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Dominate - is it easy to figure out you have been mesmerized/dominated?

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  • Dominate - is it easy to figure out you have been mesmerized/dominated?

    I have a question about Dominate in Vampire the Requiem 2e, and a little issue I need to resolve. Hopefully you guys can help me out.

    I'm dealing with a player who hates the Dominate discipline because he believes his character getting dominated takes away his player agency. Mind you that I already allow him to play his own character and make his own decisions when his character is Mesmerized or Dominated and I only ever interject as the Storyteller if I believe his actions go against the direct command of the person who used Dominate. The moment Mesmerized/Dominated wears off, this player immediately wants to turn on the vampire who dominated him, assuming that his character, who's also a vampire, and who knows what Ventrue can do, should be able to put 2 and 2 together and immediately figure out that he has been dominated after the effect wears off. As a storyteller I disagree with this notion, because both the Mesmerized and Dominated conditions state that the vampire doesn't quite remember what happened while being dominated. The player however uses those words as an argument that this is precisely why his character would know she has been dominated, because she has gabs in her memory.

    So, doesn't quite remember what happened... what does that mean? Does that mean you remember what happened but the details are fuzzy? The weasel word 'quite' makes this way too vague. The 'Lords over the Damned' book sketches a slightly different scenario, where a victim of the Dominate discipline does remember what happened, but rationalizes the situation to herself. Instead of forgetting what she did under the effects of Dominate, she remembers most of it, and rationalized it to herself without immediately resorting to the "I must have been dominated" answer. However, this is a 1e book and thus might not be relevant for 2e anymore.

    In my opinion, it seems clear the authors of Vampire the Requiem intent for Dominate to be a subtle discipline, something that can be used on someone without the victim immediately being aware she has been dominated, even when the victim does know about Dominate and what it can do. I'm fine allowing victims of Dominate to figure it out through third-party information. If new information comes up that warrants the victim second-guessing whether her actions were truly her own, then fair enough, your character might assume or even know she has been Dominated. But if there is no reason for the victim to suspect mind-fuckery, then the victim isn't any the wiser about having been dominated, even after the effect wears off. However, my player doesn't seem to agree with that reasoning, and argues that I, the storyteller, should just accept that Dominate isn't an incredibly subtle discipline and should accept that victims of Dominate might be smart enough to figure it out immediately when the Conditions wear off.

    So, what do you people think? Can you help us shed some light on this?
    Last edited by Ventrue Life; 11-05-2018, 03:48 PM.

  • #2
    I generally have usage of Dominate let the character remember kind of what they did under the conditions (kind of fuzzy on the details), unless some factor plays in for them not to have remembered what happened (Dominate 4). Also, if I had gaps in my memory I wouldn't immediately assume mind control just went down. Honestly, I probably wouldn't even know I had gaps in my memory until someone pointed out/asked me what went down during that time, and then I couldn't tell them. So yeah, Dominate is a subtle discipline, and the victim is unlikely to know they were Dominated unless a third party helps to point it out to them. Honestly, all the mind control disciplines are super subtle, so knowing you're being affected or have been affected by one is unlikely to happen.

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    • #3
      Dominate is definitely a subtle Discipline, or else it wouldn't be useful for making sleeper agents and erasing memories...In fact, with Mesmerize alone, memory isn't really an issue: "She can even mess with the victim’s memory, making one statement about the current scene that victim will remember as truth." Which could easily be I wasn't here or Steve was here, too. Yes, the player knows Steve wasn't there, but the character remembers it very well. Steve's a Ventrue, isn't he?

      That being said, if the character (not the player) is exceptionally paranoid about Dominate, it might make sense for him to be more self aware about lost time and fuzzy memories. Or maybe if the character has high Resolve, he might be able to remember things more clearly.

      I think the trick to helping players on the receiving end of Dominate is to emphasize that the Condition is there to reward them for going with the flow. Sure, if your character is getting Dominated ALL the time, that's not so fun, but I find the best moments come when you let the bad things happen. That can be a hard sell when it comes to player agency, of course.



