Categorized | Interviews

[HTV2E] Deep Dive into Tilts and Conditions with Vera Vartanian

Posted on February 11, 2020 by Flames

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Skull LogoHunter: The Vigil Second Edition was developed by industry veteran Monica Valentinelli for Onyx Path Publishing.

To celebrate the release of the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter, Monica reached out to members of her team for a series of in-depth interviews. Today, Monica chats with Vera Vartanian who worked on Endowments and possesses a wealth of knowledge about Tilts and Conditions, two new rules in Hunter 2E.

Vera Vartanian is a writer and analog game designer. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres Magazine, and she has contributed to a wide variety of lines by Onyx Path Publishing, including Scion Second Edition, Exalted Third Edition, and Geist: The Sin-Eaters Second Edition, for which she is the current line developer. She is queer, transgender, and very loud about both. Her Twitter handle is @MsBellwether.

Diving right in! So, Tilts and Conditions. What are they?

Tilts and Conditions are narrative tags. Tilts are primarily action-focused, and represent issues that affect action scenes. At their most basic level, you might compare them to status effects in an RPG: the Poison Tilt, for example, causes the character with it to suffer damage over time. Sometimes, these apply to Environments instead of characters, so everyone in the area is affected by them (Extreme Heat, Earthquake — things like that).

Conditions, by contrast, are generally for things outside the context of high-intensity action scenes, though they could certainly have an effect on those scenes if you bring those Conditions with you into one — Guilt is guilt, no matter what you’re doing. Conditions in particular are extremely flexible as a system — virtually any status that could affect a character in some way can be represented as a Condition, from being love struck to being blackmailed.

Interesting stuff. Do Tilts and Conditions go away after they’re introduced? If so, how?

Tilts and Conditions have certain prerequisites for ending them. For Tilts like Arm or Leg Wrack, for example, it’s tied to specific Health boxes, and healing that damage ends the Tilt. Once that small-c condition is fulfilled, the Tilt goes away. Simple as that.

Conditions are the same way, with slightly looser timing. All Conditions have a Resolution, which is the most common way to end the Condition. For the Guilty Condition, for example, Resolution requires that the character confess wrongdoing or make restitution for it. Conditions can also simply go away if they’ve outlived their narrative usefulness. If you’re Leveraged by someone, for example, and they get eaten by a monster, the Leveraged Condition doesn’t really apply anymore.

Can you explain how characters advance using the Storyteller system’s second edition rules? Is this true for all gamelines in Second Edition or just Hunter The Vigil?

Characters advance by spending Experience, which is earned by collecting Beats; every five Beats collected becomes one Experience. Every Trait has a cost associated with raising or purchasing it.

There’s plenty of ways to collect Beats: fulfilling Aspirations (goals you set for your character), resolving Conditions, dramatic failures, and so on. There’s also optional rules for pooling Beats, so that everyone advances at the same rate.

All game lines use Beats and Experience, though individual gamelines will have different Traits associated with them, and those Traits will have varying costs

So earning Beats is a good thing, which means that savvy players will want Conditions. Is there a type of scene or crucial moment where a player might acquire a Condition?

Any scene can be a source of Conditions! Think about Conditions as a sort of Chekov’s Gun, or like cause and effect. You take an action, and later that action rebounds back and complicates your life. Even otherwise-innocuous things, like seeing something you weren’t supposed to see (because you were poking your nose where you shouldn’t have) could spawn a Condition like Spooked or Shaken. It’s ultimately up to the Storyteller to hand out Conditions, but if players are having their characters get involved, take chances, and do exciting things, they’re sure to start accruing Conditions to resolve.

On top of that, many dice rolls will generate Conditions as well, exceptional successes in particular, so even if you’re not trying to push yourself, you’ll end up with Conditions. That cycle — acquire and resolve — is part of the core gameplay loop, and it provides mechanical hooks for otherwise solely-narrative issues.

You mentioned Persistent Conditions. Some players (and Storytellers) might view that as a hindrance. How do Persistent Conditions affect gameplay narratively? Mechanically?

Persistent Conditions are set apart from their ordinary cousins because, well, they persist — they don’t go away even if time passes. These represent long-term or even permanent issues the character must deal with, represented in the form of mechanical effects attached to the Condition. Resolving these Conditions (if possible or desired) requires significant and similarly long-term effort on the character’s part, forming part of their overall character arc rather than the back-and-forth narrative flow of normal Conditions.

