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V5 Touchstones and Humanity; Why I dislike them

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  • V5 Touchstones and Humanity; Why I dislike them

    So the premise here is fairly simple. Humanity as a system exists to more or less punish players for being shitty and add some drama for doing so. Not a bad idea. Touchstones seem like a way to encourage characters to care about humanity and Humanity by giving them concrete representations of what they value.

    Here's the issues I run into, having played Revised, V20 and now V5. The game is supposed to be one of personal horror but I've never actually played in one in over 6 years that wasn't just political intrigue. Humans are never interacted with outside of using them as tools, they just get a social discipline dropped on their head and move on. No one interacts with or cares about humans in most iterations of the game to my experience, and focusing on them detracts from what I have seen to be people's actual interest in the game. Politics and Power (Disciplines and otherwise).

    I've been in a few games of V5 so far and this co tinues to hold true. No one interacts with their touchstones and hell, you don't even really need interactable touchstones per many of the books suggestions (Baseball players and the like, people you just glance at from afar once every week). So touchstones are just a theoretical for the most part, a minor distraction during chargen and either forgotten about or distracting from the actual "fun" bits of the game.

    Adding to that, Humanity falls into a similar boat, slapping you with a penalty that discourages you from interacting with humans even more as it drops and discouraging you from playing the way the writers portray vampires. Vampires are callous bastards who don't give a shit about people in all the written stories and in most games and honestly just giving your enemies more weak points to target, which will ruin you. Add to that the insane difficulty of raising humanity and the inevitability of incurring stains thanks to hunger dice and I see little point.

    So I think touchstones are largely just a huge section of wasted material, humanity is an annoying stick for the GM to slap you with, and the whole combination just something that gets in the way of actual gameplay.

    Thoughts?

  • #2
    You aren't against Touchstones, you're against Humanity itself.

    Vampire was a game founded on the idea of being a Reluctant Vampire.

    If you don't want to be a Reluctant Vampire, don't be, but a huge part of the inspiration was Louis, Angel, and Nick Knight.


    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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    • #3
      Do you also think that horror movies lose out when the first action of the characters isn't "take off and nuke the site from orbit"?

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      • #4
        Okay, my thoughts: it'll be always like that, no matter the rules. And it's not a bad thing.

        The writers always acted like this whole slipping away from humanity thing (and to a lesser extent, the hunt) was the most important aspect of the game, yet they provided a billion things in the setting and rules-wise that are a lot more interesting for a lot of people.

        Not everyone wants to play the obsessing-about-human-relationships game. Or the let's-play-every-hunting-out-to-the-detail game. Or they don't want to play that every time and you just can't force them.

        Tell me, why most groups don't play out the social interactions with the patrons of the inn they're spending the night, or with any other everyday npc they're coming in contact in fantasy games? Why aren't they describing in detail the setting of a camp every time, or hunting for food in the wilderness, or even most of the travelling? Because it's boring and they want to focus on the interesting stuff.

        Yes, some people enjoy and love those kind of things and they're able to spend the whole session in the inn, just talking to people and acting out their characters. Some players are like that, I played with several. Most aren't, they want bigger than life stuff and power fantasy. That's just how it is and it's okay.

        Same with Vampire. Yeah-yeah, the hunt, the blood and humaity might be the core building blocks of being a vampire and they are naturally interesting at first, because well, now you're a vampire and it's different from being a human. It's interesting to play out the losing of relationships, the hunting and all the other stuff. At first. Later, or, when you're in your fifth, or tenth game, or even the tenth session of your first VtM chronicle, it'll become eye-rolling and trite and boring to spend so much time and focus on everyday things like the hunt. You'll want to focus on the bigger stuff, the political games, the interaction with other supernaturals, the action, the mystical stuff. That's natural and no ammount of rules will change that.

        In my oppinion, the one true method for making humans interesting and important for the PCs is writing interesting and important human npcs into the chronicle. Npcs they'll want to interact with, ones that have actual roles in the story and not in the forced way of either being totally inconsequential, or obligatory damsels in distress and mental boxes to check as touchstones. "Did I pet my touchstone this week? Darn, could we just handwave it fast, we're in the middle of infiltrating the tremere chantry?"

