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I'm preparing a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle and I'm currently figuring out how to kick it off. There are two techniques touched on in the rulebook that I think are important, and want to apply both of them:

  1. Group character creation

    Don't just let players create their character on their own. The coterie needs synergy. I want to make sure everybody brings something unique to the table and avoid redundant characters such as e.g. two manipulative, plotting Ventrues with exactly the same disciplines and goals. At the same time, too antagonistic clans in the same group can be a problem as well. I also don't want PC’s to be overspecialized, only useful 20% of the time which would bore the player to death during the remaining 80% of sessions.

    In the end, players are at the center of the chronicle, they should choose what they want in terms of atmosphere, mood, whether they prefer investigation-oriented, combat-oriented, politics-oriented sessions, even possibly whether the group is going to be Camarilla, Sabbat or something else. They might as well discuss it collectively with the storyteller.

  2. Prelude

    For each PC, roleplay a short one-on-one sequence where the character is still a mortal, at the end of which they are embraced. I think it makes for a very good introduction to the World of Darkness for newer players, teaching them the ropes of the game system, as well as an intro to the setting of my campaign for more experienced ones. The chronicle will start with a violent and sudden event that will leave its mark on the PCs and I want to play this out extensively with each one of them – a bit à la Initiation in Dogs in the Vineyard.

This is all well and fine, except that technically speaking, these two methods conflict and pose a dilemma:

  • If we do creation first, players will already be introduced to the world, the Masquerade, their clan, their disciplines and have a full-fledged Vampire character sheet before they get to the Prelude part. Not only will the Prelude lose in interest (playing as simple mortals while they have brushed against the promise of strong vampiric powers can feel dull and frustrating) but PC’s can’t play with the character sheet they just created.

  • If we do Prelude/Embrace first, how to know what clan their Sire is? I want opinionated preludes that match the player’s clan theme. For instance, the PC (still a human) has boarded up her house and defends it fiercely, shotgun in hand, against attackers or looters. A Brujah passing by admires her grit and decides (for that reason and others) to embrace her. If the PC’s clan and concept haven’t been priorly defined, there’s no way you can play this kind of introduction. And clan choice depends on group discussion between the players, so we're back to square one.

How can I use both of these together? I can think of a couple of options, each with its flaws :

    1. Play the background part of character creation — defining character backstories, clans and natures — but only give them enough points to build a mortal character sheet.
    2. Then play the Preludes with these weaker stats.
    3. Finally get back to completing the vampire sheets after the embraces.

    Problem with this option: players may distribute their human points in a different, less optimized way than they would have had they known about discipline and vampire-related rolls. It’s also difficult to draw the line between (1) and (3). I don’t want to reveal too much in (1) yet the players need a clear vision of the vampiric clans and society to build a harmonious group.

  • Do character creation first, but create two character sheets for each PC, one mortal and one Kindred.

    Problems: This solves the character sheet issue but still has the same premature secrets spoil and vampiric frustration problems.

How can I have our Preludes and Group Cohesion too?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are your players playing VtM their first time, or are they already experienced? \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Aug 12 '16 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know my players yet :) I play in a club where any interested member can apply for a game. I haven't made the announcement yet, although I talked about it to one or two players who may want to join. I'll be looking for a mix of both experienced and inexperienced people (at Vampire and/or RPG itself). \$\endgroup\$ – Grayzor Aug 13 '16 at 9:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it matters that much. I can just ask them what general type of character they would be interested in playing and listen instead of trying to derive it from what I already know of them. It doesn't change much about your answer - this is not the part that stood out for me. \$\endgroup\$ – Grayzor Aug 13 '16 at 17:04
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It has been a long time since I played Vampire, but - not only is it possible to do a group creation followed by individual preludes - it's the best way to do it.

You will probably need to have a gap in time between the creation session and the first Prelude. There will likely be some tailoring needed once you know the characters. But that's not a huge problem most of the time.

Character Creation for the Mechanics and the Meta

The Character Creation session should be used as a chance to have players become familiar with the system if they aren't already, and to discuss a few details of their characters to ensure they will work together and not have too much overlap.

You also have players discuss meta elements. Perhaps two players want to play rivals. They can discuss these details during this process, decide why they're going to be rivals.

Work up the full character, but I'd suggest telling players that no choices are final. Give them a chance to make changes once they better understand the mechanics and the setting.

During this part of the process, you needn't discuss more than the bare minimum of setting details. You know, just enough to make sure the characters will all fit within the premise. "You're all newly embraced kindred in the crazy world of high finance in the 1980s. Think American Psycho meets Vampire Diaries." Just enough to ensure the characters will work in your premise, and no more.

Prelude for the Setting and Story

Once you have the characters set, you can run individual preludes. This is the stage where you begin to introduce setting and story elements, and it can be run as free of mechanics as you and your players are comfortable with.

It need not be less interesting just because the characters are mortals. But making a story compelling does depend a lot on the GM. If you make the journey memorable, it will be awesome.

