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V20 Backgrounds breaking down over play time

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  • V20 Backgrounds breaking down over play time

    I had a discussion with a player regarding the upper limits of the Backgrounds system and hit a few snags due to the abstraction inherent to the system. While system can cover an array of options, there seem to be some core issues that break down over time or due to the abstraction not interacting well with game play.

    Example #1: The Musician
    The classic vampire rocker who was embraced just before the peak of their career.
    Resources / Fame / Herd / Influence

    Example #2: The Political Fixer
    The person whom you contact when you need a situation resolved. They fix any kind of political scandal for a price and probably a couple favors to be named later. All the movers and shakers in the city or state know the name and both praise it and fear it.
    Resources / Fame / Influence / Contacts

    Example #3: The Shadowy Business Person
    This is another classical vampire character concept, but usually it only seems to apply to NPCs. There are next to no photographs of this person and they almost never appear in public. They own companies which own other companies which own other companies which in turn own dozens of businesses. All of that wealth is being funneled into hidden accounts in the international banking system and either allowed to accrue vast amounts of interest or they convert that funding into new business ventures like buying a private island or owning a PMC.
    Resources / Retainers / Influence


    The examples show a bit of build and storyline variety, but in truth it falls apart in game play. I intentionally left the exact background levels blank because of the abstract nature of the system.

    The Musician only has those backgrounds for as long as they can pretend to be mortal and remaining a top seller. Once they have to hide who they are or lose popularity, most of those Backgrounds drop or disappear entirely. Sure you could get creative and claim a new album was a collection of unreleased songs that the singers "estate" decided to release, but you can only do that so many times. This is an international level of fame and influence, but only as long as you are relevant thus meaning that your Fame decides your level of Influence and Resources.

    The Political Fixer has the problem of having to stay relevant in the current political sphere. If you are put into torpor for a few years or have a side project that makes you unavailable during a campaign year, it could take years worth of effort to build back up again. Political fixers tend to be specialists in a specific realm, such as a single city or country political party. Move them to a different area and they have to start over practically from scratch. In this case the level of Contacts equals your ability to always know someone who can help and thus fix things, which in turn creates your Resources and Influence stats, while the Fame is dependent on how successful you are at the job.

    The Shadowy Business Person by definition avoids recognition at all costs, thus they can't have Fame. Their power is defined by their ability to leverage their wealth and convert it into what ever is needed at the moment. Their Resources score more or less buys them their Retainers and Influence scores. At character generation any player can burn their freebies to get Resources 5, Influence 5, Retainers 5. But for some reason there seems to be a distinct lack of PC vampiric Jeff Bezos or vampiric Jeffery Epstein. Feeding restrictions more or less go out the door for Ventrue or Giovanni when you own a couple of hospitals and blood banks or simply own an insurance company and have your blood use labeled "medical transfusions".

    How have you reconciled these types of short comings?

    In the case of the PC musician how much do you require them to maintain their rocker business during a game? Do you make them have to contact every single Prince or Baron along the tour ahead of time, do they have to avoid Sabbat cities while on tour? Alternatively are they always off tour when vampire city politics happen?

    In the case of the Fixer the character is great for generating story hooks and producing loads of drama, but as an ST you essentially have to model an entire political system while running a gaming on top of the usual vampire politics. Do you just hand wave the upkeep and constantly shifting mortal concerns that affect other vampires?

    In the case of the shadowy business person, their resources profile is completely out of whack for the rest of the game. Some one like Taylor Swift has a value of around $400 million which would line up with the Musician example. But what do you do when the character is a multi-billionaire and can drop $500 million on a pet project without impacting their Resources score?

  • #2
    After character creation, certain Backgrounds can go up or down as a result of play, and the mechanical benefits adjusted. It's always been something the ST adjudicates. I never felt like I needed a "system" to handle it. I do what I think make sense, but sometimes I sound out ideas to the PCs in an OOC discussion to check that they are reasonable to everyone.

