GenCon Vampire 5th Edition Alpha Playtest

Greetings, cultists and devotes. The Full Metal RPG ecclesiarchy  attended the most recent GenCon, the 50th Anniversary. Our merry company of rot and corruption answered the call of our good friends at the Wrecking Crew to assist in demoing the newest iteration of a game near to our black hearts – Vampire: The Masquerade

The alpha edition comes with a scenario to play through titled Rusted Veins, a coterie of characters for use in playing the scenario, and a new rule set. Written by Matt Dawkins, Rusted Veins takes you back to city of Gary, Indiana, used as the setting for the prior adventures “Ashes to Ashes” and “Dust to Dust”, and focuses on the machinations of the nominally Camarilla Prince Modius and his rival, the Anarch Baron Juggler.

Gary is an economically devastated city. It has passed through Late Stage Capitalism directly into Terminal Stage Capitalism. Situated firmly in the Midwestern Rust Belt, it is a town where there occurred a systemic breakdown at nearly every level: Governmental, economic, corporate, and social. Abandoned factories line the riverfront like tombstones denoting the death of the American heartland, and driving down any major street yields a view of decaying buildings stretching out before you like a mouth full of broken teeth. No one stays in Gary because they want to, they remain because they have to. For kindred it is much the same. Anyone with any skill or ambition left long ago for the more urbane destinations of Chicago or Milwaukee, leaving Modius and Juggler to their squabbles.

I will avoid discussing the plot in any detail, as I am almost certain they will make this play-kit publicly available at some point for you, dear reader, to experience. Suffice to say, it starts with a pretty basic fetch quest handed to the coterie from on high, and then things take a turn for the worse. Every group I ran through the scenario ended it differently. It was fascinating how people interpreted the characters and how they had them behave as they moved through the world. There are a couple obvious stand out characters with regard to the story, who are absolutely essential to have in the game, and two who suffer a bit in terms of agency and interaction with the main arc. You could easily not have them played at all and it would not affect how the scenario runs. The remaining two characters are what you make of them, and can either be along for the ride or a serious thorn in the side of others if they chose to be.

Rules Alterations

There are a couple key changes you notice right away when looking at one of the provided character sheets. First off, willpower is now rated 1-5, not 1-10. There is a new trait, Composure, that replaces Conscience, Courage, and Self Control. Finally, there is no more blood pool, only a series of check-boxes listed as Hunger. We will examine these topics in the subsections below.

Dice Pools and Success

Dice pools are assembled as usual, with an attribute + a skill giving you the total number of dice to roll. Different colored Hunger die are placed into the pool first, one a one to one basis with the characters current Hunger rating. More on Hunger below. You round out the pool with normal dice and roll. Anything showing a 6+ is a success, and difficulty is the total number of successes you need on a roll to achieve your goal.

A roll of two or more 10 results on your normal dice is considered an exceptional success. 10s no longer explode, and 1s do not cancel out 10s. The botch mechanic is gone.

If you come up one success short on a roll, you may Succeed at Cost. You accomplish your goal, but you generate a complication in doing so. It is up to the player and storyteller to determine what that means. For example, if you are breaking into a house, you may succeed, but you drop your wallet as you enter, leaving it behind.

Willpower

Willpower is no longer spent for extra dice on a roll. Instead willpower is spent to re-roll any dice you would like to on a roll. You can keep any dice that show a success and only re-roll the failures. Given how powerful this mechanic is, it makes sense the willpower pool is now smaller. It can have a huge impact on the game when employed correctly.

Hunger

Hunger is an abstract representation of the current state of the kindred you are playing. As you employ disciplines and heal, you make hunger rolls to do so. A roll of 4+ and you are fine. The power activates or you heal a point of superficial damage. On 1-3 result, you active your power or heal, but you first increase your Hunger by 1. This increases the number of Hunger Dice in your dice pool.

Hunger dice have a couple of mechanical ticks. A roll of 1 or 2 is called a Fang result. Roll two fangs, and you have generated a Compulsion. Compulsions represent your vampiric nature coming to the fore, and are aptly named. They represent a complication for your character and how that character interacts with others and the world.

In practice, complications either need to occur more frequently, or have their severity increased to have any meaningful impact on the game. I only had two complications show up in all five games I ran, and they had no real impact on how the characters worked beyond one of the Brujah being slightly more punch happy, and said Brujah was already pretty punch happy.

A roll of one or more 10 results on your hunger dice represents a Messy Critical. A Messy Critical is as close as the new system comes to a botch. You succeed at what you were trying to do, but at great cost to yourself. In one of my games I had a character generate a messy critical when attacking a police officer with feral claws. I ruled he killed the man, but in so doing got his hands stuck in the officers body armor and was going to have to spend time and take damage extricating himself from the situation. A messy situation when you are surrounded by his armed, angry friends and wearing him as a bracelet. An exceptional success always overrides a Messy Critical.

As a final note, having Hunger rolls, a Hunger meter, and Hunger dice all having similar names but representing functionally different things caused a lot of confusion among the players. I eventually went back to calling Hunger rolls Rousing the Blood from the pre-alpha rule-set, and that helped a lot. Hunger and Hunger dice are linked enough that keeping their names the same worked out well.

Composure

Composure is rolled to resist frenzy and spent to avoid compulsions. The compulsions encountered in my play-throughs were never bothersome enough to warrant spending composure to resist them. For frenzy, you roll your current composure, seeking to roll under your humanity for the die to be considered a success. Thematically, this works well, as it represents less humane vampires being closer to their beast, and thus more likely to frenzy. From a rules perspective, this is an inversion of the usual process and caused a great deal of confusion for my players when we encountered it.

