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V5: Thralls, ghouls, etc. post-character creation

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  • V5: Thralls, ghouls, etc. post-character creation

    My friends and I are starting a V5 game, with me as Storyteller. We're unsure how to handle the establishment of thralls and ghouls post-character creation.

    Does it require the expenditure of experience points to go out into the world and find a suitable person, turn them into a ghoul, and establish a blood bond on them, after character creation? It's hard to reconcile for us if that's the case, because there should be nothing stopping a character narratively from going out and doing that essentially as often as they want and the only thing stopping them is not having enough Experience Points out of character.

    "How come you've never made any ghouls?"
    "Well, my lord, it would slow down my acquisition of Disciplines."

    And if it doesn't cost anything after character creation, it would seem like a waste to purchase them before the chronicle starts. Better to put those points into something else and make the retainers for free once play has started, right?

    I'd appreciate insight or tips!

  • #2
    fairly certain ghouling somebody costs a stain on your humanity and even then an untrained ghoul could cause trouble.so think of it as a trained ghoul costing xp

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    • #3
      Just use V20 rules.
      An OK retainer is one dot, a badass is two dots, if you beg your storyteller you can have a three dot retainer who's Mr -I have 8 dots of everything-. All backgrounds are free post character generation.

      V5's thrall rules are like, even the people who like V5'll admit they're awful. Simply not worth it in the slightest. Perhaps you're meant to pool the background together and the entire coterie can share one semi-competent, ready to appear guy. But really you should be spending all your collective points on Domain, or maybe resources, so that's a bad idea too.


      Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
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      • #4
        The way I've been running it is that spending the experience either creates the narrative circumstance where getting a ghoul or thrall "starts" with the players spending the experience points (basically viewing the experience points as the players going "Hey, Storyteller, I want XXXX to happen") and giving an all but guaranteed result for it. Explaining away why they haven't been doing it constantly is kind of up to whatever makes the most narrative sense in your particular game. For example, the Prince in my game views the creation of unauthorized ghouls as a violation of the Masquerade, so spending experience would be the players using their political clout or promising out Boons in order to get permission to create a ghoul.

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        • #5
          Typically Background traits could not be purchased with XP after start of the chronicle (there are some exceptions in the gamelines, like the Totem background in Werewolf). If you wanted to develop them during game, you needed to roleplay through the process (developing friendship and positive relations with whatever NPC to be a Mentor, Ally, Contact, etc. Coming up with a business plan or other way to build up an increase in wealth and income for that next dot of Resources, etc.)

          So no, the PCs don't need to spend additional XP in order to have a ghoul (Note that developing the Ghoul's powers - raising their Disciplines, increasing their traits - does require spending XP.). It should be something done entirely in game and roleplayed through. Having said that, there should be "costs" associated with obtaining a ghoul. The PC has to identify the right person. Deal with any fallouts of that character's change in personality (Renfield was thrown into a lunatic asylum) or behavior (lovers, friends, family, etc. investigate and determine the PC is a vampire and all become vampire hunters to kill him; and not only that now the PC is determined to have broken the Masquerade because he could not pull it off successfully). Or that the ghoul is behaving in ways the PC did not intend because their affection is so warped. Not to mention in many vampire domains, the Prince can regulate the creation of ghouls and thus the PC needs to secure their permission and give them information about who they're ghouling.

          As an ST, the more care, time, and effort put into the selecting, grooming, and preparing the future ghoul as a story element they took time to develop in game and downtime, the less problems I would have them deal with. Because we collaboratively crafted an interesting story that preserved the game's mood and themes. The less effort they took, I would give them a lot more problems since they didn't put any forethought to it. I'd force them to deal with the game's mood and themes since they didn't bother to do it themselves.

          If your gaming group is the type that dispenses with this element in gameplay because you just like to roll lots of dice, have combat, and avoid spending any significant time on things like that, I would say it is just best to have them spend XP on the dots instead.

          In my experience, most players actually don't want a story out of their Retainers. They just want someone who can do things for them during the day or be at another place than them. It's just a tool, not a roleplaying experience with an NPC. I'm fine with that as long as they pay for one up front at character creation, and the PC and ST agree on whatever happened prior to get them there. But that kind of thing is not really appropriate to get for free in game. Ghouling someone in game should have a story and real drama behind it.

