[V:tM] Baby’s First Chronicle: Top Tips for Beginner Storytellers

To begin with: don’t be afraid. Your first game is going to be “wrong” in some sense. So is your second. I’ve run six chronicles over the last twenty years, some of them running for years on end, and I still get to the end of some sessions and think “well, that could’ve gone better” or have to write off a chronicle because of something we didn’t spot early on.

You’ll make rules calls that don’t work when you think about them afterwards. You’ll not be able to land the same voice for that SPC two scenes on the trot, never mind for the whole chronicle. You’ll forget who the Ventrue Justicar was “canonically” established to be in Buttfuck (MI) By Night (1994). None of that matters. One time I forgot that the Bastille was, you know, no longer a place that existed and that was the point of Bastille Day, in a session called ‘Bastille Day’. I promise that nine times out of ten you can pause for the laughter to stop, shrug, say “my World of Darkness, my rules” and crack on.

Continue reading “[V:tM] Baby’s First Chronicle: Top Tips for Beginner Storytellers”

[VtM] On Persistent Worlds, and Gehenna

The last few years have been… difficult, if you’re a fan of the Vampire. I won’t go over all the controversies and nonsense here, because some muck is better left unraked. Suffice to say that the launch of V5 was troubled, and the core game continues to soldier on even though – if community created content is anything to go by – the long term player base doesn’t really want what it’s about.

As a returning player I actually quite like it.

I’ve spent more time with Vampire in its various forms than any other game system. I dabble, here and there, for curiosity’s sake or because someone really wants to play such-and-such-another-thing, but I come back to Requiem as a platonic “really good vampire game” and Masquerade as a realistic “good enough vampire game that people are more likely to play.”

Crucially, Masquerade is the only game to which I’ve come back often enough that I have an internally consistent and continuous game-world of my own. Something that exists along the framework established by Justin Achilli et al in Revised edition, as a starting point, but steps back from the inane grand-scale spectacle (we do spectacle, where I’m from, but it’s comparatively low key next to whatever the hell the Week of Nightmares is supposed to be or however it’s supposed to work at table), and throws out a lot of the metaplot while remaining similar enough that it can be hung off the same game-mechanical hooks.


In 2004, a rash of prophetic dreams (a man and a woman in the desert before dawn; she takes his confession and leaves him to greet the sun) and the rising of the Red Star initiated the Winnowing, a process in which the first seven generations of vampires all died, one generation a year. (A few generations might have been fudged, here and there, if I happen to like the character and think it was a bit daft that they were sixth generation because of daft literalist interpretations of the source material, ahem hem Bloodlines fandom.)

There were, however, a couple of weird exceptions; the Harbingers of Ashur who, unbeknownst to anyone outside their insane revenge cult (Lilith worshippers hanging out in the afterlife with four captive really old vampires in boxes), haven’t been true vampires for centuries, and the original coven of Tremere, who – as false vampires who weren’t Embraced at all – seemed to dodge a bullet. At least, they did until the players in my Gehenna game killed Tremere himself to stop him winning the conflict formerly known as Jyhad all by himself.

By 2009, visible princes, prisci and other big knobs were starting to die, and the major sects became increasingly unhinged, especially as the false Regent had “her” cover blown by the simple fact of her survival, and the Sabbat ran wild and collapsed.By 2012, it was clear that this had been Gehenna, and it was over; not with a bang nor a whimper but a slow death in the dark. Only the Bahari really have a clue why, and they’re not telling. They just smirk, and suggest the enquirer work on their interpretation of dreams.

Everything since then has been a scramble to find the new status quo, with the eighth and ninth generations inheriting broken thrones, and thinbloods as a spreading and despised underclass, as per. There may be some kind of connection between Ashefinders and Ashur, or it may just be homonymic convergence.


