Tuesday, September 24, 2013

10 Guidelines for Character Creation

             Vampire the Masquerade and other Storyteller System games have a deceptively simple character creation system.  The player doesn’t roll any dice.  Nothing is randomly determined.  Characters aren’t defined by a class, but by what the player wants the character to be.  Character creation is about choice with very few limitations placed on the player.  While this is an excellent system and gives the player control over exactly what kind of character will be built, players can easily build characters that have no room for growth.  Unlike systems like Dungeons & Dragons where players gradually improve stats such as Base Attack or have to level up to earn access to better spells, a Vampire the Masquerade character could start the game with the best ratings in Dexterity and Melee or  knowing the most powerful levels of a Discipline. 
            These rules are for Neonate characters, the recently Embraced who are new to being vampires.  Obviously these rules don’t work for creating Elder characters or characters with lots of experience points.  These rules can also be easily adapted to other Storyteller System games such as Werewolf the Apocalypse or Mage the Ascension.  Although it would be difficult, a player could adapt these rules to other role-playing games as well, even Dungeons & Dragons, the D20 Systems, or Savage Worlds.  
Step 144C:  Add Electricity.

1.  Fit in with the Rest of the Group.

The first step when building a character is to talk to the Storyteller and find out what kind of game that he/she is running.  Find out what clans are allowed and what aren’t and don’t complain that your favorite clan isn’t available. Try to find ways to enhance the group and the fun of the members in your group.  I’ve seen too many players who wanted to be the “Wolverine” or the “Batman” of a particular group.  You know him. He always plays the bad ass loner type who sticks to the shadows and has more angst than every other vampire in the city combined.  Be a team player.  Build your character to fit in with the group.  In other words, don’t build a Lasombra Sabbat Black Hand member for a Camarilla game.

2.  Create a Person First, Then a Vampire.

A character’s concept is a single word or a short phrase that defines everything about a character.  It should invoke an image of what the character is, the archetype or stereotype that can sum up a character quickly.  During character creation, players can forget that they are building a mortal who was recently turned into a vampire and not a blood-sucking fiend who rules the night.  I suggest that players start by considering their character’s mortal life first whether it’s a profession that the character had before the Embrace or a hobby or whatever it was that defined the character prior to becoming a vampire.  Teacher, Beauty Pageant Judge, Reporter, College Student, Punk Rock Guitarist, Fortune Teller, etc. are all character concepts that focus on the character as a mortal.  Then during character creation fill out that concept by adding depth.

3.  When Choosing a Clan, Don’t Select a Rare Bloodline or Clan. 

True Brujah, Daughters of Cacophony, and Mariner Gangrels are all tempting options for a player looking for a challenging or unique character to play.  However, I would recommend that players fight the urge to play something so rare or unique.  More often than not, characters from rare clans or bloodlines have no other defining trait than being a member of a rare clan.  Also, these characters can be difficult for a Storyteller to integrate into a Chronicle.  Players wanting to play a True Brujah could be better served by playing an academically minded Brujah (Yes, they exist).   A Daughter of Cacophony is just a specialized Toreador.  In my experience, players don’t want to play a bloodline, they want access to a powerful Discipline. 
I don't know what that is, and no, you can't play it!

4.  Don’t Over-specialize Your Character.

It’s very easy to build a character to do one thing whether that’s being a melee fighter or a student of thaumaturgy or a wealthy socialite.  It’s just as tempting to build a coterie that mirrors a Dungeons & Dragons where each character fills one niche and plays one part, be that healer or fighter or magic user.  Vampire the Masquerade is a much different game, and each character should have a variety of Skills, Knowledges, and Talents.  For example, a combat focused Brujah would have all of its points assigned to Physical Attributes, Brawl, Athletics, and Melee along with the Disciplines Celerity and Potence.  But this same Brujah could also have some skill at Intimidating foes or in Leadership.  With that in mind, assigning a single point in Presence would allow the character to be effective in social situations as well. 

5.  Never start with more than 4 dots in an Attribute or Ability.

The rules for character creation state that before spending freebie points, a character can’t have more than three points in any Ability.  Of course after spending freebie points, a character could have up to the maximum of five.  However, maximizing an Ability or Attribute at character creation leaves no room for growth.  Instead, players should restrict themselves to a having only four points in any Ability or Attribute.  This is still enough for characters to Specialize, but still leaves room for growth.    

