and quite masterfully expounding upon the impact of predator types and Touchstones and so forth.

    Not many of us are newbies at this anymore; we’ve been around the block a time or two (or twenty), we know what the setting is about.

    V5 has been held up and celebrated for its “grittier” approach, its noir appeal. Multiple mechanics are introduced to highlight just how awful you are. And true, perhaps V20 allowed more of a superhero capability than desired. But as I review the book, and the expounding, I’m left with a single question, in the most existential sense:

    “Why bother?”

    There seems to be a large uptick in arbitrary punishment in the system. To my knowledge, there’s no increase in positive reinforcement (I guess as a base phrase), and in fact a fair decrease in any that’s out there. The more you ‘rise’, the worse you are. You start awful and go nowhere but down, down, down.

    There’s the 2nd Inquisition, which is an arbitrary and omnipotent device. We saw that in the conclusion of the previous chronicle, which I acknowledge was quite a bit tongue in cheek. I understand the feeling of a need to permanently shut the door on the past, for both PC and ST alike. I also easily accept it (with even some approval) as a bit of catharsis for an ST team to ‘harmlessly’ ravage those plaguesome playe-um, characters who have bedeviled one so!

    But that doesn’t overlook the sense of disquiet that I know a fair few people – including myself – experienced. Perhaps the most serious jolt a player can have is sense of loss of agency – that our actions and efforts have been rendered meaningless. That certainly happened in that scene, but mitigated by the circumstances of transition noted above. Yet the basis remains. The 2nd Inquisition is highlighted as an implacable, overwhelming foe that is only to be fled and never contended with. The grounds for another repeat experience are well laid, not just from the transition, but in the book.

    I’ll admit I didn’t really enjoy it and would have preferred a simple paragraph detailing Mose’ demise, or simply a statement of “all PCs are gone-gone. They don’t exist in the new chronicle”.

    Touchstones are another area of “nothing but bad”. I know the stated purpose is they help you retain your humanity, but what V20 gave one credit for and agency in roleplay, V5 removes and replaces with “assume the position!” There will never be a positive scenario with a touchstone. “Well, they provide a basis for roleplay!” is the anticipated response. But that was already in play. “They help you retain your humanity!” That, too, was always an available option. Now they’re a mechanism that’s basically nothing but a vehicle for “Sucks to be you, buddy!”

    There are no carrots; just stick after stick after stick. And lots of welts to come.

    I’ve always been bemused by the idea of Sabbat campaigns and playing a Sabbat vampire. It just didn’t make sense to me. Now it does – I think they’re enjoyed because in a “You can never win” scenario, one may as well embrace the awful and experiment how amusingly horrible one can be.

    I have tremendous faith in the ST team. I know there’s a vast thoughtfulness that goes into it. That’s what I cherish. It’s why I’m here, actually. But all the same, the new ruleset and mechanics are in danger of making this “the place you go to feel bad. And if you don’t feel bad enough, there are lots of tools to make you feel worse.”

    That we buy into it is the masochism. That we engage in it is the sadism. Is there more to it?

    Thanks for your patience. Some of this has come up in casual conversations, as well as on my mind, and I thought I’d share it.

    Michael



  • I echo the sentiments Michael so eloquently outlined above.



  • I’ve kind of experienced the same kind of reaction to the various rule sets. But I guess this is the whole 3 months of testing that’s happening, to see if this is something that’s sustainable as a long term 24/7 game, or if it’s more suitable for short table top settings. I bet once a week it wouldn’t feel so compounding, as a 24/7 setting will.



  • @duh Yes, and this is an important point. This IS a period of discovery and testing. I may well see my concerns get resolved. And in complete fairness, we haven’t actually played it yet! My perceptions could readily change, particularly in the hands of a dedicated ST team.

    This wasn’t meant to throw shade, but to share some concerns and uncertainty.

    MIchael



  • @scarecrow - Personally, I didn’t see it as shade. It’s a legitimate concern that more than a few of us have had. How is this new set of rules going to affect a game like this? Legit question!


  • Lead Storytellers Administrators

    I think here there is a misconception of what the game should be about, the tone, and the expectation of playing. Nobody is a hero. Nobody is a superhero. That is the very basic premise of VTM from its first iteration. Some of the versions did allow that to be skewed so as to allow it, but that was never really what VTM has been about. It has always been about the descent, the beast whispering seductively in your ear that you are better than the kine, that hurting that person was necessary and justified. If you are lucky, you felt horrified by those whisperings. But just sometimes, you wouldn’t, and would descend. The beast knows it has many years and experiences to play with and so patiently waits to prod you to greater depths, and thereby grow closer to the surface.

