Blood and Bourbon
“Action is the foundational key to all success.”
Not quite house rules, this page exists to provide a reference for the mechanics behind various scenarios that have come up in the game.
|Breaking and Maintaining the Masquerade|
|Finding and Invading Havens|
|Intruding in Domains|
|Mobs and Mooks|
|Summoning Umbral Entities|
|Tying People Up|
Caroline opens her mouth to ask about the drink in Coco’s hand, but stops short of asking.
Coco sets it down and regards Caroline expectantly.
“I didn’t think we could tolerate anything else.”
“Oh, we can tolerate it. Enjoy it is another matter.”
“Because I come here often enough to be a known face. The kine should see me drinking something.”
—Caroline Malveaux to Coco Duquette
“So, when ya’ll lit yer white candle, ya’ll done set off a damned firestorm wit all kinds of Yankee feds crawlin’ o’er ma domain, askin’ all kinds of questions that threaten the very Masquerade. So, if I done had a chance to lit that candle, I wouldn’t. But that’s jus’ me, an inbred hick. Maybe all ya’ll don’t care too much ‘bout keepin’ that First Law or whatnot.” Cletus cracks his neck, and smiles. It’s not a comforting one.
—Cletus Lee Boggs to George Vernon Smith
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s there in the game’s title, and a pivotal part of the Kindred’s existence. Until now, it’s also largely existed in the realm of GM fiat. This system aims to put active preservation of the Masquerade in player hands, establish a system of consistent consequences for Masquerade breaches, and encourage PCs to be cautious in revealing their supernatural natures. Once, Cainites could openly flout their powers among the kine, but those nights are long since past.
What to Roll
Whenever a character commits a potentially Masquerade-breaking action, the player rolls a variable number of dice depending on the immediate noticeability of the Masquerade breach (if it’s not obvious to the player that they broke the Masquerade, the GM should roll in secret). Factors like whether any victims were socially well-connected aren’t included at this point—this initial roll is to see whether immediate witnesses notice anything physically amiss.
As a general rule, the GM should assign a rating of 1 to 5 to the noticeability of the Masquerade breach, and roll double that number as a dice pool. The following modifiers can lend more specificity:
- +2 if the breach was committed in view of one other person, +4 for several people, +6 for a large group, and +10 for a full crowd.
- Variable bonus if the character was wounded (+1 for every point of aggravated damage, every 2 points of lethal damage, and every 3 points of bashing damage).
- Variable bonus for using overt supernatural powers (ie, turning into a wolf with Protean).
- Variable bonus or penalty for the location’s conductiveness to covering up the Masquerade breach. Murder would be -5 in the Ninth Ward, but +5 in Audubon Place or the Garden District.
- -1 if witnesses were intoxicated (drunk, high, etc.).
- More to come
If the character was actively taking precautions to preserve the Masquerade (such as describing herself checking for witnesses before using an obvious Discipline), the GM may allow this roll to be contested by the character’s Stealth, Subterfuge, or other applicable Skill.
Dramatic Failure: The character’s actions don’t immediately break the Masquerade and something else goes right, such as witnesses thinking someone else was responsible for the disturbance.
Failure: The character’s actions don’t draw any immediate attention. For actions with no long-term repercussions (such as using Protean to turn into a wolf), the danger is past and the character gains no Condition. For actions with more significant consequences (such as murdering a rich and well-connected business executive), the ensuing police investigation or other Masquerade-threatening response does not immediately link the character to the Masquerade breach, putting her in a better position to clean it up. She gains the Involved Condition.
Success: The character breaks the Masquerade and draws unwanted attention on herself. She gains the Surveilled or Witnessed Condition.
Exceptional Success: The character breaks the Masquerade in an especially flagrant fashion and draws fatal attention on herself. She gains the Hunted or Wanted Conditions.
Characters who commit especially spectacular breaches of the Masquerade, such as frenzying and murdering someone in the middle of a public street, may be treated as automatically rolling a success or exceptional success.
Some characters have supernatural powers, either learned or innate, that help conceal their existences. Some Kindred can rely on Obfuscate, while all werewolves are shielded by the Delirium, all wraiths by the Fog, all changelings by the Mask, and so on. Most of these powers are not “get out of jail” cards, but they can significantly help to mitigate the consequences for successful Masquerade rolls.
Cleaning up the Breach
Masquerade breaches don’t go away on their own. Someone has to dispose of the bodies, mop up the blood stains, and silence the witnesses.
Action: Extended. Time per roll and total successes vary by the nature and severity of the breach. Covering up a murder, for example, is (5 x victim’s highest Social Merit).