6.  Select Specialties That Make Sense for the Concept.

In Vampire the Masquerade:  20th Anniversary Edition, having a Specialty in an Attribute or Ability allows a character to count 10’s as two successes whenever a roll is made involving the activity described by that Specialty.  Two successes is a lot, and players may try to choose a Specialty that is broad enough to be always useful rather than a Specialty that reflects what the character is.  A character with the concept of Guitarist might choose the Specialty “Precise” to reflect the character’s ability to play solos on his/her guitar.  Lightning Reflexes wouldn’t make much sense for a  Guitarist, but a player looking to optimize his character’s combat ability would choose Lightning Reflexes since that Specialty could always be relevant in combat.  Don’t look for the best possible Specailty for a character, choose one that fits with the concept.

7.  Never start with more than 2 dots in one Discipline.

As easy and tempting as it is to create a character with maximized Abilities, maximizing one of the character’s Disciplines is even more tempting.  Again, this leaves characters with very little room for growth if a player has put the maximum number of points in the character’s most important Discipline.  Players may decide to avoid in clan Disciplines that are perceived as weak or useless.  Amongst my former players, Animalism was often considered to be a “useless’ Discipline, but a creative player can find uses for any Discipline.  My recommendation is that you only put two points in any one Discipline so that your character has at least two Disciplines.  Who knows you might find out that you like a Discipline that you previously thought was useless or weak. 
Yes, you can do that with Vicissitude, but why would you want to?

8.  Don’t spend all your Background points in Generation and Resources.

Generation is probably the most powerful stat on your character sheet.  It controls the size of your character’s blood pool and how many blood points that he/she can spend per turn.  Resources is almost equally as powerful as often players may try to purchase weapons or equipment that can give them a significant advantage.  Both are equally over used by players.  Allies, Contacts, Mentor, and a variety of other Backgrounds are far more important to building a character and more useful in solving the dilemmas in adventures.  These Backgrounds also give the Storyteller new NPCs that can be useful for running adventures.  However, the Storyteller has to make use of these NPCs when constructing a story.  Too often, Allies and other Backgrounds are underused by Storytellers and thus players avoid them as empty points.  

9.  Start with Humanity, Not a Path of Enlightenment.

I understand that Assamites typically follow the Path of Blood and that Sabbat Kindred follow a Path of Enlightment rather than Humanity because they embrace their beast and their nature as vampires.  However, no Neonate starts with a Path of Enlightenment.  Neonates begin with Humanity whether they are Sabbat, Assamite or a Toreador, and only through role-play and exploration does a Neonate gain understanding over his/her Beast and begin to explore other philosophies and seek out teachers who have traveled a similar road.  Starting with Humanity allows the player to experience a character’s change from human into something other.  Starting with a Path of Enlightenment robs the player of some great role-play opportunities.

10.  Break the Rules, but Know When and Why You Broke the Rules.

            There is no set of rules that will guide a player in making the perfect character.  Rules, like the ones above, act only as guidelines to help players avoid making a very bad or disruptive character that doesn’t fit in with the group or causes too many problems for the Chronicle.  Following the rules assures that a character won’t be bad, but breaking the rules and for the right reasons can help a player create a great character.  Before breaking the rules, a player should know and understand these rules and their purpose, and only then should a player break a rule.  This isn’t me giving permission for players to do whatever they want like making that badass True Brujah loner with dual katanas and maxed out Potence following the Path of Blood and hoping to diablerize his way up the generation chart.  Instead, this allows players to be creative as they explore options in character creation like an author who may break the rules of grammar to make a sentence sound better and work better within the context of the story.  
Your starting character should not be more powerful than this person.
              I hope this set of guidelines has been helpful for both players and Storytellers.  If you should have any guidelines of your own or suggestions for character creation in Vampire the Masquerade or other Storytellers System games please post them in the comment section  below. 


  1. The next time I'm creating a character, there will be dice rolls involved, which means there is a decent chance I won't end up with the character that I have in mind. Even points based character creation systems can leave you disappointed sometimes, but I think the most important bit of advice is to get over any small bits of disappointment you might end up with, and concentrate on the things that you can get away with, and that will help the rest of the players and the GM to enjoy the game more - http://shortymonster.co.uk/player-advice-on-character-creation/

    1. That's good advice! I would have phrased more like "Come to the game with an open mind and be willing to compromise some so that everyone can have fun."

      Thank you for sharing the link to that blog, I look forward to reading it!

  2. Solid advice. The only thing I would recommend differently is with Disciplines. Unless you have an extremely strong character reason not to, you should start with one dot in each of your Clan's Disciplines. If you want to go higher, that's what freebies are for. Clan Disciplines are what the Clan is *about* and are the easiest thing for a neonate to learn.

