Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
These house rules are designed to redress certain impracticalities and imbalances in the game. Potence, Fortitude and Celerity in particular are remarkably problematic and after consideration I have decided to implement the following changes for my game. The Celerity and Potence changes have been taken and tweaked from the V20 supplement, while the rest have developed rather more organically over many years of game play.
For the purposes of this article, Blood Points and Willpower Points have been shortened to BP and WP respectively.
This section should continue to evolve, based on developments in the Concord of Ashes campaign.
- Level One: Feral Speech- If another Cainite has already used this power on the animal in question, the Cainite attempting to overcome such persuasion must beat the first Cainites number of successes. This is not an extended contest. This power cannot be used in combat.
- Level Two- Noah’s Call: A Cainite may wrest a summoned horde from the control of another if they better the original summoner’s successes by one.
- Level Three: Cowing the Beast- No changes thus far.
- Level Four: Ride the Wild Mind- No changes thus far.
- Level Five: Drawing Out the Beast- No changes thus far.
- Level One: Heightened Senses- This power can grant premonitions of the future. This is purely a plot device, used at the ST discretion. Usually a premonition will be of danger to one’s person, and will be highly symbolic in nature. Also, If a Cainite uses this power while in an area obscured by Nocturne (Obtenebration Level Two), he is considered to have only a three dice penalty on all rolls involving Perception. If using Witness of Darkness (Protean Level One) as well, the penalty is only one die.
- Level Two: Aura Perception- When used to scan the aura of single subject, the difficulty is 7. Using Aura sight takes considerable concentration and is quite obvious, so if one wishes to appear inconspicuous in the act, the difficulty either increases to 8 or the player must invent a valid diversion. One can also scan a room at difficulty 8, if they do nothing but concentrate and spend a WP point. This use of the power is always obvious to other knowledgeable Cainites, and never gleans more than 1 success. Lastly, detecting the subtle differences that give away other supernaturals requires 3 successes. This power may not be used in combat.
- Level Three: Spirit’s Touch: Extreme emotions generated by this power (5+ successes) can trigger frenzy, torpor or even degeneration checks, depending on the nature and power of the psychic impressions. This power may not be used in combat.
- Level Four: Steal Secrets- No changes thus far.
- Level Five: Anima Walk- No changes thus far.
- Passive Benefits: For each level of Celerity possessed, a Cainite may move an extra yard per turn. In addition, they receive an extra die on all dexterity related pools.
- Active Benefits: If a Cainite instead chooses to activate Celerity, he loses the passive benefit of the power and instead gains an extra action for that round for each level of Celerity activated. Generational limits do not apply for this purpose. For example, a 12th generation Brujah with 5 Celerity may activate three levels of it (by spending 3 BP), and still have his usual 1 BP/round to expend on physical augmentation, Discipline activation (such as Potence or Fortitude), or healing.
- Elder Levels: It is rumoured that some elders have so refined their use of Celerity that they can activate high levels of Celerity for lower BP costs. Beware the wrath of an angry Ancient!
- Combat Usage: Any Cainite older than a neonate, and any knowledgeable neonate (Occult 2 or Cainite Lore 1), is sufficiently versed in vampiric powers that they will not make eye contact in combat unless forced to do so. Note that this does not preclude opening combat with Dominate powers so long as the target in question is unwary of impending violence.
- Level One: Observance of the Spoken Word- This power can be used in combat, but the highly fluid nature of combat makes it harder to catch the eye of the victim long enough to apply the necessary concentration. Using Observance of the Spoken Word in combat raises the difficulty by one. If successful, the victim momentarily hesitates, giving the next attack against him a bonus +1 accuracy die. The power is then broken.
- Level Two: Murmur of the False Will- This power is even more difficult to use in combat, and the difficulty will be two higher. If successful however, the opponent leaves themselves open to attack, giving the next attack against him a bonus +3 accuracy dice. The power is then broken. Furthermore, multiple commands can be layered on a single victim, but each suggestion after the first suffers a cumulative difficulty +1. Any commands that cause confusion in the victim automatically break the Murmur of the False Will.
Level Three: Reveler’s Memory- This power cannot be used in combat.
Level Four: Lure of Subtle Whispers- This power cannot be used in combat.
Level Five: Vessel- This power is also difficult to use in combat, and the difficulty to initiate it is two higher, although subsequent rolls are at the usual difficulty. Also, once the battle of wills has begun, neither the Cainite nor the opponent can take any other actions and are vulnerable to attack as if immobilised. If successful, the Cainite can force the opponent to kill himself, restrain himself or otherwise eliminate his combat effectiveness. If the Vessel is slain, the Cainite’s consciousness snaps back into his own body, disorienting him and leaving him unable to act for one round. Note that Cainites are immune to this power.