    That has always been a part of the game. So when asking the question why bother? My answer is generally to experience this type of game. The grittiness of being a monster, struggling against the odds in a descent you personally know is inevitable, but which your character may not.

    Positive re-enforcement isn’t really a thing here I don’t feel. There isn’t a ‘benefit’ to being undead. Sure you are powerful personally, more so than a human, but also much more flawed. There don’t need to be redeeming qualities for existing or even thriving.

    The loss of player agency is one I fundamentally disagree with. Aside from a scene where everyone was dead, and ok, maybe you didn’t enjoy it. We tried to make it cool and fun, but ultimately the end result is the same. All characters were dying and being culled from the game to allow us to start fresh. I don’t think anyone has an issue with that.

    But to suggest that because the situation is ‘harder’ now means you are less in control of your actions just isn’t correct. You still get to play your character as you want, but it is in a world geared against them. Even in games like Shadowrun where you can be more of the hero type… you’re going up against massive corps with a lot more power and ability than you will ever have. I think then what we get into is the format of the game being online and not tabletop. Games crafted for 4-5 people sat around a table once a week is very different in the scope and ability to go superpowered.

    Vampires have always faced dangers and strong foes. There were tons of them in the last game and both mages and werewolves alone were vastly more powerful. The inquisition was still around, it just had less control. There were many kindred a lot more powerful than you were, and it was way more restrictive in the Camarilla. It wasn’t always played the way it should have been in regards to that, but if we had gone hardcore mode on it, then there would have been a lot more danger from above in your own clan and sect than we ever did.

    Touchstones are a positive addition that allow more finite control over what it means to be you the vampire, rather than the generic and western-centric humanity ideals. This from before led to a lot of people getting to a sweet spot to allow them to act a certain way and never giving thought to it. Paths were interesting, but the overall mechanic just didn’t integrate into the game in a meaningful way. Now that has changed. Your touchstones are very real parts of your character, defining who you are and what you hold sacred. Your struggle to remain humane in some way is intrinsically tied into them and you will go to any lengths to keep them functioning that way. This drives to the heart of the tragedy of being a vampire… you would hurt these people and break up relationships, stop them going away to university, stop them evolving or changing from that very touchstone that anchors you against the maelstrom of hunger inside of you.

    By extension the predator type then also allows for greater input into your sheet and the fundamentals of your character. How someone feeds is intensely personal and reflective of their personality, and blood is and has always been central to the game. The drive to get it, the sustenance it provides, the fact it has always been described as better than any drug or sexual experience. The act of feeding is one that is now much more at the heart of the game, which it was alluded to before but not really developed well mechanically. Personally I welcome that shift, as it gives us all more tools with which to create interesting characters with depth. Sure I don’t like all of them, nor do I fully agree with how some of it is constructed. But I also know more will come later as the game develops from this first iteration book with each release hopefully adding more Predator types, merits, flaws and stuff like that.

    Now I can’t say that all of this is for everyone, but for me it is a much more mature game now than it has been in the past. It has always intended to be a game of personal horror. Not a positive struggle where the world is horrible but I am above it. No, the creators have always intended this personal horror to be at the heart of their creation.

    In our game Brian brought this into play as ‘a beast I am, lest a beast I become’. And that is a good motto, especially when considering touchstones.

    As STs we love and cherish our players and the time you put into making Sanguinus what it is. That is why we put in all the efforts we have to create cool stories, as well as the functions to make a 30+ player game function. It’s collaborative between us all, and that has never been more true now than before.

    With this iteration, what you are seeing as more restrictive I would argue is more free. There is a lot more player agency with what we are creating, and much of the material for SLs will come bubbling up from those very actions. Consider the fact there is a Camarilla Prince… but you owe no fealty. Sure, they are strong. But also not strong enough to control the whole city. There are Anarchs close by, but again not strong enough to have made a move. And then there are you, the unbound. Fuckups, sure, but numerous and with so much scope for growth. You have no Prince, Primogen, or Whip telling you what to do and having the full backing of a sect to enforce it. You have no Harpy keeping tabs and score of your every indiscretion. Everything you gain and hold is the same as everyone else… done through force of personality and strength. Skill and ability can take you and your coterie much further than ever before. There is no longer that safety net, but also no longer the glass ceiling. Sure you are much less powerful than others… but that has always been the case. Smart play and good ideas can put you in any position you want. And the same goes for the other people and coteries vying with you to gain it.

    Conversely the fact that generation plays a reduced role is much more positive in addressing the power imbalance between kindred themselves. Now with rouse checks doing anything makes you give pause, which I don’t think is a bad thing. It makes everyone think more creatively about their actions and how to achieve a goal. It also levels the playing field a lot more between everyone.

