Vampire: The Masquerade

Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition  (in following: 20AE) is a revision of the 1998 Vampire: The Masquerade Revised Edition – itself a revision of the original 1991 Vampire: The Masquerade (in following: 1E). The Revised Edition was produced by White Wolf Publishing after the original's designer Mark Rein-Hagen had left the company in 1996, making many significant changes, which will be discussed below (since the Revised and the Anniversary Editions are largely identical when it comes to persuasion mechanics, everything said here about the latter also applies to the former). Except where noted, all page numbers below refer to the 20AE core rulebook (2011).

Core Mechanic

The core mechanic of the Storyteller System (referred as an "action", pp. 246-250), is used to resolve all PC actions that the GM assesses to have a dramatic potential for failure. The essential procedure is as follows:

  1. The player declares their character's objective and how they attempt to achieve it.
  2. The GM states which primary stat ("attribute", ranging from 1 to 5) and, typically, which secondary one ("ability", ranging from 0 to 5) are relevant to this action. Primary stats most relevant to an agent in persuasive interactions are Charisma, Manipulation, and Appearance (pp. 97-99); the most relevant secondary stats are Empathy, Leadership, Intimidation, and Subterfuge (pp. 101-103).
  3. The GM adjudicates the "difficulty" of the attempted action, typically ranging from 3 (trivial), through 6 (standard), to 9 (very hard).
  4. The player rolls as many d10s (constituting their "dice pool") as their character has points in the relevant scores from step 2, added together.
  5. The player counts the number of "successes" – roll results that are equal to or greater than the difficulty set in step 3 – and reduces it by one for each 1 they've also rolled.
  6. The gradient of success is based on the final number of successes: Rolling no successes but at least one 1 produces a "botch" (No-And); otherwise, if the 1s reduce the number of successes to 0 or lower, or no successes and no 1s have been rolled, it's a failure (No). Roughly speaking, one or two successes produce a Yes-But result; three are a Yes; and four or more are a Yes-And.
  7. The GM describes the outcome of the PC's action in fiction, based on the roll result.

A longer procedure of "resisted actions" is additionally employed when the PC's action is opposed by another character, whether player or non-player. In this case, the opposing character's player (the GM for NPCs) performs steps 1 through 5 at the same time, and the character with more successes wins their conflict or competition, with the effective number of their successes further reduced by that of the loser's, before steps 6 and 7 are resolved.

Social Feats

The "Social Feats" are a subset of the "Dramatic Systems" of the game – optional procedures that build upon the core mechanic to model specific in-fiction situations. Their use to adjudicate persuasive interactions, however, is immediately disclaimed by the 20AE: "Roleplaying usually supersedes any Social skill roll, for better or worse. Storytellers may ignore the Social systems when a player exhibits particularly good, or excruciatingly bad, roleplaying" (p. 265). No equivalent advice is found in the corresponding section of the 1991 original (pp. 153-155).

Specific social feats described on pp. 265-266 are (the relevant primary and secondary stats are listed in brackets):

  • Carousing (Charisma + Empathy): The agent attempts to get the patient(s) to relax and to drop their guard. This procedure seems to be an evolution of 1E's deprecated Fitting In, wherein the agent attempted to integrate themselves into a group.
  • Credibility (Manipulation + Subterfuge): The agent attempts to make the patient believe a specific lie; the patient resists with Perception + Subterfuge.
  • Fast-talk (Manipulation + Subterfuge): The agent attempts to confound the patient with a stream of nonsense; the patient resists with their Willpower score (ranging from 1 to 10).
  • Interrogation: The agent attempts to make the patient divulge a secret. If the interrogation is non-violent, the agent rolls with Manipulation + Empathy, while the patient resists with Willpower; otherwise, they instead use Manipulation + Intimidation and Stamina or Willpower (whichever is higher), respectively.
  • Intimidation: The agent attempts to coerce the patient into immediate compliance. If this involves threats of physical violence, the agent rolls with Strength + Intimidation, while the patient resists with Willpower or with Strength + Intimidation of their own (this last variant appears to be the successor of 1E's deprecated The Facedown); otherwise, they instead use Manipulation + Intimidation and Willpower, respectively.
  • Oration (Charisma + Leadership): The agent attempts to mobilize a large audience for a specific cause.
  • Seduction (see below): The agent attempts to lure the patient into an intimate liaison.

The "Seduction" procedure deserves a special mention, as it has been included, virtually unchanged, in every edition of the game from the 1991 original onward. This undoubtedly reflects the persistent popular image of vampires as sexual predators, although in Vampire, they often regard sexuality not as an end in itself, but as means to obtain their only real desire – the blood of the living. (In fact, 1E makes it clear that the vampire agent's objective in this procedure is typically just to feed on the patient, and that if their feelings for the patient are genuine, it should not be used at all; 20AE conspicuously omits these clauses.) The seduction procedure is as follows:

  1. Approach/opening remarks (Appearance + Subterfuge, with difficulty dependent on the patient's Wits stat).
  2. Witty repartee (Wits + Subterfuge, difficulty dependent on the patient's Intelligence)
  3. Suggestive/intimate conversation (Charisma + Empathy, difficulty dependent on the patient's Perception).

To reach their objective, the agent must succeed at all three of these actions, in order, though not necessarily within a single uninterrupted in-fiction interaction. During the first two steps, rolling more than one success increases the player's dice pool size for the respective next step. A failure at any step stops the current seduction attempt, while a botch also precludes any further such attempts.

We observe that most of the "social feats" (especially Seduction) seem to be designed with the "PC agent, NPC patient" configuration in mind. While the resisted roll mechanic makes flipping these roles (or even having two PCs as an agent and as a patient) trivial, the rules do not address how to execute these procedures without stripping the patient player of their agency. Curiously, Mark Rein-Hagen's foremost prohibition to GMs, "Don't take away the characters' free will" (p. 230 in 1E), has been absent from every edition of the game since his split with White Wolf.