[V5] Oblivion Discipline, Bloat and Monobuild: a Take, and some House Rules

Ah, Oblivion. A controversial choice on the part of Onyx Path Publishing, and it really is their baby since it’s been laid out in the two books they’ve produced for V5.

Take the Obtenebration of the Lasombra and the Necromancy of the Giovanni (and the Mortis of the Cappadocians, the Thanatosis of the Samedi, the Nihilistics of the Nagaraja… Vampire necromancy is a right mess, whether you treat it as separate paths of one big thing or an array of similar-but-different Disciplines).

Tie together the obvious commonalities – Kiasyd used to have both! The Abyss, the bad place where the shadows are alive, is correspondent to Oblivion, the bad place that turns wraiths into spectres and defines that whole game line! Something to do with Werewolves, the Labyrinth, the Wyrm, honestly I’m not much of a Werewolf person but it’s there! Lasombra, the Antediluvian, is not as dead as everyone said he was! (spoiler warning for a book that came out in 2005 and has been Wiki-synopsised to death, I suppose. honestly, “spoilers” in an RPG book, who’d have… anyway.)

Then, think like Dawkins – a WoD superfan who’s owned more or less every Vampire book there is to own and actually remembers them all – and decide what if this was all coming from the same place? There’s something at the very bottom of the World of Darkness’ cosmology, it has something to do with ghosts and shadows and spiritually corrosive world poisoning nastiness, it’s always hungry and one day it might devour the world.

It makes sense. Sorry, haters, but from a worldbuilding point of view there’s enough there. From a mechanical point of view… eeeh. Good and bad. It’s great that the Hecata (as they now are) and the Lasombra have a single Discipline in common (much like how Protean has been used to cover the similar-enough remits of the Gangrel, Tzimisce and Followers Ministry of Set), and are otherwise very different in their spreads. (Giovanni and Lasombra having functionally the same spread outside their signature never sat well with me, really.)

However, Oblivion itself has suffered slightly from being developed across two books, by a team who I think might not have been sure they were going to do the second one when the first one was being worked on. As a result, in an age of streamlining Disciplines, eliminating redundancy, and controlling bloat, Oblivion has ended up with four powers per level where most Disciplines only get two, and the understandable desire to gatekeep “necromancy” behind the Ceremony system has led to a weird situation where this huge and flexible discipline has expensive monobuilds.

Pain Points

At present, characters who wish to specialise in Bothering Ghosts or Raising Zombies are forced to dump 15 and then 20 and then 25 XP into Discipline powers that are nothing to do with Bothering Ghosts or Raising Zombies, i.e. powers they may never want to use and that don’t suit The Fantasy of their character, and then pay the Ceremony costs on top.

I do understand why these Ceremonies shouldn’t be available to fledgling or neonate characters, or even ancillae without significant investment and committing the whole build toward them.

However, there’s a difference between an XP cost for something you want (good design) and an XP tax to unlock an opportunity to spend more XP on something you want, at the opportunity cost of not taking something innovative and thematically appropriate (bad design).

I think whoever wrote this chapter had a bit of a spod moment, insisting on the letter of the design principle (Ceremonies have levels and prerequisite powers of the corresponding level and they’re not for Lasombra) rather than embracing the spirit, i.e. the flexibility in being able to take Discipline powers out of sequence in V5.

I’ve come up with two possible solutions. The first was a hack: that one, I’m going to talk about here. The second runs long, as it’s basically a full restructuring of the entire Discipline that amalgamates material from two or three different books. It’ll need its own post, lest the teal deers stampede.

Solution 1: the Hack

Design Goals

Make the Oblivion Ceremonies more open so there’s not a nonsensical monobuild for “Kindred who want to do Ghost or Zombie stuff.” Also, encourage the use of the Amalgam powers because the aforementioned monobuild precludes taking them and they’re a better fit for classical Giovanni than what were, historically, Cappadocian powers. (This is, I admit, me having my own spod moment, but I’m using it to create more design space so I think it’s OK).

add Passion Feast as alternative prerequisite for Host Spirit

rationale: if Aura of Decay is about holding Oblivion within you and broadcasting it outwards, Passion Feast is about taking Oblivion into you and holding it within your very makeup – I’d argue it’s a more appropriate prerequisite for being possessed by ghosts than Aura.

change prerequisites for Bind Spirit to The Binding Fetter + 4 dots in Oblivion

rationale: Binding Spirits is about being able to work with Fetters, and yes I appreciate that OPP wanted to keep the tree structure of ghost wrangling and don’t want this being handed to starting neonates, but tying it to an old Mortis power does not make sense.

change prerequisite for Split The Shroud to Where The Shroud Thins + 4 dots in Oblivion

rationale: it’s a logical progression from a level 2 power, gated at level 4 for balance reasons which are valid but lead to an association that… doesn’t actively not make sense but doesn’t exactly resonate either. I want to open up Touch of Oblivion from the Chicago book as an option for the level 4 power because I think that does associate very well with Split The Shroud, extend well from Ashes to Ashes, and associate well with Withering Spirit at the next level.

add Fatal Precognition + Bind Spirit + 5 dots in Oblivion as alternative prerequisite for Lazarene Blessing

rationale: Skuld Fulfilled is so cool but also so conditional for a level 5 power: you’re obliging another player to make up a suitably impressive pre-existing condition or injury (something that’s worth using a level 5 power to evoke) or inviting some smug twat to sit there and say “ain’t got none, wasted your 25 XP n00b.” Now I understand that the proper solution to the latter problem is to not play with smug twats, but at the same time, a storytelling game is supposed to have rules to mitigate “bang bang” “nuh uh you missed” situations and this rule creates one. Bad rule. And sometimes a perfectly reasonable player might not have the spoons to spin up a health problem out of nowhere. So, we need a bypass for Skuld Fulfilled because it’s not consistently reliable enough to be worth the cost. I’ve gone for two prerequisites here because I see this power as a combination of both lower level abilities, and it should be a bit further up the chain than Bind Spirit, and Bind Spirit probably shouldn’t be available to anyone who picked the right Predator Type as a neonate.

That’s it for now: a body has work to go to. I’ll post the more extensive Oblivion rework another time. Do let me know if you try this one out and find it works for you!

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