In A Perfect World...
One Vampire LARP ST's
Note: I wrote this quite some time ago. 2005, I think, so it's all terribly quaint, now and, obviously, concerning Vampire: The Masquerade, not Requiem. Still, maybe you'll get a few chuckles from it.
Late one night, as I contemplated the looming presence of the winter holidays and my as-usual penniless state, I began to think about "The next Vampire LARP I run". Every GM talks about such things. Sooner or later, every GM who is thinking about The Next Game starts fantasizing about the rules they would lay down and enforce - those little tweaks to the system or setting that will minimize munchkinism, reward roleplaying and keep the GM out of the sanitarium for another six months.
I've been running Vampire LARPs, off and on, since '93, so I've had a lot of time to think of these things. Here are some of my ideas. Some of them I have seen used successfully in other games, others are pure flights of fantasy. But, you know what? I bet they could all be implemented, and I have plans to do so...the next time I run a Vampire LARP.
I'm going to be a real
bitch about character concepts. Concepts will meet my standards - rather than the "Oh,
I'm tired of fighting this player's ideas, so I'll let them have it" which
The submission process will be simple. I will ask the players to give me three fully-fledged concept ideas. This means I want three ideas that the player is equally enthusiastic about playing - not one idea that they clearly like, and two single-sentence concepts tacked on the end of it. Submissions of that nature will be sent back to the player. If they can't give me three paragraphs of general character summary, then I don't want to deal with them.
The ST chooses the character's clan. The player can suggest which clans they would like to play the character as, but the final decision is the STs. I've used this technique before, and it works very well. More often than not, I pick the player's first choice for clan and, when I haven't picked their first choice, I usually land on their second. I like this routine because it forces the player to think about the concept and their goals, not their clan and kewl powerz.
Once a concept is chosen, players will be expected to create at least a page of further background and provide 3 long-term and 3 short-term, achievable-in-court goals. No more of this one-line summary with a promise of further backgrounds. I want to create character-driven plots, so that requires a pool of developed characters. The creation of goals is to ensure that the concept is functional in court, and will have things to do on their own initiative, rather than waiting for the STs to serve them a plot on a platter.
While I'm at it: if I'm running a Camarilla game, I want only Camarilla concepts. If I'm running a Sabbat game (god forbid!) I want only Sabbat concepts. I'm tired of announcing that the Prince of Townsville is looking for courtiers, and receiving concepts for two loyal kindred, four Anarch sympathizers, six Sabbat spies and a True Black Hand Malkavian Hedge Mage - I really got that last one, once. Don't worry, children, if I want Sabbat spies and Anarch sympathizers, I'll let you know. For now, just stick to my guidelines. Please?
A player may not follow any
path other than Humanity when they initiate
their character. If a PC wishes to tread another Morality path, they must
roleplay it for a certain period of time - up to a year, in-game - in
order to acquire it. I've seen two PCs do this successfully in CAST, a game of
two years' duration. That's 2 non-humanity PCs out of 25, and that's a good
ratio. Paths are rare and they're difficult to play.
If you want a path, be prepared to justify it, a lot. I am very suspicious of players who want to take their neonate characters off the path of Humanity, as they are usually hoping to use a Path as a 'get out of jail free' card regarding morality and generally only want it so they can kill PCs at will. Their actual in-character justifications are often a bit lacking.
Incidentally, astute players have noticed that some paths - such as Path of Chivalry, or Honorable Accord, or even the Assamite Path of Blood - actually render you less likely to commit violence than the Path of Humanity. And, yes, the STs know it, too.
Regarding derangements. If you can't be bothered to learn a bit about your character's disorder and roleplay it appropriately, I will see nothing wrong with removing the derangement and docking you the cost of whatever you spent the free traits on. As I have mentioned in my Advice to Would-Be Players of Malkavians, derangements are not an accessory to a character sheet, nor are they 'cute'. Try to play them that way and you risk my wrath. There are lots of online resources a player can refer to to read up about various disorders, or they can ask to borrow my copy of DSM-IV. I'm not asking for literal re-creation - this is a game, after all - but players must remember that derangements are serious, and can be terribly inconvenient at times. They're not just there to be played up when you're bored.
There will be no status
traits other than Acknowledged and Recognized. I've learned to
appreciate MET - warts and all - but status is never played correctly because
sooner or later (usually sooner) the PCs fall back on "Well, I've got ten
status and you've got five, boo-yah!".
