I Love The Hunger

Hello again, my fellow storytellers. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about Hunger. That is, I'd like to discuss the mechanics of the Hunger system within VtM 5th edition (V5). And while it's a controversial topic for some people out there, I think that it's a good thing for the game and the setting. It's a huge departure from what we had before, with blood points and such, but in my opinion, it's the best innovation to come out of this newest edition of Vampire the Masquerade.

In previous editions of Vampire, the system always worked the same; a vampire of a certain Generation, being that many steps removed from Caine, could hold a specific amount of blood points in their body, an expendable resource that drained away any time they found it necessary to force their undead bodies into action. This was a fine system to use, but it was created almost 30 years ago. While it did a good enough job in describing the relative power levels of vampires with different generation, it was lacking in some ways. furthermore, it opened the door for certain holes in logic; certain questions that couldn't be answered by applying the system as it was. There must have been some way to improve upon it.

One of these holes in logic (and the questions that spawn from it) is in vampiric population numbers as they compare to human populations in large settlements. The Vampire Storyteller's Handbook for Revised edition states that roughly one vampire per 100,000 humans is about standard in most cities. In Sabbat cities, the ratio is closer to 1 vampire per 50,000 humans. In a city like Chicago, which has a population of about 9.5 million people, the Kindred population is roughly 95; a sizable amount of vampires and plenty of bodies to work with for storytelling purposes. This makes sense for large American cities that are likely to be the focus of VtM games, but what about all those other cities out there? A city like Dallas, Texas, with a population of 1.3 million people, would only have room for 13 vampires (26 if it were Sabbat-controlled). When building up the leadership structure of a city, this becomes important, because it leaves you with less room to create Non-Player Characters that aren't the Prince, Sheriff, or Primogen council.

Let's talk about Blood Points again. In a city of roughly 100 vampires, 100 Blood Points would disappear every night, as each vampire would wake up and automatically spend a Blood Point to animate their undead body. There was no way to stop that 100 Points from disappearing, because it was necessary to spend it so that they could wake up. Assuming only about half of those vampires did anything productive during the night, another 50 Blood Points would be spent that night, bringing the total spent Blood up to 150. Taking that number up through a week, that means that 1,050 Blood Points are spent in the city each week. Feeding habits being what they are, the vampire residents of the city as a whole would be likely to kill several humans a week and feed from many more (leaving them in a weakened state, possibly needing hospitalization) just in the interests of staying active. This doesn't include people burning through Blood Points in the middle of a physical (or social) altercation, nor vampiric magicians using their blood to fuel rituals.

A few years ago, I ran into this problem when I was attempting to design a chronicle set during the prehistory of VtM, in the Second City. It is widely established by various sources that the ancient cities of the world (Jericho, Babylon, Uruk, etc.) had population numbers that ranged from 1000 people to 100,000 people in the time period from roughly 8,000 BCE to about 1,000 BCE. When applying this to the previously established averages of Blood Points spent per night, week, and month, it becomes very hard to see how any human civilization could have supported multiple vampires at once. According to legend, the Second City held the founders and most of the members of all thirteen original clans. If each founder had about 5 childer on average, the Second City would have held roughly 78 cainites. This would cause about 116 Blood Points to be spent in a night, 550 Blood Points in a week, and about 3,510 Blood Points spent in a month. If an adult human equals 10 Blood Points, that's still 351 people in a month, which would be a huge chunk of the human population gone in a very short amount of time. While the practice of slavery through conquest was practiced at some places and points in history, it is still unbelievable that there would be that many people alive in the ancient world. And yes, a person a can be fed from and not die, provided they lose less than 3 Blood Points. Healing from that kind of blood loss takes time, and recovery was not anywhere near as easy before the invention of modern medicine. It is more likely that people could die in the streets even if they only lost 2 or 3 Blood Points. All of this together creates a paradox in the ancient (and even medieval) world with regards to how sustainable cities were with multiple Kindred.

The Hunger system fixes almost all of the above mentioned issues with the stroke of a pen. No longer does the entire mechanical aspect of Blood rest upon the idea of "10 Blood Points in an adult human, and "10-30 Blood Points able to be held by a Kindred (depending on Generation and Blood Pool)." Taking the Blood mechanics into the abstract helps to allay concerns about population growth. With the V5 Hunger rules, a vampire will Rouse the Blood when they wake up, rolling a single die and succeeding on a 6+. On a failure, their Hunger goes up by one, but this is not the same as spending a Blood Point. A vampire may potentially wake up each night for a week straight, Rousing the Blood each time, and succeed on each roll, so that their Hunger never goes up at all. This system is in place as an equivalent for whenever the Kindred would previously have spent a Blood Point, but each Rousing of the Blood is only a 50% chance of increasing Hunger. It's simple, elegant, and abstract.

When a Kindred has Hunger, they include a number of red dice equal to that Hunger level in all of their dice pools. This is a great interpretation of the way that hunger gnaws at the back of your personality, subtly influencing your actions. In previous editions of VtM, there was no mechanical interpretation of this constant feeling, something that was sorely lacking in the system itself. One of my friends suggested that the new Hunger rules make VtM play like a Snickers commercial, and they're not entirely wrong. While it's humorous for sure, it is pretty accurate to say that as your Hunger goes up, you're more likely to lose control of your actions and temperament, represented here by the number of red dice that are rolled with your dice pools. At any moment, the ever-hungering Beast could overtake a person's actions, causing a harmless shove to become a vicious assault, a simple conversation to become a shouting match, or a much needed solitary walk to lead inadvertently to a crowd of people (aka victims). The Kindred is never fully in control of themselves; they can never trust themselves; they are never free of the demon that lives inside them, the Beast.

The Hunger system is an example of the new rules written for the 5th edition of Vampire the Masquerade, rules intended to carry the game back to its roots as a narrative game about personal horror. In future articles, we will discuss using the Hunger system to advance the scene, as well other changes to the VtM system that subtly change the game in the best (or worst) ways possible. This article ran a little longer than I had expected, but thank you so much for reading to the end. Stay with us.