[Manuscript] V5 Basics: SIMPLE TESTS

With Onyx Path's V5 supplement Cults of the Blood Gods now available on Kickstarter, I thought it appropriate to make my first V5 video since the corebook deepdive seven months ago. This will go through the absolute basics of V5's system, and if there's any interest in more videos, I'll be willing to go over more rules in the future.  

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As a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, character actions can be divided into rolled and unrolled actions. An unrolled action is simply a statement of a character's actions in the game without any need for rules to determine if the actions are successful. Anything that a character should be able to normally do unchallenged faces this criteria. But then, there's the rolled action, where different character traits determine the rules for randomizing the outcome of the action. In V5, actions are refered to as Simple Tests.  

A Simple Test goes like this: First, describe what your character is trying to achieve and how. Second, the Storyteller tells you which of your character's Traits to use to assemble a dice pool. Third, the Storyteller sets a Difficulty, unless the test is an automatic win. Fourth, if the number of successes on the roll equal or exceed the Difficulty, you win the test and accomplish your actions. In this video, we're going to break down these four steps.

DESCRIBING THE ACTION 

If you're new to roleplaying, it can be confusing to know how to portray character actions and what kinds of actions need to have the game's rules apply to them. If you want to learn more about tabletop roleplaying as a hobby, I recommend that you watch my video What's the DEAL with TABLETOP ROLEPLAYING games? on this channel. That video goes through the fundamental definitions of tabletop roleplaying as well as giving tips on how to play such a game as a new player. There's a link in the description below.  

Vampire: the Masquerade is a game that focuses first and foremost on storytelling. This means that any rules or use of rules should come secondary to the game's narrative. The focus is on the story itself, and the rules are there to help bring the story into fruition. When the player declares their intent and the Storyteller determines if the action should be rolled or unrolled, the general recommendation is to only apply rules to the action if challenging the player in that moment is beneficial to the story. Challenging players unnecessarily can interrupt the narrative and negatively affect the pacing of the game.  

If you're the Storyteller, consider either increasing or decreasing the number of rolled actions depending on what's fun for your group. If you're coming from a game such as Dungeons & Dragons which focuses very heavily on the game's rules, then Vampire: the Masquerade would be a shock to you. While there is complexity to this game, it doesn't focus on system-related mechanics to the same extent as Dungeons & Dragons does, and if you enjoy the classic dungeon crawls and gridmap combats from that game, then V5 could take some time getting used to. At the same time, if you enjoy dice-heavy sessions where the players are challenged a lot by the rules themselves, then you can certainly change your playstyle to focus more on that. As I mentioned before, the intent is for the rules to be secondary to the story, but it's even more important that they're secondary to your own enjoyment of the game.  

TRAITS AND DICE POOLS 

Characters in a roleplaying game are much defined by their Traits, which, in the Storyteller system, is demarcated in dots ranging from zero to five. The Traits that define a character's innate and potential abilities are called Attributes while the Traits that define the ways a character can most reliably apply that potential is through a Skill. Attributes and Skills are then combined into dice pools, where their respective dot ratings are added together, representing a ten-sided die for each dot.  

Attributes are divided into three categories: Physical, Social, and Mental, where Physical Attributes consist of Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina, Social Attributes consist of Charisma, Manipulation, and Composure, and Mental Attributes consist of Intelligence, Wits, and Resolve. Even the Skills are divided into these three categories, where Physical Skills consist of Athletics, Brawl, Craft, Drive, Firearms, Larceny, Melee, Stealth, and Survival, Social Skills consist of Animal Ken, Etiquette, Insight, Intimidation, Leadership, Performance, Persuasion, Streetwise, and Subterfuge, and finally Mental Skills consist of Academics, Awareness, Finance, Investigation, Medicine, Occult, Politics, Science, and Technology.  

When making a Simple Test, the player combines the Attribute and Skill that best define the action they want to take. Sometimes this can be an Attribute combined with a Discipline, which is something we won't get into in this video, or an Attribute combined with another Attribute. It's encouraged to let the players come up with creative uses for applying their best Traits to certain actions. This can be said represents how the character appeals to their own strengths when assessing and tackling different situations.  

For example, while a high Intelligence character may try to analyze the fortitude of their barricade by combining Intelligence with Craft, a high Strength character may do their own analysis by slamming something heavy into the barricade instead, combining Strength with Craft to assess the same results. The Storyteller should reward players for creative uses of Traits by allowing them to use those Traits whenever it can be justified. However, try to present situations where the players cannot rely on their best Traits as well, since being strong in every situation is boring.  

If multiple characters work together to accomplish a task, such as casing a barricade together, then roll the largest dice pool among the participants, adding one additional die for each assisting character that has at least one dot in the relevant Skill. In this case, the high Intelligence and high Strength characters could work together when assessing the barricade using their different methods.  

DETERMINING DIFFICULTY 

After the dice pool has been assembled, the Storyteller determines the action's Difficulty. This means the number of successful dice required to accomplish the task, and any d10 that shows a 6 or higher is successful.  

