Undying (2016) a PbtA 'hack' of Vampire the Masquerade

Voros

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So I never really played Vampire the Masquerade. I bought the rule book and perhaps the Werewolf one as well, read it but never played it. Mainly because it was right around the time I entered university and had to give up RPGs due to time and money constraints but also because it was never clear to me how to play the actual game. Can't recall if there was a sample adventure in the rule book, but I doubt there was as I would have probably played it.

But the idea of the game continued to intrigue me. But from what I read online even the fans of the game weren't that big of fans of its system and thought it contributed little to the setting assumption of political schemes and counter schemes. The idea of a creature struggling to maintain its humanity was also apparently often lost at the table due to less than perfect mechanics.

So my curiosity brought me to Magpie Game's Undying, a 'diceless' narrative game by Paul Riddle that acknowledges that it is a homage to Vampire by Mark Rein-Hagen and is based on Apocalypse World by Vincent Baker and Monsterhearts by Avery Alder. It is really too thorough to be considered merely a 'hack.' One of its strengths is that it builds the mechanics from the ground up for the kind of game it wants to be.

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First thing to note is that this game is well laid out, clearly explained and has some appropriately creepy artwork.

It also comes with a good sample scenario set in Seattle in the late 1800's when a huge fire destroyed a large part of the city, along with well detailed NPCs, pre-gens and a relationship map (see below), which is central to the game design.

It also has some very good GM advice on how to prep and run the game and how tweak the game for convention play. I was really impressed by all of this and thought how every designer should be doing the same for their game.

There are two kinds of play: Nightly Play, a conventional session and Downtime Play, that can be years, decades or even centuries. There are specific Downtime Moves PCs and the GM can use to summarize the schemes they enact that lead to the need for a Nightly Play session.

There are a handful of Playbooks (PbtA equivalent to character archtypes) with a small number of Moves (special powers, feats) per playbook in addition to a small number of standard moves (Hunt, Feed, Flaunt, Dominate) available to all vampires. These Playbooks include The Devil, The Nightmare, The Puppet Master and The Wolf. Compared to a lot of other PbtA games Undying keeps the Moves and Playbooks to a minimum, which I think is a good idea.

The GM and players decide together what parts of vampire Lore you're going to include or exclude in the game and what Lore Moves this allows vampires (eg. turning into mist or bat). You also decide if there are only vampires or other supernatural creatures.

The main, perhaps only real significant mechanics in the game are Humanity and Blood. Humanity ranges from Lost (0) to Humane (3). Your Max Blood depends on your humanity, a Humane Max Blood is 10, a Lost Max Blood is 20.

To wake up each night costs 1 Blood, to do most supernatural actions (largely left up to the GM and player to decide) is 1 Blood. Humanity and how little of blood you have can effect how much control you have when you feed on a victim and how well you can hide evidence of your feeding. If you feed between 1-3 blood they are going to survive, 4 will leave them on death's door (and if allowed to die they will turn), 5 kills the victim. If you drop below 3 Blood you are Starving and go on a rampage which you won't be able to remember.

Combat is determined simply, whoever has the most number of Blood tokens or points (which is not readily apparent usually) wins.

Groups of vampires can pool their Blood in this combat. Usually defeat results in destruction but a vampire can be spared. But then this humilation means you are cast out and become a Pariah. Blood tokens/points are also bet to determine who suceeds in schemes and counterschemes (the players and GMs are to come up with in-game explanations for their successes and defeats).

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Your Humanity is adjusted by a vote at the end of the session by the other players. They get to determine if your actions were callous or humane (there are criteria and guidelines in the game).

If your Humanity drops to Lost (0) you have one chance to redeem yourself or else you become a beast and a NPC.

You can pick what Humanity you begin with but all PCs start with their Status as Plebians or Pariahs, you can scheme your way to being a Patrician or even a Princeps (boss of a territory). Status determines the abundance of prey, proximity and safety of your Hunting Grounds and your Means, which can be used in your schemes. Changes in Status or Means are up to the GM based on what has happened in play.

In this game a vampire is a vampire, no endless clans, there are factions but they are based around major and minor debts, established between NPCs and the PCs. These debts include if another vampire is your maker or vice versa, if their Status is higher than yours, etc. To refuse a request of a major debt from a vampire of a higher status makes you a Pariah.

Also worth noting is that the setting assumption for the numbers of vampires in a city seems more reasonable than what I've seen in Vampire, all of Seattle in the sample session for instance has only half a dozen vampires.

NPCs can become Rivals (they want to get back at you for a slight or defeat), Enemies (they want to ruin you) or Nemesis (they want to destroy you) depending on play and/or if you destroy or humiliate those they owe or are owed major and minor debts.

These relationships between the PCs and NPCs are drawn out on a Relationship Map that is placed in the centre of the table. Most of the game is based on this RM, say a Patrician is mysteriously killed or disappears, some kind of human made disaster disrupts vampire society or humans discover the vampires and rise up to destroy them.

