Sunday, May 31, 2020

V5: Nosferatu and their Curse

After I posted my version of the Ravnos last week, a friend of mine asked me this:

And then I got to thinking, like I always do, but specifically because I am playing a Nosferatu in my Sunday night and, through circumstances which surprise even me, my character has become the face of the group.

I need to explain why this is hilarious. You see, in Vampire: the Masquerade, each bloodline of vampires has a specific weakness. Those of the Nosferatu clan are hideous, like the vampire in the Murnau film of the same name.

Back in previous editions, all Nosferatu were inhumanly ugly. As in "There's no passing for human, you are obviously a supernatural(ly ugly) creature." This is problematic because in this game, the most important rule that vampires have is The Masquerade, which basically says As far as the humans are concerned, There Are No Such Things As Vampires, and if you reveal our existence to the public we can and will put you to death for it. The humans almost killed us once during the Spanish Inquisition, and nowadays there are billions more of them with much better weapons. We will kill you before we allow you to kill us all.

As you are probably guessing, this is a Big Problem for Nosferatu because they can shatter the Masquerade at the drop of a hankie. Most players got around this by putting a lot of points into the discipline (vampire super power) of Obfuscate, which is a power that starts off as "You don't see me" and develops into "Now I cover myself in illusion and I can look like a normal human, so no problems here." This was kind of annoying for a lot of players because it meant that you either had to sink a lot of points into Obfuscate, or be a stealthy creepy type, or just not interact with mortals by living in the sewers and eating rats.

Fifth edition of the game changed that curse somewhat, in ways both good and bad. The good news is is that they no longer immediately break the Masquerade when seen by humans, but instead have the Repulsive flaw (a penalty of -2 dice to all social rolls which depend upon appearance) and can never look any better. So in other words they look horribly deformed, or maybe having suffered grievous injuries, but they don't look supernatural.

In addition, trying to hide their repulsive nature incurs a penalty equal to their Blood Potency, and this applies even while using Obfuscate to mask themselves. This last part struck me as odd, because if I have the supernatural ability to mask myself in an illusion to look like anyone, even a specific person, it seems weird that I would still be repulsive even if I looked like a supermodel. Admittedly, it's just a dice penalty to overcome and not a blanket "No", so it works well enough for most people. It still bothered me, though, and part of that is because the Nosferatu no longer had reasons to live in the sewers and other deep dark places of the work, which had become part of their trademark over the decades.

One of the core rules of V5 is the concept of "Bane Severity" and it is tied to Blood Potency. The short version is that the older a vampire gets the more powerful it gets, but so too does the power of its bane. In the case of the Nosferatu, that would be their hideousness... except not. They'll always be Repulsive, but that won't increase; only the difficulty in hiding their hideousness increases. So... they'll still be ugly as they become older and more inhuman... but they won't be any uglier... they'll just have a harder time hiding it despite their experience?

No. No, no no. I did not like this, so of course this meant I would need to re-work their bane so that the flavor and the lore would match while still making the clan more friendly to new players. I think I succeeded.

First I cherry-picked a neat bit from Vampire: the Reckoning*, which also featured a version of the Nosferatu clan. In VtR, the Nosferatu were repulsive, but not specifically when it came to looks; it could be "A palpable aura of menace, a charnel odor, or the undeniable manner of a predator is just as compelling as a twisted body," meaning you could absolutely have a Nosferatu who was average looking, even beautiful, but still be repulsive. Using that as my base, I decided that the bane of the Nosferatu would be a penalty equal to their Bane Severity for social interactions, and how that manifests depends on the nature of their repulsiveness.
If physically repulsive: Appearance is very important for first impressions, and the Nosferatu’s repulsiveness colors all social interactions (Bane Severity as a penalty to all skills paired to social attributes) the first time she meets any non-Nosferatu while not under Obfuscate and continues to until she manages to convince them (through good skill rolls, effective roleplaying, or demonstrations of sincerity) to look past her physical flaws and judge her on the merits of her character. Nosferatu with this bane effectively possess a modified version of the Repulsive Looks flaw and cannot take it again.
If socially repulsive: The Nosferatu is a gilded turd, gives off a serial killer vibe, or is otherwise odious in manner. So long as social interaction with him is kept at the superficial level everything is fine, but when he interacts meaningfully with a non-Nosferatu he suffers a penalty (Bane Severity to all skills paired to social attributes) unless he manages to convince that person that he is normal, or at least harmless, in a roll opposed by Wits + Insight and succeeding by a margin equal to his Bane Severity. Nosferatu with this bane effectively possess a modified version of the Obvious Predator flaw and cannot take it again.
In both cases, success in one encounter does not remove the penalty from future encounters unless that person has not left the Nosferatu's presence.

A Nosferatu wishing to help a non-Nosferatu acclimate to their presence must succeed at a difficulty of his Bane Severity. This cannot be done in a single sitting, but rather over a period of time, until the number of successful attempts is more than the Nosferatu’s Bane Severity. If the Nosferatu increases his Blood Potency, then he must start over with the new difficulty as previously acclimated persons must adjust to the new change.

