Thursday, March 26, 2015

Game Translation: Vampire: The Masquerade (Bloodlines)

So here's a videogame that is a translation of a roleplaying game that I'm now translating back into a roleplaying game style.  This should be the easiest damn article I've ever written.  I mean, I could tell you to just crack the spine on the actual Masquerade books, right?  Right?  Well, no.  Not at all, actually.  To be perfectly honest, running a mission-based game in a sandbox style isn't as simple and easy as it sounds.

Firstly this game represents solo play.  You could probably manage it with two players, but you're not going to get the same type of game running the usual group of three to four.  Why?  Because a major part of the game involves a character (you) making key decisions while you move through a society and world that seems strange and unusual to you.  When you have a group, these decisions are made by committee and the world around you shrinks in comparison to the other PCs with which you must negotiate.  This is fun, but it is quite different and distinct to the videogame's style of play.

In the videogame, it's all about how the players interact with the world and so to keep with that vibe, if you have two players they should both be from the same clan and have similar and complementary skill sets so that they can work in harmony.  Most players will feel the urge to take widely diverse skill sets, which is encouraged in most forms of game play, but that also leads to diametrically opposed methods of dealing with the enemy.  In other words, if one PC is a conman and the other a brutal thug, then they can take turns at shining but can only rarely tackle the same problem in the same way.  So firmly advise two characters in the same mould.  Perhaps make them siblings even.

Basically reduce the Player versus Player vibes in favour of Player versus Enemy.  You want the PCs to engage with the world and be threatened by the world, not splitting up frequently to tackle things differently or conspire with their respective clan leaders.  That's a very different game and will pull away from this style.

Secondly choose your favourite elements of Masquerade and jot them down.  Is there a cool vampire variant?  An interesting hunter type?  A few minor clans that really draw your eye?  A Sabbat or Anarch or Camarilla conspiracy plan that you truly love?  Make anything at the conspiracy level the grand plot and all those other details can be the minor plots they can pick or discard more readily. 

Figure out which movers and shakers want which minor plots to be resolved - determine if they clash in their preferred form of resolution.  Ideally a few of them should, but only include 2 or 3 such clashes.  You want to keep things reasonably simple and interesting.  You can draw lines from your plot concepts to these mover and shaker names / motives / ideal resolutions so you can remember them.

Next grab a fresh sheet of paper.  Where will the players meet with these individuals?  Pick a place suitably symbolic - that either contrasts or conforms with expectations.  Bloodlines does it's best to play with stereotypes because it's most people's first encounter with the world.  Therefore don't be afraid of stereotypes, but don't be bound to them either.  You can put your Nosferatu in a Fallout shelter and your Toreador in an art gallery, but feel free to juxtapose these symbols by having the Ventrue in an Armani suit track down the PCs while they're clearing out a sewer because the Ventrue's information is that vital and highly secure.

I'd jot down three potential ideas for every NPC and pick the best of three.  Sometimes the first idea that pops into our head isn't the best one.  Sometimes we need to improvise when the players try to get hold of that NPC again.  Also keep your recurring NPCs to less than a dozen so that the players can form genuine impressions of them.  While there's always a temptation to fully populate a vampire court with NPCs the players can meet, that often just creates a tangle that doesn't suit this style of play.

The minor missions are kept pretty simple in Bloodlines, being a videogame, and there's no reason why you can't do the same in your game.  Your minor plots should focus on a single location (abandoned ship), NPC type (security guards), and objective (search the ship without being seen).  You can throw in a major choice or decision point in each location, where possible, and try to tie it into the various recurring NPCs or the main plot.

Remember also to use more combats that you normally would in a Vampire game but have credible alternatives available in most cases so that those people who play non-combatants aren't slaughtered by your storylines.  If you're going to make combat a guarantee in certain sections, like in the videogame, ensure your players have built their characters appropriately.

Expect most PCs will be Malkavian.
People just love Malkavians.

Ensure feeding is part of the game as well.  Include a few different methods of feeding for them to happen across.  A guy waiting for a taxi by his broken down car.  A homeless guy sleeping rough and out of people's way.  An eager blood doll in a nightclub desperate for a make out session.  A flirty person at a nightclub.  Someone just trying to find a shortcut through an alleyway.