Everything but the last paragraph was already laid in before V5, as a consequence of prior games followed through. The Gehenna material is from my Victorian Age game that ran from 2002 to 2004 weekly, and wrapped up with a Final Nights timeskip in the summer of 2005. The Bahari plot thread was planted in Constantinople, Not Istanbul. (I think that was 2011-2018? why did I delete my blog? I’ve lost all sense of the recent past now… oh, that’s right, I was having an awful time and didn’t want to remember!) The collapse of the Sabbat is honestly implicit in every short-run Sabbat game I’ve ever tried to run. The outcome is the status quo for Glasgow By Night, which I started running in 2020 and is currently on hiatus while I pranny about being a player in Slaughterhouse Three and wonder if I’m going to get the whole band back together.

I think about this because, long ago, I was gently chided for flittering and fluttering between game systems and settings – what depth and growth and creative maturity there is in RPGs comes from settling down and sustaining in one place. On reflection, I think that’s happened for me with V:tM. It’s the one game I can point at and say yes, I remember how I ran this at seventeen and I am not running it like that now (although I’m still a total magpie when it comes to SPC concepts and names – I always tell people I’m talented, not creative, I just pinch bits from everything I like and shake them through the game setting), but the events from those games when I was seventeen are still in my personal “canon” – eroded by time and revised by increasing standards, but not unhappened, nor abandoned.

[V5] On Thinbloods

I’ve used a Thinblood as a guest star in an ongoing chronicle. I have a player who doesn’t really do long-haul stories (she’s very good, but she doesn’t like games that turn into homework: short, committed arcs are her thing). Her character is a chaotic Gen Z gremlin, connected to the PCs’ Mawla figure (as far as they’re aware IC, she’s his biological daughter and also his childe, only one of which is actually true), and we unleash her on the story whenever we need a session’s breathing room from the Revised-style machinations that take up much of our attention, or need to be dragged down to Planet V5 for some street level problems on the Rack.

It works because a) the Thinblood is connected to something the players have put coterie dots into: they’re invested in Sorcha’s da, so they’re invested in her, and b) because it gives the players someone who’s even more baby than their characters and needs looking after. It helps that c) she has Resources, Looks and a Discipline Affinity: at the start of our chronicle the PCs had two dots in Resources between the three of them and no in-house Oblivion. There’s a strong Hecata presence in the city and none of my original players were playing one, so having a friend who can clue them in to Spooky Goings On is really handy.

I think if you have a similar situation – a player who wants to commit something different to the game and doesn’t necessarily care about the long haul – this kind of occasional guest character works well, and that’s probably the best way to integrate a lone Thinblood (unless you’ve decided to pick a Merit package that lets them act like a less sycophantic ghoul, with capacity to operate in daylight: that can also be fun, but the player still needs to like doing solo scenes and the group dynamic needs to be comfortable with that).

When I was building this chronicle I also seeded a few other thinblood characters (four, plus this one who became a guest PC) and a thinblood-focused plot hook or two, in case the players wanted to give an all-thinblood chronicle a try. The specific story hooks I went for were the Bahari cult (for reasons that don’t necessarily summarise well – how long are you here for conversations about the Last Daughter of Eve, Lilith bullshit, and creative interpretations of the Gehenna canon?) and the Ashe conspiracy introduced through Chicago by Night (making drugs out of vampires, which resonates with both Thin-Blood Alchemy’s use of the body as crucible and the idea of thin-bloods as disposable citizens, tolerated but not valued, nobody caring if they live or die as long as they don’t bring the hammer down on any real Kindred).

I think to make them work you need to either go into Alchemy or a Discipline Affinity. Not both, but certainly one or the other. This isn’t so much a mechanical problem as a thematic one. Justin Achilli once told me that the supernatural powers in the players’ hands are a key element: without it, Vampire is just Mad Men, horrible people doing horrible things to each other for boring reasons. It’s feeding and the blood bond and Disciplines that introduce those lurid, monstrous, capital-G Gothic elements and elevate the game into passion play, and characters without those elements feel a bit… off-message, for Vampire.

