Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Generation is Dumb. Blood Potency is Better.

Nerdspeak Warning: The following blog post will likely be incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't play tabletop RPGs. 

Ever since the first edition of Vampire: the Masquerade I’ve thought that “Generation as indication of power” was a terrible idea. For those who don't know what this means, in VtM the first vampire was Caine (yes, that Caine; vampirism was his punishment) and therefore was the First Generation. Any vampires he made were the Second Generation, and so on. With the game, player characters started off at a default 13th generation, and for the reasons listed below I thought it was a dumb idea. However, with the mechanic tied so closely to the game setting, I didn't know how to fix that problem... until fifth edition came along. V5 gives us Blood Potency (stolen from the Requiem game line and one of the few things from that setting of which I approve), which handily solves my problem by giving us the tools necessary to replace generation.

First my rant about the setting, then the game mechanics. A Google Document version of this post is here.

Why Generation is Dumb: an Essay
Humanity is old. No, older than you think. OLD. The oldest known civilization is the Mesopotamian Empire, which was founded circa 4500 BC, or 6500 years ago.

This out-of-game information gives us an in-the-game date by which the First City, Enoch, must have been founded, and therefore a rough idea of when Caine embraced his first childe, also named Enoch, as presumably the city was named after him.

Let us assume, purely for sake of argument and to make the math easier, that all of Caine’s childer waited 100 years before they created childer of their own and begat the Third Generation, and all their childer waited a century, and so forth. This gives us the following timeline:
  • Second Generation created: 4500 BC
  • Third Generation created: 4400 BC
  • Fourth Generation created: 4300 BC
  • Fifth Generation created: 4200 BC
  • Sixth Generation created: 4100 BC
  • Seventh Generation created: 4000 BC
  • Eighth Generation created: 3900 BC
  • Ninth Generation created: 3800 BC
  • Tenth Generation created: 3700 BC
  • Eleventh Generation created: 3600 BC
  • Twelfth Generation created: 3500 BC
  • Thirteenth Generation created: 3400 BC
  • Fourteenth Generation created: 3300 BC
In just 1,200 years we have reached thin-bloods, and this is assuming very generous restraint on the part of sires... and yet we are to believe that thin-bloods are a recent occurrence, only happening now in the modern nights? Balderdash and bullshit. The lore and the rules aren’t in harmony.

There are ways to correct this, but each involves decoupling some parts of the lore from the rules.
  1. Generation no longer matters (except as a point of prideful lineage to Ventrue and other snooty types), only Blood Potency. Except for your clanmates, no one cares that you’re Caine’s 66th grande-childer. This is the system I outline below.
  2. “This has happened before, and this will happen again.” Gehenna is cyclical, with the Antediluvians rising periodically to feast upon their lineage before siring fresh childer and returning to torpor. This could easily happen every 1000 years or so, which nicely explains the death and doomsday cults which pop up every millennium or so. This is handy if you want to use the 1e-VRev notion of thin-bloods being a portent of Gehenna and you want to run a Final Nights campaign.
  3. Want to go really dark with that last option? Assume that Elders and Methuselae know this, and are encouraging the creation of thin-bloods to form a herd for the Antediluvians. “Our clan founders periodically rise and feast upon kindred blood? Well, then, it’s a good thing we have cities full of weak kindred for them to eat. Have all our high generations, grandparents, and go back to sleep.”

Replacing Generation with Blood Potency
In V5, and contrary to previous editions, Generation is no longer a background to be bought; rather, it is more or less a bit of roleplaying fluff. What is important is Blood Potency, which is not purchasable during character generation, but is rather determined by how long your character has been undead. As a rule of thumb, BP increases by 1 for every 100 years of activity (time spent in Torpor doesn’t count), although there are shortcuts such as by spending XP (if permitted by the GM) and of course the every-dangerous but time-honored method of diablerie, aka drinking dry the body of a vampire older than you and consuming its soul in the process.

All of this leads me to wonder, Why even bother with Generation in the first place? I've listed my in-game objections to it above, and there's no longer a mechanical reason for it, so just jettison it altogether. Thin-bloods aren't the result of high generation, but rather what happens when a vampire with low BP tries to sure.

# of years    
Min BP
Max BP
All of Them
No Limit  
 * Blood Potency cannot increase without Diablerie.

Absent the A Taste For Blood power, there is no way to discreetly test for Blood Potency, so a vampire who went into torpor 250 years ago as a Neonate will be treated like an Elder in kindred society… at least until it is shown that his blood lacks the strength to maintain that position. Some wags call this “The Big Effect”, after the Tom Hanks movie.

A Neonate who spends no XP on blood potency will, after 100 years of activity, have his BP increased from 1 to 2; a Neonate who spends XP to increase BP will find it capped at 4 until he puts in a century's worth of existence, at which point that cap rises to 6. Of course, diablerie changes all this.

Blood Potency and Diablerie
Given that V5’s rules on diablerie focus exclusively on Blood Potency rather than generation, there is no need to alter any existing rules and the mention of “If the victim was of lower generation, the diablerist lowers their generation by one” can be ignored. However, if the Storyteller feels that this is insufficient reward in the case of a hard-fought diablerizations against a potent victim, then the diablerist’s Blood Potency may further increase by one dot.

Blood Potency and Dominate
Make the following edits: “A vampire of lower higher (stronger) generation Blood Potency can resist Dominate attempts from higher generation lower Blood Potency vampires by spending a Willpower point, negating the effect completely.”

Blood Potency and the Embrace
There are three ways you can handle this, depending on how you want your game to run.
  1. Age is All That Matters: Regardless of the sire’s Blood Potency, the childe always starts at 1, and only age (or diablerie) can change that. This avoids problems such as “If Caine Embraced a childe today, they’d be a Second Generation neonate” and requires either patience or aggressive ambition to rise in power.
  2. Inherited from the sire: A childe’s Blood Potency is that of her sire -1. This gives the GM freedom to create characters for the story who are quite powerful in terms of vampiric strength but without the commensurate skills or disciplines -- in other words, an above-average opponent who won’t wipe your entire party.
  3. Happy Medium: A childe's Blood Potency is 1/2 that of his sire. This gives a bit of both worlds without breaking things in either direction.

Regardless of which of the above options you choose, Thin-Bloods are what occur when Blood Potency 1 vampires attempt the Embrace. Unlike in previous versions of Vampire, there is no existential crisis inherent with the existence of thin-bloods across the millennia. There is already a long and vicious tradition of older vampires manipulating younger ones for their own benefit and without concern for the neonates’ survival; the thin-blooded, being weak and easily intimidated by even neonates, are frequently used as disposable pawns by kindred society, and so they rarely last more than a few years of unlife.

I am aware that doing away with generation will upset many traditionalists. However, V5 has already slaughtered several sacred cows by dispensing with such concepts as Virtues, Blood Pool, and the Appearance stat. Each of those was removed in order to make the game more playable, and each was a far larger change than removing generation. My proposed system better integrates the mechanics of the game with its history.

But do as you like. I’m not the Prince of you.

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