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The combination discipline Bliss (V20, Lore of the Clans, Dominate ••, Presence •••) is described as allowing any virtues for a willing target to be temporarily raised on a successful roll. It doesn't appear to describe any limitations, other than the increase is "by a single dot, up to a maximum of five dots" and "Only one Virtue can be increased at a time."

That "only one can be increased at a time" seems to imply that multiple virtues can be increased with multiple applications, but considering that this doesn't require the expenditure of Willpower or any specific length of time, it would seem like it's a fairly low-level combo discipline to have the actual capability of giving a target maxed out Conscience, Self-Control, and Courage in exchange for essentially just meditation on a work of art for a few minutes.

Is there a rules reason why a Toreador with this power wouldn't be able to compile a virtuous mix tape to listen to every evening after waking up so that they can roll to max out all of their virtues?

Sidenote: I'd like to introduce an NPC into my game with this power, and I'm anticipating my players asking whether or not the effects are one-use-only or stackable. I can think of a bunch of interesting ways to house-rule this to avoid abuse (like every virtue raised after the first makes the target lose a point of Willpower), but I'm curious if there's a rules-as-written limitation that I'm overlooking.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why are you interpreting “only one Virtue can be increased at a time” as allowing multiple virtues or applications? \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 19 at 4:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me, the most obvious reason for that line is to clarify that a character cannot meditate upon a work of art which inspires both Conscience and Self-Control and consequently raise both with one dice roll, so to achieve that effect, you'd need to use the power multiple times. If the writers were trying to clarify that the power wasn't stackable, then I'd think a phrasing like "only one Virtue can be increased" would communicate that, but the addition of "at a time" lends itself to the interpretation of "per application of the power". \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 19 at 5:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is whether the source material appears to have any confirmation that the phrase is meant to be interpreted as "one cannot have more than one Virtue under the effects of Bliss" or "one cannot use the same application of Bliss to increase more than one Virtue". In this case, "increased" and "time" are both ambiguous, as they could refer to the remainder of the night that a Virtue has been "increased" in a passive sense, or the duration of the scene in which it is actively being "increased". Don't know what you think you were accomplishing with that witty link to the dictionary, bro. \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 19 at 20:52
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The rules as written are ambiguous

(This is a long answer!)

That's part and parcel of TTRPGs, and especially so for WoD. We can look at the question from a couple of angles, but the rules are ambiguous because they don't explicitly answer your precise question. That means that we can choose between

  1. Specific interpretations of the rules as they are written
  2. Looking more broadly at how the rules function in the overall game
  3. Determining what end results are desirable and appropriate for your game at your table, and then impose a ruling which supports those results (whether or not that is unquestionably the correct ruling RAW)

1. Interpretations of what's written

I believe that the most faithful interpretation to what's written is that the benefits of Bliss do not stack across different Virtues. It's pretty pedantic, but RAW often is! My reasoning is based around a minor phrasing detail which suggests that at a time refers to per night rather than per use of Bliss. The relevant section of text:

Within one scene after the trance ends, the player makes an Intelligence + Empathy roll. If the roll is successful, the vampire may temporarily increase her Self-Control, Conscience, or Courage by a single dot, up to a maximum of five dots. This increase lasts for the remainder of the night. The difficulty of the roll is equal to double the Trait’s current rating, so a vampire with Self-Control 4 has to roll an 8 to gain another temporary point of Self-Control. Only one Virtue can be increased at a time. (Lore of the Clans, page 201)

Emphases mine. The first bolded section states that the object of Bliss may increase one single Virtue-- this is indicated by the conjunction or. That phrasing means that only one Virtue can be increased with an application of Bliss-- or is exclusive. It would then be redundant to include the second bolded section: the description already limits the increase to a single Virtue out of the three possible scores to raise.

We can assume that it simply is redundant, of course, but I don't see more support for that interpretation than that it isn't redundant. And if it isn't redundant, then we have to parse it to see what it means.

And there I see only one possibility: the word increased is used here as an adjective indicating aspect (in the grammatical sense), and not as a transitive verb in a passive sentence. The latter interpretation is the form that conveys redundant information, and so if we're assuming no redundancy then that construction is excluded already.

Wow, that sounds boring! Why does it matter? As an adjective positioned against the auxiliary verb be, increased indicates the duration and completion of an action without describing its position in time. That reading suggests that only one Virtue can be in a state of having been increased at any given time. (Sidenote: this interpretation does suggest that repeat uses of Bliss can be applied to the same Virtue-- you can keep trying to add temporary dots until you hit 5).

So the operative question is, at this point, "is the second bolded section redundant?". That's going to be a judgement call since, as at the top of this answer, the rules as written are not clear. My personal feeling is that TTRPG rules are generally meant to be clear and concise, certainly within a single paragraph. And so, because there is a plausible reading of the second bolded section which would not be redundant, and would also be consistent with all other rules information and English grammar, we should prefer the interpretation in which that section has meaning to add to the description of Bliss.

This is pretty thin evidence, and so is little better than just picking the interpretation you prefer. But it is more evidence than I can identify for the alternative.

In conclusion, the ambiguity of the written rules here means that there is no obvious way to choose whether at a time means per use of Bliss or per in-game night-- the interpretation does not default to one or the other. For this section, I prefer the per night interpretation only because it has more than zero evidence to support it.


