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  • How have you integrated Malkavians?

    First time back to these forums in years, I'm about to return to Vampire: the Masquerade!
    One thing I'm looking for a new take on is how to frame the clan weakness for a player who wants to try a Malkavian. There are well-documented and thoroughly discussed pitfalls. Most recently, I ended up using an ailment that was the most narrative I could think of: synesthesia. It's something you could weave into any type of scene, it would constantly create this alienation between that character and the others, but still in the end all the players had this consensus of what was reality and what was not.
    The best idea I've had for a new approach is to frame the ailment like something the character is actively struggling against. They have some delusion for example, with causal factors that we predetermine that can set off an episode. The episodes belong to the storyteller, and it's up to the player to manage their illness. The closest example I can think of is Chuck from Better Call Saul. The memorable crazy stuff you see him do is rationally trying to deal with just the causal factors. If the player fails to keep it under control, the real episode comes and all the promises of deep madness (and sparsely those oracular feats of Malkavians) come from the storyteller.
    But I don't know. It's too much like having another Beast to worry about.
    Please share your takes if you have them


    Currently running (kpwarmerdam.nl/tabletop)
    Helion's Advocates (MtSC)

  • #2
    what edition are you playing? V5?


    -

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    • #3
      Just say they 'permanently suffer from a mental Illness they gain upon embrace, though that illness may not line up with a 'real' mental illness, it is always debilitating.'


      Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

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      • #4
        I'd suggest reading over the description V5 of the clan, connecting the clan to their historic role as seers, visionaries and such--there's also something to be said for their intense empaths "insight" who might find interacting others debilitating. You can also consider the nature of the "broken". What part of the three ( if not all) applies to the player and construct it from there. Is the character a sensitive psychic who recoils from the intensity of violent emotions causing them to withdraw from the world? Did the experience of the Embrace itself push an otherwise sane mind over the edge? I've played a Malkavian who was broken by the Embrace. His death and Embrace were not kind, his emerging Frenzy led him to kill. His derangement manifests as a fugue when he frenzies- and he attributes the horrible actions he does while in Frenzy to others--"somebody did this, framed me" sort of thing- he doesn't remember doing it, unless he rides the wave (which he doesn't always do). In the immediate aftermath of his crime, he tends to incur the penalty to social or mental rolls, depending on the nature of the aftermath. He'll likely frenzy if somebody forces him to take ownership or points out, he did it. The clan compulsion, his delusions that occur--sees the Jyhad behind everything. The pizza guy? Must be a ghoul. The lady at the bar on the cellphone? Contacting the agents of the prince. Toss stones in the air- and there's no random arrangement, each fell where the ancients wished them to fall...

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        • #5
          Malkavians need no integration. We are square pegs in round holes and like it!


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

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          • #6
            This is how I approach Malkavians as a Player and Storyteller.

            1) The Malkavian clan weakness is a permanent mechanical Derangement per the rules. It is an artifact of the cursed blood of Malkav. Player should pick a Derangement he's interested in playing, thinks he can play long term, and doesn't think will be cause the game (other players, the ST, and himself) to not be fun. Sometimes a thing seems interesting to play, but quickly exhausts itself and becomes a burden. Any derangement should be fun for a PC to play, and not disrupt the game for the other players as well.

            2) The best correspondence to the way the Malkavians themselves like to view themselves is the same way that pop culture likes to match "madness" with aspects of genius or extreme talent. The tormented genius. This is particularly applied to creative people in the arts, but can sometimes be expanded into other people. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were deeply depressed much of their lives. Albert Einstein had a nervous breakdown at age 16 and his teachers considered him mentally slow, unsociable, and lost in fantasies. Charles Darwin was a recluse, a hypochondriac, and probably agoraphobic. Florence Nightingale suffered from extreme anxiety and was bedridden much of her life. Many great writers and artists were alcoholics or mentally disturbed. Beethoven, Tolstoy, Michaelangelo, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway all suffered from either manic depression or major depression. Edgar Allen Poe seems to have suffered from several mental illnesses. Since PCs need to be high functioning, it is best if they select a Derangement that simulates something like this.