      Social justice vampire/freelancer | He/Him

      VtR: Curses of Caine in Requiem 2ndTricks of the DamnedBtP: Secrets of VancouverCofD: The CabinActual Play: Vampire: The Requiem – Bloodlines
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      • #4
        Yes, as others said, Dominate is subtle. The character of the player of your sholdn't remember anything or just some flash like in a dream you really can't recall waking up. I even wouldn't give the player any roleplay chance (as you could give to him during frenzy or Majesty instead).
        Inalways played it to my player like this example:
        "You turn the corner following your prey. You follow his path, walking in the cood and wet night. Walking and walking. Seems you've lost him...but wait... Where tge fucking buildings are... How the hell have you reached the open country.... What...what is... The sun is rising" (sorry my bad english).
        The point is: has the dominator won the roll? Let it happen unti the brraking point occurr or the command expire. In the example above the command was: "go to have a walk in the country". And since dominate 2 last until the dawn...
        It could become a cool scenario even if used against player.

        Another trick could be:
        "You are finally alone with your lover under the bridge. You want her, you are getting closer to her with your lips. But a wet feeling on your hands. You stare at them and feel your stomach stricted in a vise, finding them covered in blood and your loved Mary lying at your feet without life."

        But never abuse of it. It could be cool and horrorific but if abused it is loosing its grip and unexpectation feeling.
        Then you can let the player rebuild what happened and seek for who has messed with his brain.

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        • #5
          By default, they don’t recall specifically what they were doing while mesmerized. Most people can’t tell you specifics such as what they were doing at 2:30 three weeks ago unless something major happened or they’re pressured to recall and even that doesn’t facilitate accuracy. When they try to recall what they were doing just before the time the condition kicked in, their memory is going to be they continued doing whatever activity they were engaged in at the time without incident. IF they have eidetic memory or the “unblinking snake” merit chain from the Ordo Dracul covenant book, they might notice that their memory in that time frame is hazy (which is what tips them off that something happened) but it does not automatically mean they were mesmerized. It could mean: 1. They were drugged and succumbed to its effects. 2. They fed off a drugged vessel and the effects kicked in. 3. They were knocked into torpor. 4. They were food for a vampire and fell under the effects of the Kiss. 5. They were affected by other memory or perception alteration powers or spells of other supernatural creatures. 6. They succumbed to some kind of frenzy or other.

          And no, as a storyteller, I DON’T have to accept another player’s declaration that they instantly and automatically detect the use of a specific power when it’s description REPEATEDLY emphasizes that the power alters memories and victims do not recall when or how it was used, much less who used it.
          Unless you’re being a douche and using Dominate to railroad him to specific actions or using his character as a litmus test at every opportunity to demonstrate that the Dominate user is an asshole, tell your player to stop being a dick and just go with the flow to keep the story going. If he doesn’t want his character to be Dominated then he needs to stop putting his character into situations where Dominating his character is a viable solution for the character doing the Dominate and take precautions to avoid being Dominated.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Ventrue Life View Post
            I'm dealing with a player who hates the Dominate discipline because he believes his character getting dominated takes away his player agency. Mind you that I already allow him to play his own character and make his own decisions when his character is Mesmerized or Dominated and I only ever interject as the Storyteller if I believe his actions go against the direct command of the person who used Dominate. The moment Mesmerized/Dominated wears off, this player immediately wants to turn on the vampire who dominated him, assuming that his character, who's also a vampire, and who knows what Ventrue can do, should be able to put 2 and 2 together and immediately figure out that he has been dominated after the effect wears off. As a storyteller I disagree with this notion, because both the Mesmerized and Dominated conditions state that the vampire doesn't quite remember what happened while being dominated. The player however uses those words as an argument that this is precisely why his character would know she has been dominated, because she has gabs in her memory.
            I think that argument has at least some basis to it. A passage from the 1e corebook:

            Originally posted by VtR Corebook
            Note that the victims of Dominate might realize what's been done to them. That is, they do not automatically sense that they are being controlled, but they might subsequently wonder why they suddenly acted as they did. Wise Kindred, especially those familiar with Dominate, are likely to figure it out in the moment, and few vampires take kindly to being manipulated in such a fashion.
            So a vampire familiar with Dominate could reasonably figure out that they'd been Dominated based on "lost time", or based on scraps of memory of doing unusual things, and especially if the person Dominating them has a reputation for doing that sort of thing. And yeah, that's 1e, but it's still thematically meant to be the same power at work, even if the mechanics behind it differ a little bit. As you noted, there was a vignette where a Dominated character rationalized their actions to themselves; that's the result of an Exceptional Success in 1e, so it was possible but not an inherent feature of the power. Since there's been an edition change, it's your call how much of this you feel "carries over", but it's not entirely without merit.