Having some form of Masquerade reader, though perhaps not so mechanically ordained, is also a good idea to dissuade people from being too clearly vampiric on the streets.  If they become too controversial, other vampires will start hunting them down and the police certainly will.  Let them know that running out of points represents the court running out of patience and that they should see it the same way as dropping to Humanity 0.  You might be able to portray the end, but that's it.  Game over.  Campaign finished.  With only one to two players, it's much easier to actually follow through on these threats.

Don't let the PCs become too defensive.  They get a haven, to represent the ordinary aspects of their nightlife, but they're not going to build their way from grunt to manager within the course of the campaign.  It's not a resource management game.  It's not even a political game.  It's a mission-based grunt campaign where you live in borrowed resources.  Heck, don't let them spend in merits like Resources or Haven.  Make them steal what they need or be given it.

Finally pay attention to the pacing of missions.  Most should sit around and wait for the PCs to get around to them, if they even do, but having a few clear deadlines is a good idea as well, especially for major Campaign quests.  Also be sure that after awhile new missions are only unlocked once certain Campaign quests are accomplished, so that they don't get side quest bloat.  We're not going for a Skyrim feel, after all.

The rise and fall of tension should also apply to the major campaign quests themselves.  Place a few social ones at judicious moments to control the energy levels and be sure to include increasingly difficult quests as the end of the campaign approaches.  You want the final few quests to feel dangerous, breath-tasking and conclusive so that by the time they hit the ending, they really feel like they've accomplished something.

Anyway, a campaign based around Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Communicators who will find that the personal interaction, decision points and social elements with the myriad intriguing and inhuman NPCs keeps them interested.

Explorers will be pleased if you remember to use a diverse range of interesting locations and really characterise them.  They want to see something new, experience something strange, so give it to them.

Action Heroes will enjoy the more videogame-y aspects of the game, though they may find that the action elements are a little weaker than they're used to, namely because most of the events will be rather subtle.  It'd be a rare mission that requires car chases and burning buildings, after all, though they may come up.

Tacticians are always looking for the most optimal manner to complete a task and deal with a situation.  While they could certainly get behind the mission-oriented aspects of the game, they may miss the overarching point which is that this is meant to be an experience the players sculpt with their decisions rather than a series of scenarios with an ideal way to meet all the Win Conditions.

Investigators may find most of the investigations to be rather simplistic, if you keep to the style of the game, and the actual conspiracies between elder vampires may be nothing but frustrating hints and annoying implications.  The missions are generally tacked onto the main campaign to give them a greater sense of breadth and scope to avoid over complicating the central campaign.  Of course, with a few twists you can easily turn this style into a more entertaining romp for them that they can really sink their fangs into.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here, and a list of tropes can be found over here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, Dead Space, or Elder Scrolls Online.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.


  1. Thanks for writing this! :-)

    I'll work my way through it and maybe post a few comments once I'm done reading it.

  2. I am working my way through some of your back catalogue and I must admit I like some of the stuff I've read so far about WOD larping. I love that stuff.

    Hope you won't think it forward of me to pimp my own blog a bit, as it might be useful to you.

    I write a blogspot blog entitled “Painted Corners”
    One of the things that I enjoy doing with my roleplaying games is making the details of my characters world come alive. What I refer to as “Painting the Corners in the World of Darkness”

    BTW: You don’t even have to play World of Darkness game to get some use out of this work. It will work for ANY modern day urban fantasy setting you might favor, with minimal re-tooling.

    This blog is a repository of people, places, widgets, legends, and bit of occult book text. So that you can make it look you’ve done a TON of work tricking out your own personal World of Darkness. And I lean mostly on the side of mortals so that you can concentrate on whatever creatures you favor for your games. I also leave the mechanics of a particular thing up to you. A fairly crunchy antagonist for Vampire is likely to be hor’s de combat in a Mage game.

    The point of this whole exercise is enrich the playing experience, keep my writing tools sharp, and hopefuly build a audience, so, if you like what you see, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell a friend. Thank you.