One might argue that the thinblood “daywalker” who can fulfil the ghoul niche is a kind of double-negative version of this, rich and strange by their sheer contrast to other vampires, and I think if your table focuses heavily on vampires and vampire society then the thinblood can be a ray of light in the midst of all that. A touchstone with a little t – although now I want to make a Thinblood the focus of a Coterie Type, in the same way that locations or slumbering elders might be. Time to break out that Last Daughter of Eve concept again…

I’d also say it helps to “theory craft” every character in the context of a Session Zero in which you establish what the chronicle’s going to be like, roughly where the arcs are going to go, what dramatic (or tactical) role everyone’s going to take on. Vampire is in my opinion a writer’s room, not a guessing game – it works best when everyone playing is contributing to the makeup of the story, when information is fairly open at the table, and when “what’s going to happen” is less important than “how we’re going to feel about it and deal with it.” Every element of a character from Discipline spreads to Merits and Flaws to Predator Type is a potential contribution to that emergent drama. Thinbloods are no different.

In particular you want to look at what the Thinblood Merits and Flaws enable and complicate, whether they play along the same sectarian lines (good for fitting a Thinblood into a group of full Kindred) or whether they’re all pulling in different ways (good for fostering conflict within a Thinblood group).

You’ll also need to think about feeding. Thinbloods don’t have a Predator Type, and so they don’t have the raw dots in Merits, Abilities and specialities that enable easy feeding. It’s harder for them to just tamp down on the Hunger, which means they’re going to need help, or they’re going to need their consequences managed. In either case, expect feeding to be even more significant than normal, and accidents to be more common.

Bottom line: I think a Thinblood or two can play a role in your proper Kindred chronicle if the players’ interests and preferences create the right space for them. I think an all-Thinblood chronicle is interesting if you want to back away from what classical Vampire is about and really focus on Your Little Guys and how they make it night to night, with both the proper Kindred and the threat of the Second Inquisition as these looming threats they don’t really understand. It would also be fun, maybe, to experiment with different paradigms for vampirism by not having any ‘true’ Kindred around at all – that’d be a neat way to run a lore-agnostic or post-Gehenna chronicle, although by that stage you’re not so much playing Vampire: the Masquerade as using its rules to do your own thing.

[V:tM] A Vampire: the Masquerade Watch List

THE UR–EXAMPLES

The Hunger is about as close to the ideal of Vampire: the Masquerade as you can get. Nightclubs! Gratuitous Bauhaus! Lesbian kiss! The aesthetic is spot on: it looks and feels like early Vampire art, or rather early Vampire art looks and feels like this film. V:tM may have come out in 1991 but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s and the vampire chic this film defined. The Hunger will dump the vibe of the game right between the eyes and it’s as close as I dare come to “must-watch.”

V:tM’s Gehenna concept is heavily mirrored/inspired by the novel Queen of the Damned, which was adapted for film around the time Gehenna was actually happening and the line was coming to a close – so watch that too. The Hunger defines where V:tM came from, all Eighties post-punk writhing – this chuggy post-industrial apocalypse-glam perfectly sums up where it’s going.

THE META TAKE

Shadow of the Vampire is about a vampire playing a vampire in the first vampire movie. In a weird way I think that’s perfect for the sense of the Masquerade, hiding in plain sight, preying on the worst instincts of humanity and encouraging them to let you get away with all the awful things you want to do. In microcosm, it’s the perfect analogy for the “vampires secretly run society” vibe.

(It may help if you’ve seen Nosferatu too – either the 1922 original or the 1979 remake. I personally like the 1979 – it’s beautifully composed and, well, Isabelle Adjani. My God.)

GATHERING DATA ON VARIOUS OF BASTARDS

Depending on what type of vampire you want to be (and I’m going with V5’s categories here), I recommend at least one of the following:

Thinbloods lend themselves well to the What We Do In The Shadows conceit of vampire flatmates (or The Carmilla Movie, I suspect, but I haven’t seen that one). They’re millennial and Gen Z vampires; all the power and resources are concentrated in the hands of previous generations, so they pretty much have to bind together and find something else to enjoy in life, ’cause they’re never going to be powerful in the conventional sense. Thinblood games are low power, a bit domestic, and often the closest to “normal life but we happen to be vampires and bigger vampires try to kick our heads in occasionally.”