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          • #6
            As others have said, creating a ghoul in-game doesn't cost XP. The process should be roleplayed out to reward players who do a good job "breaking in" the ghoul and to deny rewards to players who do a bad job.

            I typically try to make new ghouls come with at least one defining dramatic complication. Some can be:

            * The ghoul is jealous of other ghouls in the PC's retinue. They don't work together well and constantly get in verbal pissing matches.
            * The ghoul doesn't understand the master-servant dynamic. They have their own busy life, and as much as they care for their domitor, they won't simply drop everything and come running whenever the PC needs them for something.
            * The ghoul's vitae addiction starts them on another addiction (alcohol, hard drugs, whatever) that causes problems.
            * The ghoul hurts themselves, lies about where, and begs the PC for blood to heal their injuries. The ghoul constantly lies, wheedles, and engineers situations to bleed the PC for extra vitae.
            * The ghoul has a mortal family that demands much of their time. They grow increasingly stressed, forgetful, and poor-performing the more the PC pulls them away from their family.
            * The ghoul has a mundane source of trouble in their lives, like being a parolee or owing money to the mob.
            * The ghoul develops odious personal habits (not bathing and grooming, eating bugs ala Renfield) that make others hate to be around them.
            * The ghoul wants to sleep in the same bed as the PC and spend as much time as possible with them. They accidentally lead hunters or snoops to the PC's haven.
            * The ghoul wants more blood than the PC can give, and sells information or performs services for other vampires in return for extra fixes.

            The more thoughtfulness, effort, and good roleplay the player puts into their relationship with their ghoul, the more mild I'm likely to make any complications in the relationship. A "good relationship" ghoul who really wants more blood may just regularly beg and wheedle the PC for it. A "bad relationship" ghoul may go rogue and start hunting other vampires to drain of their blood. A "good relationship" ghoul who's jealous of their fellow ghouls may just badmouth them around the PC. A "bad relationship" ghoul may try to sabotage tasks the PC assigns their fellow ghouls, or try to get them killed.

            I allow players to spend XP on "retroactive" Retainers who we conveniently haven't seen on-screen yet, as well as during time skips between story arcs (i.e., long enough to find and break in a new ghoul). That's functionally no different than buying a Retainer with Backgrounds at the start of the game. In those instances, I simply have the Retainer be an obedient servant unless the PC does something egregious enough to alienate them. The player has invested a non-renewable resource in the form of XP into the Retainer (if the Retainer dies, the XP is gone), so they automatically get to achieve the "obedient servant" outcome without needing to earn it in-game.

            I don't allow spending XP on new ghouls during ongoing story arcs. I've tried it before and didn't like the results. The "breaking in" scenes were stilted and awkward because their outcomes were essentially decided in advance next to scenes with "earned" ghouls, which I've typically enjoyed a lot.

            I've found that while most players are usually happy to just buy Retainers with XP when they want a new minion, some still put more time and effort into their relationships with XP-bought Retainers than others. Those relationships are usually more compelling and I want to reward that as a GM. Retainers who PCs regularly engage and have compelling interactions with are likely to display extra initiative in their tasks and to go the extra mile for their masters when it counts.


            Blood and Bourbon, my New Orleans-based Vampire chronicle.

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            • #7
              You specifically asked about V5 so I'm going to point out that the people who are saying "No it doesn't cost XP to gain a Ghoul servant once the game has started" are actually wrong, as the sidebar on page 180 in the core rulebook will show you:
              The basic rule is this: a character should be able to get back, or at least replace, lost Advantages that have been gained by spending experience points or during character creation. If something is gained without the equivalent expenditure of experience points, it should be temporary at best.
              Example: Katya has brought a number of gullible mortals under her heel, roughly the equivalent of a couple of dots of Allies. As long as she doesn’t solidify her acquisition with experience points, these allies will likely only be available this story.
              So you can narratively gain whatever benefits you want and whatever fits the story, but they are not long-lasting and shouldn't be on your character sheet unless you spend XP to actually buy that Advantage. If you were to Ghoul and Blood Bond a potent Second Inquisition member but didn't want to spend the 9 XP for the three dots of Retainer, then the Storyteller should determine some way to keep that character out of your control. Maybe other SI agents capture them to deprogram them of your brainwashing, or maybe they're gunned down as a mercy killing. Maybe their own training is so intense that they flee, unable to oppose you but unwilling to serve you. Or maybe you cleared out a defensible Haven of Sabbat, and you want to move in. Perhaps the Sabbat left an explosive that destroys it as a failsafe, maybe the altercation drew too much mortal attention for you to make it a safe Haven, or maybe the property is owned by a stronger Kindred who doesn't want you on their turf. Whatever has to happen happens, and you don't get free stuff just by saying that you have it.