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Overall I was mighty impressed by this game, it has a very simple and flexible but flavourful system that looks to me like it would play very well at the table. The Relationship Map and system of major and minor debts is a great idea that could be imported into any game, particularly any political game.

I'm surprised it hasn't received more attention among the PbtA hacks as it is certainly among the best designed I've seen. Maybe people are just burned out on Vampire or vampires in general?
 
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The Butcher

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Interesting.

What are the available playbooks? How do the archetypes map to VtM clans, if at all?
 

CRKrueger

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Based on the Relationship Map it looks like Playbooks are:
Patrician (Ventrue Type?)
Wolf (The Wolf has a pack, dunno if the pack is wolves, human followers, ghouls)
Puppet Master
Devil
Nightmare (Malkavian-like maybe, mental powers?)
Sensualist (Byronic, Anne Rice, Toreador Type?)
 
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Voros

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Interesting.

What are the available playbooks? How do the archetypes map to VtM clans, if at all?
CRKruger has guessed some of them correctly. I would say they generally don't map to Clans but my knowledge of Clans comes more from the Vampire Bloodlines video game more so than the RPG. But outside of The Wolf the Playbooks don't stick together like Clans do.

A Patrician is a Status not a Playbook.

Most of the Playbooks come with a Status Move unique to you that may allow you to move up the Pecking Order (you can also do so without using a Move) and the relationship between the vampire and their prey is detailed.

The Devil playbook is cold-blooded and deadly, the classic vampire archetype. You can kill a Patrician and take their place (but gain a number of Rivals and Enemies), you can make prey addicted to your blood.

The Nightmare can use blood magic to gain a reward from Hell, but it requires a lot of blood and it comes with complications.You can also Blackmail other vampires and enslave prey but they can turn on you.

The Puppet Master is what it sounds like, you have profitable businesses and are adept at Meddling and manipulation.

The Sensualist is the Carmilla type, a seducer.

The Wolf is a shapeshifter (wolf or bat) at no cost who has a 'pack' of 1-2 other vampires.
 
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TristramEvans

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Sounds very interesting, even if the terms "diceless and "narrative" rarely figure into my enjoyment of games. But just based on the description, there might be a lot her to mine for ides.
 

Muchacho

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Hi @Voros ! First of all, thanks for presenting this game. To use your own words, I'm mightly impressed by it. By your description, it addresses most issues I had with Vampire the Masquerade.

How is it in action, though? Could you give an example of short scene? Don't know, maybe a negotiation involving some Move or Debts ? I'm specially curious on how the "tokens" are used!


P.S: my budget is done for the month, but I'm one inch from ordering this game regardless! :hehe:
 

Muchacho

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Hey @Voros , did you managed to actually play the game? If so, lemme know how it went!

I'm reading the free pdf and finding it very cool. It has a poker vibe to it, in the way players wager blood on conflicts, that I really like.
 

Voros

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Hey @Muchacho, sorry I didn't respond yet. I've been busy with work. I haven't had a chance to play it yet as I moved a while ago and don't have a regular gaming group anymore. Right now it is just me and my wife and this game requires at least three players I think.
 

opaopajr

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Hmm, diceless? ... maybe. Narrative? Nope. Vote on each other's humanity? Hell no. Debts = Boons, so a wash.

Only thing left for my interest is any new tools on how to Social Map & Bookkeep NPC Factionalism. So how robust are these tools? And divorced from the system are they so that I may cannibalize? :smile:
 

Muchacho

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Hmm, diceless? ... maybe. Narrative? Nope. Vote on each other's humanity? Hell no. Debts = Boons, so a wash.

Only thing left for my interest is any new tools on how to Social Map & Bookkeep NPC Factionalism. So how robust are these tools? And divorced from the system are they so that I may cannibalize? :smile:
If I got it right, the relationship map wouldn't be useful without the other elements. That's because the R-map is based on Debts and Status. Debt is used as leverage on bargains (someone who owes you a Debt can't deny you a favor or he/she risks becoming a Pariah), so the R-Map is a snapshot of "who has the most leverage to sway others to his agenda" in a given moment.

So (for example) looking at the R-map Voros posted, it's clear the patrician Arthur Grant (upper right corner) is in privileged position as he got various arrows (debts) arriving on him, and no arrow going out, which means a lot of people owes him. I don't know how he got that, perhaps his player pulled some heavy scheming in the downtime phase (the decades / centuries preceding the session) or it's a handcrafted scenario by the GM. Anyway, he could make some daring moves with that setup (like trying to dethrone the Princeps :evil:).

The only way I see it working in another game is if you also carry the idea of debts/favors in some form.
 
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Voros

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Hmm, diceless? ... maybe. Narrative? Nope. Vote on each other's humanity? Hell no. Debts = Boons, so a wash.

Only thing left for my interest is any new tools on how to Social Map & Bookkeep NPC Factionalism. So how robust are these tools? And divorced from the system are they so that I may cannibalize? :smile:
I think some are taking the term 'narrative' a bit too literally. I simply used it to indicate that it is not a 'trad' game. There are no real narrative mechanics per se if one were to define that as mechanics that enforce a plot.