    The more background or roleplay the PC puts into it, the more I am likely to say the Backgrounds are being maintained. If the PC doesn't do things concerning those Backgrounds or the concept that supports them, the more likely I am to degrade them over time. But I usually give a heads up to the PC that their little empire is falling apart so I can see whether they react or do nothing.

    In general, the reasons why Backgrounds might decay are potential hooks for stories. They don't need to be big stories. They could be things handled in downtime after a 10 minute discussion with the player. Or become a major element of the game. All depends on what is fun for the players involved.

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    • #3
      The Musician should obviously transfer his accumulation to a more sustainable source. That's not terribly hard to do, unless you leave it till it's too late. The backgrounds he has can easily aid in making different backgrounds. It doesn't matter who you start as, it matters who you end up as.
      The fixer is fine if he knows what he's doing.

      Something you should consider is that vamps can set things in motion without needing to be there themselves. As a vampire with high resources, I can set up a whole firm of lobyists, and so long as nobody takes control of the firm and my money doesn't run out I can easily have them maintain my influence (or increase my influence) without me having to be there. Remember; you're playing a parasite, you don't have to do everything yourself, just mooch off the hard work of others. Hell you can just get your retainers to do everything for you


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      • #4
        Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
        Something you should consider is that vamps can set things in motion without needing to be there themselves. As a vampire with high resources, I can set up a whole firm of lobyists, and so long as nobody takes control of the firm and my money doesn't run out I can easily have them maintain my influence (or increase my influence) without me having to be there. Remember; you're playing a parasite, you don't have to do everything yourself, just mooch off the hard work of others. Hell you can just get your retainers to do everything for you.
        eh, considering how hard in real life it is just to get a contractor to do their jobs to your specifications or have lawyers do things in a timely manner rather than just bill padding, I have a hard time hand waving the efficiency of most vampiric support businesses.

        Don't get me wrong, I loved the idea of Exalted with rulership charms to mechanically maintain a kingdom or business, but VtM doesn't exactly have that aspect. The best you can do is ghoul a lot of people which creates one hell of a supply network to maintain or you spend a lot of time using dominate to enhance CEO company loyalty.

        In other words being a supernatural parasite is fine, its the dependability of the mortal parasites which your business is made of which at times seems more outlandish than being a vampire.

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        • #5
          Have 4/5+ resources. Solves most of those problems. Figures like Lawyers can be put under a retainer agreement (the real life retainer agreement, I'm not talking about ghouling here), and If you have enough stake in the company, they should be making you money while they're taking you money and should be taking your requests at a priority. At the least, it's not terribly hard for a vampire to have enough money to cover such expenses, or to work together with a coterie to pool resources into something that'll give you resources. Lobbying is a money sink, and it is mostly wasted time, but when spending tens of thousands each year can save you hundreds of thousands, it's a smart move for the mundane rich, nevermind vampires.

          Blood bonding isn't nearly so expensive and time consuming as ghouling.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
            Have 4/5+ resources. Solves most of those problems.
            This more or less shows what I have been talking about. Due to the abstraction of the mechanic unlike like say combat where you have dice pools where there is a minimum and maximum damage range before an ST weighs in, Resources is both useless and an auto-win condition. Which it is depends on Player creativity and how much the ST is willing to let money do the talking.

            In the older books there is an example where a Sabbat pack is causing trouble in a city, so a Camarilla vampire finds out they have been sleeping in a vacant lot by means of Earth Melding. So rather than fight the pack, the Camarilla vampire buys the lot from the owner and has it paved over in one day. This permanently traps the vampires and pays for itself because he then had the paved lot turned into a pay to use parking area.

            That is just using Resources to one-shot a pack of vampires. But it doesn't work if the ST doesn't have the vampires earth meld in the first place, pick a vacant lot that is small enough to be paved in a single day, have the owner capable of selling fast enough, and find a construction crew capable of doing the job on short notice. Usually the process of tracking down the owner, making an offer, signing the paperwork, pushing past the official red tape, finding a contractor, and actually getting the work down could take months to achieve, most sabbat packs roll through an area over a weekend and stick for a couple weeks at most.

