Let's Read Vampire: The Masquerade, 1st Edition, Part Two
Chapter Two: Rules
This short chapter relates the core dice mechanic of the game: roll a certain number of d10s based on (usually) two traits, count the number of dice that equal or exceed a number from 3-9 (only very rarely 2 or 10) called the difficulty, and use that amount to determine degree of success. This is essentially the same system used for the next 13 years, and with only minor tweaking, 13 more in the rebooted World of Darkness (now Chronicles of Darkness) games.
The system, boiled down to this core, is remarkably light. In theory, an entire campaign could be run with no further embellishment of this mechanic. It fits in 7 pages, including examples and a glossary. Two more pages in this chapter, interestingly, are given over to a sample character sheet, a feature that would usually be relegated to the following chapter.
Chapter Three: Character
VTM sets the pattern again with its character creation system. You begin with a character concept, and they provide a list of sample concepts to get you started. The fact that this list includes “drifter”, “punk”, and “kid” alongside “politician” and “reporter” shows a broad mandate for character design. (I will also note that the “outsider” concept is elaborated as “ Tribal, Third World, Communist, Moslem, Native American”—what?)
You then choose a clan, one of the seven families of vampires, or the clanless Caitiff. That’s right—there’s only seven clans at this time. The game later mentions the existence of other clans and gives their (likely) number at 13, but for now, you can only choose from these seven. Nature and Demeanor, shorthand traits to help you develop personality, are listed as optional and do not tie in as strongly to the Willpower mechanic as they would in latter games.
Once you have an idea of who your character is, you descend into the prioritized point-buy system that would remain through all later WoD games. Attributes (stats), Abilities (skills), and Advantages (background traits and powers) are each given their own buckets of points. Eventually, a final set of freebie points allow you to smooth over rough edges.
Once all the numbers are down, the process concludes with a final spark of life where you think about the features you chose and decide how they combine into a “living” character. VTM also introduces the Prelude, a mini-session where the Storyteller runs the new character through a backstory scene, likely the moment they became a vampire, to let the player stretch their muscles.
I can imagine that VTM’s character creation was at least novel to roleplayers of the early 90s, but I think the most inviting part is actually in the design of the character sheet. Nearly every spot for a numerical rating has been replaced with dots to be filled in like the old test cards kids filled out in middle school. RPGs, especially designs from the 80s, had a reputation for being the domain of “math nerds.” Anything that could have dispelled the fear that this was a number-heavy game would probably have put potential new gamers at ease.
We’ll continue next time with a look at game traits in greater detail as well as character development (not just advancement).