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[V5] The Masquerade

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  • Nosimplehiway
    It's good to see a mechanical system for tracking masquerade exposure. With the resurgence of the Inquisition, it makes sense to develop a predictable and fair way for an ST to run this element of the game.

    Your system is well-done, but I do have a few concerns and questions. None of them are bad enough to make me not use this system in a game had it been published in the core, but it does drop my reaction, from "wow, this is great" to "hmm, I might be willing to give this a shot".

    Please do not read this as nit-picking or shouting down a new idea. I hope these questions serve as the start of a constructive dialogue which can improve your idea.

    The Premise

    I'm not sold on the ST rolling for determining the fallout of character actions. It feels like getting on the SI's radar or avoiding notice should be rolled by the players. I know that most npc reactions are rolled or decided by the ST, but this feels like a good place to emphasize player agency. If attracting the attention of the SI could lead to a pc's destruction, the players should probably be the ones rolling.

    OTOH, I'm not entirely certain it should be a randomized event at all. Are the SI appropriate as a "wandering monster", or should it be reserved for planned encounters? The pcs' drawing the SI's attention could change the entire premise of the chronicle. That's the sort of thing an ST shouldn't be railroaded into by a dice roll. I suppose the ST could decide to disregard an outcome which tanks the chronicle, but then the ST is rolling dice to decide something they have already decided.

    Style Details

    Why are the "stains" marked from right-to-left, which is the opposite of the writing system commonly used in VtM products? In the case of stains against a Tenet, it's because they are balanced against, and potentially crowded out by, Humanity. What do the empty spaces to the left of the meter represent when there are no violations filling them? Are you saying there are filled-in spaces tracking the Masquerade part of this, and slashes and x-es marking violations. If so, what is the starting Masquerade (ie the analog to the Humanity dots read from left-to-right) set at? Because bad things happen when violations bump up against the Masquerade spaces, that means the higher the coterie's secrecy was initially, the more likely they are to have problems arise because they drew attention. This seems counter-intuitive.

    Math of Starting Breaches

    So, the coterie starts with 2 breaches for every pc who is a "known blackbody"? If all six players take this flaw... which is not inconceivable since V5 requires two initial dots in flaws... what does that look like? If they roll at the end of the first session to remove the violations caused by "known blackbody", what happens? They still have the flaw, right? Or, do they somehow convince the SI they aren't a bb, and lose the flaw? If the flaw doesn't go away, is it reapplied each session? If not, why did "Known Blackbody" create a violation this particular week of the vampire's life, but not others?

    Status Offenses

    One problem with this mechanic is that it assumes the problem the SI has with vampires is their behavior. As people who live in modern, western democracies (Or, at least I think I do. I haven't read the SCOTUS blog yet today, so maybe yes, maybe no.) it's easy to assume that punishment arises from actions of the punished, rather than from the punished's simple existence within a certain demographic. We assume, "If a vampire exists quietly not bothering anyone, the SI will let them be. If they exist openly and flagrantly, the SI will break out the pitchforks and torches."

    This may be partially true in as much those who aren't noticed won't be targeted, but once a vampire is discovered the SI will not file them in a "friendly neighborhood vampire" file and ignore them forever. If the violations mechanic indicates the coterie is noticed and triggers a Level 2 reaction, the SI will eventually get around to Level 5 sooner or later. This will remain true whether the coterie has further violations or not, since vampirism is not a crime of commission beyond simply existing as a vampire. No matter how well the dice roll, once the coterie is identified they will be hunted eventually as resources become available.

    One corollary of this is that some vampires are committing violations continuously rather than as discrete actions. How many city streets can a Nosferatu walk down with their hoody pulled all the way forward before a cctv camera catches a glimpse of their monstrousness? How many people must drive past a sign advertising an Osiris predator's store-front church before somebody gets suspicious there are vespers every night, but no daytime services? How many years can a vampire live in the same apartment without aging before a violation is applied? And, for all these, how often are violations are applied?