            Resource management can get even more annoying when having to deal with international games since Resources 2 in many parts of the US becomes Resources 4 in other parts of the world. So if you are a Coterie whose membership whom all have scores of Resources 5 and in turn pooled them to rate Resources 20+ while in the US, what does that translate to when you go globe trotting?

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            • #7
              did it say the parking lot paving only used resources? hostile sabbat are going to want to use earth meld in cam territory: I see nothing far fetched here: a combination of resources, influence and allies can do this, dominate can help. you can also often just throw more money at things to get them done sooner: If it takes 3k to get something done, its often only a matter of payimg more to get it done by tomorrow, and if you are real rich, whats 9k, 15k or 30k compared to the need to get it done urgently?

              one should always enable player creativity. Resources is almost never a useless background.

              Outside of perhaps the sabbat and a few -poverty makes me strong- fools, a vampire should possess a minimum of 3 dots of resources before they are 20.

              For currency coversion, it doesnt effect all dots equally: most 'poor' regions are simply average regions with particulaly uneven wealth distribution. 1-3 dots may be very different in Norway compared to Argentina or the Congo but 4 and 5 dots are similar amounts of money between countries.


              Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
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              • #8
                Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
                Outside of perhaps the sabbat and a few -poverty makes me strong- fools, a vampire should possess a minimum of 3 dots of resources before they are 20.
                Which is, frankly, another problem with the background system. In V20 and earlier there’s only one background that can’t be quickly gained or lost through a couple sessions of roleplay; Generation.

                Throw all 5 background points into Generation, spend your freebies on buffing willpower and adding a discipline or two and your 8th Gen can get enough resources, influence and retainers to thrive after roleplaying out their first few nights in town.

                Honestly, one of the few good design decisions I think V5 made was in setting generation for the PCs independent of other build options. Making Generation something you can’t drop background/freebie points on keeps it from being the sort of background equivalent of the Dexterity super-stat.

                If I were to go a little further on my “incorporate the V5 lore” V20 rebuild, I think I’d try to find a way to remove Generation from backgrounds and instead make it a trade-off akin to V5’s effectively larger blood pool (more bonus dice from rouse checks, rerolling rouse checks for disciplines, etc. are just ways of presenting what V1/2/R/20 used larger pools and spending limits for) in exchange for stronger banes and some feeding restrictions.

                That would then free up backgrounds to be “backgrounds” elements that universally relate to your place in a larger world instead of something innate to yourself.

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                • #9
                  I don't like players starting with more than 3 dots of aby background because it encourages more rounded backgrounds and gives them something to work for. When my players want more than 3 dots of generation, i warn them that they will become targets as a result of that generation : all those ancilla at 10th and 11th and some stary eyed pup struts around with 8th or 9th? might as well cover yourself in good ham and walk into a tiger enclosure.

                  strongly feel making generation have such tradeoffs really curbs the ambition of vampires and thus makes kindred society too gentle. V5 went so far as to make high potency unplayable with too many hunger dice and too many feeding restrictions (story wise, always being very hungry is going to suck) you're best off keeping your blood potency low.


                  Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
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                  • #10
                    Eh, I’d still take 8th Gen every time; being able to pump 3 BP/turn is worth it, as is being immune to dominate by 9th Gen and higher vampires. Depending on setup and what other things you buy (ex. a couple points of status and/or mentor plus another discipline dot or two) there’s no reason to assume you’re starting as a new fledgling versus being an ancillae who just arrived in town but their luggage was misplaced.

                    Also, to be fair to V5, it didn’t so much use trade-offs in chargen, they just had the Storyteller decide what the entire party’s starting generation was as part of setting up the campaign.