Dice Pool: Varies. “Do it yourself” body disposal might be (Intelligence or Wits) + Investigation, but a character could also lean on well-connected friends (rolling double her Allies [Media] or [Police] dots), call in favors from other Kindred (rolling double her dots in a category of Kindred Status), or use any other dice pool that could conceivably clean up the mess.
Botch: The character’s disastrous attempt to repair the Masquerade only tear it wide open. She gains the Hunted, Masquerade Breaker, or Wanted Conditions.
Failure: The character fails to clean up the Masquerade breach. Any Conditions she has gained persist.
Success: The character cleans up the Masquerade breach and resolves any Conditions she gained from it.
Exceptional Success: The character expertly cleans up the Masquerade breach and resolves any Conditions she gained from it. The cover-up is so flawless that she can leverage the situation to her advantage in some way, such as gaining a beneficial Condition or diverting hunters after a rival.
Roll Bonuses: Arcane Merit (1 per dot), high Humanity (3), performed in character’s own domain (+1 per Domain dot).
Roll Penalties: Time limit (varies), made in another character’s domain (varies), low Humanity (-1 at 5-6, -2 at 4, -3 at 3, -5 at 2, chance die at 1).
Outsourcing the Cleanup
Sometimes Kindred can’t afford to take care of a Masquerade breach themselves. Such characters still have several options.
Boons: Many Kindred will be all-too happy to clean up someone else’s mess… for a price.
Confession: Kindred who make full confession of their sins to one of the Sanctified’s priests can expect to have their punishment mitigated. They will be expected to take regular confession thenceforth, and will face even harsher punishments for sins they do not disclose to their confessors.
The Regent: A parish’s Regent will likely do everything in their power to clean up a vassal’s Masquerade breach before other Kindred find out, lest the incident reflect poorly on their own management of the parish (and judgment in granting territory to the vassal). The vassal is certain to face punishment at the Regent’s hands, and may well find themselves stripped of their domain, but it’s a kinder alternative than the Sheriff finding out. Outsiders who commit a Masquerade breach in a Regent’s territory may be able to work something out in return for a prestation debt.
The Sheriff: Desperate Kindred who think they’ll be caught can simply report their Masquerade violations to the Sheriff. While a regular habit of this will likely see the violator sentenced to Final Death, the Sheriff usually extends some small amount of mercy to Kindred who make his duties easier.
These Conditions all relate to maintaining the Masquerade. They are listed in order of most to least severe.
Police or other groups are investigating something suspicious you were involved in. You haven’t been directly linked to it, but with enough time and effort, you will be. At the beginning of each in-character day, the Storyteller rolls a dice pool equal to (double a 1 to 5 rating assigned to the action’s suspiciousness, such as any victim’s highest Social Merit). Successes accumulate over the course of the story. Once the Storyteller has accrued a number of successes equal to your current Humanity, resolve this Condition and gain the Wanted Condition instead.
Resolution: Get the police to drop the investigation or pin the blame on someone else. This is probably an extended and contested action, but the particulars will depend on the context of the story.
You’re under surveillance by a group that wants to maintain the Masquerade—or to exterminate the Kindred. At the beginning of each game session or in-character day (whichever comes first), or whenever you commit another breach of the Masquerade, the Storyteller rolls a dice pool equal to (10 – your current Humanity). Successes accumulate over the course of the story. Once the Storyteller has accrued a number of successes equal to your current Humanity, resolve this Condition and gain the Hunted or Masquerade Breaker Condition instead.
Possible Sources: Vampire hunters, the Krewe of Janus, the Sheriff, the Hounds, the local Regent.
Resolution: Let the Storyteller accrue successes as described above, or find and nullify the hunters’ means of surveillance. This Condition does not resolve at the end of a story, but the successes accumulated do reset to zero.
A mortal has witnessed your actions. They have seen too much and must be silenced, but mishandling the situation could make it even worse. At some point within the next in-character day, make a Social roll contested by a dice pool equal to (double a 1 to 5 rating assigned to the action’s suspiciousnes). On a failure, you gain the Hunted or Wanted Conditions.
Resolution: You silence the witness.
Your actions have alerted vampire hunters as to your true nature and they mean to send you to Final Death. The Storyteller chooses the number and capabilities of the hunters based on the severity of the breach. These antagonists know where you were when you broke the Masquerade and have a general description of your identity. Their sole motivation is to hunt you down by any means necessary and destroy you.
Resolution: Kill your pursuers or permanently lose them. Permanently losing them is probably an extended and contested action, but the particulars will depend on the context of the story.
Beat: The hunters find and attack you.
Masquerade Breaker (Persistent)
You broke the Masquerade and were spotted doing so. Another Kindred covered for your mistake, but holds the favor over you. Now you exist in fear that your error will be revealed. In the meantime, your “savior” takes pitiless advantage of you.
