In VTES, you take the role of a Methuselah: an incredibly ancient vampire who controls everything from behind the scenes. You, as the player will seldom get your hands dirty, instead you will direct lesser vampires and some mortal allies to do your bidding. The core of the game is in the interaction between these minions. During your turn, each of your minions may take actions to attack your Prey or set up defenses to fend off your Predator, while minions controlled by other players have the opportunity to try and block these actions. But before we can really talk about actions and blocking attempts, we need to take a look at a vampire:
The vampire above is an example of a card that you’d find in your Crypt. It includes a Card Name, which is the name of the vampire represented by this card, and an Expansion Symbol, which indicates which set this card was printed in. Clan Affiliation indicates which bloodline of vampires this one belongs to. Belonging to a clan gives you access to special cards that can only be used by members of that clan. Furthermore, some cards can only be played against members of a specific clan.
In the lower left hand corner is perhaps the most important section: Disciplines. These icons show the types of supernatural powers this vampire possesses. Having a disciplines allows this vampire to play cards from your hand that require that discipline. Each discipline comes in one of two levels of mastery: basic (indicated by a square icon) and advanced (indicated by a diamond icon). You may hear some players refer to these levels of mastery as inferior and superior, but I’ll try to stick to the basic/advanced nomenclature for this guide. While there is no need to memorize clan or discipline symbols, you can find a complete set of VTES symbols here.
Each vampire also has a Special Text Box that includes any special abilities possessed by this vampire, and a Capacity that represents the age of the vampire on a scale of 1 to 11. A vampire’s Capacity is also the amount of pool that you will need to spend in order to force this vampire to become your minion, and the amount of blood that this vampire will enter play with. Older vampires have knowledge of more disciplines and special abilities that younger vampires don’t have access to. Older vampires also have an advantage because there are a number of potent cards that are only effective when played on a younger vampire.
Let’s use all this to evaluate the vampire depicted in the card above. Her name is Rosa Hernandez; she’s a member of Clan Gangrel; she has 7 Capacity; she has knowledge of four disciplines at advanced mastery; and finally, she has a special ability that will make more sense later! Did you get all that? Excellent! Now you might be wondering what that little number 4 is above the Special Text Box. That number is called the Crypt Group, which is important when you are building a deck, but it doesn’t matter during game play (go here to learn more).
The first step in taking an action is to declare which minion is taking the action by “tapping” them (turning the card sideways 90 degrees) and declaring what the action is. There are a lot of different types of actions in the game, but they tend to fall into a relatively small number of categories. Although many actions require that you play an Action card, there are some actions that can taken without the need to play a card. I’ll talk about all of these types of actions later, but in the meantime, let’s consider an Action card:
This card has a Card Name and Expansion Symbol just like the vampire card above. On the left, there are spaces for three symbols: the top tells you what type of card it is (the icon with two outward facing arrows indicating that this is an Action card); the middle indicates if there is a clan or discipline requirement that must be satisfied in order to play this card; and the bottom icon shows what cost (if any) needs to be paid to play this card. Costs come in two forms: blood (which removes counters from the vampire using the card), and pool (which removes counters from your life total). The icons for both types of cost are shown below. Lastly, the Text Box at the bottom describes the effect of the card. If the card requires the use of a discipline (like the one above), the Text Box will describe what the card does with basic mastery of the discipline (the effect next to the square icon), and with advanced mastery (the effect in bold text next to the diamond icon). Note that a vampire with advanced mastery of a discipline may always elect to play a card for its basic effect, but you can only get one effect from a card.
Most actions will completely explain the effect of the action in the card text. However, the card shown above says that it is a bleed action, which is a little special. Bleed actions are the basic way for a minion to deplete the pool (life) of another player. Unless the card says otherwise, you may only target your Prey with a bleed action. If a bleed action is successful, the target normally burns 1 pool. But notice that the card above says “Bleed at +1 bleed” which means that if successful, the target will burn 2 pool (1+1). That D in a circle icon is important, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Ok, so now we know a little more about Action cards, let’s get back to taking actions. When you want one of your minions to take an action, simply turn that minion 90 degrees, or “tap” it, and declare the action that you want to take by playing the appropriate card or announcing the action (you’ll see that some actions can be taken without cards). Once an action is announced, untapped minions controlled by some other players may attempt to block. Different types of actions allow minions controlled by different players to attempt to block.