It’s easy to see Persistent Conditions as a hindrance because of this, rather than as an opportunity. However, Persistent Conditions are also an ongoing source of Beats for players, and represent a great hook for the Storyteller to complicate a situation.

Persistent Conditions aren’t right for everything and are not the best way to model a disability. Lots of folks with disabilities use adaptive tools to get along in a world designed by able-bodied neurotypical people. Many disabilities exist on a spectrum — not every blind person is completely unable to see, for example. If your character has the right tools and knows how to use them, there’s no reason to model their disability with a Persistent Condition. Losing those tools somehow might be a source for a regular Condition, mind — that could be an exciting dramatic situation, if the player is cool with it — but just not being able-bodied and neurotypical should not be grounds for requiring a character to have a Persistent Condition to the effect.

Developer’s Note: To Vera’s point, the default baseline for Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition is that anyone can be a hunter. Tilts and Conditions are added/resolved through game play and are rules expressions used in character creation. The text clarifies in a few places that it’s assumed disabled characters know how to manage their disabilities; this does extend to non-neurotypical characters as well and I will make that further clarification. Additionally all Endowments, which are supernatural gifts bestowed on the members of a conspiracy, may be used by any character regardless of their disability. Characters should not be punished for being disabled or non-neurotypical; the Vigil requires commitment, and anyone who makes that pledge is welcome to be a part of hunter society.

Do Tilts and Conditions only matter when encountering an antagonist? Why or why not?

Tilts and Conditions can apply any time, and though Tilts are action-focused, action doesn’t always mean combat. A tense car chase is an action scene. A race-against-time to switch a generator back on is an action scene. Tilts can absolutely apply to those situations. If you’ve busted your ankle (the Leg Wrack Tilt), you’re going to have a hard time driving a car with a manual transmission. The generator might have blown out and started a fire (the Extreme Heat environmental Tilt). Conditions like Lost or Obsession don’t require any enemy action, either.

What decisions should a Storyteller weigh when deciding which Tilts and Conditions to use?

Well, first of all, there’s the question of whether to use a Tilt or Condition — there’s some crossover between the two. The primary difference between the two is that Tilts are action-oriented and don’t generate Beats.

When it comes to selecting a Tilt or Condition, first check to see if any of the sample Tilts or Conditions listed fit the situation. If one does, assign it, you’re done. If more than one does, consider the context of the situation, and how this situation is likely to have ramifications in the future. Always be thinking ahead!

Finally, of course, if no Tilt or Condition seems to fit — make one up. Tilts and Conditions are mechanically simple, so all you need is an effect and a resolution condition. That’s it. Say a character’s been in a car wreck, and sustained a minor head injury. There’s a Stunned tilt, but that only lasts a turn, and the other Conditions and Tilts are either too narratively intense for such a minor injury or just don’t fit. So you come up with the following: Got Your Bell Rung. You’re concussed, and suffer a -2 penalty to coordination and memory. Resolution: rest for 12 hours. Bam. Look at you, you’re a game designer!

Developer’s Note: Storytellers are encouraged to work with players to create new rules that best fit their chronicle. Similar to first edition, Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition retains its “toolkit” mentality to offer ways for customization.

Nests, which are new for Hunter 2E, are dangerous places where monsters live. Mechanically, that danger is expressed through the use of Tilts.

Say a cell of hunters is exploring an old graveyard in the dead of night that’s inhabited by a frightening ghost. What Tilt would you recommend? How do you see that scene playing out? Are there any Conditions the Storyteller should consider?

There’s the classic ghost-hunting lore of the cold spot — ghostly activity causing sudden drops in the ambient temperature — that would be an excellent fit for the Extreme Cold Tilt. You could also use the Heavy Rain Tilt, which penalizes perception rolls, and would work just fine for a supernaturally-thick fog. Spooked is a great standby, because resolving it requires the character to live up to the ghost-story cliche of wandering off at the worst possible moment or otherwise doing something that complicates the situation, so it naturally gives opportunities for the Storyteller to ramp up the tension. Shaken is another good choice, especially if you want players to opt to fail rolls at key moments in the near future.

There are also Ephemeral Entity Conditions. These are special Conditions for spirits and ghosts to influence the world and the people living in it. If you want to get a creepy possession going, this is where you should be looking!

You mentioned resolving Conditions earlier. Can you give us examples of scenes to help crystallize how that might work?