Neonates are your classic Gen X eighties/nineties vampire movie – The Lost Boys. Still weak enough that they’re better off standing together, strong enough that they can afford to be a bit cocky around humans. Probably share a sire, mentor, authority figure of some sort and should probably be working on his agenda once they’ve finished prowling the boardwalks and clubland at night. They’re a step further removed from society, but they can pretend to be human for an hour or two if they really try. Also, this is the other one that was in the air and influential when V:tM first came to be – along with The Hunger, I’d recommend it as the closest to a must-watch.

Ancillae (the upper reaches of age and power offered by the V5 corebook) are more your Interview With The Vampire kind of deal. You’ve lived a long life, your adventuring days are behind you, and now you’re something of a mover and a shaker – you’re probably permitted or at least not prevented from siring and you’re looking to give someone the choice you never had. Modernity gives you a headache but at least you can work a smartphone four times out of five. Ancillae games are a nice balance between “you’re powerful” and “you still have to answer to someone”.

SECTS MANIACS

If you’re extending into Inconnu territory, settle down with a small glass of something and enjoy one of my favourite films ever, Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s a slow story, and not a lot happens, but that’s elders for you. They become introverted. They fall into a groove. They keep to each others’ company. It’s beautiful and haunting until some clueless childe comes along and screws it all up for them and they have to admit what they really are.

Want to figure out the Sabbat? Watch (or read) 30 Days of Night and thank me later. The vampires there are getting away with something horrible because they’ve fallen through the cracks in the world. They act alpha-predator but they still live on the fringe or civilisation, the little savages.

REFLEXIVE ACTION

It would be deeply remiss of me not to talk about Underworld, the film series transparently inspired by V:tM,.to the point where lawyers were involved. Underworld reflects V:tM at its most “gamery”, its most superheroes-with-fangs – all custom weapons, trenchcoats and corsets, fighting werewolves in the dark, flashing back to the Middle Dark Ages and preoccupied with impenetrable why-does-this-matter world-building.

It sits at the end of that tendency toward Desert Eagles, katanas, Dragonsbreath rounds and C4 appearing on every character sheet that found its way into V:tM’s DNA from Shadowrun, along with the penchant for dice pool mechanics and wearing sunglasses indoors. I dislike that sort of game and I’m not mad keen on Underworld either (although Bill Nighy is a delight in any role where he gets to fight things, bless him) but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this sort of thing is also peak V:tM.

WAIT, THIS ISN’T VAMPIRES!

V:tM is synonymous with politics and backstabbing, and there isn’t in my opinion a vampire movie that really hits that. Thing is, Mark Rein-Hagen apparently loves Mafia movies, and the sense of the Mafioso as outlaw “protector” and power broker from the shadows, bound by a tradition of secrecy and self-regulation, goes right down into the roots of V:tM. Hence: The Godfather. (I’m open for other recommendations along these lines, if anyone has any: classic Mafia films are not my strong point.)

YOUR OWN PERSONAL JESUS TASTE

What are your top three non-vampire films? Why? That’s as good a way to start finding your feet as Storyteller as any – interrogate your own taste, know yourself, and discover from that what kinds of stories you enjoy. Now grab some friends and ask them the same question. Wherever you find an overlap in your tastes, that’s something that’s worth focusing on in your game.

Why “no vampire films” rule? Because “being a vampire” in and of itself doesn’t make a story (unless it’s a quiet, short one like Only Lovers Left Alive, but in RPG terms, that’s a one-off and definitely not a chronicle). V:tM works because it fuses vampires-as-protagonists with something else, be it cyberpunk style action thriller or gloomy crime drama or whatever it is you like.

Mine, discounting the one I’ve already gushed about up the line, are Rocknrolla, Franklyn, and In The Loop. My games run on generally have a couple of seemingly indestructible SPCs nobody likes and a dark secret that can absolutely take them down, someone WILL have an impenetrable regional accent, there will be convoluted political scrambling that nobody entirely understands (but someone who moves fast enough can come out on top through sheer bastardry)…

… but there’s also a layer of exaggerated Gothickry over everything, neuratypical characters will perceive the world very differently, vengeance and trauma will drive the major players and love may conquer all but you’ll have to lose a lot to get there.