Not sure what you mean by debts = boons, is that a VtM reference? If so, I don't think they do what you may assume. Debts are simply a way of tying characters together, they are more a IC role-playing prompt rather than a OOC mechanic. Not sure what the issue would be with their inclusion.

As Muchacho says the R-Map really is just a visualization of the character's Status and Major and Minor Debts. If you remove Debts there is no need for a R-Map.

I can see voting on each other's humanity being controversial in some circles. It could lead to bad feelings but really if it was left up to the GM would that really be much better? Perhaps the player could feel 'ganged up' on but is seems as likely they could feel 'bullied' if left to the GM. I think assuming the table are adults is fine myself. Seems easy enough to change to a GM decision if it is a sticking point.
 
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opaopajr

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Yes, IME it would be better to leave humanity to a single judge -- it is easier to adjudicate from one standard measure than several competing ones. Currency/measure exchange is not the game I came to participate in for my RPG time.

Coherency to a single standard, even if ill-defined, naturally baised, and partially unspoken, gives foundation for the imagination to rest upon long-term than several competing sources of ill-defined, naturally baised, and partially unspoken standards who may or may not be acting out further competing power dynamics atop the whole unstandardized mess.

Been there, done that, know it's not worth my patience.

As for Debts being IC, you just described WW oWoD VtM jargon called Boons. That's why I called it a wash, for the most part same-same.

But thanks to you and Muchacho for answering my question! :thumbsup: Helps me save time! Much obliged. :present:
 

Muchacho

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I don't remember the Boons thing from our VtM games. Do you remember which edition introduced it, @opaopajr ? Perhaps I could steal some ideas from VtM.
 

opaopajr

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Oh, it's been ages... Probably some VtM Player's Guide or Storyteller's Guide or something. I know it has to have been out before Revised at least, because even the CCG (VTES) has in its alpha and beta sets Minor Boon, Major Boon, & Life Boon, and that's around 1994. In half the games I played at it was the only real currency that mattered in vampiric society, as taking wealth from mortals was not all that hard.

Looks at my big, daunting, heavy, plastic tubs where most of my gaming stuff is stored... :errr: I guess I could go dive into my treasure hoard and find which specific book talks about it first. :sweat:
 

The Butcher

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VRev's Guide to the Camarilla goes into the boon system at some length, but I am not familiar with its origins.
 

CRKrueger

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I think some are taking the term 'narrative' a bit too literally. I simply used it to indicate that it is not a 'trad' game. There are no real narrative mechanics per se if one were to define that as mechanics that enforce a plot.
Since no one who knows anything at all about narrative games defines it that way, safe to say that's not what he meant.

OOC meta-mechanics that give players some narrative authority on the other hand - if there weren't any of that in there at all, it would be the first PbtA game to have that distinction.

As far as the map and debts go, none of that is new. Relationship maps and keeping track of various Boons has been around in Vampire forever, they're just codifying it and making it core.

I prefer having Humanity have a standard "List of Sins" or whatever you want to call it rather than a voting session simply because I don't enjoy the 3rd person talking about the characters as characters, especially as far as psychology/motivations/nature etc goes.
 

Baulderstone

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I don't remember the Boons thing from our VtM games. Do you remember which edition introduced it, @opaopajr ? Perhaps I could steal some ideas from VtM.
I'm fairly certain it was in 1st edition, as that was when I did the bulk of my time running it. I couldn't tell you what book it was in though.
 

silva

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Great little game. We're going to our 3rd session and having a blast.

It even made me curious about other diceless games. How Amber plays? Is it similar to this?
 

yabaziou

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I don't remember the Boons thing from our VtM games. Do you remember which edition introduced it, @opaopajr ? Perhaps I could steal some ideas from VtM.
The boons thing was also explained in the 2nd edition player's guide in a very interesting way (at least for me).
 
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Aeon Blak

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So I never really played Vampire the Masquerade. I bought the rule book and perhaps the Werewolf one as well, read it but never played it. Mainly because it was right around the time I entered university and had to give up RPGs due to time and money constraints but also because it was never clear to me how to play the actual game. Can't recall if there was a sample adventure in the rule book, but I doubt there was as I would have probably played it.
Funny, I got into Vampire as it came out because I was in university had lots of time and wasn't totally cash strapped. After playing Shadowrun 1e, the rules were very easy to understand.

Will still have a look at this game even if I'm not sold on PbtA. At least it's not FATE. ;)
 

silva

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Anyone knows a good (free) tool for drawing up relationship maps/mind maps including pictures? We are in mid of a campaign and the GM paper scratches are getting out of control. :dead: :hehe:

Thanks in advance!

Funny, I got into Vampire as it came out because I was in university had lots of time and wasn't totally cash strapped. After playing Shadowrun 1e, the rules were very easy to understand.
I think he didn't meant the rules per se, but "what the hell are players supposed to do in this game" kinda thing. Which seems a reasonable impression to me.
 
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