Resolution: You finally satisfy or silence your savior.
Beat: Your savior takes advantage of you.
Your character is wanted by mortal law enforcement. The police are actively looking for you, and you cannot move openly about your usual hangouts. If you encounter cops they will radio for backup and try to bring you in.
Resolution: You get arrested or clear your name with the police.
Beat: Police cause trouble for you.
The Prince, Sheriff, or Seneschal has declared you a Masquerade breaker. The Sheriff and Hounds are under orders to bring you in to the Prince for sentencing, which is often Final Death.
Resolution: You convince the Prince or his court’s officers of your innocence, cut a deal, or otherwise make the problem go away.
Blood Hunted (Persistent)
The Prince has invoked the Lextalionis on you. All Camarilla Kindred who dwell in the city are bound to attack you on sight, lest the hunt be extended to include them as well. You have zero dots in all types of Kindred Status, and take -5 to Social rolls against other Kindred. Kindred who actually dare to shelter you can claim a life boon for their aid.
Resolution: Flee the city, go to ground, or get the blood hunt rescinded.
Beat: Other Kindred attack you.
Example Masquerade Breaches
Here are a few example of past player actions that would have prompted Masquerade rolls. Some of these would have been made with bonuses for being minor violations, others at penalties for being especially flagrant ones.
- Alice summoning and upsetting a ghost in the midst of the JL House dorm party
- Baptiste leaving hundreds of dollars in the pocket of every bum he fed on
- Baptiste’s discarded plan to explode a bomb in the middle of the city
- Caroline’s murder of McGinn’s ghouls
- Caroline’s murder of Paxton
- Caroline’s proposed plan to gun down Rene in the middle of the French Quarter
- Caroline breaking into the home of the single mother and son
- Clea frenzying and killing the old woman in the Garden District
- Cletus obtaining a marriage certificate for Micheal
- Cletus using military-grade firepower to shoot down Rocco over Slidell
- Cletus’ serial murders
- George driving into New Orleans while taking aggravated damage from sunlight
- George detonating a bomb in the Slidell warehouse
- George’s frenzy-driven murders in the Windsor Court
- George walking around the Windsor Court while hideously wounded and using Awe on everyone
- George using the Gregory Smythe false alias and posing as the Windsor Court’s night manager without Alternate Identity dots
- Julien openly using Disciplines in front of mortals at Wycked Wishes
- Lavine’s use of Animalism to make pigeons attack an old bum in public
- Lavine being found at a grisly murder scene and arrested by the cops
- Lavine’s discarded plan to summon a spirit in City Park, a public space
- Lavine using predatory aura on Lebeaux in public
- Lou summoning a ghost and discharging a firearm in Amos’ office
- Micheal’s apartment being exploded by a bomb
- Micheal’s frenzy-driven hunting murders
- Rocco’s discarded plan to attack gangbangers in jaguar form while shrugging off their bullets
- Any Nosferatu or Samedi who shows their face in public
- Any PC who’s rolled a dice pool pool higher than 11 (before circumstance modifiers), the pinnacle of human ability, in the presence of ordinary mortals
- Any PC who’s gone out in public while suffering significant damage (-1 per point of aggravated, -1 per 2 points of lethal, -1 per 3 points of bashing)
- Any PC who’s ever killed someone while hunting
- Any PC who’s talked about vampires in a place ordinary mortals are likely to overhear
- Any PC who’s sent a text message or made a phone call discussing vampires over an unsecure line (tech-savvy 21st century hunters can indeed eavesdrop on calls, especially if those rumors about ones affiliated with government agencies are true)
GM’s Notes: “Why is X a big deal? I don’t see how it reveals the existence of vampires.” I’ve heard this question from players over issues from detonating bombs in warehouses to simply wandering around town with a bruised-up face (aka, few points of bashing damage) Well, neither of those things directly do so. What they do invite is more scrutiny upon the vampire, and as far as the Kindred are concerned, all PR is bad PR. Increased attention leads to increased risk of real exposure. If a vampire has a well-established fake identity and lots of mortal friends, for example, it’s more likely that someone is going to notice their inhuman oddities, like why they’re only around during night and never need to use the bathroom.
But let’s take something short-term, like a vampire wearing anachronistic clothing outside for an hour. Is that really going to endanger the Masquerade? In the immediate term, likely not. In the long term, it will if enough Kindred repeat it enough times. When you are dealing with thousands of vampires over ~500 years (the length of time the Camarilla has enforced the Masquerade), only thinking about the immediate term is shortsighted. If a neonate’s “I’m only doing this once, where’s the harm?” was ever a valid excuse, that “one time” was used up hundreds of years ago by other neonates asking the same question—and will likely continue to be invoked for hundreds of years in the future. There is no “one time” where the elders who remember the Burning Times and Inquisition are concerned.