During the FLAGS days (essentially an adaptation of tabletop to live-action play) there was no formal status recorded, but there were clearly characters who were respected/dissed by the court, depending upon their past actions. It was status in action, without it being numerically quantifiable. I liked that, and it worked very well. I think it could work again, given a chance.
Invisible XP. The players will get XP, but not at a constant rate, nor will they ever know their total. Furthermore, PCs might be spontaneously given traits or Abilities, based upon their roleplaying technique - no cost involved. Contrariwise, they might lose traits or flaws, if they don't seem to be roleplaying them adequately, but that would be very rare and most likely used as a munchkin countermeasure.
I will ban most merits and flaws. They're
hardly ever played properly, anyways. Specifically in for the chop: Unbondable,
Iron Will, Blase, Greater Colors, Enchanting Voice (unless there's an exceptional
character reason), Probationary Sect Member, Dark Secret, Dark Fate, Guardian
Why the ban, you ask? There are a couple of reasons. Regarding flaws, it's a rare player who plays them appropriately, and it could potentially take up all of an STs time to ride herd on the troupe to make sure that everyone is acting as they should. Most players treat Flaws as a quick and easy way of getting free traits for their characters - and they usually get away with it. Certain, minor, flaws would be allowable - such as phobias, nightmares, addictions. But the big 'uns are right out. Particularly Dark Fate, which just creates a lot of work for the ST with the likely result of removing the character from game - all so he could have a couple of extra free traits. If the ST decides to give a character a Dark Fate, the character should be the last to know.
As for merits, many of them are picked up by lazy roleplayers. When I launched the abortive chronicle Sang Froid, out of twenty character submissions, twelve of them asked for either Unbondable or Iron Will. I think six of them asked for both. But did they have interesting - or even plausible - character reasons for being so steely willed and unconquerable? Of course they didn't. The players just wanted to dodge two of the most powerful weapons a kindred has at their command - the power of their blood, and their social disciplines. To everyone who wants Unbondable and/or Iron Will, I say this: learn to roleplay.
A tangential note: The only time I have ever allowed the merit Unbondable and Iron Will on the same character sheet was for a human character thrown into the middle of a vampire court. Yes, i was stacking the deck - storytellers do that, sometimes.
A reluctance to roleplay or the urge to min/max is behind most players' desire for Merits. A player doesn't want to actually try being charming, so he'll buy Enchanting Voice and Natural Leader and have five extra social traits right off the bat - and that's what he'll say in the middle of a scene, too "Oh, by the way, I've got 12 social traits so, uh, react accordingly, could you?" Again, I say learn to roleplay. I understand that a vampire might be far smoother than you, but even the most lumpenplayer will usually have some success with the ol' college try.
Update: God forbid, should I decide, for some inane reason, to allow coveted merits into a chronicle, and I have far more players asking for it than I'm willing to allow, I will hold a lottery. Everyone's names will go into a hat and I will draw as many chits as I'm willing to allow (hint: the number will probably be less than two). The lucky player won't know they've won until game day and they receive their final character sheet, of course. Furthermore, if any players, upon learning that their desire for Iron Will/Unbondable/7 Pts Of Drive The GM Crazy are dependent on Lady Luck, ask to withdraw their concept if they don't win, they will have their concept handed back to them immediately, before the lottery even occurs. If their character is that dependent on Iron Will/Unbondable/7 Pts Of Drive The GM Crazy, then clearly it's not the sort of character I want in the game - and how'd it get past me to that point, anyway? (added: December, 2007)
Generation will be randomly determined. The troupe I'm currently with does this. You pull from a bag which has statistically distributed generation chits. There's a 50% chance you'll be 12th or 13th gen. For a character embraced in the 20th Century, that makes a lot of sense. It gives the players a slight freebie, too, as they don't have to spent traits on the Background Generation. They get whatever they pull from the bag for free, so traits that would have otherwise been blown in a desperate attempt to get to 9th generation can go somewhere else.
I will use Grapevine, because it is so incredibly useful. Particularly now that it can track "downtime" (between-game) actions and specific contacts for Influences. It it wasn't for Grapevine, I wouldn't even touch MET.
I will use a San Francisco setting. I've played/run games
set in Concord, San Jose, Marin and even a fictional city in Contra Costa -
everywhere in the Bay Area but San Francisco. For
one reason or another, San Francisco has been a no-go/no-play area. To heck with
that! San Francisco has a wonderful, rich history and is the most logical place
for Vampires to be when it comes to this area. I want to run a game using that city.
Besides, my inner-history wonk will love it and, by extension, my history-mad
players should love it too.
