What is a VSS?
A Venue Style Sheet or VSS, is the primary focus of your duties as Storyteller. Whether you are a Venue, Domain, Regional, or even National Storyteller. This is the foundation upon which all we do rests, so it must be crafted with great care. How do you start building a VSS? First look at the venue that you wish to describe and tell stories about. Look at the thematics, the substance of that venue, and most importantly what about the venue inspires you to create a story. First, speak to those players who have the most immediate impact and effect upon your creation.
Before You Start: Talk to Your Players
While you should never try to run a game that doesn’t interest you personally, your players’ opinions and ideas should also be taken into account when writing (and changing) the VSS. Thus the first step in the creation of a VSS should always be to talk to the players who have an interest in the venue. The goal is to gauge what sort of game they want, and there are several good ways to do this.
You can schedule a time for everyone to get together to talk and discuss what they are hoping to see from the venue. This often results in debate and new ideas, and lets everyone hear the answers to any questions asked.
Using surveys can also be an important way to gather thoughts and ideas from your players, since not everyone feels comfortable speaking up in person. You can use both multiple-choice and open question- (Survey Monkey is a great tool for this) – yet these are only as good as your players willingness to honestly give their input.
Once you’ve finished soliciting your players and tabulating/reading their responses, you can begin the process of drafting the VSS itself. A VSS is made up of four sections:
- Basic Information
- Styles of Play
- Description of Venue
- Storytelling Mechanics (outside the norm)
Part One: Basic Information
By far the easiest section, all that’s needed here is to fill in the following information:
- The Domain or Chapter to which the VSS is attached
- The Venue Storyteller (VST) for the VSS
- The venue itself (i.e., Lost, Requiem, Awakening, etc.)
- Game Hosting information – date, time, and location if known
Styles of Play
The second section involves contemplating what sorts of stories your players are interested in and the sorts of stories you want to tell as a result, and scoring each of the below components based on those stories.
Overall Game Emphasis
Using 10 points total, please distribute the points between the following three categories:
The goal here is to help you decide where to put your emphasis in terms of your overall game. A VSS with a 6 in Physical, 2 in Social and 2 in Mental is a very different game than a VSS with a 3 in Physical, 2 in Social and 5 in Mental.
Individual Game Components
Each component gets numbered on a scale from 1 to 10 based on how prevalent it will be in the game overall. A 1 indicates a component is never present, whereas a 10 indicates a component is always present.
- Action (combat and challenges)
- Character Development (personal dilemmas and choices)
- Darkness (corruption, fear and horror)
- Drama (ceremony and grand story)
- Intrigue (politics and negotiation)
- Manners (social etiquette and peer pressure)
- Mystery (enigmas and investigation)
- PC Death (how often it is present)
- Pacing (how quickly do stories start, develop and come to an end)
We encourage you to take some time to really think about each component and how it intertwines with what your players want and the stories you intend to tell. If the majority of your players have stated that they prefer intellectual and mentally challenging storylines over physical combat, then you don’t want 9s in both Action and Mystery.
(Note: Experienced Mind’s Eye Society ST’s will notice a change here. We’ve changed the scale from 1-5 to 1-10 to provide a wider scale so that Storytellers can do more to differentiate between the regularity of each component in their game, and also because a 1-10 scale easily translates into percentages, which is a concept universally understood.)
Description of Venue
This is where you give players (local as well as potential visiting players) their first real taste of what the games will be like. This section is where you want to talk about the history leading up to where the story begins, as well as provide guidance on the overall mood and tone of the story and the themes you are looking to explore. If you have drawn inspiration from particular movies or books, or if there are musical selections that you feel will help give players the right “feel,” this is an excellent place to list them.
Before you start, make sure you’ve read over your Domain’s overall city setting so that you can intertwine your venue with others as appropriate (and also to make sure you don’t accidentally step on another venue’s toes). If your Domain doesn’t have one, we strongly encourage you to talk to your DST about creating one in conjunction with all of the VSTs of the Domain. For help with this, your DST can go through the Creating a City Setting course (this course will be coming soon!).