Thus, Kindred with an eye towards long-term preservation of the Masquerade (or simple desire to avoid being punished by the elders) will aim to keep their heads down and their noses clean. The Camarilla’s mindset is less “don’t reveal you’re a vampire” and more “don’t draw excessive mortal attention, which includes by revealing you’re a vampire.”
Lost Visage isn’t everything. There are many ways police can track down characters for their crimes without DNA samples. It is not an insta-getaway power so much as an explanation for how the Kindred can get away with their crimes at all in this age of mass surveillance and video phones in everybody’s hands. Lost Visage is a recent addition to Vampire, new as of VtR 2e’s release in 2013. 1e Vampire granted characters no such power, but the world has changed a great deal since the 1st edition rulebook came out in 1991.
Universal to all times, however, is the need for the Kindred to remain hidden.
Kindred may not be able to (directly) imbibe alcohol, but mortals can. The following rules concern their effects.
Peer Pressure: Many social settings from expect characters to partake of a drink or two (or more), even if they no longer physiologically can. Characters who don’t wish to do so can roll Resolve + Composure or Manipulation + Socialize at a variable penalty to resist peer pressure. Failure inflicts the Swayed Condition, which is resolved by drinking (or spending Vitae on Blush of Life to fake doing so).
When and if a character chooses to partake, GMs can use one of two methods to determine how wasted they get: abstracted or drink by drink.
Drink by Drink: A character’s Stamina score determines how many drinks they can have before needing to make Stamina + Resolve rolls. A character with Stamina 2, for example, needs to roll upon their third drink, while someone with Stamina 5 can last until their sixth drink. Once a character passes their limit, they must make a Resolve + Stamina roll for every drink they have, with a cumulative -1 penalty per previous roll.
Dramatic Failure: The character gains the Drunk Condition if they don’t already have it and advances two stages of drunkenness.
Failure: The character gains the Drunk Condition if they don’t already have it and advances one stage of drunkenness.
Success: The character does not gain the Drunk Condition or advance any stages of drunkenness.
Exceptional Success: As success, and the character’s drink doesn’t increase the penalty of her next Resolve + Stamina roll.
Abstracted: This subsumes an evening of drinking into a single Stamina + Resolve roll. The GM may assign a variable bonus or penalty, depending on the setting (Bourbon Street strip club vs. formal gathering) and to what extent the character is trying to moderate their intake.
Dramatic Failure: The character gains the Drunk Condition and advances 5 drunkenness stages. A Stamina 1 character also contracts alcohol poisoning.
Failure: The character gains the Drunk Condition and advances (6 – Stamina) drunkenness stages.
Success: The character gains the Drunk Condition and advances a number of drunkenness stages equal to (5 – (Stamina or successes rolled), whichever is better), to a minimum of stage one.
Exceptional Success: The character retains their head and does not gain the Drunk Condition.
Your character is under the influence of alcohol and takes a variable penalty to Manipulation, Intelligence, Wits, and Dexterity-based rolls depending on the stage of their drunkenness.
• Euphoric: -1.
• Excitable: -2.
• Drunk: -3. The character ignores wound penalties to rolls at this stage and all below ones.
• Stupor: -4. The character must spend a Willpower point every turn she wishes to take a strenuous action.
• Coma: -5. As stupor. Every scene, the character also must make a Stamina + Resolve roll at a cumulative -1 penalty not to fall unconscious.
• Alcohol Poisoning: The character automatically falls unconscious and contracts a Toxicity 2 poison.
Resolution: You sleep it off.
Beat: You fall unconscious, act out in a reckless or inappropriate way, or fail a roll due to this Condition.
After a full night of rest, the character can make a Resolve + Stamina roll at a penalty equal their stage of drunkenness to see how hungover they are.
Dramatic Failure: The character gains the Hungover Condition and increases the penalties by 2. If the penalty was already -5, they must also spend a point of Willpower every turn they wish to take a strenuous action. This lasts until they reduce Hungover’s penalties to -4.
Failure: The character gains the Hungover Condition at a stage equal to her drunkenness.
Success: The character gains the Hungover Condition, but reduces the penalty by 1 for every success rolled.
Exceptional Success: The character wakes without any significant hangover.
Your character is suffering from the effects of a hard night of drinking. They take a penalty on Intelligence, Wits, and Physical-based rolls equal to the stage of drunkenness they reached last night. These penalties decrease by 1 every hour.
Resolution: The penalties decrease to 0.
