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Why are Elder Powers so... awful?

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  • #61
    Originally posted by Bluecho View Post
    In all seriousness, the issue with Elder Powers is that White Wolf, back in the 90s, were stuck between their desire to keep adding cool powers to the game, and the restrictive game mechanics they established with the very first VtM release.

    Loads of the game - both mechanically and lore - exist principally to carve out more design space.


    The non-core Camarilla Clans were the first of these. Obviously, they existed to cover certain niches within the broader vampire genre. But they also just wanted to throw in a bunch of cool powers.


    Bloodlines were the same thing, when they decided it wasn't as feasible to keep making full Clans. Bloodlines also, explicitly, allowed the designers to make really unique Disciplines as rare as they or the Storyteller wanted them. Of course, over the years, the game accumulated a lot of Bloodlines, which while individually small in number made the World of Darkness's vampire community seem very crowded.

    Personally, I'm of the opinion that More Options > Fewer Options, all else being equal. People on this forum know I've been banging on that drum for years.

    But even I think all these Bloodlines are a bit much. Evidently, White Wolf saw it the same way, and was on the lookout for more ways to cram in cool powers.


    The Elder Powers, first and foremost, seemed meant to give cool things for NPCs. But they also served to further justify why a vampire would WANT to commit Diablerie. What with the risks involved, before and after.

    But, as this thread demonstrated, many Elder Powers did not feel worth the investment you'd need to get them. It's not like EXP comes any faster to a "high level" PC in VtM. A character you've worked on for decades, real time, will accrue EXP as fast as one fresh out of char-gen. So you can't just waste it on powers that barely do anything. (Not to mention Elder powers that exist solely to make earlier Discipline powers good; throwing good EXP at bad EXP, for "filler powers" in the lower track).

    The fact that Elder Powers are gated behind low Generation AND massive EXP makes their inconsistent power levels all the more unbearable. Some powers were good. Some weren't worth the paper they were printed on. But you paid a high price for both. Not good game design.


    There are, of course, Supernatural Merits and Flaws. Good for letting a PC do something really cool and interesting right out the gate. Because while earning one's power in-game has its own virtue, there's something to be said about skipping to the "good bits" when it comes to playing a game. (It's why D&D moved away from spellcasting classes being barely magical in 0e, to having a baseline of at-will spells at first level; no one really signs up to be a Wizard who can only cast 1 spell a day). Also, some "powers" might instead be spun off into Flaws, which makes them less about utility and more about roleplay (and coolness).

    The downside to Merits & Flaws is that, by their very nature, there's no mechanism for PCs to acquire the supernatural ones after character creation. So you either bought it at the start, or you're never going to be able to do the cool thing. Not unless the Storyteller gives it to you through some event, which they're not obligated to, nor do the books give much help to STs as to how to do it. At least with Disciplines, there are methods of teaching them out-of-Clan.


    Blood Sorcery, I think, was where A LOT of the ideas ended up being funneled. It was flexible, because you could make whole Paths or just one-off Rituals. It wasn't in-born, like Merits, but didn't require the creation of a whole new Bloodline to justify. It's a tool invented by blood magicians to solve a problem. It's fit for purpose.

    Except now you're not only giving people who invested in Thaumaturgy a whole bunch of goodies, often for free in the case of Rituals, you've also gated them off from any Clan/Bloodline that didn't have access to blood magic. It was mainly the Tremere (or, for Necromancy, the Giovanni), notorious misers for magical lore. People often hate the Tremere (out-of-universe) because they get all kinds of cool powers (or at least the chance to learn them) denied to everyone else. (That and, for much of pre-V20 VtM, basically no Weakness of consequence).

    The motivation behind creating all sorts of variant Blood Sorcery is, I think, rooted in their desire to unlock blood magic from the Tremere monopoly established in V1. That, and there were all sorts of other magical traditions that White Wolf wanted to tap, like they had for Mage. This had the consequence of moving the pendulum the other direction, though. Suddenly, it seemed like blood sorcerers were everywhere, even if they were really protective of their trade secrets. Made the Tremere, and Blood Sorcery in general, seem less special.