    You also have more chance for learning disciplines, and those being defined a lot more personally to suit your own style of play. Sure it isn’t easy getting all the things you might want for a sheet, but the differentials make the game a much more nuanced and expressive one than before. We do limit that of course, or it tends to blend in ways that we don’t find positive for our style of game. But it’s more at the heart now, with many people able to get a level out of clan easily enough.

    Understand that none of this is a criticism of the previous post, not is it pointing fingers or anything like that. I just wanted to provide another way of thinking about it all. Because I see this as an even greater chance to explore so many ideas, concepts, and experiences in a cool setting. It isn’t purely about escapism into something uplifting, to me it is so much more than that.



  • Thanks, Nik!

    And I don’t take it as criticism. Many of my questions were more rhetorical.

    The core idea I struggle with - particularly in the read-only, haven’t played aspect of V5, is seeing if there’s any kind of ‘win’. And I don’t mean ‘win’ in the D&D style; marry the prince/princess, have rooms with chest-full’s of gold. Magic armor, a title, lands, etc.That’s obviously what this setting isn’t about.

    There’s no ‘win’ with Touchstones. I disliked them from the moment I saw them. I view them as only a ‘fail’ mechanic. Stef actually did a good job highlighting their ultimate lack of meaning. They will disappear/die at some point…and we will simply shift our focus.

    Thus, that expired touchstone held no meaning, but rather was a temporary expression of an abstract concept. Rather than empowering one’s humanity, simply having one reduces it, due to the meaningless gesture of it all. But I suspect that’ll work itself out in play. I certainly already have ideas for mine.

    I’ll quibble on the ‘mature’ aspect, assuming you mean more than Mallory Archer purring ‘Viewer discretion advised’. I think too often in literature and movies and shows today, “gritty and hardcore” becomes a synonym for ‘mature’. I’m interested in growth of character, not just abuse. I’ll paraphrase Harold Bloom in citing one difference between Marlowe and Shakespeare was that Kit Marlowe only revealed character, while Billy Shakespeare evolved it. I’m interested in evolution.

    Anyway, there are a lot of things I like about V5 - particularly the amazing interplay for disciplines and how they build on one another. I like playing low-power campaigns/stories/chronicles. And I have full faith in the ST/SL team. I have a lot of ideas for Hector that I’ll surely be bugging you folks with once approvals dies down.

    Again, thanks for the response and different perspectives. I think a lot of folks will need some handholding early on (including me, mebbe!). And I’ll still always try to score a ‘win’, even if it’s destined to be fruitless!

    Michael



  • For me, D&D is surviving to the end of the story. Not necessarily living through the end, but meeting it.

    In V20, we didn’t HAVE to have a connection to humanity, so our characters could become a bit grim. In V5, we are trying to hold onto our humanity and not let it seep all away. Having touchstones offers STs more story-hook-fuel. It also gives us a reason to not go on murder sprees.



  • @Scarecrow You nailed it for me. Totes.

    In previous iterations, meaning and joy were rare and difficult to achieve, with a constant temptation and pressure to take the easier route of dying a little more inside. There were tiny, fragile sparks of it in the world, and they were always under threat. Holding onto one required risking everything, and so those sparks were precious beyond measure.

    In V5, meaning and happiness are completely impossible, and even the illusion of them is impossible. There are no sparks. Zero. So it’s just a time to come be miserable together, both for the player and for the character.

    As an example: Nik’s response was great. And while I’m basically putting words in his mouth here, his response articulated the only possible motivation (both for player and for character) being that of Ambition. The absolute height of good our character’s can feel is ruthless and successful. There is no other meaning beyond being the best abuser. We’re gonna compete, ic aND ooc, and whoever is best at hurting people gets to feel like the best abuser for awhile.

    V5 feels like sludge to me. Like it’s a world where there is actually nothing but sludge. And not just for the character. For us players too. Let’s play a game where we cover ourselves in feces. “Why?” To experience and portray what it’s like to be covered in feces. “Oh cool, and then every day we’ll cover ourselves in something else so we can experience all kinds of things and cherish all of them for their intensity?” No, it’s gonna be feces every day, with no hope of anything but feces.


  • Lead Storytellers Administrators

    Wow. Forgive me, James, but I have to ask- why are you playing then? I certainly don’t want to hold anyone to playing a game that they feel is going to be like spreading shit all over themselves.

    I don’t even know how to respond to that other than to ask why. I myself was super excited to see this all in play and see what people do. But at the moment, I feel like all of this work is for nothing because y’all are like, “Well, this game you wrote is shit, the chars are shit, you are shit and it is shitty.”