There are two components to tracking down and getting inside an enemy’s haven. These rules can be used for getting inside any hidden or guarded building, not simply the Kindreds’ resting places.
Extended Intelligence + Investigation roll. The investigating character must accumulate successes equal to (5 + 4 x the haven owner’s Domain, Investigation, Streetwise, or Survival dots, whichever is highest). Each roll takes one day of work.
For every roll the investigator makes to locate the haven, he must make a Wits + (Stealth or Streetwise) roll contested by whatever dice pool the haven’s owner uses to protect his domain against intruders (see the “Intruding in Domains” rules). A character who has legitimate reason to be in the domain (ie, who fears her purpose being discovered rather than simply being seen) can roll (Manipulation or Composure) + Subterfuge instead.
If the domain’s wants to conceal the fact their agents have picked up the investigator’s efforts, they roll Intelligence + Subterfuge contested by the investigator’s Wits + (Investigation or Streetwise).
- Unknown District: This above system assumes the investigating character already knows what city district the haven is in (French Quarter, CBD, Garden District, etc.) If the investigator does not know, he must make an extended Intelligence + Investigation (requiring the same number of successes as above) to find out. The haven’s owner may (and likely will) take a penalty on his roll to detect the investigator’s efforts, depending on how far his reach extends outside his domain.
If the investigating character simply guesses what district the haven is in, the GM should have him roll as normal. Only when the character achieves 25 successes can he be certain the haven is not located in the district he assumed.
Multiple Havens: If a Kindred has multiple havens, it takes an extended Int + Investigation roll to find each one. If the havens are scattered throughout multiple districts, additional rolls may be required on the investigator’s part to pinpoint them all.
No Fixed Haven: Some Kindred may regularly change their resting places and not dwell in permanent havens. If the investigator does not know this, they are essentially on a wild goose chase. If the investigator does, an Intelligence + Investigation roll contested by the vampire’s Wits + (Domain, Investigation, Streetwise, or Survival) can locate the vampire’s resting place for the day.
Extended Dexterity + Stealth roll or (Strength or Dexterity) + (Brawl, Firearms or Weaponry) roll. The intruder must accumulate successes equal to (5 x the haven’s owner’s Resources, Retainer, Blood Sorcery, or any other Merit or power which could conceivably be used to defend the haven). Once she accumulates the necessary successes, she has bypassed or neutralized the haven’s defenses and has the run of the place. If the intruder chooses to attack or personally interact with the haven’s owner, that scene is played out in full.
The haven’s owner also makes an extended roll using double the dots of whatever Merit or power is being used to defend the haven. Once he accumulates successes equal to the intruder’s (highest applicable Attribute or Skill x 5), he successfully repulses the intruder, whether through his guards’ militant efforts or security too vigilant for the intruder to sneak past.
To enter another Kindred’s domain without being detected by them, roll Dexterity + Stealth or Wits + Streetwise, contested by double the domain holder’s dots in any applicable Merit. This could be Allies (representing mortal pawns keeping abreast of intruders within the domain), Contacts (representing paid informants), Resources (representing hired security), and so on. For every point by which the domain holder’s dots in Domain exceed his dots in the Merit he is using to defend it, he takes a -1 penalty on his contested roll, representing how his resources are stretched thin defending such a populous domain.
Botch: The intruder is immediately spotted.
Failure: The intruder risks being spotted and must make a second contested Dexterity + Stealth or Wits + Streetwise roll. On a success, she manages to escape the domain without being detected. On a failure, treat the outcome as a botch.
Success: The intruder enters the domain undetected. For every success rolled, she can take one action that requires a dice roll. Once these actions are used up, the intruder can make another Stealth or Streetwise roll to remain in the domain at a cumulative -2 penalty.
Exceptional Success: Additional successes are their own reward.
Players may spend a point of Willpower to declare their domain is on high alert. Intruders can only take one action with a Stealth or Streetwise roll, no matter how many successes are rolled. Additionally, the intruder treats all failures as botches.
Breaking into havens and other high-value buildings use their own system detailed below. The intruder must achieve at least 2 successes on a Stealth or Streetwise roll to enter and exit the building without being spotted.
More combatants means slower combats. The following “swarm rules” are used to speed gameplay by combining multiple lesser opponents into a single gestalt entity (a mob) that acts on a single initiative count.
Attacks: Determine the dice pool for the average mook. Divide that by 3, rounding up. Multiply the result by (number of mooks – 1). Then, add the average mook dice pool to that total. This is mathematically the same effect as all the mooks using teamwork efforts to aid a single mook, and getting perfectly average rolls (1 success per 3 dice).
