Over a year ago I wrote about two traits I wanted to focus on in my vampire game, traits I called Joy and Sorrow. These were to be brief phrases that described something that brought Joy to the vampire or cause her Sorrow; either way, they were emotional triggers that kept the vampire connected to her Humanity in the face of the imminent loss of it to the Beast.
Through all the various thought processes, version of the game I’ve assembled in my mind, playtest drafts, moments of frustration, through them all Joy and Sorrow remain at the core of my design. It’s simple why, really: to me, they are the fuel for conflict in my interpretation of the vampire myth via a roleplaying game.
Since V20 was announced, my mind has been churning old thoughts around on the back burner (I am in the middle of classes, after all), stirring them over low heat. Every so often a bubble escapes and a half-formed thought comes to the forefront, teasing me with things I won’t have a chance to pay closer attention to at least for another month. This past week, it was Joy and Sorrow. Again.
My wife wants to play Vampire again, and I am all to eager to please her, especially as it’ll give us a chance to playtest the updated rules that will go into V20. And in thinking of her character, Nina, I could not help but also think of my own game’s mechanic and how it would apply to her.
What I realized is that, the very same way that I would want a redesigned Vampire character sheet to have Humanity placed right in the center, that is precisely what I would do with Joys and Sorrows. They are such a central aspect to my vision, that I would have them orbit the central axis that is the character’s basic info (in essence, the character’s word-based avatar). Joys and Sorrows are not just aspects that help the character during a conflict; Joys and Sorrows ARE the conflicts.
In that very same way that they are the conflicts waiting to be faced and resolved, they also fuel the tenuous attachment to Humanity. Lose a Joy or Sorrow, lose an essential connection to Humanity and viceversa. For nigh-immortal creatures, tracking health-based damage can get irksome, if not irrelevant. Borrowing a concept from PDQ, Joys and Sorrows would then be the “health” equivalent. You take damage in a conflict? You take that damage in one or more of your Joys and Sorrows. Likewise, if the vampire wants to tap into inner power to be much more, it would do so by tapping into Joys and Sorrows, in essence gambling these connections.
The reason I put the image of a vampire feeding for this post is that right there we see the epitome of the Joy-and-Sorrow-as-conflict-fodder idea. Feeding off a random human is easy; too easy, actually. The Beast cares little for the unwashed masses; the Beast wants the blood of those that the vampire holds dear. That blood tastes infinitely sweeter. The vampire in the photo? He has a Joy of “My beloved Veronica.” Guess where is Veronica in that photo; you have one chance. The Joy has become a conflict for the player to face: Does he feed off Veronica and end her life in order to sustain his? How much does he feed off her? She is, after all, enraptured and wants nothing more than to give herself entirely to her immortal beloved. The Beast knows this and is pushing for complete draining of her blood. If this conflict goes to the dice, the vampire may call on his Joy of “My Beloved Veronica” to attempt to push the Beast back. But if he loses, those points he gambled off the Joy are now lost and he’ll face the consequences of having the trait rating of his Joy reduced, maybe even eliminated entirely.
I need to think more about this concept but I am very excited about this new approach. I think it was always hovering around the idea since I first wrote my post on Joys and Sorrows, but it is now that it has taken shape and I can build from this up.