No announcement yet.

A Wealthy Vampire Game

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • A Wealthy Vampire Game

    We have all seen the trope of the "Wealthy Vampire" in various forms of media. Bram Stoker's Dracula was a lord with a castle and an ancestral estate who had funds to buy property in foreign lands, Lestat became an international rock star, Nick Knight could drop millions on a random auction purchase, etc.

    But when we look at the Resources background it pretty much caps out as "handwave wealthy" which means you have money, but it doesn't really matter how much or what you can do with it. To be fair WW games have always extrapolated money in game rather than doing book keeping and the passage of time in the real world keeps changing the definition of wealthy. Originally Bruce Wayne was a millionaire up until the 1990's when he
    suddenly became a billionaire
    to keep up with the trends.

    In recent days
    Billionaires are getting to be rather common
    in some parts of the world and millionaires are becoming some what passé as a bench mark of wealth. So that makes me wonder what a "Wealthy Vampire" would financially look like given these sorts of trends. Is the new fantastically wealthy level being a "trillionaire" or something even hirer? But of even greater concern is what exactly you can do in game with that sort of financial muscle.

    This level of finance goes beyond buying a private island, it starts exceeding the financial capabilities of small nations. This in turn means that things you normally attribute to countries now become player character stats or traits. You don't own an estate, you own a country. You don't have a security force, you privately finance the entire military. You don't concern yourself with governmental policy because you run the government.

    Vampire the Masquerade was originally conceived as a street level RPG which assumed the PC coterie were closer to the Lost Boys rather than say Dracula, but time and again the concept of the wealthy vampire kept working its way into the fluff and the narratives. Even if your options as a Starting Character are capped at Resources 5, with the right disciplines and some creative thinking, it would take very few games to build a considerable financial power base.

    The ability to generate wealth and there for influence directly counters another narrative concept of VtM and that is the idea of being restrained to a single city. Sure the characters can have a home base or favored location. But between the internet and private jets, you can cause huge ramifications across the globe and never be held accountable by the Prince of your home city because you haven't done anything in their domain.

    To top it off, this is just what a single financial based character can do. What happens if you have an entire coterie of this type of character, the financial leverage grows exponentially if each member focuses in a different area of control. Obviously this becomes even more over the top when an entire clan is given the stereo type of being this way such as the Ventrue or the Giovanni.

    As an ST you can just handwave the situation and block the players from taking this game route, but that is a bit of a cop out in my opinion. You could let the Players go this route but nerf them by constantly wheeling out vague restrictions stating that any activity over the 5 dot limit of Resources would garner too much attention or automatically step on the plans of elders who would push back against those plans, but once again this is less working with the concept and more just doing a bait and switch.

    So how do you structure a game where character actions are filtered through the lens of being on a level that your financial influence is invisible to the average person or normal watch dog group? An example of what I am talking about comes from the Kindred the Embraced tv show, where a Ventrue wants to get closer to a reporter, so the corporations he owns, which own other corporations in turn bought the newspaper where she works. Yeah it's a bit creeper-esque but it illustrates the point that most people or interested parties wouldn't be able to connect the dots between a random occurrence in the world such as a major purchase or business merger and some random rich vampire with plans or desires.

    Obviously I have no desire to turn VtM into a table top version of Off World Trading Company with a vampire aesthetic, but given how much the concept of the Wealthy Vampire shows up in both fluff and reference materials, it seems to be a glaring hole in both the rules and the discussion regarding the game.

  • #2
    I work in the financial industry. You have probably seen those charts where you invest X amount of dollars over Y years with a Z rate of return. You will see a massive upward slope of wealth. Now imagine that the time horizon is not 30 years but 300 years and you can see some huge wealth so elder vampires can be VERY wealthy. Of course, 300 or so years can bring calamity as well so it can balance it out.


    • #3
      This issue comes up at various times, so you are not the only one to wonder when/if high Resources becomes a trouble for an ST.

      I don't think it does. It just changes the type of game being played. If the ST really wants to play a grim and gritty style street game, then he's now faced with running a different type of game. But money should never present any serious problem for a good ST.

      First, money is frankly unimportant to most vampires. The real currency between vampires are boons. And many Disciplines make getting access to money trivial. Resources is a lot less useful background than you think. It certainly isn't a decisive one.