All actions ultimately fall into one of two categories: Directed and Undirected. Directed actions (which have a D in a circle like the card above) are ones that target a specific player or cards controlled by that player. These actions can only be blocked by the minions controlled by the player who is being targeted. A Bleed action is a prime example of a directed (D) action – it is usually directed at your Prey, meaning that only minions controlled by your Prey may attempt to block. Undirected actions (which don’t have a D icon like the Restoration card shown above) can be blocked by minions controlled by the acting player’s Prey and Predator only. In this case, the player’s Prey has the first opportunity to declare blocks. If they decline or fail to block then the player’s Predator may attempt to block. If you ever target yourself with a Directed action, it is treated as an Undirected action. But not all block attempts are successful, which brings us to our next topic.
Action Modifiers and Reactions; Stealth and Intercept:
Actions can be altered or enhanced through the use of Action Modifier cards, which are usually played by the minion taking the action. These cards look identical to the Action card shown above, except that they have the Action Modifier Icon. These cards enhance the efficacy of the action, increase its chance of success, or provide an additional benefit for completing the action. Untapped minions controlled by other players may respond to an action by playing Reaction cards, which are denoted by the Reaction Icon. These cards typically reduce the efficiency of the action or decrease the chances that it will be successful.
It is important to note that no more than 1 Action Modifier or Reaction of the same name may be played by the same minion during a single action. This means that once you play an Action Modifier like Lost in Crowds, that minion may not play another Lost in Crowds during that same action. But if one reacting minion plays a Reaction card like Telepathic Counter, a different reacting minion is allowed to play their own Telepathic Counter (but one minion can’t play 2 Telepathic Counters).
Action Modifiers and Reactions can be played at any point during the action, but some cards specify a timing window. For example, some Action Modifiers say “Only usable as the acting vampire’s action is announced” which indicates that they must be played when you announce the action. Others cards can only be played when a minion attempts to block you or after a successful (or unsuccessful) action. All these limitations will be carefully spelled out in a card’s Text Box.
And this brings us back around to blocking attempts: a blocking minion will only successfully stop an action if they have intercept equal to or greater than the amount of stealth that the acting minion has. Stealth is gained either because an action inherently has stealth associated with it (representing a naturally sneaky action) or by playing certain Action Modifier cards. Intercept is mostly gained through playing certain Reaction cards. You cannot play a card that grants you stealth if you don’t need it (like if nobody is trying to block you), and you can’t play a card that grants you intercept if you don’t need it (like if you aren’t trying to block or your minion already has intercept equal to or greater than the acting minion’s stealth).
Action Modifiers and Reactions are played back and forth with the acting minion always having the choice to play a card first. Once both players pass, the action is either successful (if there was no blocker or if all block attempts were unsuccessful), or unsuccessful (if a blocker had intercept greater than or equal to the acting minion’s stealth). When an action is successful, the cost (if any) of the action card is paid, and the effect of the action is carried out. Note that this conditional payment for Action cards is unique – the cost for all other cards is paid immediately after the card is played. If an action is unsuccessful then the cost to play the action card (if any) is not paid, and combat starts between the acting minion and the blocking minion. Combat is a bit complicated, and it will be described in it’s own article. For now, just know that the result of a blocked action is combat.
So let’s walk through an example action:
- Brett’s vampire declares a bleed action using the basic effect from the Action card Govern the Unaligned: “Bleed with +2 bleed.” The card costs 1 blood, but the cost of an Action card isn’t paid unless the action is successful. This is a directed action against David (who is Brett’s Prey) meaning that only David’s minions may attempt to block this action.
- David has two minions – one tapped, and one untapped. Only untapped minions may play Reaction cards or attempt to block. He declares that his untapped minion is attempting to block the bleed action. His blocking minion currently has 0 intercept, but Brett’s vampire has 0 stealth.
- Brett plays Elder Impersonation at superior. The card costs 1 blood which is paid immediately. This Action Modifier causes a block attempt to fail and prevents that minion from attempting to block this action again. David is in real trouble now – he has no other untapped minions with which to block!
- David plays the Wake with Evening’s Freshness Reaction card on his tapped minion. Normally only untapped minions may play Reaction cards, but Wake with Evening’s Freshness specifically says “Only usable by a tapped vampire.” The card allows the reacting vampire to play other Reaction cards and attempt to block as if untapped, but just for this action. This second minion attempts to block Brett’s bleed action.
- Brett plays Lost in Crowds at superior to give his action +2 stealth.
- David plays Spirit’s Touch to gain 1 intercept – he still isn’t able to block as he only has 1 intercept against Brett’s 2 stealth. Brett isn’t able to play any more stealth for the moment. David plays Precognition for 1 more intercept. David’s minion now has a total of 2 intercept against Brett’s minion’s 2 stealth. If Brett doesn’t play any more stealth, the action will be blocked.