                    That said, my experience with trade-offs is that players are good at maximizing positives while working around negatives to begin with (ex. Brujah with high Self-Control, Ventrue with large herds, Nosferatu with Obfuscate 3, Assamites who just don’t drink from other vampires at all, etc.) so increasing the negatives is more about requiring additional strategy and RP effort to work around rather than outright hobbling.

                    A drawback I’ve considered that doesn’t require any feeding restrictions, but is certainly meaningful is simply to tie the amount of blood needed to rise each night to the size of the blood pool instead of it being fixed at one per night. An 8th Gen needing 3 BP/night (vs. 1 for the 13-10th Gen) doesn’t prevent it from using blood bags or animals and isn’t overwhelmingly hard either... a 7th Gen elder should certainly have no problem with their resources and influence getting 4 BP per night... but is something where the increased potency does carry a price. Tweak that up or down a bit (maybe 2/night at 8th Gen is sufficient) as needed.

                    Likewise, throw in a slight increase in “bane strength” to playable low gens (ex. the 8th Gen Brujah has +3 diff to resist frenzy instead of +2) and a slight weakening for the higher gens (ex. a 13th Gen Brujah has only +1 diff to resist frenzy) and you could probably make the generation trait “cost neutral” relatively easily, while still providing incentives to improve your generation (i.e. as long as you have an adequate food supply and a handle on minimizing the effects of your clan weakness, there’s not a big disincentive to diablerie).

                    Likewise, cost neutral only needs to apply in the starting PC range. Having 7th Gen and lower be net positives just means the goal of high gen diablerie is to get through the trade-off levels to where the REAL game of consuming souls for power begins.

                    Or short version... trade-offs for Gen 13-8; pure benefit at Gen 7-3 keeps all the savagery in place while removing the incentive to just throw your background points into Generation.

                    Side-bar: I much prefer tying feeding restrictions to Humanity... high humanity vamps can get nourishment from animals and blood bags, as it drops those become less nourishing until about humanity 4 (or one any path that doesn’t use both conscience and self-control) a vamp needs live humans to feed on, humanity 3 they gain only half benefit from human blood and 2 or less they can only feed on vampire blood.

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                    • #11
                      Max 3 at character creation is a pretty solid houserule, I recommend it. I want players to be instigators with goals.

                      In my opinion, diablerie's scariest when it's "easy" and "It could happen to anyone, even me!" I want players to risk diablerie, I want to see how they plan to ride the fallout of their crime, and I want them to be targeted in kind, both by diablerists and those opposed to diablerie. Yes, you may have a few dots of mentor or status, but your enemies are subtle, cautious, possibly experienced.
                      (However, I don't want Diablerie to be too rewarding. That'd unbalance the party; getting permanent disciplines, from experience, is bad, really bad. Diablerie about moving beyond limitations, not a quick and dirty method for power)

                      Increasing bane strength can't work uniformly well across clans.
                      Feeding restrictions are rather silly/work well as misinformation.


                      Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
                        Increasing bane strength can't work uniformly well across clans.
                        Which is why I’m only considering it in an “adapt V5 elements into V20” conversion project.

                        Honestly, I’m a tinker by nature and I’ve already done a top to bottom revamp of Mage back when Awakening came out since that was before the days of easy pdf access and new players were starting to have problems finding the books and I already had many pages of house rules. There is ZERO chance I wouldn’t start a sizable house rule project once I got a campaign started.

                        So this project includes tweaking the clan weaknesses because, frankly, I much prefer the Toreador, Tzmisce and Ventrue adaptations in V5 and the Tremere weakness morphs every edition so changing it up again seems like something the Tremere would just sigh about before getting back to their grimiores.

                        I think some of the lore updates can work with a bit of context in V20 (and are more interesting if played through instead of happening a decade or more ago during the 2005-2018 gap), though some mechanics need adapting in the process (other stuff can die in a fire... I’m looking at you thinblood alchemy).

                        So in that framework, bane strength CAN work as part of a balancing factor, at least within limits (basically within the normal 13th-8th Gen PC range).