Alternately, you can use my Unknown Armies-style Stress Gauges for Vampire 5e rules that I made a few months back and require anyone who interacts with that Nosferatu succeed in a stress check -- depending on the nature of the hideousness, I'd say Self or Helplessness checks for physical ugliness and either Unnatural or Violence checks for social ugliness -- with the difficulty of the stress check as Bane Severity/2. There's no need to "roll to normalize" because a Stress Check is exactly that.

Here's a Google Docs version for use in your game.

What I like about this system is that newly-made Nosferatu are just slightly hideous, and they don't have to spend points to hide it, which gives flexibility to new characters and makes the clan more accessible to new players. However, as the characters get older and gain power, they begin to look or act worse and worse, and so those characters have a choice: put points into Obfuscate/increase their social skills, or go live with the rest of the repulsive freaks underground. Not every Sewer Rat is going to want to learn Obfuscate; some may want to focus on Animalism or Presence instead, and now they have a reason to congregate in warrens, just like in first edition.

* Oh boy, how to explain? Short version: the publishers of Vampire: the Masquerade decided to end their game universe and release a game similar to but not the same as it, titled Vampire: the Requiem. It took a lot of VtM concepts and mangled them into different positions. It was... not well received by fans of the old game, in much the same way that 4th edition D&D was not well received by fans of 3.5e. I think it tells you all you need to know that VtM was rebooted into the 5th edition a year or two ago, whereas VtR has ceased publication.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Assorted Calibers Podcast Ep 102: Erin Just Isn't Feeling It

In This Episode:
  • Oddball gives us a primer on throwing knives;
  • David talks about forgeries of collectible firearms;
  • Steve gives an update on how things look from behind a gun counter;
  • and Weer'd fisks Justin Trudeau's announcement of Canada's Assault Weapon Ban.

Did you know that we have a Patreon? Join now for the low, low cost of $4/month (that’s $1/podcast) and you’ll get to listen to our podcast on Friday instead of Mondays, as well as patron-only content like mag dump episodes and our hilarious blooper reels and film tracks.

Show Notes

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

V5 Ravnos & Chimerstry

More Vampire: the Masquerade stuff.

I confess, I don't grok the Ravnos as written. In previous editions they're "gypsy vampires" and they're "all criminals"* and I'm just going to hope that bit of racism is fixed when the clan is officially written for V5.

That said, I don't see anything unique about them other than Chimerstry, their clan-specific discipline of illusion, and I think this is a missed opportunity. Consider the following: Ravnos as the reverse-Gangrel clan.

You see, most vampires are loners and the Gangrel even moreso, given their affinity for the wild places of the world and their ability to transform into wolves or bats for travel and then meld into the earth during the day. But both Gangrel and Ravnos as written have some degree of wanderlust, and since the Ravnos are based off the Romani, who travel in caravans, shouldn't the Ravnos actually be anti-loners? Shouldn't they travel in broods or troupes or covens or whatever the term is, along with their living relatives and ghouled servants?

I think they should. That would actually make them distinct from other kindred, tie in to their Romani heritage without being racist, and make playing them more interesting. They're basically the carnies of the vampire world.

At any rate, here's my version of the clan and their discipline. You'll note that not only did I make their clan weakness (called a bane in this edition) less racist but it also hearkens back to the "aura of unease" weakness they had in first edition. I rather like that.

You'll also note that I made Chimerstry into a three-level amalgam discipline, just like I did with Vicissitude. I really do like that approach because it distills the essence of the discipline into its core components: Shape flesh, shape bone, turn into horrible monster. Anything other than that is just padding in my opinion, and since I folded it into Protean it doesn't need to be padded out further.

I applied the same philosophy to Chimerstry, whose main elements seem to be "Make static image, make moving/interactive image, hurt people with image." I don't think I'm missing anything more than that, and so it also gets the three-level amalgam treatment.

And honestly, the first two powers of Obfuscate could just as easily go to Chimerstry. Cloak of Shadows? "I project an image in front of me that I hide behind." Silence of Death? "I produce illusory countersound." Unseen Passage? "The image in front of me moves with me as I move."  Heck, Mask of 1000 Faces might as well be Chimerstry in that it's a moving image laid over the owner's body.

This focus on family is why I removed Animalism and Fortitude. Those are great disciplines for loners, but less useful when traveling with an extended family in a caravan or carnival. Instead I asked myself “What disciplines would be useful both for the carnies of today and the ‘gypsy caravans’ of yesterday?”  Presence is useful because not only is that great for the people who want to play up the stereotypical huckster and con man, but it’s also useful for protecting your family from angry mobs and  vengeful princes. It’s the silver tongue only helps bring in money and helps get you across borders to escape persecution. Between that and Obfuscate, it’s how you protect the people who protect you during the day… and because you have family to protect you during the day, you don’t need to forage for food in the wilderness (Animalism) or run screaming from Lupines and/or the sun (Fortitude).