        That's it. These things sound good in the purple prose the books always used as fluff and fiction, setting up the mood and putting you in the right mental space. They work, I'm not saying they aren't (and make no mistake, I love that purple prose). They are highly enjoyable at first, especially for first-time VtM players. Or in one-shot LARPS and such, where the whole experience revolves around them. On the long term? They are boring.
        Last edited by PMárk; 04-14-2019, 05:33 PM.


        If nothing worked, then let's think!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
          You aren't against Touchstones, you're against Humanity itself.

          Vampire was a game founded on the idea of being a Reluctant Vampire.

          If you don't want to be a Reluctant Vampire, don't be, but a huge part of the inspiration was Louis, Angel, and Nick Knight.
          I always preferred Lestat and Spike.

          And frankly, the writers always acted like the game was primarily Louis. In truth, from the badass and metal/gothic Bradstreet artworks to the awesome powers to the epic storylines, it was a lot more The vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned than Interview with the Vampire.

          And some people never forgave it for that. Including the V5 writers, to some extent, IMO.

          There's a reason why the "pretentious WoD/Vampire angst" became a trope.


          If nothing worked, then let's think!

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          • #6
            Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
            You aren't against Touchstones, you're against Humanity itself.

            Vampire was a game founded on the idea of being a Reluctant Vampire.

            If you don't want to be a Reluctant Vampire, don't be, but a huge part of the inspiration was Louis, Angel, and Nick Knight.
            I'm sure it was founded on that, but I don't think that inspiration has quite held up to time, or if it has, I've never actually seen it in play, nor really heard about it. Partially I imagine people avoid playing reluctant vampires because it's rare to get the whole group to buy in, and if you're the odd one out as a reluctant it just kind of sucks.

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            • #7
              In my game, mortals play a huge role. The touchstones, I feel, force storytellers to flesh out some mortals which I do in my games already. I feel that kindred interactions are just as important as mortal interactions. Thats not to say that we roleplay out every feeding scene or anything like that. But the players have allies, contacts, families....interact with police, lawyers, ghouls so on and so forth. For my style of game, mortal interactions are imperative. But because of this, the significance of touchstones have been lost. Yes the PCs still identify with the touchstones, but they have a plethora of resources to maintain their humanity. I do like the idea of a mechanic to encourage people to expand their games but I think for many, its lost. Either they don't want that style of game, or they already have those elements in their game. I do give them kudos however for simply adding an in game mechanic instead of it just being a numbers/dots game.


              Currently running: Gary/Chicago By Night

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              • #8
                Originally posted by PixelPuzzler View Post

                I'm sure it was founded on that, but I don't think that inspiration has quite held up to time, or if it has, I've never actually seen it in play, nor really heard about it. Partially I imagine people avoid playing reluctant vampires because it's rare to get the whole group to buy in, and if you're the odd one out as a reluctant it just kind of sucks.
                Well that may be your players but I basically make it a theme of every one of my games. Effectively, I've made it clear I'm a major "humanity guy" in my games with lots of moral choices in my game as THE purpose. You can choose power or vengeance or humanity but if you choose the former then you're doomed to eventually degenerate and become a disgusting monster that deserves to put to down.

                That doesn't necessarily mean it's not a great path but I strongly emphasize "evil" vampires are disgusting not glamorous.

                The horror comes from the fact that vampires who don't struggle like alcoholics to keep control over their addictions are child-eating freaks. Trainspotting for blood.


                Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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                • #9
                  I think one of the best things you can do with Touchstones is decide on them after Character Gen. While playing. It's not said outright, but Touchstones are the onus of the ST... if you want players to enjoy interacting with Touchstones, you need to make them interesting and integral NPCs. It's that simple. The reason it's on the ST is that no PC is capable of 'truly interacting' with an NPC they're running themselves. There's no drama. There's no tension. There's no real interaction and you'll quickly find Touchstones become cardboard cutouts / morality pets. The reason you should decide on who these Touchstones are after Character Gen is that you really have no clue what NPCs will be most interesting and integral until you start play.