    Not to mention if the whole coterie wants to get access to all these Paths and Rituals, they'd need to go to the trouble of learning all these mystical practices. Which isn't always consistent with the character or chronicle they wanted to play. If players wanted to all play wizards, they'd run a Mage game, and dispense with the vampire stuff that's just slowing them down.


    Combination Disciplines were a major step in the right direction. Just letting a character use their existing Discipline knowledge to unlock new powers by combining them with other Disciplines. Made each Clan/Bloodline feel more unique, too, as each drew upon a different Discipline spread when making combos, and could tailor them to the Clan/Bloodline's needs. You didn't need to jump through narrative hoops to justify it or fundamentally alter your character, either. Just meet the prerequisites, and pay the EXP. Done.

    Of course, these powers need to make sense as combos different Disciplines. Which can lead to powers that are a thematic stretch.

    V5 liked these well enough to copy them whole (while giving them a new name, Amalgams, because in V5 everything must have a fancy name, even if it had a more straightforward one to begin with). This edition made the error, to my mind, of using them to restrict options, rather than open them up. Because V5 abhors having more Disciplines than the bare minimum, they serve to replicate powers previously found in whole Disciplines.

    Logically meaning that any Discipline powers previously found in those defunct Disciplines, regardless of whether they were good or bad, no longer have a place in the game. Regardless of which path you took on the "tech tree", you're limited to five powers only. There's barely room for the staples of the old Disciplines as is, let alone the cooler, more salvageable Elder and Combination powers of old.

    Nor can you reach either the broadness nor depth of the old power curve. Basically every vampire, from the Neonate, to the experienced PC, to the Elder NPC, can look forward to a varied but limited range of powers.

    Some people will defend it. I will not. I don't like it. In my view, bad game design. Or if it's not bad for what the designers wanted, I disagree with their goals.


    Lastly, I want to circle back to V20 and mention the alternative Discipline powers certain Clans (or factions thereof) got. Like the alternate forms of Quietus, tailored for the different castes. Or the stuff from DAV20, that radically altered how certain Clans worked. I didn't always like the latter, I thought them more hit or miss. But I liked how the designers just said "hey, you can just use different powers to the standard". They even let you buy the alternative powers for that dot at half price, as I recall, in addition to your initial pick.

    Because it was just that easy. Could have saved a lot of hassle if they just did that the first time.
    Wow! I basically agree with everything you said, from the development of Disciplines and the apparent "hesitation" in making some of them (sometimes it seemed the writers were afraid a power could be too good, so they just kept limiting them to an extent that some powers were ridiculously underwhelming, e.g. Dark Hunter or Evocation of the Oubliette). Then you had the issue of Blood Magic and its many paths and rituals that allowed many cool powers that were basically "free" (even though, to be honest learning a ritual isn't easy in game, and I've always thought they should cost xp and always made it cost in my games). Combinations of disciplines was indeed a great thing for the game and as you said, it was a step in the right direction.
    V5 idea of giving good alternatives for powers from 1-5 is a great thing IMO, but then they ruined it by limiting the amount of powers a cainite can learn (not to mention the whole idea of "pretending to forget" whole different disciplines/paths and elder powers at the same time as if they never existed at all, it's like all of a sudden Al-Ashrad and Ur-Shulgi forgot half the different powers they had access to lol...). All in all, I'm also completely disappointed with the directions of V5, both in the metaplot and in the system, even though I like some of its ideas as I mentioned.

    Cheers,
    Daniel.
    Last edited by Herr Meister; 05-06-2022, 12:43 PM.