As for Celerity, I confess that my decision was mainly based on “rule of cool” meets “gypsy stereotype.” I’ve seen too many movies where the Romani women were sensual dancers, the men were devilishly clever musicians, and they were all good with knives. Celerity both compliments and enhances this concept, and it also allows them ways to escape when they’re inevitably blamed for things going wrong in the city.

And now we come to the weakness. I changed it for three reasons:

  1. It’s racist AF. “The Ravnos are vampire Romani, and all Ravnos are criminals, so by extension all Romani are criminals too.”
  2. It’s not in tune with folklore. 
  3. It makes them difficult to play, because now you have a character who MUST cause trouble and stir the shit. Moreso, this is a great way for a “chaotic asshole” player to ‘justify’ conning the other PCs and that could lead to inter-party strife. 

So instead, I used a variation on the “aura of unease” weakness from first edition, but changed it to reverse the racism. Instead of “All gypsies are thieves”, it’s “All Ravnos are blamed for everything that goes wrong, and so that scapegoating falls upon their families as well.” This is an in-game justification for why the Romani are hated and suspected of crimes. I suppose you could argue that this is moral whitewash which takes the fault of racism and xenophobia away from humanity and blames it on supernatural causes, and to an extent I guess that’s true. But it’s not explaining away ALL racism as the fault of vampires, just the racism towards this one type of people. Maybe you’ll think it’s awful, but I think it’s a hell of a lot more palatable than “Ravnos are criminals and Ravnos are Romani, so the Romani are either criminals themselves or tacitly permit the existence of such within their community.”

* No, seriously. From 2nd edition through 4th (aka V20), they all had a clan weakness which read something like this:
The Ravnos clan are all criminals; each Ravnos has a specific vice ranging from plagiarism to mass murder. When the opportunity to indulge that vice is present, Ravnos must succeed in a self-control check to avoid indulging it.
Now combine that with the "descended from Gypsies" line and you can see how a lot of people got really upset with that.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Assorted Calibers Podcast Ep 101: A Winner is Weer'd

In This Episode:
  • Erin and Weer’d discuss the recently finished Operation Blazing Sword "Quarantine Madness" raffle, some good news for Massachusetts gun shops, and an unexpected development in the Fast and Furious scandal;
  • David brings us the story of the little-known Winchester 1907 rifle;
  • and Weer'd fisks David Chipman of the Giffords anti-gun group.

Did you know that we have a Patreon? Join now for the low, low cost of $4/month (that’s $1/podcast) and you’ll get to listen to our podcast on Friday instead of Mondays, as well as patron-only content like mag dump episodes and our hilarious blooper reels and film tracks.

Show Notes

Monday, May 11, 2020

Assorted Calibers Podcast Ep 100: The Full Century

In This Episode:
  • We have a full house of the ACP crew for the big 100th episode  celebration!
  • Superfan Xander is a special guest and he talks about how he found the podcast and his new CZ pistol;
  • We discuss the Canadian dark-of-night ban on "Assault Weapons" and its foolishness;
  • And special thanks to everyone who has listened to our shows to give us 100 great episodes!

Did you know that we have a Patreon? Join now for the low, low cost of $4/month (that’s $1/podcast) and you’ll get to listen to our podcast on Friday instead of Mondays, as well as patron-only content like mag dump episodes and our hilarious blooper reels and film tracks.

Show Notes

Erin's Superb Introductory Superlatives:
Training Resources for Xander and other new gun owners:
News Stories on the Canadian Assault Weapons Ban:

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Quarantine Madness Raffle Drawing & Blazing Sword Masks For Sale

The raffle which I've been promoting since March has finally come to an end, so let's find out who won!

Congratulations to all the winners!

While I'm here and talking about Operation Blazing Sword and Pink Pistols, did you know that we have masks for sale at our online store? Masks are required wearing in many states and businesses right now, so why not be safe and fashionable at the same time? With a wide variety of designs to choose from, and now just $15 at our TeePublic store, you can make a statement that’s guaranteed to get attention and maybe even start a conversation about how gun rights are queer rights.

  • Each mask is a double layer style designed for general public use only and are not intended for use in medical settings.
  • For every non-medical mask sold, TeePublic will donate one medical grade mask to Direct Relief. Learn more.
  • All proceeds go to help Operation Blazing Sword, a 501c3 educational charity.
  • We also sell t-shirts, stickers, mugs, and more!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Assorted Calibers Podcast Ep 099: Parts, Project Pluto, Paloma Capanna

In This Episode:
  • Erin and Weer'd discuss the recent spree killing in Canada, and the conspicuous lack of information on it;
  • David talks about gun parts that are great to have around;
  • Weer'd interviews Logan Metesh of High Caliber History about the bizarre cold war nuclear weapon "Project Pluto";
  • and then Weer'd also sits down with lawyer Paloma Capanna to discuss the civil rights affected by the response to COVID-19.

Did you know that we have a Patreon? Join now for the low, low cost of $4/month (that’s $1/podcast) and you’ll get to listen to our podcast on Friday instead of Mondays, as well as patron-only content like mag dump episodes and our hilarious blooper reels and film tracks.

Show Notes

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