- Brett tries to play a second Lost in Crowds for more stealth, but David reminds him that a minion can’t play more than 1 copy of the same Action Modifier or Reaction card during an action. Brett instead plays Cloak the Gathering at inferior for 1 more stealth, bringing him up to 3 total stealth.
- David has no more intercept that he can play, so the block is unsuccessful.
- Brett may still play additional Action Modifiers if he wants, but he isn’t allowed to play any more stealth cards. He plays Conditioning at superior – it costs a blood which Brett’s vampire immediately pays, and it gives this vampire +3 bleed for this action! It also specifies that no more Action Modifiers that increase the bleed can be played for the remainder of the action. Right now the bleed is for a total of 6 (1 normally +2 from Govern the Unaligned, +3 from Conditioning)!
- Although David can’t block at this point, his minions may still play reaction cards. His untapped minion plays Telepathic Counter, which reduces the bleed by 2. His tapped minion may still play reaction cards because of Wake with Evening’s Freshness, so he also plays Telepathic Counter, reducing the bleed by another 2.
- Brett’s bleed is successful. David burns 2 pool (6 -4 because of the Telepathic Counters), and Brett’s vampire spends 1 blood to pay for the Action card (he’s spent a total of 3 blood this action).
Types of Actions:
While most minions only take a single action in a turn, there are effects that allow minions to untap and take subsequent actions. However, a minion may never take the same action twice during the same turn. The majority of actions are completely explained on the Action card itself, but there are a few exceptions. There are some sub-categories of Action cards that receive a second card type symbol. These are special types of actions that have a tiny bit of rules that aren’t included on the card. Furthermore, there are a few actions that can be taken without the use of a card, which are generally referred to as “cardless actions.” Below I go through each type of action and carefully explain how they are taken and if there are any special rules associated with that action. I also note if there are any restrictions on the action (for example, several types of actions may only be taken by vampires), if the action is Directed or Undirected, and if there is any inherent stealth to the action.
Bleed (Directed, 0 stealth) : There are a number of action cards that allow you to take a bleed action with some sort of bonus, but a minion doesn’t need to play a card to take a bleed action. Unless the minion has special rules that say otherwise, a successful bleed action will burn 1 pool from the player you are directing it against. Remember that this action can only be taken against your Prey unless you are playing a card that says otherwise. No minion may attempt more than one bleed action per turn, even if that bleed action is blocked or if the bleed actions come from different cards. If your bleed action is successful, you gain control of a token called the Edge. If you retain control of the Edge at the start of your next turn, you may gain 1 pool!
Equip (Undirected, +1 Stealth): This action allows your minion to procure a piece of equipment such as a gun, vehicle, or rare artifact. It is an action that is usually taken by playing an equipment card (which will have both the Action Icon and the Equipment Icon) from you hand. If the action is successful then the equipment card is attached to the acting minion. However, as a cardless Action, a minion can take any number of equipment cards from a single other minion you control.
Employ Retainer (Undirected, +1 Stealth): This action represents the hiring of a servant or follower. It is an action that can only be taken by playing a Retainer card (which will have both the Action Icon and the Retainer Icon) from your hand. If the action is successful then the Retainer card is attached to the acting minion. Retainers enter play with a certain amount of life (their starting life) and if they ever reach zero life, they are slain and moved to your Ash Heap (discard pile). See the section on Combat for more information.
Recruit Ally (Undirected, +1 Stealth): This action allows you to seduce or bribe a powerful individual to your cause. Allies might represent street gangs, trusted ghouls, powerful mages, or even werewolves. Once a Recruit Ally action is successful, that card is put into play as a new minion – fully capable of taking actions and blocking like any other minion. Just like retainers, allies come into play with a certain amount of life (their starting life) and if they ever reach zero life, they are slain and moved to your Ash Heap (discard pile). Note that allies may not take actions the turn they are recruited.