    I know that sounds defensive but I am kind of feeling defensive right now. We didn’t write the game. We were excited to play it. Now…dunno.


  • Lead Storytellers Administrators

    PS: We didn’t write it. Just sayin’



  • I cannot speak for James but I do not believe he was trying to suggest that the game or story or anyone’s efforts are shitty. I believe he is attempting to construct a metaphor with an unfortunate focus on fecal matter.

    In essence, I think he may be saying that it is difficult to appreciate darkness without a little light. We are, all of us, playing a monster but ones that are still attempting to hold on to their humanity. The touchstones are supposed to be that: their link. On the one hand, we are encouraged to play our characters as we see them; on the other it feels as though we are actively discouraged from seeking any kind of a redemption arc.

    That’s just my take-away.



  • @jess “Redemption arc” could and may include achieving Golconda.



  • @malevolence said in The Underlying Question...:

    Wow. Forgive me, James, but I have to ask- why are you playing then? I certainly don’t want to hold anyone to playing a game that they feel is going to be like spreading shit all over themselves.

    I don’t even know how to respond to that other than to ask why. I myself was super excited to see this all in play and see what people do. But at the moment, I feel like all of this work is for nothing because y’all are like, “Well, this game you wrote is shit, the chars are shit, you are shit and it is shitty.”

    I know that sounds defensive but I am kind of feeling defensive right now. We didn’t write the game. We were excited to play it. Now…dunno.

    I don’t think at any point James was saying ‘the game you guys wrote is shit’ more reflecting on V5 as a whole and the current ST vision of it. For a few examples, going above and beyond the book you guys have eliminated humanity 8 from Farmer to fit your current ‘darker’ version of the same presented in the book as well Coteries you are doing, which sounds interesting and at least we could look to our coterie for support and at place safe from the shit slinging. Except you guys have as well added your own twist to the game and incentivized people to also screw over their coterie. Meaning that even that one hopeful port in the storm of mud is also just another place to be slung mud on. Maybe even more so as there is a reward built into it.

    I think people are just saying that we don’t expect wine and roses all the time but they feel maybe 100% dark and gritty all the time might make it just depressing to show up knowing even my friends might toss me under a bus for 2xp. Since it’s a coterie I didn’t get to pick that seems dark even for this. I actually thought at first hearing the coterie idea that it was interesting because at least characters would have one place to turn at game start that they could trust.



  • @malevolence I apologize. Eff.mal. Seriously I was wrong to have posted that. I very much regret having hurt you that way, snd for having shit on all your hard work and care and friendship. I intend to be a better friend/player/community member going forward.

    Seeing your response I realize I meant something else.

    Can I try again?

    I now see that my post was akin to a request for help, though I clearly tried to do that by being a bully and stabbing people, snd that’s not ok.

    So I would be grateful to anyone, especially ST’s and Stef in particular, if you cold talk about what you/we as players/ST’s expect you will get out of the experience. Not what our characters’ will get out of it, but us as people.

    Cuz I know that one thing is community, right? Like I think y’all are super people and I love doing things with you and hanging out and stuff.

    If you could share what else you’ll get out of V5 in particular, I’d be grateful.



  • Well… This thread went to a real weird place.

    Everyone take a step back.

    Please remember - none of us have played this game - … you don’t know what it’s going to turn out to be.

    This reminds me of characters. You have an idea of what it’s gonna be like, but then you play a couple times and it’s kinda weirdly taken a life of its’ own, and is slightly different from what you imagined.

    Personally I’m liking the idea of this game and the unknown coteries we’re going to be put in (because of complimenting builds, or whatever the reason is that we’re being put together). I get the concern that it’s gonna all be dark, but let’s all remember; we’re human beings. We get scared of the unknown. Give the game and the ST’s the chance to show us what they’ve been so excited about.

    As for the ST’s: Thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this. It’s appreciated, and we know you’re doing a great job. Also please remember that players are afraid of unknown territory (lol) - I played VTM for 20+ years and now it’s all gone topsy turvy, but I’m excited to try and see what all this new stuff is about.

    The idea of playing a grittier and more about the personal horror game is incredibly interesting to me. I just don’t want my character to die in the first five minutes of starting. LOL



  • @duh

    Yes, most of this. 🙂


  • Lead Storytellers Administrators

    I think this comes down to the kind of game you want to play or not. The last game was supposed to be a lot like this one, so when I say mature, I mean it grew up. They tightened a lot of things up, and no I do not think ‘grittier’ necessarily means mature. But keep in mind even Shakespeare had King Lear. Othello. Numerous characters who had an underlying lack of humanity, characters that struggled to ever be happy. Even with Shylock put firmly back in his place (lets leave aside the problematic nature of some of this), Antonio’s underlying unhappiness of unrequited love sat around the edges of a supposed happy ending. Not everyone grew and many times there was supposed to be a morality to it, which is rooted in the times of playhouses and the religious situation then.

