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.

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