- Passive Benefits: For each level of Fortitude possessed, a Cainite receives an extra die on all Stamina related pools, such as soaking. The Cainite can also use his Fortitude pool only to soak the fangs and claws of vampires and other Aggravated attacks by supernaturals at difficulty 6 (the Stamina pool is still rolled against difficulty 8 for these attacks, so be sure to separate your pools) Finally, your Fortitude pool alone can be used to soak damage from fire and sunlight.
- Active Benefits: For the cost of 1 BP, a Cainite may activate all levels of Fortitude to automatically soak Lethal damage for the rest of the round, up to the level of their rating. Stamina is still rolled. For example, a 12th generation vampire with 2 levels of Fortitude spends 1 BP while facing two combatants. The first strikes him with a dagger and inflicts 4 levels of damage, and the Cainite rolls his Stamina pool for 3 successes and then adds 2 automatic successes (soaking all damage with 1 net success. His second assailant hits him with an axe, inflicting 10 levels of damage. He rolls his stamina again and adds his Fortitude rating again too, coming up with a Net 5 successes once more. He takes five levels of damage, and must choose next round whether he would rather heal some damage or gain automatic successes for another round.
- If a character suspects that there is a Cainite nearby hiding under the effects of Obfuscate, he can attack blindly and hope to hit him. He must guess where the enemy is, and then strike with a -4 accuracy dice penalty to make the attack. If he guesses incorrectly, the attack obviously misses automatically. The Storyteller will ask for the attack roll anyway, to conceal the fact that the guess was incorrect. If Auspex is activated, it will reduce the accuracy penalty by 1 die.
(Thematically speaking, I have always leaned closer to a Lovecraftian approach to this discipline. Those who have been inducted into the secrets of Obtenebration understand that they have let a piece of something altogether alien and … evil into their spirits, and there is no going back. It is for this reason that many Lasombra gravitate towards a religious outlook. Whether they would admit or not, the creeping evil they feel in their souls and the pit of their stomachs troubles their conscience. With that notion in mind, I tend to portray Obtenebration effects as having something of a “mind of their own”, rather than being a simple tool)
Level One: Shadow Play- Note that the power is active for the duration of the entire scene. Any of the subtle effects of shadowplay (ie. shaping people’s shadows theatrically) require concentration on the part of the wielder, but no rolls are necessary to do so. Also, with the expenditure of a second BP, the Cainite may sufficiently darken the shadows within 10 feet to grant the +1 bonus Stealth and Intimidation dice to her allies.
Level Two: Nocturne- Any Cainite who activates this power can see perfectly within the confines of their own Nocturne. While a Cainite cannot automatically see in the Nocturne created by another, it is possible for one who possesses this power to overlay a subsequent use of Nocturne over another, and so on. In such cases, each wielder can see perfectly within the affected area. Overlaid Nocturnes do not stack for purposes of penalties to dice pools of those affected.
Also, those who have activated Auspex 1 (Heightened Senses) or Protean 1 (Witness of Darkness) suffer only -3 penalty dice to Perception pools instead of -5. If both are activated, only -1 penalty die is suffered. Regardless, the +2 difficulty penalty to other actions is unaltered because the darkness of the Nocturne actually pulls at those within, hampering their activities.
Level Three: Arms of Ahriman- No changes thus far.
Level Four: Nightshades- If this power is used to create a cloud of shadowy, disorienting madness, the area of effect is identical to that of the Nocturne ability (10 ft diametre plus 10 ft for each success). Unlike Nocturne, the wielder need not concentrate on the Nightshade cloud for it to remain. It will last without her direction for a number of rounds equal to her Obtenebration rating, or for an entire scene with the expenditure of a point of WP. In theory, a wielder could create a Nightshade cloud and then overlay it with a Nocturne. Those affected would suffer a -3 penalty to their initiative results, a -5 die penalty to their Perception pools, and a +4 difficulty to any non-Perception related actions (up to a maximum of difficulty 9; 10 would just be too much!).
Unlike a Nocturne, the Abyssal darkness of Nightshades is hungry. Overlaying a second use of the power will not make a wielder immune to the Nightshades of another. The best they can hope for is to equally hamper a rival user in the same cloud!
Level Five: Tenebrous Avatar- No changes thus far.
- Passive Benefits: For each level of Potence possessed, a Cainite receives an extra die on all Strength related pools, such as damage. His Strength and Potence scores are also added together automatically to find his base score for the purposes of Feats of Strength.
