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We’re taking a brief hiatus (only until next week!) on our series on gaming issues, as V2 Issue one was released last week. Thanks!
I’m excited about the upcoming release of supplements to Mind’s Eye Theater: Vampire the Masquerade! We started work in 2017 on what was envisioned as “V2”, intended as the first follow-up to our initial Vampire book. After several design iterations, we arrived to its final form, a series of releases on the Storyteller’s Vault. It’s been around 6 years since the initial Vampire release in 2013 – quite a long time without additional content. It’s a testament to the passion of the fan community that the game thrived for so long with only its core offering, but we’re glad to have the opportunity to revisit the setting.
At the time of this writing, the first issue is in editing, the second is pending review, and the third nearly complete. We’ve divided the releases along three primary offerings, new Techniques, new Elder Powers, and new Blood Magic. As part of developing the content on V2, I thought I’d give a little insight into some of the principles which go into the material we write in the form of a developer’s diary. Some of my favorite conversations at conventions are talking about how various powers came to be, and what people think of them. People’s opinion on what makes a good power tend to vary, which makes for a good heterogeneity within a game. That’s something we strived for in this follow up.
Our first release is centered on Techniques. There are a few things we do differently when creating Techniques than when we write other powers, and a few defining attributes which necessitate a specific design approach. A few principles which influenced our development:
Characteristics of Techniques
Fundamentally, techniques are combinations of two disciplines turned into something new. This is a great space for us to work in, as it opens a broader landscape of possibilities than if we worked with a single power. On one end of the spectrum, we can expand on the primary theme of one of the disciplines and pair it with another for good measure. This works great with some of the clan-specific disciplines such as Quietus and Protean, where we want more around the themes of poison or shapeshifting. We can also knit two or more themes together two create a power that’s an extension of both. For example, the new techniques Healer’s Intuition and Warrior’s Bond utilize Obeah/Auspex and Valeren/Auspex respectively. Both powers allow you to do additional things when you establish Telepathy with someone. We can also explore a new theme altogether, feasibly grounded in the component powers, which we do through a number of new offerings.
Higher generation characters (10+, but sometimes 8+) use Techniques. That’s important because these PCs have limitations Elders don’t have – a reduced blood spend per turn and a lower trait total. While this may seem like a setback, it actually gives a little more room to work with. For example, if I know the user of a power has on average a lower trait total, I know they’re not quite as likely to succeed with it. I can therefore add a little more reward to balance the risk of the power failing. Likewise, if I can expect the user of this power has a maximum blood spend between 1 and 3 blood per turn, I can make powers A and B stronger knowing that A and B can’t be used at the same time.
Perhaps most importantly, techniques reinforce the differences between Elders and Neonates/Ancillae. A lower-generation PC should be able to do a small number of things extraordinarily well, thanks to elder powers and a high trait total. A high-generation PC should be much more versatile, though not better than an elder at a specific thing. Techniques are scenic detours on the road to power, while Elder Powers are more of a summit. For example, we’d expect a 150 point Ancillae to have 1-2 advanced disciplines and 2-3 techniques, working toward 1 or 2 more techniques with out-of-clan requirements. Comparatively, at 150 points we’d expect an Elder to have 1-2 Elder powers from a single discipline working toward Elder powers in a different in-clan discipline. Techniques, should therefore lean toward versatility as opposed to raw power.
Technique Costs and How We Use Them
Getting the right value for a technique is important. Techniques cost 12xp for Neonates/Ancillae and 20xp for Pretender Elders. At the base level, we want each technique to be as strong as the average level 4 discipline. This can be a bit tricky in that if we have an idea for a technique, we have to scale it to match its cost. That can involve either adding or curtailing its power level to get the right fit. We design these powers with a 12xp cost in mind, but we also give consideration to the 20xp cost that Pretender Elders pay. We don’t expect them to buy very many techniques, but there are some which will likely have an appeal. At the base level, techniques with test pools are more likely to succeed when used by Pretender Elders, making them more valuable. We also have a handful of powers which can better utilized with a greater capacity to spend blood, and even some which work with select Elder powers.
There’s also a secondary cost in the disciplines required to learn techniques in the form of the required disciplines. This allows us to stratify techniques into low to high-end purchases, and assign value appropriately. Techniques with greater discipline components have a higher effective cost. Those powers will take longer to purchase, and can therefore be a little stronger in nature. Techniques which require either a clan-specific discipline or which utilize an uncommon discipline pairing will be easy purchases for some but harder for others. This can be a boon for us in that the higher effective cost allows us to squeeze in a little more value than we would otherwise. We can use also these techniques as payoffs for bloodlines which have different in-clan basic disciplines, such as Vipers, Noiads, or Caitiff, and make the merits Additional Common Discipline or Pliable Blood a little more appealing.
Design Goals for Techniques
We had a lot we wanted to accomplish with this update. Primarily, we wanted to make higher generation PCs more appealing. We’ve noticed that most players seem to prefer Elder PCs, likely for mechanical reasons as well as for the elevated status Elders command. Our hope is that with some expansion, we can shift motivations to where more players will choose to play Neonates and Ancillae. We’ve pursued this in a variety of ways.
To start, we’ve added to the suite of build options for characters across a greater point spread. In the initial 38 techniques, starting players have some great low-end options in the form of Will to Survive (practically an auto-buy) and Quickened Blood. Both deliver great value, and are easy to learn. Slightly higher up are more niche offerings like Bull’s Eye and Instinctive Command which support specific builds. However, at the high end, the only significant power bump comes from Animal Swarm, which offers a great benefit while being somewhat difficult to learn. This left us with plenty of room to expand. We’ve added some high-end powers for characters who specialize in the Mental and Social attribute categories. We also wanted to take a little pressure off Celerity as a must-have power. Of the new set, Celerity is a component in 7 new techniques, compared to 10 for Potence and 17 for Fortitude.
We also sought to balance some of the less-pursued disciplines, specifically Animalism. We’ve added 11 new Animalism techniques, including some high-end options with the intent to prop up Nosferatu, Gangrel, and Tzimisce. We’ve also added techniques for every clan-specific discipline to help uncommon and rare Neonate/Ancillae characters. Sages, Ravnos, and even Baali now have 4 total techniques available which involve their respective disciplines. These add to the base strength of those clans, and make great chase powers for others.
Lastly, we seek to differentiate the experience of playing a higher-generation PC. We want Neonates and Ancillae to be practically unpredictable with the variety of build options they have. This makes them especially sought after as allies, minions, and deputies/assistants. When the away-mission plots happen, it’s these characters who should be sent in first with their wide variety of skills (and relative expendability in the eyes of the Elders). This leaves the elder PCs to get involved as needed with their much more specialized talents.
The Greater Goal
It’s our hope that these supplements will greatly enhance the diversity of character options available as part of Mind’s Eye Theater: Vampire the Masquerade. We at By Night Studios feel very strongly about inclusivity, and we believe that making our games as appealing to as wide an audience as possible helps to ensure the health and longevity of our hobby. To that end, additional techniques are just a start. We hope that both old and new players find a hat or two they’d like to try on as part of this expansion.