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In my vampire campaign I want to limit the amount of ghouls my players keep, but without setting an arbitrary cap. Ideally I would like there to be some strategic trade-off in the question to ghoul or not to ghoul.

I would prefer if there was a noticeable but not crippling cost to keeping ghouls. You do need to feed them blood occasionally, but not nearly often enough that it becomes a burden. This is far outweighed by the blood you can drink from them when needed (even if usually saved for last resort).

One of my PC:s who is Ventrue and especially protective of his blood pool has the habit of drinking a blood point from his ghouls before feeding them one, practically sidestepping the already small cost completely. I don't like this and have thought about house-ruling it out, but as far as I understand it is fine according to RAW.

I am an experienced GM, but still learning the Vampire rules. So far I have mainly used story elements to balance ghouls. For example you can easily create a ghoul, but a good one is hard to find. A ghoul can also be a vulnerability since it knows your haven location etc.

My life as GM would become easier if there was some mechanical support for why vampires doesn't keep armies of ghouls. Did I overlook something I could use this way?

Edit: Thanks for several good answers that helped me understand I cannot solve this using game mechanics. I will instead play up the vulnerabilities of ghouls even more, for which you gave me some great ideas.

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There is a built in limit to how many ghouls a vampire can have - their blood. Ghouls require upkeep in the form of blood, at least once a month and any time the ghoul needs to heal (if the vampire cares about helping the ghoul heal). They also need blood to power their own disciplines, should they have any, or boost their stats.

The simple fact that a vampire has to hunt much more to support more than a single ghoul is a natural limit to the number of ghouls they can have.

Now for your Ventrue feeding off his own ghoul before feeding the ghoul its monthly dose - the books even advise using that against the players. Ghouls of the Camarilla are known to the court and are quite often tampered with by other kindred. Feed the ghoul blood from another kindred, and have the Ventrue in question get blood bound to the other kindred. That behavior will end quickly... or not, the player character would be blood bound, so they might continue.

Additionally, Ventrue's weakness is well known. Kindred of the city might very well try to determine the character's herd based on what they know of the ghoul, there by cutting the Ventrue's food supply off in the city.

In the situation you are describing, the Ventrue is telegraphing to everyone how to hurt him by taking a ghoul he can feed off of, let alone actually feeding off of them. Let the natural consequences of that decision play out.

There is an additional check you can invoke if the prince of the city is not counted amongst your players - your players do not have the right of creation. The traditions explicitly restrict the right to create kindred to the prince of the city, but the creation of others of the blood is usually interpreted to include ghouls. It is the prince's prerogative to simply have excess ghouls killed off, strip status from the offending kindred, or even go so far as issue a blood hunt for a rampant ghoul creator.

Your main solutions in this situation are political; the books imply that this is one of the intended checks and balances against mass ghouling. Of course, this goes out the window in a Sabbat game, where you are supposed to create ghoul and neonate armies as a matter of course.

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I'll go with 'The Prince doesn't want you guys to have ghouls.' (too many or at all), reasons being Masquerade, craziness, paranoia or that he simply dislikes the PCs. He's the Prince, he doesn't have to explain himself to the PCs. Maybe if you do this little favour to him, you can have a Ghoul (or an additional one).

Of course, having Ghouls without the Prince knowledge is fun and games until, as they say, someone looses an eye. Punishments for breaking this rule varies, but you can get creative. I myself put someone as an example in the distant past and nobody in the city talked about the Noodle Incident.

As for not every other vampire keeping an army of ghouls, you have Masquerade to protect, too many humans knowing about the supernatural, and the big guns are called. And Camarilla cut that with extreme prejudice. They don't fool around THAT.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. Even if the Prince could possibly not care about it (unlikely), eventually a Justicar will get wind of this, and then unlife becomes that much more unpleasant to the PCs. \$\endgroup\$ – Wtrmute Feb 28 '17 at 5:28
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Each ghoul is an explicit invitation by the player to the GM to complicate their player character's existence. Remember, Vampire is a game of personal horror.

After enough feedings, ghouls are basically addicted, emotionally and physically. These are irrational, messy humans who are messing with dark powers they can't possibly comprehend. Have them find each other and not get along. Have them stalk the player character to get more blood. Have them seek out more blood on their own. Have them get caught in public spending vitae doing inhuman things. If a ghoul's in jail for a week and needing a fix, do you think they're going to care at all about the Masquerade? Ghouls have all day and all night to cause trouble! And these are all internal issues between the PC and their ghouls. If the PC has any enemies, ghouls are a weakness that can be exploited.

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Limit the blood, not the ghouls

Do not put a hard restriction on the amount of ghouls, put one on the amount of blood your characters may get. When blood is limited, your characters will have to think twice before spending it.