            - - -

            The bigger problem: I'm not sure any of that actually matters to your situation. The issue here isn't a disagreement about the mechanics of the game - it's that your player feels they're being railroaded, and that's not going to go away even if you prove that you're right about how Dominate works. In your position, I'd suggest giving some ground on this or reducing your use of Dominate as a plot device to get them back into the game and back to having fun with the story.
            Last edited by Cielle; 11-06-2018, 12:57 AM.

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            • #7
              Cielle It's not so much railroading as the player hating the idea of agency being taken away from him and not being able to do anything about it during- or after the fact.

              It's not like I've been constantly dominating this player mind you, only one NPC ever dominated his character once, and one player character from a different player dominated her also. So twice in total. In both cases, I allowed the player to roleplay his character as he saw fit, as long as his actions would stay within the bounds of the commands given. If I felt he was acting out of line, I'd speak up. That rarely happened, though arguably his character did get hit with the idiot-stick during combat, when he made her run into traps seemingly on purpose because he knew that enough damage would resolve the Mesmerized/Dominated condition (although he denied that any of this was on purpose or him meta-gaming).

              The problems started when in both instances, after the Dominated effect ended, the player argued that his character would be aware that she has been dominated, or at the very least would have been aware that something was up and would immediately try to figure out what happened. Again, mind you, that this character has only been dominated twice, and in both cases she got the Dominated condition from Iron Edict and the "do as I say, when I say, for the rest of the night" command. In both cases I allowed the player to just continue to roleplay his character as normal, unless the Ventrue in question gave her a command during that night, which didn't happen very often, the first Ventrue simply stuck to "you will know your place mongrel, now keep your filthy mouth shut and help me complete this mission" while the other Ventrue, controlled by another player, commander her "you will focus on our mission and stick to it" and "if this ends in a fight, you will protect me" (yes, this player character, a Gangrel, has a habit of ging off-script, mouthing off to her peers and superiors, and getting people in trouble, hence these commands).

              In my opinion, his character would not immediately realize she was dominated after resolving the Condition. In my opinion she wouldn't even immediately know anything was out of the ordinary, instead being none the wiser and just going on with business as usual. In my opinion, she would only have grounds for figuring out something was up if she'd learn from third-party sources that she acted strange, or when she's made aware of the fact that she somehow forgot crucial information, or when she learns she did something last night that she normally wouldn't do. Only these kind of triggers would in my opinion warrant the formerly-dominated character to realize someone or something messed with her head.


              To be fair, I somewhat understand my player's concerns, but I personally think losing control/agency is an inherent part of Vampire the Requiem, it is part of the horror of being a vampire. Dominate, Majesty, Auspex, Nightmare, the Beast forcing you into frenzy, going down in Humanity and becoming a draugr, the Vinculum, Strix possession, they are all tied into losing control and losing player agency, and in many cases there is nothing you can do about it. In my opinion, this player just has to suck it up and deal with it, or play a different game. However, don't want to be a tyrannical Storyteller, so if there is a middle-ground between his opinion and my opinion, I'll go for that. That being said, I do not want to compromise on the subtlety of Dominate. The Discipline would become incredibly useless if just any neonate could figure out they have been dominated after the fact.

              Any suggestions?
              Last edited by Ventrue Life; 11-06-2018, 08:50 AM.

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              • #8
                Again, it depends on the situation. If the command bring the character to wake up himself in a different place/situation that he can't understand how the hell he ends up there, so it should be pretty obvious he has been dominated/controlled.
                If, otherwise, the command is something subtle such us: When no one see you put the poison in the glass of John than come back at your place, in this case no, the character wouldn`t understand to having being controlled because he woke up at his previous place doing whatever he was doing before.