      Second, if characters are trying to parley money into influence, then the real issue isn't Resources, it is the Influence background. And lots of people can have Influence and counteract. You have other vampires. You have mortals. You have other supernatural creatures who also operate at this level. The story simply shifts into the players contending against other people who have similar Influence who is wondering what is going on, investigating, and perhaps acting against them.

      Third, financial transactions are HEAVILY regulated, especially if public companies are involved. You have the SEC, IRS, other Treasury Department agencies, not to mention pension funds, investment fund managers, public Accounting firms, investigative financial journalists, and local politicians/bureaucrats/news are all looking at things. Large financial transactions are looked at and are very public because very often companies have to tell the government up front what they are doing. It's not like the movies and comic books when people can secretly buy companies of their rivals without them noticing. An ST doesn't need to treat these transactions like that all the time - routine stuff can be handled by routine means and easily handwaved - but if players are "abusing" things, an ST does not need to do too much to complicate things for the PCs.

      Fourth, if the game expands beyond the city of the local Prince, there are plenty of other things that engage them. The Princes of the cities they interferred in will complain about trespasses against their domain. Archons, perhaps Justicars, will investigate. It may become an issue discussed and perhaps decided at the next Conclave. PCs who dabble in affairs outside of their Prince's local domain should quickly learn that they've become noticed by others - others who likely have far more resources, influence, and favors owed to them.


      • #4

        Take a look at this article. It says it better than I could. Long and the short of it, it's one thing to calculate interest over a 300 year period. It's quite another to know which banking systems (not to mention entire social, political, and economic systems) are still going to be intact in 300 years.

        Of course, you can always just find a rich person, and use their money...


        • #5
          Black Fox
          You are kind of missing the point, though I probably explained it poorly.

          I don't believe financial characters require a different game than a street game. Pushing guns and drugs isn't that different from selling stocks or legal pharmaceuticals, its a cut throat market regardless what you sell and you are always on the look out for competition or new opportunities. The main difference I am talking about is the scale at which the number of extras digits in various bank accounts adjusts play styles and how we think about the game.

          As for boons, I feel their functionality is useless to the point of plot contrivance. There is no police force or department of boon enforcement in the game for vampires. There is just agreements between business partners of the moment. Unless you heavily increase the vampiric population of a given city about ten fold, then there are not enough vampires for Elysium to be a thing half the time, so how is boon defaulting going to be prevented?

          As for Financial Transactions being heavily regulated..... that only applies in completely legitimate and fully transparent businesses. Once you start getting into the more back room deals and such, regulations are more of a guideline that make the game interesting, like how poker has rules, but that isn't why people play it. I mean how exactly are you going to regulate using profits from drug production in one country being used to invest in legitimate businesses in a different country, which in turn get government contracts in a third country, which in turn gives you lobbying power, which in turn means you start choosing who gets groomed for the next round of elections. Don't even get me started on how to move money around using art, antiques, or other money stand ins which can be converted back to cash with little to no trace. Then there is the whole bitcoin cyber currency thing, but let's hold off on that discussion for the moment.

          Considering how limited the authority of a Prince can be, how exactly would they know who the enemy is? Most Princes wouldn't understand computers, but their domains can be crippled by a cyber attack that paralyzes their city infrastructure. The same applies to direct economic attacks against a city or domain. If tons of unknown investors back groups that would diminish the power of the Prince there is not much they can do about it. Half way intelligent economic play always obfuscates the backers behind a few dozen levels of shell companies interspersed with real companies before getting to the actual culprits.

          Boons only work between vampires, they technically don't hold legal weight with other supernatural groups. Disciplines for the most part only work one on one or in small groups. But money..... money is essentially a long range dominate that can be used in public without a masquerade violation and often can affect huge swaths of the population. As for Justicars or Archons, unless the Prince is some how crucial to a greater sect plan or goal, the prince who loses to something like this deserves what they get. It is easier to change the letter head addressing who the new prince is rather than fighting their war for them.


          • #6
            With Ventrue and Giovanni especially, it makes sense to think about this kind of thing. It's reasonable to expect at character creation, tel alone after a couple of decades, these kind of Vampires may well have that kind of pull.
            Also, in a Dark Ages game, where ruling a city is not unreasonable, you can have the kind of money that means small stuff changes.

