Disapppointment with Usual Suspects
Now... How to actually play the appearance score straight and right according to the RAW? Where are the rules for actually using this score hidden? Are there more actions than things to gain a good 'first impression' via Appearance+[Subterfuge/Ettiquette/Style/whatever] are tied to Appearance? Does it matter if
you play the 1st/2nd/Revised conglomerate or the 20th Anniversary Variant?
Back in the day, I read through the RAW of 2-3 editions of VtM, MtA and other game lines set in the World of Darkness using the Storyteller system. Even in the various Companion books that dealt with expanding rules, I haven't found almost anything that would give Appearance a game-mechanical 'oomph': it was used as one of the three attributes in the seduction roll and that was almost it.
There's a mention somewhere in the RAW about capping Charisma or even Manipulation dice based on Appearance, but that's not a very good solution, because while it adds some utility to the attribute, it does it in a fundamentally negative way: instead of being a thing that is mechanically cool in its own right, Appearance becomes that thing you buy to avoid penalising your main thing; it becomes an annoying secondary burden mechanically.
This isn't to say that players haven't taken this attribute to high levels in my games - many of them did. But always because they wanted to look the best in the room, not because of the mechanical benefits.
A Step Outside RAW, and What Hampered It
I have made various attempts at inventing mechanics that would use it more relevant, none of which I was truly happy with. I suppose there's one that may be worth trying to salvage: make Appearance adjust difficulty of social rolls (the higher the Appearance, the lower the difficulty).
This most definitely gives the attribute a serious impact, but the problem is that it doesn't scale well: Appearance ranges from 0 for a Nosferatu, through 5 for a best-possible-looking mortal or neonate, and almost to 10 for elders or other high-power supernatural creatures. Meanwhile, difficulty is best kept in the 4-8 range. So if we set difficulty of relevant social actions at 9-Appearance, we get difficulty 9 for Nosferatu, and 4 for the best models. But this breaks down for elders.
A Problem of Defining 'When Relevant'
When should the effects of Appearance apply is a very important question for the mechanical usefulness of the attribute. In real life, appearance subtly influences all sorts of decisions. For example, there have been studies showing that good-looking people are more trusted, even in cases where intuitively it would seem that it shouldn't, such as when hearing a witness' testimony in court.
A mechanic with a subtle effect, it's fine to say that it should apply all the time, but for a mechanic with a strong effect (such as the above difficulty-adjusting houserule), making it always apply will make the attribute skyrocket from the useless, past the balanced, and all the way into the godstat. (This is what happened in Exalted 2e, which I'll touch upon in a bit.)
It's generally harder to balance a stat through adjusting its frequency of applicability than to adjust the power of the mechanical effects it provides, because it's harder to write a clear and consistent rule on when it applies.
A World of Darkness, but not Storyteller, Solution
I found that paradoxically, the most solid official rules for how Appearance can make a big difference are in neither of the four editions of VtM that you cite, but rather in the GURPS Vampire the Masquerade edition. Yes, that's an odd product that is technically part of World of Darkness (the setting), but isn't a Storyteller game in terms of game mechanics. And yet there is some elegance to the way it handles Appearance (and many other passive social traits) that Storyteller seems lacking. Notably:
- Appearance (and other passive social traits) affect attempts to use skills on others, subtly but almost constantly (so long as the trait's vector and target category are relevant - e.g. Voice is of no help against the Deaf, and Camarilla Reputation is of no effect against the Sabbat or Lupines).
- Appearance (and others) also affect how NPCs treat the character even when the character doesn't try to actively manipulate them. This is achieved through Reaction Rolls and the Reaction Table - a structured set of guidelines to the likely attitudes when the GM is in doubt about how the NPC should treat a character.
- For a sufficiently large difference in Appearance and other passive social trait values, the difference in the way a character is treated can be quite noticeable. E.g. when gathering rumours and assuming all other factors being equal, NPCs would ignore or lie to the Monstrous character (Appearance 0 equivalent), and spill their beans complete with related info to the Very Handsome/Beautiful one (Appearance 0 equivalent). This means that Nosferatu can't just come in with requests, and often need to focus much more than others on leverage, quid pro quo, threats, etc. to achieve their social goals!
Now, GVtM is far from perfect, and the reaction subsystem in GURPS is also far from perfect. Yet, paradoxically, for a system which is advertised as being very interested in court relationships and intrigue, it could pick a thing or two from the one which is infamous for being physics-oriented.
Stealing, err, Converting Back
What can be taken from GVtM into Storyteller? A reaction table that is consulted either based on some sort of reflexive (passive) roll, or adjusted based on values of attributes and presence of some merits. By necessity such a table would have to be less fine-grained, recognising either 5 or at most 10 values (depending on whether it's meant to be single-attribute, or influenced by a combination of Appearance with something else like Camarilla Status).
For each line of the table, make one broad-strokes description of how a character is treated - e.g. listened to enthusiastically like a celebrity, or neutrally unless the the thing said is particularly interesting or boring, or maybe even ignored despite having an important message. It's useful to think of the most commonly occurring contexts of reactions: reaction to news, willingness to help out, willingness to share information, attitude during trade, loyalty of a minion, mercy or cruelty of a victor after a conflict etc.
I must emphasise that these should be broad guidelines used as a basis, not things set in stone and adhered to slavishly. It's perfectly logical to have things like leverage, manipulation, gratitude for prior help, spite for prior slights etc. to change an NPC's predisposition!