None of this is essential to V:tM but it’s what makes my V:tM different from A. N. Other Storyteller’s, and it’s important to figure out your own taste. People often expect an RPG to come ready-made and ready-to-go (“We’re playing the Lost Mines of Phandelver”) and Vampire, at its best, is a bit more bespoke. Asking players about their taste in media is one way to start that tailoring process, making your V:tM something a bit different from everyone else’s and getting into that transformative stuff that makes RPGs so gosh-darn amazing.

[V:tM] How I Design V5 SPCs

The following process is an attempt to patch over one of the most glaring omissions from the V5 book: designing a Storyteller Played Character that operates within a fairly comprehensive sense of “the rules.” At the end of the day the Storyteller is a player too, albeit one with a different set of responsibilities: that’s why I don’t like to call them VtM NPCs, and why I like to have my SPCs operate on the same plane as the players’ characters have to, even if they have a lot of advantages.

(For visual handholds, and because I forgot I had them: a few images of my extended STPC family, as drawn by a Discord buddy I’m afraid I lost touch with. hubris, if you’re out there, thanks a lot for these, they still make me smile!)

Sorcha: a Gifted Fledgling,
do not underestimate her,
but do not estimate her too highly either.

How to build an SPC

Start with a Coterie Type. Yes, really. Your SPCs are part of a social machine; they are embedded in a Domain, they have a web of Backgrounds indicating friends and enemies, thralls and tools. As you go along, assign the Advantage dots from SPCs in a Coterie to their Coterie Backgrounds, indicating the role each Kindred plays in maintaining it. Take the Chasse, Portillon and Lien ratings as a basis but go bigger for more powerful Kindred (the Prince should probably be sitting on a four or five dot Chasse rating). If you find yourself running out of Advantage dots and you still can’t buy everything on the Coterie’s list to the level you want it at, this is a sign that you need to put more SPCs into it: big and powerful Domains need more people to keep them organised!

I do this so I can quantify how the night to night maintenance of a Domain works, and what resources my SPCs have to call on outside of direct confrontation. The PCs don’t necessarily get a fair “fight” but they do get one that exists and operates in the same systemic terms as their abilities, rather than me just going “oh yeah the prince has all this because they’re prince”. If a player asks for something like the Sheriff’s patrol route I can work it out from looking at the Chasse of their Domain (four dots covering three “neighbourhoods” probably means three nights patrolling a week – if you know she’s been there on Tuesday she probably won’t be back around until Friday). I often use the Background ratings of the SPCs to set the base Difficulty of conflicts with them, and of course SPC Backgrounds make great targets for PC Projects if you’re using that subsystem.

Then drill down into the individual characters. Start with a Mortal template from page 185, depending on how strong you want the character to be. Careful observation reveals that a Gifted template is roughly equivalent to a fledgling PC: their Attributes won’t be as strong but their Skills will be more developed. Deadly is super strong and should be reserved for the biggest and baddest dudes around; even my STPC isn’t Deadly! Weak is absolutely feeble in vampire terms and should be reserved for characters whose dramatic role is tied up with failure – Weak Kindred do not survive, they just don’t have the gumption for this life.

If you’re struggling to pick their Skills, assign them a Profession (page 145), a Life Event for each century they’ve been around (page 146) and four or so Pastimes (page 146 again).

Also, look ahead to their Disciplines and Predator Type and make sure they’re appropriately kitted out with the Skills listed there. They don’t have to be good – you might design an SPC to be crap – but consider that three dots is “trained and practising to professional standard” and that an experienced Kindred is probably at that standard in what they need to get by night to night.

If the same Skill comes up twice, assign a Speciality to it, then toss the dots somewhere else (unless you think they really need four or five dots).

Any leftovers get put into the Skills that are important for your chronicle’s style. Mine tend to be Insight, Awareness, Streetwise, Subterfuge and Athletics, because I run a chronicle that’s about second-guessing the motives of others and rolling with a surprise fight when it happens. Your mileage may vary.

Assign their Advantage dots. They should be contributing at least one of the Backgrounds that go along with their Coterie Type, and a few dots to the Domain ratings. The more Advantages they have, the more likely they are to have something for themselves left over. This is by design: Weak and Average Kindred are exploited by Gifted and Deadly Kindred all the damn time. Your Deadly Elder Primogen is probably going to have a backup Haven or two, as well as contributing their Status to the Coterie.