            It just means that what is a challenge changes for those characters, like with having contacts at 5 - They can do the running around getting information that someone without would have to role play through (And Roll through) Having a high herd means you shouldn't, in most cases, need to worry about nightly feeding.
            It frees up the game from nightly minutia to change gears and get political or intriguing, or organizing a war.

            You can make sure that players use their backgrounds smartly, so they don't attract attention, but they've invested XP at the cost of other options, so don't penalize them for using those tools.


            • #7
              I have long thought that the scope of the Resources background was written by people who didn't have the best handle on wealth, and who didn't get the breadth of the disparities that can exist. While it's not part of my homebrew rulesset as published, I use the following scale as a rough guideline (this was adapted from the MUSH I ran):

              This stat determines your material resources and standard of living. Resources levels may change if your circumstances do. Examples follow.

              0-Destitute: You are either homeless, or barely making ends meet on minimum wage. In a pinch you can probably scrape together $40-50.

              * Poor: You make very little money -- probably either part time work or close to minimum wage -- and have no assets to speak of. You probably can pay rent on a small apartment, but absolutely not in any decent neighborhood. You may or may not own a car, but if you do, it's either on uncertain credit with a loan that hurts, or it's questionable whether it will run next month.

              ** Comfortable: You have a nice apartment or are diligently paying off a house. You still live "paycheck to paycheck" -- but your income, whether it's wealth-generated or salary (though it's likely to be salary), is on the order of $40,000 and $150,000 per year. You have a savings -- though it probably ebbs and flows as you are periodically forced to dip into it. $500 purchases don't really faze you, but you can't make too many of them. $2000 purchases start to make you question whether you really need something. If it's an emergency, though, you can easily come up with $10-20,000 cash -- more if you have time.

              *** Wealthy: You have a considerable amount of money, and don’t worry about spending on the day to day requirements of life at all. You probably own several cars, including an SUV, and two houses isn't out of the question. Your annual income, from work or assets, is probably between $150,000 and $300,000. You've probably got some considerable assets, and are worth $1,000,000-$2,500,000 net. You have access to credit on the order of $50,000-$100,000, and can easily come up with $50,000 cash in an emergency.

              **** Rich: You probably live in a VERY nice home in a VERY nice neighborhood, and have considerable assets that provide you with nearly every reasonable material need that you could have. Many movie stars and sports figures are at this level. Annual disposable -- that's "disposable" not "gross" -- income is in excess of $300,000. There are very good odds you're not working day to day, but are engaged in some high level profession and/or living off of distributions, dividends, interest, rents, etc. Your net worth is probably between 5 and 50 million dollars, and if you need immediate cash, you probably go into your house's vault and pull out $200,000 to deal with the situation.

              ***** Filthy Rich: You are a worth somewhere between 50 and 250 million dollars, and could easily afford estates (plural) in Beverly Hills and Malibu if you wanted. Your wealth is institutional, and those at the lower levels of Resources probably don’t understand the scope of your economic power. Top line movie stars, producers, and the heads of many large multi-national corporations are this rich. You want it? You can afford it: White tigers, personal jets, $3 million birthday parties…

              ****** Abstract: Your wealth isn't really yours anymore -- you are the lens through which the power of your wealth shines out at the world. But your wealth is on everyone's radar as a separate entity; people probably have stopped treating you like a person, and rather think of you as the Signer of Checks. Your net worth is in excess of 300 million dollars, probably creeping into the low billions, but the truth is that unless you've got Finance 4 or 5, you don't really understand how wealthy you are. You pay people to deal with that. Your life is not appreciably different than the Filthy Rich -- but when push comes to shove in getting the high bid on that perfect piece of Hamptons real estate, or that new van Gogh that just went up for auction, or the shield of Joan of Arc that you want to hang in your study -- you're the one that gets it, not the chump with Resources 5.
              Last edited by Legendre; 07-25-2019, 02:15 AM.


              • #8
                Maybe I don't understand your point, but after reading your post, I still don't. I don't see how anything you wrote creates any problem for the ST in responding to actions of one or more PCs.

