Saturday, May 25, 2013

Late Review: Mind's Eye Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade Alpha Play Test

Mind’s Eye Theatre:  Vampire the Masquerade
Play Test Packet Review

            Before I begin this review, I want to be clear that I am reviewing this play test packet with a strong anti-LARP (Live Action Role Play) bias.  I have never LARPed, and although I want to try LARPing eventually, I doubt I’ll ever get as involved in LARPing as I am in tabletop RPGs or MMORPGs.  Like many tabletop players, I have made fun of LARPers.  I’ve often argued that in the hierarchies of geekdom, LARPers are well beneath the more manly and accepted pursuit of rolling funny dice and committing genocide upon the dragons of fantasy worlds with my Hackmaster +12.  Dressing up as and acting out the actions of a character have never appealed to me.  In other words, I am completely ignorant of LARPing besides a few stories that I’ve heard at the gaming store, and I’m one of those snobbish gamers who has made fun of LARPers in the past.  Nevertheless, here’s my article. 
LARPer or Gwar Bassist?
In anticipation of their Kickstarter beginning, By Night Studios has released a packet with a partial rules set for Mind’s Eye Theatre:  Vampire the Masquerade.  This play test document and Kickstarter is the next step in the rebirth of the Classic World of Darkness.  Vampire the Masquerade and White Wolf Games is forever identified with the LARPer standing with his arms crossed, Obfuscated, hidden while other players walk around dressed in an array of costumes and acting out the actions of their characters. 
The packet itself is a “vertical slice” representing only the bare bones rules necessary to play the scenario provided an not much more.  Since this is an Alpha play test document, the intent of the packet is for testing and does not represent a fully playable game.  However, reading through these rules I was surprised at how clearly and concisely the rules are written.  Everything is streamlined with the intent to focus on the drama and action of the game without bogging players and storytellers down with minutiae. 
This document starts with character creation rules which will be familiar to most table top Classic World of Darkness players.  Everything is simplified though.  The nine attributes from the table top version are reduced to just the three categories:  Physical, Social, Mental.  The skill list is expansive with 26 individual skills available for players to choose from.  Backgrounds are similar to the ones found in V20.  But the rules for using Skills and Backgrounds have been clarified.  They are much more precise than the ones in the tabletop game. 
Six Disciplines are included:  Auspex, Celerity, Dominate, Fortitude, Potence, and Presence.  They, too, have been codified with exact uses rather than the more open-ended system pen and paper gamers may be familiar with.  The Auspex Level 4 Telepathy, for example, specifies five questions that the player may ask of his/her target.  Celerity, Fortitude, and Potence have been reworded so that they have stacking effects rather than simply gaining a standard effect each time a new level is purchased.  Celerity does not give an additional action each round for each point purchased.  The third and fifth levels grant extra actions, but the first level increases initiative. 
Elder Disciplines and Combo Powers are also included which offer room for growth.  Elder Disciplines are, of course, only available to characters who have a generation of 8 or less.  Combo Powers, on the other hand, are designed for younger vampires, and represent the mixing of two Disciplines in order to achieve a greater effect.  Elders below 8th Generation cannot purchase these.  They represent the mutability of youth while the Elder Disciplines represent practice and control of their abilities.  Elder Disciplines are not separated out by level; instead, the character may pick and choose the Elder Discipline that his character qualifies for.  By disallowing Elders from purchasing Combo Disciplines, characters are no longer forced to look at lowering their generation as their only path to power. 
Risk vs. Reward....
The resolution system is simple, and for player familiar with Mind’s Eye Theatre, the paper/rock/scissors mechanic is still used to resolve checks.  In order to resolve at a challenge, the Storyteller sets a difficulty.  The player totals the relevant attribute and skill plus any outside modifiers.  A game of paper/rock/scissors is played.  If the player wins he succeeds in the challenge, and if his skill was higher than difficulty it’s an exceptional success.  If he fails he may retest by spending Willpower.   Opposed challenges such a combat or using Disciplines on other players are resolved in a similar manner.  Although I did have to reread the rules a couple of times because of my lack of familiarity with Mind’s Eye Theatre and LARPing in general, these are simple and elegant and designed to keep play speedy.  There are also rules for resolving challenges and opposing challenges without using the system so long as the players agree. 