                And Vampire is not just about losing control but also controlling others. The player of your can be controlled or control as well. Up to him to become good at it or at not being controlled at least.
                Last edited by Marcus; 11-06-2018, 01:21 PM.

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                • #9
                  At its core, Dominate and other control powers do take away player agency on some level and while the beat/condition system helps soften that blow, time and again I've seen inexperienced players, or players who have had bad/railroad STs in the past struggle with finding a way to enjoy mind-control.

                  There will always be an instinct for victims to try and see if their character figures out their victimization. As pointed out, while subtle, Dominate isn't 100% surefire. So how do you represent that middle ground, where sometimes you can figure it out, but not others?

                  I've used two different contested methods for this.

                  Skill-Based: When the player collects some clue about the possibility, they may spend 1 WP to make a Wits + Occult roll. Immediately contest this roll with a Manipulation + Subterfuge on the part of the power user. If the player/victim wins, they get some inkling of what happened.

                  Clash-Based: Make it a clash of wills, using the discipline in question as the first stat. So, to figure out you've been Dominated, spend 1 WP and roll Dominate + Blood Potency. If the victim scores higher than the user, they have that inkling. If you don't have the discipline, just roll Blood Potency.

                  I make it a WP expenditure to increase rarity, and otherwise the players will almost always spend WP to get +3 to their pool, which makes the contested rolls a little easier than I feel comfortable with - but that's simple to change if you'd prefer the victim to have the advantage. Then, by basing it on actual stats, that makes some people more subtle users than others which I like. I currently prefer the Clash method, as it means that a Daeva with Majesty 5 is just going to be more subtle with it than the Ventrue with Majesty 1. Elders with higher blood potency become more subtle than neonates just starting out. It also somewhat encourages the idea that to protect yourself from Domination, you need to learn Dominate, and I enjoy that theme.

                  Also note that with another Player having the ability, asking you the ST to change how it functions is straight up asking the Dominate-using player to be nerfed. Not only in PvP actions, but now every NPC gets a free roll to figure it out? That's a wider conversation than just between the victim and the ST.

                  In terms of softening the blow and building up some trust with the player:

                  You could try and talk to them about boundaries. Find out what kind of things they absolutely don't want to be dominated to do and try and stay away from those. Sometimes this works for people really worried about having to betray the party, or worried about losing agency in something very specific to their core character, or even just seeing a lot of work / planning go up in smoke because an NPC makes a roll or two.

                  You can ask them if they would prefer to just hand things over to you. Some people are more okay with losing agency if they aren't forced to play through it. If they get Dominated, just run them as you would an NPC. If they want to jump in or make suggestions on certain actions that fit within the realm of possibility inside the Domination, that's great. Run them intelligently, and when in doubt present the character with some choices.

                  I also give players a beat if they rationalize things in a cool way after the fact, rather than try to immediately figure things out.

                  Now - your end philosophy, that players will just need to 'suck it up' that sometimes they will lose agency and can't do anything about it is a tough stance. Not saying it isn't a viable option, but the more you use it that way the more players with natural aversions to losing agency will become dissatisfied with your style. This rift in philosophy has broken many many games and tables, so my advice is to tread carefully.
                  Last edited by Holy; 11-06-2018, 10:57 AM.

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                  • #10
                    I absolutely would not allow them to just manufacture an excuse to roll and detect Dominate use. Dominate users already have to overcome two resist checks, a low word count on commands and memory alterations, and low damage restriction on the use of their power which is an effective deterrent against turning people into meat shields and suicide bombers unless they get creative.

                    You could simply state they don't notice anything because their memory doesn't have any gaps. Say the Dominate user altered their memories to where they remember what happened but didn't hear the specific command that rendered them mesmerized. (Or do what one of my characters did, and create memories that it was someone else who dominated them.)