                Boons are enforced by the implied threat of retaliation from the person you would default on, and by the risk of damage of your reputation to a society of immortals who will know they cannot trust your word for the rest of eternity. There are lots of real world examples where historically and in the modern day where business - very important and expensive business - is settled purely on the basis of a handshake and someone's word. There are, of course, special conditions where this situation applies. Vampire society is very small and word will spread quickly even outside a city. A vampire who doesn't pay his debts is a vampire who won't be able to ever receive a favor from any other vampire again.

                Illegal financial transactions are, of course, the ones the government would like to look at even more than legal ones. Only a select number of institutions will knowingly risk handling illegal money, and now you also have the world's law enforcement agencies paying attention so you can throw the CIA, FBI, DEA, Interpol, and any number of foreign law enforcement agencies into the mix. I am not saying this route isn't usable by vampires - of course it is. Nor am I saying that a PC can't set up a relatively safe system of transactions so they have to worry about every penny that goes through. Just that there is LOTS of opportunities for an ST to throw in complications and even once in a while a real threat. I think around 1% of illegal financial transactions get seized by the government. Not bad for most criminals, but if you are one of the criminals to get hit, it gets very bad. And remember that while (some) governments are law abiding and have to follow the rules, that vampire rivals - if they have that information - can do things that many governments can't. (and of course, since they are illegal, they have a much higher rate of transaction cost since everyone who touches the money has to be paid off and compensated for the risk they are taking. And every time you convert money to something else in order to clean it, you're losing some value in that conversion.). Not to mention all the other criminal groups who will be upset at competitors muscling into their territory! Or drawing too much attention/heat on them by using established channels they also use.

                Again, there is no problem for a PC to have a criminal empire that provides substantial income or influence. But the idea that this means they can do anything and the ST just has to sit there like a dunce is simply wrong. There are LOTS of things an ST can do to challenge the player.

                Princes, like any vampire, can have plenty of mortal help - and probably has more than most vampires. They don't need to do everything personally themselves. They have Allies, Contacts, Influence, and Retainers too. And for things like a cyber attack on a city's infrastructure, they don't even really need to do anything to go after the perpetrators as all sorts of normal law enforcement will do that work for them. They just need to keep their ears open to pick up information. And of course, Princes have plenty of political allies who would be willing to help them in exchange for help at the next Conclave, to repay old debts, or to collect new boons. Those might be broodmates, childer, clan members in other cities and countries, fellow Princes, or archons.

                And if we assume there is some kind of mysterious unknown event in a city that seems to be targeting Kindred influence in a city, I do think Justicars and archons will investigate. At least in order to determine its purpose and origin. For they won't know that it is some random group of vampire PCs who don't pose a threat to the Camarilla. Maybe it is the Sabbat, or one of the Independent Clans, or some other hostile force.

                "Half way intelligent economic play" works both ways. Nor is there any reason to believe that random economic investment/divestment in a city does anything negative to a Prince, or undermines his authority as a Prince or his personal power in any way. It might. Or it might not. Only when those attacks directly affects his ability to control the vampire population in his domain will his power actually weaken. Some such attacks might even provide him opportunities he did not have before. Everything is based on specifics.

                Other supernatural forces will intervene not because they care anything about vampire society, but because they have their own agendas and won't like it if a vampire inadvertently sabotages them. If a vampire with resources causes some major "economic attack" (I am not sure what you mean by this), it won't matter to these other supernatural factions why he did it. If that attack damaged their interests or plans, they will pursue him in retaliation. So what happens if a Glass Walker corporation (with all the pack's resources like fetishes and spirits), or PENTEX, or a group of the Technocracy, or whatever is appropriate for your setting goes after that vampire? Now, in your chronicle you may not want to bring in these groups as part of play. But that's your choice not to do so. But they are definitely responses appropriate to the setting that an ST can use.

                While boons are a part of vampire society, and other supernatural forces generally won't trust vampires, there is also no reason why they may not help each other on a limited ad hoc basis, especially if they have a common enemy.

                And don't forget that the vampire PC who is doing this is just one vampire as well. Most of these financial transactions will go through mortal intermediaries, and those can be discovered and targeted. It only takes one link in the chain of those various shell companies to be broken for that attack to stop. It is not even necessary to trace it all the way back in order to stop the plot. Or to find a mortal they can dominate, blackmail, influence, threaten, or anything else in order to create a mole in the other character's organization so that next time, they can complete the trace or get the head's up.