Sure! Let’s consider this example: your players are trying to evade pursuit by running through a junkyard. There’s plenty of hazards here. Let’s say a player tries to squirm through a tight space, and rolls poorly. Oh no! The pile of garbage shifted and is pinning their leg! This is your classic use of the Immobilize Tilt, which in this case would require shifting the garbage sufficiently that they can extricate themselves from it. Once they’ve done that (or had a friend help), the Tilt goes away. You could also use Leg Wrack here, if you want to have deal damage and have a lingering injury caused by a leg being briefly trapped and crushed beneath the weight of the junkpile — that’d have to wait until the Health box for that injury is healed to go away, and would pose a problem for the remainder of the chase!

One of the pursuers might be some kind of terrifying creature; let’s say it’s a werewolf, or something close enough as to make no difference. One of the characters might have caught sight of one shapeshifting earlier, and is Spooked now. The junkyard chase would be a great chance to resolve that by taking a wrong turn, and if the subsequent roll to find their way back to their friends fails, it’s a great opportunity for the Lost Condition. Conditions can easily chain like this, so keep an eye out for opportunities like this to lead characters into ever-more-dire straits.

Whether or not the characters successfully lose their pursuers, of course, you could hand everyone involved a brand new Condition right away as soon as they leave the junkyard: Stinky. You reek. Take a -4 penalty to all social rolls. Resolution: Change clothes and take a long, hot shower.

Which Tilts and Conditions are your favorite to use in game? Why or why not?

As you might have guessed from my citing it multiple times so far, I’m a big fan of Spooked, precisely because it impels further complications from the player. Any Condition with a resolution like that is sure to win my heart, because my style of Storytelling is to build a world, populate it with Storyteller characters with drives and ambitions of their own, set things in motion…and then pretty much let the players tear it apart and react accordingly. Spooked and similar Conditions really feed into that cycle, giving players reason to keep getting involved or to keep getting in deeper, and subsequently having to struggle to extricate themselves — which, in turn, probably causes other problems, and so the cycle continues. Players will never fail to exceed your expectations (this is my secret rule of Storytelling), and anything that gives them excuses to do that is worth its weight in gold as far as I’m concerned.

What advice would you give to a brand new Storyteller who’s intimidated by Tilts and Conditions?

Tilts and Conditions can absolutely feel like a LOT of stuff to keep track of when you’re just starting out. Thankfully, you only have to think about them when you’re handing them out, and a lot of the time, it’ll be pretty self-evident which you should be using. Once you get the swing of things, you won’t even need to look them up; just tell a player “Hey, your character is Spooked,” and you’re done.

Once you’ve given a character a Condition or a Tilt, you basically don’t need to worry about it beyond keeping it in the back of your mind, just in case. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can say something like, “Hey, your character is still Spooked, right? This would be a great time to resolve it…” This is what Conditions really shine at — giving you, the Storyteller, a means to leverage players into taking more dramatic actions or giving them problems to overcome.

What I like to do to help myself and players keep track of things (because I have this problem, too!) is use note cards. I actually have a set of dry-erase 3.5 cards, but regular note cards or even sticky-notes work great. All you need to do is write the name of the Tilt or Condition, a little note about what it does, and the resolution requirements, and hand it off. You can even just write the name — your players can add it if they need to, but once your table starts getting used to the most common Conditions, they probably won’t even need to do that.

Developer’s Note: Storytellers are encouraged to work with players here, too, because ultimately Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition is a horror game. Consent is crucial to a safe and enjoyable experience for all–especially since hunters often find themselves facing down terrifying odds and unknowable horrors.

Reversing that, for the experienced Storyteller what new ways can they use these rules?

Literally anything can be a Condition or a Tilt, as long as it’s caused by or has its origin in something outside the player’s character and an appropriate action (or inappropriate action, as the case may be) will make it go away. If you need to represent some kind of effect and you don’t know how to do it, odds-on a Condition will work. Your character has been tagged by extra-dimensional entities who routinely abduct them? Sounds like a Persistent Condition to me! You can attach any kind of mechanical bonus or penalty to a Condition, and you can attach entirely narrative effects to them as well. You can use Conditions to represent conditional access to resources or locations, especially if there’s a chance that the players will burn those bridges for some reason — the Beat they’ll get for doing so is a carrot to convince them to do something dramatic that will lead to further drama later. You don’t need to lay down track to get players to go where you want them to. You can likely do it just by saying, “Hey, if you do the thing, I’ll give you a Beat,” and that’s what a Condition is.

Excited to learn more about Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition? Stay tuned for more interviews or join our hunter society and get access to manuscript previews by visiting the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter.

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