Example: Say there are a dozen mooks with dice pools of 6. 6 / 3 = 2. 2 × 11 = 22. 22 + 6 = dice pool of 28 for the whole mob.
Weapon Bonus: Mobs have a weapon bonus equal to the highest Attribute, Skill, or weapon bonus of any individual mook.
Defense: Defense remains the same. Mooks are just as easy to hit whether there’s one or a dozen.
Health: Mobs have Health equal to (average mook’s Health x number of mooks). For every (average mook’s Health) damage the mob takes, reduce their attack dice pool by 3.
To know about a topic, roll Intelligence + (relevant Mental Skill). Every success lets the player ask one question of the GM or receive one piece of information about the topic. The GM may choose to spend player questions on pieces of information that are especially relevant. On a botch, the PC gains the Misinformed Condition.
Your character believes something that simply isn’t true. This belief isn’t a deep-seated delusion, and she’ll change her mind if she’s presented with compelling proof to the contrary (causing this Condition to fade without the Beat from being resolved), but until then her ignorance has the potential to get her in trouble.
Resolution: Acting on your misconception causes a difficulty or inconvenience.
Succeed or fail, characters can only roll one knowledge check for a given topic. Further information gathering can be accomplished through research (see below).
Dice Pool: Wits + Empathy. If the subject is putting on a poker face, this is contested by Composure + Subterfuge.
Dramatic Failure: Your character completely misreads a person’s emotional state, possibly with disastrous results. He may, for example, interpret nervous laughter as genuine, missing the anxiety and potential for violence that clumsy jokes attempt to hide. Take the Misinformed Condition.
Failure: You can’t get a read on the subject.
Success: You correctly intuit some new information about the subject, and can ask the GM one question about their thoughts, motives, or emotional state that could reasonably be inferred from tone of voice, body language, and other nonverbal cues. You cannot, for example, answer “What is the maiden name of the subject’s mother?” through such means. Use Auspex or other mind-reading powers for that.
The GM may choose to provide particularly obvious or pertinent bits of information without being asked (“The subject is angry”), subtracting questions from the player’s total accordingly.
If the subject is putting on a poker face, they roll Composure + Subterfuge. Every success subtracts one from the number of questions the player can ask, to a minimum of 0.
Exceptional Success: As success, and you can also ask an extra question, regain a point of Willpower, or gain a beneficial Condition.
White Wolf/Onyx Path has put out a lot of rule systems for social combat over the years. I’ve tried a few of them and settled on this fairly open-ended ruleset. The goal is for dice rolls to matter as well as roleplaying, to provide players with freedom of choice over whether they will abide by the results of those dice rolls, and to provide them with a stick-and-carrot incentive to do so.
Before Rolling: State your objective in the social combat, such as “I want to seduce him into sharing blood with me,” “I want to change his mind about topic X,” or “I want to scare him into not doing something.” The GM will apply bonuses or penalties to the action depending on how feasible or against the subject’s interests it is, or even waive the need for a dice roll altogether.
Dice Pool: Social Attribute + Social Skill vs. Social Attribute + Social Skill or Mental Attribute + Social Attribute. Exact Attributes and Skills vary by situation.
Action: Instant and contested. Prolonged social combats can be extended and contested. The winner is the first character to achieve successes equal to (opponent’s Willpower x 2) + 5.
Dramatic Failure: Your attempt to sway the subject backfires and makes the situation actively worse.fail to sway the subject and something else makes the situation actively worse for you.
Failure: You fail to sway the subject.
Success: You inflict the Swayed Condition on the subject.
Exceptional Success: You inflict the Swayed Condition and gain some other benefit, such as refreshing a point of Willpower or taking the Inspired Condition.
Whether through honeyed words or threat of force, someone has talked your character into doing something they wouldn’t normally do. This can be as simple as “back down from this fight,” or as complex as “agree to spy on your boss for me.” If you do not abide by the demands of the character who swayed you, you lose a point of Willpower and take a -3 penalty on all Social-based rolls for the remainder of the scene.
Resolution: You fulfill the demands of the character who swayed you.
Social Combat vs. Predatory Aura: Predatory aura has more potent effects than social combat: rather than lose a point of Willpower and take -3 on Social rolls, the loser risks frenzying and takes a penalty on all dice rolls against the winner.
However, using predatory aura is a clearly hostile action and is frowned upon in Elysium and other polite settings (though it is considered a lesser offense than employing Disciplines on other Kindred—rather than trying to command another vampire as if they are a mere mortal, it is a primal contest of whose Beast is stronger). Social combat, however, is “just talking.” There’s supernatural about it. Characters can use these rules in Elysium to their hearts’ content.
