With Great Power…

I’ve been thinking about Vampire: The Requiem and running a Primacy game. I’m without a gaming group at the moment so building an idea for a game would be purely academic. However, I’ve lived in Kansas City, MO for the past year and know barely anything about the city, its culture or history. With a desire to flesh out an interesting setting and hopefully learn a thing or two about the city I live in I’ve decided to pursue this wild hare. I’ve also decided to turn this whole thing into an example of how I build a Vampire setting.

Before I get going to deep down this rabbit hole, lets talk about Vampire: The Requiem and the style of game I like to run. While Vampire: The Requiem talks a lot about personal horror the mechanics in the game do little to help enforce this theme. Instead, I like to treat my Vampire games in a way that I feel falls in line with the rules the game provides.

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What I mean is that in my games Vampires are brooding dark superheroes with nigh-unlimited power but incredibly dangerous weaknesses. They live in the shadows on the edge of society to protect themselves from the humans that outnumber them 100,000 to 1. They are little Gods of  the Night but when the sun is out they are more vulnerable than then infants.

Their immortal nature allows them to seep into almost every aspect of Mortal life but because of their odd hours and eradicate behavior they are unable to leverage control over mortal enterprises. In fact, it’s dangerous for them to become too powerful in Mortal arenas as their limitations often lead to people asking questions. People asking questions exposes their community. And exposed Vampires die.

Comes Great Responsibility

Instead of being powerful manipulators of mortal society they have become insular creatures, building an empire hidden from the eyes of humanity. They hold court and discuss politics but all within their own little kingdom of night. They have built a realm that exists side by side with Mortals but is wholly apart. For example, a Kindred granted Domain over the Police Station doesn’t control the police in the city. They might have an ally or contact within the department, but they don’t get a say over case priority or the local response times. Instead, they control the idea of the police in the city. No other Kindred may feed upon or kill police officers without their permission. Kindred are forbidden from attending police functions in the city, or even stepping foot in police buildings, without their permission. The Kindred with Domain over the Police Station doesn’t control the Mortals within the Police Station, but they decide the way that Kindred interact with the Police.

While discrepancies between the mechanics and the flavor are irritating at times they do work for the games advantage on occasion. One of the elements I like in Vampire a lot is how the characters are given this phenomenal powers and then are quickly forbidden from using them. It’s much like giving a sports car to a teenager. Here’s the keys to Celerity, but don’t you dare be caught racing down the street in front of everyone. You know Presence but in Elysium you better not be using it to mess with your fellow Kindred. The players are given power and told not to use it. Guess what they do.

In Action

When I’m running Vampire I like to make the players important characters. This is where the Primacy rules come into play. Instead of running street-level games the Primacy rules presented in Damnation City give the players a chance to step up and look at the game from the role of Kindred leaders. I talks about my love of Damnation City and the Primacy rules in another article, here’s what I had to say.

Damnation CityDamnation City is a wonderful guide to city building that has become a staple in my gaming collection for more games than just Requiem. The book introduces a new set of mechanics called the “Primacy Rules” and it’s one of my favorite ways to run a Vampire game. The rules introduce a new advantage called Influence, which could very easily be a mini-game. However, the book points out the following:

Influence is not a mini-game. Given nothing but dice and non-dramatized actions, Influence is extremely easy to gain. Primacy play assumes that the Danse Macabre provides an endless cast of antagonists to oppose and challenge the characters on their way to the top and to provoke the conflicts and setbacks that drama requires. If all the characters do is roll dice to gain Influence points and win Assets, they can make it to the heights of power in a few weeks. But that’s not dramatic. It’s not horrific. It’s not a story.

The Influence Advantage is a tool for managing great power and intrigue. Rather than presume that the players of cunning undead masterminds must be political geniuses themselves, Influence assumes a level of capability on the part of the characters and spares the players too much detail.

Influence is a common language that makes it easy for casual players to interact in a complex game world. It reveals the stakes of actions, the wages of success, and the costs of failure. It just makes things easier.

To me this is what defines the game side of a role-playing game; a game in which the rules help the players interact with a complex world without getting bogged down in the minutia. This is where massive equipment lists fail game design. Not that they don’t help tell stories but because they add minutia to the game. Except that very minutia is what defines the term when we begin talking about video games.

Bringing it Together

All of this is a long way to say that for my setting, which I’m calling “The Heart of America” for reasons I’ll detail in a future post, the players will take on the roles of Kindred Primogen and Priscus in Kansas City. Since I don’t know who my players are I’m going to flesh out character that will never see the game. After all, the Mekhet Priscus I create must vanish if a player expressed interest in that position. Players always come first.

I have two articles in the hopper right now. Join me next time as I begin my research into the history of the area and develop Kindred connections to places and events around the region. Then come back to be introduced to George Erik Irving, the Oldest Living Kindred in Kansas City, and my method for creating NPCs

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