What the Difficulty should be depends on the nature of the action. Difficulty 1 is a routine action, such as striking a stationary target. Difficulty 2 is a straightforward action, such as seducing someone already in the mood. Difficulty 3 is a moderate action, such as replacing a car's sound system. Difficulty 4 is a challenging action, such as locating the source of a whisper. Difficulty 5 is a hard action, such as rebuilding a wrecked engine block. Difficulty 6 is a very hard action, such as running across a tightrope while under fire. Finally Difficulty 7+ is nearly impossible, such as flawlessly reciting a long text in a language you don't speak.  

Some tasks cannot be successful without using specialized equipment, such as picking a lock or performing surgery. The Storyteller could add +1 to the Difficulty if the character's tools are improvised or otherwise not up to par. At the same time, they could choose to decrease the Difficulty by 1 if the character is particularly inspired or confident about their chances of success. The Storyteller has the freedom to modify Difficulty as they feel is appropriate for the action and the overall situation. Try not to stack too many modifiers, though, limiting plus or minus 2 to the Difficulty or three dice added or removed from a dice pool.   

Sometimes, an action can be opposed by another character which means that the Difficulty is determined by the opponent's contesting Traits. If this is a Storyteller-played character, the Storyteller could choose to either have the characters roll against each other as a contest, or convert the SPC's Traits into a static Difficulty by adding their pool together and dividing it in half. This is usually recommended for those who want more narratively focused games with fewer dice rolls.  

Another way of decreasing the number of dice rolls is to choose to not roll at all if the character's dice pool is high enough compared to the Difficulty to make it unlikely that they'd fail. The dice pool should be at least twice the task's Difficulty for the Storyteller to deem it an automatic win, unless rolling at all would be boring or delay the narrative.  

ROLLING THE DICE 

As mentioned previously, when rolling a dice pool, every die showing 6 or higher is a success, and if you roll a number of successes equal to or more than the Difficulty, you succeed at the task. While I'm not going to talk about Hunger Dice in this video, every dice pool contain both Hunger Dice and regular dice, where regular dice are swapped for Hunger Dice depending on a vampire's Hunger level. These are typically distinguished by color. If you use the official Vampire Dice, the regular ones are black while the Hunger ones are red.  

The official Vampire Dice have different symbols on them instead of numbers ranging 1 to 10. A blank side is a failure, indicating 1 to 5 on a normal die. An ankh is a success, ranging 6 to 9 on a normal die. An ankh with two stars is a potential critical win, represented by a 10.  

If you roll 10 on two or more regular dice, you get a critical success. This counts as two additional successes above the two 10s (in other words, four total successes instead of two). If a successful roll contains at least one critical success, it's a critical win. Because only pairs of 10s count as critical successes, three 10s would mean five successes while four 10s would mean eight. I don't really know why White Wolf chose to go with this way of determining critical successes instead of simply doing double 10s, which I generally prefer. I'm sure someone is clever enough to answer that in the comments below.

After having rolled your dice and compared the result to the Difficulty, the successes exceeding the Difficulty are called the margin. The margin is used in combat to calculate Damage, and there are other effects making use of the margin as well, but it has no real impact on ordinary Simple Tests other than to imply a higher degree of success.  

It's also possible to win at a cost. If you've rolled some successes but not enough to succeed on the task, the Storyteller may offer you to win at a cost. This means that you achieve your goal but suffer some negative consequences, such as damage, attracting unwanted attention, or losing something of value.  

If you fail at an action, and want to try again, circumstances should justify the new attempt. While it's possible for characters to repeat actions in combat, chases, or other conflicts, the Storyteller should avoid allowing players to simply repeat actions until they succeed without finding a new way of approaching the situation. For example, if a character fails to pick a lock and wants to try again, the Storyteller may determine that they need to find better lockpicks before they can succeed.  

If the action has no successes at all, it's a total failure. Sometimes this means that the action simply didn't succeed while other times it also means that negative consequences occur. The Storyteller determines the exact details of a total failure and what it means to the story going forward. It's important to treat even failed actions as story progression, to avoid having characters feel stuck or have events come to a stop.

Finally, every character has a resource called Willpower which can be spent in order to re-roll up to three regular dice on a Skill or Attribute roll. This can be determined after the dice have been rolled but before the Storyteller has declared the action's impact upon the scene. It's not possible to use Willpower to retcon an outcome after it's been established.   

These four steps are the basics of Simple Tests in Vampire: the Masquerade Fifth Edition. There is much more to the system than this, but this can be seen as the underlying foundation on which the rest of the system is built upon. If you liked this video and want to see me delve into more V5 rules, don't forget to like, share, comments, and subscribe. If you want to support me in other ways as well, make sure to visit my Patreon or buy my products on the Storyteller's Vault. There are links in the description below.  

Until next time, see you in the World of Darkness.   

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