            3) NPCs are allowed to have other manner of Derangements because they don't have the same metagame "needs" as a PC does. An NPC can be mostly catatonic, engaging the world only when absolutely necessary. Or a complete psychopath. This can be an interesting NPC for the setting and the players to interact with at times. But it is an extremely poor concept for a PC. STs have much greater room in exploring interesting Malkavian concepts with NPCs than PCs because they don't have the same metagame needs than a PC does.

            4) Derangements, Mental Illness, and Insanity are not the same. Derangements are a specific game mechanic. It matches only loosely to real mental illness, but is meant to simulate some kinds that may be "appropriate" for vampires. Mental illness is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Insanity is an informal definition that describes someone with severe mental abnormality, and as a legal definition means someone who cannot control themselves and thus not responsible for their own actions. The three are related, but I found it useful for players and STs to distinguish between them.

            3) The Malkavian clan itself sees itself as the "clan of genius". They believe that Malkav's blood gives them an increased consciousness, a kind of enlightenment. A big part of clan culture revolves around it. Therefore, the clan likes to embrace people they believe "fit" that culture - they look for people who already demonstrate some kind of talent that points to them being enlightened. But they also understand the clan curse is difficult and don't want to burden those who cannot handle it.

            4) One aspect of this culture is "pranking" - but such pranks are meant to do one of two things. The first is simply to prove the Malkavian is "superior" to someone else. This may be another Malkavian in friendly (or not) rivalry, or to a non-Malkavian who needs to be shown who is the intellectual superior. The second is when the Malkavian seeks to "help" another vampire overcome an obvious limitation holding them back, by giving them some kind of life experience where they can grow. The first kind is almost always "signed" so that the receiver always knows the specific Malkavian was responsible. The second is almost never signed, and in fact are usually designed so that it is deniable any human agent is responsible or involved.

            5) Regardless of the intention of Malkavians who embrace childer, it is unknown how the Blood will react with them. Some derangements are mild. Others completely incapacitating. Still more are those that are not debilitating enough to prevent the new Malkavian childer from surviving, but would pose a serious threat to the Masquerade. Therefore, clan Malkavian has a high number of its vampires destroyed. Many sires are even forced to put down their own childer before they are released. Because of this tragedy, there is a very strong clan culture of Malkavians helping each other once they are released. Not only did they survive a much harsher fledgling period than the other clans, they also know the prejudice and fear the other clans have for them.

            6) There are varying degrees of mental illness and all are represented in Clan Malkavian. Clan Malkavian is very mixed with very lucid Malkavians at one extreme to the totally insane at the other. The more lucid members tend to continue the tradition of embracing “geniuses” into the clan. However, this has broken down over the centuries so that in many cases madmen are simply embracing other deranged people. This is a major source of distinction within the clan, and any city's population of Malkavians may go in any number of ways. In one city, the population may be almost entirely populated by "lucid" Malkavians. While in another, it may be of another type. In a different city, the clan is split between types, and they may or may not get along well.

            7) I personally like to match Derangements with traits appropriate to vampires. While this could mean aligning with personality or character types appropriate to a game (Hannibal Lecter is often referenced), I also like for it to match certain classical descriptions of folkloric vampires. Many of these are some form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. One is Arithmomania which gives people a strong need to count their actions or objects in their surroundings. There is folklore about vampires being easily distracted by casting a bag of rice, millet, or seeds which would force them to stop and count. Or they might have a phobia that reflects one of the classic defenses against vampires (religious symbols, garlic and other herbal remedies, mirrors, etc.) Or be a compulsion that forces them into certain stereotypical vampire behavior such as not crossing running water, or unable to enter a home without an invitation. While these can be simulated by Flaws as well, it's something I like to include for many of my Malkavian NPCs. It helps explain why these behaviors are part of vampire lore.

            8) For the most part the clan is seen by others as being “broken” – and possessing little of the organized power the other Camarilla clans possess, although individual Malkavians can easily be equal to any other. The clan has a very libertarian view of its members, and seldom organizes as a collective unit. When they do, it is either because of obvious threats to the clan as a whole, or seemingly because of a mysterious force than compels them to work together.

