I always had the vague notion that what I had termed Joys and Sorrows was where the core of this game I’ve been working on lied; in a game about the loss of Humanity, the loss of the Self, Joys and Sorrows represented that which defined what was being lost. But for some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint I wasn’t entirely happy with the mechanic (and I call it that only as a technicality, as it never really became part of a moving system but remained only a cog off to one side).
A few weeks ago while at work, I had a small Eureka moment in regards Joys and Sorrows and the central place I wanted them to have but hadn’t quite achieved. The game, in essence, is about the loss of that which makes you Human, and the stories that emerge from that downward spiral. I was on to the right idea with Joys and Sorrows in that these are player-created statements that describe that which is important and connect the character to their Humanity, as well as defining where the sources of interest and conflict will lie as the story develops. But it was still clunky. I hadn’t found a way to express mechanically, on the physical game level, the loss of these bonds.
And then it hit me.
There’s a fantastic word in Spanish for what I wanted to achieve with Joys and Sorrows: vínculo. It translates as tie or bond, but in Spanish it has this wonderful weight to it that the English translation doesn’t achieve; it denotes a deep connection, almost an essential connection. Tie or Bond are correct translations for the literal meaning, but they don’t have the weight, the gravitas, that is inherent in the Spanish version. So in searching for a term that could translate the idea and still carry the weight of connection I perceive in the Spanish word, I decided to use Anchor, which actually works greatly in terms of the game as this is the term that is to be used to describe that which connects the character to their Humanity.
Anchors of Humanity
Anchors are the links that keep a character tethered to their Humanity while giving them the will and weapons to fight off the encroachment of the Beast. As the Beast wins ground, the links in the chain that are the Anchors are eroded, broken. They can sometimes be replaced, but ultimately they will all be gone. Then there is only the Beast, and the Fall is complete.
Anchors are represented by short statements that describe a person, object, place or emotion. These constitute that which the vampire holds most dear, the only memories that keep her attached to her human side.
Characters get 20 words to describe their Anchors. These must be between 3 to 5 words each, giving a starting character between 4 to 6 Anchors. Every word counts when writing an Anchor.[ref]This is obviously the first place where the playtest flag comes up: Should all words count? Should articles be given as freebies? Or maybe only some specific terms like “the”?[/ref]
Each word is a link in the Anchor to Humanity. As the vampire enters conflicts and loses to the Beast, Anchors weaken little by little: as damage is taken, it is tracked by crossing out words on the Anchors at the rate of one word per point of damage. As the Anchors lose words, their significance changes; as they disappear, the vampire’s hold on Humanity fades away and the Beast grows stronger. It is up to the player and Game Master to define the new situation that arises out of the changed Anchor and see how the Beast has now taken hold of that one small part of the vampire’s Humanity. In this way, damage taken fuels further developments in the story of the vampire’s Fall.
Example: I’m playing Allan, and write the Anchors: “My Beloved Victoria,” “I Hate David,” “Hanna’s Innocent Smile” and “That Last Night In Paris.” These are the things that Anchor Allan to his Humanity, the only things keeping him from the Fall.
I enter a conflict and lose, taking 1 point of damage. This means I must cross out one word from any of my Anchors. I decide to do as follows:
“My Beloved Victoria”
By crossing out Beloved, I am changing the situation surrounding this Anchor to Victoria. Is the not Allan’s beloved anymore? Why? How does this encroachment of the Beast removes the “beloved” from Victoria?
Had I cross out “My,” what would that mean, then? That Victoria isn’t mine anymore? And what does it mean that she’s “mine” in the first place? Or if I cross out “Victoria,” does that mean that she is dead or simply gone?
All that is certain is that, in some way, the Beast has gained another foothold and eroded another small part of Allan’s Anchors to his fading Humanity.
Under some circumstances, a vampire may be able to restore words crossed out. Restored words are never the same as that which was lost originally; that aspect of that Anchor has been irrevocably changed by the Beast. A new word that occupies the same grammatical function[ref]Too technical?[/ref] must be used instead (i.e. a noun for a noun, an adjective for an adjective, etc.). Restored words are written near the crossed-out word they are restoring. A crossed-out word may not be erased from the page. An Anchor may only have 1 word restored, ever.[ref]This is another place where the playtest flag comes up: Only one? Ever?[/ref]
Example: In a later conflict, I beat the Beast by a significant margin, giving me the ability to restore a word lost to any of my Anchors. As you can see in the photo above, Allan has taken some amount of damage already and his Anchors have suffered.
I decide to restore the cross-out word Paris in the Anchor “That Last Night In Paris” with the new word “Miami.” In effect, the new Anchor now reads, “That Night In Miami.” I now wonder, what night in particular? What happened/will happen in Miami?
That’s the basic idea behind Anchors. What I really like about this simple mechanic is that it shows in very obvious ways what the character is losing as the Fall happens: by crossing out words you physically can see the loss of Humanity. There’s violence and violation in the act of crossing out a word that mimics in some small way the violence and violation of the Beast upon the vampire character. I like that. I also like seeing at a glance the damage done to the Anchors of Humanity; it shows how far along the Fall a vampire is even if you know nothing of the game.
The most glaring omission here is that there is no dice mechanic attached to the game yet, and therefore how is a conflict resolved, what constitutes a loss or a significant margin of victory are all undefined.
I am looking at existing dice mechanics to see which one I crib for this game. I am simply not good designing dice mechanics from scratch and I don’t have an eg0-driven desire to reinvent the wheel when others have already done great work I can use for my game. I need a dice system where a single dice pool represents two forces in opposition, and I already have a couple of examples from Daniel Solis, Greg Stolze and Fred Hicks to look at.
So, there you go, Anchors. Have at it and tear it apart. Help me make it better as a result.