History in Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage

Hello everyone to our second game development diary  for Heritage.

We have said before that the game will include 700 years of history. Today we want to talk about the ways history is portrayed in the game.

But before we get into the details of what that means, please read this important disclaimer about history in our game:

1. We are not historians and we make no claim to historical accuracy for our game. Our game has vampires in it. We are selecting bits and pieces of history to inject into the game and we are doing our best to make that fun and plausible but with the focus being on fun.

2. Because we have a limited budget and limited development time, we are currently working on a largely European setting. That doesn't mean we believe other areas of the world are less important or that we wouldn't want to include them in the future. But this is our starting point.

3. When it comes to the portrayal of women and minorities, we're trying to keep true to the setting without limiting the ability of our players to have fun the way they want to. Human and Vampiric history is large and unknowable enough to allow for any story you might want to tell and we will try to make our game reflect that.

That being said, there are many ways in which history influences the game, from thematic names for abilities to our character illustrations and descriptions. We hope you will enjoy those when the time comes. But the main tools for us to inject historical flavor via gameplay are Missions and Battlegrounds. Both of these serve a purpose in any individual game but both of them are also tied into the mechanisms of the overarching campaign:

Missions and Mission Chains

Here’s a bunch of missions from latest playtesting sessions. Front and back of two missions is shown.  (Note, as always: These are placeholders, not representative of the game):

At the start of every campaign game, you will take the 4 topmost Mission cards from the stack to set the stage for your current game.

Missions give you a way to earn additional Victory Points for the current game round if you gather the right group of characters. As such, their gameplay effect is clear-cut.  However, there are a few more interesting aspects to missions:

Each mission comes with a tentative date on top. By virtue of these dates, each game will have a clearly identified timeframe during which it takes place (From the date of the earliest mission to the date of the latest mission).  This timeframe is important because it tracks your group’s progress through the timeline of the campaign, during which additional or changed material might be unlocked.

Thematically, most of the more than 100 missions in the game are based on an actual event in human history and many of them are grouped in “chains” of interconnected missions that might give benefits to any player who is able to fulfill all of them during the course of a campaign. For example, fullfilling the mission chain connected to the rise of the Ottoman Empire, will unlock cards connected with that region.

It will not be easy to collect these bonuses. What you can get depends on your position in each individual game. So depending on how you play the game, you might not see that many chains completed at all. While that does mean that we are making quite a bit of content that many players might not even see, we do feel that this adds to the excitement and to the replayability of the game.

One thing about Missions that changed since the days of the Essen Demo is that they now also come double-sided. Once you complete a mission, you will turn it to its backside and see  how the mission was concluded as well as a list of effects to apply to the current game or the campaign.

In addition to the historic mission chains, there will be a number of other mission types in the campaign mission stack, all of them tying into the metagame in various ways (more on that later).

Players will be collecting all the mission outcomes and rewards they have achieved during the campaign in their personal player envelopes, building a timeline of sorts. Many of those will play into the conclusion of the campaign, giving meaning to the heritage that is built in that fashion.

Battlegrounds and Vampiric History

Battlegrounds represent the Vampiric side of history in our game. Each battleground consists of a game board that describes a certain challenge that most or all Vampires at any given time were involved in. These can take on all manner of different forms, ranging from power struggles between vampires, to external threats like the inqusition. Battlegrounds are the “game boards” of Heritage and one of the main ways to earn points in individual games.

There will be a total of 9 battlegrounds during the game  with usually 3 in play at any given time.

Let’s take a look at the battlegrounds in play for the Essen Demo and the first 100 years of gameplay, to illustrate some of the concepts involved. Please note that all of this is prototype artwork and gameplay and still subject to change!

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The first and easiest battleground in the game is Of Clans High and Low:  It’s a very simple “Tug of War”-kind of struggle to introduce the basic concepts. Thematically,  at the beginning of our timeline, clans are clearly divided between the high clans (Ventrue, Brujah, Toreador…) and the low clans (Nosferatu, Gangrel,..). Each vampire played will apply his preference to the appropriate side and in the end whichever side the balance has tipped to will provide bonus points to players who have vampires of that faction in their bloodline.

One battleground that is central to the game is “The Beast Within”. It is a board on which you track your bloodline’s struggle with the beast. Certain powerful actions in the game will lower your resistance to the beast on this board, reducing your points in this battleground.

Finally, the last basic battleground is the “War of the Princes”, which represents the power struggle between different vampiric factions in late medieval europe. Depending on its location attribute, each Vampire will be able to take one action for the respective faction on this battleground, vying for control of different areas.

During the campaign most of the battlegrounds will be resolved and replaced.  For example: On the High/Low Clan Battleground board, there will be a space to record which caste of clans won the struggle, for each individual game. After around 100 years (5-7 games) you’ll check the scores there and unlock different stuff based on the outcome. Then you will replace this battleground with a new one (in this case “The Inquisition”), that will come with different mechanisms, challenges and rewards. Through battlegrounds, players will follow the flows of Vampiric history through the timeline of our game and by resolving and replacing the battlegrounds in different ways, they will -to some extent- be able to shape it as well.

Two Tracks of History

To sum it all up: In Heritage, we’ll move through time and history on two tracks. Missions will allow players to immerse themselves in human history, unlock all kinds of different stuff and experience subplots as they are  following the connected mission chains.  The broader strokes of vampiric history are portrayed by the the battlegrounds and shaped by the players’ handling of these. And both of these systems play into the campaign metagame  – but we’ll deal with that another time.

Importantly, both mission cards and battlegrounds are very modular. All rules pertaining to a battleground will be printed directly on the board. So when players want to play a custom game outside of the campaign (or after their campaign is finished), they will be able to just take the generic mission cards and a set of battlegrounds to their liking and start playing right away.