                  What makes a good Touchstone? The player (not the PC) should consider them a favourite NPC that adds something to the game.

                  For example:

                  In one game I recall, a PC had a pet dog as their Touchstone. It worked. Why? The dog literally appeared all the time in the chronicle, was actually useful (bought with Retainer dots), so had intrinsic value beyond patting him once in a while so the PC didn't get a call for a Humanity roll. If the dog died, it'd be a blow to the player and the PC. Absolute success and a credit to the ST.

                  Less successful? Any Touchstone that's just there for Humanity reasons and feels like a chore. Scrap them. They're uninteresting and a waste of time (for the ST and players, who'll find them a pain in the ass to interact with). Touchstones aren't meant to be a chore. They're meant to be an important part of the PC's life. Real advice: I would hold off on Touchstones for the first few sessions until you let the PCs settle in the world, basically given enough time to know what NPCs they like and would make good Touchstones.

                  Basically, Touchstones can elevate a game. But only if they're done right and sparingly (so they don't get tired or feel like a chore - which can be said for feeding scenes, too).
                  Last edited by Jack; 04-15-2019, 10:30 AM.

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                  • #10
                    The problem with that approach, is that V5 isn't written in a fashion where that really works (beyond things where, as it stands, you can't have a dog as a Touchstone...yet?).

                    In V5, if you want a Conviction, you have to have a linked Touchstone that represents that Conviction for you. So either you have to develop all your Convictions in play, and have no idea what they're going to be because you don't know what NPCs you like, and what sort of ideals they'll embody for your character, or you have your Convictions at start, and the organic development of Touchstones is hampered because the ST has to try to create ones that backup PC Convictions or they don't actually work as Touchstones.

                    What you described Jack is far closer to how the original Touchstone treatment in Requiem 2e has handled, where Touchstones are bonuses and are most rewarding if you regularly interact with them, instead of requirements that are most rewarding to shove out of the spotlight ASAP.

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                    • #11
                      I disagree.
                      A well formed character deserves well developed NPCs around it. For example, in my game, one of the characters, our resident gang member chose 3 touchstones. 1 - his wrongfully imprisoned father who, in his words "Has always encouraged Trip to stand up and be himself, don't let people tell him how to live his life. Never admit to something because someone wants him to, or because it's easy. Be your own man." The second, his close friend "being Mexican in an almost all-black gang, demands respect but gives it in return." and the third, his former girlfriend who as a single mother is raising their child to grow up in a different world. All 3 of these are fall in line with his convictions "Respect given, respect earned; Be your own, never submit;Stand up for the disenfranchised" and were developed at character creation.

                      The detail he gave (a paragraph for each) gave me the building blocks to create a meaningful character for the PC to interact with and the RP that has come of it has been amazing.



                      Currently running: Gary/Chicago By Night

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                      • #12
                        I think defining touchstones during the game is very doable. Even though Touchstones give the character a mechanical benefit (The connected conviction reduces the stain you get from breaching a Chronical Tenet and helping your touchstone allows you to heal your willpower). It would not be hard at all to say that a player can leave some or all of these to be discovered in game. and Memoriams are meant to give players benefits in-game by retracing the character's past so I think these would be great ways to introduce them.

                        The discovery could easily be run as a Memoriam for the character and when it is done you get the mechanical benefit of the touchstone as well as the conviction and touchstone as the reward.

                        For example, Sarah needs to heal her willpower after a gruelling tongue lashing at the amusement of the Harpy, Sarah and her coterie had fed in the wrong territory and were lucky to get off with their lives intact. She decides at the moment to go see an old friend for a pick-me-up and calls for a Memoriam. "When I was mortal I was always a screw-up; stealing my mom's car so my friend Tracy and I could go see our boyfriends, skipping school to go to the beach or just messing around. I remember one time my mom caught me and...." After the Memoriam, she watches Tracy and her daughters through the living room window and heals some of her willpower.