Furthermore, I would like to have PC ancilla - vampires who have resided in the city since the gold rush. For ease of logistics, that segment of the game will probably be run via tabletop, and the players chosen via my usual character-selection process. Each game will skip twenty or thirty years, until we reach a point - probably WWII and the Anarch Revolt - whereby the game can go to a live setting.
I am going to remove the Cathayans from the WoD continuity, totally. I believe that they are a cool and nifty idea, but I must also agree that allowing them to exist in the WoD and putting the Camarilla in charge of San Francisco seem like mutually incompatible ideas. Besides, too many players want to be a Cathayan, because of the cool kickass factor. Nope, nuh-uh, sorry. I might bring them in as a boogeyman, over time, but I doubt I would ever let them take San Francisco, no matter how logical it seems to be. My world, my rules.
The werewolves will be used
properly - as a boogeyman to frighten the shit out of the vampires, and
sometimes doing more than simply scaring them. I understand that a lot of
troupes use the "Treaty" fix to stop the garou from butchering the
court during the daytime. It's a sensible idea in many ways and I've used it
myself. However, I've noticed it leads to complacency amongst the kindred, and
it can be very hard to shake a vampire out of that state - particularly if they
think they've got 'legal' right on their side with a treaty. So, the garou
numbers will be proportional for the game-setting - they are supposed to
be rarer than vampires, after all - and they will rarely been seen, particularly
as most kindred witnesses will not survive the encounter to report it.
Codicil: Any PC who holds forth on any esoteric subject - the werewolves, changelings, mages, etc - without holding the appropriate lore Ability, or in-game experience, will have their ass kicked by myself or another ST. I'm tired of seeing neonate urban Toreadors who suddenly know all there is to know about werewolves. Mystery is part of the elan of those other Awakened beings - so let's keep them mysterious.
Any player who retires their character for
stupid can't/won't roleplay reasons - such as owing boons or being enthralled to
another character - will face the same obligations with their new character. So,
if Charlie decides to quit his Ventrue because he got blood bound to the Prince
and owes the entire Tremere clan a life boon, his next character will
face those same conditions, unless I've decided that their character left the
area for legitimate in-game reasons - or was killed out by forces beyond their
I'm tired of watching players running out of the kitchen the minute the temperature goes up a degree or two. Challenge makes a character grown and evolve. It's not the end of the world if your darling owes a few favors, or is blood bound. Treat it as a chance to improve your roleplaying and Machiavellian skills, not a cue to run away.
This one, I pinched from Longest Night: if a person kills another PC - regardless of reason - they lose 1XP automatically, which goes towards the deceased's PC's next concept. If the killing is deemed particularly stupid by the ST - for example, it's clearly a case of out-of-character grudge being carried into character, or the killer was just a bored player who thought it would be 'funny' to randomly kill PCs - then the XP fine would be higher, up to five XP lost and transferred to the victims. I rather like this rule because Munchkins who might not care about their Humanity and Virtue scores when wielding a flamethrower will care a lot about their experience points.
The STs will not have characters if at
all possible. They might play NPCs on an as-needed basis but will otherwise
remain out of character for the game's duration. The best way to avoid player accusations of
the ST stacking their own character, or the game becoming "The Storyteller
Character's Show" is to not play a character. I admit, this will be
a tough one for me to live up to...
The compromise measure is this: if the Storyteller wants to play a character of their own, they must begin at the same level as the rest of the playership, and earn experience points at the same rate as the troupe. They must not give in to the urge to give themselves 'a little something' because rank hath its privileges. Doing that is a quick way to earn player resentment. If you want to stomp all over the place, play and NPC with a plot to promote. The players can understand the need for occasional whupass-NPCs and you can get it out of your system.
An inescapable fact: GM favoritism will happen. Cope with it. I will state right here - and have done so before - that I will play favorites with those who are good roleplayers, who do their best to help out new characters, who advance the plots, etc. In fact, it's not that hard to become a favorite. I would be ecstatic if everyone in my game qualified as a favorite. Then everyone would get extra XP, cool plotlines, interesting NPCs to play...
Now, you might have read through this and thought "Wow, Johanna, you sure are keen on forbidding stuff. What are you actually going to allow?" Well, to put a twist on the old saying about fascism, my general rule is "If I haven't expressly forbidden it, I'm probably willing to allow it". Within a rigidly defined set of rules, I am willing to let the players loose to their heart's content. As long as I have taken every measure to ensure the game doesn't capsize, the players can run around on deck doing whatever they want. Up to a point, of course.