Play with the rules of hunting, make it very time-consuming, dangerous etc. Make hunting an important part of play if your characters do it a lot, make it narrated (sessions dedicated to hunting may give very interesting results), make it dangerous. What about your noble Ventrue being attacked by a local gang? By the way, are your characters even allowed to hunt where they are trying?

Your problem character is Ventrue, so hunting is already quiet hard for him -- he needs to find an appropriate vessel. Even if he has Herd background, it's size isn't very big, 60 at best if you check V20 book. If he abuses his herd, it will just die out quickly.

PCs may buy blood, but it should be kinda expensive for them. When they buy too much, local blood bank may just refuse to sell more -- some should actually be used on healing...

Non-Ventrue PCs may buy animal blood from butchers, which isn't as hard, but endangers the Masquerade.

What goes to the armies of ghouls...

My life as GM would become easier if there was some mechanical support for why vampires doesn't keep armies of ghouls.

They do. The Tzimisce make huge armies of Szlachta, fleshcrafted warghouls. Anarchs have used armies of ghouls because they are, indeed, less expensive than vampires, requiring less blood to be spent nightly (still high, though, if you need to upkeep a huge army). As I remember, ghoul armies were also more or less common during the Dark Ages -- even without Disciplines, the ability to soak lethal damage is a lot.

You may find more info in the Ghouls&Revenants book, I strongly suggest you to use it if ghouls play a big role in your story.

P.S. Forgot to mention that: not all ghouls just spend one Blood Point per month on being a ghoul. They heal with blood if they take damage in combat, they use blood to power some Disciplines, etc, etc. Let your players deal with some too wasteful ghouls who spend just too much blood...

Also ghouls may create a disaster for you... For example, break Masquerade, or just get you problems with law enforcements -- the bigger is your horde of ghouls, the harder is it to control it.

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Ghouls in Vampire are like Children: They mean Power. So your solution to your problem are other vampires. Every vampire in the city will watch other thoroughly in points of power. And as soon one of their competitors runs amok with ghouling, they'll be active and try to stop him.

This is a good opportunity to build an antagonist to your troupe (if you want to give them another). It could even be the Prince since he is "only" another vampire.

Ghouls have the means to be educated and trained, and can walk in sunlight. So every ghoul is a potential assassin. Even if it's just another blood bag. But even they are more of a liability especially for Ventrues. For one they show the glaring drawback of being a Ventrue: The Taste in Blood. A socially adept vampire might see, what the Ventrue needs for sustenance. Adding to that (especially in the Dark Ages) what happens, when that Ghoul catches a disease? The Prince, the Primogen, the Sheriff and even the Harpy won't be very pleased having a potential vampiric disease carrier in their midst.

There are other drawbacks from too many Ghouls as well:

  • every Ghoul needs a home. Especially Ventrue Ghouls won't be sleeping in the streets.
  • every Ghoul has a life and people close to it. So they are going to start asking questions as soon as the Ghoul is head over heels for this mysterious person that is only seen at night
  • every Ghoul can be a blabbermouth. They can be a walking talking breach of the Masquerade.
  • every Ghoul can be a social catastrophe. Not properly educated in Etiquette a Ghoul could reflect on his Master rather poorly (a bane to social clans like Toreador and Ventrue).
  • every Ghoul can be a psychopath. This even has two drawbacks in one: for one the Ghoul can't really be shown around. The other one is that the more ghouls the Master has, the more they vie with each other for the attention of their Master.

So every Ghoul is another living entity and because of their undying loyality through the Blood they are like a pet. A sophisticated one but in the eyes of a vampire more a tool and a pet. But how many pets can you keep? And do you just pick any pet from the street or do you observe them first?

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I'm currently playing a Ghoul Lord Tzimisce and here are some of the restrictions I have on me that I agree with.

Named Ghouls and Fodder Ghouls are separated. I can have as much Fodder as I can support, but they are stated like hobos/mooks so their only purpose is being shock troops/yet to be added Vohzd mass in our Sabbat v Cammy war.

Named Ghouls are paid for in experience through backgrounds.

  • Each dot in retainers gets me either a combat ready stated out human, or a small pack of attack animals. They stay with me, dont have jobs, and suck at info gathering.

  • Each dot in resource gets me a named ghoul who makes me money. They suck in combat and info gathering.

  • Each dot in contact gets me a named ghoul in whatever field of work they were in to begin with. They don't make enough money to generate any for me, and they suck in combat.

  • Herd gets me live in servants who can't really fight, make money, or gather information, but come in the by-the-book numbers.

  • I'm also only allowed to make infinite Szlachtas after buying a homebrew combination discipline that first requires 3 animalism and 3 viscissitude(the RAW Vohzd one requires 6 and 6), but i doubt your PCs are going that path.

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