Take all the Flaws from the Mortal Template, as this gives your SPC some weird weaknesses that diligent players can uncover and exploit. (I’m a big fan of Folkloric Banes and Blocks on my elders, for instance.) I think this is an important part of Vampire – the more old and powerful a Kindred is, the more they need a few specific eccentricities and vulnerabilities. It makes them feel more inhuman, and it gives the PCs a fighting chance.

Choose a Predator Type for them. This answers the super specific personal question of how this vampire gets the blood they need, and keeps the character grounded in vampirism. Give your SPCs both of the either/or Specialities to represent them having some different developed strategies for feeding. Give them all the Backgrounds too, and keep these personal – they’re probably not contributing these to their Coterie, these are the ones they keep for themselves and rely on when they’re feeding. Exceptions will of course exist: if you’re building a Blood Cult Coterie, they probably share their Herd, and if your Coterie are all Osiris types who are in a band, they probably have collective Fame. Filter all this through some logic, you know?

Then, add their “vampire stuff.” The Discipline dots from Predator Type are administrated here. SPCs generally get a boost in Blood Potency if they’ve been around for a while, which helps them compensate for their slightly inferior stat pools. We’ll get into this later, but SPCs shouldn’t be afraid to Surge for extra dice when they need to, and lean on their Discipline rerolls to make them more efficient vampires.

Fledgling

■ ■ 1 Blood Potency, Humanity 7
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (2, 1), Predator Type (+1 from one)

Neonate

■ ■ 2 Blood Potency, Humanity 6
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (2, 1), Predator Type (+1 in both), +1 anywhere

Ancilla

■ ■ 3 Blood Potency, Humanity 5
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (3, 2, 1) Predator Type (+ 1 in both), +2 anywhere

Elder

■ ■ 4 Blood Potency, Humanity 4
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (4, 3, 2) Predator Type (+1 in both), +3 anywhere

Adjust all this by Predator Type as normal, so a really scary throat ripping Elder might get Blood Leech (for Blood Potency 5 Humanity 3) or a particularly kindly Ancilla might take Consensualist (for Humanity 7, probably a better person than the PCs).

Alistair: if I’d known how much the players would love him,
I’d have made him Deadly,
just to nail the sheer badassery they think he has.

You can do a lot of odd things with this template. I set up a Weak Ancilla as the first primogen my current crop of Anarch players took down: he was out of his depth, after his time and generally the weakest link in the Camarilla’s chain. Their Mawla, meanwhile, is a Gifted Neonate: he’s only been undead thirty years, but he had a long and hard life as a ghoul before then and he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. I will say that I’m not sure how to make sense out of a Deadly Fledgling or Weak Elder, though…

How to tune your SPCs for conflict

So far, so good, but there is (as I discovered) a world of difference between building an SPC who works on paper and building one who can actually stand up to a group of PCs and make their players feel a bit sweaty. Midway through the Wild Roses chronicle (at the end of Act One, which was about twice the length of the others), I actually had to redraw my entire SPC roster because I’d dramatically underestimated what they needed to accomplish.

The main thing to think about is action economy. Your SPC gets to do one thing in a round, the PCs get to do one each.

Obviously the easiest way around this is to bring minions via the Background dots. Retainers and Allies have mechanical details already, as does the Haven: Watchmen perk (most of my SPCs have this one), but if you really want to crank the odds against your PCs, build an SPC with a big Herd and lean into the “perform basic services” aspect. When push comes to shove, a Herd can put a lot of bodies into play and enough Weak dice pools can overwhelm any PC, one bare-minimum point of damage at a time. Ask the Roses how unnerving it was to set up and bushwhack a Toreador ancilla only to discover he’d turned up with thirty men against the four of them and a pig.

For an SPC to feel powerful one-on-one they have to build dice pools big enough that they can afford to split them between players if they need to. Pick up extra dice from Specialities (don’t be afraid to give an SPC a signature weapon and corresponding speciality, that extra die goes a long way). Build bigger defensive pools with Celerity: Rapid Reflexes and Fleetness. And don’t be afraid to Blood Surge for more dice, especially since an SPC can and should be throwing around higher Blood Potency numbers than some playable neonate.