    Let's say the players have read V5 and know the SI is a major danger. They take precautions, because their characters rightly fear the SI.

    Except, then your mechanic goes into effect. Maybe the ST rolls in secret, but this raises problems with player agency. It also raises the question of whether the mechanic is needed at all if the ST will do what they want to anyway.

    If the ST rolls openly, the players now know how much attention the SI is giving them. When those dice fall, they know whether the SI is a threat or not. If the ST rolls "no", but the SI shows up, the players will rightly be angry the ST broke the rules. If the ST rolls "yes", but the SI doesn't show up, the players will begin to doubt if their dice-rolls and actions make any difference in the chronicle. Yes, yes, some players and tables are too awesome to ever use meta-knowledge to make decisions, but, let's face it, many aren't.

    Gambling v Gaming

    Is there a skill component to this system? Or, is it just completely random? I know you mention cover-ups, but that's already present in the system. Shouldn't some vampires be more skilled at hiding themselves from the SI than others and get a better chance on the roll?

    Edge Cases and Grey Areas

    How does this work for a nomadic chronicle? If a minor violation appears on a cctv camera in Portland, Maine, and two days later a Siren has her fangs seen by her latest vessel in Jacksonville, Florida, why would the SI connect the dots?

    This is coterie-based, but coteries aren't stable, easily defined social units, in-world. Oh, we on this forum understand it to mean all the players' pcs as a group. In-world, it's a lot fuzzier. If the Malkavian primogen (an npc) has made a few deals with the players, do her violations stack onto the players? If a player doesn't show up for the game one week, the ST handles this by saying the pc had personal business to attend to, and the group fails their roll, is the absent player's pc discovered by the SI?

    Since violations are added together from all members of a coterie, the larger the coterie, the greater the risk. A coterie of ten vampires is very likely to be discovered. A single autarkis who avoids all other vampires and humans is likely safe. The rational choice for vampires is to stay home as much as possible and avoid all other vampires. Is this a good incentive structure for encouraging players to get involved with one anothers' pcs and the plot of the chronicle? It's one thing for natural caution to justify a "refusal of the call". It's another to make this refusal an ongoing assumption for a chronicle.

    How does this system interact with the Cobbler trait? If you create a whole new identity, does it throw the SI off the track, or draw attention? Can a Cobbler create an identity for someone that includes Known Blackbody, thereby triggering this system going forward? Can this be done to a normal human?

    How would one coterie go about using this system against another?

    Will the ST make similar rolls for all the coteries in the chronicle city? If there are five coteries all at "level 2" and they all attend a party at the same nightclub (ie Elysium), is that a violation? Once they do so, does the SI consider them all one target forcing everyone present into one "coterie" for purposes of this mechanic? What if half of them up and leave town part way through the game session? Who keeps the violations meter?

    Is there a way to model when the SI messes up? No one is perfect. Might they not burn down the house at 123 Oak Lane, when the communal Haven is at 123 Oak Road? Do the pcs bear some responsibility for this sort of thing?

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  • Red Eye
    Truth be told, Bloodlines Masquerade Violations has always made me want to do this. Seeing the concept presented in V5 terms pushed me to go ahead and flesh it out some more and tweak it to my liking.

    I did just make a small tweak in the OP relating to the Cover-Up stuff, specifically I don't have it reduce Violations anymore but rather add bonus dice to the roll the ST makes. I think this simulates better what a Cover-Up actually is, obscuring the truth in misinformation as opposed to making the issue truly go away (doing that would have prevented the Violation to begin with).

    All in all I think this strikes a nice balance between what was seen in Bloodlines and the way V5 has approached mechanics (as well as drawing some stuff out since that is normally suitable in tabletop compared to videogames).

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  • CTPhipps
    I really like this and am wondering if I should adapt something akin to Bloodlines' Masquerade Violations system for my game.

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