Humanity

Humanity has has significant alterations. It is still rated 1-10, but gone are the Hierarchy of Sins. Instead you have Touchstones, which are three mortals who hold special meaning to your characters. Having a touchstone be damaged causes you to lose a humanity. Having a touchstone destroyed loses two. If you are responsible for the injury or death, you lose more. Embracing a human causes you to lose an additional humanity. The worst case scenario, then, is to embrace your own touchstone. That will set you back quite a ways on your humanity track. Effectively you can kill humans when feeding or in combat without any effect. It is up to the Storyteller to decide when your character does something so heinous that she wishes to impose a humanity loss for the action.

Other Rules

There are changes to Initiative and Combat, but I don’t want to bog down too deeply into those, as I consider them ancillary to a Horror game. Necessary, but not the primary focus. Suffice to say, combat is fast and deadly. Vampires can destroy humans easily. All is right in the world for people who want to rip off someone’s jaw bone and beat them to death with it. Celerity level 1 is almost comically broken in a gunfight. I am hoping someone takes a look at it and either addresses it with regard to multiple combatants or changes the wording entirely.

Final Thoughts

The new vampire promises to be very good, even exceptional provided they continue their strong writing and focus on noir urban horror. As the global jyhad rescinds into the background, a more personal struggle for survival in the final nights takes center stage. The world is relentlessly bleak and the future is anything but certain. Welcome to YOUR World of Darkness.

11 thoughts on “GenCon Vampire 5th Edition Alpha Playtest”

  1. The Humanity system seems very disappointing.

    Just that? Everybody has three friends to protect? It doesn’t seem very flexible.

    Is that the answer of the Riddle? Just have friends? Don’t worry about keeping the hunger in check, avoiding killing or fight against the Beast?

    1. At present, yes, that was my understanding of how humanity works. You have three people (friends/lovers/children/parents/someone you’ve wronged) that represent your connection to the human world. As you lose these connections, you surrender more to your beast. This is an alpha rule-set and has evolved since the pre-alpha. They are also soliciting feedback, so it might be worth touching base with the development staff about any concerns you have. Thanks for taking the time to read my review!

      1. Thanks to you for making the review.

        Do you know the correct place to send that feedback? (Although a problem is I still can’t read the mechanic.

      2. So… does gaining more people to protect/Involve in your life gain you effective Humanity?
        Does Shunning humans effectively make you a monster?
        What about a Gangrel who travels the world with his Dog/Ghoul?

        1. Regenerating touchstones allows you to regain humanity, so I would suspect raising humanity would require gaining additional touchstones. However, the rules did not fully address this point, as it was outside the scope of the play test.

          Shunning humans/not caring for your touchstones would involve losing humanity, making you more monstrous.

          Regarding the Gangrel, the humanity rules do specify humans. I would imagine that Gangrel would lose humanity unless she made a point of stopping in to check on the humans that are important to her periodically. As a Storyteller I would count turning your touchstone into a ghoul as “damaging” them, which would incur a loss of humanity.

  2. Hello,

    I checked the first release (PreAlfa) rules, and although I believe most mechanics are interesting and fresh, I reckon there is a serious problem with the new difficulty mechanics:
    If the difficulty can range between 1 and 10, many times it will be bigger than your Dice Pool, so there is no point in rolling, if you are doomed to fail from the start. Always. I call this the Shadowrun Paradox: a dice-rolling system that has not been tested, or that the designers have not think about at all, because it is clearly flawed.
    This (not being able to beat the difficulty) causes players to try using the same skill (-the higher the characters has-) in every situation. So it reduces the fun, as it causes the players to use the same strategies again and again, and finally is detrimental to the game.
    Also, there is a big problem with the idea of “you can repeat a failed roll with an increase to difficulty”. After reading many blogs (Angry GM being probably the best and most clear about this), the conclusion is that a roll must only occur when it is important to the story, and failing it will have consequences. Otherwise, don’t ask for a roll. If the players fail a roll, learn to live with it. Never allow to keep on rolling ad nauseam! It is slow, boring, and gives no meaning to the failed rolls.

    Thank you!

    1. A roll of two 10s on your normal dice is always an exceptional success, and one 10 on your hunger dice is always a Messy Critical, so you can always roll and see how things turn out. You are never shut out of success.

      Using your best dice pool is a persistent problem in every system. When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I do not think these rules can solve that issue, but I’ve yet to find a system that can.

      I honestly don’t know how attempting a failed roll again works. It never came up. I assume you fail forward like in narrative games.

      Thanks for checking out the review!

      1. Then it looks like an improvement… In Pre-Alfa it sucked when you have to roll 5 dice for a diffculty of 6.
        The don’t allowing to repeat a failed roll is a must for me: Fewer rolls, quicker mechanics and better stories.

        I have to admit that the hunger rules seems fantastic to me. I have been playing since 1st ed, and I am looking forward to the new, at least for this changes.

        Thank you for the response!

        1. I personally don’t find a problem if a character can’t beat a roll. I can’t jump 7 meters longs, no matter how hard I try.

          In my prealpha test I came to dislike the Hunger mechanics. I love the idea of reinforcing the hunger theme, but I find the implementation clumsy.

          If you are the kind of Storytellers that demands lot of rolls, the hunger is going to have a huge impact in the game. On the other hand, if you are of the kind that will only ask one or two rolls in a session, hunger will have little importance.

          1. That did actually come up during one of my play throughs. A character hit 4 hunger and decided to just stop making rolls so he did not need to hunt or suffer repercussions. Ultimately, the game can be as narrative or crunchy as you want. If you tend toward narrative, you’ll have to find other means of driving home the hunger, without using mechanics. I’m interested to see how they refine it as they continue to demo the game. It is still in Alpha.

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