            So these are the guidelines I use when creating a PC (or NPCs), and when I run the clan as an ST. I've found it useful at least.
            Last edited by Black Fox; 07-14-2020, 03:33 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
              5) Regardless of the intention of Malkavians who embrace childer, it is unknown how the Blood will react with them. Some derangements are mild. Others completely incapacitating. Still more are those that are not debilitating enough to prevent the new Malkavian childer from surviving, but would pose a serious threat to the Masquerade. Therefore, clan Malkavian has a high number of its vampires destroyed. Many sires are even forced to put down their own childer before they are released. Because of this tragedy, there is a very strong clan culture of Malkavians helping each other once they are released. Not only did they survive a much harsher fledgling period than the other clans, they also know the prejudice and fear the other clans have for them.
              Not to mention Malkavians have a vested interest - both individually and as a Clan - to not appear as a liability to their Kindred peers. Their survival depends on it, as does their acceptance in "polite" vampire society.

              Ergo, it behooves Malkavians to cover for one another. To hide mistakes, clean up messes, erase memories (you better believe those Malks who retained Dominate became very busy after the Dementation resurgence), and generally obfuscate and distract from problems their Clan-mates were having. Occasionally drag recalcitrant members - kicking and screaming where necessary - into more agreeable behavior. (By the standards expected of Malkavians, anyway).

              If a Malkavian can't behave herself well enough to maintain the Masquerade, avoid bringing trouble, and not metaphorically shit on the carpet, it makes things harder for other Malkavians. There's always the fear that the other Clans might decide to reconsider their inclusion in the Camarilla, on a broad level, or for Kindred to reconsider letting Malkavians unlive in their cities on the local level.

              8) For the most part the clan is seen by others as being “broken” – and possessing little of the organized power the other Camarilla clans possess, although individual Malkavians can easily be equal to any other. The clan has a very libertarian view of its members, and seldom organizes as a collective unit. When they do, it is either because of obvious threats to the clan as a whole, or seemingly because of a mysterious force than compels them to work together.
              Part of this whole impression of Clan Malkavian being "broken", of course, is deliberate. Clan Malkavian long ago perfected the art of appearing more loony than they really are. Affectation meant to foster an impression of being harmless.

              Not helpless, of course. Malkavians - whether intentionally or as a byproduct of pranks and/or outbursts - betray a hint of danger and lurking menace. To remind other Kindred that while they are goofballs, they can rip your face off if provoked. That it's imperative to let sleeping vampire dogs lie, and to not poke the vampire bear.

              It's a tough balancing act. A bizarre three-way tightrope walk (four-way, if you count the compulsions and needs of their genuine madness). Between the need to appear dangerous enough to not be messed with, harmless enough to not worry about, and stable/competent enough to keep around and be left to their own devices.

              It also helps to appear useful. Utility goes a long way towards fostering tolerance.


              From a roleplay perspective, this creates a unique mixture of pressures and opportunities for players. Another layer of nuance on top of what is provided by the vampire's Derangement.

              There's a certain degree of license to act the fool - to channel the Fishmalk - in controlled doses. Obviously, disruptive behavior is bad both in-game and at the table. The game being fun trumps all considerations. But part of the fun of playing a Malkavian is acting mad. It's what is expected from everyone involved. It would be a waste to not flex those muscles.

              As such, while the PC's primary Derangement should be workable "for the long haul", Malkavian players should consider situational application of controlled madness above and beyond that. Secondary behaviors the PC doesn't have to do, but chooses to do. Both for the sake of fun, and to sell the illusion of more total and profound madness.

              If nothing else, a rotating staple of eccentricities can both keep the game fresh AND let the player try on different ideas. The PC doesn't always need to talk through a hand puppet or wear a dude's entrails as a scarf. They can do it sometimes, when the mood strikes them. (Although, thinking on it, a Malk PC that carries around a hand puppet and has conversations with it isn't THAT much of a deal breaker, in moderation).


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              • #8
                The V5 version of their bane is much improved and should lead to much better portrayals. They’re lucid most of the time, which explains how they’re pillars of the Camarilla, valued advisors and scholars, etc. But they have episodes with clear mechanical consequences, and those do get worse as they age. And while it may resemble mental illness, it’s clear that it’s a supernatural phenomenon, probably the result of an innate psychic sensitivity that they’re not entirely in control of.

                What one should never do is play them for comic relief. That’s never going to not be stupid, and it’s why a lot of people don’t like the clan.
                Last edited by Black Flag; 07-12-2020, 09:48 PM.