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by tsusasi View Post
                      I absolutely would not allow them to just manufacture an excuse to roll and detect Dominate use.
                      Not sure you're responding to my post, but just in case - neither would I, but it's been a while since I've had bad faith actions at my table like that. There are for sure times when discipline usage is more obvious than others, so how do you handle that? Saying no one ever knows they were Dominated is one way to go (even if it stretches belief), but the OP was asking about a middle ground. A contested roll is that middle ground, imho.

                      I do admit I like the fluff that hints at clan-disciplines being more auras than active uses. Mekhet just naturally know your secrets when they are around. Haunts naturally get under your skin, itch at the fear in your mind. People just naturally follow a Ventrue's orders, almost without thinking. But I think you have to lay that groundwork early, otherwise you'll always have that in-setting problem which plagues fantasy games: In a world with known mind-control, people will be actively vigilant against being mind-controlled.

                      Letting players have a chance to figure out they are taken advantage of isn't a death knell on the use of the power. It's still hella-useful. Unchanged are instances where you don't care if they know (getting the annoying neonate to shut up during gathering), and instances where the Ventrue does actual work - i.e. making sure there are other logical reasons for the victim to do those things. A favorite trick of mine is phrasing Domination like a boon trade:

                      Me: "Hey, I may need a favor."
                      Them: "What's the favor?"
                      Me: "Next weekend, I want you to boycott Harpy Smith's party. Don't decide now, but if you do, tell me and I'll toss a Minor your way."

                      That was a little more in-setting with 1E, but even in 2E I think it's important that you make sure to layer subtlety into the use of the power in the first place. If people have no reason to suspect, then it should be harder to suspect (I absolutely throw in modifiers when allowing a skill roll.) The above exchange should be harder to figure out, than, for example, a Sheriff's Deputy going to confront some Ventrue, but who suddenly fucks off and ends up doing the Ventrue's bidding all night on a side project instead with no explanation.

                      Dominating someone to take their spouse out on their anniversary to their favorite club is (usually) more subtle than dominating someone to go to a random bar on a Tuesday for no reason. Both get them out of the house so you can do whatever, but one is far easier to justify by the victim. And Ventrue which take the time to craft the appropriate memories should be more successful at getting away with victimizing people than the Ventrue who just leaves those gaps as loose ends.

                      That being said, a blanket "no one ever knows" interpretation is likely easier to run from a mechanical perspective, even if it doesn't address some of the social problems that are popping up in this case. And I can understand an ST not wanting to cave in the face of complaints. I might move away from the "I wish for more wishes" effect if you want to ease someone into trusting you. Make PC-targeting Dominate more one shot than forcing them to follow commands for the whole night.

                      If the player is acting in good faith and just has a problem here, then a slow introduction and that extra care can go a long way in acclimating them to trusting you with their agency. And really, you'll be better served in the long run as an ST anyway. Sure, we can Dominate players to do whatever we want. It's simple to spec a 0 XP character into almost guaranteed success on Dominate rolls. But I've found people much more engaged when, rather than failing a roll and having to do something, they are instead put into situations where they choose to do something out of character, because they think it solves X problem or fulfills Y vendetta.

                      If the player is just a narcissist who refuses to compromise their character at all, well, probably not much loss if they don't keep playing to be honest. But an internet forum isn't really going to be able to tell you if it's good faith, we're just going to be bringing our local experiences into the conversation. The trap-springing thing is a red flag that they may be trying to game the system, but if you fix the underlying cause, then symptoms like that should dwindle.

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                      • #12
                        Your player is forgetting something very convenient about Domination. The resolution of Mesmerized and Dominate automatically much of what happened, yes, and these flashes can give a mistrust. But even Mesmerized can be used to make the victim forget everything: "Follow me," "Shoot your husband," and "Repeat after me ..." are all suitable commands, while "Forget," "Submit," and "Do my bidding "She can even mess with the victim's memory, making one statement about the current scene that victim will remember the truth."
                        What your player wants is possible, yes, but for someone who makes a very stupid mistake when it comes to using power. Not to mention that he can simply make the victim think he wanted to do whatever he wants done.
                        If he wants to realize what happens while he is under control I recommend watching the clock and asking people around if he acted strange / what he did in the last minutes.

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