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There is a very basic structure that all the old and classic World of Darkness, drawing through all the editions and books. However, I never have seen this part played straight and in fact, I have trouble finding many rules that actually use that stat at all:

My problem lies in the "Appearance" score. Everybody has it from 0 to 5 (with some gifts, abilities or trickery some more is possible), but how to play it 'right' in a group? This 'quantified' appearance does make all sorts of wonky things. Some from my gaming appearance:

  • The Appearance 5 (specialization: alluring) Verbena, who seems to have little to no impact on entering any room. The player constantly asks between rounds "Why don't people react to a model entering?" My Son of Ether doesn't react too much usually for on one side he knows what kind of magic she is capable of, and on the other side, he is more a technophile.
  • The Appearance 0 Nosferatu. I have seen several times how a newborn Nosferatu player entered the local vampire court and did not even get any reaction out of ordinary from any of the gathered vampires, not even a whispered 'oh, another one of those'.
  • An Appearance 5 (specialization: innocent) Intelligence 1, feline born Simba that I played did actually gain some looks - mostly by using the little exploit to go appearance 6 via shifting to the Sokto form, that gave a straight +1 to appearance. With playing her totally naive, I actually made the ST and other players give some comments about her looks, even if most were along the line "She ain't got it in the head but in the looks."

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/Etiquette/Style/whatever] are tied to Appearance? Does it matter if you play the 1st/2nd/Revised conglomerate or the 20th Anniversary Variant?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you actually asking about the Rules As Written (meaning that the answerers are supposed to do no or as little interpretation as possible)? Caveat: examining WoD from a RAW perspective is comparable to putting tomato in fruit salad. You can do it, but why would you? \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Aug 1 '16 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ more from a "How to do it in the most sensical way", as the system encourages that... and it is overall quite messy. However, hints to the actual RAW (or rather: good ideas of the RAI) are very much apprechiated. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Aug 1 '16 at 10:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ The examples you're giving all seem to hinge on characters' responses to a PC's Appearance. Is this question about getting other players to acknowledge a character trait, or how to effectively play a character with high Appearance? I'm not sure what a good answer would look like. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Aug 1 '16 at 11:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not about how to play a char with that stat or get them to acknowledge it (all people knew the appearance scores), but how to handle the stat at the table. Like... as a group. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Aug 1 '16 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's some good discussion of the use of appearance here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/97487/… \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Jan 29 at 12:46
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What is Appearance?

Appearance is a long-troubled stat, which in WoD 20th Anniversary and at the tables of many reasonable GMs has been interpreted as "ability to give a good impression based on nonverbal cues". That includes the rulebook-defined first impressions as well as upholding dress codes, dressing for effect and subtle behaviour to complement that. At many tables this list is expanded to include gesturing, body language etc. when in a social situation.

Rulebook recommended uses

You are right in that you replace Manipulation or Charisma with Appearance when first meeting any new NPCs. That effect is supposed to last the entire scene. Some supernatural powers also require an Appearance roll, notably Vampire's Presence discipline. There is also an understanding that seduction and tests that represent physical attraction should be governed by this stat, but such themes are not common to every table, especially that the idea of roleplaying sexual-adjacent themes is generally looked at unfavourably by players. Finally, if the chronicle is socially themed, GM might order Appearance rolls for everyone if the party finds themselves in a social situation - such as a party or a formal dinner - to determine how well their looks fit the dress code.

Passive uses are fairly obvious, but require a healthy dose of work on the part of the GM. A perceptive GM should note down a couple strong and weak points for each character and regularly call them up in the descriptions. Appearance should definitely be one of them if it's exceptionally low or high, but so is experience, manners or other oddities.

Other uses I've seen

Appearance can also be used to adjudicate the use of non-verbal skills. Examples include gesturing (stealthy, obvious or to someone unfamiliar), wearing clothes in a certain way (to tantalise or to hide a gun in a coat), even having appropriate wearable miscellanea for the situation (Do you have a light or handkerchief?). Sometimes certain situations call for your Appearance to act alongside other social skills - for example, if you are speaking to a crowd, the usual way is to use Manipulation (by speaking to sway them), but you can also use Charisma (to appeal to emotions without addressing the beliefs and convictions of the crowd). Why not use Appearance to play on basic instincts? ("Look at this lass, tiny and vulnerable, we gunna get'em bastards!") I am a great fan of replacing Abilities with each other. Picture a situation where a lady is trying to fight a mugger while wearing a tight skirt. Her strength or dexterity matters little, it's more about how used she is to her garments restricting her movements. Same with a bloke trying to hide a shotgun in large trousers - while this can be done, Appearance should dictate how obvious the attempt is.

Bottom line

And this is generic advice. If a skill does not see much use, mention it "passively" more often. If you can't find uses for it, make some up. Finally, it might be that your group is just fine with Appearance not making a huge difference - if they are happy with it, don't fix what is not broken.

PS: Also, crediting BESW, seeking system coherence in WoD is a futile endeavour. You might want to spend the time to hack the system instead and play it in a way that suits your group. WoD is known to not be very congruent or accommodating - if you want to play it, you need to figure out what works for you and your group and then use it how you see fit.

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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!

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