                I don't know the specifics of your chronicle or the players you are talking about. All I can say is that from my perspective, I don't see a problem. I have a gigantic toolkit I can use to throw complications and threats to the PCs from all sorts of angles. Nothing you said would stop me as an ST from creating plot that challenges my players.

                There are lots of movies and stories out there that show powerful and rich people flying too high and being brought down because of their hubris. Scarface and Wall Street spring immediately to mind. You can use them to see how powerful newcomers can be brought low as inspiration as to what you can do to such PCs.


                • #9
                  Black Fox The only thing that gives me pause in your generally good post is this part about using a character's own high backgrounds against them.

                  Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                  I don't know the specifics of your chronicle or the players you are talking about. All I can say is that from my perspective, I don't see a problem. I have a gigantic toolkit I can use to throw complications and threats to the PCs from all sorts of angles. Nothing you said would stop me as an ST from creating plot that challenges my players.

                  There are lots of movies and stories out there that show powerful and rich people flying too high and being brought down because of their hubris. Scarface and Wall Street spring immediately to mind. You can use them to see how powerful newcomers can be brought low as inspiration as to what you can do to such PCs.
                  Resources and other backgrounds are Advantages, not Flaws, and probably should be treated as Advantages, at least as a baseline.

                  As Illithid put it:

                  You can make sure that players use their backgrounds smartly, so they don't attract attention, but they've invested XP at the cost of other options, so don't penalize them for using those tools.

                  I wouldn't use a pc's paid-for backgrounds as an attractant for "complications and threats", rather than a way of making the game easier in that one area.

                  If a pc has gained high Resources through the course of play, and has not paid xp to justify keeping it, yes, it is fair game to use that for complications and problems.

                  However, if a pc took high Resources during chagen using freebies, or acquired it later with xp, then the player has paid for it, fair-and-square, and should not be penalized for having it, or using it in a reasonable manner. Remember, that in V20&pre, the player was faced with a choice: "Should I have Resources 5, or improve my starting generation from 13 to 8"? They skipped the potent blood for the cash. Resources should be of roughly equal value compared to any other background of the same level.

                  There are, as always, exceptions. The ST can discuss it with the player beforehand that they have a good idea for a storyhook, but it involves messing with the pc's Backgrounds. If the player thinks it sounds fun, then go ahead. If the pc has a run of bad luck rolling with the Background, (ie: bestial fails, botches, succeeding at a cost, or whatever depending on the edition environment) then the trait can cause problems in the short run, but should still, overall, be a good thing. If the pc is using their Resources extravagantly that constitutes trying to use a level of the Background they don't have, so stymying them is fair.

                  Otherwise, if they paid for it, they earned it. If I needed to "attack" someone through financial means to move the story forward, I would make it the pc that put all their background points into Generation or Arcane.

                  Usual qualifiers apply. Your table, your game, yada yada...


                  • #10
                    Should the ST punish a player for an Advantage they bought? The answer, in my opinion, it's NO...Players you buy Traits with the intention of using them, otherwise you don't buy them. If the ST doesn't want this, could have banned the Trait rather than allowing it and then punishing the player for having taken a perfectly valid choice

                    ...but, on the other hand, the ST should react to the players actions. If a player thinks he can take over the world just because he has a few billons I would say the ST it's almost obliged to not make it easy. After all, easy it's rarely the fuel of good stories. Using a player Advantage to generate conflict (not punishing) it's entirely reasonable if it's a natural consequence of the story.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Nosimplehiway View Post
                      Black Fox The only thing that gives me pause in your generally good post is this part about using a character's own high backgrounds against them.
                      Nothing that I have said is about using the player's Backgrounds against them. I have no idea how you came up with that.

                      However, NPCs certainly have those same backgrounds available to them as well. And if a PC is doing a lot of actions in that field, they should expect to run into and perhaps run afoul of NPCs who also have them, and who can play the same game as them.

                      So if you have high Resources, but it's mainly backstory and flavor text, and you are spending your money to give you access to equipment or whatever, then probably there won't be a plot about how you have so many Resources. Or if there is one, it won't be a dominant in the game.