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                • #9
                  I've always tried to keep their insanity low-key and creepy as opposed to flamboyant scenery chewing. My most iron-clad rule when running a game is that at no time should a character's antics (Malkavian or otherwise) interfere with the other players' enjoyment of the game.

                  Random stuff that I've drawn on as influences: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Session 9 (2001), Naked Lunch (1991), American Psycho (2000), Unbreakable (2000), Psycho (1960), The Machinist (2004), Memento (2000), The Stepfather (1987), One Hour Photo (2002), Donnie Darko (2001), Dream House (2011), Arlington Road (1999), Jacob's Ladder (1990), and Manhunter (1986).



                  What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                  Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

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                  • #10
                    The thing with Malkavians is that (Though they're usually mental primaries, though players don't play them that way) they can be anyone; You could fit a Malkavian into high society, low society, deviant society, no society... An individual malkavian rival a ventrue for money, A Tremere for knowledge, A Toreador for "friends" and art, A Gangrel for survival, or a nosferatu for espionage, or a brujah for stiring up trouble. The Malkavians aren't bound by an archtype like other clans, they're bound by a shared weakness. They are spread out, and yet they come together...


                    Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

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                    • #11
                      Integrate? Pish posh! My last Malkavian was the most integrated, most useful, and most lucid member of his entire merry little coterie!

                      And why wouldn't he? Those other Kindred didn't have an angel watching them. He did. Kept the eye in a jar, and the jar in a briefcase, always carrying it on his person. To keep the angel well informed, you see.

                      Oh, sure, anyone more... secular... may be thinking he's come crazy guy who lugs the preserved eyeball of a dead little girl around, but they don't know the truth. Angels can't die. Ergo, the little girl he tore to pieces during his first frenzy? Clearly not dead. Just an angel watching.

                      Also, please don't try to take the briefcase. He doesn't react well to that.
                      Last edited by Konigheim Horror; 07-13-2020, 07:40 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Lot of good stuff in here, thanks!


                        Currently running (kpwarmerdam.nl/tabletop)
                        Helion's Advocates (MtSC)

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                        • #13
                          Something I consider. After the Gangrel and Brujah left the Camarilla, a Malkavian seer was quoted about saying the Camarilla needed 7 pillars to remain strong, hench bringing in the Lasombra and Banu Haqim. What if the line was the Camarilla needs only 6 pillars, and the Malkavians weren't one of them. She puts on the show knowing that things would be worse off for the clan if they weren't seen as useful to the Camarilla.

                          In my game, events are looking more and more like there will be major splits in the Camarilla base on old High/Low clan differences. I don't have any Malkavian PCs, so presenting the NPCs as both highly useful and potential liabilities.

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                          • #14
                            I'm currently playing as a Malkavian Psychologist set in New Orleans. He manages to insert himself into everything happening in the area.

                            Through use of Domination and Obfuscation, there is little that he cannot achieve. He's made sure to place himself close to anyone in power, and continues to fight against any negative stereotypes that may exist of his clan. Pulling strings in the background, is constantly fueling his Ego which is making his Narcissism worse as time goes by. Manipulating everyone around him to the point that, eventually, he may truly be in control.

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                            • #15
                              My Preferred way is to realize that it is really:

                              Mlkvin * ∫ a^3 da --> Mlkvin * 1/4* a^4 + C --> Malkavian * a/4 + C --> a * Malkavian + C*4

                              This handles the problem nicely as long as done from a distance.

                              On a more serious note subtle moments of insanity are far better and more realistic than huge amounts of crazy all the the time. Also remember just because you know Orcs run the local PD doesn't mean Bob needs to know that, he may need manipulated into helping without that knowledge because he's fallen for their ruse.

                              With Dementation they justified their existence. Without Dementation it's hard to justify them making it at modern nights at all. It's a fine line between burden and "troublesome but worth it", and your player has to walk that line. Reward them with insight for good roleplaying often enough that it justifies their existence if Dominate Malk. If Demenation Malk, Eyes of Chaos should make them useful enough to the group. Hell, Passions when cleverly applied can change a who scene completely, I've seen it expose enemies who were actually working together by turning faked anger into revealed humor.

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