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              • #8
                People covered it quite well. I play it that the xp is used to make sure that the ghoul is loyal and instructed on how not to break the masquerade and become an effective retainer for the kindred.

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                • #9
                  Nah, it's nuts

                  -I recieved permission from the prince beforehand for a retainer. He was the perfect canidate; I studied him, watched him, tested him, befriended him, had him sign a contract and offered lucrative pay, ghouled him, dominated him... and the storyteller demands I lose XP to pay for him or he.... uhh... gets hit by a truck."
                  With garou gifts, it doesn't narratively make sense to do challenging tasks and somehow lose xp for it, but at least it's out of the way and you can't lose a Gift.
                  Like, if this retainer dies, do I get a refund? Do I mysteriously keep finding loyal elites driven to me to replace the losses? If so; should I one day invite my enemies to take all my things because I just need a bit more xp/I want to change houses?

                  Contriving backgrounds away from players because they didn't pay a tax to the gods is one way to alienate them. Especially if they've skilled themselves towards gaining backgrounds (Crafts, Finance, secondary abilities, whatever)


                  Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
                  There's more coming soon. Pay what ya want.

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                  • #10
                    CofD does it with the Storyteller System. Anything you want to have on your sheet costs XP.

                    However, the Storytelling System has (I think) a more generous rate of XP gain, and it also had Sanctity of Merits--i.e., if the Retainer dies or leaves your service, you get the XP you spent on them refunded. I don't know if V5's rules have anything like that.

                    I've played with CofD's XP system, but find that I prefer Storyteller's system of Backgrounds that go up and down as a consequence of play. Too often, players either have a surplus of XP and nothing to spend it on, or they have a deficit of Backgrounds they've earned IG but don't have enough XP to pay for.


                    Blood and Bourbon, my New Orleans-based Vampire chronicle.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
                      Nah, it's nuts

                      -I recieved permission from the prince beforehand for a retainer. He was the perfect canidate; I studied him, watched him, tested him, befriended him, had him sign a contract and offered lucrative pay, ghouled him, dominated him... and the storyteller demands I lose XP to pay for him or he.... uhh... gets hit by a truck."
                      With garou gifts, it doesn't narratively make sense to do challenging tasks and somehow lose xp for it, but at least it's out of the way and you can't lose a Gift.
                      Like, if this retainer dies, do I get a refund? Do I mysteriously keep finding loyal elites driven to me to replace the losses? If so; should I one day invite my enemies to take all my things because I just need a bit more xp/I want to change houses?

                      Contriving backgrounds away from players because they didn't pay a tax to the gods is one way to alienate them. Especially if they've skilled themselves towards gaining backgrounds (Crafts, Finance, secondary abilities, whatever)

                      All this time you invest in studying this new ghoul is why you expand XP because you could have used this time to study a new discipline power or skill. And those ones you can lose as well if your character gets hit by a truck.

                      You don't want to invest in things that might die? go ahead, it's your choice on what to spend your XP. But, backgrounds are powerful, sometimes even more than disciplines. A powerful ghoul with fighting or social abilities is truly worth the XP spent on them. Otherwise, players will just blood bond everyone and everything and have an army of ghouls all over town.

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                      • #12
                        I'm using my skills to study, am I not?


                        Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
                        There's more coming soon. Pay what ya want.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
                          I'm using my skills to study, am I not?
                          Correct, you also use time. The time you could use to do something else.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Godforsaken View Post
                            Correct, you also use time. The time you could use to do something else.

                            so you practice your skills by using them...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Taggie View Post


                              so you practice your skills by using them...
                              Not sure I get the point. You pay XP to improve the features of your character. Backgrounds are features. The fact that you need to do an in-game activity to validate the purchase doesn't make it free. If your character fights every session with a sword, but you invest your XP on Presence then "practicing by using your abilities" doesn't mean anything. If you want to improve a feature of your character, you strive for it in-game, and when you have the XP to pay for it you get it.

                              In the end, it's the gamemaster's choice I guess. But not paying XP for retainers sounds broken to me.

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