                        To me, these spontaneous gains could even be stronger storywise than the ones that you just arbitrarily pick at the beginning of a game you haven't felt out yet. How many of us find ourselves wishing we had made different choices during character creation once we got into the game.

                        The ST could also tell the players that the Memoriam reward for a scene will be stronger if they take a touchstone that is being placed in danger during a scene.

                        For example, Jim had been tracking down an unacknowledged vamp who was feeding in his territory when he comes across him in a side alley of a bar drinking from one of the patrons. Jim knows if he doesn't stop him fast the vamp will kill the patron and it will end up in another body to clean up so he shouts to get the Vamps attention and then try to dominate him. Jim Calls for a Memoriam to get a bonus on his dominate roll because he needs this to succeed. Knowing the ST will give him a better bonus Jim puts it all on the line. "When I saw Gary lying in the other Vampires arms I knew I had to stop this. Gary had continued to slide into a drunken stupor for the last few years after my death, but losing your husband can do that to you. I remember right after a turned I went to see him....."

                        In any case, the rules are flexible enough to easily accommodate this type of story and gameplay.

                        For the OP, not all rules are for every game this is why many games house rule things to make them fit their game. In the end, it is better to have a rule written out that you do not use than to not have a rule written that you might need.
                        Last edited by Redwulfe; 04-15-2019, 02:01 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by PMárk View Post

                          I always preferred Lestat and Spike.

                          And frankly, the writers always acted like the game was primarily Louis. In truth, from the badass and metal/gothic Bradstreet artworks to the awesome powers to the epic storylines, it was a lot more The vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned than Interview with the Vampire.

                          And some people never forgave it for that. Including the V5 writers, to some extent, IMO.

                          There's a reason why the "pretentious WoD/Vampire angst" became a trope.

                          That's unfair. The game was *built* on "pretentious vampire angst", that people who made that a pejorative are power fantasy obsessed players who miss the point of the game.

                          The only thing I agree with is that Masquerade is more The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, I'm glad Requiem and V5 made it more Interview with the Vampire than anything else.
                          Last edited by Shawarbaaz; 04-19-2019, 09:55 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Shawarbaaz View Post


                            That's unfair. The game was *built* on "pretentious vampire angst", that people who made that a pejorative are power fantasy obsessed players who miss the point of the game.
                            And that is exactly the problem and ever was. It's an element of the game, a core one, yes, but not the only one focal point everything was revolving around. Maybe it was like that in the 1e corebook, at the very beginning, but the game brought in the epic elements pretty soon and had them during all of its original and during the 20th era and the fans liked them and used them and rightly so.

                            And I stand by my assesment: some people, including some writers never forgave the game, or the fanbase for that, because they would have preferred the game remaining about the existential angst first and foremost and about nightly personal struggles of a neonate. Hell, even the books sometimes derided certain playstyles then proceeded to give more epic powers and Byzantean storylines and high-level npcs, because duh, the majority of the fans liked those and embraced (no pun intended) the epic side of the game(s).

                            So, you're free to disagree, but anyone who didn't use the angsty aspect as the be-all-end-all of the game, every time and above all else, wasn't "mising the point of the game". They just liked other aspects of it more than you do and concentrated on those and it was okay, because the game had enough room and tools for both.


                            The only thing I agree with is that Masquerade is more The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, I'm glad Requiem and V5 made it more Interview with the Vampire than anything else.
                            Then, congratulations, you're on the same board as the writers of those and in the target audience! You have two good vampire games to choose between for the style of game you prefer and I wish you happy gaming with either!

                            Just understand: many people liked the game as it was, being more Lestat and QotD and it's not inferior in any way to your preferences, but while you now have two games tailored to your tastes, we have only the old books and no prospect for new ones for our preferred style of Vampire.



                            If nothing worked, then let's think!

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                            • #15
                              Vampire can be about multiple things but I do think you lose something fundamental when you forget being a monster is something you're not supposed to Embrace.

                              YMMV.


                              Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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