A rule that I have always found both useful and game defining if used properly is Influence.
Influence is a system first introduced to me in Vampire the Masquerade, specifically the LARPing rules. There are three things you should know about the LARPing rules for Influence. They are a way to represent your character’s control or “influence” over different organizations and groups in the city, they give a character access to general information and rumors in their spheres of control, and I have no idea what is written in the actual VtM rulebook.
LARP VtM is an inherently flawed rules system. By the time I joined my college group, it had been written and rewritten for over a decade before I even joined. We had made so many changes that by my second year in the group, we made and printed our own rulebook for the game. Entire powers were altered or removed. Checks were put on certain abilities to keep them from being over used, and influence had become the bread and butter of between game actions.
My first character in VtM, Jack Steel, was a Brujah who took advantage of an arguably overpowered ability, Celerity. Celerity is incredible Vampire speed, which I had maxed out, and it allowed Jack to run around the room and fire his shotgun three times for each time anyone else did anything. We rewrote the power for the next year’s game.
Jack was not particularly intelligent, which led to him being mind controlled on multiple occasions, but it also meant that I did not make a lot of use of Influence. Jack had a little bit of Street Influence that he used to access guns in Youngstown, Ohio… so he didn’t need a very high rating. Even without a lot of influence, Jack had options out of game, and outside of my direct personal character. It also gave me information about what was happening on the “Street” in the form of Rumors. Many of those rumors were what others players were doing with their own influence.
Suffice it to say, I fell in love with the Influence system, and this method of controlling the city between games. So my 2nd character was a mind controlling child vampire who had lived in the city from its founding, owned the largest construction and industrial company in the city, and used his Influences/Vampiric powers to build the city into a giant Occult grid in order to fuel dark energy for his ultimate ritual. Also, his name was Ashley Chillwind.
It was a lot of fun, and a very different experience, playing a character with absolutely no physical prowess. He could make a phone call and have his bodyguards bring a jackhammer over to save 4 new, and very confused, vampires. But if you poked him with a stake, he’d just fall over. Now if you were sitting still, he could rewrite your memories, so it evened out.
In our games, the STs would compile rumors for each Influence sphere and a newspaper of public knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, the rumors were based on character Influences and the world that the STs were shaping. The Newspaper also reflected major news stories in the city and player actions, events the STs wanted the PCs to be aware of, made up stories to throw PCs off, and real stories ripped from the real world headlines. The fun part about playing a character with massive Influence was that at the beginning of each game I would get a little piece of paper with my Influence rumors along these lines.
Bureaucracy – Zoning has been adjusted along the coast, making room for the city’s new opera house.
Industry – Production of medical equipment has been greatly increased in order to meet the demands of Perth’s largest and newest prison.
Occult – Someone is shipping massive amounts of Cold Steel and other Occult building materials into the city.
I was the one doing all of these things. Each game, I and everyone else with my spheres influence, would find out what I was up to. And of course his prison, opera house, and Venture Industries were all front-page news in the very public newspaper. Ashley Chillwind did things big. Did I mention that his company’s offices were in the tallest building at the center of town, and Ashley had rebuilt it multiple times in the history of the city? So all the other players knew I was up to something BIG, they just had no idea what it was.
This all eventually led to an unfortunate misunderstanding between Ashley and some of his allies, which ended in a failed check to control their minds, and a stake in Ashley’s heart. But even so, his company was still making the newspaper, my influences were still doing what I had told them today without me, and later the STs used my tower for an epic battle with werewolves that ended in it blowing up. A group of the newer players even broke into and investigated his private estate outside of the city. Even though my character died, I had used his backstory, goals, and the rules of Influence to shape the setting of the game to the very end.
I haven’t implemented Influence in other systems yet, but I am starting to think about how it would be an awesome rule set to add to other TTRPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons. Influence spheres could cover Knightly Orders, Thieves Guilds, the peasantry, merchants, goblin tribes, and any number of other fantasy elements. It would greatly expand how players feel they influence the world they adventure in, while implementing a direct and point based system to represent character’s contacts rather than looser and undefined Influence.
The structure of LARP VtM helps this Influence system in a way that traditional Tabletop D&D does not. In LARP VtM, characters are constantly in contact with a thriving society, and all individuals rather than operating as a party. In addition, the characters in our Vampire games were assumed to go and do their own thing for a month between each game. That left a lot of time for individual between game actions, and time to use their Influences. For that reason, Influence feels very personal, and is only used for others if a trade is involved or in emergencies.
Even with these differences, I think with a little bit of thought, this could all be utilized in a very cool and new way. If each of the party members have lives and connections to their society/kingdom, and gather together for adventures, then they could do independent actions between games. As a player, I always love shaping worlds, but it’s difficult to determine how that works. I find in D&D it’s either completely free formed or a series of Diplomacy checks. I believe that a modified version of Influence and VtM backgrounds could greatly improve D&D’s existing game mechanics, and help create a more interesting out of combat system.
I will be experimenting with these ideas in my next game and will be writing about how it turns out. Let me know if you have any of your own suggests and ideas!