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    • #62
      Scrawl! Obfuscate now Malkavians leave coded messages that only certain people can read! Or you could... IDK, meet with them? Talk to them? Use an actual code with redundant symbols and cryptographic methods which make it nearly impossible to decipher without the key? You could have taken Obfuscate 6; Conceal, which would make covert meetings nearly 100% safe (meeting in an invisible car after walking invisible to the car), but instead you go for... this?
      Every time you leave your lair to go meet some worthless neonate PC to give them personal orders is a time you have left your stronghold and become just a tiny bit easier for your political rivals to gank. And actually creating a secure code takes time and effort (or bringing in a third party to do it for you and now you have to wonder if they can be trusted or if you need to spend some time cleaning up loose ends and finding another code maker to replace them), as does making sure that the only people who have the key to it can be trusted and are skillful enough to prevent someone from stealing the key from them. Being able to on the fly make a message that is magically encoded so that only the people you want reading it can read it is pretty damn useful. Now, I'm not sure it is elder level useful. But its still incredibly useful for the kind of political cloak and dagger nonsense most elders spend their time performing against each other.


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      • #63
        Originally posted by Mizu View Post

        Every time you leave your lair to go meet some worthless neonate PC to give them personal orders is a time you have left your stronghold and become just a tiny bit easier for your political rivals to gank. And actually creating a secure code takes time and effort (or bringing in a third party to do it for you and now you have to wonder if they can be trusted or if you need to spend some time cleaning up loose ends and finding another code maker to replace them), as does making sure that the only people who have the key to it can be trusted and are skillful enough to prevent someone from stealing the key from them. Being able to on the fly make a message that is magically encoded so that only the people you want reading it can read it is pretty damn useful. Now, I'm not sure it is elder level useful. But its still incredibly useful for the kind of political cloak and dagger nonsense most elders spend their time performing against each other.

        This is certainly a very useful power, but it's 100% not supposed to be an elder power. You have level 1 ritual that does almost the same thing, so to spend the exp to buy a high level discipline to just have this ability is definitely not worth it.

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        • #64
          On Amalgams versus Devotions: my feeling is that the Amalgams system adds trap options in and increases decision paralysis. But this may be from having played too much Exalted and D&D3.5, where you have to plan progression several steps in advance.

          Personally, I like the combination of 'single core power everyone learns' for transparency and ease of memorisation -- provided that said power is flexible enough (e.g., compare the first-dot powers in VTR2e and how much better most of them are to their V20 and V5 analogues) -- and the utility and customisability of Devotions.

          It strikes the right balance between 'NPC x has Discipline y, so I automatically know he can do the following without checking the book...' and 'PC 1 has Auspex, but she wants to learn some unique stuff, so has a few Devotions'. It makes chargen easier too, since you aren't looking yourself out of things further down the line.


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          • #65
            Originally posted by Herr Meister View Post


            This is certainly a very useful power, but it's 100% not supposed to be an elder power. You have level 1 ritual that does almost the same thing, so to spend the exp to buy a high level discipline to just have this ability is definitely not worth it.
            As an aside, I'm sorta of the opinion that characters without dots in Blood Sorcery should be able to spend XP to learn Rituals. The character might not know how magic works, generally, but they can perform a magical trick by rote and make it work.

            It would make distributing non-standard powers simpler. And it would be easier to let vampires do all the stuff Dracula was said to do, like walking on walls.

            It's not like it wouldn't work from a story perspective. Elders and Methuselahs have been around long enough that they either acquired certain magical tricks, were taught them by even older vampires, or knew them in life and made them work for the vampiric condition. Most such characters without dots in Blood Sorcery probably only know, like, one Ritual tops. And they probably don't advertise, preferring to only pass it along to Childer, if even then.

            And, of course, people who have been on this forum for a while may remember my old "Malkavian Sorcery" thread. Where I talked about Malkavians learning Blood Sorcery through the Malkavian Madness Network. I still think that's totally viable. If anyone is going to randomly manifest magic through mysterious means, it's probably going to be the Malkavians.


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            • #66
              Are you shocked that elder level powers were so over the top at all? The folks at White-Wolf probably wanted to showcase how truly powerful ancient 4-6 generation cainites were and make you wonder how much more potent the Antieduvlians were. I don't really mind that the new addition of VTM have decided to forgo this route and go with amalgam disciplines and maybe that some will have a blood potency limit for some powerful combos. You know like Zagrues Dark Decree abilty.


