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From the rules errata:

To stake an opponent, an attacker must target the heart. Wielded in hand, a stake calls for a Strength + Weaponry roll. Fired from some kind of projection device or thrown, a stake demands a Dexterity + Firearms or Athletics roll. The damage your character inflicts is lethal but must also be sufficiently high to pierce muscle, bone and organ. All totaled, efforts to stake a resisting target are at a –3 dice penalty; an exceptional success must be scored to strike all the way to the heart. If an ordinary success is achieved, damage is done, but not enough in the proper spot to have any special effect on a monstrous target.

This seems like a herculean task for most characters within World of Darkness. So much so that I have never heard of a player seriously choosing this as a valid strategy. Between the -3 penalty and a requirement for exceptional success it seems to fly in the face of the inherent vulnerability of vampires to this attack. Is the message White Wolf is conveying is that this is a largely useless technique, or could other rules influence the circumstance (a held down or sleeping vampire looses its -3 bonus for example).

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if it was an easy task to stake the heart, everyone would be using it all of the time and the game would be horrifically boring. –  Mechaflash Jan 31 '12 at 14:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In my experience, using a wooden stake on a vampire in the World of Darkness is something you do to a vampire you've already defeated — it places them into immediate, but reversible, torpor, which can be a useful state for transit or rendering for judgment. Staking as a combat trick is, as you've described, remarkably difficult. Either you're superhuman and merciful, or you've found them during the daytime and have a hammer and enough time to do the deed the long way.

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I guess my point is having the guy have to attempt it 3-4 times to do it against an undefending opponent seems silly, maybe if the successes needed were cumulative... –  Pyrodante Jan 30 '12 at 22:43
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@Pyrodante With Willpower and a heavy hammer, many things are possible. Have you seen the Hammer Horror films of the 1960s? Staking a vampire sometimes takes three or four tries to get right. –  Jadasc Jan 30 '12 at 22:47
    
In the games I have been involved with, staking was done after the opponent was at least mostly subdued (like two people holding down a struggling vampire while the third wielded the stake) if not entirely defeated. –  TimothyAWiseman Mar 2 '12 at 22:03
    
Remembering that the cainite's body is already resistant to damage explains the need for a lot of damage/successes. –  Lucas Famelli Apr 17 '12 at 19:17

From the rules fragment you quote:

(...) efforts to stake a resisting target are at a –3 dice penalty (...)

So yes, if the target is sleeping, restrained, etc. you only need the exceptional success to pierce "all the way to the heart". Unless of course you were smart enough to, say, bring a hammer for applying additional force. Anther fan-favourite is a crossbow that launches sharpened wood instead of metal-tipped bolts.

In general, this rule isn't supposed to invalidate the weakness, only to showcase that piercing someone's hearth with a stake, especially in a combat situation, is easier said than done, even if that someone isn't a powerful vampire.

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That being said, 5 successes is a lot, and beyond the scope of most mortals. –  Pyrodante Jan 30 '12 at 20:57
    
@Pyrodante: Hitting somebody's heart in a fight is also beyond the scope of most mortals, both in our world and the WoD. –  Tynam Nov 15 '12 at 12:04
    
Sure, but a Van Helsing style Vampire hunter is not most mortals, yet would still have a substantial challenge in this. –  Pyrodante Nov 15 '12 at 16:24

The -3 penalty is a massive reduction to your chances of success, but if the vampire is sleeping or otherwise incapacitated you should receive situational bonuses for being allowed to aim, for knowledge of anatomy for using a hammer which would be around a 3-4 die bonus. Even then it will be a tall order:

Results for 10 again rolls
From anydice.com

The chance of 5 success is at most 25% with 13 dice (remember our -3 penalty?), which is going to require an exceptional human being to (a minimum dice pool of 9!) which might account for a 4/5 in weaponry and strength. Certainly hard, so in that respect I would lift the -3 penalty if the vampire is incapacitated.

The bottom line, however is that it has to fit the mood of the game. If I wanted vampires to be unkillable monsters I wouldn't lift the penalty, if I wanted to instil fear in the players, or let them kill vampires easily I'd consider lifting it or maybe even adding in the bonuses I mentioned in above. It really depends on the feel of the game and the setting you are creating.

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+1 for stat charts! –  Pyrodante Jan 30 '12 at 21:25
    
Ditto. Graphs ftw! –  Braiba Jan 30 '12 at 23:57
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The minus 3 penalty is specifically for staking in combat. It already does not apply if the target is incapacitated. –  shimonyk Feb 3 '12 at 2:29

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