Political (Undirected, +1 Stealth, Vampires only): Vampires live in an ancient and secret society that is governed by a strange set of complicated rules and procedures. Political Actions allow you to propose new laws and use them to your advantage. These actions are taken by playing a Political Action card (which will have both the Action Icon and the Political Icon). A vampire may only attempt one Political action per turn. If the action is successful, it starts a referendum where the acting vampire declares the terms (if any) of the action, and then all vampires with votes may cast their votes in favor or against the proposed legislation (or they may choose to abstain). If the total number of votes in favor is greater than those against, the referendum passes, and the terms are resolved. Votes are gained from a few sources: the Political Action card used to start the action gives the acting player 1 vote; any other player may discard up to 1 Political Action card to gain 1 vote (which is indicated on the card itself). A player may burn the Edge (which is gained after a successful bleed action, see above) for 1 vote. There are a number of Action Modifiers and Reaction cards that provide votes. And finally, many older vampires possess titles that grant them votes – these titles are indicated in their Special Text Box. Primogen and Bishops have 1 vote. Princes and Archbishops have 2 votes. Justicars and Cardinals have 3 votes. Inner Circle Members and the Regent have 4 votes. A few other titles also exist, but you can read the rulebook to discover those. So let’s go through a quick example of a political action:
- One of Jeff’s vampires takes the Political Action Kine Resources Contested. It allows him to assign 4 points between two or more players and a successful referendum will cause those players to burn pool equal to the number of points he assigns them. But he doesn’t have to announce how these points will be allocated until the action is successful (not blocked).
- Neither Jeff’s Prey nor Predator is able to gain the intercept needed to successfully block Jeff’s vampire, so the action is successful.
- Jeff must now set the terms of the action. He announces that 3 points are being assigned to his Prey, and 1 to his Predator.
- Voting now commences:
- Jeff gains 1 vote from the Political Action card he played to start this action. He also controls two vampires who are Princes, giving him 4 more votes. He casts all 5 votes in favor.
- Jeff’s Prey controls a Cardinal, which provides 3 votes. She also discards a Political Action card to gain 1 more vote, and casts all 4 votes against.
- Jeff’s Predator burns the Edge for a vote, and casts it against the referendum. The total count is now 5 in favor, 5 opposed. This won’t be sufficient to pass the vote.
- A fourth player at the table controls a Primogen (which grants 1 vote) and casts that vote in favor. The referendum is now passing 6-5.
- The fifth player controls an Archbishop (which grants 2 votes), but that player elects to abstain from the vote.
- If no other votes are gained, the referendum passes. Jeff’s Prey must burn 3 pool, and his Predator must burn 1. If the referendum had failed then nothing would happen and the action would end. In that case, the action was successful (the vote was called), but the referendum failed.
Hunt (Undirected, +1 Stealth, Vampires only): Any vampire may take a Hunt action without playing a card. If successful, the acting vampire gains 1 blood from the blood bank. However, a vampire may never have more blood than that vampire’s capacity. Any blood above that total is simply returned to the blood bank. Unlike most other actions, a vampire may attempt any number of Hunt actions per turn. Note that vampires with no blood are forced to hunt, and this action must be announced and resolved before any other actions may be taken that turn.
Rescue from Torpor / Leave Torpor / Diablerie (Vampires only): These actions are a bit complicated, and they don’t come up all that often, so you can effectively skip over this section until you need it during your game. If a vampire is damaged beyond it’s ability to heal, it usually slips into a deep coma-like state called Torpor. I’ll explain damage and healing in greater detail in the section on combat. These three cardless actions are the only ways of interacting with a vampire in Torpor. Note that unlike most other actions, a vampire may attempt these any number of times per turn, even against the same target.
- Leave Torpor (Undirected, +1 stealth): A vampire who is in Torpor may only take this action, which costs 2 blood. If the action is successful, the vampire leaves the Torpor region and is moved to the Ready region along with the rest of your minions. If this action is blocked, there is no combat (although the action is still unsuccessful). If the blocking minion is a vampire they may elect to perform Diablerie on the acting vampire (see below).
- Rescue from Torpor: Other vampires may attempt an action to rescue another vampire from Torpor. If you are rescuing one of your own vampires the action is Undirected with +1 stealth. If you are attempting to rescue another player’s vampire, the action is Directed with no stealth bonus. This action also costs 2 blood, but you may divide the cost between the acting vampire and the vampire being rescued (how you plan to pay the cost is announced along with the action).
- Diablerie: Other vampires may also attempt to take this action targeting a vampire in Torpor. This is the act of devouring a vampire’s very soul and essence. It is considered a heinous crime, and those who commit it may find themselves declared anathema and hunted down. If you are attempting to perform Diablerie one of your own vampires, the action is Undirected with +1 stealth. If you are attempting to perform Diablorie on a vampire controlled by another player, the action is Directed with 0 stealth. If successful, Diablorie permanently destroys (burns) the target vampire and will make the acting vampire more powerful. Check out section 6.5.5 in the rulebook for a complete description of Diablerie.
Wow, that was a lot of information to absorb! The good news is that if you understand the gist of actions and reactions, then you understand about 70% of the game. Next time we’ll talk about how to actually play a turn (trust me, a big chunk of every turn will just be actions and reactions as described above), and then we’ll turn our attention to the combat!