- Active Benefits: For the cost of 1 BP, a Cainite may activate all levels of Potence to automatically succeed on strength related tasks (such as damage) for the rest of the round, up to the level of their rating. Strength is still rolled, with the Potence level being added as automatic successes.
- Level One: Awe- This power has other applications in its regular usage. With the expenditure of a WP, a Cainite using Awe can choose to affect a smaller crowd than his success would indicate so that he can focus on those who really matter. Furthermore, Awe can be used to draw the attention of a single person for a brief instant, drawing someone’s eye across a busy street or a crowded room. I call this the “See me Now!” effect (for those who may remember Coppola’s_ Bram Stoker’s Dracula_). The Vampire simply ceases to concentrate before the power is allowed to take full effect. This use of Awe does not require the expenditure of a WP.
This power requires subtlety, and cannot be used in combat
- Level Two: Dread Gaze- As combat is already a fear and anxiety ridden atmosphere, those using Dread Gaze gain one extra die for purpose of using this power.
- Level Three: Entrancement- This power requires subtlety, and cannot be used in combat.
- Level Four: Summon- This power requires concentration, and a Cainite attempting to Summon another whilst in combat suffers a two dice penalty.
- Level Five: Majesty- Enemies of the Cainite using this power will automatically flee the user, unless they also activate Majesty. With the expenditure of a single WP, those Cainites with activated Majesty do not suffer any penalties from the Majesty of others, although they will still be aware of it…
- Level One: Witness of Darkness- If a Cainite uses this power while in an area obscured by Nocturne (Obtenebration Level Two), he is considered to have only a three dice penalty on all rolls involving Perception. If using Heightened Senses (Auspex Level One) as well, the penalty is only one die. Also, when used in conjunction with Dread Gaze (Presence Level Two), the Cainite gains a bonus die to frighten enemies.
- Level Two: Talons of the Beast- Cainites using this power gain +2 dice to Climb checks. Note that Cainites and werewolves can soak the damage from vampire fangs and claws with a Stamina roll (difficulty 8), even if they do not possess Fortitude.
- Level Three: Interred in the Earth: No changes thus far.
- Level Four: Form of the Beast: Cainites of sufficient Generation to shape-change in a single round (8th or stronger), with the advantage of Initiative can activate this power to gain a -2 difficulty to Dodge for one attack, as they quickly slip into the new form before the attack lands. Obviously activating the Discipline counts as the action for the round, so the Cainite can do nothing except defend and move.
Wolf Shape: Those taking the Wolf Shape gain one extra dot to Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina. Gangrel gain one extra dot to Strength, and two each to Dexterity and Stamina. While in Wolf Shape, bite and claw attacks are difficulty 5, and inflict Aggravated damage. Finally, while in this form a Cainite can move up to 10 yards per turn and still act or run at twice the normal speed (40 yards + [3 x Dexterity]).
Bat Shape: Those taking the Bat Shape lose two dots of Strength but gain one dot of Dexterity. It is very difficult to strike a bat in close combat, and attempts to do so suffer a -3 Accuracy penalty. A bat can fly at 25 miles/hour for short distances (about ten minutes), or sustain 12 miles/hour for longer flights. A Cainite will begin to tire after travelling about 60 miles (+12 miles/dot of Fortitude). In Bat form, a Cainite can flap 13 yards and act or cover about 60 yards + (3 x dexterity) with a full ‘sprint’.
- Level Five- Body of Spirit: Cainites of sufficient Generation to shape-change in a single round (8th or stronger), with the advantage of Initiative can activate this power to gain a -2 difficulty to Dodge for one attack, as they quickly slip into the new form before the attack lands. Obviously activating the Discipline counts as the action for the round, so the Cainite can do nothing except move.
Level One: Eyes of the Serpent- Just like Dominate, any Cainite older than a neonate, and any knowledgeable neonate (Occult 2 or Cainite Lore 1), is sufficiently versed in vampiric powers that they will not make eye contact in combat unless forced to do so. Note that this does not preclude opening combat with Eyes of the Serpent so long as the target in question is fooled into making eye contact.
Level Two: Tongue of the Asp- Note that this power takes a full round to activate. After initiated, the Tongue of the Asp may not be used in the same round.
Level Three: Skin of the Adder- In addition to the benefit of the scales (difficulty 5 to soak all damage, including Aggravated wounds from claws and fangs), increased flexibility, and the gaping jaw (1 extra BP each round from feeding), a Serpentis practitioner gains claws. These claws do Strength Lethal damage only.
Level Four: Form of the Cobra- No changes thus far.
Level Five: Cheat the Scales of Anubis- No changes thus far.