              What in the name of Set is going on here?

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              • #67
                Originally posted by Lysander View Post
                Are you shocked that elder level powers were so over the top at all?
                No.

                It's the opposite, the thread is about how underwhelming a lot of them are.


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                • #68
                  Honestly? Because the discipline system is unnecessarily restrictive but the majority of the writers and a good chunk fanbase is so obsessed with enshrining the format it only gets more cluttered with time instead of less.

                  - Garou player sketches a new Homid, Philodox or Stargazer gift? ST takes some time to iron out themes with player, compare with others in the 1-5 scale to gauge a proper place for it, then cooks up some storyline for the PC to either develop it or raise in rank so it can impress a mysterious spirit that actually knows it.
                  - Mage player wants to come up with a new effect or rote? Have the Spheres, consider it done.
                  - Vampire player comes up with an Auspex, Presence or Obfuscate power, suggests based on gut feeling it should be about level 2 or 3.... what madness is this?!? That's not how it's done!!!

                  And because of that, the "elder powers" are full of decidedly underpowered stuff that in a more sensible and streamlined game would be somewhere in the 1-5 range (counter aura reading powers, i'm looking at you) instead of taking up space that could be filled with actual balls out insane "beware my world shaking blasphemous blood god powers, huahahahaha" stuff.

                  Discipline combos/devotions could potentially be a great creative space to deal with this issue and give the kindred some much needed "power width growth" capacity - and in Requiem they very much are - but in Masquerade there seems to be a tendency to make them terribly overpriced for what they actually deliver, meaning they get mostly ignored except as another benie for NPCs, that obviously have no worries about XP costs.
                  Last edited by Baaldam; 08-15-2022, 10:52 PM.

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                  • #69
                    There was a way to create new disciplines in the outcasts book.

                    and Lysander i could not disagree more. Low Gen NPCs should feel like walking lovecraftian/cosmic horror. Lovecraftian/cosmic horror was always part of the setting (Gehenna etc.), while not the focus the new games forgoing it was a missed opportunity imho, seeing how well call of cthulu currenly does on R20 (as well as internationally, i heard it has become BIGGER than DnD in some asian countries).


                    This is me, just forgot my PW and changed my email
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                    • #70
                      Originally posted by Crytash2 View Post
                      There was a way to create new disciplines in the outcasts book.
                      The problem with creating a new Discipline is that it requires an entire new Discipline.

                      Baaldam nailed it in this regard, VtM is horrible at power width growth. Sometimes you have a good idea for a single power, or a new spin on an already existing power, but the system doesn't let you just built it into the existing Disciplines. You need to devise five power, find a thematic link between them, and even then if the result just looks too similar to other Disciplines it at the very minimum won't feel fulfilling, you feel it is just redundancy. And it is.

                      Combo Disciplines only partially solve this, but they're too costly for their effects, not to say that they're relatively rare to be even mentioned, so they practically aren't a thing. Elder levels end up being the place to dump good ideas that should belong at lower levels.

                      Not to say that the reason for this rule being in Outcasts is that it is technically a Caitiff power, which is by itself a questionable decision, at least in the sense of power development rules (giving them an easier time with this isn't a bad thing).

                      V5 has a problem with the "one choice per slot" rule, but otherwise did a far better job in avoiding this problem. VtR nailed it even better.


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                      • #71
                        Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                        The problem with creating a new Discipline is that it requires an entire new Discipline.

                        Baaldam nailed it in this regard, VtM is horrible at power width growth. Sometimes you have a good idea for a single power, or a new spin on an already existing power, but the system doesn't let you just built it into the existing Disciplines. You need to devise five power, find a thematic link between them, and even then if the result just looks too similar to other Disciplines it at the very minimum won't feel fulfilling, you feel it is just redundancy. And it is.

                        Combo Disciplines only partially solve this, but they're too costly for their effects, not to say that they're relatively rare to be even mentioned, so they practically aren't a thing. Elder levels end up being the place to dump good ideas that should belong at lower levels.
                        In my own table i've dealt with this by a variety of ways:

                        - Most signature disciplines i broke apart and made some of their powers into "variant packages" of the corebook disciplines where it felt thematic, so "Serpentis" and "Vicissitude" are mostly Protean powers through a clan's cultural lens [and may be learned at a fixed cost of 10xp if you already have that discipline level].