The last time I played Vampire, my GM did it this way. I built my Assamite, and then we roleplayed his journey from boy, to man, to trained assassin, right up to the scene where his mentor bites him on the neck and then hangs him up on a meathook. It was horrifying, and gut churning, but it was never dull. Along the way, my GM hinted at what it meant for the future.

You mentioned Initiations in Dogs in the Vineyard. As a GM, I've used this idea in preludes for other World of Darkness games (and other games) to help make them memorable. Players make characters, and then I ask them to ask a question we will answer during the prelude. This helps keep them engaged as they search for their answers.


This way will preserve nice balance between player agency and GM mystery. Players have freedom to create the characters they envision within the limits of the premise, but the GM doesn't reveal too many secrets too soon. I've played it, and run it, and it works well.

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Ask players what they want from the chronicle, than plan each part based on that

In the end, players are at the center of the chronicle, they should choose what they want in terms of atmosphere, mood, whether they prefer investigation-oriented, combat-oriented, politics-oriented sessions, even possibly whether the group is going to be Camarilla, Sabbat or something else. They might as well discuss it together.

Gather them together and ask directly about what they want from the campaign: combat, intrigues, investigation, politics, etc. It is not hard to answer this question even if they don't know the world at all. Moreover, it may be a very interesting adventure if they learn the setting while playing instead of reading books. It's OK to say "I want a combat-oriented chronicle". Experienced players, on the other hand, may be more specific. For example, one may say "I want to play a melee-oriented Nosferatu who uses his level 4 Obfuscate to disappear right in the sight of his foes and than backstabs", the other one may ask to play as a Malkavian for the sake of doing it.

When you know what they want, try to think of what do you know about each player. You probably know them for some time, just as sires from VtM observe potential embracees for quiet long until it finally happens. And fledglings don't choose the clan themselves. Of course, it requires you to know your players and VtM clans very well. What if one of them would suit some unusual bloodline way better than one of the traditional 13 clans?.. You may probably need to ask some questions to get more info.

For example, you have a computer geek in your group. He may be a thaumaturge with Technomancy as his primary path, or a Nosferatu... A short-fuse girl who frenzies easily IRL might be interested in playing as Gangrel or Brujah. And someone who is very obsessed with learning new things may be sired by a Kiasyd. I assume that you know who Kiasyd are?..

If you don't know your players, you would have to ask them about some important things, such as if they did play VtM before, or even if they played tabletop RPG at all. The more experienced players may, for example, get the roles of former ghouls/revenants, and the fresh meat may be introduced to WoD during the sessions, both players and characters.

After you have chosen some primary points of each character, you may plan the prelude for each of them. Meet them individually and have a session or even a few purely dedicated to the Embrace, training, presentation to the Prince if they are Camarilla, etc. If they are Sabbat, they may still either be handpicked like Camarilla fledglings (such as if they are Lasombra), or just be the shovelheads that survived their first assault. In the last case it may be hard to plan the battle the way that they are actually going to somehow survive and get enough reknown so they are considered neonates after that and earn Creation.

After it comes to the end of each prelude, make them somehow gather, now as characters. The game starts.

To prevent inefficient characters... make character sheets for each player. Really, it is not as bad as it may sound, especially for new players. You will have a balanced pack or coterie, and you will be able to ensure that each character is both useful very often and not too strong.

Of course, some experienced players, as mentioned before, may already know what they want and blame you for not letting them to minmax. Try to balance between letting them choose and the equilibrium of the group.

Good luck.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, so you basically suggest only giving the players that much freedom in character creation. I can see that working pretty well for VtM novices. More experienced players might want to craft their character sheet more deliberately though, choosing a clan, disciplines, backgrounds they haven't had before... \$\endgroup\$ – Grayzor Aug 13 '16 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ .... but for these, I'm realizing, revealing things before the Prelude is not a problem. So "Double character sheet" could do the trick for everyone, new players not knowing their final Vampire sheet until the end of the embrace, and seasoned players knowing it but willing to play with their human sheet for the Prelude. Thanks for the wise words, very insightful. \$\endgroup\$ – Grayzor Aug 13 '16 at 9:42
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You are correct, these are mutually exclusive options.

If you role play the preludes, you are defining the universe for the players, and quite possibly the vast majority of their character for them. There can be no collaboration outside of the actions the characters take. Prelude characters also necessarily require that you run a neonate chronicle. This is the most restrictive way to start a chronicle. If I understand what you are trying to do with this chronicle, preludes are not feasible.

All other methods of character creation avoid these limitations. You do, however, sacrifice some fluff and many role playing opportunities, but you have the option of group collaboration on the creation of the world and ancilla characters are at least possible.

I am getting the impression from how you have worded the question, that the kind of game you have in mind would be much better served by forgoing the preludes entirely in favor of group collaboration on characters and detailed character histories.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It is possible to have a non-neonate chronicle with preludes. Have a long prelude, or simply roleplay the first days of being a vampire and then say "So you lived as a vampire for X years, and got Y amount of XP in that time, blah and blah happened...". And as I have shown in my answer, they are not mutually exclusive. Good luck in your chronicles! :) \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Aug 17 '16 at 12:03

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