Vicissitude is potentially devastating in both battle and to game balance if used too cavalierly. In my opinion, any use of the discipline in combat (especially Levels Two and Three) is left too open to interpretation by the Dark Ages Vampire RAW. These powers should be able to accomplish every horror that the Tzimisce are known for, but with preparation and time, not in the cut and thrust of battle. The rules below are intended to take some of the sting out of Vicissitude at such times, and provide clarity to reduce the need for the quick and dirty interpretation that Storytellers almost always regret later.
Even with these House Rules, Vicissitude is still frighteningly effective in combat. However, it is also more time consuming for the more creative player, and thus easier on his Storyteller! And it makes other players suitably desperate to escape the grasp of a Tzimisce too…
Level One: Malleable Visage- Each use of this power requires an entire hour to perform, and it is thus useless in combat. It is a peculiar idiosyncrasy of this power that it is unusually resistant to “healing”. Malleable Visage is removed as if it were considered a Mauled Aggravated wound, thus requiring the expenditure of no less than 25 BP (and the better part of a week) to return to one’s original form.
Level Two: Transmogrify the Mortal Clay- Note that to use this power in battle, a practitioner must first grapple his victim and hold him in that state for 1 full round. This requires a Strength + Brawl roll to succeed in initiating the attack and then maintaining that state until his first action in the following round. At this point, with a Dexterity + Body Crafts roll the attacker may begin pulling at the skin and muscle of the defender in a specific location, inflicting -1 Attribute penalty each round until that part of the defender’s body becomes useless. The highest score attributable to the limb in question is removed first, and then the attribute loss is alternated until a 0 is reached.
For instance, the right arm of a Strength 2 Dexterity 3 defender would be rendered useless in 6 rounds, and his capacity to break the Grappled state would be be correspondingly reduced each round as his horror grows.
If the defender is Pinned or otherwise incapacitated, a third party Vicissitude practitioner can really begin enjoying himself. The brow might be gripped and slowly pulled down over the eye, causing the victim to lose Perception dice, as well as Appearance. The mouth could be sealed shut, reducing Manipulation and Appearance. The attacker could burrow his fingers into the victims stomach cavity, and with patience even delve under the rib cage towards heart and lung, reducing Stamina alone and quickly ending the life of a mortal in excruciating fashion.
All penalties incurred by Transmogrify the Mortal Clay can be healed by a Vampire or Werewolf as Lethal damage, but each die of penalty takes a consecutive hour to heal. Mortals cannot heal this damage without supernatural assistance, such as Valeran or the use of an allied practitioner of Vicissitude.
Any soft tissue enhancement, such as creating extra soak dice by shifting skin, fat and muscle, requires 1 hour/ success on a Strength + Body Crafts roll (difficulty 8).
Level Three: Rend the Osseus Frame
This power can be used to create penalties in the same manner as Transmogrify the Mortal Clay. Indeed, consider it an improvement along the same lines, for the practitioner can twist bone at the same time as he is twisting flesh. As such, the “penalty damage” created by Rend the Osseus Frame is considered Aggravated, and takes much longer to heal.
Instead of stripping away the assets of his victims, the practitioner may instead use Rend the Osseus Frame as a weapon. After establishing a Grapple, the attacker may cause his opponent’s bones to rip, puncture and slice their way out of the skin. Each success on a Strength + Body Crafts roll (difficulty 7) causes 1 level of lethal damage. This damage can be soaked, but the bones will still be considered spurred and misaligned anyway, meaning that the player should record the damage he would have taken. Each of those “phantom” levels must still be healed as if it were Aggravated damage, even if there is no actual wound penalty.
Finally, the most devastating combat application of Rend the Osseus Frame is the ability to command the ribs to warp inwards and pierce the heart. This explosive use of the power (affectionately known as the “chest burster”) also takes place in the round after a Grapple is successfully started. The practitioner must make a Strength + Body Crafts roll (difficulty 7), while slamming his hands into either side of the defender’s chest. Each success does 1 level of lethal damage and causes the victim to lose 1 BP. If 5 successes are achieved, the victim loses fully half her Blood Pool (or 5 BP, whichever is more) as the seat of her vitae erupts in a shower of gore. Note that even if all damage is soaked, the vitae is still lost. Despite the damage being lethal in nature and can be healed and soaked as such, the rib cage will not return to its former shape until the “phantom damage” is healed in the same manner as outlined above.
Given time, a practitioner can also grant themselves or their allies impressive modifications for the purposes of attack and defence. These alterations are unchanged from the manner in which they appear in the Dark Ages Rulebook , p. 223, Such modifications require 1 hour/ success to create.
Level Four: Awaken the Zulo Shape- No changes thus far.
Level Five: Ascendancy of the Sanguine Form- No changes thus far.