                        - Some powers i transformed in occult rituals, in the vein of Sabbat ritae and Garou rituals, with a discipline requirement - that has been the particular fate of more freeform/involved or over the top powers with themes more their own, like Vicissitude's flesh-crafting/body modding aspect, the Serpentis' heart-stealing power, Obtenebration's solid shadow & tentacles powers among others.

                        - A number of signature disciplines i just turned into discipline combos, or whole discipline combo trees, with a background/lore requirement to soft-lock and make things a little more involved. That has been the case for Dementation and Temporis (where i would fudge the borders between bloodlines and cults) in particular among others.

                        - Elder powers are pretty straightforward, those i felt were underwhelming i just relocated into what i saw as a more adequate rung as a variant power or discipline combo (counter aura reading powers being kind of a non-issue for this - someone without aura reading to develop such an obfuscate power doesn't even make sense, imho).

                        - Thaumaturgy - now that involved some more extensive retooling where it got kind of mashed up with Necromancy, Quietus & other things as "Blood Magic" and went through some changes that made it somewhat more XP-intensive, but that is another can of worms for a digression that might already be overstaying its welcome, so let's leave that for another time (if ever).


                        Overall while there's the occasional doubt about balance in the begining, players tend to get used and comfortable with it quite quickly and has worked quite nicely through the years with a variety of groups.
                        Last edited by Baaldam; 08-15-2022, 10:55 PM.

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                        • #72
                          Originally posted by Bluecho View Post
                          As an aside, I'm sorta of the opinion that characters without dots in Blood Sorcery should be able to spend XP to learn Rituals. The character might not know how magic works, generally, but they can perform a magical trick by rote and make it work.

                          It would make distributing non-standard powers simpler. And it would be easier to let vampires do all the stuff Dracula was said to do, like walking on walls.

                          It's not like it wouldn't work from a story perspective. Elders and Methuselahs have been around long enough that they either acquired certain magical tricks, were taught them by even older vampires, or knew them in life and made them work for the vampiric condition. Most such characters without dots in Blood Sorcery probably only know, like, one Ritual tops. And they probably don't advertise, preferring to only pass it along to Childer, if even then.

                          And, of course, people who have been on this forum for a while may remember my old "Malkavian Sorcery" thread. Where I talked about Malkavians learning Blood Sorcery through the Malkavian Madness Network. I still think that's totally viable. If anyone is going to randomly manifest magic through mysterious means, it's probably going to be the Malkavians.
                          I'm really fond of this idea, sometimes a player come to me and make a character with the merit Innate Magical ability and it's often very interesting. It's easy and narratively interesting to create merits to help individualize characters and powers could be interesting in this regard as well. But the idea of buying rituals without needing dots in Thaumaturgy is also very good.

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                          • #73
                            Some are not worth the paper they're printed on. Others are powerful if used properly.

                            Far Mastery, for instance, breaks the mold of Dominate 2 and 3 and allows you to Dominate based on being basically within eyesight. It's real power shines when used in conjunction with Auspex 4 and 5 however. The idea that Torpid Methuselahs are shaping your opinions, actions and even memories from anywhere on the planet is a frightening one.

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                            • #74
                              monteparnas, this is true, i guess as a ST i would just create one with the player together and create something nice. Restrictions can often be used to funnel creativity into our characters and stories.

                              That said, it is really difficult to balance everything. I remember a game that i torpedoed because i allowed one of my players to create an Item (a lance) that would be able to hunt demons etc. and ban them to depths of the abyss - however he was able to recreate it for others as well and the whole chronicle would have changed.

                              You live and learn i suppose.


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                              • #75
                                The most Trash Elder Discipline I think it's the Auspex one that, basically, let you be Sassy with a capital S in a argument with someone. I think the name is "Prediction".

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