And we’re at the end of the line for my 2016 Holiday Gaming Suggestions! I hope people have appreciated these three bonus days of more complicated games, because we’re ending with a seriously complicated one: The newest edition of the Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action RPG, by By Night Studios.
Vampire, and all of the other World of Darkness LARPs, use a ruleset called Mind’s Eye Theatre (or MET). Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of my LARPing experience has been with the MET system, I wasn’t actually a big fan of the previous editions. (For the sake of brevity, I’m not including the nWoD/Chronicles of Darkness MET rules in any of this.) While the original rules were undoubtably revolutionary in the early 1990s when they were first published, by the beginning of the 2000s they had become a hot mess. Too much content had been added without really reexamining the system’s roots, in part because the World of Darkness setting was in a state of rapid expansion across its myriad of titles. Ultimately I felt like MET had too many vague rules, exceptions, and downright contradictions in it. This turned the Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanic into a slog that easily broke the flow of the game when narrative tension should have been getting to its highest. MET had started as a yacht, and through a series of jury-rigs was trying to perform the job of an ocean liner. It really wasn’t working out.
Somehow, By Night Studios has managed to do what I thought was nearly impossible. They have taken that hot mess and turned it into something grand. This is the facelift MET needed. Not only is it relevant again, but it’s a reminder of why, for a long time, it was the industry standard for Live Action rules.
Here’s where this suggestion gets tricky: It would take way too much time to describe all of the differences between the old MET system and this one. So I’m only going to provide the most bare bones description below. If it sounds interesting to you, check out the free quickstart guide. I highly recommend that anyone who’s every tried previous editions of MET give it a once-over, too. (http://pegasus.rpgnow.com/product/132185/Minds-Eye-Theatre-Vampire-The-Masquerade-Quickstart-Guide)
At its core, the MET system has become simpler than ever. Characters have three different attribute sets rated 1-10: Physical, Mental, and Social. They also have a series of skills rated 0-5, and a pool of Willpower that fluctuates from 0-6. When a character attempts to do something, they play Rock/Paper/Scissors (against the game’s Storyteller, or sometimes against another player) rather than rolling dice. If they lose, they fail. If they tie, they compare their relevant attribute + relevant skill against the difficulty. If the character has a higher number, they succeed. If they win the R/P/S check, they succeed. If they win and their relevant attribute + relevant skill is higher than the task’s difficulty, they get an exception success.
Willpower provides an avenue of hope for the loser of a R/P/S check. At the cost of a Willpower point, the loser can force a retest. This can only be done once per challenge. Given that Willpower also provides a defensive bonus against certain attacks, players must use this limited resource very carefully.
You may be wondering why, at the opening of this review, I wrote that this was going to be a seriously complicated suggestion, then I went on to praise how simple the rules had become. That’s because the complexity is in everything else the book provides. This is simultaneously the newest MET rules, tailored for the Vampire game; a history of the various vampire political movements; an update of the state of the world since the start of the new millennium; the player’s guide for Camarilla, Sabbat, and Anarch chronicles; and a write-up of nearly every vampire clan and bloodline that White Wolf has published since 1991. This book has over 20 years of content; revised, updated, and streamlined! While it is a truly Herculean feat, it also means that the book is incredibly intimidating to new players. There’s just so much stuff! And while the above quickstart guide is nice, it’s a really big of leap from it to the full book. An intermediate resource would be a welcome addition.
To be completely clear, I love this 440 plus page book. I’m amazed by the work that went in to updating both the rules and the fiction of the Vampire: the Masquerade world, and I’m very excited to see what By Night Studios does with the other World of Darkness lines, especially with this kind of quality. (Changeling, please!) But there’s no way I would recommend the book to beginners, not unless I knew they had a strong community of LARPers who would guide them through the steep learning curve.
Good thing I live in a city full of great LARPers.
(PS/Shameless plug: If you do find yourself wanting to buy this book, please consider purchasing it from the Pegasus Games sub-store of DriveThruRPG Thank you!) — with By Night Studios.
About the Author
James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.
James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.