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.

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