2. How do rules function in VtM overall, and how would stacking Bliss across multiple Virtues fit that?

This is easier than (1). While VtM is far from the most balanced game out there, I can't think of any similar powers which are better-defined RAW and lead to such unbalanced results as stacking Bliss across multiple Virtues would.

There aren't all that many ways to increase Virtue ratings outside of spending precious experience points, and some of VtM's core mechanics revolve around Conscience/Conviction and Self-Control/Instinct. Gaining or losing dots in those is a pretty big deal.

A Storyteller can refuse to include characters that would be necessary for Bliss to be available in a chronicle. But if they don't do so, it seems out of sync with the rest of the game to make it (relatively) trivial to have all of your Virtues maxed out all the time. Particularly if the Storyteller allows it to be as easy as listening to a mix tape for ten minutes every night.

I could go into more detail and suggest some other comparisons, but honestly VtM's overall lack of balance makes me think that that's not worthwhile. There are plenty of ways to optimize characters that can break the game, which is not exactly ironclad evidence that it can't be broken in this particular way as well.

The following assumes a Humanity rating of at least 5 dots throughout: it would cost 10 freebie points to max out Virtues during character creation. That's possible, though it takes 2/3 of the typical number of freebie points available and just under half of the maximum number of possible freebie points. During play, maxing out your Virtues would cost ~28 experience points (a wobbly number to account for Storyteller variation in how and when Virtues can be increased). Bliss costs 15 experience points to learn (assuming you already had the prerequisites). And, if using Bliss on other characters, that 15 point investment can generate the same value over and over again.

It's up to you, as the Storyteller, if the risk of losing Willpower to a botched Bliss roll is enough to rein Bliss in while allowing it to pump all Virtues each night, especially if your NPC using the power is statted to make botching less likely.

In conclusion, broad comparisons with other VtM rules suggest to me that allowing Bliss to affect more than one Virtue per character per night is more than its cost suggests it should be able to do. If you believe that the rules were aiming for rough balance, then consider not allowing Bliss to work that way.


3. How do you want things to work at your table, and how would one interpretation or the other of Bliss support that?

More than any other TTRPG I have any particular knowledge of VtM requires a huge amount of adjustment and polish from the Storyteller to make the mechanics work smoothly. This case is a fine example of that!

Your NPC that knows Bliss is... an NPC. As a result, they probably don't have the same concerns that your players' characters will have, and the story (probably) won't really be about the NPC. That's meaningful because the NPC won't have the same mechanical concerns or needs throughout the game as your players will.

The example that first leapt out at me is: what does the NPC care if they lose Willpower? That's a big deal for PCs, but NPCs are involved in notably fewer rolls than PCs and tend to be purpose-built for those rolls that they do make.

So the PCs are likely to be pretty cavalier about having Bliss used on them since, for them, it doesn't have any drawbacks. Will the NPC operate similarly? What will having Bliss used on them cost the PCs, and how often should they expect the opportunity? What limitations will you, as Storyteller, impose, and what will your PCs' average Virtue stats be each night?

If your effective preference is to limit the Virtue bonuses your players can get, then it might make sense to simply interpret Bliss' ambiguity in the way that is more limiting: you can only buff one Virtue per night, though you can try to max it out. If you don't care about the Virtue stat ratings, but want the NPC to charge a high price for the service, than it might be totally irrelevant if it can buff multiple Virtues per night.

In conclusion, a RAW ruling on this issue in a vacuum isn't so important. You will impose any number of restrictions or liberties around the power anyways, which is 100% within your ambit and responsibility as Storyteller. Effort in determining the most RAW possible conclusion may be misapplied.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be wasted effort to hunt down a rules-as-written conclusion for how the rule should work for an NPC, but in the not-unlikely case that PCs wish to learn the power as well, my preference is to try to clarify the RAW rather than to introduce new (and possibly contradictory) house rules. I figure that's just less reading material for the players. That said, this is a fantastic answer that did a great job wrestling with the ambiguity of the power's definition and came to the conclusion that I was looking for. I really appreciate the effort that you put into this. \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 20 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore, it would seem to make more roleplaying sense that retaining in your mind the "bliss" of multiple works of art that inspire completely disparate Virtues would be impractical, whereas more than one source of inspiration that makes you feel more courageous wouldn't cause any difficulty. \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 20 at 15:59
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“Only one Virtue can be increased at a time” allows you to reuse this power to get additional one dot increases within a single virtue, but not to increase multiple virtues the same night.

Further, to answer your question about why wouldn’t a Toreador max out a virtue every night, keep reading on pages 201 and 202 of Lore of the Clans. You will see that the difficulty keeps going up as the trait increases and “Botching any Bliss roll results in the loss of a Willpower point.” So using bliss regularly to bump up a point or two of a low Virtue is a safe bet. After all you did invest to get this discipline. However there is a risk to trying to max out a virtue each evening beyond just the time spent in Trance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do you interpret "at a time" to mean "per night" instead of "per roll"? \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 19 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ At your prompting, I have questioned my interpretation of “at a time” here. I went back and checked the v20 books for other instances of the wording “at a time” for some hints and case studies, but didn’t find anything conclusive. In the end, RAW isn’t a great analysis for V20 because it isn’t really written for that. In this case, I can’t find an alternate interpretation for “at a time” that makes sense to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Dana May 19 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for checking in the books. It's probably reasonable to interpret it to mean "per night", but the way it's phrased is maddeningly ambiguous. \$\endgroup\$ – Phantom Watson May 20 at 16:07

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