    I've only ever had one character who legitimately had a reason no to learn an in-Clan Discipline--a Tremere who was embraced so the Clan could access his resources and other "backgrounds" and who was never taught Thaumaturgy. It was an interesting idea, set up a number of interesting conflicts and goals for the character, and was deliberately the most "powerful" of the Clan's Disciplines, so I let him run with it.

    In general though, I expect them to take a dot in each. You'll be amazed at how useful Animalism can be.

    1. In my experience as both a player and Storyteller, it's rare for a character to start with 1 point in each inclan discipline. Maybe I've played with too many powergamers, but there's always a Discipline that doesn't fit a character's concept or isn't really wanted.
      On the other hand, starting with at least 1 point in every discipline means that it's easier to level up those Disciplines later. It costs 10 for a new dot in a discipline and only 5 for second level.
      My usual problem is talking players out of starting with an out of clan Discipline.

    2. Yeah, out of clan can be tricky. It's obviously better mathematically to start with out of clan Disciplines, since it's cheaper. It also lets you skip the annoying "role-playing" and "in-game" requirements to have a reason to learn the Disciplines you want later.

      I'm thinking for my next game being a lot stricter in limiting starting out of clan disciplines without an excellent character reason, or at least a "Flaw" (I don't actually use Merits and Flaws in most of my games, but you know what I mean) of starting seriously in-debt to another Kindred. Then again, I may just ban them entirely.

      It's another reason why I like playing with newbies--they don't see Animalism as "weak." They see it as "cool, I can talk with animals!" and constantly find incredibly cool and occasionally game-breaking things to do with it. It's the veterans who get min/max concepts stuck in their head and refuse to think outside their pre-conceived box.

    3. With Disciplines, like Spheres in Mage, none of them are weak or underpowered. The trick with all of the Storyteller System games is to be creative. Animalism makes hunting sooo easy. It also means you have a ready made army ready to attack. Not to mention the higher levels that allow you to unleash a rival's beast in the middle of Elysium.

  3. Rule 8 reminds me of a simple dirty trick /trick question i used occasionally in my old games, specially with new guys: "Hmm, Generation 3+? Groovy, is your PC some elder's childe, how many dots in Mentor do you intend to invest it with? Or is your character a successful/lucky diablerist? Potent blood is a valuable commodity..."

    Most either liked the suggestions and run with it (directing some freebies for that) or took the hints and spread their backgrounds a bit more. The one who didn't... well, being a 8th generation (same as the city's PRINCE, in fact) neonate with no powerful sire/mentor to back him up had all the advantage of walking in the streets with a big "EAT ME" sign. High moment being when a coterie staked & kidnapped him, forged a number of accusations & evidence to get a Blood Hunt on him and arranged a secret bidding session for a number of allies & contacts for the chance at the powerful blood AND the prince's favor for success in the Hunt.

    Messy, brutal and certainly made for a very entertaining example. The player actually enjoyed the game, but never made a character that way again. :D

    1. I'm never this "creatively vengeful" when I run games. Maybe I should be, but I often feel like players don't learn from indirect lessons. Players need to be told. I do like your method of handling it though and requiring players to explore Merits and Flaws that fit with their character's generation. Too often players see themselves living in a vacuum.

  4. Great advice!

    What I did with specialties is lowered the difficulty by one. Because I incorrectly read your post about the 20th anniversary and rolling 10's, I came up with something else: counting a 10 as two successes every time they're rolled. Thoughts?

    Also really liked your humorous pics and captions!

    1. I usually run games with the rules as written. It's your game, however, and I don't think it's a bad rule. It just means that players are more likely to succeed on rolls than not.

      Thank you! I'm glad you liked the captions. I always struggle with those.

  5. Great blog! I'm just starting out my very first chronicle and character in VtM. We are playing the revised edition and the others are all veterans as far as I know. This has me a little worried that my character will either be lacking in power since I don't know what is good, or, that I am to experienced with character creation in general and would be able to hit the sweet spots right away. Looking around here has helped me come to terms with what a character is all about and it has made her all the more versatile and interesting.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is - thanks! Still a bit worried I might be stuck in the trinity though, my character screams tank in the utmost bizarre fashion ^^

    1. I am really glad that my blog was helped point you in the right direction. Character Creation in VtM and the other Storyteller games can be overwhelming. There are so many options, and thus potential pitfalls, that a new player can easily feel like his character isn't "optimized" or is "underpowered." There is nothing wrong with the "trinity" but it's something that you can easily grow beyond in VtM as you play your new character.
      Thank you for the praise! I really appreciate it, and I hope that you'll keep coming back. I'm sorry that I've been away for a couple of months but I should have new content up very soon!
      I'd love to hear about how your new character worked out for you!