Santino, who has one dot in hoo, a whole bunch of useful Disciplines.
Oblivion’s Sight, Lethal Body and Daunt go a long way!

After that it’s a question of Disciplines and tactics. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you some ideas to get started with. A lot of these ideas will involve going deep into one Discipline: the template I’ve shown above often gives them four or five dots in one place and I’m not afraid to use them.

  • stop themselves being attacked by throwing around a crowd control Discipline like Presence: Daunt, Dread Gaze or Majesty, or Potence: Earthshock, or the stealth hit of Fortitude: Flesh of Marble (not exactly crowd control, but serves the same purpose of keeping player attacks off your back). Oblivion, the way the Lasombra play it, is pretty good for incapacitating players, especially in social conflicts (stack Oblivion: Cloak of Shadows and Presence: Daunt for a Lasombra to whom no will not be said).
  • hit hard enough that they can Impair a player in one round and force someone to play defensively. Protean: Feral Claws or Potence: Prowess are good picks here, and once the SPC’s Hunger builds up a swift and brutal combat feeding with Potence: Brutal Feed can rip through a player’s health track. I used this with Celerity: Blink to create a three-round-kill sheriff who, alone, could incapacitate any one of my PCs.
  • facetank! Fortitude is a powerhouse of a Discipline for SPCs. Resilience, Toughness and Defy Bane will give your character a longer Health track, make it take longer to fill up, and manage the Aggravated damage that could incapacitate them quickly. Prowess from Pain bears special mention here as it puts more dice in the SPC’s pools and keeps them fighting for longer. Socially, Unswayable Mind and Fortify the Inner Facade keep the SPC ticking over nicely. And word must always go out to Defy Bane, which is perfect for extending a Conflict just that little bit longer without making it feel insurmountable.
  • bring some friends! Animalism is the classic Discipline for this one: bring a Famulus along, and either Unliving Hive or Enduring Beasts to keep ’em effective for longer. At the very top end, Animal Dominion can keep multiple PCs occupied. Oblivion can also work for this if you have Cults of the Blood Gods and fancy going a bit necromantic: nobody should mess with a Hecata on home turf if they know what’s good for them.
  • flatten the players’ dice pools. Animalism: Quell the Beast or Blood Sorcery: Extinguish Vitae take options and outcomes away from players and make them feel powerless in a given situation. In social conflicts, Dominate: Dementation chips away at available Willpower and that has a huge knock-on effect in terms of player resources. At least, it does if yours are as reroll-happy as the Wild Roses were. Be careful with this one, as players who feel deprived of agency are not happy players. I think you can get away with this once or twice in a story as a big flex, and the SPC who did it will be resented for ever (alas, Baron Kilkennie, I really hoped you’d be their friend).

Why Do It Like This At All?

It is certainly possible to get by without ever setting proper stats for your SPCs, in an “only players roll” style: just use the table on the ST Screen to set appropriate difficulties for all their rolls based on the significance of the challenge they’re up against, and have failure margins impose levels of Health or Willpower damage depending on the situation. (For really scary moments, set a Difficulty they cannot beat – 7 is the highest the screen recommends – and make it clear that they’re rolling to see how bad the inevitable beating is, with each success mitigating a point of damage. Kind of a “saving throw.”)

However, I like to build my SPCs in more depth. This gives me more of an idea of who they are as people, and how they work as vampires, and how that makes my setting work – who takes care of what essential responsibilities in each domain, and how? It also reassures me that I’m engaging my players within the same rules that they use to interact with my world. It feels more fair. Not every group is so far up the trust tree that we can abandon the dice altogether and play mother-may-I for over a hundred Sunday evenings. If that lightning hasn’t struck again, I think it’s important to operate within a shared set of rules, and apply those rules to my gameplay as well.

I hope all this has been of some use to you. If it has, let me know in the comments. If there’s something else you want to ask about V5, hit me up there too: I have some backed-up Vampire thoughts after a year of finally running the current edition.