Deliberate Lying: Manipulation + Subterfuge contested by Wits + (Empathy or Subterfuge). Particularly elaborate or far-reaching deceptions may be an extended action. Example: Trying to rope someone into believing their sire is a diablerist.
Hiding Things: If the lying character is trying to conceal something rather than actively change the other character’s beliefs, they may roll (Composure or Manipulation) + Subterfuge. Example: Listening to someone praise their sire and concealing your dislike for that sire.
Omissions: Characters who omit significant information during a conversation may roll (Composure or Manipulation) + Subterfuge, with a variable bonus or penalty (usually a bonus) for how close the conversation comes to the subject. Example: Murdering someone’s sire. If the topic never comes up, no roll is necessary. On the other hand, if the other character starts talking about their sire, a roll may be called for to see if the murderer keeps their cool.
Players should not get overly hung over whether their PCs’ statements are technically lies or omissions. Characters can tell lies without making literally untrue statements: it is less a question of factual accuracy and “Are you deliberately trying to steer them towards a false conclusion?” than it is “Are you simply trying to avoid topic X.”
Rolling Dice: When an NPC is lying to an PC, the GM will roll the player’s Wits + (Empathy or Subterfuge) roll in secret so as to conceal that fact. If players ask at any point for a roll to see if an NPC is lying, that roll will stand in the previous one’s stead, for better or for worse.
Rewards of Being Fooled: Rather than gaining the Swayed Condition, hoodwinked characters may gain the Misinformed Condition. If the player is unaware their PC has been lied to, the GM will keep the fact of this Condition a secret, and award the player a Beat from resolving it when (and if) their character’s mistaken belief comes back to bite them.
Your character believes something that simply isn’t true. This belief isn’t a deep-seated delusion, and she’ll change her mind if she’s presented with compelling proof to the contrary (causing this Condition to fade without the Beat from being resolved), but until then her ignorance has the potential to get her in trouble.
Resolution: Acting on your misconception causes a difficulty or inconvenience.
There four basic steps to summoning an entity from the Umbra. Any character can attempt to perform a summoning, although ones with actual magical capabilities find the task easier. Furthermore, such characters may summon a greater range of entities: Kindred who lack dots in Blood Sorcery may only attempt to summon Umbrood which are currently present in the Penumbra, and thus already partly on earth.
If a character wishes to summon a specific entity (ie, the spirit of Bourbon Street), they must research the proper summoning rites through an extended Intelligence + Occult roll requiring successes equal to (entity’s Rank x 5). Each roll takes one day of research. An Anticipation can retroactively allow a character to make one research roll per Anticipation success rolled.
If a character simply wishes to summon a general type of entity (for example, a water spirit), they can attempt to summon any entity with a Rank up to their Occult dots without needing to make a research roll. Summoning a ghost within range of one of its Anchors also automatically summons the ghost the Anchor is tied to.
An entity’s Rank determines the degree of might it commands within the Umbra and its position among the hierarchy of its kind.
Entities with Rank 6+ are beyond game statistics cannot be summoned except under special circumstances.
A lure is an attempt to gain an entity’s attention through an action or a collection of objects that resonates with it.
Ghosts: The summoner must incorporate one of the ghost’s Anchors. Summoners unaware of a ghost’s Anchors often “cheat” by performing the séance at a locale the ghost has been known to haunt (which has to be nearby one of the ghost’s Anchors, or the ghost could not appear there in the first place). If the ghost dwells in the Underworld, the character must open an Avernian Gate to call it forth.
Spirits: Spirits require the physical or emotional resonance of an area to match with their own essence. A spirit of darkness, for example, can only be summoned into a darkly lit area. Especially strong (or weak) forms of resonance may grant a bonus or penalty on the invocation roll (see below). A gigantic bonfire is more likely to attract a fire spirit’s attention than a lit cigarette.
Loa: Whether loa are ghosts or spirits is a matter of some debate among occultists. Further muddling the issue is the penchant of many Vodoun-associated ghosts and spirits to claim membership among Les Invisibles, and who can rightfully gainsay them? Regardless of their classification among the Umbrood, however, all loa require a veve and cheval to mount as part of their lure.
This step is optional. A binding is an attempt to trap an entity inside a predetermined area (commonly a “magic circle”) and prevent it from leaving until it acquiesces to the summoner’s demands. This greatly shifts the tenor of any exchange between the entity and the summoner: most entities will be enraged at attempts to trap them.
To entrap an entity, the summoner must create an unbroken barrier around it that incorporates the entity’s bane. If the entity is not actually being summoned from the Umbra (such as a ghost already present in the material world), this requires the entity to either be somehow distracted or immobilized while the binding is being performed.