Here is a sample of a Description of Venue for a World of Darkness game set in the city of Amsterdam – please note that this is purposely non-canonical and is only provided for example purposes:
Mood: Tension, Unease, Practicality vs. Idealism
Themes: Unusual Alliances, Tolerance, Hidden Decadence, Duty and Opportunity
Until the 12th century, the only Kindred that had ever walked the earth that would one day be the foundation of Amsterdam was the occasional wandering Gangrel. He would have had no idea of the tremendous change that would come to this water-logged land, for not the barest hint of the city to come would have shown itself then. No doubt he would have laughed at the first settlers, watching in amusement as they tried to make a home on the shifting soils, only to find their homes sucked down by the ever-encroaching waters. Perhaps he would also have had grudging respect for their refusal to give up; no matter how many battles they lost against the tides, they always rebuilt.
However…..Fated by the determination of its dwellers and bolstered by its strategic geographical location, the small fishing village that once had desperately scrabbled to dredge earth out of the water grew into a sizeable township, and as it did so, the inevitable first Kindred slipped into the city, worming their way into its heart almost from the moment it began to beat.
The Ventrue came first, as the city quickly became a haven for merchants and great sea barons, who poured their wealth into the infrastructure and in turn drew ever more people within the city’s territory and causing it to expand ever outward in ripples, much like those on the water’s surface when a pebble has been tossed into a pool. Clan Ventrue had a tremendous hand in the birth of Amsterdam as well as in its meteoric rise to power. Given this, Amsterdam has always been The Camarilla city; in fact, it was one of the first cities to officially declare itself as such, for no few of the Kindred of the city stood in support of Hardestadt during that fateful convocation in 1435.
This last section is where you inform players of any special mechanics and general policies that are important for them to know. At the least, the following topics should be covered in this section:
If for some reason your game is going to have a special focus – for example, perhaps your BNS game is an all-Tremere Chantry game – then it’s important to note this in the VSS.
Here’s a sample proxy policy:
All proxies must be received at least 48 hours in advance of the game. Proxies must include:
- Complete character sheet, preferably in Excel format
- Full xp log
- Detailing of what the character intends to accomplish and how they intend to do it
- Player’s presiding VST contact information
If there are any special dangers associated with traveling to your city/domain, this is the place to document it. If there’s currently a war between vampires and werewolves in your Domain or if there is an active Hunter cell in the city or if there’s a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater that’s been devouring any Changeling it comes across, it should be noted in this section. Anything that could make it either dangerous or more difficult for someone to get into or out of your city should be detailed. This is to allow proxying and visiting players to make sure they take the necessary steps to keep their characters as safe as possible while traveling.
This is also the section of the VSS that may change on a regular basis – if the Hunter threat is removed, then this section should be edited to reflect that.
As a club, Mind’s Eye Society encourages its members to travel and participate in other Domains’ games. As such, whenever possible, please try to accommodate visiting players.
Experience Award Guidelines
Whatever you intend to use as a guideline for awarding experience, you should detail it here. Some possible guidelines might be:
- 3 xp per game
- Potential of 1xp additional for costuming at ST discretion
- Players can vote to award 1xp additional to two players who engaged in exemplary role-playing during the evening
- 1xp per downtime, maximum of 2xp per month for downtimes
- Proxy characters do not receive xp
Your Domain may have other policies that need to be outlined here, such as requiring the use of cards as opposed to dice for challenges. It’s better to err on the side of caution and include a policy than to catch someone flat-footed.
Here are sample survey questions for your use:
Please choose how important each of the following components are to you in a game.
1 = Unimportant
2 = Not Very Important
3 = Neutral
4 = Very Important
5 = Extremely Important
- Combat (exclusive of PvP: PCs vs. NPCs)
- Combat (PvP)
- Social and Political Intrigue and Interaction
- Personal Character Development and Storylines
- Intellectual challenges and puzzles
- Mysteries and enigmas
- Downtime actions, stories and research
- Long-term storylines that continue over 3+ months
- Short storylines that are resolved in three months or less
- What sorts of storylines (plots) would interest you and would you want to participate in?
- Is there anything you would prefer not to see or participate in when it comes to storylines?
- On average, how many hours per week do you spend on IC matters for a character?
- How important is downtime story to you and what would you like to see during downtimes?
- What sort of character concept are you considering playing?