                      But if you have high Resources, and trying to do "master of the universe" type of game where they buy, sell, and destroy companies, attack financial rivals, try to bankrupt cities, etc. Then of course NPCs with similar levels of Resources or Influence are going to get involved. Why wouldn't they? The actions of the PCs will directly affect them, and they have the right means to fight back or go after them. That isn't about punishing players for their Backgrounds.

                      The OP was about a group of PCs with high Resources, and how that means the ST can't possibly challenge them. So my response was about how the ST can do things to such PCs.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                        The OP was about a group of PCs with high Resources, and how that means the ST can't possibly challenge them. So my response was about how the ST can do things to such PCs.
                        Actually I never said anything of the kind in the original post, I merely pointed out that because money is so trivialized by the mechanics and subsequently by STs that is a hole in the rules and in the discussion about game design as well as play style.

                        The core issue with your take on finances is that you are treating money as a replacement for melee. When you get into a knife fight, you see the opponent, you know they are trying to attack you, you have the tools and the skills to counter attack. But when it comes to financial moves in a game it creates a question of who can perceive what is going on in that situation.

                        Just because an apartment complex was sold to a new owner it just means something was sold, it doesn't automatically mean that every NPC in the area just some how knows that the purchase was the first step in land acquisition to destabilize the power base of a local prince. Buildings and businesses are bought and sold all the time, especially from the perspective of an immortal who sees mortal business fail or get sold every few years.

                        Finance is not OP, it is just a different way of approaching a problem. Not unlike how a melee specialist and a sniper are both combat builds, but with fundamentally different parameters for what works best. Since many people lack the knowledge or at least the interest to consider such things in games, it becomes a blind spot.

                        Like dealing with combat situations using long range sniper fire, using Financial attacks to confuse, disable, and ultimately defeat you opponent is the province of the Player or ST that appreciates a well executed Xanatos Gambit more than the idea of just pummeling an opponent to death. In fact the best plans of this sort end up being completed with the enemy never realizing who their opponent truly was.

                        Obviously what works for you and your group is what you should use. But at the same time that doesn't invalidate the question of how to handle financial play, especially given how many vampires in the setting itself default to the "rich and powerful" end of the spectrum and their business acumen is supposed to be almost super human.


                        • #13
                          Sorry to miscategorize your post. However, I am still not understanding what exactly you are talking about. I don't know what you mean by you don't know how to handle financial play. Are you looking for something more mechanically based like "financial hit points" and such, that could be used to simulate "combat" between two characters; or assigning a difficulty number to their Contacts rolls to investigate? Or something else?

                          Otherwise, every time you mention some problem that seems insurmountable to you, I can come up with any number of things that allows an ST to handle it. There are any number of Allies, Contacts, Influence, and abilities that can perceive a "financial attack", not to mention judicious use of Disciplines on mortals that other vampires must be using in some capacity to do so. All you need to do is determine what kind of things would attract attention. Someone buying an apartment complex isn't going to be something that's noticed. Someone pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop a neighborhood (because of both the money involved, and all the political approval that will be needed) is going to be noticed, but may or may not be investigated (it depends on whether that neighborhood development will disrupt someone's feeding grounds or threaten their established interests in some other way, or somehow other prompts them to investigate for some other personal reason). But a large scale change that threatens their interest will of course prompt an investigation, and if they determine it to be a real attack, then it will lead to reprisal in some form). But ST has to make that determination.

                          Since my posts don't seem to be helping you, I'm going to drop off the conversation on this thread. I hope you're able to find what you're needing.


                          • #14
                            One of the ways I've dealt with this in my games is to separate wealth and influence. It's an artificial separation, to be sure. Wealth and influence go hand in hand for a lot of reasons. But mechanically, I think it's useful to separate the ability to *buy* things from the ability to effect other sorts of changes. As a result I ended up dividing "INFLUENCE" into like 14 different subcategories and creating a mechanics system for a lot of the issues raised in this thread, including how other people with influence within the same sphere can "check up on" what's happening.


                            • #15
                              Speaking of money and influence I think a good example of what I am talking about is covered by this vid.

                              The Modern Rogue: How to buy an Election 1960

                              I make no claims about their information being accurate, just that it makes for interesting fodder for political games that are larger than a given city or domain. Resources 5 and Influence 5 just doesn't seem to cover this level of power or control.