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Approaching Disciplines

by: Tobie Abad A Legacy Article from Sanguinus Curae

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An excerpt from one of our Dark Age games:
Storyteller: "The raven haired assailant thrust the sword faster than the eye can follow into Brittany's shoulder, and her scream echoed through the hall. Spying you and your companion turning down the hall, the man pulled the blade out, kissed its hilt and began to fade into the shadows nearby. What do you do?"
Player 1: I rush to Brittany, hoping to reach her in time to staunch the bleeding. "Bri! Bri!!! Hold on!"
Player 2: I use Auspex to scan for the attacker. Can I pierce his Obfuscate?
Storyteller: Are you even sure it's Obfuscate? (secretly rolls dice but ignores it since he knows the assailant simply ran into the shadows and used Celerity to spirit away quickly.) Nothing, the assailant seems to have escaped. Brittany seems to be still alive, although in a state of shock. Blood is pouring from her shoulder.
Player 1: I use Obeah to sense how grievous the wound. If it's too grave, I use Obeah to heal her.
Storyteller: "You close your eyes and reach out your spirit to sense her state. Her soul resides in her still, although the chill of death beckons her to follow. Immediately, you fuel your vitae to awaken your aura to reach out and touch hers. You fill her with the warmth of healing and remind her to stay close." The healing costs you 6 blood points. Note it down.
Player 2: "Her wounds close... blessed Salubri, I doubt you no longer. You truly are one of the holy few."
Player 1: "Nay, I am but a servant of the Lord... and my Master, who has
martyred himself for all."

How do you approach disciplines?

Many players tend to approach disciplines like powers. Or special abilities which the Cainite Society is capable of. Commonly, discussions among Kindred include statements saying, "His Obfuscate is far greater than any I have seen." or "Beware, the Nosferatu are known for their Potence... and their Animalism can be deadly in their use." But is this how Cainite would really call such capabilities if the setting were realistic?

Discipline names, in my opinion, are best used for Player-Storyteller interactions. When it concerns the characters though, it is better to approach Disciplines as capabilities Cainites have. A Brujah with Potence 5 is known as a "powerful and deadly fighter" while an Assamite with Obfuscate 3 and Quietus 1 can be "rumored to be a master disguise artist whose stealth is without peer." Where's the fun and feel of calling a Toreador "that bitch with celerity" when you could call her "that bitch whose feet are faster than a damn cat!"

Removing such "common parlance" of Disciplines allows the game to approach a more realistic and moody feel, instead of becoming a Superheroes with fangs game. The Brujah become notable warriors who are known to be strong enough to beat up four people without any of them being able to land a single blow. The Malkavians are strange eccentric Cainites with strange insight and infectious madness. The Ravnos, manipulative and mysterious... and unsettling to say the least. The Tzimisce, alien and inhuman with a touch that melts flesh. The Gangrel, bestial Cainites who have befriended the lesser beasts. Sticking to parlance would remove much mood and feel to the game.

Focusing on descriptive terms has other benefits as well:
1) Misinformation
Why is this a benefit? Because in any game where the players don't know something 100% is a good thing. Imagine being told that a Cainite can command the night itself, and can summon demons to do its wicked deeds. Is it a Baali? A Lasombra? A Ravnos? Or a Tremere? Perhaps even a Tzimisce with his motley crew of Schlacta? Doesn't that simple probability add more suspense, mystery and drama to the game?

2) Reputation and Personality
A Ventrue known to be a masterful leader with a penchant for young women could be a Ventrue with simply really good social skills... or could be a Ventrue with Presence and Domination at high levels. If the players discover that the said Ventrue turns out to simply have Fortitude as a Discipline, and yet has his Social Attributes and Ability dots leaning towards the concept, he becomes a more respectable and impressive Cainite: One that does NOT need the Disciplines to reinforce his laws. Having the Discipline's parlance removed allows this tidbit to be revealed only after getting to know the Ventrue for some time... and when it finally is revealed hits with the shock impact of Darth Vader revealing his relations to Luke.

3) Point Focused Playing
Its a sad but true fact that when any Vampire player hears the Disciplines Potence, Fortitude, or Celerity, their reactions on its strength is all based on the rating. Even a really focused gamer occasionally slips out an "Oh, just ONE dot of Potence..." when facing such Cainites with less generous allocations. But is that how a character should really react to Cainites with these Disciplines? Focusing on Potence as an example, although it grants only ONE automatic success, let us remember than even a single health level lost can appear as grievous as any other wound. The health level wounds simply show how much impaired the character is from acting. Any action film showing the main character bleeding with gun shot wounds, burns and bruises (think Rambo) could be a character with only two health levels of damage. He's bleeding his arse off, but is not that impaired from fighting/driving/having really bad conversations/etc. So why should a Potence 1 character be treated as a weakling? Even without Aggravated damage, an automatic point of damage should be approached with seriousness. Think back, what else hits with automatic damage? Guns. Lethal weapons. If a punch can be as deadly, shouldn't you illustrate it? Removing the term Potence and its rating when describing a character can make a big difference.

Shawn can beat up the Toreador without even breaking a sweat! His fists strike like guns, cracking with hideous strength. (Shawn, Strength 3, Potence 1)

So try approaching disciplines with more creative terms. With more descriptive words. Don't clutter the game with too much words that were meant for Players and Storytellers. Focus on the terms meant for the characters alone. Notice how the use of the word "Disciplines" ruins the mood of the intro story in the Revised edition book, whereas the lack of such vulgar terms in vampire movies such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Lost Boys or Nosferatu makes the Cainite power seem more... intimidating.

The game world is made of words and imagination.
Don't use one to destroy the other.


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