Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines Designer Diary #6

In this latest edition of our designer diaries, producer Leonard Boyarsky explains the game's powerful character-creation system.

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White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade is one of the more popular nontraditional pen-and-paper role-playing games. By nontraditional, we mean that the game isn't based in a fantasy setting with elves and orcs, swords and sorcery. Instead, it's set in our modern-day world, and it depicts the supernatural underworld of vampires and other nightmarish nocturnal creatures. Troika Games' Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines will let you experience this world up close and personal, because this role-playing game is being built using the same technology behind Valve Software's first-person shooter Half-Life 2. And while there will be plenty of action in Bloodlines, Troika emphasizes the strong role-playing aspects of the game. In this edition of our designer diaries, Leonard Boyarsky discusses the game's powerful character-creation system and how you'll be able to create virtually any kind of bloodsucker imaginable.

Choose Your Own Vampire

Leonard Boyarsky
Joint CEO, Troika Games/Producer

Character creation in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines can be either a very simple affair or a complex decision-making process. Players are given a myriad of choices, including clan, gender, traits, and, most importantly, disciplines. Bloodlines also incorporates a "quick character creation" ability--where players' points are automatically distributed for them both in character creation and maintenance--but we'll focus on the actual art of distributing points for the purposes of this diary. We're going to look at the choices players can make in both character creation and maintenance.

To begin, players are presented with the choice of picking one of the seven different Camarilla clans: Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere, and Ventrue. Each of these clans has its own independent strengths and weaknesses, which are expressed through the points players are given to distribute in their abilities, attributes, and disciplines (I'll return to point distribution in a minute).

Your appearance will depend on the clan and gender you choose for your character. Interface not necessarily representative of final game.
Your appearance will depend on the clan and gender you choose for your character. Interface not necessarily representative of final game.

At this point, players are also given the choice of gender and the choice of a history. The choice of gender, while mostly for aesthetics, can still have an effect on gameplay, especially in terms of seduction. The choice of history, on the other hand, can have a large impact on the game, as it basically gives players a bonus effect in certain areas and a negative effect in others. For instance, if players choose "All Star Athlete" as their history, they'll get a bonus to their athletics talent, but they'll never be able to raise their intelligence higher than 4 (the max is 5).

The next screen players will see is the heart of character creation and maintenance. This screen is based primarily on White Wolf's source material, and it will be familiar to anyone who's a fan of the Vampire: The Masquerade pen-and-paper game. This is where the points are distributed and the player character really begins to be customized to the player's vision. The points players are given to spend are split up into different trait categories depending on the clan they have picked.

Building a Brujah

The traits are attributes, abilities, and disciplines. To break it down further, attributes are composed of the physical (strength, dexterity, and stamina), social (charisma, manipulation, and appearance), and mental (perception, intelligence, and wits). The abilities are composed of talents (things like brawl and dodge), skills (firearms, melee, and so on), and knowledge (computer, occult, and so on). Attributes and abilities combine to make feats, which are what govern a player's success or failure at performing certain actions or tasks during the game. For example, perception and firearms combine to give players their ranged combat feat. Last, but certainly by no means least, each of the seven clans of the Camarilla (noted above) has its own set of three disciplines to put points into.

You can distribute points to specialize in certain skills and abilities. Interface not necessarily representative of final game.
You can distribute points to specialize in certain skills and abilities. Interface not necessarily representative of final game.

Let's use the Brujah clan for an example of how point distribution works. When players choose to play the game as a Brujah, they are given points to distribute as follows:

Attributes -- Players are given the most points to spend in the physical category, followed by the mental, and finally the least number of points are available for their social attributes.

Abilities -- Players are given the most points in their talents, next their skills, and then the least number of points are available for their knowledge.

Disciplines -- Players are given a certain number of points to spend in any of their three clan-specific disciplines.

At this stage, everything costs one point, but once the game starts, abilities, attributes, and disciplines are priced on an ascending scale. For instance, if a player decided to put points into firearms but hadn't done so during character creation, the first level would cost three points instead of one point. From there, it costs another three points to raise firearms another level, then six points, then nine points, and finally 12 points to raise the firearms skill to level five (these numbers are subject to change with game balancing, but you get the idea). The same rules apply to the point distribution for the disciplines. So, one of the decisions players need to make early on is whether to try to specialize or generalize their character.

During the course of the game, players are awarded experience points based on the completion of quests. We decided to distribute points this way so that players who want to sneak or find alternates to killing wherever possible aren't penalized for their choices. Bloodlines also awards points based on finding secrets in the game, whether it is a hidden passage or hacking into a computer and getting an extra bit of needed information.

Through the accumulation of experience points, players are able to improve the capabilities of their character as the game progresses, and the way they choose to spend their points will shape the game experience they have. Will they be hacking a lot of computers for information? Avoiding combat by taking a stealthy approach? Persuading non-player characters? At any time, players may choose to start improving an ability they had neglected earlier or become even better at the established path they had picked for their character. As you can see, the Vampire character-creation system implemented in Bloodlines allows for a great amount of customization, which allows for multiple gameplay experiences and great replay value.

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