The only place where the rules for Mind’s Eye Theatre:  Vampire the Masquerade is more complex than the tabletop version is the Morality System, the way that Humanity and Paths of Enlightenment are tracked.  If a character sins against his/her morality, then he/she acquires a number of Beast Traits based on the degree of the sin.  A character then makes a degeneration check that if successful the number of Beast Traits is reduced by one.  The more Beast Traits a character acquires, the easier it is for the character to frenzy.  If a character gains 5 Beast Traits, the character loses one point of Humanity, with no check made.  Perhaps a check should be included to resist the loss of Humanity, but since I have not actually played the game, I can’t be sure.
            My favorite part of this rules set is a system for defining the rarity of clans within a city setting.  Depending on the city, clans are divided into four categories:  Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Restricted.  In a Camarilla City, for example, Ventrue, Toreador, et al. would be Common while Lasombra would be Rare.  In order to play an Uncommon, Rare or Restricted Clan the player must purchase spend some of his or her points on a Merit.  Since players are limited to a maximum of 7 points of Merits at character creation, this will reduce the number of players who want to play strange or unusual clans just to have access to their disciplines.  Bloodlines, such as the True Brujah, work in the same manner.  A similar system could be house ruled for table top games. 
A really cool, simple costume by Sinister Satorialist
            My biggest problem with this document is that the chapter or section discussing the basic rules and concepts of a LARP has been removed.  This is a play test document and doesn’t represent the complete rules; nevertheless, new players interested in LARPing and want to test these rules could be confused about the basic safety rules such as no touching other players and informing passersby about the game to avoid confusion.  Since no information on Storytelling is provided, anyone who has not played a LARP before won’t be able to test the game effectively.  The inclusion of a short chapter describing the basics of LARPing would expand the potential number of play testers and could act as hook to bring more people into LARPing in general. 
Experienced LARP Storytellers who read this book should have very few problems running a game.  The included scenario is intended to test the game systems and not much more but a creative and experienced Storyteller could expand this and provide drama as well as rules testing.  Serious LARP Storytellers could even run several sessions or a Chronicle by adding a few house rules that would give these rules a serious test. 
By Night Studios has created the core of a wonderful rules set for fans of the Classic World of Darkness.  The rules are clear and concise and remove much of the ambiguity of the tabletop rules which slows down game play.  Storytellers should have very little difficulty adjudicating encounters because the rules are extremely clear on what a skill does and how it does it.  Resolving challenges is as quick as a game of paper/rock/scissors.  Experienced players should be able to pick up the rules and run after one reading.  New players should be able to grasp core concepts easily with assistance from other players. 
So, after reading my first book about LARPing, I’ll be honest, I still have reservations about being in costume and acting rather than sitting at a table and rolling dice.  However, these rules are so good that I did begin to wonder what it would be like to be a player in a LARP.  Regular readers of my blog know that I want to try LARPing, and when I do, this will be the rules set that I want to use.  It’s simple and concise without losing the essence of what the World of Darkness and Vampire the Masquerade really is.  I doubt that I will ever become a serious LARPer but if you're running a LARP near me, I'd love to come observe.  I wish By Night Studios the very best of luck with their Kickstarter and I will be contributing my part to make sure that it is successful, and so should you!  
You can find out more about Mind’s Eye Theatre:  Vampire the Masquerade by following them on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or Google +. Information about the Play Test can be found here  and the Packet itself is available on Google DocumentsYou can support the book by going to KickStarter and pledging. 


  1. Very well written review. The beauty of these rules is that you could just as easily use them in a TT setting to try them out before committing to playing in an actual LARP.

  2. Thank you! Honestly, I look forward to seeing the full rulebook and learning about LARPing. According to other reviews that I've read, By Night Studios has stream lined the rule significantly making the LARP easier to run without changing the core mechanics too much. While I agree with you that they could be used for a tabletop game, I do want to try LARPing.

  3. Very interesting reading! Shared on V20 Europe FB page and Twitter.

  4. Thanks so much! I really appreciate it. I follow V20 Europe on twitter!