Dice Pool: Presence + Occult – entity’s Rank. Characters with dots in Blood Sorcery (Protection) can spend 1 Vitae to magically empower their bindings and add their Protection dots to the above dice rolls. This roll takes 10 minutes.
Dramatic Failure: The character botches the task, such as by destroying the entity’s bane.
Failure: The entity can still leave the area, though suffers the usual damage from coming into contact with its bane.
Success: For one day per success rolled, the entity treats attempts to move into or out of the warded area as though it were against its ban. A binding can also be prematurely broken if another character disturbs the barrier’s markings. The entrapped entity can also attempt to break free by spending a Willpower point and succeeding on a Power + Rank roll contested by the occultist’s Resolve + Occult + Blood Sorcery (Protection). Breaking the ward inflicts damage on the entity from coming into contact with its bane.
This step involves the actual summoning of the entity. If the character does not have dots in Blood Sorcery, it must already be present within the Penumbra.
Cost: 1 Willpower. Characters with dots in Blood Sorcery may spend 1 Vitae instead.
Dice Pool: Presence + Occult. Characters with dots in Blood Sorcery (Creation) can spend 1 Vitae to add their Creation dots to their invocation rolls.
Action: Extended. The character must accumulate successes equal to (5 x entity’s Rank).
Dramatic Failure: The character summons something, all right. It’s not what they wanted. It’s dangerous, and it’s hostile.
Failure: The entity may still appear, but a complication arises—the entity could be in a surly mood or the character summons a different Umbrood than they desired.
Roll Modifiers: The following modifiers apply to different types of Umbrood.
Gauntlet Thickness: Spirits are easier to summon in areas untouched by man. These modifiers may apply in reverse for technology-themed spirits.
–3: Dense Urban Areas
–2: City suburbs & towns
–1: Small towns, villages, other built-up areas in the countryside
Shroud Thickness: Ghosts are easier to summon in areas of death where (and when) the Shroud is thin.
-3: Public space (shopping mall, bar, public square, etc.)
-2: Old building (50-100 years old), private home, handmade structure (wooden bridge, shed)
-1: Church, historic building (100+ years old)
0: Morbid site, such as a graveyard, hospital, or morgue.
-3: Summons takes place during daytime
-1: Summons takes place at twilight
-1: Every mortal present who does not believe in ghosts
+0: Summons takes place at night
Communication and Negotiation
Once the entity is summoned, it must be reasoned or bargained with if it is not predisposed to help the summoner. Some entities, particularly ghosts, may be incapable of human speech and require added effort on the character’s part to understand. This uses all the normal rules for social interaction.
Summoned entities can offer anything in the world (and beyond) to a mortal occultists. Service, power, wealth, and knowledge only scratches the surface of what the Umbra’s infinitely varied denizens can provide. Some Umbrood seal bargains with supernaturally binding pacts, and others rely on simple verbal agreements or an immediate exchange of services. Few, however, bestow their gifts freely.
Ghosts: Many ghosts are unable to speak and must communicate through gestures and pantomimes. Others are capable of human speech, but simply too addled to be coherent. Understanding a ghost frequently involves Wits + Empathy rolls.
An ouija board expedites this process. Roll Wits + Empathy. The ghost can answer a single yes/no question for every success, or “use up” one success to spell out one letter in a larger word. Unless the ghost is particularly unruly, characters can usually roll again after they have exhausted their available questions, though at a cumulative -1 penalty.
A character with the Medium Merit can mentally communicate with ghosts and understand them as clearly as beings of flesh and blood, without the need for ouija boards or Empathy rolls. This process is far easier but entails some amount of risk. At the end of the séance, the character must make a Resolve + Composure roll for receiving a disturbing message from the other side. The Medium Merit description for further details.
Tying up someone does not take a roll.
Wriggling free from bonds is an extended Dexterity + Athletics roll, requiring successes equal to (10 + captor’s [Dexterity dots x 2] or [Larceny dots x 3]). If a character’s arms and legs are both bound, he suffers a −2 penalty; this increases to −4 if he’s hog-tied.
Characters can also attempt to burst their bonds with raw force through an instant Strength + Athletics roll penalized by the Durability of whatever item is being used to restrain them.
Handcuffs: Breaking out of successfully applied handcuffs requires a Strength + Stamina – 4 roll. Each success on the roll reduces the Structure of the cuffs by 1. Cuffs reduced to 0 Structure snap open. Each attempt to escape causes 1 point of bashing damage.
A character may also try to finagle their hands out of the cuffs. This requires a Dexterity + Athletics – 4 roll. Success allows for an escape, and causes one point of bashing damage. Failure on this roll causes one point of lethal damage, as the thumb jerks out of socket.