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MyWifeIsScary View Post
                          Max 3 at character creation is a pretty solid houserule, I recommend it. I want players to be instigators with goals.
                          This doesn't make much sense to me. Restricting a trait to three or less only means that the scale of the characters ambitions are restricted, not whether they are proactive individuals with goals.

                          If we were to apply the same logic to a combat character and restrict their dex+melee to 3 in each, it doesn't change the character goals, it just makes them numerically less functional.

                          Now I could see an arguement that if a character has max dots in certain things, they become a "turn key" character rather than a character that is grown over the course of many games. But I would argue that the desire to have a fully functional character at the start is more of a condemnation of the XP system and how long it may take to produce some builds over others.

                          While I have always been a proponent of the Storyteller XP system that rewards game play over body count, White Wolf has a nasty habit of dropping the ball when balancing the XP costs for builds. Exalted 2nd edition had the most egregious example of this when a standard combat solar build only required an optimized character generation and maybe 30 additional XP, while a Solar builder had to burn 250+ XP post optimized character generation just to become functional, let alone top tier.

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                          • #14
                            -I don't understand your meaning. I just limit at character creation. i intend for them to get backgrounds avove 3 during gameplay. ; get rich- -get domain- -grow a herd/cult/mob/influence- are all very good goals for a character. Start at 3 resources and you've got a tangible improvement when you achieve 4 and 5 resources. If you start at 5 resources then there's no need to get more rich unless you want the highscore or you're directly competing with a cabal of Ventrue methuselah in a bidding war. deprevation necessetates action. a vampire eho starts with 5 resources has little to go.

                            also in terms of balance, it's quite healthy, since backgrounds over 3 are often exponentially better to a degree that's scary.


                            starting with backgrounds generally means thry're safer. watching characters struggle for more and dragging other kindred against their scheme is good fun. meaa ia good.
                            Last edited by MyWifeIsScary; 03-11-2021, 07:13 PM.


                            Throw me/White wolf some money with Quietus: Drug Lord, Poison King
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                            • #15
                              MyWifeIsScary To use a couple of movies illustrate the difference, one method is Ocean's Eleven while the other method is the Karate Kid (Mr. Miyagi / not Jackie Chan).

                              Ocean's Eleven with the exception of a little growth on the part of Mat Damons character is every character being smart and competent. There is no need for a training montage, no explanation of why the thieves got into crime, no mortality arch about them choosing a criminal life. The story is simply interesting character interacting with each other while using their knowledge and skills to achieve the mission objective.

                              The Karate Kid on the other hand is all about character development. Daniel learns to find his own power, gain self discipline, find love, beat up the bully, etc. But in truth he is still just a teenager who has to graduate high school to possibly find a job regardless if he wins or loses the karate tournament. In short while his character changes, his environment, his place in life, and his reality remain largely unaffected.

                              Now both styles of game are valid, but some house rules that are considered "good" have a nasty habit of restricting one style in deference to the other.

                              If the ST wants to run a Lost Boys clone, of course any background over 3 at character generation can be detrimental. On the other hand if the game is more about empire building than being eternal teenagers, then having Backgrounds at 5+ is just a starting requirement.

                              RPGs are about trying out fantasies, for some people the fantasy begins and ends with the idea that they could get that kind of power. For other people the fantasy is about what you do after getting the power. Unfortunately if you have a player or ST that is limited in ambition or scope of vision, it doesn't really amount to anything regardless of the score.

                              If you are a teenager who works a part time job for minimum wage IRL, yeah the idea of becoming a vampire and "earning" a Resources rating of 5 is an end game fantasy.

                              If you are a successful business person who keeps ten or twenty thousand dollars in cash on hand since you only trust the banks to hold about 2/3rds of your money IRL, then something like getting Resources 5 isn't exactly a satisfying concept on its own. But being able to get aggressive with your business moves, take those risks that may secure power or influence, now that has some very rewarding potential to it. To quote a line from Vampire: Bloodlines "Power doesn't come from money, power comes from the things that money affords you".

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