    VTM isn’t a ‘nice’ game. You’re a thief, a murderer, and a liar. That is how your experience almost always begins. Now can you ‘win’? Well I never think anyone ‘wins’ in RP, but let’s run with it. I think yes, you can, because it comes down to achievement. It comes down to a set of goals, aiming at them, and having fun with how you develop. If the yardstick is how humane and nice I can be, then it really isn’t the game for it. But if it is… I want to protect these people so they have a better life and I have people I can feed off, use to fight for me, and who can keep me safe in the day. Kind of win/win… except not entirely because you are still totally using them. Vampires tell themselves many pretty little lies to sleep better in the day.

    This puts me in mind of a time when one of our characters wanted a Herd who came to them as mental patients and he fed off. Then expected to still be able to shoot after high humanity and was upset when it was taken down and hard to bring back up. Vampires aren’t nice at all, they have to do many shitty things to survive. That has always been the case, and just being easier to ignore doesn’t make it a better system.

    But ultimately we are still all talking about something we haven’t tried out yet. We need to get to grips and feel it out, but many of us have played long enough to have a decent gut feeling. For me, it has been overwhelmingly a positive one. I’m excited to play in this game, and excited to do so at the same level as everyone else.



  • I feel like some of the posters are trying to express a concept that is difficult to communicate. Vampire has always been a dark and gritty game, but solace could be taken in the small victories. @Jess put it well I believe when she said “…it is difficult to appreciate darkness without a little light.” Victory in Vampire the Masquerade has always been fleeting, and mistakes have always been punished, but the way V5 is written, “victory” or success is not just fleeting-- it is pyrrhic.

    Allow me to use the example of humanity, for now ignoring the changes to the Farmer Predator style. We are asked to create 1-3 convictions and an equal number of touchstones; however, the more we have of these, the more quickly we can lose humanity. Beyond this, the very act of trying to be human with our touchstones (such as letting them grow up, have a life, be a person, change their mind) is punished with a stain (or stains) while acting like a monster to “maintain” humanity is outright encouraged. How did it become that acting like a human should actually causes you to be less human?

    I do not blame the STs, and I think White Wolf has come up with a very interesting setting. The focus seems to have changed from trying find a balance between humanity and beast, or even maintaining humanity, to fighting with every ounce to not degrade.

    This feeling of V20, to me at least, was one of going against the odds. The feeling of V5, again to me at least, is one of destitution. There are incredible opportunities however, if you can manage them. As the Storytellers said, there are many fewer restricting factors about this setting, and Branton is rife with opportunity! With everyone working against you and no support system of your own, like a sect and barely a semblance of a clan, it really is up to you to make it on your own. If you can do that, then more power to you and your character!

    I have my concerns about V5, but I am also interested to see the Chronicle that the STs have put together. You all do an excellent job, and my concerns with V5 do not extend to your storytelling abilities. Like has been said before, this is a 3-month trial run. We may be entirely wrong and pleasantly surprised about the V5 setting, and I am willing to give it a chance. I think players are staying around despite their concerns because they are willing to give it a chance as well.

    Additional Note: Touching on Gaining Humanity
    From the V5 book p.241 “Vampires can only increase humanity by selflessly involving themselves in human life and human concerns. Increasing humanity should be a major story arc, involving (at least) the gaining of a new touchstone and the deliberate turning away from Kindred society.” and it continues on “…Storytellers might not allow experience points to purchase Humanity at all.”

    -If- regaining humanity is allowed, then it requires gaining touchstones, which would once again indicate a benefit for starting the game with only one touchstone. Again, players are punished for making more human (or even just involved) characters at creation.



  • I don’t think anyone is saying they won’t give it a chance. I don’t think anyone has suggested that the community leaders haven’t worked really hard to get everything ready, including hyping the player base, for what’s to come.

    I do think this was intended to be an open discussion or at least a request for clarification. Nik has more or less addressed that. As launch day gets closer, people may be examining their uncertainties and trying to address them so they know where they stand when this thing kicks off. That’s where I’m at anyway. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to give V5 a good college try.

    More than anything I want to play with all of you – STs included. If I have reservations going forward, my desire to write with this community, and my belief that there is a support network in place for when I’m feeling doubtful, overwhelms that by a huge margin.